Often when I’m stuck in my writing, I (too late) realize it’s because I have been neglecting my reading. Often I forget that when I’m reading I get ideas either for a better structure in my work, or for ideas about technique. Recently I got a stack of books off of new reading lists and powered through a few of them. I started writing reviews on Goodreads a couple of years ago, and I’ve found that writing a review helps me to think through my experience of the book and to gain more from it. I thought you might enjoy hearing about these three novels I just finished, and that reading about them may remind you of books you’ve enjoyed over the years.
Do you have favorite reading lists? Some of these came from Real Simple. Click here to see one of their lists.
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I started this book and then put it on the shelf. But then I got a library email that the due date was approaching and that there were 41 people waiting for it, so I could not renew it – and since so many people wanted to read it, I knew it might be a while before I could check it out again. Inspired by a recent article in The Seattle Times by Moira Macdonald, the Times literary critic, who said she recently attempted to read 6 books in 2 days (for reviews), I decided to plunge in and read the book in a few days rather than spreading out the reading over a few weeks. I’m glad I stuck with it. This book has a unique voice, the first-person (“I”) voice of a young woman who has had a terrible and unthinkable tragedy in her childhood and has been leading a deeply traumatized life since. She has all sorts of quirky repetitive behaviors and minimal social skills, and her “unreliable narrator” voice is quite intriguing in the novel. The author does a good job of gradually revealing the secrets of the narrator’s past and also of portraying the narrator, a very difficult person to be around, in a sympathetic and supportive way. I would recommend it for anyone looking for a new read!
Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a book set in Norway that starts out slowly, but eventually ranges over the entire life of the narrator. It focuses on the summer of 1948 when the narrator was a fifteen-year-old in Norway spending the summer with his father in a remote cabin in the mountains near a small village. Eventually the father’s activities during WWII and the son’s relationship with the father are all explored. The book also spends time on the narrator’s present time, in which he is a man of 70 also living on his own in a remote cabin (different cabin), reflecting on the loss of his wife, on what it’s like to be alone and (mostly) self-sufficient, on how he’s cut himself off from his daughters and any other family. I confess I didn’t like the book at first, as I think I felt unconnected with a fifteen-year-old boy in 1940s Norway, but I slowed down in my reading and tried to understand more what the narrative was about. In the end it was an enjoyable book, though its literary style could be somewhat off-putting at times. Fun look into a Nordic solitary life.
The Italian Party: A Novel by Christina Lynch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a deep dive into 1960s (actually, 1956) Italy, in particular, Siena. The opening premise is delightful, a young couple gets married, in America, move to Siena supposedly for the husband’s work as a Ford tractor salesman, but they know almost nothing about each other, having brought all kinds of assumptions and half-truths to their perceptions of the other person. As my parents were married in early 1957, I found this time-capsule story to be quite engaging as a look into the world of that time. Communist-haters, conventional attitudes about sex and marriage, cooking and the “wife’s role” in the home, etc. One thing that kept my interest was the author’s technique of moving around in viewpoints, so that you get mostly the wife’s point of view, but you also get the viewpoint of the husband at times (of the same event), and I think there’s even one or two small sections in minor characters’ viewpoints. It’s sometimes fascinating to hear how the other character sees the same situation – and the author also uses these POV changes to reveal secrets that each character does not want the other to know. Perhaps a little heavy on the “research-inspired” sections about political machinations, etc., but at the same time, you get some insights into the nuances of post-WWII Italy and how it was for those who experienced the war and its consequences in small-town Italy. I’d recommend it!
What to see when you’re not especially looking
Here we have two more mini-mural utility boxes on the street . . . aren’t they fun? I’ve posted the one on the left before, but I enjoy it so much I took another photo and included it here. The one on the right says “Regrade.”
This is a little tea-and-cupcake shop downtown that has the most amazing interior with travel photos, etc. I’ve gotten a couple of really interesting writing pieces done when I was writing inside!
Do you ever walk along the street or in a park and suddenly notice an unusual or thought-provoking sight? I took these photos recently to share with you. The first one was just to celebrate the ornate carving on the side of a building, almost baroque-like, that is much more interesting than just a flat concrete or stone wall. The second one is, can you believe it? a small raised frog fastened into the building’s stone. And finally: a cluster-clump of popped up daisies along the walkway in a nearby park. It’s Spring!