LINCOLN IN THE BARDO by George Saunders: A Review

This book was published back in 2017, and I have “been meaning to read it” since then. I heard so much about it, not all of it good, BTW. It definitely is different. I finished it the weekend before this one that just passed.

I checked this out from my local library after my friend, Debbie seemed surprised I hadn’t read it yet.

The back cover describes the novel as “original, transcendent, and moving,” and it certainly is. The setting, one year into the Civil War, in a graveyard with its (trapped) inhabitants providing a chorus of voices, reminiscent of a Greek chorus in classical plays. Lincoln’s son, Willie, the one most like him and his favorite has died at age eleven. Lincoln’s grief is heroic and utterly devastating. Newspapers of the day report that Lincoln actually did return alone and grieving to the crypt where his son’s body lay, and at one point (at least) took the body from the coffin and cradled it against his own body. There is enough fact and truth in the story, with enough imagination provided by comments of the dead in the cemetery to describe marvelously Lincoln’s emotions and actions against the background of his grief over the splitting of the country of which he was President, and the war that pitted brother against brother.

The format of the book is also very different.

Pages are divided into quotes, some from historical statements, documents, and journals of the time; others from “quotes” by imaginary residents of the graveyard, who are all rooting for the young child to find peace in the afterlife. (The Bardo is a Tibetan traditional state after death, a kind of purgatory or waiting place. ) They are also aware of the grief and depressed state of the President, for whom they want peace and comfort. Both the format and the theme are highly imaginative/original, presenting a “kaleidoscopic state,” a disorganized tangle of living and dead, historical and invented by the author’s imagination. The philosophical question Saunders poses is, “How can/should we live and love when we know that everything we love must end?”

SPOILER ALERT–You may wish to skip these last few lines.

The ending of this emotionally written book is extremely satisfying. We see the boy’s transition into the afterlife and Lincoln’s easing of the great grief and guilt he experienced as he resolves to continue the fighting of the war he believed in so strongly at its inception.

It turned out to be a “reading experience” for me. I highly recommend it.

THE NINTH HOUR by Alice McDermott: A Review

A calming, soothing story full of character development and compassion.

At first I thought I was not going to like this 2017 publication because it began with a suicide. However, when the Little Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor arrive and try to cover up the suicide, so the surviving widow can bury her husband in concentrated ground, my interest perked to attention. Set in Catholic Brooklyn in the early 20th century, this novel presents Annie, the pregnant widow and then her daughter, Sally who are taken under the wing of the caring nuns, and follows them through their lives until Sally is old enough to consider taking a vocation. What she decides and why she decided it was a surprise to me, as were many other twists and turns the novel took, right down to the end, where the ending itself was a surprise.

The Ninth Hour has “quiet power,” one of the characteristics of literary fiction. The novel’s basic themes are “love, sacrifice, and forgiveness.” Sister St.Savior and Sister Jeanne are unforgettable characters who will remain with one long after they have turned the last page. It is definitely a “darned good read.”

Books can bring comfort as well as diversion from life’s troubles.
Thanks to my young blogging friend, Evin for the special sign off.

CLASSICS CLUB SELECTION FOR AUGUST AND SEPTEMBER

I am reading a classic every other month for the rest of 2021. August/September is the current selection I drew from a fishbowl.
Donna Tartt’s novel is considered a modern classic according to the list I consulted.

This 1992 publication is by the author of a novel selected by my Third Tuesday book club, The Goldfinch, and is one I enjoyed a great deal this summer. it is “compelling, elegant, dramatic, and playful.” Tartt’s History tells the story of a group of college students who are “clever, eccentric, misfits,” which includes themes of obsession, corruption, and betrayal.” It is one of the most suspenseful books I have ever read, a psychological thriller that had me holding my breath at points in the narrative. Many literary allusions grace the novel’s pages, something that held great appeal for this lit major.

It is a mystery that is solved at the beginning, then it unfolds and reveals as the narrative moves along, a “different” type of murder mystery in this respect. Above all else, it is a page-turning, darned good read. I highly recommend it.

Reading can be a good distraction in a time of stress.
Thanks, Erin

DNF, DID NOT FINISH

I failed; I quit; I did not finish Madeline L’Engle’s The Other Side of the Sun.

I tried, honest I did, but after almost fifty pages I did not care about the characters, nor was I blown away by the strangeness and mystery of the homeplace where the main character was placed, awaiting her husband’s return from some secret government assignment. The ancient aunts, lorded over by the “servant,” the actual owner of the house, did not amuse me, nor did I have sympathy for the young, recent bride. So–I decided not to finish the book. I chose this novel as part of my 2021 Madeline L’Engle “project,”to read as many books by and about this amazing author. It was available as an e-Book from my local library. Maybe that was part of the problem. My Better Half was “hogging” the Kindle, so I attempted to read it on my laptop, an impersonal, artificial way to approach any book. That said, I think I will just pass on this Madeline L’Engle offering and continue reading about her in A Light So Lovely: The Spiritual Legacy of Madeline L’Engle. Perhaps I shall start Light So Lovely tomorrow.

Thank you, Evin, for the lovely sign-off you designed.

FIRST LINE FRIDAYS

FRIDAY FIRST LINERS WERE STARTED BY THE PURPLE BOOKER

The idea is to copy the first line or so of a book you are considering reading in an effort to tempt someone else to read the same book with you.

Today’s First lines are from Kristin Higgins’ Life and Other Inconveniences:

” ‘You don’t have a brain tumor,’said my best friend, who, conveniently was also a neurologist.

‘Are you sure?’ I asked. ‘Yes, Emma. Don’t look so disappointed.’ “

The cover blurb promises “…heart, humor, and honesty about women’s real lives,” something that really appeals to me at this point.

Friday Firstliners

(First Line Friday meme borrowed from Hoarding Books)

My June/July Classic Club “assignment” was The Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

This week’s first lines come from:

“They say when trouble comes close ranks, and so the white people did. But we were not in their ranks. The Jamaican ladies had never approved of my mother, ‘because she pretty like pretty self.’ Christophine said.”

The mother mentioned in the first lines is the mother of non-other-than Rochester’s wife, “the madwoman in the attic” of Wuthering Heights, and this is her story. The other woman also has a large part in the narrative. Christophine is a Martinique woman, given to the mistress of the house as a young girl, who sees to her mistress and her daughter, and strongly influences them by her strong personality and island magic. The tales of Couliibri, the estate, are ones that make the reader wonder and tremble in fear. I finished the book last night after being pushed to turn pages rapidly and keep on reading far after I should have turned in for the night. It is an exciting, dramatic read.

FRIDAY FIRSTLINERS

Friday First Liners are found in the first line of a book you are currently reading or are about to start on a Friday. According to the meme’s originator, The Purple Booker, readers are to copy the first line or two of a book and supply the title and the author for those of us to add to our never-ending list of TBRs.

I was looking at my copy of Darien Gee’s Friendship Bread, which was the first selection for our Third Tuesday book club, ten years ago next week, and I am going to copy the beginning of a good book and a great book club.

Chapter One

“I HOPE YOU ENJOY IT.

Julia Evarts looks up from the paper in her hand and studies the gallon-size Zip-lock bag. Inside is a substance that reminds her of drying wall compound, except it’s much pastier and filled with air bubbles. It would have gone straight into the trash had Gracie not been standing beside her, eyes wide with curiosity.”

Not only was this a wonderful book to start a book club with, but the author, Gee, was available for a Skype session as we ate our friendship bread (made from a recipe given in the book) and asked her about writing books . The meeting ended with each of us taking home a “starter” in a plastic tub. And, no, I no longer have a starter in my fridge, but I am seriously thinking of starting up again. LOL

HERE’S TO FRIENDSHIPS AND BOOK CLUBS!

SIMON THE FIDDLER by Paulette Jiles: A Review

When our Third Tuesday book club read Jiles’ News of the World, which was the Gulf Coast read that year, we all enjoyed it so much!

One of my best reads ever, and My Better Half agrees

Simon the Fiddler was published in 2020, and we “jumped on” picking it for our May selection like a chicken on a June bug. Because it was the first time we had met in person in over a year and were combining our meeting with a going away party for two of our members who are moving, we didn’t give Simon the time due it. However, although we all said it was ok (Our minds were on other things.), we all agreed it was nowhere near as good as News.

The novel is set at the tail end of the Civil War (when both sides were seeking deserters). After a fight at the tavern where they are playing, A “rag tag band of musicians”, with Simon, the Fiddler as its leader, are conscripted into the Confederate army , and although Simon was only 23 and not interested in serving, his life as a soldier included “cushy” jobs thanks to his skill with his fiddle. After walking away from a battle, Simon and two army friends are hired to play at a party for a Colonel’s daughter that Simon meets and falls head-over-heels for her Irish lady’s maid (indentured servant), Miss Doris Mary Dillon. It was love at first sight.

Captain Kidd from News of the World makes a short, cameo appearance in this second novel.

The story becomes a “captivating, bittersweet tale of the chances a devoted man will take, and the lengths he will go to to to fulfill his heart’s yearning.”

After a brief dance at the party, Simon and Doris are separated, he hitting the road to escape Confederate troops looking for deserters; she traveling to San Antonio with the family who “owns” her. The scraggly band members join Simon, and traveling together, the men have many adventures and some misadventures as well. My favorite was Simon dealing with a huge ‘gator on his river trip to San Antonio to reunite with Doris. After a letter exchange begins, Simon realizes Doris is having to deal with the drunken, lecherous Colonel, and he can’t get to her side fast enough.

Jiles’ second book is good, but not good enough to measure up to her first. However, Fiddler is a fine read on its own.

READING IN BED by Sue Gee: A Review

If a book is about books or reading, it hits my TBR pile or folder. Reading in Bed’s cover grabbed me immediately, as did its title–something I do frequently.

I started this book during Dewey’s Readathon in April and finished it a few days afterwards. I never reviewed the book, however, and it deserves at least that for being a “darned good read.”

Georgia, recently widowed, and Dido have been best friends for years. The novel opens with the two women returning from a book convention/fair/retreat. As they separate and return to their homes in different towns, each re-evaluates their everyday, “normal” life apart from the literary world they have just left. Georgia is lonely, odd-friend-out at all gatherings, struggling with her relationship with her daughter; and Dido finds “evidence” that her husband of so many years may be having an affair. Through all the details of their lives, their connection with each other remains sturdy and strong.

Georgia has a side-plot, an eccentric, elderly cousin of her late husband”goes completely off the rails,” and it is up to Georgia to step in and “do something.”Dido also has a side-plot, the marriage and family life of her children and grandchildren, and shockingly, the true story behind the “assumed” affair of her husband. There are enough twists and turns in the plot to titillate the most demanding reader. Both women find themselves “…turning to a well-loved book or a true friend” to get through the situation.

As one critic cited, Reading is “an insightful, witty book about life, friendship, and love.” I loved the book and everything about it, making it a darned good read!

THE BOOK CHARMER by Karen Hawkins: A Review

This 2019 publication is an “unforgettable story about a sleepy southern town, two fiercely independent women, and a truly magical friendship.” When I saw this “teaser,” I definitely wanted to read the book. Anything that is about the magic of books is right up my alley.

Sarah Dove is the librarian of Dove Pond, North Carolina’s public library, a member of the town’s founding family, The Doves, and the “charmer” mentioned in the title. Dove Pond “has seen better days,” in fact, is dying, and Sarah is looking for someone to save it. The books, who have “spoken” to her since childhood, tell her that savior has arrived.

Enter Grace Wheeler, a “displaced city girl.” Is she the savior that Dove Pond so desperately needs? Can Grace rescue Dove Pond? Does she even want to? Known to some as “The Dragon Lady,” Grace moves into town with her foster mother, “Mama G” and her niece, Daisy in tow, on the same block as Sarah, and right next door to Trav, an unlikely love interest. With this mix and the town’s resentment of Grace as city manager, fireworks are bound to happen!