Simply Reading: The Shoemaker’s Wife

Adriana Trigiani writes the kinds of stories I really enjoy – books about family and relationships. Her pride in her Italian heritage and her deep sense of family values and integrity shines through in all her novels.

But never more so that in The Shoemaker’s Wife, her latest novel  which is based on the true love story of her grandparents.

Enza Ravinelli and Ciro Lazarotti grow up in an idyllic mountain village in northern Italy in the early days of the 20th century, where they meet when Ciro is hired to dig the grave for Enza’s beloved baby sister. There is an instant bond between them, but fate seems determined to keep them apart. The two young people immigrate to American (separately), and although their paths continue to cross something always keeps them from getting together.

I am so enjoying getting to know these two people, and getting this glimpse of life in American in those days pre and post WWI. It was an amazing time for many people who care here from different countries and suddenly had so many opportunities available for them. Though Enza and Ciro had both hoped to stay in American just long enough to earn enough money to build a better life in Italy, American soon became more home to them than even the village they had loved so much.

This is a great story on many levels, and even though I’m pretty sure they’ll get together in the end, I’m eagerly reading to see what happens in between.

 

 

The Ravenous Reader Turns to Romance

Sometimes the Ravenous Reader is really the Romantic Reader.

Sometimes I just need to read an old-fashioned, feel-good love story with a happy ending.

Sure, the heroine might suffer some heartache along the way.

There might be misunderstandings, even a few broken dreams.

But in the end, everyone gets to have the thing that makes them the happiest.

Sigh.

What’s not to like about that?

So I’ve been gobbling up Maryann McFadden’s The Book Lover. This pretty paperback came in the mail awhile ago, and somehow got buried at the bottom of a stack of review books. My friend mentioned reading it, and called it a “really sweet story about books and love.”  It tells the story of two women – a young writer mourning the loss of her infant son, and an older woman who owns a bookstore in a small New Jersey town – whose lives intersect in ways that benefit them both. It’s a book about having dreams and holding on to them, about losing love but finding it again, about the support of friends and how that can change a life. It’s well written, charming, and uplifting, the kind of book that’s hard to put down because you want to find out what will happen to these people you’ve come to care about.

I’ve got about 25 pages left to go, so I’m about to take a break from my morning’s work, make a cup of tea, and curl up on this rainy afternoon and see how it all turns out.

Reading Spaces

Seating nook in the bedroom of our new house. We’ll need comfier chairs, I think 🙂

We bought a new house over the weekend, and one of the features my husband and I instantly loved was the corner nook between two windows in the master bedroom. We envisioned two cozy chairs with a small table between and an ottoman for propping your feet. We imagined ourselves there in the mornings, lingering over our coffee with books in hand. I see myself retreating there of an evening, when Jim is absorbed in television, settling in with magazines or the iPad.

I can read just about anywhere. When I was little, the neighbors joked about my habit of reading while walking to school, and I’m sure my mother lived in fear that I would fail to look up from the page and check traffic before crossing the street. Before the days of cell phones, I carried books in my purse to read while standing in line at the grocery store. I’ve been known to snatch a few paragraphs while waiting a stop lights.

Even though I can fall deeply into my book no matter where I am, I love reading most when I can ensconce myself into one of those special spaces that seem to lend themselves just to reading. Spaces like the tiny attic room in the house where we lived when I was born, like my childhood bedroom where I could sprawl on the bed surrounded by stuffed animals, like the back porch of our house here, where I spent many hours reading while my infant son napped peacefully inside and now sit on summer mornings with my little dog at my feet.

So I’m excited to have this new reading space to enjoy, wondering which books will be read there over the years and what memories will be attached to them. Of course now that we’ve bought the house there will be all the legal issues and paperwork to deal with. Hopefully it will go smoothly, because the housing market has simply exploded around here lately, with multiple people bidding on the same properties, necessitating calls to places like lawyers.com. I don’t anticipate the need for intellectual property law, but one never knows.

With reading being such an important part of my life, reading spaces are always special.

How about you? Where are some of your favorite reading spaces?

Simply Reading: The World Without You

In the social media surrounding the book blogging world, people often celebrate “book birthdays” – the day a book is released to the public.

Today, Joshua Henkin’s novel The World Without You was born.

I was privileged to read an ARC of the novel several months ago, but decided to honor it on it’s actual birthday so you could readily get your hands on it.

The World Without You is the story of a modern family who gather at their summer home in the Berkshires on July 4, 2005, to memorialize their only son, Leo, a journalist who was kidnapped and killed while on assignment in Iraq. The novel looks at the way this event has affected each member of Leo’s family – his parents who struggle to make their 40 year marriage continue working;  his three sisters (Clarissa who is dealing with infertility, Lily, an angry, hot tempered attorney; and Noelle, a born-again Orthodox Jew who has traveled from Israel with her husband and four children); and his wife, Thisbe, who brings Leo’s three year old son from California for this event.

As you might imagine, tensions abound in this very disparate group of people, bound together by blood and grief. Henkin is very good at examining personal and family relationships, at creating characters you can identify with and not only care about, but wonder about, and looking at the way a certain event changes them. He did it extremely well in his novel Matrimony, and he has succeeded in that effort once again with The World Without You.

Happy book birthday to a fine, new novel.

Derelict

I did take some time for porch sitting with coffee, cake, and a book.

How can it be that I have not posted since Sunday?

Especially when I have been reading some very wonderful things??

Like Chris Bohjalian’s The Sandcastle Girls?

And Natalie Bakopoulos’ The Green Shore?

Monday evening we came home after a lovely visit with our son, daughter-in-law, and grandson, and the world has been spinning at 78 rpm ever since. (If you don’t understand that analogy, than you are very young indeed.) Nothing of great portent has happened, – it’s just Life.

I have lots to say about these two books, especially about The Sandcastle Girls, which affected me SO deeply that there were times I had to put it down and go walk around outside for a while to clear my head and my heart. This book has given me an intense new perspective on my own family history, and I’m so grateful that Chris Bohjalian has written about the Armenian genocide with such conviction. It’s a book I need to re-read at some point, when I can try and separate myself from the historical aspects and pay more attention to it’s obvious literary merits.

It’s also a book I want to send to all my cousins, with the inscription…”This is where we came from, and there but for the grace of God, go we.”

If I’ve intrigued you at all, then go here and order it.

And I promise more to come about this book when Life settles down a bit.

Until then…

Happy Reading.

The Sunday Salon: The Promise of Reading

Imprinted on my mind and heart is a picture of my grandson Connor and his mommy, lying side by side on the quilted floor of his colorful play area this morning while she reads story after story and he waves his tiny arms and legs in pure delight. He studies each picture with a solemn concentration uncommon to six month old babies and already recognizes favorite phrases from the most oft-repeated books.

He seems to be a natural born book lover, and while I’d like to take some of the genetic credit, it really doesn’t matter where the love of story comes from. What matters is that his parents are bright enough to recognize it and take full advantage of it.

Because, of course, reading together is about much more than just one particular story. It’s about sharing imagination and experience, about finding pathways to new information and ideas, about creating a bond with someone you love.

Fresh from watching Connor’s morning story time, I find Beth Kephart’s reflections on Alice Ozma’s book about this very experience. The Reading Promise; My Father and the Books We Shared is, according to Ozma, “about the act of reading and the time spent doing it. The books are important but the conversations they started and the bonds they created are what really matter.”

And so in a world where children are over scheduled, under loved, bombarded with noise and flash, Ozma extolls the power of sharing what Beth Kephart calls, “time spent kindly together.”

It’s a gift I wish every child could have, in every place and every nation. I believe the world would be a kinder and more thoughtful place if they did.

The Great Summer Re-Reading Project: Crossing to Safety

I couldn’t wait.

The first post in my Great Summer Re-Reading Project was originally scheduled for June 14.

But the first book I (re)read was SO wonderful I couldn’t wait that long to talk about it.

Crossing to Safety was the first book by Wallace Stegner that I ever read. When I bought it back in 1987, I had never heard of Mr. Stegner. I’m not sure why  I bought the book. It was purchased at a bookstore called Rizzoli’s, and to my knowledge there has never been a bookstore of that name ‘round these parts. So I must have been on vacation, but for the life of me, I can’t remember where. (Google tells me there is a Rizzoli’s Books in New York city, but my first time in New York was 1993, and I was on a trip with high school students at the time. Hard to imagine I would have been book shopping. Hmmm…a mystery.)

I do remember reading the book the first time – being completely awestruck by this man’s use of language, his vision of the world, and most importantly, the way he took the story of two married couples- four ordinary people – and their friendship, and elevated it to something so meaningful and so important.

Reading this book in 1987, I would have had no clue about the kind of relationship he was talking about. My husband and I didn’t have any married couple friends to hang out with in those days. We each had separate friendships, but the only other married couple we were at all close to lived out of state and we only saw them once or twice a year.

This relationship of which Stegner writes, between Sid and Charity Lang, and Larry and Sally Morgan, a relationship that begins when the two men start working together as English professors at the University of Wisconsin, and grows into the kind of remarkable closeness that’s almost frightening, is the cornerstone of the novel. The two couples “converged,” and “were drawn together, braided, plaited into a friendship,” one held together with “no glue,” only “mutual liking.”

Nothing really happens in this novel. Oh, life happens – Sid gets passed over for tenure, Larry and Sally struggle with money, Larry writes a novel, Sally gets polio and learns to manage life on crutches. Meanwhile, Charity, with her iron will and her notebooks full of plans steers everyone on the course she thinks is best. Somehow the things that happen aren’t so important. It’s the way the two couples remain bound together, how their mutual differences somehow unite them.

The real beauty of this book is Stegner’s thoughtful examination of this simple life and what makes it worthwhile for these people over the course of several decades. Can one really write a good book about that? In the novel, Charity Lang exhorts Larry Morgan to do just that, time and again. “Oh, come on,” she says to Larry on one occasion, “why don’t you just ignore all that stuff so many modern writers concentrate on, and write something about a really decent, kind, good human being living a normal life in a normal community, interested in the things most ordinary people are interested in – family, children, education – good uplifting entertainment?”

But Larry is not so sure.

“How do you make a book that anyone will read out of lives as quiet as these? Where are the things that novelists seize upon and readers expect? Where is the high life, the conspicuous waste, the violence, the kinky sex, the death wish? Where are the suburban infidelities, the promiscuities, the convulsive divorces, the alcohol, the drugs, the lost weekends? Where are the hatreds, the political ambitions, the lust for power? Where are speed, noise, ugliness, everything that makes us who we are and makes us recognize ourselves in fiction?”

But you see, I don’t recognize myself in those things, Larry. And perhaps the stories we need to read most are about people like me – decent, kind human beings -doing the best we can with what life places in our path, getting by with a little help from our friends.

How do you make a book that anyone will read out of lives as quiet as these? Crossing to Safety answers Larry’s question ever so admirably. In the hands of a masterful writer, it can definitely be done.

Thursday Thoughts

Well, hello.

It’s me, peeking out from behind the covers.

I have obviously been keeping my bookish thoughts to myself for the past week, but you’ll be happy to know I’m ready to share some of them with you on this fine Thursday evening.

One of the things keeping me too busy to write has been a basement sorting project, in which every trash day (which happens to be Thursday) I spend an hour or so hauling junk from my basement directly to the curb. It’s likely that none of you have lived in your current house as long as I’ve lived in mine, and my husband lived here long before I came into the family. In fact, my in-laws built the house in 1949.

That should give you an idea of how much detritus has collected in my basement.

The nice thing about my cleaning project is that I was able to gather all the books I’ve amassed over the years and fit them onto shelves. The bookshelves happen to be in two different parts of the basement, but at least my books are not in piles on the floor or even stacked in layers on the shelves. They are all standing neatly in proper rows, just as good little books should do.

And such treasures I uncovered! All the Susan Howatch books about the Episcopal priest (the “High Flyer” series), all of Gail Godwin’s novels, Virginia Woolf’s diaries and letters, a serious collection of classics from all genres, dating back to my college days in the early 1980’s, and everything ever written by or about Sylvia Plath with whom I was obsessed for most of my 20’s.

At breakfast this morning with another of my reading friends, I was telling her about all the great books I uncovered that haven’t been read in years and that bear re-reading.

“I haven’t kept any books,” she told me. After I picked my jaw up off the floor -for this is a woman who never went into a bookstore empty handed, and I assumed her collection was vast – I asked why.

“I don’t have time to re-read them, so why should I keep them?” she said. “There’s too many other books out there I want to read.”

Here is a woman who has been reading ravenously for over 60 years and has nothing concrete to show for it.

The thought of all those books gone by the wayside was dizzying.

It’s good that I was sitting down.

So I’ve been making mental lists about where my re-reading will take me. One of the nicer things about being over 50 is that books you read 20 or 30 years ago often take on an entirely different meaning when read with the insight and wisdom of “older” age and the experience that comes with it.

I’ll admit, I’ve made more than a few trips down into my basement to admire my collections, all assembled neatly in one place. I’ve been pretty ruthless with the things that have gone into the trash the past few weeks, none of which included books.

And I know that wherever I end up living, the books will definitely be going with me.

How about you? Have you saved books over the years? Do you plan to re-read them, or do you just like knowing they’re in your possession? 

 

 

Simply Reading: Web of Angels

Sunday afternoon I spent some time on a sunny park bench alongside the St. Clair River, and despite the blue water vista before me, my head was bent deeply into the pages of a book. So engrossed was I that it took a moment to register that someone was standing in front of me and had in fact posed a question.

“That must be a heckuva book,” the elderly man said. He stood before me, hand in hand with his lady friend, as they walked the boardwalk on an afternoon constitutional.

“It definitely is,” I answered, emerging from my reverie.

“I bet it’s a love story,” he said with a smile.

“Well, not exactly – not a conventional love story.” I held the book up so he could see the title. “It’s called Web of Angels and the author is Canadian,” I offered, which seemed appropriate to state since we were staring across the river at Canada.

“Canadian, eh!” he quipped (quite a jokester, this one.)

“Plus she’s a friend of mine,” I said, although I wasn’t about to try explaining that we had met on the internet and were blogging friends.

“Well then,” he went on, “if she’s a friend you have to like her book whether it’s any good or not!”

We all laughed good humoredly. “It doesn’t matter, because I would love this book no matter who wrote it,” I replied.

From the first absolutely gripping chapter (and I defy anyone who reads that first chapter to put the book down without going further), Web of Angels catches the reader by the heartstrings and keeps you enthralled. Lilian Nattel takes us into the world of multiple personalities (or DID-dissociative identity disorder)  and illuminates this disorder in ways no one has yet to do in popular culture.

The novel centers around a normal domestic situation – Sharon Lewis, a wife and mother of three, who lives with her family in the historic neighborhood of Seaton Grove. Sharon’s childhood was anything but idyllic – it was in fact marred with so much violence and abuse that she created multiple personalities to help her manage all the horror she was forced to live through. These personalities have remained with her even though her emotional situation has stabilized. But they move almost seamlessly in and out of her life, so subtly that no one really knows they exist.

Things change, though, when Heather Edwards, a 16-year-old pregnant neighbor, commits suicide. The girls younger sister Cathy is a friend of the Lewis’  and as she spends more and more time with Sharon and her family, Sharon begins to sense a familiarity about the girl which indicates she might have “others” too. And when the reason for Cathy’s DID comes to light, it is more horrific than one could even imagine.

What is so stunning about this novel is the way Nattel makes these people and their situation so real, so true to life that you feel as if you might know them. And so we realize that this disorder could be all around us, that people who develop DID are not “certifiable,” but are often normal folks in every other way. In fact, it is because Sharon and Cathy have multiple personalities that they has been able to survive, so in many ways DID is viewed not as a disorder to be eradicated or cured but as a positive way to manage extreme stress and trauma.

And although Web of Angels is not, as I told my friend in the park, a “conventional” love story, love plays an important part in the outcome. Because Sharon has finally learned about love from her family, she is able to offer it to Cathy (and her “others”) and set them on the road to healing.

From reading Lilian’s blog, I knew she had a natural gift for description and a beautiful writing style. What I didn’t know was that she was such a good story-teller, or able to create such vivid and sympathetic characters. Web of Angels proves she is all capable of all that and more. It’s a fascinating book, but also an important book, allowing us a glimpse inside secret lives we might not otherwise ever see.

It’s a heckuva book, alright.

For additional background on the inspiration and writing of this book, visit Lilian’s website, here.

To purchase Web of Angels from Amazon, go here.