Classics Club Spin #22: A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O’Connor

Oh my goodness, how do I write about this short story collection? I feel enormous trepidation as I begin this post. This book is just really freakin’ weird. 😃 And dark. And twisted. And brilliant. But I was relieved to finish it, so what does that say?

Ten stories filled with mean people, ignorant people, unwanted visitors, negligent parents, gossips, hypocrites, killers, racists, xenophobes… sounds like a swell way to spend your reading time, right? Yet when I entered into each story (one a day, that’s all I could take) I couldn’t pry my eyeballs from it. The characters, despicable though they might be, were so fully realized and the stories so well constructed that I was hooked.

The collection starts with the title story, and it’s a shocker. A family of four and the grandmother are traveling to a Florida on a road trip, with the grandkids sassing off to their racist, annoying grandmother constantly, until she tricks the whole family into driving down this dirt road so they can see an old abandoned plantation that she “remembered.” (She gets the kids excited about it by craftily telling them that there is a legendary secret panel in a wall in which the family silver was kept.) When a chance accident happens on the deserted road and a band of sketchy dudes comes along on the scene, all hell breaks loose. It’s an eye-opening way to start off, to say the least.

Some of the stories are a bit more sedate but no less compelling. My favorite story was “A Temple of the Holy Ghost,”which features a precocious, mischievous young girl putting up with a weekend visit from her boy-crazy, older second cousins, Susan and Joanne. There’s a traveling fair in town, and two local boys are enlisted to take the girls and get them out of the house for an evening. The title of the story comes from an anecdote that the girls laughingly tell at dinner about part of their Catholic school education.

— if he should “behave in an ungentlemanly manner with them in the back of an automobile.” Sister Perpetua said they were to say, “Stop, sir! I am a Temple of the Holy Ghost!” and that would put an end to it.

When the girls come back from the fair they obliquely tell the child (we don’t learn her name) about something they saw in the “freak tent” that unnerved them.

The tent where it was had been divided into two parts by a black curtain, one side for men and one for women. The freak went from one side to the other, talking first to the men and then to the women, but everyone could hear. The stage ran all the way across the front. The girls heard the freak say to the men, “I’m going to show you this and if you laugh, God may strike you the same way.” The freak had a country voice, slow and nasal, and neither high nor low, just flat. “God made me thisaway and if you laugh He may strike you the same way. This is the way He wanted me to be and I ain’t disputing His way. I’m showing you because I got to make the best of it. I expect you to act like ladies and gentlemen. I never done it to myself nor had a thing to do with it but I’m making the best of it. I don’t dispute hit.” Then there was a long silence on the other side of the tent and finally the freak left the men and came over to the women’s side and said the same thing.

The girls explain that the “freak” was both man and woman but the child doesn’t understand what that means. She later has a vision as she goes to sleep that the “freak” was leading a church service and says they are a “Temple of the Holy Ghost.” Still later in church she again thinks of the “freak” and how they said that this was how God wanted them to be. It’s a quiet, oddly beautiful story, and I loved how the child could embody a kindness and acceptance towards the “freak” that the rest of the characters couldn’t seem to muster.

I’m glad I read this and glad that the Classics Club Spin landed on this selection. I know it’s a hard sell, but I do think this is worth the read. I have all sorts of questions about what O’Connor was like, why she wrote such dark, religious, tense stories. This is the kind of book I would love to have discussed in a classroom setting because I know that I’m missing some nuances and symbolism along the way. I rated it five stars on Goodreads but it’s not one I can call a favorite, simply because I am confident that I will never be inclined to read it again. If anyone has any biographical knowledge of O’Connor or thoughts about any of these stories, I’d love to hear them!

Format: Library paperback, 252 pages.

See my original Classics Club list here.

Upcoming 2020 Books That Intrigue Me

Riffing on this week’s Top Ten Tuesday subject , I decided that I wanted to make a list of books I want to read coming out this year. Clicking on a title links to its Goodreads page if you want to find out more.

(* = books I will almost certainly buy because I loved the author’s last book)

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel*

Weather by Jenny Offill*

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi*

Untamed by Glennon Doyle (the lone memoir on my list)

Deacon King Kong by James McBride

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid (cheating because it was released in late December, but close enough)

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

The Resisters by Gish Jen

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

The Truants by Kate Weinberg

New Waves by Kevin Nguyen

House of Trelawney by Hannah Mary Rothschild

I could have kept going because there are so many intriguing books coming out this year but 12 seemed like a nice number on which to settle. It’ll be fun to see how many of these I will have actually read by the end of the year.

Any of these look interesting to you?

Reading Goals for 2020

And now one of my favorite things about book blogging… the annual setting of the goals! Oh, how the possibilities are endless in January. And then somewhere in October the cold hard realities set in… 😂

As usual, I am not going to put too much pressure on myself with a huge list of goals. I’ve picked four goals to pursue. Without further ado:

Goal #1: Read at least 20 nonfiction titles this year.

I follow so many bloggers who regularly read some excellent sounding nonfiction, and I keep adding titles to my TBR list, but my ratio of nonfiction to fiction is still pitiful. This year I am aiming a little higher and hope to start knocking some of those titles off my list.

Goal #2: Reread at least 4 books from my owned shelf.

I keep books that I love and think I will reread “sometime.” But in reality I just don’t end up doing that, and they sit there collecting dust. Last year I reread just one title, and it was a library book! So this year I’m making this a focus.

Goal #3: Read at least 12 titles from my Classics Club list.

If I am to stay on track to finish my list in February 2023 then I need to stay on task with this project.

Goal #4: Read more authors of color. Last year my percentage was a pitiful 18%. Not good enough.

So that’s it. I feel like these are manageable. And as blogger Naomi once reminded me, it’s not so much the achieving of the goals as the pursuit and improvement that’s important.

59927359120__83537172-c8c3-49da-9fc9-cf768a1e7dc1To switch topics here slightly, I began the new year with a feat of reading that I never do… I bought a book and read it right away! I got some gift cards to the local independent bookstore for Christmas and of course they burned a hole in my pocket. I bought Prince’s The Beautiful Ones, and I’m pleased to say that it’s a solid four star read. A must-read if you’re a Prince fan. It’s a wonderful glimpse into his childhood and his family, the early days of his recording music. It saddens me that he died before completing it… it’s such a tantalizing look at a brilliant, playful mind. He definitely left us too soon and is terribly missed. So there’s one nonfiction book to start the year off right!

I can’t wait to read all of your reading goals for 2020, if you choose to set them. I hope your reading year is getting off to a good start!

Another Blogiversary

Tonight is my FIVE YEAR blogiversary y’all! I can hardly believe it.

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Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

Last year I considered abandoning my blog because I wasn’t sure I had anything valuable to add to the conversation. Also, I was very stressed. This year has been much less stressful, I finally figured out what works for me, and I FINALLY stopped comparing my blog to others’ blogs. Hallelujah! As I was reminded on Instagram recently (@whatkarireads), reading ISN’T A COMPETITION and blogging shouldn’t be either.

I’ve got some fun plans for the blog next year and some solid, reasonable reading goals as well. More on that soon.

I want to thank those of you who drop by and comment regularly. You are superstars and I value your bookish insights, comments, and support. Getting to be in regular conversation with you is a privilege. 

Happy New Year, bloggers. Onward!

Classics Club Spin Result and Some 2019 Bookish Stats

So the Classics Club folks chose number 13 as the Spin number, which means that my next CC pick is A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O’Connor. Here’s the Goodreads summary:

This now classic book revealed Flannery O’Connor as one of the most original and provocative writers to emerge from the South. Her apocalyptic vision of life is expressed through grotesque, often comic situations in which the principal character faces a problem of salvation: the grandmother, in the title story, confronting the murderous Misfit; a neglected four-year-old boy looking for the Kingdom of Christ in the fast-flowing waters of the river; General Sash, about to meet the final enemy.

Sounds like a cheerful way to start the year, ha ha!

And now, some of my reading stats to close out 2019.

Total books read (including middle-grade and chapter books read with my son:) 110

Fiction: 96

Nonfiction:14

Middle Grade/Chapter Books: 36

Poetry: 4

Mysteries/Thrillers: 23

Romance: 3

Short Story Collections: 4

Audiobooks: 3.5 (had to return Ta-Nehisi Coates’s We Were Eight Years in Power midway through because it had a hold on it but I’m going to get it again.)

YA: 2

Rereads: 1 (Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh)

Classics: 12

Books I Owned: 16

Blog Happenings This Year:

Participated in Reading Ireland Month

Made progress on my Classics Club list (17 down, 34 to go!)

Participated in RIP XIV

Participated in #MARM

Participated in Jackie’s Thanksgiving Readathon

Thanks for reading my blog this year, writing such thoughtful comments, giving me such good recommendations, and just being an awesome bookish community in general. I hope you all had a great reading year and wish you the best for 2020!

BRL Best Books of 2019

Here they are – my favorite books of 2019 (note: I read a lot of backlist titles so they’re not all published this year.) Overall I seemed to have less 5-star reads this year than last year, but plenty of 4-star reads. Let’s get to it (in no particular order:)

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (2008.) Strout has emerged as one of my favorite writers. I’d been meaning to read this for years and I’m so glad I did. Gut-wrenchingly beautiful writing.

The F*ck It Diet by Caroline Dooner (2019.) I haven’t written a lot about this but this has been a year of positive changes for me in terms of my body image, weight, health, all that stuff. This is the book that got the ball rolling for me, and it’s funny, smart, relatable, engaging. I love the author’s Instagram feed as well. She’s a hoot. If you’re interested in Health at Every Size or have issues with food and exercise I highly recommend this book.

The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths (2019.) Smart, atmospheric modern-day Gothic mystery. Loved it!

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier (1951.) Brilliant, suspenseful, masterful novel with a heck of an ending. Who exactly was the manipulator in this novel? I’d read this again in a heartbeat.

March:Book Three by John Lewis (2016.) The last in a graphic memoir set that just blew me away. I feel like I learned more about the Civil Rights movement in 1960’s America from this three-volume set than I did in all my history classes. The artwork provides a visceral wallop that drives home how violent and dangerous the struggle for rights was. This set also made me realize what a hero Representative John Lewis is.

The Nickel Boys by a Colson Whitehead (2019.) I thought Whitehead’s last book, The Underground Railroad, was a masterpiece, but he did it again with his next book! In spare prose he focuses on two teenaged black boys in Florida in the 1960’s. They become friends at a reform school for “delinquent ” youth, mostly black kids who were petty criminals or just unwanted kids. He could have wallowed in the horror these boys faced but he didn’t, and I’m grateful. He didn’t waste one word in depicting the injustice and harsh circumstances these young men faced, but instead shined a light onto what was a real situation for hundreds of boys in a real life school like this in Florida. Very moving without being manipulative.

The Lager Queen by J. Ryan Stradal (2019.) This book just went straight to my heart. I don’t even like beer.

24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week by Tiffany Shlain (2019.) I’m grateful that I read this because it’s given my family our Tech-Free Sunday time, where we put down our devices and just hang out with one another. We look forward to this time, even my video-game-obsessed 8 year-old. A very good, very short book about the benefits of unplugging one day a week.

In the Woods by Tana French (2008.) So atmospheric! So intricate and haunting. I got lost in this book. I don’t know why it took me so long to try French.

Over the Top by Jonathan Van Ness (2019.) A very brave memoir from a very open and brave man. So good!

A18h+5O2G3LHonorable Mention: Bringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore (2019.) Historical romance that’s super-smart and well-written. Didn’t tempt me to roll my eyes even once. Great characters and plot, and just enough steaminess to be fun but not annoying. Can’t wait to read her next one.

I like my range of styles here – two self-help books, a contemporary fiction, two mysteries, a graphic memoir and a regular memoir, two literary fiction titles, a classic, and a romance! No one can accuse me of a narrow reading life. I hope your 2019 reading lives were big and wide and full of five-star reads.

Classics Club Spin #22 List

It’s time again for another Classics Club Spin, so here’s a rare non-Friday post from me. If I can read and review whatever classic book the Spin Gods choose for me by January 31 then I’ll be doing great (I’ve got some chunksters here so who knows?!) Here’s my list:

  1. Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
  2. The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov
  3. A Study in Scarlet – Arthur Conan Doyle
  4. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
  5. Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison
  6. Howard’s End – E.M. Forster
  7. Wives and Daughters – Elizabeth Gaskell
  8.  The Thin Man – Dashiell Hammett
  9. Life Among the Savages – Shirley Jackson
  10. The Blue Castle – L.M. Montgomery
  11. The Gowk Storm – Nancy Morrison
  12. Beloved – Toni Morrison
  13. A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories – Flannery O’Connor
  14. The Last Gentleman – Walker Percy
  15. Crossing to Safety – Wallace Stegner
  16. The Warden – Anthony Trollope
  17. The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
  18. Stoner – John Williams
  19. To the Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf
  20. Native Son – Richard Wright
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Photo by Susan Yin on Unsplash

On Sunday the 22nd, they’ll pick a number and then I’ll know which book I have to look forward to in January. Which one would you pick for me?