The imagined life of young Madame Tussaud will intrigue you! Check out Little by Edward Carey

 

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My Review:

Little is an unusual story of a determined young girl who makes a life for herself against all odds.  After her father dies, Marie (Little) and her mom go to live with a reclusive and peculiar doctor, Curtius who creates objects out of wax.  When Marie’s mother dies, she  stays on as his apprentice.  The tides turn financially for the doctor and he loses his funding from the hospital, so the unlikely twosome head to Paris.  With the help of a friend, they find housing and move in with a tailor’s widow and her odd son.  The widow is cruel to Marie and Marie struggles to continue working with Curtius and learn all she can about making wax heads, and to develop a friendship with the widow’s son. Curtius finds it difficult to stand up to the widow and enjoys the attention he is getting from her.  When the home becomes too small for this quirky bunch, they move to an abandoned monkey house and together they create a wax head exhibit for the public.  Marie is skillful at the art of wax figures and she is invited to live at the Palace and tend to Elizabeth, the Princess of Versailles.  During the French Revolution in 18th century Paris, after spending some time in the palace with the royal family, Marie is sent back to the eccentric doctor and the cruel widow, but she is determined to find her freedom and independence.  Her perseverance and commitment lead her to becoming the famed Madame Tussaud.

Author Edward Carey does a fantastic job developing unforgettable characters with vivid description and charming drawings throughout the book.  I truly enjoyed Marie (Little) and her adventures, admired her perseverance and strength when faced with cruelty, setbacks and loss.  She was spirited and full of love and determination, looking to develop her skills, to connect with others and to achieve success.  The other characters also evoked emotion, which made this an all around captivating adventurous story.

1700s Paris, wax heads, royalty, the revolution and Marie (Little) – who becomes Madame Tussaud… Edward Carey wrote this book over the course of 15 years…it is based on history with creativity, humor and tragedy. I enjoyed and recommend it!

Goodreads Review

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About the Author:

Edward Carey is a writer and illustrator who was born in North Walsham, Norfolk, England, during an April snowstorm. Like his father and his grandfather, both officers in the Royal Navy, he attended Pangbourne Nautical College, where the closest he came to following his family calling was playing Captain Andy in the school’s production of Showboat. Afterwards he joined the National Youth Theatre and studied drama at Hull University.

He has written plays for the National Theatre of Romania and the Vilnius Small State Theatre, Lithuania. In England his plays and adaptations have been performed at the Young Vic Studio, the Battersea Arts Centre, and the Royal Opera House Studio. He has collaborated on a shadow puppet production of Macbeth in Malaysia, and with the Faulty Optic Theatre of Puppets.

He is also the author of the novels Observatory Mansions and Alva and Irva: the Twins Who Saved a City, which have been translated into thirteen different languages, and both of which he illustrated. He always draws the characters he writes about, but often the illustrations contradict the writing and vice versa and getting both to agree with each other takes him far too long. He has taught creative writing and fairy tales on numerous occasions at the Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa, and at the Michener Center and the English Department at the University of Texas at Austin.

He has lived in England, France, Romania, Lithuania, Germany, Ireland, Denmark, and the United States. He currently lives in Austin, Texas, which is not near the sea.

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1980s Chicago and the AIDs Crisis – 2015 Paris terrorism and cults. An incredibly moving story of friendships and loss. The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

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My Review:

Chicago is the third largest city in the US and we rarely associate it with the AIDs epidemic, yet, the city and its people were deeply impacted by the then mysterious and untreatable, deadly disease.  Rebecca Makkai set the story, The Great Believers  in her beloved hometown and takes us through overwhelmingly emotional times as we witness deep friendships, brotherly camaraderie, romantic and platonic love, unwavering support and devastating depression and loss.

It is 1985 Chicago, and Yale Tishman, the Director of Development at the new art gallery at Northwestern University is working on an exciting and valuable acquisition.  His career in the art world is taking off at the same time AIDs has reared its’ ugly head and sadly, Yale loses his best friend Nico. Then, one after another his other friends and acquaintances are getting sick and dying. Yale tries to be a good friend to others as he grapples with his life and this dangerous disease that is making his social circle smaller and smaller.  Nico’s loyal younger sister, Fiona is all he has left of his tight little community and they both struggle with the fears they face and the losses they have experienced.

Author Rebecca Makkai alternates back and forth in time and jumping ahead, in 2015, Fiona goes to Paris in search of her daughter, who has run away and joined a cult.   Their relationship is estranged and at best strained.  During her search, Fiona stays with an artistic friend from her youth who has documented the 1980s AIDs crisis through art and has a show scheduled in Paris during her stay.  Time in France gives Fiona opportunity to try and deal with the trauma of her past, the loss of her brother and his friends, and understand how it has affected her relationship with her daughter.

Makkai has developed complete and complex characters that I feel like I know and truly care about.  Her writing evokes overwhelming emotion and I love how the two time periods are weaved together through her compelling storytelling.  Some people compare this book to A Little Life, and yes, both are gut wrenching and sad, but in The Great Believers there is a well researched overview of Chicago history and AIDs in the 1980s, a window into the art world, terrorism in 2015 Paris, so much love, friendship and family…a much warmer novel that combines the burden of memories with hope and positivity.  I highly recommend this book – great for book clubs!

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About the author:

 

Rebecca Makkai’s first story, at the age of three, was printed on the side of a cardboard box and told from the viewpoint of her stuffed Smurf doll. Sadly, her fiction has never since reached such heights of experimentalism.

Rebecca holds an MA from Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English and a BA from Washington and Lee University. Her books have been translated into ten languages, and her short fiction has been anthologized in The Pushcart Prize XLI (2017), The Best American Short Stories 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008, The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2016 and 2009, New Stories from the Midwest and Best American Fantasy, and featured on Public Radio International’s Selected Shorts and This American Life.

Rebecca has two young daughters. She does not run marathons or do cartwheels, but she does know how to make marshmallows. She was an elementary Montessori teacher for the twelve years before the publication of her first book.

Her first novel, The Borrower, was a Booklist Top Ten Debut, an Indie Next pick, and an O Magazine selection.

Her second novel, The Hundred-Year House, is the story of a haunted house and a haunted family, told in reverse; Library Journal called it “stunning, ambitious, readable and intriguing.” It was chosen as the Chicago Writers Association’s novel of the year, and received raves in The New York Times Book Review and elsewhere.

Her short story collection, Music for Wartime, appeared in July, 2015.

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Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

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My Review:

With history, science and creativity, talented author Esi Edugyan tells the story of an 11 year old slave, in Barbados and his adventurous escape to freedom.  Washington Black, or Wash, brought up in the sugar cane fields, experienced more than his share of oppression, suffering and abuse.  When the slave master’s brother, Titch, visits the plantation and asks for the boy to be loaned to him, an unusual friendship and reliance developed between the two.

Growing up among brutal violence, Wash found Titch to be a father figure.  Titch was an abolitionist at heart and although he was focused on his scientific discovery of a flying machine, he provided opportunity for Wash as he taught him to read and nurtured his artistic abilities.  When Wash found himself in a dangerous situation, Titch abandoned his scientific experimentation to save him and they journeyed to the Arctic, where Wash gained his freedom, yet deep seeded scars of his past lingered, contributing to his ongoing struggle with truly feeling free.

The two parted ways and Wash clumsily navigated his first feelings of love and independence while he continued his quest for connection, respect and feelings of belonging, safety and equality.

Esu Edugyan’s characters are deep and well developed, and the story is heartbreaking, heartwarming, adventurous and rich with history.  When we learn and think about slavery we remember and try to understand the brutality inflicted on human beings, and the horrific mindset slave owners embodied, but the author brings to light more than just the struggles, abuse and loss of dignity, loss of self respect and self worth and loss of life…she reminds us of the incredible talents, contributions and genius that were sacrificed by taking away the rights of so many.

Finding love and pursuing scientific discovery began to fulfill Wash’s dreams for a well lived life yet, even when he was free and slavery was outlawed, he was haunted by his past.  “I became a boy without identity, a walking shadow, and with each new month I fell deeper into strangeness.  For there could be no belonging for a creature such as myself, anywhere; a disfigured black boy with a scientific turn of mind and a talent on canvas, running, always running, from the dimmest of shadows.”

This is a story of a slave, his passage to freedom, his never ending search for identity, love, family and success.  It is an incredible adventure from the islands to the Arctic and beyond.  Can we overcome setbacks from our youth, or do we carry scars that impact our life forever?

In Washington Black, Edugyan gives Wash physical scars from the past reminding us that we are made up of life experiences that cannot be erased, and who we are is developed from our life journey.  Longlisted for the 2018 Man Booker Prize, for me this is a winner!

Goodreads Summary

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About the Author as seen on Goodreads:

Esi Edugyan has a Masters in Writing from Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars. Her work has appeared in several anthologies, including Best New American Voices 2003, ed. Joyce Carol Oates, and Revival: An Anthology of Black Canadian Writing (2006).

Her debut novel, The Second Life of Samuel Tyne, was published internationally. It was nominated for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, was a More Book Lust selection, and was chosen by the New York Public Library as one of 2004’s Books to Remember.

Edugyan has held fellowships in the US, Scotland, Iceland, Germany, Hungary, Finland, Spain and Belgium. She has taught creative writing at both Johns Hopkins University and the University of Victoria, and has sat on many international panels, including the LesART Literary Festival in Esslingen, Germany, the Budapest Book Fair in Hungary, and Barnard College in New York City.

She currently lives in Victoria, British Columbia.

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The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

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My Review:

If you are looking for an addictive quick read with brief chapters, interesting characters and psychological suspense, The Woman In the Window is for you!

Dr. Anna Fox is trapped in her home.  Not literally…she is agoraphobic, presumably triggered by a tragic event.  Her child psychologist medical practice has ended due to her being unable to leave her house, so she spends much of her time on the computer watching horror movies, consulting lonely people with problems in chat groups and playing chess.  When she is not online she spies on her neighbors, peering through her camera lens and out the window.  Throughout her waking hours Anna consumes wine like water and pops pills for her ailments.

The story consists of Anna and her neighbors; amongst them are Ethan, a homeschooled teenage boy who seems lonely and depressed, Alistair, Ethan’s father who believes Anna is delusional, and Jane, Ethan’s mother who pays Anna a visit to play chess and drink wine.  We meet, Anna’s support system; Dr. Fielding and physical therapist Nina, both who make house calls, and Anna’s ex-husband Ed and their young daughter Olivia.  Anna also has an elusive, odd tenant, David, who lives in her basement.

The story is told my Anna, and her suspicions about the neighbors grow when she hears screams and sees something devastating our her window, but when the authorities are called in, proof is unattainable and Anna’s fear to leave the safe haven of her home is only one of the setbacks.  Her state of mind is questionable and nobody’s stories line up, but the truth lies amongst the chaos.  Manipulation and illusions drive this twisted mystery and kept me second guessing right up until the end.

This was a true page turner with multiple surprises, mysterious characters, and eye opening reveals that caused me to reevaluate what I thought I knew every step of the way.  A most enjoyable read, narrated by a woman, and written by a man.  The Woman in the Window has been compared to Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train and Rear Window, and it will be hitting the big screen starring Amy Adams as Anna, releasing in 2019.

Goodreads Summary

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About the Author:

A.J. Finn, pseudonym for Daniel Mallory, has written for numerous publications, including the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and the Times Literary Supplement(UK). A native of New York, Finn lived in England for ten years as a book editor before returning to New York City.

Here is my photo of author A.J. Finn at the East Hampton Library Author Night this past summer:

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Book Recommendations from a professional reader!

Sybil Steinberg, a longtime contributing Editor to Publishers Weekly, presents Sybil’s List several times a year at The Westport Library.

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This week she talked about her fall reading recommendations which included 38 titles, There There, His Favorites, Still Life With Monkey, An American Marriage and others; some of which are shown below.

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For Sybil’s List 2018 click HERE..

I am looking forward to two of Sybil’s nonfiction recommendations, The Library Book by Susan Orlean, about the LA library fire in 1986, and Small Fry, a memoir written by Steve Jobs’ daughter Lisa Brennan-Jobs.

If you are a year behind in your reading, see Sybil’s recommendations from October 2017 HERE.

If you are really behind, check out this video of Sybil Steinberg on Charlie Rose with her book recommendations in 1996!

Click HERE for my 2017 reviews on Book Nation by Jen and stay tuned for my review of  Washington Black by Esi Edugyan…coming soon!

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Hippie by Paulo Coelho

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My Review:

I loved The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho and was hoping his new book would feel as important.  In Hippie, Paulo Coelho writes a story based on his own life experiences, his relationships, political views and personal values, and his adventures of travel and terror of kidnapping.  Throughout this book he has injected his thoughtful ideologies and gives us a description of the ways of the world in the 1970s.

Even though Coelho had gotten himself into trouble often as a young man, it seems as if he was a deep thinker.

“We don’t choose the things that happen to us, but we can choose how we react to them.”

Paulo embarks on a journey from Bolivia to Peru, Chile and Argentina and then to Amsterdam, where he meets Karla, a young girl looking for a travel companion to Nepal.  They take the Magic Bus across Europe and Asia to Katmandu.  We learn about their relationship and the other travelers on the trip.  With no formal plans for the future, what today we might see as a lack of responsibility, the idea of free love and the benefit of simplicity of travel, Paulo communicates his experiences that enriched his life and helped him on his search for meaning.

I particularly enjoyed reading about his discovery of dance and his transformative experience with Hare Krishna dancing and singing in the street.

“Dancing transforms everything, demands everything, and judges no one.  Those who are free dance, even if they find themselves in a cell or a wheelchair, because dancing is not the mere repetition of certain movements, it’s a conversation with a Being greater and more powerful than everyone and everything.  To dance is to use a language beyond selfishness and fear. ”

Even though I enjoyed learning a little more about Paulo Coelho, his rebellious stage and his emotional journey to find the meaning of life, for me, Hippie fell flat. Written like a story, but based on his real life, I didn’t think it portrayed Coelho’s vibrant youth and his travels in a compelling and powerful way.  There were tidbits of insight and lessons but the characters were not developed enough for me to care.  The politically charged, free thinking sex, drugs rock and roll hippie attitude was described but not written completely enough to evoke emotion.  I get the feeling that this piece of writing is more meaningful to Coelho than to readers.  But maybe that is just me…

Goodreads Summary

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About the Author:

The Brazilian author PAULO COELHO was born in 1947 in the city of Rio de Janeiro. Before dedicating his life completely to literature, he worked as theatre director and actor, lyricist and journalist. In 1986, PAULO COELHO did the pilgrimage to Saint James of Compostella, an experience later to be documented in his book The Pilgrimage. In the following year, COELHO published The Alchemist. Slow initial sales convinced his first publisher to drop the novel, but it went on to become one of the best selling Brazilian books of all time. Other titles include Brida (1990), The Valkyries (1992), By the river Piedra I sat Down and Wept (1994), the collection of his best columns published in the Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo entitle Maktub (1994), the compilation of texts Phrases (1995), The Fifth Mountain (1996), Manual of a Warrior of Light (1997), Veronika decides to die (1998), The Devil and Miss Prym (2000), the compilation of traditional tales in Stories for parents, children and grandchildren (2001), Eleven Minutes (2003), The Zahir (2005), The Witch of Portobello (2006) and Winner Stands Alone (to be released in 2009). During the months of March, April, May and June 2006, Paulo Coelho traveled to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his pilgrimage to Saint James of Compostella in 1986. He also held surprise book signings – announced one day in advance – in some cities along the way, to have a chance to meet his readers. In ninety days of pilgrimage the author traveled around the globe and took the famous Transiberrian train that took him to Vladivostok. During this experience Paulo Coelho launched his blog Walking the Path – The Pilgrimage in order to share with his readers his impressions. Since this first blog Paulo Coelho has expanded his presence in the internet with his daily blogs in WordPress, Myspace & Facebook. He is equally present in media sharing sites such as Youtube and Flickr, offering on a regular basis not only texts but also videos and pictures to his readers. From this intensive interest and use of the Internet sprang his bold new project: The Experimental Witch where he invites his readers to adapt to the screen his book The Witch of Portobello. Indeed Paulo Coelho is a firm believer of Internet as a new media and is the first Best-selling author to actively support online free distribution of his work.

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Still Life With Monkey by Katharine Weber

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My Review:

It is always a special treat and enlightening to attend an author talk, and recently I was thrilled to hear Katharine Weber speak about her new book, Still Life With Monkey with contributing editor and former Book Review section editor for Publisher’s Weekly, Sybil Steinberg.  Between research and literary knowledge, the intelligence on the stage was vast.  With sophisticated language and deep characters, Weber’s Still Life With Monkey is a must read for all book groups.  There are many stories within the story and much to discuss.

Duncan Wheeler is a talented architect and owner of his own firm in New Haven, CT.      He was visiting his Thimble Islands site and while driving home on I95 with his assistant, was in a car accident.  His assistant was killed and he survived but suffered injury that resulted in becoming a quadriplegic.  His wife Laura, is an art conservator at the Yale Art Gallery, fixing broken things for a living.  She sees Duncan fall into depression, and while she struggles with her own thoughts of letting go her dream to become a mother, she reduces her hours at work so she can take care of her husband.  Every day had become “a broken series of unsuccessful gestures”, his will to live is wavering, and so to add to the already growing number of hired aides to help take care of Duncan, and to lift his spirits, she requests a capuchin monkey to become a part of their in home support.  Ottoline was feisty, charming and lovable – a welcoming character who gave Duncan some pleasure as he thought about how he might live and how he might exit this life. Will sitting around in a wheelchair all day be Duncan’s life?  Is being alive the same as living?

Not only are we forced to ponder what a life worth living may be, but Katharine Weber teaches us about architecture and art conservation, about care for a paraplegic and about helper monkeys.  In CT, helper monkeys are not legal, but in MA there is a legitimate program that has been around for close to 40 years called Helping Hands.  Katherine had the opportunity to meet a married couple and their helper monkey, Farah on numerous occasions, and witnessed the benefits the monkey provides like buttoning and unbuttoning, page turning, social interaction, bonding and emotional connection.  Farah is 7 lbs and 36 years old and is living with her 2nd and last family, as 40 years old is life expectancy for a monkey living in captivity.  Weber’s human characters are not based on real people, but Ottoline the capuchin was based on the charming and lovable Farah.

The character of Ottoline adds texture to an already rich story that highlights ideas about twins, children and secrets.  Duncan is a twin and had been considered the original, and his brother Gordon, the copy.  Duncan had a big life, was highly educated, married with a big job, and in contrast, Gordon had a speech impediment and rode his bike to work at a bookstore.  Interesting to examine their relationship and Gordon’s relationship with Laura, Duncan’s wife.  Also, worth looking at is the impact the neighborhood children have on Duncan’s mental health, and the effect secrets may have on relationships and self worth.

Still Life With Monkey is a story about life and relationships.  It is not a tearjerker yet it is filled with compassion and humor.  I highly recommend it for book clubs and discussion.

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Goodreads Summary

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About the Author:

Katharine Weber is the author of six novels and a memoir, all book group favorites. She is the Richard L. Thomas Professof of Cretaive Writing at Kenyon College.

Katharine’s fiction debut in print, the short story “Friend of the Family,” appeared in The New Yorker in January, 1993.

Her first novel, Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear (of which that story was a chapter), was published by Crown Publishers, Inc. in 1995 and was published in paperback by Picador in 1996. She was named by Granta to the controversial list of 50 Best Young American Novelists in 1996.

Her second novel, The Music Lesson, was published by Crown Publishers, Inc. in 1999, and was published in paperback by Picador in 2000. The Music Lesson has been published in fourteen foreign editions.

The Little Women was published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 2003 and by Picador in 2004. All three novels weren named Notable Books by The New York Times Book Review. Writing in The New York Times, Richard Eder said, “Katharine Weber’s novel, which stops being droll only to be funny and almost never stops being exceedingly smart, is a hermit crab. Creeping into the whelk shell of Louisa May Alcott’s celebrated novel, it avails itself of the spirals to do double and triple twists inside them.”

Katharine’s fourth novel, Triangle, which takes up the notorious Triangle Waist company factory fire of 1911, was published in 2006 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and in 2007 by Picador. It was longlisted for the Dublin IMPAC Literary Award, was a Finalist for the John Gardner Fiction Book Award and the Paterson Fiction Prize, and was the winner of the Connecticut Book Award for Fiction.

True Confections, Katharine’s fifth novel, was published in January 2010 by Shaye Areheart Books, and was published in paperback by Broadway Books in December, 2010. In January Broadway also brought out a new edition of The Music Lesson. Triangle and The Music Lesson are now available as ebooks, too.

Her sixth book, a memoir, The Memory Of All That: George Gershwin, Kay Swift, and My Family’s Legacy of Infidelities, was published by Crown in July 2011, and by Broadway in 2012.

Her new novel, Still Life With Monkey, from Paul Dry Book is available now.

Katharine’s maternal grandmother was the songwriter Kay Swift. Since Swift’s death in 1993, Katharine has been a Trustee and the Administrator of the Kay Swift Memorial Trust, which is dedicated to preserving and promoting the music of Kay Swift. This work includes the first Broadway musical with a score by a woman, “Fine and Dandy,” and several popular show tunes of the era, among them “Fine and Dandy” and “Can’t We Be Friends?”

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Identity, Dance and Swing Time by Zadie Smith

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Feeling comfortable with who you are can be complicated…a difficult journey for many who feel different from others.  Often this is just a perception, as we all come from various sordid places and are birthed from unique people with their own individual backgrounds.  

I am lucky enough to be part of a group that feels like home, a safe place to tap into who I am and also feel connected to others. For 15 years I have been taking the same dance class and, although there has been some ebb and flow of participants through the years, there is always a solid group of regulars who together create a warm atmosphere of acceptance for all who take part. We come together because of dance, and the positive, nurturing environment our teacher, Luisa, creates and sets the example for. In the safety of the four walls where we convene, we express ourselves freely as individuals, and collectively when we catch eyes in the mirror, simultaneously experiencing heightened endorphins and joy from the movement and the music.  From married, single, children, no children, business owners, workers, retired… to under 40, over 80, black, white, asian, immigrant, townie…everyone has their own unique identity that is accepted and celebrated in the shared space filled with each person’s confidence, energy and light.

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Our dance family has planned outings on occasion, providing us with opportunities to talk, get to know each other and develop connections and friendships that increase the fulfillment of time spent together.  Recently this unique community of ours started a book club, and this month we chose to read Zadie Smith’s latest novel, Swing Time. We selected it because we thought it was about two girls who were brought together through dance. We thought we were going to love it.

It started out about a dance class uniting two young girls, but quickly veered away and was really about much more.

Book Club Impressions

In Swing Time, an unnamed narrator told her story and we, as readers were the observers, charged with the task of understanding and finding meaning in her life.  She was a light skinned black girl who came from a mixed race family. She was drawn to Tracy, another racially mixed girl from her dance class and they became fast friends. Their young friendship was strong, the narrator became Tracy’s loyal sidekick, and then the friendship faded as their lives went in different directions. The narrator’s lack of proficiency in dance led her to becoming an assistant to a pop star, while Tracy pursued a dance career but ended up unemployed with three children each from a different father.  Mixed race, broken homes, untapped talents and unfulfilled dreams, drug overdoses, neglected friendships and bad relationships, betrayals, lack of support systems, poor decisions and misdirection sum up the challenges the characters faced, but the underlying theme was everyone’s search for identity, self fulfillment and acceptance. 

Only half our group was able to finish the book, as we all mostly agreed it felt like it was a bit of slog, an emotionless slice of life, providing nothing of great interest to tap into our curiosity.  An anonymous narrator with lack of ambition didn’t show enough of herself to create connection with us. We never even knew her name.  I believe the author intended to keep all the characters at arms length in order to allow readers to draw conclusions about identity, race and wealth from their actions, but for our group this approach fell flat.

This was an ironic book choice for a diverse group that collectively has the opportunity to feel supported, connected and in touch with their individual identity in a warm and accepting environment.  So it is not surprising that we were not overjoyed with a story about unresolved personal journeys, struggles and unfulfilled dreams. In the book, the time periods jumped around quite a bit and despite the easy to read prose, Swing Time was a challenge to follow and not as engaging as we had hoped.  It definitely was fodder for rich discussion though, and while the characters in the book struggled, we bonded.   Read this one at your own risk.

Goodreads Summary 

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About the Author:

Zadie Smith is the author of the novels White Teeth, The Autograph Man, On Beauty, and NW, as well as a collection of essays, Changing My Mind. Swing Time is her fifth novel.

Visit www.zadiesmith.com for more information.

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Being Alone, Delia Owens, and Where the Crawdads Sing

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Habitually early, I walked into the Fairfield Library book event and took a seat in the front row.  I prefer to have an unobstructed view to the speaker and don’t feel shy about sitting alone in the center of the first row, but clearly, if others like to have an unobstructed view, their preference for being more obscure or part of a crowd, protected in a pack in the middle or back, surrounded by others and not so close, outweighs the desire to be directly in front.  The author, Delia Owens was at the podium getting herself prepared for her book talk on Where the Crawdads Sing, her first fiction book, and she looked directly at me sitting alone and smiled.  She came over to say hello, thanked me for attending and told me she knew me from Instagram.

The room started to fill up and Delia sat down next to me in the front row and I had the wonderful opportunity to talk with her for a while before the program began.  She told me she lived in Africa with her husband, now ex-husband for 23 years.  They were married for over 40 and several years ago divorced.  They still live together on the same property in Idaho but it is a huge piece of land so it is working out fine for now.  We talked about the pressure her relationship endured in those years, being so secluded from other humans while they did research, and how the hopes of it repairing itself upon their return went unfulfilled.

This one on one conversation along with Delia Owens’ public talk on Where the Crawdads Sing, her research on the social biology of animals, and her book’s main character Kya, who grew up on her own in the marsh in North Carolina got me thinking about seclusion, women, being alone and how everyone has different levels of enjoyment and tolerance when they are solo.  According to Delia, just as in a troop of baboons, a herd of elephants, and a pride of lions, human females tend to travel in groups, play, eat and sleep together.  There are many benefits of having alone time, but how much is too much? Isolation can change a person, and in Kya, a character based on many women the author knows, we can see how being alone can have major impact.  But as Delia said, women are strong.  We can do a lot more than we think we can and when put in the situation, we do it.

She said she wrote Where the Crawdads Sing in two parts, PART 1 is The Marsh – a beautiful place of light and sparkling water.  Part 2 is The Swamp – a dark place.  Like Kya, her character in the book, sometimes in our lives we go to The Swamp, but we always strive for the Marsh.

Delia Owens is an inspiring speaker, well prepared as one would expect a researcher would be.  She did say, standing up in front of a room full of women caused her to experience the same feelings she has when being rushed by lions in Africa – a sign to me that she does not crave crowds and probably feels most peaceful alone and riding horses.   She did mention her house is many miles from civilization and she goes to town one a week to see people when she is at home in Idaho.  It was incredible to meet her in person and observe how her life experiences influenced her and how so much of that is evident in her writing.  Where the Crawdads Sing was chosen for Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine Book Club and I agree with Reese when she says she didn’t want the book to end!

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My Review: 

A love story, a mystery and a courtroom drama… Where the Crawdads Sing has all that it takes for a compelling and beautifully rich novel.  Just as author Delia Owens’ went way out yonder where the crawdads sing to connect with nature, the main character, Kya becomes one with her surroundings.  As each important person in her life abandoned her, Kya learned to be self sufficient and survive alone in the marsh as a very young child.  With limited human contact and lack of strong friendships, her natural surroundings became her mother.  She is awkward around other people yet capable and self reliant.  She learned all she needed to know to sustain a comfortable life, until her desire for personal connection, touch and love emerged as she grew up.  She muddled her way through the hurt of abandonment as she embarked on a new adventure of companionship – but life is complicated.  Now she is a grown woman, and there is a murder in the marsh.  Her isolation over the years influenced her odd behaviors and has made her a target for ridicule and an obvious earmark for blame.  Most of the townspeople are agains her – will anyone come to her rescue as she is accused of the unthinkable or will she have to fend for herself as she has done her entire life?

The natural beauty of the marsh, the heartbreak and loneliness of Kya, the suspense and unfolding of the mysterious murder and the love story that beats all odds combined into an emotional, descriptive and addictive, well written novel made it impossible for me to put down.  I highly recommend Where the Crawdads Sing!

Goodreads Summary

7043934.jpgAbout the author:

Delia Owens is the co-author of three internationally bestselling nonfiction books about her life as a wildlife scientist in Africa—Cry of the Kalahari, The Eye of the Elephant, and Secrets of the Savanna. She has won the John Burroughs Award for Nature Writing and has been published in Nature, The African Journal of Ecology, and International Wildlife, among many others. She currently lives in Idaho, where she continues her support for the people and wildlife of Zambia. Where the Crawdads Sing is her first novel.

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