SINGLE, CAREFREE, MELLOW

Looking for a breezy read that dips into the lives of today’s women? Complex women coping with best friends, husbands, in-laws, children, neighbors, lovers. SINGLE, CAREFREE, MELLOW by Katherine Heiny is a collection of short stories linked by smart and foolish women indulging in their fantasies of infidelity and their hopes for lasting love. The writing is clever and stylish, the snapshots of suburban life dead on. If you enjoy chick lit laced with wit and wisdom and memorable characters, this is your next fun book.

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DEPT. OF SPECULATION

A brief book covers the arc of a marriage from dating to parenthood to an affair and beyond…in the form of journal-entry-type comments that nail the joys and the challenges of married life. DEPT. OF SPECULATION:A NOVEL by Jenny Offill is set in the mind and emotions of “the wife” who is writing about her experience. It’s sharp and honest…also, loving and heart-breaking. The wife is a writer and teacher and her habits of thought draw quotes from literature, art, and world events (Keats, Kafka, space travel, yoga, etc.) that expand her reactions to everyday life. Her love for her husband and her daughter are palpable in her yearning and dismay. Details of NYC living – including a bedbug infestation- are authentic. Offill packs a lot in this portrait- both humorous and poignant- of a marriage. Intimacy, trust, knowledge, and hope for the future shimmer from each page.

HOW TO BE BOTH

Does your internal conversation correct grammatical errors or consider alternate conclusions during interactions with other people? That’s one of the first complications in a challenging and ultimately rewarding novel by Ali Smith. HOW TO BE BOTH is truly difficult to describe. From the blurb: “…it’s a fast-moving, genre-bending conversation between forms, times, truths and fictions.” As the story progresses, it becomes a primer on painting…15th century fresco painting, that is. Yet, it starts with the emotional distress of a 20th century teen, whose mother has died. All is skillfully interwoven with signs of sexual identity confusion and hints of reincarnation emerging, as well as the historical context and the popular culture of two very different times… all tied together by two narrators revealing their families, their contemporaries, and their interest in art. There is a “here we go again” feeling to the cyclic reconsiderations of time, structure, and stories, yet each new connection draws you in with vivid and perceptive telling of the characters’ lives.  The result is a satisfying depth of ideas and insights.

An engaging read for those who enjoy inventive, layered, literary fiction.

back to the blog

Pause! That’s what it feels like to be reading at a leisurely pace and not to be writing. But now that the temperature is soaring into the 40s and the ice is melting, it feels like Play! – or at least, a time of new beginnings. So, I am back to the blog with a few thoughts on recently read books.

Have you been in a meeting when one comment starts an avalanche of agreement that soon seems to lead to an inevitable conclusion? That is one of the symptoms of bad groupthink in WISER: GETTING BEYOND GROUPTHINK TO MAKE GROUPS SMARTER BY Cass R. Sunstein. Other symptoms: incorrect statements get amplified, instead of corrected; groups become polarized; common knowledge is emphasized, instead of new knowledge being introduced. Suggestions for remedies to make groups smarter include: silencing the leader until others comment, rethinking rewards and incentives, and assigning roles based on unique strengths of participants. Sunstein is a professor at Harvard and has served in the Obama administration. An interesting and fresh look at how meetings do and do not work.

I am an Anne Tyler fan. I like her quirky characters and the Baltimore flavor of her books. A SPOOL OF BLUE THREAD is her newest novel, (her 17th!) As usual it’s the story of a family living in Baltimore and moving towards a destiny that seems driven by both their histories and their usual roles in the family. Four generations of an ordinary family who “imagined they were special” fill a narrative that moves back and forth through time and reveals secrets and explanations for the characters’ choices and attitudes.

I become ever more intrigued by short stories that at their best expand fewer words on the page into greater impact in my mind. HONEYDEW: STORIES by Edith Pearlman is indubitably one of the best examples of this art form. Pearlman’s writing is exquisite. Each story drops you into a world confusing at first and then intricate and perceptive and totally engaging. Characters and settings are varied, as are the concerns- some actual, some psychological- of the characters. Human predicaments abound – affairs, pregnancy, anorexia, trauma, displacement, to name a few. Keen understanding without judgment pervades each story. Harsh topics softened by human kindness.