Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Bookish Twitter People

I love Twitter.  And I kind of hate it too.  I took it off of my phone during Lent, because I felt like I was wasting too much time on the internet and it wasn’t time well spent.  (I still occasionally checked it on my computer, but for some reason it’s not as addictive as on my phone.  Portability?)  I still haven’t put it back on my phone, and that’s okay, because if I check it once or twice a day that’s plenty.

But I do love it, because I follow some of the coolest people on earth, and they say some really funny, witty, insightful things. I find that authors and bookish people are very responsive on Twitter, which is cool. So this week’s The Broke and Bookish Top Ten Tuesday topic is a really fun one for me.  I want to share my favorite bookish Twitter people and I want to hear about yours!  I thought I’d share a random tweet from my picks just to give you a flavor of what you might be missing.

Me at lunch with my mom: “You know Twilight?” Her: “No.” Me: “Books, movies? Vampires?” Her: “No.” Me: “Girl loves a vampire?” Her: “No.”

Trump is insane! Cruz more terrifying every debate! And … and … and … ok, I’m not actually watching that shit, just guessing.

I literally just had to explain to an adult relative that just because something is on the internet doesn’t mean it’s true

I hate when you’re writing, typing away on your iPad, and your little muffin top rolls upwards and starts trying to get in on the act

gonna start responding to all comments calling me reverse racist with “nah”

These are all kind of goofy tweets, but that’s what I love about Twitter.  It’s a place where funny, smart people can shine.  I’m cutting off my list at five bookish people, but there are many others who I follow and enjoy, like Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Mat Johnson, Celeste Ng, Saeed Jones, Maureen Johnson, Roxane Gay, and Megan Mayhew Bergman.  So, tell me – who else should I be following?  Do you use Twitter?  Or is there another social media platform you enjoy more?

 

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A Glass of Blessings by Barbara Pym

London, late 1950s.  Wilmet Forsyth (that name!) has just turned 33 years old. She is married to her civil servant husband Rodney.  They met in Italy, during WWII, when she served as a Wren (Women’s Royal Naval Service) and he was a soldier. When A Glass of Blessings begins, Wilmet has started going to St. Luke’s church in London because her parish church services have become too Low for her.  (Unsure what that meant, I looked it up – it means that the services have a Protestant emphasis rather than a more ritualized Anglo-Catholic emphasis.)  Attending a lunch time service, she happens to meet Piers Longridge, the brother of a dear former Wren friend, Rowena.  She hasn’t seen him in quite a while, and she speculates that there’s something unsatisfactory about how he’s turned out – at least that’s the conventional wisdom.  Is it because he’s unmarried at the age of 35?  Is it his underemployment? They speak after the service ends, and Piers pays her a compliment.

“And women are so terrifying these days and seem to expect so much, really far more than one could possibly give.  Not that I would include you in my condemnation,” he added quickly.  “You look particularly charming today, Wilmet.” He smiled down at me in the provocative way I remembered…Rodney seldom commented on my appearance now and Piers had that engaging air of making me feel that he meant what he said.

41LojnPaQfL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Wilmet is bored.  She has no children (she doesn’t seem to want any – was this unusual for literature in the 1950s?) and doesn’t work outside the home.  She doesn’t seem to do much work inside the home either. She and her mother-in-law, Sydney (who is an avowed agnostic and a  hoot) decide to take Portuguese classes from Piers in the evenings.  She also decides to become more a part of the goings on at St. Luke’s.  Wilmet starts working with the rather dowdy fellow parishioner Mary Beamish, one of those single “excellent women” who devote their time to good works of the church.  Just associating with Mary seems to make Wilmet feel better about herself.  I found this passage hilarious:

…I remembered my promise to Mary Beamish to join the panel of blood donors.  I saw myself lying on a table, blood pouring from a vein in my arm into a bottle which, as soon as it was full, would be snatched away and rished to hospital to save somebody’s life.  There seemed at that moment no limit to what I could do.

With Rodney not paying her much attention, she experiences a sort of infatuation with Piers.  They have outings once in a while, but he plays hot and cold with Wilmet, which only seems to attract her more. ( There’s an incident with a Christmas gift that has no note – naturally Wilmet thinks it’s from Piers!)  Piers is an enigma, but meanwhile, Wilmet has to fend off the unwanted attentions of her friend Rowena’s husband Harry.  And then there’s a new youngish, attractive assistant priest joining St. Luke’s.

What follows is a story with a very small footprint, but an emotional impact greater than its size.  This is what I love best about Barbara Pym’s novels: they capture the full range of human emotion in seemingly ordinary, everyday small interactions.  They’re also terribly funny in that dry British way I love.  Where many of her novels feature spinsters, this one is told from the perspective of a married woman, and the novel portrays marriage rather realistically.  A Glass of Blessings is written in first person, so we get to know Wilmet well.  I find her a likeable character despite her self-centeredness and vanity.  She’s somehow endearing, and she becomes more mature and self-aware by the end of the book. ( Is she resigned?  Chagrined?  Maybe both.)  If you’ve never read Barbara Pym before, I’d say start with Excellent Women, and then maybe read this one, or Jane and Prudence.  You can’t go wrong!  I’ve not yet read all of her novels, but I know I’ll enjoy them!

 

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

Kate Atkinson is a goddess.  Besides the inimitable Margaret Atwood and the delightful Jess Walter, she is my favorite living writer.  She’s a fearless risk-taker, smashing any sort of rule about what “literary” fiction can do.  Her Jackson Brodie novels (Case Histories, etc.) are some of the best mysteries around, although they’re not categorized as such in my library.  Her short stories in the collection Not the End of the World can be described as magical realism.  I wouldn’t be surprised if she attempted (and mastered) a science fiction novel next.

Saturday night I finished her latest book, A God in Ruins.  It’s a companion novel to 2013’s Life After Life.  While that one focused on Ursula Todd, and her many lives before, during, and after WWII, this one centers on her younger brother Teddy.

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It’s about love, death, duty, parents and children, aging, goodness, and the countless voices and lives that are silenced by war.  (“The dead are legion” is a recurring phrase.)  In her superb Author’s Note at the end, Atkinson says that the book is about two things:  fiction and the Fall.  (Of Man.  From grace.)

War is Man’s greatest fall from grace, of course, especially perhaps when we feel a moral imperative to fight it and find ourselves twisted into ethical knots… the bottom line is that war is savage.  For everyone.  Innocent or guilty.  This is a novel, not a polemic (and I am no historian) and I have accordingly left the doubts and ambiguities for the characters and the text to voice.

She may not be a historian, but reading this novel has given me a deeper grasp of the courage (in spite of any doubts) of the very young men and women who served in World War II in England.

And Teddy!  I adored Teddy.  He’s a truly good person, having made a promise that if he survived the war, he would live a good and kind life.  He has a poet’s soul, he loves nature, he’s a patient and loving father and grandfather, and he’s a steadfast and calm leader as pilot of his bomber crews.  (The scenes up in the air in the Halifax bombers he flies are truly exciting and interesting, by the way.)

I don’t think you necessarily have to have read Life After Life to appreciate A God in Ruins, but I think it adds an extra layer of enjoyment, seeing the same characters from another point of view.  Personally, I feel that I must re-read Life After Life.  While I loved and respected it, it was such a challenging book structurally that I feel like I just barely grasped it.  With this one, I FELT it.  I lived and breathed it.  I missed it when I had to put it down.  I could barely see the words as I read the last few pages, I was crying so hard.  It spoke to me on a deep level as a book that wrestles with life’s beauty and sadness, love and mortality.  I think (I hope!) that we will see this novel on many best-of and award-winning lists at the end of the year.  Put yourself on the hold list at your library – or better yet, give Kate Atkinson your money- NOW!

Remembering Ruth Rendell

I was saddened to read last week that Ruth Rendell, author of more than 60 mysteries and psychological thrillers, passed away at the age of 85.  She is absolutely one of my favorite authors ever.  I began reading her standalone novels about 7 or 8 years ago, and began reading her Inspector Wexford series about 4 years ago.  I’m still slowly making my way through all of her works, as I’m not one to read a series or a particular author back-to-back.  (I like to draw out the pleasure, and there are so many books!)  I haven’t even touched the ones she wrote under the name Barbara Vine.  So, happily, I have many more encounters with Ms. Rendell’s works to look forward to.

What makes her unique among mystery writers, I think, is just how literate and intricately plotted her novels are.  Sometimes you quickly know the “who dunnit” of the story, but what is more important is often the why part of the equation.  Rendell excels at delving into the dark corners of the human mind, and at times she makes you almost sympathize with the people committing the crimes.  In a 2005 NPR interview, she talked a bit about this.

Rendell was asked whether she was fascinated by crime. “Well, I don’t know that I am fascinated with crime,” she said. “I’m fascinated with people and their characters and their obsessions and what they do. And these things lead to crime, but I’m much more fascinated in their minds.”

Her standalone novels are a bit darker and more gruesome – though not sensational – than her Wexford books, in my opinion – at least the ones I’ve thus far read.  Her Inspector Wexford novels are a delight.  The first couple start off a little slow, but you quickly come to love the characters of Wexford, lover of literature and tenacious crime-solver, and his no-nonsense right hand man, Det. Inspector Mike Burden.  It’s really interesting to follow the changes in British society from the early 1960’s, when the first books were written, to the present day – lots of trenchant social commentary sprinkled in.  Her plots involve lots of red herrings and sometimes I admit to having to go back and re-read passages to fully understand what happened! But that only proves the point that she’s a smart writer.

Mysteries were among my first loves of the book world.  I began with the Nate the Great and the Cam Jansen series, moved onto Nancy Drew, became enchanted by Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game, and devoured most of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot series by the time I was a teenager.   Mysteries are a comfort read for me, even if they get a little gruesome or disturbing.  (Although I don’t want to read a mystery involving something awful happening to a child.  Deal-breaker.)  I love the challenge of trying (and most often failing) to solve the puzzle.  I often use them as a palate cleanser after reading a particularly challenging novel. I suppose I’m on a bit of a crusade to get people to read Rendell’s work.  Mysteries sometimes get a bad rap, as does any other genre that’s not “literature.” (Insert posh accent here.)  I’m glad that the walls of genre seem to be crumbling lately. It’s a tired old argument, especially these days when it seems most people don’t even read one book in any given year.  Good writing is good writing!  Ruth Rendell is good writing, people.  In another interview for The Guardian,  she was asked how she’d like to be remembered.  In her practical style, she answered,

I don’t really care. Nobody will go on being remembered for a very long time, unless you’re Shakespeare or Milton. I have no hope of being remembered at all.

I kind of love this.  It’s true, and it’s depressing how short the life span of novels and authors are in the collective consciousness, really.  But to me, her writing means a great deal.  I can’t tell you how many hours of enjoyment I’ve gained by reading her.

Snow Days

Okay, so it’s been more like Ice Days.  After a winter of NO SNOW, which was unusual, East Tennessee got hit with an ice storm on Monday.  I had taken the week off, since I was off for Presidents’ Day anyway, just to have time to spend with my son and husband.  Mission accomplished!  The week hasn’t quite looked like what I thought it might when I put in for my time.  But it’s been good.  The roads in our neighborhood are well taken care of.  And thankfully we didn’t lose power like many of our East Tennessee neighbors.  (It’s getting down to 3 degrees tonight!)  I’ve been eating like a horse, though – frigid temps plus being cooped up for a couple of days does that to me.

My reading time has consisted of my son’s naps – when he does nap – and maybe a few minutes before bed.  But I’m making progress on Kelly Link’s story collection Get in Trouble.  I’ve not read her before but reviews of this were everywhere, and once again I’m late to an author party.  I’ve read six of the stories and am enjoying them very much.  Is this magical realism?  Is this speculative fiction?  Fantasy?  Sci-Fi?  I think you could say yes to all of these categories.  The stories include fairy tale cabins, phantom lovers, and superheroes, all presented in a matter-of-fact, this-is-how-the-world-is way.  The rest of her books are going on my TBR pronto.

I finished Jess Walter’s Over Tumbled Graves, and Nick Hornby’s Ten Years in the Tub, which took me about two weeks to read.  I love that Hornby’s book has a foreword by Jess Walter, and that in his columns he gushes about Walter’s novels. He’s one of my absolute favorite writers too –  in the top 10.   He can truly write anything, and he has such fondness for his characters, losers they may be – lovable or otherwise.  Over Tumbled Graves was his first novel, a crime-thriller set in Spokane, Washington, which is also where Walter lives.  It was good – a literary thriller with well-developed characters and emotions, as well as an exciting plot.  Reminded me a bit of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series, but just a shade more on the literary side.  It was interesting to see where Walter started and reflect on how different all of this works have been.  I love it when an author won’t let himself be pigeonholed into a certain genre.  I was lucky to hear him read one of his short stories and speak at the UT Library Auditorium a couple of years ago.  He was just as smart, funny, and interesting as the novels and stories he writes.  (I might just have a wee bit of a crush on him as well.  If you didn’t notice.  Ha!)

There’s nothing better than snuggling under the covers with a good book on a cold/icy/snowy day.  I hope, that whatever the weather’s doing in your neck of the woods, you’ve got some good books to keep you company!

Let’s Talk About Carol Shields

My final book of 2014 was Carol Shields’ The Box Garden. I’ve read all eight of her other novels but had been putting this one off because it was the only one of hers I hadn’t read yet.  Sadly, she passed away in 2003 and I guess I wanted to have something of hers to look forward to.  She wrote three short story collections, and three books of poetry though, so I still have those on the TBR list.

She’s one one my very favorite authors and I think she’s terribly underrated.  I feel like no one talks about her anymore, even though she’s a Pulitzer Prize winner (for The Stone Diaries.) Before she died she addressed her literary legacy and told Terry Gross of NPR:

“You know, I am a realist, and I know the shelf life of a book is about four months. The day that I got the Pulitzer Prize, I met Margot Jefferson and she said, “You know what this means, don’t you?” And I said, “No, what?” And she said, “You already know the first line of your obituary.” And of course I do. I found that rather frightening. But someone sent me a list of all the Pulitzer Prize winners since something like 1915, I think, and half of them I’d never heard of, half of them. So I don’t think literary reputations live on, very few of them. Books, you know, fall out of the public eye. So I don’t have a sense of leaving anything permanent at all. I suppose one thinks of one’s children as what you leave permanently, and their children. Naturally I like to write books that people enjoy reading, but the literary legacy, no it’s very unimportant to me.”

I think she’s a brilliant observer of human foibles and emotions.  She reminds me so much on Anne Tyler, another of my favorite authors – but I’d never made that connection until now!  They both catalog “ordinary” people, characters who are often quirky and neurotic yet endearing.  I read all sorts of stories, but I  particularly love reading about people who seem real to me – emotions and relationships that ring true even if the choices made are not logical or for the best.  And the writing!  Such lovely, insightful, precise writing.  Here’s an example from The Box Garden:

“I can never quite believe in the otherness of people’s lives. That is, I cannot conceive of their functioning out of my sight. A psychologist friend once told me this attitude was symptomatic of a raging ego, but perhaps it is only a perceptual failure. My mother: every day she lives in this house; it is not magically whisked away when I leave; the walls and furniture persist and so do the house which she somehow fills. When Seth was five and started school I came home the first day after taking him and grieved, not out of nostalgia for his infancy or anxiety for his future, but for the newly revealed fact that he had entered into that otherness, that unseeable space which he must occupy forever and where not even my imagination could follow.” 

This novel is a slim but engaging book, published in 1977,  and centers on Charleen, who’s pushing forty.  A divorced mother of a teenage boy, she’s traveling with her boyfriend of two years to visit her mother, who is getting married again.  It’s a tale of strained but familiar relationships, old hurts and regrets relived, and new beginnings.  It starts out kind of slow but really picks up steam once Charleen is back home with her difficult mom and her sister Judith.  A plot point involving Seth takes a rather unexpected turn near the end and makes for a page-turning ending.

We’ve got all of her novels here at the library where I work, so I’ll continue to recommend Carol Shields for as long as anyone will listen.  After I read her short stories I’ll go back and re-read her novels over time.  Her place among my favorite authors is safe and sound.  I think she’d be fine with that.