Big Reading Life Best of 2015

It’s time for another Best Of list!  Do you ever get tired of reading those?  I don’t, actually.  It’s fun to see what really got people excited in 2015.  Last year, when I began Big Reading Life, I only included books that were published in 2014.  This year, I decided to go with my ten favorite reading experiences of the year, no matter when the book was published.

Here we go!  (In no particular order, and with a one word review:)

A Brief History of Seven Killings – Marlon James.  Masterful.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle – Shirley Jackson.  Classic.

My Salinger Year – Joanna Rakoff.  Nostalgic.

Fates and Furies – Lauren Groff.  Fierce.IMG_2076

Dietland – Sarai Walker.  Subversive.

Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates.  Powerful.

The Shelf: From LEQ to LES: Adventures in Extreme Reading -Phyllis Rose.  Fun.

A God in Ruins – Kate Atkinson.  Heartbreaking.

Dept. of Speculation – Jenny Offill.  Raw.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian – Sherman Alexie.  Just read it.  (Okay, that’s more than one word, but this YA novel is everything – hopeful, hilarious, heartbreakingly sad – it’s got it all and you just have to read it.)

Goodreads tells me I read 77 books this year.  Of those, 17 were written by authors of color.  My main reading goal this year was to increase my numbers from a paltry 7 titles last year.  So 17 is better than 7, but it’s still only 22% of the total.  Room for improvement.

I didn’t re-read Middlemarch, nor did I complete Love in the Time of Cholera, which were my other stated reading goals.  I tried with the Garcia Marquez, but it just didn’t hold my attention.  It happens!

As you look back on your own reading year, I hope you accomplished some of your reading goals, and if you didn’t… well, I hope you enjoyed the journey anyway!  I certainly did!

 

 

 

Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson

Like many of you, I’ve been sad and anxious in the wake of last Thursday’s and Friday’s terrorist attacks on Paris and Beirut.  I’ve fretted about the world my son in growing up in – is it really worse now than it was when I was a child, or was I simply blissfully unaware of the atrocities that were surely happening then?  I have been actively seeking out evidence that the world is NOT going to hell in a handbasket.  Any book, poem, article, piece of art or music that reminds me that there are still many, many good and kind people in the world is a balm to my soul right now.  I believe we have to be intentional about seeking out and celebrating kindness in times like these.

To that end, I want to share a picture book I happened upon this week.  The 2015 Goodreads Choice Awards are being voted upon now.  I wanted to read some of the nominated picture books that I hadn’t yet seen, so I ordered a few from other branches in my library system, and Sidewalk Flowers was one of them.  IMG_2685I am absolutely captivated by this beautiful wordless picture book.  It depicts a little girl walking in the big city with her dad, who is talking on a cell phone and is distracted.  At every opportunity along the way home, she stops to pick flowers she spies growing out of cracks in the sidewalk.  How sweet, I thought.  A meditation on seeing beauty everywhere, noticing the moment.

And then I turned the page, and saw the dead bird lying on the park sidewalk.  IMG_2688The girl leaves some flowers on its still, small breast.  Something in me broke open a little bit.

I also liked this image, of her dad shaking hands with a man, possibly a neighbor or friend, while she shakes hands with the man’s dog. IMG_2689 She adorns the pooch with flowers too.

This is a book about kindness, about beauty, about being present, about knowing your neighbors and spreading joy in your neck of the woods.  It’s about family, and love, and the natural world that exists even in the largest of cities.  It says so much without using any words.  I’m so glad I happened upon it, especially this week.  Goodness abounds, and even in the midst of darkness and sadness, there is still much wonder and joy to celebrate.

My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff

I was attracted to Joanna Rakoff’s My Salinger Year because it is a book about books (my genre kryptonite!) and it is set in New York City (always a plus.) I knew it had gotten good reviews, and that it portrayed the publishing world in the late 1990s.  I obviously knew it involved J.D. Salinger in some way, but this wasn’t necessarily a draw for me, as I’ve only read one of his works.  What I didn’t know was that it would be so damn good.

The memoir details a year Rakoff spent working for The Agency (unnamed, but obviously venerable, as it represented writers like F.Scott Fitzgerald and Agatha Christie.)  While other literary agencies are well into the digital age, The Agency operates almost out of time: typewriters and dictaphones are used instead of computers, people smoke in the office.  A young woman, fresh out of a long-term relationship and grad school in England, Rakoff falls into the position of assistant to one of the senior agents, a woman with a reputation of being somewhat difficult.  Essentially a secretary, Rakoff is assigned the duty of responding to Mr. Salinger’s voluminous fan mail – with a formal response letter.  But as she reads the letters, from all ages, teenagers and World War II veterans alike, she takes the liberty of responding with more personal kindness or advice.  She’s also not supposed to have much contact with Salinger, but as her boss suffers a personal setback, she is forced to engage on a more meaningful level, forming a deeper understanding of the author and his work.

This book is only partly about Salinger and The Agency, though.  It’s also a coming-of-age story, about dingy, freezing apartments, awful, pretentious boyfriends, having no money for lunch, having to face paying back student loans, growing apart from former best friends.  Rakoff writes with such grace about ordinary moments, vividly capturing what it was like to be young and broke in the City.  Take this passage, where she rashly spends money she shouldn’t part with on a sandwich.

I walked directly and purposely to the elegant food shop on Forty-Ninth from which the agents obtained their lunches.  Around me, the Masters of the Universe ordered frisee salads, rubbing elbows with their female counterparts, thin tanned women with Cartier bangles dangling from their thin, tanned wrists.  The sandwiches sat like pastries on silver cake stands.  After much deliberation, I chose a slender flat of bread with some sort of pink cured meat.  At the register, I grabbed a chocolate cookie, ordered a coffee, and handed over a crisp twenty.  I was not, at that exact moment, overdrawn, but my heart still sped up as I placed my meager change in my wallet.  Sandwich in hand, I walked over to Fifth, sat down on the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral with the tourists, and took a bite, a dense, salt, oily bite.  It was, there was no doubt, the most delicious sandwich I’d ever tasted.  I ate half, planning to save the remainder for the next day, then went ahead and devoured that too.

IMG_2634I loved this book.  I love the cover, with its vertical title on the spine (we learn in the memoir that Salinger apparently liked that style.)  I love that it’s a memoir that read likes a novel.  I love that it evokes nostalgia for the late 1990’s, before cell phones and tablets and social media took over our lives.  I love that it makes me want to read everything that J.D. Salinger has ever written, when before I was content with my one high school reading of Catcher in the Rye.  Most of all I loved Rakoff’s voice, so elegant yet so compelling, the wistful tone, the portrait of a young woman finding her voice and her strength.

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

I’m not giving this book five stars, but it’s still going to go on my Best of 2015 list.  That might be a first for me.  I nearly abandoned Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies.  I made it to page 70 and then my stepfather died, and life became very busy.  It sat on my bedside dresser untouched for weeks.  But after things started to calm down a bit, and my focus returned, I began it again, realizing it was due back to the library and had holds.  I’m so glad I kept at it.  It’s a slow burn, a book that rewards the reader’s persistence.IMG_2589

Why four stars, not five?  Because I was so enthralled with the blazing second half of the book (“Furies”) that it detracts from the (good) first half (“Fates.”)  This is a story about art, family, cruelty, the role of fate in one’s life.  But mainly this is a story of a marriage, told from the perspectives of Lotto and Mathilde, husband and wife, married as they graduate from college after a two-week courtship.  Both Lotto and Mathilde have great sadness in their pasts, but it has marked them in completely different ways.  The reader doesn’t get to know much about Mathilde in the first half of the book – she is the wind beneath Lotto’s wings, so to speak.  She works herself ragged to pay the bills while Lotto tries to find work as an actor, she cleans the house, she takes care of details like plane tickets and rental cars.  She pushes him to embrace his emerging talent as a playwright.  She is oddly lovely, slim, composed, reserved. Lotto is charming, sweet, lovable, attracting people as friends and would-be lovers right and left, but I didn’t completely warm to or buy his character.

And then “Furies” begins, and things we think we’ve learned about the marriage and Mathilde begin to shift, layers opening up and peeling away.  Down we go with Mathilde through their years together, like a deep-sea dive, and we hold our breath as we unearth beautiful and ghastly treasures.  I tore through the second half of the novel, and I realized when it was finished that I’d been silently and skillfully gutted.  I have read a couple of reviews of Fates and Furies that bemoan the lack of well-drawn characters in an otherwise artful novel.  I completely disagree – for me, Mathilde Satterwhite is one of the greatest literary characters I’ve read in years.  She is so alive in my brain, so complicated and powerful and sad.  Her tale, satisfyingly full of revelations, pushes this book into my Favorites of 2015 for sure.

Dietland by Sarai Walker

Dietland has a cupcake on the cover – but do a double take, because that’s a cupcake grenade.  You think you’ve read this book, about a young overweight woman in New York City, trying to be a writer, trying (and failing) to lose weight. IMG_2266But this is not that book.  This is something darker, more subversive, and infinitely more pleasing.

Our heroine is Plum (Alicia) Kettle, living in an rent-reduced apartment owned by her cousin, working every day on her laptop at a cafe.  She writes advice letters to teen girls (about cutting, self-esteem, boys, etc.) who write in to the editor of the teen mag Daisy Chain.  They think they’re writing to editor Kitty, but Plum is crafting the responses.  She weighs around 300 pounds, has one friend, and no love life.  Her routine is work, Waist Watcher meetings, and home.  She’s got a gastric bypass surgery scheduled in a few months, and she pins all of her hopes for a “normal” life on the results of that.

Gradually she notices a young woman following her around, a young woman wearing colorful tights, combat boots, and black eyeliner.  Curious but not frightened, Plum confronts the spy, but she plays it off.  One day Plum covers her friend’s shift at the cafe and the girl gets in line to order.  When she gets to the counter, she takes Plum’s hand and writes one word on it in lip pencil: DIETLAND.  Plum is confused and embarrassed, thinking perhaps that it’s an insult.  Her next encounter with the strange girl is in the bathroom of the Daisy Chain office, where she is given a book: Adventures in Dietland by Verena Baptist. It’s a name that brings Plum back to her teenage days of dieting extremes and humiliation.

I don’t want to give more away, because part of the fun in reading Dietland is in unraveling the mystery.  You’ve got the two story lines, Plum’s physical and emotional journey, and the actions of this enigma of a young woman, coming together in all sorts of unexpected and moving ways.  It’s decidedly more disturbing than one might expect, with a powerfully feminist tone, which I loved.  This is sort of like Fight Club combined with a Jennifer Weiner novel, a revenge-fantasy and smart critique of our body-shaming, sexually violent culture.  Really smart, really provocative, totally absorbing.  One of my favorite of 2015.

Mid-August Mini-Reviews (Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Tar Baby by Toni Morrison)

I can’t believe it’s mid-August already.  I’ve been reading, but not writing.  Ever since I finished Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me, I’ve been dithering about how to write about it.

I’ve not felt confident enough in my ability to do it justice.  But if I’m ever going to write another post, I apparently need to just get this one out and get on with it.  Simply put, this book lit me up.  IMG_2076I finished it around midnight one night last week and my brain felt like it was on fire.  I was so electrified by it that I couldn’t get to sleep.  I wanted to purchase many copies and leave them in public places for strangers to pick up.  I wanted to make friends and loved ones read it.  I settled for purchasing a copy for myself, since I had read an ARC that I won in a Goodreads First Reads giveaway.  (Thanks, Goodreads!)

He writes this memoir as a letter to his teenage son, and this is where it connects with me the most, as a parent.  Reading this made me painfully, shamefully aware of the kinds of conversations that I don’t necessarily have to have with my son, simply because of how our skin appears.  (I love that Coates uses the phrase “people who believe they are white” over and over – I bet a lot of people would be surprised if they had genetic testing done and knew their actual genetic makeup.)  Parenthood is fraught with frightening vulnerability anyway, and then add to that a layer of racism, where you never know if the way your son is dressed or how loudly they play their music makes someone think they have the right to kill them.  He wants to simultaneously protect his son but also never hold him back from experiencing life fully, which is something every parent can identify with.  There is a haunting passage where he describes taking his son to visit a preschool.

Our host took us down to a large gym filled with a bubbling ethnic stew of New York children.  The children were running, jumping, and tumbling.  You took one look at them, tore away from us, and ran right into the scrum.  You have never been afraid of people, of rejection, and I have always admired you for this and always been afraid for you because of this.  I watched you leap and laugh with these children you barely knew, and the wall rose in me and I felt I should grab you by the arm, pull you back and say, “We don’t know these folks!  Be cool!”  I did not do this.  I was growing, and if I did not recognize my anguish as the wall, I knew that there was nothing noble in it.  But now I understand the gravity of what I was proposing – that a four-year-old child be watchful, prudent, and shrewd, that I curtail your happiness, that you submit to a loss of time.  And now when I measure this fear against the boldness that the masters of the galaxy imparted to their own children, I am ashamed.

Here’s another passage that affected me, about his educational experiences:

I came to see the streets and the schools as arms of the same beast.One enjoyed the official power pf the state while the other enjoyed its implicit sanction.  But fear and violence were the weaponry of both.  Fail in the streets and the crews would catch you slipping and take your body.  Fail in the schools and you would be suspended and sent back to those same streets, where they would take your body.  And I began to see these two arms in relation – those who failed in the schools justified their destruction in the streets.  The society would say, “He should have stayed in school and then wash its hands of him.

There is so much here in such a slim book.  Painful, challenging, necessary things to read and absorb about what our country is like and what it has been like for so many of its inhabitants.  The writing alone is transcendent.  Mr. Coates has a gift.  But combined with the ideas and the experiences he relates, this book is a modern masterpiece.   I feel like this book has the power to open eyes, minds, and hearts.  I was thrilled to see it at the top of the New York Times best-seller list, and I hope it makes it into the hands of a wide ranging audience.

I just finished reading Toni Morrison’s Tar Baby, written in 1981.  It’s set in that time period, mainly in the Caribbean island country of Dominica.  It’s been far too long since I’ve read anything by Morrison.  In high school we studied Beloved, and as a college freshman I studied Sula.  But that’s been almost twenty years!  How foolish I feel to have waited so long to read more of her work.  IMG_2132This one hooked me from the opening passage.  It was hypnotic, lush, compelling.  It’s a love story, a class story, a race story, a magical story.  Millionaire Valerian Street (that name!) and his much younger wife Margaret have retired to a secluded mansion in Dominica, bringing along with them their hired help, Sydney and Ondine.  Also staying with them is Sydney’s and Ondine’s niece, Jadine, a successful, beautiful fashion model.  Margaret and Valerian’s marriage is in trouble, and relations between them and their help are strained as well.  Enter an enigmatic stranger, a man literally found hiding in Margaret’s closet, a man whom Valerian invites to dinner, much to the dismay of everyone else in the house.  Things get turned upside down, and every relationship is put to the test.  I couldn’t put this one down.  The writing just had this magnetic pull over me.  I  will definitely make more of an effort to read more Toni Morrison now – I’ve realized the error of my ways!

What’s up next?  The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion.   I’m late to this party as well.  I’ve heard nothing but good things from many sources, and when I read that Jennifer Lawrence was going to star in the upcoming movie, I decided to give it a shot.  (And Richard Linklater is rumored to be the director.)  I think I need something lighter now anyway.

Anyone read The Rosie Project or Between the World and Me?  Have a favorite Toni Morrison novel?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The Kind Worth Killing, and Looking Ahead

So.

It’s been a while.  I’ve been reading, but I’ve also been parenting, wife-ing, being a friend, trying to work out, trying to clean – you know, LIFE.  But I’m here now, and I’m excited to tell you about a book!

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Do not pass Go, do not collect $200.  Just go get your hands on a copy of this book.  The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson is packed with twists that this reader did NOT see coming.  It’s smart, well-written, entertaining as hell.  It starts out just the teensiest bit slow, but by halfway through, you’re hanging on for dear life and don’t want to put it down.

THIS is the thriller that should be on the best-seller list (not that book about the train, you know the one. It was… okay.  Not great.)   Can we make this book happen, please?  I’m going to do my best to put this in the hands of my patrons at the library.

What’s it about?  I don’t want to spoil anything so I’ll give you the basic premise: Ted Severson has discovered that his wife, Miranda, is cheating on him with the contractor for the house they’re building.  On his way back from England on a business trip, he meets Lily Kintner, a waifish, attractive red-head who engages him in  conversation.  When Ted half-jokingly tells Lily that he’d like to kill his wife, Lily basically says, “Why not?”

It’s supposed to be sort of an updated version of Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train.  I’ve not read that, nor have I seen the film that was based on the novel.  I put the Highsmith on my good old trusty Goodreads TBR.

Peter Swanson has written another book, called The Girl With a Clock For a Heart.  I put that one on the TBR too.

So what’s up next?  Well, I’ve gotten some good stuff lately.  I’ve got an Inspector Wexford (Ruth Rendell) mystery waiting for me at the library.  I also am in the  middle of a travel-memoir called The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World’s most Glorious – and Perplexing – City by David Lebovitz.  I have a real soft spot for travel memoirs, especially about people moving to France.  This one would be perfect for a real foodie, which I’m not.  So I sort of skim the recipes at the end of each chapter.

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I ordered Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankin from another branch, and I’m psyched to start that.  I’ve heard nothing but good things about it.  I’ve heard it’s powerful and tough to read.  I’ll let you know how it hits me.

And then two fun books from the used book store: Four Nights With the Duke by Eloisa James and The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes.  I’m trying to branch out with romance, and I’ve heard that Ms. James is among the best.  And The Shining Girls sounds intriguing but pretty terrifying, so we’ll see if I can handle it.  Maybe not!

What have you guys got lined up?  Got any good thriller/suspense recommendations for me?

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!

Dept. Of Speculation by Jenny Offill

I fall in love with books sometimes.  I become so attached to them that I can’t even articulate well why I’m so in love with them.  They’re just a part of me now, and I will defend them and recommend them to anyone and everyone. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter is such a book.  So is Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. This week I’ve found another book to fall in love with:  Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill.

Slim, devastating, funny, profound; these are words I would use to describe this novel.  Others have used: experimental, radiant, powerful, exquisite.  My favorite review of it from a Goodreads user says this: “6 stars.  I’m doing my inarticulate book-clutching thing.”  That’s precisely what I do when I fall in love with a book – clutch it to my metaphoric bosom and sigh and grasp for words.

Dept. of Speculation is “experimental” in that Offill tells the story in short paragraphs with lots of open space on the page, letting her readers fill in gaps and make connections themselves.  But the narrative remains fluid and propulsive.  It’s about many things:  women as artists, marriage, motherhood, living in New York City, bedbugs, thinking too much, getting older, the vastness of space.  The greatness of this novel is not so much in the story itself as it is in the way that she tells it.  The connections Offill makes from the particular and intimate to the universal and expansive are just brilliant.

There are devastating sentences.  Like this one, about the difficulties of parenting:

“Of course it is difficult. You are creating a creature with a soul, my friend says.”

Or this one, which resonates so much with me, an over-thinker, married with one child:

“There is still such crookedness in my heart. I had thought loving two people so much would straighten it.”

One Goodreads review says, “I underlined basically the entire novel.”  I feel the same way, like Jenny Offill has peered inside my brain and taken my mashed-up tangle of feelings and thoughts and straightened them out and made them pretty and profound on the page.  I read it twice; started it again right after I finished it. It’s such a fast read that I wanted to go back and make sure I didn’t miss anything. I wanted to make sure that I read what I thought I’d read, which is one of the best books published last year.

 

The Road to Lichfield by Penelope Lively

Sometimes I’m in the mood for something Very British.  Oh, heck, I’m in the mood for that all the time!  When it comes to books I’m very much an Anglophile – Ruth Rendell, Barbara Pym, Graham Greene, Virginia Woolf, Anita Brookner, Kate Atkinson – they’re some of my favorite authors ever. The wit, the famous reserve, the atmosphere – there’s something about books set in the UK that I find hard to resist.

Add Penelope Lively to the list.  I’d read two of her novels previously – Moon Tiger and Passing On – that’s what my Goodreads account tells me, anyway.  I couldn’t tell you a single thing about either one of them, truth be told!  It’s kind of sad how little my brain retains – I guess that happens to many voracious readers like myself.  If I don’t re-read a book, or perhaps discuss it in my book group, then chances are good I’ll forget most of it in a few years!

The Road to Lichfield is a quiet novel, but still waters run deep, don’t they?  Our heroine is Anne, a married forty-year-old mother of two, teaching history at a prep school.  Her husband is sort of bland, but nice, and they’ve been together for seventeen years.  Her father is dying, and the road to Lichfield takes her to visit him at the nursing home.  She begins cleaning out his house and finds some papers that open her eyes to another side of her father, one she never expected.  In the meantime, she meets his neighbor, David, a friendly, handsome, also married teacher about her age who used to spend some time with her dad fishing.  You can guess what happens, right?

Anne sort of wakes up, as from a deep sleep, seeing the landscape anew – the roads are not just roads anymore, they’re beautiful and sacred.

I have never before, Anne thought, realized that cooling towers are beautiful.  Or that front gardens of houses are infinite in their variety.  Or that clouds piled on the skyline take on the shape of castles and cathedrals.  If fields are always that color in late April, then it seems to have escaped me hitherto.  And never have I sat in a traffic jam, sandwiched between two shuddering lorries, and hummed or tried to all I can remember of The Marriage of Figaro.  I have never particularly enjoyed driving.  I have certainly never realized that roads one has known for years could be sanctified in the course of three weeks.

Written in 1977, it feels remarkably modern.  I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it – I relished every opportunity I had to return to its pages.  Making dinner, my son’s nap time, every chance I could I wanted to dive back in to Anne’s life – not so much to find out what happens, but more to experience Lively’s lovely, measured prose.  It’s not a revolutionary plot by any means, but it is the kind of novel I am often drawn to – one about tangled, messy relationships and family secrets, with lots of interior “action” inside the characters’ minds.  Sort of a cross between the more somber Anita Brookner and the witty Barbara Pym, this was just the novel I needed to re-energize my reading.  I now intend to read all of Lively’s novels and probably re-read the other two I have already (allegedly) read. It’s always exciting to add another author to the list!