READING: Books are my religion . . .a lesson from Ann Patchett

A LONG INTRODUCTION . . .

Charlie Smith 3

I am inserting this picture, taken the day AFTER I posed with Ann Patchett, because in THAT photo I look HUGE and AWFUL — and so, I wanted to prove I am still a hipster cat-burglar who gyms it up 6 days a week.

Apologies (and thanks) to those asking if I’m okay and why my entries have been so infrequent. I’m immersed (not to say, drowning) in yet another edit of “LIBERTYTOWN” and, too, a couple of other writing projects which came banging at the doors of my brain/heart/soul, even as I hid away, weeping, whispering, “There’s no one home!” Somehow, the stories and words inside me, or, floating around me, or, something, will not let me do what I’ve been trying to do, which is to surrender to the fact that in the same way I was not a Broadway star, not the first American Pope, not someone who was ever going to be successfully in a love relationship, not someone with an actual income and home of his own, I was also NOT A WRITER. Which, is an overly long (SURPRISE!) way of saying, “I’M TRYING TO WRITE AND I CAN’T BLOG WHILE I’M DOING THAT!” I spent hours yesterday trying to finish ONE SENTENCE, and I never really did – it is slow going, my dears. In the meantime, I am reading. And, since this is sort-of, sometimes, supposed to be a Book(ish?) Blog – thought, “Ok, I’ll catch up with that!” So, here I am, going.

CATCHING (YOU) UP ON MY READING . . .

Ann Pachett and Charlie

This is Ann Patchett after I told her I stalked another writer, and still, she bravely posed with me. She is a wonderful, lovely person – radiates warmth, wit, intelligence, and a glowing goodness.

Monday, March 23, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Ann Patchett. She was the featured speaker at Frederick Reads, and not only was she smart, charming, funny, brilliant, engaging, and fun, she gave book recommendations and said (far more eloquently) “Books are my religion.” Mine too. In the days since, procrastinating while I ought to have been editing, I ventured to her Parnassus Books site [click here], and from there, her blog [click here], and in doing so realized I’d not spoken about what I’ve been reading since January when Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You [click here], rocked me. I am still talking about it, talked about it and wrote down the title for Ann Patchett even. But, I have read 23 books since then, and here, in brief, we go, highlights only.

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE LAST 23 BOOKS

M.C. BEATON’s AGATHA RAISIN SERIES

I am a huge fan of the Agatha Raisin mystery series, written by M.C. Beaton and edited by Hope Dellon of St. Martin’s Press. I read #6: Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist; #7: Agatha Raisin and the Wellspring of Death; #8: Agatha Raisin and the Wizard of Evesham; and #9; Agatha Raisin and the Witch of Wyckhadden. Every visit with Agatha is like a delightful few hours, a good meal, and — oh joy, oh tumult, oh woe is me that I can no longer indulge in either — a lovely cigarette and bottle of wine with a dear friend. I am delighted to have sixteen more visits with Agatha to which I can look forward, but, I am going to have to cut back. Two a month will bring me to the end far too quickly. And, I don’t want Agatha to tire of my visits!

THE LONG WAY HOME, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #10 by Louise Penny

Also edited by Hope Dellon (follow her HERE on Twitter) on whose Tweets I now rely to clue me in to upcoming books of worth and interest. I have long been a fan of the Gamache series. It is literary-fiction-mystery at its best. And while I don’t often say this, with Gamache, you really should start at the beginning. You will feel as if you have become a resident of Three Pines, a cohort of Gamache, and the many other brilliantly drawn, unforgettable characters there.

THE BOOK OF SPECULATION, by Erika Swyler

This is another St. Martin’s/Hope Dellon, and it’s not released until June. But, I managed to get my hands on an ARC. I am not going to write about it because I’m not really an approved blogger/writer/reviewer and thus, it is not my place. All I will say is that I gave it four stars on my GoodReads page, and expect this will hit big, will be filmed, and it was a lovely, fast read. Another ARC I managed to obtain was:

THE CHURCH OF MARVELS, by Leslie Parry

This one’s published by Ecco and the editor is not named. It comes out in May. Again, I’m not an approved blogger/writer/reviewer so, in brief, this one deals with sideshow performers in 1895 New York. I’ve LONG had a thing for sideshow stories, and if I say anything else, any of the witty, clever things I want to say, I’ll spoil it. So, again, I think this will be big, will be filmed, and I enjoyed the world inside it. There was one more ARC, pre-release, but I’ll save that for last.

NEAR ENEMY: SPADEMAN #2,  by Adam Sternbergh

I seem to read a lot of series, don’t I? Well, I loved the first in this series, Shovel Ready, and this one did not suffer from sophomore slump. Sternbergh is a gifted stylist and has created a noir-post-semi-apocalyptic-quasi-dystopian-New York City that is entirely believable, metaphoric, predictive (but never predictable) and crazy, scary fun with an assassin for a hero. I think I’m in love. (With Spademan and Sternbergh, so there.) Read it.

REVIVAL, by Stephen King

This was my first Mr. King novel in years. I have absolutely nothing but admiration for Mr. King and awe at his output, I’m just not a huge reader of the horror/fantasy genre. However, this one was about a crooked, manipulative, lying preacher and when it comes to exposing frauds and villains hiding behind god-myth, I’m all in. It was quick enough, but, the ending, well, the ending was why I just am not a big fan of the horror/fantasy genre because – sorry – I found it ridiculous and disappointing and unbelievable — not that horror/fantasy is meant to be believable — but, well, it just wasn’t my cup of soylent green.

BRUTAL YOUTH by Anthony Breznican

What is to my taste; well written, well plotted, coming-of-age tales. Place them in a Catholic school, include bullying, duplicitous adults, and a willingness to explore other than the usual tropes of the genre, and you’ve gotten my attention. This is categorized as Young Adult, but don’t let that dissuade you; it is plenty adult, plenty literary, plenty good.

AND TOO . . .

I also read two books about Tennessee Williams. One, the justifiably heralded Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh, by John Lahr. Just glorious. A biography which used as foundation the plays of Mr. Williams and how each was informed by his life experiences. The second, Follies of God: Tennessee Williams and the Women of the Fog, by James Grissom. This was not a biography, but meant to be a study of the influence Mr. Williams had on the lives of some women and they, on him as interviewed by Mr. Grissom, anointed by Mr. Williams to do so. I found its structure confusing and by the end it had become rather too much about Mr. Grissom. Interesting (to me, anyway), having spent many years fascinated (obsessed?) by Mr. Williams and his characters, to compare the two books and the very different content in each, as well as recalling all Mr. Williams’ plays, his own memoirs, Maria St. Just’s book of letters, Five O’Clock Angel, Mr. Williams semi-autobiographical novels and stories, and other remembrances/articles/interviews by his contemporaries I’ve read/seen/heard along the way — and knowing I still don’t have a full, complete picture of his very compartmentalized life. He had many colors, many sides, many persona, and he shared only parts of himself with anyone — never the whole. I am not unlike that. I have parts like Mr. Williams, and I share only some pieces with any one person. There is no one left alive who has the whole of me. Which gave me to wonder about the usefulness of any biographies or memoirs (or blogs?) and how we only ever know small pieces of anyone. Which is another blog for another time (and a book on which I am working).

In between the above were older books I’d been recommended (or amassed) and gotten one cent copies of; Tall Dark Man by Anne Chamberlain, which is considered a classic of its kind by many but I did not much care for; The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters, the set-up of which seemed so promising but, for me, the promise of the premise was never met; Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green, another YA book I thought full of good-intention but lacking actual teen-cred and, honestly, happily-ever-after/falling-in-love just doesn’t happen that often and dependably in real life, so, STOP; and the (that word again) reliable Harlan Coben’s Tell No One, about which I remember nothing, which is just what I want. I return to Coben (and Sandford) like I watch Days of Our Lives: I know what I’m going to get and that is what I want for that period of time.

In the newer book, more recent release category I read Funny Girl by Nick Hornby which was okay but somewhat anachronistic; the hot and buzzy The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins about which I got neither hot nor buzzed; Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson, for which I’d long been drooling and which many critics and writers I admire and respect loved, praised lavishly, but which I found twee. Certainly racism and bullshit-academia are ripe for satire, and this hit a lot of those notes, but, too, for me, it tried too hard with its linguistic acrobatics until it was so twisted and turned and styled and riffed, it was impenetrable and annoying.

I was gifted Anne Lamott’s Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace. She talks about god way too much for me. I try not to let it irritate me, but, well, I am less than successful. That said, her stories about family and her sense of humor always touch chords in me, speak to my heart and experience, but, I just don’t believe in an omnipotent other, so, relegating so much responsibility for life to something other, eh. Meh. Feh.

Back to my series jonesing: new one by Judith Flanders, A Murder of Magpies. I liked this a lot. Fast. Fun. Witty. Set in the world of publishing. Slam, dunk for me. I look forward to the next one. (And the one after that.)

AND MY LINK OF THE MONTH: ETTA AND OTTO AND RUSSELL AND JAMES

And a new, buzzy but not nearly buzzy enough in my opinion book I read was Etta and Otto and Russell and James, by Emma Hooper [CLICK HERE!]. I loved this book. Here’s the precis from publisher:

A gorgeous literary debut about an elderly woman’s last great adventure walking across Canada. A beautiful novel of pilgrimage, of fulfilling lifelong promises, of a talking coyote called James, of unlikely heroes and hundreds of papier-mâché animals…

Eighty-two-year-old Etta has never seen the ocean. So early one morning she takes a rifle, some chocolate, and her best boots, and begins walking the 3,232 kilometers from rural Canada eastward to the coast.

Her husband Otto wakes to a note left on the kitchen table. I will try to remember to come back, Etta writes to him. Otto has seen the ocean, having crossed the Atlantic years ago to fight in a far-away war. He understands. But with Etta gone, the memories come crowding in and Otto struggles to keep them at bay.

Russell has spent his whole life trying to keep up with Otto and loving Etta from afar. Russell insists on finding Etta, wherever she’s gone. Leaving his own farm will be the first act of defiance in his life.

As Etta walks further toward the ocean, accompanied by a coyote named James, the lines among memory, illusion, and reality blur. Rocking back and forth with the pull of the waves, Etta and Otto and Russell and James moves from the hot and dry present of a quiet Canadian farm to a dusty burnt past of hunger, war, passion, and hope; from trying to remember to trying to forget; and inspires each of its characters to visit the sites they’ve longed to see and say the things they’ve longed to say. This is dazzling literary fiction about the rediscovery and care of the soul, and the idea it’s never too late for a great adventure.

I really, truly was moved by this novel. Please read it.

AND FINALLY … THAT ONE LAST ARC …

I was given a personally inscribed copy of Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg. This novel doesn’t come out until September. Here’s the publisher scoop:

The stunning debut novel from bestselling author Bill Clegg is a magnificently powerful story about a circle of people who find solace in the least likely of places as they cope with a horrific tragedy.

On the eve of her daughter’s wedding, June Reid’s life is completely devastated when a shocking disaster takes the lives of her daughter, her daughter’s fiancé, her ex-husband, and her boyfriend, Luke—her entire family, all gone in a moment. And June is the only survivor.

Alone and directionless, June drives across the country, away from her small Connecticut town. In her wake, a community emerges, weaving a beautiful and surprising web of connections through shared heartbreak.

From the couple running a motel on the Pacific Ocean where June eventually settles into a quiet half-life, to the wedding’s caterer whose bill has been forgotten, to Luke’s mother, the shattered outcast of the town—everyone touched by the tragedy is changed as truths about their near and far histories finally come to light.

Elegant and heartrending, and one of the most accomplished fiction debuts of the year, Did You Ever Have a Family is an absorbing, unforgettable tale that reveals humanity at its best through forgiveness and hope. At its core is a celebration of family—the ones we are born with and the ones we create.

Believe me, pre-order. This is a work of genius. Like Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You, this is one I will be putting into people’s’ hands and saying, “YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK.” I don’t want to talk about it too much now because it is six months before release but, oh, oh, oh my. FANTASTIC. Believe me, I wanted to hate it, because he’s in publishing, he’s gorgeous, has a gorgeous husband, and, well, all that (not that he hasn’t had his rough spots, I’m aware. I’ve read both his memoirs.) made me — being the petty human I am — think, “He can’t possibly be a great novelist.” Oh, but he can. And, according to my source — my lovely local bookseller, Marlene from THE CURIOUS IGUANA [click here] where I got most of these books — he is also a lovely, charming man. And he wrote me SUCH A NICE message in my copy, AND invited me to send him my novel.

That is a nice man. But even if he happened to be a heinous, heartless brute — this book is — well, in contention for the best book of the year. That good.

AND THAT’S ALL FOLKS . . .

Okay then, sorry to take up so much space, and to wait 23 books later before blogging about them again. I’ll try to do better. Enjoy your reading. Love and Light, my friends. Soon, I promise, a blog about how I came to call myself Miracle Charlie — it’s so ridiculously pretentious-sounding, which I’d not thought about until a few days ago, and realized I wanted to explain how it came about.

But not tonight. I have other things to write and lots of things to read.

Much love, dears. Let me know you’re out there and what you’re reading?

3 thoughts on “READING: Books are my religion . . .a lesson from Ann Patchett

  1. Pingback: Reading: Recent Reads (and more Ann Patchett) | herewearegoing

  2. Etta & Otto & Russell & James, The Book of Speculation and Did You Ever Have a Family are all on my list; I have copies of the first two, and hope to get my hands on the Clegg sooner than later. Glad to hear he’s a nice guy, too–always an added bonus.

    Oh! And Everything I Never Told You. I loved that book in so many ways that I never found the right words to write about it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s