Friday, October 29, 2010
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
But I have been reading. I just didn’t seem to have the energy to get my thoughts together. But here are some of the books that I have read during this period and can recommend:
Let’s Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell. This is a memoir about the friendship between two older women that ended all too abruptly with the death of one from cancer. That is not a spoiler. These two women have more than the usual bonds: Same profession, new puppies, recovered from addiction, complicated relationships with their fathers, and a love of an athletic pursuit. Most of us are not so lucky. But women readers especially will appreciate (and envy) their discovery of each other – without any of the sexual intimacy that seems to be presumed among two single women friends.
Searching for Tamsen Donner by Gabrielle Burton. Another memoir. For a book that I really liked, it took me over a month to read and I’m not sure why. Burton is married and has five daughters (just like Tamsen Donner). One summer Burton takes her family on a road trip to recreate the journey of the Donner party. This memoir is part journal of that trip, part history of the Donner party and part record of Burton’s struggles to balance her ambition as a writer and her sense of responsibility as a mother. The history of the Donner party is fascinating. I had always thought that the stories of cannibalism were just conjecture – not so. Tamsen Donner managed to write a few letters during the journey which have been preserved; but her journal was never found. Burton tries to reimagine the thoughts and feelings of Tamsen Donner.
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. Fiction. If someone had told me that I could ever take an interest in professional race car driving, I would never have believed it. But for most readers, I think, that part of this book is just tangential. It’s more about the dog. The entire book is told from the dog’s point of view – which raises some interesting questions, such as: What does a dog see when the dog is in front of a television? There is a lot about race car driving and some good philosophy. “The car goes where the eyes go” works for both.
Friday, October 22, 2010
The house is full of objects that remind her of Molly, and she reminisces about their long friendship, which expanded to include the narrator's college friend Andrew, now a well-known art historian. As the day progresses scraps of information are revealed about the disparate childhoods of the three friends, and we see the various ways that each of them has created an identity in response to early circumstances. All three have brothers who have in very different ways shaped their adult lives. As one memory triggers another, the playwright narrator examines friendship – how well do we know our friends? But the examination is also about identity – how do we present ourselves to the world, and how close is that to our true selves? Can a playwright or an actress know a fictional character better than she knows her friend?
This is not a book for those who enjoy a plot-driven novel – not a lot happens, and much of the story is presented somewhat obliquely in little snatches of memory. But I was left with a lovely picture of Molly's charming Dublin home, and an interesting meditation on the meaning and the mystery of friendship.
And yes, once again I've revealed my affection for Irish writers. But this time she's from Northern Ireland so that must mean I'm expanding my horizons.
Sunday, October 10, 2010
Monday, October 4, 2010
It speaks to me - and about me - more than anything I can remember reading. But that is the irony and the point of the essay. I remember very little of what I have read over the years or even last month. Does that make it a waste of time? Collins has some very interesting answers.
Stephen Dubner, co-author of Freakonomics, has a commentary on the article on his blog. He frames the question a little differently as you might expect: what is the opportunity cost of reading?
Conventional wisdom seems to suggest that book group discussions and writing down your thoughts about what you read (for example, in a blog!) should enhance retention. I can't really say that they do...but I'm not ready to give up on either.
You can read the Letters to the Editor about the essay here.