A funny thing happened on my way to write some blog posts…. (by Jill)

It goes without saying that my presence on the blog has been limited lately. Life has been, well, busy for the past year. At work, one thing they tell us when you’re running behind is to not get too involved in making excuses to the clients you’re late for. They don’t care why you’re late, they just want you present and focused when you go get there. So I’m not going to spend a ton of time making excuses or trying to tell you guys about all the diabetics and deranged knees and ear infections I’ve had to deal with. If you wanted to read about my adventures as a veterinarian, you’d be reading that blog (there isn’t one, so don’t go looking for it). But you’re reading a book blog, so I’ll talk about books. I came up with the idea last night to just get myself caught up quickly, and doing a single post with brief thoughts on all the books I haven’t posted about so I can check them off my list and more along. So that’s what I’m doing.

 

I Regret Nothing, Jen Lancaster

I started a post about this book a few weeks ago, but found myself getting nowhere fast. I feel like all of my recent posts about Jen Lancaster books involve me saying that this one isn’t as good as her earlier books. That statement is definitely true here. I read Jen Lancaster because I love her voice, and I want to keep up with her. She’s like an old friend with whom I don’t have much in common anymore, but the affection is still there. I Regret Nothing continues the cataloging of Jen’s adventures in “adulting,” including a trip to Italy (and Jen does it right—she takes Italian lessons so she can communicate with the people she meets in their native language, she avoids tourist traps) and starting a furniture refinishing business and trying not to get blackout drunk on her annual girls’ trip to Savannah. Jen was more amusing when she was worse at adulting than she is here, but I still enjoyed this book. Her stories about her pets and her snarky comments about the people in her Italian classes saved it for me.

 

A God in Ruins, Kate Atkinson

It is a tragedy to me that I let so much time pass between finishing Kate Atkinson’s latest book and writing about it. I love Kate Atkinson, have since maybe 2000, and am glad that she has achieved a measure of commercial success. A God in Ruins is a companion piece to Life After Life, focusing on Teddy Todd, the younger brother of Ursula Todd, the protagonist of the first novel. Teddy is not able to reset time life his sister, and is stuck living the same life once, as far as we know. Historical fiction is a favorite genre of mine, so having one of my favorite authors write not one, but two historical fiction works, is like a huge deal for me. I am torn between wanting Atkinson to keep writing about the Todd family and wanting her to go back to her Jackson Brodie detective novels (I love mysteries too), but I figure either way she goes next will be a win for me. I loved A God in Ruins, and will refer you to Bethany’s post about it if you want more details.

 

The Awakening and other stories, Kate Chopin

This book is one of my boss’s. The copy I have may or may not be older than I am, so that was kind of intimidating. I had read The Awakening before, of course, in college or maybe high school. Maybe I’d read one of the short stories before, but I can’t remember. In short, I loved this collection. The stories take place in the late nineteenth century, mostly in the south, but I think there were others set in different places. Sadly, I don’t remember much by way of details at this point, but I definitely recommend reading any and all Kate Chopin stories that come your way. Her ability to create a complete world in a small number of words and pages is akin to Alice Munro’s.

 

Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury

I finally read this book after years of being harassed by my husband about how I needed to read it after he publicly shamed me on Facebook for not having read it before. Bethany said in that thread of comments that she thought people would only enjoy Fahrenheit 451 if they read it when they were adolescents. I can’t remember her reasoning at this late date, and that conversation probably happened close to 9 months ago. I’ll never find it buried in social media. I partially agree with her opinion, but not completely. I did enjoy this teeny tiny proto-dystopian novel. I wished there had been, oh, you know, more like hunger games action type action or Divergent type genetic manipulation. The biggest thing in this book was a four-walled interactive TV, which I still can’t totally wrap my head around, because I’m trying to liken it to something we have now: is it like Skype? Are the screens 4K UltraHD? What sort of WiFi speed must they need for something like that? And why aren’t they just streaming Netflix? And the answer comes to me in a flash: they aren’t live chatting on Facebook because Bradbury didn’t know that Facebook was going to be a thing back in 1953. I wish I had read this book back when I was a sophomore in high school and read 1984 and Brave New World, both of which I loved. I wonder how I would have felt about Fahrenheit 451 then.

 

In Twenty Years, Allison Winn Scotch

I read this book because it was a Kindle Unlimited book and I was on vacation and needed something light to read while laying by the pool in Mexico. In Twenty Years fit the bill. This novel has no message, other than the one that’s obvious to anyone who has lived more of their life since finishing high school than she lived before and during it: time accelerates after the age of twenty-two. It is the story of a group of college friends who are called to reunite at the house where they lived together by the ghost of their dead roommate. The gang is not as close as they once were, and some of them parted on terrible terms. Over the course of a long summer weekend, these people air all of their dirty laundry and figure out where they all got so turned around in their lives. It was compelling but not a future award-winner. BTW, it wasn’t a real ghost who summoned them; this was not that sort of book.

 

Trail of Broken Wings, Sejal Badani

Another Kindle Unlimited book! Loved this book. Was about an Indian family, three sisters, a mother, and a very abusive father who falls into a coma at the start, calling home the prodigal daughter. Her two sisters have stayed close to home. While they wait for their father to recover or die, secrets are revealed and relationships are mended. My hair stylist and I often make fun of Kindle Unlimited books and how they are low quality tripe, but this was actually a really good book, though a bit overwrought. I did really like it, and think most people would enjoy it.

 

The Man in the High Castle, Phillip K. Dick

Another Kindle Unlimited book. I thought I would love this one. Yes, I read it because of the Amazon show, though I don’t watch it. In case you don’t know, this novel supposes that German and Japan had won World War II and divided the USA up between them. It was fascinating to read about what Dick thought might have become of us twenty years after this not-event happened. I had kind of a hard time with this book, not because it was poorly written, and not because it was boring, but because I guess I wanted more information about the particulars of the Allies losing the war. I enjoyed glimpsing the lives of the Japanese living in San Francisco and the Jews hiding in San Francisco and the Americans living as second-class citizens in San Francisco. It was disturbing but fascinating. I’m not going to watch the show, though, because I know that liberties have been taken with Dick’s source material and for some reason, this time, that’s not okay with me. This is a thinking person’s speculative fiction novel, and don’t go into it thinking it’s going to be action-packed, because it isn’t. I was also a bit annoyed that Dick drops us into these peoples’ lives and then pulls us back out again before anything is resolved. I wanted to know what happened next.

 

Burying the Honeysuckle Girls, Emily Carpenter

This novel was the last one I finished in 2016, and was another Kindle Unlimited selection. I’d put this in the same category as In Twenty Years: a fast-paced plot driven novel directed at women of a certain age. In this book, our protagonist, Althea, returns home to Mobile, Alabama following yet another trip to rehab. Her family has a problem: all the women develop schizophrenia when they turn thirty. Or do they? Burying the Honeysuckle Girls was completely compelling, escapist fiction, which is the only kind of book I’ve been able to focus on lately. Carpenter did a good job getting me to care about Althea, who seems like she was kind of a terrible person prior to the action of the novel. But she’s trying to do better, and isn’t that all we can do? Try? It was part mystery, part addiction/recovery tale, part historical fiction, part southern gothic, and I definitely enjoyed it, though perhaps it, too, was a bit overwrought….

 

And that brings me to the end of 2016. I hope I can get some thoughts up about the books I’ve read so far in 2017 soon.

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Posted in Partial Reviews, Reviews by Jill, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

A Review of Mike Brown’s How I Killed Pluto And Why It Had It Coming

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I bought this book several years ago, back when I qualified for an educator discount and could get paperbacks from Random House for $3 apiece. Whenever you see me review a book that seems out of my usual oeuvre (I try not to have a usual oeuvre, but my prejudices seep out), chances are that it dates from this era – either that or from some library book sale. I decided the time had come to read this book when I was helping a student with her science homework and found that the chart in her textbook of all the planets ended with Neptune. Seeing the updated chart and talking with my student, who had no idea that there had ever been a planet called Pluto, made me care about this change in the solar system more than vaguely remembering seeing a headline several years ago, most likely when I was busy thinking about other things.

This book is a light, quick read meant for laypeople. Mike Brown is a CalTech professor of astronomy who discovered several “objects” in the farthest reaches of the solar system during the early years of the 21st century. Around this same time, other astronomers first saw the Kuiper belt – a second asteroid belt past Neptune that was named after the astronomer who first theorized that it existed. The Kuiper belt is important to the demotion of Pluto mentioned in the title.

Brown begins the book with a quick trip through the history of our understanding of the solar system, and if there’s one thing I love, it’s intellectual history. He traces the word ‘planet’ back to ancient Greece, where it was used to mean any object that moves through the sky rather than staying in place. Under that definition, the sun and the moon were planets, while the earth was not. The ancient Greeks counted seven planets – the sun, the moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn – all of which could be seen with the naked eye. Brown leaps forward to Galileo’s telescope and the rapid-succession discovery of Uranus, Neptune, and a series of smaller “planets” that would later be reclassified as asteroids, a term that did not yet exist in these early years of telescope development. The word ‘planet’ was called into question once again and eventually defined not only as an object that traveled through the sky but also as an object that orbited the sun. The earth became a planet. The sun was classified as a star. The moon was classified as a satellite, and astronomers discovered similar satellites around most of the other planets. Initially declared to be planets and given names (because they do travel through the sky and orbit the sun), the asteroids were downgraded because the word ‘planet’ was redefined to mean something that orbits the sun on its own. Since the asteroids all share an orbit, they are not planets.

The short version of Pluto’s demotion (its new status is “dwarf planet”) follows a similar trajectory. During the years Mike Brown covers in this book, astronomers were finding new objects in the far reaches of space in a way that mimicked the discovery of the asteroid belt. These objects were later demonstrated to be the Kuiper belt. Some of these objects were extremely far out in space – hundreds of times as far as Pluto – and some of them had funky orbits that didn’t resemble the orbits of any known planets. Astronomers were once again faced with the question of how to define “planet.” Size came into question. Much smaller than the other eight planets, Pluto was popularly seen as not just the smallest planet but as the smallest possible planet. Whenever a newly discovered object was deemed to be smaller than Pluto, astronomers grumbled that it couldn’t possibly be a planet – in spite of the fact that “all planets must be the same size as or bigger than Pluto” is not a scientific statement, not at all.

Brown does a great job of portraying the role of the emotions in science. By this I mean not just the egos of individual scientists (“We recommend that you remain humble,” Brown was told by a bureaucrat at the International Astronomical Union after an object he found was – temporarily – deemed a planet) but the sentimentality that everyone – scientists and ordinary people – seems to attach to objects in space. When I first saw this book in Random House’s catalog, my first thought concerned the mnemonic I was taught in second grade to help me remember the planets: My Very Excellent Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas. What would happen to the mnemonic now that there was no more room in it for pizzas? I didn’t exactly obsess about it or anything, but I wondered. As it happens, Brown spends some time on that acronym in his book. It appears that there was a contingent out there who really did obsess about the acronym and were furious at Pluto’s removal from the planetary pantheon. Brown is both amused and bemused by the whole experience and tells the story with a light yet erudite touch.

It happened that during the worldwide debate about whether Pluto and other Kuiper belt objects would be classified as planets, Brown and his wife were also caring for their newborn. Brown conveys both the experience of falling in love with their infant daughter and the jarring experience of being yanked out of his time at home with his wife and newborn daughter to appear on TV at 5 am on the day the IAU announced its decision on Pluto. These sections of the book are humorous – sometimes in a “men are so clueless” sort of way, and who doesn’t love that? – and they also provide context to remind us that science is a human endeavor, always happening while the rest of life is going on, fraught with and at the mercy of human emotions. Ultimately, it is this focus on “real life” that makes this such an enjoyable book, both easy to read and enriching.

Posted in Authors, Mike Brown, Nonfiction - General, Nonfiction - Memoir/Biography, Nonfiction - Science, Reviews by Bethany, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Review of Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad

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The greatest trick Colson Whitehead ever pulled was convincing this bookblogger that he had written a realistic novel.

Yes, yes, I know that the fact the railroad in this novel is a literal series of tracks running under the nineteenth-century United States is revealed on the book jacket. I read the jacket before I read the book, I think, but this is Colson Whitehead. When he publishes a new book, I don’t ask questions. I just read.

The first sixty pages of this novel read like a fictionalized version of one of the well-known slave narratives: one by Frederick Douglass or Harriet Jacobs or Solomon Northrup. Cora is orphaned, so to speak, when her mother, Mabel, escapes from the plantation, and she is sent to live in “the Hob,” a cabin in the slave quarter in which slave women live when they do not fit in anywhere else. The other women in the Hob do things like foam at the mouth and keen unconsolably – essentially, they are women so traumatized by slavery that they have stopped functioning and even the threats of punishment within the slave system can’t shock them into self-control. Cora is in the Hob partly because she became a pariah of sorts when her mother escaped but also because she chopped up a doghouse built by a new, powerful slave named Blake because Blake had chosen to build the doghouse on the plot of land Cora had long used to grow some vegetables and potatoes.

Now let’s wait for a minute here. Doghouses? Gardens? Was I tricked even more than I thought I was? I know that slaves on rice plantations in South Carolina and north Georgia maintained gardens to grow their food because they were not given food by their masters – but since Cora is the only slave who seems to care about her (or any) garden, this plantation does not seem to be one on which slaves were responsible for their own upkeep. And a doghouse? This plantation looks suspiciously like something out of an L.L. Bean catalog. Is this one of Whitehead’s games? Was he messing with me from the beginning, long before the Hogwarts Express pulled up to a station far underneath the southern U.S. to chug Cora off to points north? Let’s consider this question as we proceed.

As I said, the first sixty or so pages of this novel – Cora’s life on the plantation and her escape with a fellow slave named Caesar – felt realistic to me. When the Underground Railroad takes them to South Carolina (yes, South Carolina), a new chapter begins in which Cora has a new name (Bessie) and identity and is working as a valued nanny and housekeeper for a white family. She is paid for her work, and at the end of the day she goes home to a dorm created especially for ex-slaves. She is looked over by a white housemother figure named Miss Lucy, who corrects the ex-slaves’ grammar and generally treats them with solicitous condescension. Soon it becomes clear that this safe haven for runaway slaves expects a specific kind of payment: the ex-slaves are expected to submit to sterilization. No one is forced, but after Cora resists the efforts of Miss Lucy a couple of times, she is beset with other well-meaning white authority figures who smile sympathetically while explaining how much happier she will be if she just visits the doctor for this one simple procedure. I know that one of the sticking points in the anti-slavery debate in the 1800’s was the question of where ex-slaves would go and what they would do as free agents in the larger economy. It’s never stated outright, but apparently in this alternate history, South Carolina hopes to solve this problem by making it a temporary one, by making sure the descendants of African slaves do not survive in their state past the current generation.

Cora and Caesar spend considerable time in South Carolina, but eventually they choose to let the Underground Railroad whisk them farther north. They are soon separated, and Cora endures several terrible days trapped in a pitch-dark station that has been closed, only to find herself in North Carolina, which has taken a less subtle approach to dealing with its black population: total massacre of the race. Here, as in the other states in which Cora spends time, we meet some of the whites who shelter the runaway slaves, learning their stories and the reasons for their resistance.

Now that I’ve written about it, I do think this book’s first chapter is intentionally sly. Forever trapped on the first step of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, slaves probably did not build doghouses. South Carolina is famous as one of the most terrible places to be a slave, while North Carolina was one of the least horrific, relatively speaking. The American south depicted in this novel has the feel of something out of a George Saunders novel: almost a nightmarish theme-park version of our nation’s greatest reason for shame. I have to imagine that Whitehead’s purpose here to to draw attention to the fact that slavery has become mythologized in the American mind. Anyone who has read Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass remembers Douglass’ harrowing time on Mr. Covey’s slave-breaking farm – both for Covey’s sadistic treatment of the slaves and for the triumphant way Douglass evades him. An acquaintance of mine who is a professor of African American history refers to this section of the Narrative as “propaganda.” He makes the point that plantations were businesses, and that as cruel as masters and overseers were, they also wanted to protect their investments, so their punishments always had the goal of making slaves work faster and more efficiently. He argues that the beatings depicted in the Narrative were meant to inspire pity and outrage among Northerners during the years before the Civil War; they were never meant as perfect realism. I cannot say on my own whether this acquaintance is correct: I believe him because he is a professor of African American history and because his argument that slaves were first and foremost business investments was persuasive, but I can’t confirm his assertions based on my own knowledge.

But that’s just it, isn’t it? We are a nation with a terrible past, and it is difficult for those of us without advanced history degrees to know where the lines are drawn between literal and figurative truth. Because I am glad that slavery ended when it did, I don’t look down on Douglass’ Narrative for being propaganda, if in fact it is. This is the nature of propaganda: people who support its purpose tend not to care if it reflects the literal truth. Whitehead’s novel plays with the mythological nature of our history as a slave nation. The “real” Underground Railroad (the one without tracks) was in some ways larger than life because of the courage and grit that were required to keep it moving and because of the fact that it saved as many slaves as it did; Whitehead mythologizes its greatness by transforming it into a literal railroad that runs in secret beneath the cities and countrysides of an oblivious nation. The insidious racism at the heart of Whitehead’s fictional South Carolina feels, by the time Cora leaves, as cruel as the most barbarous cotton plantation. The central message of this novel is that we don’t know as much as we think we know about our nation’s terrible history. This novel’s verisimilitude lies in the way it mixes fiction so freely with fact; in this it resembles the knowledge base of the average American.

Posted in Authors, Colson Whitehead, Fiction - general, Fiction - Historical, Fiction - literary, Reviews by Bethany, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Yarn Along

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I still haven’t bought the yarn for the short-sleeved sweater I showed you a couple of weeks ago, but I’m making progress on my test placemat (or whatever) that’s helping me master linen stitch. It’s different from everything I’ve ever done and feels more like weaving than knitting. I realized that last time I didn’t do a good job of showing what linen stitch looks like up close, so I took the time to get a good close-up:

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Isn’t that cool?

Other than showing off my linen stitch, mostly I’m just here today to tell you that apparently I’m now old enough that my books from college require special handling. I pulled this one off the shelf and opened it as if it were any other book, and the cover just popped off in my hand, just like that. Next time I’ll wear white cotton gloves and store the book in a climate-controlled vault. And there will have to be paperwork involved, of course.

With Daylight Savings Time on the horizon, I will do my best to keep obnoxious reflections of the overhead light out of my Yarn Along photos for the next seven months.

Yarn Along is hosted by Ginny on her blog, Small Things. Happy Wednesday!

Posted in Uncategorized, Yarn Along | 4 Comments

A Review of Andre Dubus’ The Lieutenant

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My reading goal for 2017 is to read more of what I call “quietly good” fiction. By this I mean stories that are well told but in traditional ways. I’m taking a moratorium on shifting point of view for a while and am seeking books that linger for long periods of time in the consciousness of one character, books that aren’t afraid to be subtle and introspective. Given this goal, Andre Dubus’ The Lieutenant was a great way to kick off the year. In this novel, 25-year-old Marine Lieutenant Dan Tierney (even his name is “quietly good”) temporarily takes command of the Marine detachment on board a Navy ship called the Vanguard because the commanding officer had to leave the ship for medical treatment. Right away we are bombarded both with Tierney’s basic goodness and eagerness and with his insecurities. We learn that Tierney doesn’t much like serving on a ship, which he viewed “with awe at times, but more often with scorn.” At the same time, he admires Marines who serve at sea – not quite including himself among their number, at least not yet – thinking of them as “at least six feet tall, firm-muscled and sunburned, the kind who stare at you like your manhood’s conscience from recruiting posters.” We learn that Dan is not over six feet tall himself and walks around feeling an insecure awareness of his height. We also learn about his abiding love for the Marines on the ship. Check out the bizarre passageways this sentence follows: “He was proud of them, and loyal – the pride and loyalty becoming steadily more intense, sustaining him in loneliness and the frustration of sea duty spent largely below decks, among seemingly labyrinthine passageways where strange levers and pipes and switches confronted him daily with his own alienation – and once in a bar at Yokosuka a plump ensign had sung the ‘Marines’ Hymn’ to the tune of ‘Clementine’ and Dan had knocked him off his bar stool.” And the reader thinks, Wait! How did we get to Yokosuka? Weren’t we just on a ship – labyrinthine passageways and such? And then there’s that internal mental moment when you figure out if it’s possible to sing the ‘Marines’ Hymn’ to the tune of ‘Clementine’ (it is), and then how did we get to Japan again? Weren’t we just on a ship? That’s what it’s like to follow Dan Tierney around through this novel. He does his job in a thoughtful and responsible way (though not without mistakes), but his mind is never far away from his masculinity and his honor and his secret fears that he may not in fact have as much of these qualities as he wishes he had.

Unfortunately, the paragraph above is all the close reading you’re going to get about this novel. As you’ve perhaps noticed, Postcards from Purgatory has been a little on the inactive side lately, and I read this book back in January. It’s a great read, and I recommend it, but I am going to have trouble writing an especially detailed review. But here, in no particular order, are some memories and impressions:

First, I read this book on tenterhooks, because when I was a school administrator I had an experience not entirely different from Tierney’s experience in this novel, which is to say that the rest of the administration went to a conference and left only the CFO and me behind to hold down the fort. And yes, as you might expect, everything went to shit. And I too was basically good and basically decent but also had any number of things to prove, just like Tierney, and just like Tierney I made mistakes. Not the same mistakes he makes, but the parallels are clear enough that I read this book with a great deal of anxiety and empathy for Tierney.

Here are the basics of the plot: on his first day in command, Tierney receives a report of an insubordination incident: a PFC refused to follow an order from a corporal. Tierney checks regulations and learns that he can use his discretion and choose one of several punishments, the most severe of which is three days in the brig on bread and water (yes, in the 20th century. This novel is set in the late 1950’s). Tierney decides that he doesn’t want to come across as indecisive or as a pushover (my inner voice was doing one of those slow-motion Noooooo’s here – I followed this part of the plot kicking and screaming), so he chooses the most severe punishment (horrible idea) and sends the offending Marine – Freeman, whom Tierney likes – to the brig on bread and water.

Tierney’s decision is this novel’s original sin. The rest of the plot flows out from this moment and gets tangled up and horrible. First, the commander of the ship (a Naval officer who outranks both Tierney and the Marine officer who usually commands the detachment) reprimands Tierney for choosing such a harsh punishment, putting Tierney on the defensive. Second, Tierney calls Freeman into his office and gives him a speech that is supposed to be avuncular and reassuring, reminding Freeman that he will have a clean slate when his punishment is over. This is not an inappropriate thing to tell Freeman, but Tierney handles it in an awkward way and Freeman is left confused.

It seems that when a Marine is in the brig on a Navy vessel, the commanding officer of the Marine detachment is required to read and, if needed, censor his incoming and outgoing mail. While carrying out this duty. Tierney learns that Freeman’s girlfriend is pregnant and that Freeman won’t be home from his deployment in time to be there for the birth. This information complicates things in a couple of ways. First, Tierney – whose insecurity about his manhood is always just under the surface – is envious of Freeman. Tierney believes himself to have a girlfriend, but she has not been answering his letters of late, and as the novel proceeds, including some flashbacks to the last time Tierney saw his girlfriend, it becomes clear to the reader that his girlfriend has moved on. Tierney is impressed and envious that Freeman has managed to impregnate his girlfriend, but since he is a decent guy, he doesn’t act on his envy in any kind of explicit way. At the same time, though, he can’t stop thinking about it: what does Freeman have that he does not? Eventually he decides that he should pull strings to get Freeman sent home in time for the baby’s birth. This is no small proposition, involving significant logistics, and it gives the impression that Tierney is showing favoritism toward Freeman. As all of this is going on, Tierney never loses his focus on himself and how he is perceived by others: “Dan sat in the office… having crossed the classroom where several troops were shining shoes, having felt so completely in control of the detachment and himself that he had been unaware of these troops and – for once – had not bothered to fix on his face the public expression of an officer: a look of serene confidence, as if he had transcended all the problems of the enlisted world and was now preoccupied with the logistics of an amphibious landing on the shores of China. He had merely crossed the room, watched by the troops, thinking of Freeman and Jan starting a baby on a sunny afternoon in Oakland, and as he recrossed the room to enter his office, he was smiling warmly to himself.”

Tierney can be tedious in this way. This is not the only self-referential room-crossing scene in the novel, and wait until you read the parts where he congratulates himself for having to shave more often than Freeman does. But these passages don’t bog down the novel because they are so real. Dubus does a fantastic job of rendering the pride, insecurity, and fear of a young man left in charge of something important. It’s interesting to me that Tierney is twenty-five: just the age at which the “missing part of the adolescent brain” stops being missing – supposedly anyway. Tierney knows everything he should do and has excellent intentions, but his actions are always awkward and often misinterpreted, and he thinks and rethinks every last decision he makes – often choosing the wrong course of action as a result. For me, this quality makes him a very sympathetic character. He never, ever relaxes – and neither did I when I was reading this book.

It may seem as if I’m giving away a lot of the plot, but trust me, there’s more. Dubus extends each of these relatively ordinary situations to the farthest extent of its consequences, and – I’ll just share one more plot point – soon we learn that there was more to the insubordination incident than Tierney knew. The corporal to whom Freeman was rude is one of three Marines who had been hazing Freeman severely for several months. Much of the novel is taken up with Tierney’s investigation of this incident, and I found the investigation compelling (and also nerve-wracking, because like I said, I’ve been there).

Penis size is involved – not just figuratively but literally. And with that I leave you.

Posted in Andre Dubus, Authors, Fiction - general, Fiction - literary, Reviews by Bethany, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Review of Anne Tyler’s The Beginner’s Goodbye (by Jill)

 

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I am a huge fan of purchasing Anne Tyler’s books. I assume some day I’ll read more of them and be a huge fan of reading them, too, but this was the first one I have actually read. I picked The Beginner’s Goodbye to read when I did because it was next on my pile of books from my boss; though it was chosen out of the chronological order I usually follow when reading her books. I should have read The Pickwick Papers but I just couldn’t do it. It’s too long.

The Beginner’s Goodbye is a love story, albeit the least romantic love story I have ever read. Aaron is the narrator, and he works at his family’s vanity publishing business, whose most successful publications have been “The Beginner’s….” series. You know, like the “For Dummies” series in real life. He has some sort of childhood deformity and has always been overprotected by his sister, which he finds suffocating. Somehow, he meets Dorothy, a very non-maternal lawyer, and he finds her lack of attention of his physical difficulties so refreshing he marries her. I was never quite sure while I was reading this book if Dorothy loved Aaron, but that’s probably because he was never sure if she loved him. She seemed like the kind of person who wouldn’t have married someone if she didn’t really want to, but perhaps I was mistaken. The story is told somewhat non-linearly, so we know at the beginning of the novel that Dorothy is dead, but we don’t find out right away how she died. It’s pretty terrible: a big tree falls into their house and kills her while Aaron is taking a nap in another part of the house. He sleeps through the whole thing because he is sick with a fever. When he wakes up there is a tree in the hallway and his wife is dead. And shortly thereafter he starts seeing his dead wife. But this isn’t really a ghost story, not really. It’s about saying goodbye to people and learning to accept change, and it was actually quite lovely, though maybe a little short. I would have loved to spend more time with Aaron and Dorothy while they were both alive, because their relationship was fascinating. It was clear they loved each other (at least I think so), but there was no sentimentality there, and I’m not sure why. The last time Aaron “sees” Dorothy’s ghost they finally say some of the things to each other that they never said when Dorothy was still alive, and Aaron seems to find a measure of peace from that. Overall, an enjoyable book, and I hope to get back to Anne Tyler again someday soon.

Posted in Anne Tyler, Fiction - literary, Reviews by Jill, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Yarn Along

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Whew – I got this post up. I had almost forgotten how.

Just kidding – sort of. I haven’t been knitting much over the last couple of months, and I got so tired of posting the same few projects over and over. My usual stand-by patterns weren’t appealing to me, so for a while I didn’t knit much at all. Then I went browsing through some of my knitting books, looking for a project I could really get excited about. Finally, I found this:

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In addition to wanting to paint every wall in sight the teal in this photo (the picture doesn’t do it justice), I am very excited about making this pullover. The yoke is linen stitch, which I had never heard of before, so I cast on some stitches to try it out. After a few false starts, I got into the swing of the stitch and LOVED it. It’s different from anything I’ve ever done, and for some reason, it made me think of placemats, so I ripped out the small swatch and cast on a placemat. We’ll see how far that goes. I haven’t ordered the yarn yet for my sweater but am excited to get started. The book is More Modern Top-Down Knitting by Kristina McGowan.

I am reading SO many books. It’s really a problem. You should see the stack beside my bed. For my Yarn Along photo I chose Howard Markel’s An Anatomy of Addiction: Sigmund Freud, William Halsted, and the Miracle Drug COCAINE, partly because it was close at hand while other books are not and partly because the all-caps in COCAINE amuses me, and I’ve been looking forward to being able to share that amusement with you. This is not to say that Postcards from Purgatory is elevating COCAINE to the status of PAT CONROY and TIME TRAVEL in any kind of general way. That kind of decision would require a board meeting.

Yarn Along is hosted by Ginny on her blog, Small Things.

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