In a series of connected vignettes, All Grown Up shares Andrea’s ongoing struggles with getting her life together and overcoming her childhood. It’s funny (often darkly so) and observant. It’s sharp, too, and there’s a strain of melancholy and dissatisfaction that runs through it. While everyone else seems to be moving forward with traditional life milestones, Andrea is 39 and the same person in the same place as she’s always been.
And is that really a problem?
I suppose you could call Andrea unlikeable, given how she can drive you a bit nuts with her selfishness and lack of motivation, but I liked her. Andrea is funny and has rough edges. She comes across as a real human being with issues and flaws, but also with insight and desires and a sense of humor. I like that she does what she wants, even if she regrets it or the situation turns out badly. I can also identify with her sensualist tendencies (there are some great passages about food and the eating thereof in this book).
How does one measure success at being a “grown-up”? How do you know when you are one? Do those traditional milestones (marriage, home ownership, car ownership, boat ownership) really matter at all? Maybe you know you’re a grown-up when you reach the point where you can be there for others even when it’s hard, create connections that matter to you, and when you can hold a sick baby’s hand.
I’m excited to read more of Attenberg’s work. She’s witty and insightful and creates emotional and truthful moments that pack a punch for how unexpectedly they creep up on you.
Girl Waits With Gun is based on real people, and tells the story of one of the first female deputy sheriffs in the United States. Her name was Constance Kopp, and she lived in Wyckoff, New Jersey. One day when out in town with her sisters, Norma and Fleurette, a wealthy silk factory owner ran into their buggy with his car. Constance’s attempts to get the silk man to pay a $50 repair bill swiftly snowball into a dangerous situation when the man refuses to pay up. Throw in a gang, some gunplay, and a missing child, and then let Constance Kopp save the day.
This is the first in a series, and I’ve also just finished the second installment, Lady Cop Makes Trouble. The second one builds on the first for sure, but it’s a great outing all on its own–Constance finds her job in jeopardy after a criminal escapes on her watch. These mysteries are amusing and filled with great characters. As mysteries both of these books are a nice blend of police work and the more amateur sleuth style, given how Constance is kind of in-between those two worlds.
The pace is quick and the writing is evocative. Stewart does a lot with just a few lines to bring a scene or setting to life. These books are set in the 1910’s, and there’s just enough historical detail to add color and interest. And the characters are very well-realized through the dialogue-driven stories. Their relationships, particularly those between the Kopp sisters, are very well-drawn. In Girl Waits With Gun we get Constance’s backstory, and that of her family, and learn how these sisters ended up on an isolated rural farm.
Constance is presented as no-nonsense and incredibly driven, and I like how matter-of-fact she is about her unorthodox (for her time) profession. This real-life quote from Constance says it all:
“Some women prefer to stay at home and take care of the house. Let them. There are plenty who like that kind of work enough to do it. Others want something to do that will take them out among people and affairs. A woman should have the right to do any sort of work she wants to, provided she can do it.”
She’s good at what she does and she wants the opportunity to do her job. That’s pretty much all there is to it. I appreciate how Constance just gets on with things, and the story never gets bogged down with the social issues that it touches on. These books are about Constance Kopp taking down criminals, and keeping you delightfully entertained while she does so.
If you want to learn more, Stewart’s website has some great background on the characters and on New Jersey/New York City in the 1910’s. Check it out here.
And the third installment is due in September, so keep your eyes peeled this fall for Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions!
Ben is on a business trip in the Poconos, and he decides to go for a quick hike behind the inn where he’s staying. That quick hike turns weird fast when Ben suddenly finds himself lost and alone, on a path he can’t stray from under penalty of death. In this bizarre world there are giants, twin moons, an old lady in a lonely cottage, monsters, and a foul-mouthed crab named Crab. Ben’s only goal is to stay alive and get home to his family.
It sounds trippy because it is. But just roll with it!
The set-up is that of a fairy tale quest: Ben has to stay on his path and overcome obstacles in order to get back to his own world and family. The tone and atmosphere are like a Twilight Zone episode (right down to the ending!), with its eerie weirdness and sense of danger.
It’s a fast-paced adventure with plenty of humor, but there’s also a poignancy to the quest. Ben is a wonderful Everyman character, and it’s very easy to identify with him. What parts of your life would you most like to have another chance at? And how would you go about facing down your deepest fears? And, most of all, how much would you be able to endure in order to stay on your path? I imagine this book is one you would probably read very differently at different stages of your life. Kind of like Gulliver’s Travels or Alice in Wonderland, or even The Odyssey.
The Hike is all about conquering your demons and following your path, whatever those might be. It’s fun, hilarious, and touching. And very, very weird.
Simply Books! turned three years old in March! We’ve had just about the same core crew since the beginning. Along the way we’ve picked up new members who each bring something unique to our table. The Simply Books! crew, to a one, is friendly, intelligent, hilarious, warm, and, of course, well-read!
It really is an honor to facilitate this group. It occurs to me that our members are always thanking me and saying how great the group is. Which warms my heart, don’t get me wrong! But they really should be thanking themselves. It’s every member together that makes a book group fantastic. Along with that certain “It” factor. Whatever “It” is, Simply Books! has it in spades.
So thank you to every single member of Simply Books! I look forward to the fourth Saturday of the month like you wouldn’t believe. Talking books with all of you is one of the highlights of my professional life. Here’s to another three years!
All-righty then, on to the good stuff! This month I’ve decided to keep intact the list that I send by email to group members. Most of these descriptions are in their own words. It gives you a nice idea of what we cover at a meeting.
Here’s the list for March 2014:
Cherished: 21 Writers on Animals They Have Loved and Lost
A collection of essays about the loss of cherished pets. Wonderful tone, poignant but joyous. A book for small doses, given the subject. But still, as you read, you’ll weep, laugh, and rejoice.
In the Fall by Jeffrey Lent
A novel about a white Civil War veteran and his wife, an escaped slave, set in Vermont. It’s a story that spans three generations and revolves around a family secret. Very character-centered and character-driven, with lyrical and engrossing writing. Every character feels real.
The House at Sea’s End by Elly Griffiths
This is the third in the Ruth Galloway mystery series, and is absolutely delightful! Ruth is a forensic archaeologist in Norfolk, England, who turns her expertise about bones into a turn for solving crimes. Funny, with thin mystery plots that are secondary to the fantastic style and flawed (but always entertaining!) realism of the characters. (this is a series you can join anywhere, but the first is “The Crossing Places” if you wanted to start there)
Outsmarting Cats: How to Persuade the Felines in Your Life to Do What You Want by Wendy Christensen
This is a very informative and pretty much all-encompassing book about how to “train” the seemingly untrainable housecat. A good read for cat owners, or anyone who would just like to know more about how a cat ticks. A bit repetitive, but overall a good read. The takeaway is: “Your cat does what it does because it works for it.”
Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
A re-read (in the original German), and worth it! Quite beautiful, with many wonderful moments. It’s the story of a spiritual journey, with Buddhist sensibilities. A simple tale, but lyrically told.
Robert Redford: The Biography by Michael Feeney Callan
The authorized biography of Redford (and yes, there are pictures!). The writing is pedestrian, but Redford’s life was quite amazing. His energy, environmental interests, film work, and athleticism all really come through. The one down side is that, as it’s an authorized biography, you don’t know what they’re leaving out.
The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It
by Kelly McGonigal
This book was the culmination of McGonigal’s research as well as of her extremely popular 10-week class at Stanford. It’s not wordy or fluffy, but rather very focused with a scientific and modern perspective on the nature of will-power. It includes discussions of the myths of will-power, as well as about mindfulness. Check out McGonigal’s TED talks for more.
A Formal Feeling by Zibby O’Neil
A beautifully rendered story of coming to terms with grief. Anne is a 16 year old girl who has recently lost her mother. Her father has already remarried, and Anne is home from boarding school for the holidays. The story revolves around Anne’s grieving process, and finally allowing herself to grieve. It’s a sophisticated young adult story with writing to match, tactile and evocative and filled with symbolism and imagery.
Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussman
A novel about dysfunctional families, secrets, and coming of age, this story spans about twenty-five years and the stories of five different characters. At the center of them all is a dangerous teenage sociopath and a crime he has committed, and through the points of view of the other characters his background and upbringing are brought to light. Very evocative of upper-class New England in the 1950’s and 1960’s.
The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud
This novel centers on Nora, a schoolteacher in her thirties who considers herself a forgotten and overlooked “woman upstairs.” She makes a connection with a student and his family, an obsessive connection which has disastrous
consequences. Nora is a compelling narrator, one you identify with…until she crosses that line into insanity with a line or a thought.
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The classic novel of crime and its aftermath, as well as into the mind of a killer who seems perfectly normal. The reader mentioned especially how the reader is drawn into the minutiae of the protagonist’s life, of how creepily everyday the narrative is, when all the while he is plotting a gruesome murder.
I realized only after I’d sent the email that I’d totally forgotten to include the book I shared! Ooops. It was Hild by Nicola Griffith, and if you click this link you can read my blog post. I said pretty much all the same things.
If this post makes you curious about what Simply Books! is like in person, please come join us in a couple weeks! Our next meeting is scheduled for Saturday, April 26th at 2pm, in the Jean Picker Room.
Aliens have invaded Earth. Only now it’s not Earth–it’s Smekland, named for the glorious and brave Boov leader, Captain Smek. These aliens have kidnapped Gratuity “Tip” Tucci’s mom, and are relocating all humans to Florida. So now Tip is on a quest to save her mom, along with her cat Pig and her unlikely new Boov friend, J. Lo. Continue reading →
You need not have read Edgar Allan Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (his only attempt at a novel, and a bizarre one at that) in order to enjoy Johnson’s Pym: A Novel. However, your enjoyment of the story will be improved quite a bit if you suspend your disbelief. In fact, don’t bother merely suspending your disbelief. Just let it drop to the ground and leave it there–this is the sort of book you just have to roll with. Continue reading →
I’m not sure how many of our readers know this, but each of our new fiction titles here at the library has a Reader Review sheet taped to the inside back cover. There are five spaces provided for readers to rate the book on a scale from 1 to 5 (“Don’t waste your time” to “A must-read”, respectively), and then a few lines to jot down thoughts.
Sometimes books come back without anything at all written, or just have a number rating. Mostly, though, folks really take the time to write what they think for the benefit of other readers. I love it when this happens, and so do other patrons. Seeing the reviews that other readers have left can often help people decide whether they’d like to try a particular title. It’s kind of like having an Amazon or Shelfari page pop up, but much more personal. Sharing thoughts and reviews helps readers connect more to the books they read, as well as with other readers. That’s what the public library’s all about! Continue reading →
I’m a bit ashamed to admit I had no idea this prize existed. I’m glad to know about it now! Any prize that rewards writers who want to make kids laugh as well as read is just about the best prize ever. Continue reading →