Saturday, August 31, 2019


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Inheritance, Dani Shapiro, Alfred A Knopf, 2019, 252 pp
Partial Summary From Goodreads: 
The acclaimed and beloved author of Hourglass now gives us a new memoir about identity, paternity, and family secrets—a real-time exploration of the staggering discovery she recently made about her father, and her struggle to piece together the hidden story of her own life.
In the spring of 2016, through a genealogy website to which she had whimsically submitted her DNA for analysis, Dani Shapiro received the stunning news that her father was not her biological father. She woke up one morning and her entire history—the life she had lived—crumbled beneath her.
My Review:
I was not as blown away by this memoir as most readers seem to have been. It was my first time reading Dani Shapiro and I don't guess we have much in common as far as worldview and emotional concerns go. That is alright. It happens to me with real live people I meet as well.
I was fascinated to learn some history about artificial insemination. In the 1950s it was as messed up as any other aspect of reproduction, sex, and the effects of all that on women. Dani Shapiro's mother, as portrayed in the book, made me think of the wife in John Williams's Stoner.
The more fraught subject for me is the intersection of genealogy, genetic engineering and eugenics. Richard Powers took that on in his 2009 novel Generosity. I just don't trust the human race and our science in a world that still has atomic arsenals, active White Supremacists and Fascism, to do anything but harm with genetic engineering.
Aside from the writing, which I found a bit weak and sometimes overwrought, Dani Shapiro did enlist my sympathies as she described her childhood, her deep feelings of not fitting in to her Jewish family, and her confusions about her relationship with her father. I could not predict how I would have reacted to the news she got or how I would have dealt with it.
Thus the book was not a waste of my reading time. It left me with empathy for people in my life who had to search for their birth parents. I used to feel so out of place in my family while growing up that I wondered if I had been adopted and they just hadn't told me yet.   

Thursday, August 29, 2019


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The Wapshot Scandal, John Cheever, Harper & Row, 1964, 302 pp
(Well, I am back. My husband, who has always been lucky, has recovered well. We have adjusted to a new normal involving a few tweaks on our lifestyle. Honestly, I think it took me longer to recover from all the worry and stress than it took him to recover from what happened to his body. It could have been so much worse and I am filled with gratitude to whoever or whatever watches over us.)
The Wapshot Scandal was John Cheever's follow up novel to his National Book Award winner, The Wapshot Chronicle. I truly enjoyed the earlier novel. This one still had a sort of humor but was darker. It is set in contemporary early 1960s New England, several decades later than the end of the former novel. Life has become more troubled even though prosperity has been brought by the postwar boom.
The Cold War, the threat of nuclear annihilation, hangs like a miasma of anxiety over the two Wapshot brothers. It festers as a deep ennui for their wives. The matriarchal great-aunt of the Wapshot family, whom the brothers are counting on for a large inheritance, failed to pay her income tax and stands to lose her fortune to the IRS.
I think Cheever did nail the underlying zeitgeist of the times. Though the Wapshots were always a bit outside the laws and conventions of their late 19th and early 20th century New England society, these brothers and their wives are stuck between an unthinkable future and the realities of their present. The wives want passion, freedom and a purpose. The men don't seem to know what they want.
Cheever writes in a readable style and it is impossible not to be drawn in. I remember my parents and their friends discussing the state of the world and society when I was in high school. Cheever brings those same issues to life through his characters, their anxieties and actions. His story is grim at times but also made me laugh while I groaned.

I left for college and adult life in 1965, determined to get what those wives wanted, to stop war and the bomb, to find the purpose of my life. In this novel, I found yet another conception of what I left behind.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019


This past Sunday, which was my birthday, my husband began to have alarming symptoms. I took him to the Emergency room at the hospital. Because he is a private sort of guy, I am not at liberty to say what it was, but it was fairly serious. He was in the hospital from Sunday to yesterday. He is now home and seems to be fine but we are both shaken and I have been absent from my normal life.

So I may be absent from the blog for a few more days. Just wanted to let you, my regular followers know why I have not been posting or visiting your blogs this week. 

I'll be back as soon as I can.

Saturday, August 17, 2019


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Trust Exercise, Susan Choi, Henry Holt and Company, 2019, 212 pp

Reading Susan Choi for me is always a trust exercise but I have yet to lose my faith in her. I have learned that she rarely goes where I think she is going. Her theme in the novels I have read before (A Person of Interest and My Education), as well as in this one, is self-perception and self-preservation. It is no wonder that radical shifts take place as a hallmark of her fiction.

The title of this novel comes from a training step for acting students in a performing arts high school located in an unnamed southern American city. It is a doozy of a drill created by a drama teacher who turns out to be an untrustworthy fellow. He is that kind of charismatic personality that suckers the impressionable to follow him blindly and eagerly.

I agree with other reviewers on the inadvisability of revealing much about the plot. Susan Choi manages two complete turn-abouts in the course of the story, so disorienting that at first I had no idea what was going on. She did not lose me though.

I think that is why I am such a fan. Despite a sort of reader's whiplash I never suffer any permanent injury. In fact, I have felt great at the end of all three novels while being highly aware of having been emotionally and intellectually challenged almost beyond my tolerance. This is what I look for in books.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019


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My Sunshine Away, M O Walsh, G P Putnam's Sons, 2015, 303 pp
Sometimes when I meet a new person who finds out that I love to read, I am given a book or books by that person. Then I feel somewhat obligated to read the book. In that way this novel came to me. I did not know anything about it except for the cover flap summary.
This debut novel was not bad, neither was it great. Set in the summer of 1989 in a white privileged neighborhood of Baton Rouge, a 15-year-old girl is raped. Lindy Simpson is the belle of the neighborhood and a boy across the street (who narrates the story) has a hopeless crush on her.

This boy, along with three other males in the area, becomes a suspect. As usual in these cases, the police fail to identify or charge any culprit. For about 300 pages, I lived inside this boy's head, gradually learning about his life, Lindy's life and his obsession with her.

He was not the rapist (not a spoiler, you know this soon enough) but he feels guilty for reasons his teenage mind does not understand though he figures it has something to do with how he had lusted after this beautiful, free-spirited track star of a female since he was in middle school. He knows little about romantic love, he knows plenty about his own and other boys' sexual desires, he has some truly messed up male friends. Eventually he becomes a sort of friend of Lindy's, but she of course has changed, is depressed and becomes pretty weird herself.

I was uncomfortable with this boy's actions and attitudes. What he feels toward Lindy is almost completely about him. I was lucky in high school. I had a steady boyfriend for three years and we loved each other, or at least we thought we did. It is true that in the end I felt he didn't really get me and we broke up after graduating, but it was never weird.

So I suppose, well actually I know, there are boys who mostly just want sex and will do anything to get it. Later in the book, the narrator figures himself out, grows up, marries another woman and is happy.

Since M O Walsh is male and grew up in Baton Rouge, I assume he knew what he wrote about, but it seemed somehow a little off to me. Something was missing, something did not quite add up. I think he was trying to discover the fine line between lust and love, but I was not convinced that he pulled it off.

Sunday, August 11, 2019


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Chimes of a Lost Cathedral, Janet Fitch, Little Brown and Company, 2019, 730 pp

This is the second volume of the story begun in The Revolution of Marina M, one of my favorite books of 2017. I loved both books so much. What Janet Fitch has done in these books is to show the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the first few years of Russian communism, disaster and terror through the life of an impetuous, passionate, idealistic young woman who is also an emerging poet.

Marina's Russian soul led her into all the tumult of 1917 but her energy and spirit carried her through those confusing times. Chimes of a Lost Cathedral picks up right where the first book left off. If you have not read the first volume, I dare not cover the plot of this second one because anything I wrote would be full of spoilers.

Chimes finds Marina in more dire circumstances than ever. Her previous choices have caught up with her and to an extent she is trapped. Her fiery refusal to ever be a victim paradoxically brings on the very worst losses and heartbreaks of her short life. Chimes is a darker story of the consequences of revolution, especially for women and children.

Still, the poets and writers loom large as well as the clashes between idealists and "practical" politicians. Even as she matures Marina's heroism and lusty approach to life makes for a breathtaking finish. 

These two books are long in the good way that long books take you through sweeping changes and immerse you in their worlds. If you have liked Pachinko, The Sympathizer, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, Do Not Say We Have Nothing, The Big Green Tent or The Nix, you will love The Revolution of Marina M and Chimes of a Lost Cathedral.

Thursday, August 08, 2019


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White Teeth, Zadie Smith, Random House Inc, 2000, 448 pp
I first read this debut novel by Zadie Smith in 2012. I reread it this time for a reading group. Here is what I thought about it after the first read:
If literary fiction could always, or at least more often, be as good as this...well, I guess I would be an even more voracious reader than I am. I decided to read White Teeth before I jumped into NW because I read somewhere that both books are set in the same neighborhood of Northwest London. I have not felt as satisfied as I did while reading White Teeth in quite a while--well except for two weeks earlier when I read Telegraph Avenue.
In fact the two books have some parallels. Both throw together families of varying backgrounds who are joined together by a friendship between two men. Both are grounded in a neighborhood and poke around into what makes people the way they are.
I have only been to London once when I was a teen, but I could see, even smell, the setting of this book. I think watching movies helps, but the descriptions put me there, in the streets, in the apartments, restaurants, bars, and schools.
Working class Archie Jones and Bangladeshi Samad Iqbal have been friends since fighting together in World War II, when one saved the other's life. Samad lost the use of one hand and Archie has a piece of metal forever in his thigh. Archie's second wife Clara is the daughter of a Jamaican immigrant who is a devout Jehovah's Witness. Samad's wife came to him via an arranged marriage in the Deshi community. Each man in his own way is bewildered by his offspring as well as by his wife, not to mention the pace of life in the last decade of the century and the millennium. 
Smith uses multiple viewpoints and various bits of history which she calls "root canals" to build the intertwining strands of three families. The children of Archie and Samad get tangled up with a middle class English family, the Chalfens: progressive, liberal, educated idiots with their beliefs in science, psychology and enlightened parenting. 
They all have white teeth. The each want love, a better life, a belief in something beyond themselves. That sounds serious but they ricochet off each other in the most comic ways. White Teeth is a comedy show and a reality show resting on a keen awareness and observance of the multicultural lives we now lead.
Though Zadie Smith takes her time developing the stories of these characters, she begins right off with a sense of tension, maintaining it at a disturbing steadily intensifying rate until the final explosion. Really, I had no idea where she was taking me but went willingly only to have it brought home to me that these root canals are reproduced in every generation.
"But first the endgames. Because it seems no matter what you think of them, they must be played, even if, like the independence of India or Jamaica, like the signing of peace treaties or the docking of passenger boats, the end is simply the beginning of an even longer story."
As you can see, I was impressed on that first reading. It turns out I remembered it well but rereading was worth the time spent. 
1) I got just as much enjoyment but I understood the ending much better. I was able to see how she accomplished a perfect knitting together and tying up of the multiple threads the story contains.
2) For the other reading group members who struggled with it, some not even finishing it, all of whom pretty thoroughly disliked it, I could sympathize. It is not a novel for everyone though it has all of humanity in it: colonizers, colonized, immigrants, mixed cultures and religions, the privileged, the underprivileged, the old and the young.
Perhaps Zadie Smith, like many novelists, tried to put everything in her head into her debut. Still, it got the attention of the literary world and she is having a great career.

Monday, August 05, 2019


Here we go! Another month and another 5 reading group meetings. Last month One Book At A Time did not meet for various reasons so we will discuss The House of the Broken Angels in August. I am looking forward to all the discussions and the variety of books is vast!

Tina's Group:
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Carol's Group:
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Bookie Babes:
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Tiny Book Club:
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Have you read any of these books and/or discussed them in a reading group? What will you be discussing this month?

Thursday, August 01, 2019


July seemed to go on forever but I made good use of the time for reading! Many genres, many locations, stories, stories, stories. Still a bit behind on reviews but I am more caught up than I have been all year. A mixture of lengths, a couple I have been reading at a leisurely pace and got through in July, kept me on my goals for the year.

Stats: 14 books read. 7 by women. 3 spy thrillers, 1 memoir, 2 translated, 1 picture book, 1 non fiction, 1 poetry.

Where I went: France, Ireland, Mexico, Syria, Russia, Jamaica, Great Britain and China, San Diego in CA, Louisiana

Authors new to me: Khaled Khalifa, Ed Young, M O Walsh.
Favorites: Chimes of a Lost Cathedral, Trust Exercise. Least favorite (but not horrible): Normal People

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Have you read any of these? What were your favorite reads in July?