Saturday, July 19, 2008

Two by Marisa de los Santos

May brought an incredible back-to-back reading experience for me with Love Walked In and Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos. I have a few passages of note on both books, but as for reviews, I am going to direct you to Lesley's Book Nook for her reviews of Love Walked In and Belong to Me--Les has captured the essence of both these books in her wonderful reviews!

Love Walked In

Words to live by:
I've always been more than a little proud of myself for having been fourteen and deeply benighted about almost everything, but having had the sense to recognize what is surely a universal truth: Jimmy Stewart is always and indisputably the best man in the world, unless Cary Grant should happen to show up.

How a story "feels" (haven't you lovingly stroked a book?):
On the third day, just before they went home, the kids in Clare's class took the holiday gifts they'd made for their parents off the walls and out of the cases in which they'd been displayed. Clare took down "Annike and the Bears" and slid her palm lightly across the cover. A story is only words living inside a person's head, she thought, floating and invisible. But she'd written the words down and make a book, an object that took its place in the world of objects.

On self-help books:
...the question turned me into a first-name-only, hypothetical character in the pages of a self-help book. Exactly the kind of book we all disdain because it reduces to formulae our irreducible human selves, but which we at least think about buying (thus abetting the book's piranhalike devouring of the New York Times bestseller list). That time we had a terrible cold and were listlessly switching channels on the tiny television we hardly ever watch and even forget we have, we happened upon Oprah discussing such a book and found that, as much as we hated to admit it, the book rang true--at least some it rang somewhat true, truer than we'd ever expected.
On love:
There's a kind of holiness to love, requited or not, and those people who don't receive it with gratitude are arrogant beyond saving.

On journal writing:
Getting the word right mattered, but so did describing his voice when he talked and capturing the feeling that filled her as he spoke and after he spoke. She thought about that word "capture," how it put a writer on par with a fur trapper or big-game hunter, and how it implied that stories were whole and roaming around loose in the world, and a writer's job was to catch them. Except of course that a writer didn't kill what she caught, didn't stuff it and hang it on a wall; the point was to keep the stores alive.

Belong To Me

On the first (real) day of fall:
The next day turned out to be the first day of fall, one of my favorite days of the year. I'm not talking about the actual autumnal equinox, which had come and gone a week earlier and had felt pretty much like all the summer days preceeding it. What I mean by the first day of fall is that day when you suddenly understand with your whole body that the season has changed. When the air feels snappier against our skin and the sky's blueness turns wistful, and the humming of insects shifts pitch, and you just know like you know your own name that summer is over.

On cell phones: admittedly old-ladyish uneasiness with cell phone culture (you know what I mean, it blurs the boundaries between the public/private realms, discourages quiet introspection, results in abominable driving, fills the world with silly noises, et cetera)....

On the action of love:
"What are we going to do?" As soon as I said it, I understood its power, this single, simple question, what I had spent the last two days stumbling toward. I asked the question, and what had frightened me so much was suddenly no longer a threat. It was something for us to do together, to make part of us.... Everything turned on the word "we," a synonym for love, the thing that saves us all.

On brain vacations: could get used to the not-thinking, the haphazard floating through days, your brain lounging around like a tourist in a loud shirt, grasping nothing heavier than a magazine and a drink (umbrellaed, water beaded, pineaple hanging off its rim like an elephant ear), lulled by the sound of seagulls and ocean waves.

Love Walked In
4.5/5 (General Fiction scale)
Plume [Penguin Group imprint] (2005)
Trade Paperback
307 pages
Finished: June 2008

Dedication: For David Teague: You;re the Nile, You're the Tower of Pisa

Belong To Me
4/5 (General Fiction scale)
Wm. Morrow (2008)
388 pages

Dedication: For Charles and Annabel, my sleek brown otters

Forward from Here

Reeve Lindbergh, daughter of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, used the occasion of her sixtieth birthday to publish a new collection of essays entitled, Forward from Here: Leaving Middle Age—and Other Unexpected Adventures. (I often wonder at the necessity of the “coloned” book title. Would we not understand the title without this seemingly parenthetic explanation?) The Hippie lifestyle in Vermont as described in the first essay, "Hippies in the Hot Tub," didn’t exactly mirror my 1970s experiences; however, Lindbergh’s thoughtful passages regarding the who’s and the what’s of passing life experiences grabbed me and didn’t let go until the last page.

From Publishers Weekly
In this collection of poignant essays, Lindbergh struggles to extract meaning, and even solace, from an imperfect everyday reality. Heading her list of concerns is her looming 60th birthday and the change and decline that it symbolizes-the departure from home of her children, a benign brain tumor, the therapeutic drug culture that is the hallmark of old age in America. Despite her anxieties and losses, she manages to find in fragile, flawed things-a broken sea shell, a heron that's lost a leg-a kind of beauty. Lindbergh also explores her fraught relationship with her father, the aviator Charles Lindbergh, "an angry, restless, opinionated perfectionist" whose "very presence alternately crowded and startled everyone," and grapples with the discovery that he had secretly fathered seven children-her half siblings-in Europe. Set mostly amid the tranquil surroundings of her Vermont farmstead, Reeve's essays are suffused with a sly, gentle humor that supports her quiet resolve to carry on.

On relationships:
There is something wonderful about unexpected affection, whether it develops between an octogenarian and an eight-year-old, a staunch conservative Republican and a progressive liberal Democrat, or a Yankee farmer and a hippie homesteader. It delights me that every so often the good feeling that two people have for each other is too strong for their biases and their upbringing, and defeats both in a flood of fellow feeling neither can explain.

On aging:
Fortunately, fears fed by the imagination tend to lose energy and diminish over time. Now I’m close to sixty, and though I don’t always recognize the face I see in the mirror, something has changed in the way I think about aging and dying. I have an increased awareness of my own aging. The process increasingly interests and amazes me, annoys and irritates me, and sometimes it still frightens me, too, but much, much less than it used to. I find that along with the annoyance and irritation there is amusement—how often and in how many places can I lose my glasses in a day?—and that in the place of the old fear for my own physical survival there is an ongoing very real sadness at the absence of the friends and family members who have died before me.

On love and loss:
As I journey on, I carry my lost loved ones with me: my sister, my mother, and all the others. I have learned over the years that I can do this, that love continues beyond loss. It continues not abstractly but intimately, and it continues forever. My experience has also made me understand that loss is inevitable, and that loss, too, continues forever, right along with love.

On “ongoingness”:
There have been one or two horrible times in my life, as there are in too many lives, when the “ongoingness” my mother taught me to value was interrupted in a radical way and neither daily rhythms nor the discipline of writing could restore my balance. An event can be so cataclysmic that it pulls its surviving victims right out of life to plummet into a deep and terrible darkness where there is no solid ground and where day-to-day comforts are meaningless. I have learned by living through a few such times, however, that daily life has a strength and a staying power even more persistent than the terrible downward forces of catastrophe. Dailiness outlasts despair. For a while the rhythms of daily life may seem to be submerged, even drowned in disaster, but that is never true. Sooner or later, after mornings and evenings and mornings and evenings and mornings and evenings again, however many of them it takes, and never by dishonoring reality or by displacing grief, never by rushing the inevitability of feeling, meaning always returns.

On sustenance as we age:
I’m convinced that what we really need most to sustain us as we grow older, more than any drug on the market, is this kind of appreciative awareness, along with compassion, a sense of humor, and simple common sense. Side effects will include a certain amount of pain, a fair share of sorrow, recurring doses of discomfort great and small, and an immeasurable, priceless quantity of peace of mind.

There are many more passages that I have marked, but I will leave it to your reading of Forward from Here to find the words that sing out to you.

After hearing Ms. Lindbergh speak at Porter Square Books on May 7, I am looking forward to reading Under a Wing and No More Words. And I am eagerly hunting down her children’s books written in rhyme!

Forward from Here would be a thoughtful reading for everyone, not just those of us approaching or in our 60s. Any reader could find direction in learning to embrace the everyday, to appreciate the details of life from the hissing of a teakettle to the crunch of stone underfoot on a daily walk, or to make friends with that most important person in life--yourself.

5/5 (Non-fiction scale)
Simon & Schuster (2008)
220 pages
Finished: May 2008

Dedication: To Nat

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Third Angel

Opening a new Alice Hoffman novel is like opening the most anticipated gift of the year. You know you will again be swept away into a world like no other and meet characters unlike any you’ve met before. The Third Angel is Alice Hoffman at her gift-giving best. The worlds of 1999, 1966 and 1952 bring us coincidentally interwoven heroines joined one to the other by that cruelest of fate—being in love with the wrong man. And characters? How about a ghost, a hotel room and a heron! Hoffman tips the balance of narrative momentum as she takes us back in time or forward in time if you do, as Ms. Hoffman herself suggests, and read the interwoven stories back to front.

From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In this elegant and stunning novel, veteran heartstring-puller Hoffman (Here on Earth; Seventh Heaven) examines the lives of three women at different crossroads in their lives, tying their London-centered stories together in devastating retrospect. High powered New York attorney Maddy Heller arrives in 1999 London having had an affair with Paul, her sister Allie's fiancĂ©,; she must now cope with the impending marriage, and with Paul's terminal illness—which echoes the girls' mother's cancer during their childhood. Hoffman then shifts to heady 1966 London and to Frieda Lewis, Paul's future mother, who falls for a doomed up-and-coming songwriter knowing he will break her heart. The narrative then shifts further back, to 1952 and to Maddy and Allie's future mother, Lucy Green. A bookish 12-year-old wise beyond her years, Lucy sails with her father and stepmother from New York to London for a wedding. There, she becomes an innocent catalyst to a devastating event involving a love triangle. Hoffman interweaves the three stories, gazing unerringly into forces that cause some people to self-destruct (There was no such thing as too much for a girl who thought she was second best) and others to find inner strength to last a lifetime.

On love:
There was good love and there was bad love. There was the kind that helped raise a person above her failings and there was the desperate sort that struck when someone least wanted or expected it.

On fairy tale love doomed from the start – Maddy and Paul have met purely by chance at Kensington Palace leaving flowers in memory of Princess Diana, and Maddy recalls the stories of Charles and Diana’s courtship:
When Maddy first heard the story, shed wanted to shout, What on earth is romantic about doomed love? But she’d said nothing. Only that Diana had been a foot not to know whom she was marrying in the first place. Maddy had seen an interview in which Price Charles had been asked if he was in love. “Whatever love is,” he had said with Diana sitting right next to him. She should have gotten up and walked away then.

The fatal first step into love:
It was so easy. She opened the door for him and the rest was like disappearing into the dark night to a place where no one could find you. No footsteps, no fingerprints, no evidence of any kind.

Clues forward and back, back and forward:
It was possible to read the story two ways: Front to back, the heron returned to his heron wife and the world of the sky. Back to front, he stayed with his one true love on earth.

Who is the third angel among us? Frieda’s father, a doctor who made house calls, said this of angels:
...there was the Angel of Life, the Angel of Death, and then there was the Third Angel. “It was either the Angel of Life or the Angel of Death who would ride in the back of the car when my father went on house calls, but he never knew which one it was until he arrived at his destination. Even then he said he was often surprised. It was hard to tell the difference between the two sometimes.” …and the third one? “Well, he’s the most curious. You can’t even tell if he’s an angel or not. You think you’re doing him a kindness, you think you’re the one taking care of him, while all the while, he’s the one who’s saving your life.”

Alice Hoffman on loving the wrong man (Hallmark Magazine May 2008):
The wrong man is who we believe we deserve. He’s the man we think we can save. He’s the one only we can understand or fix or relate to. He’s an outlaw, an outsider, a fallen angel, a blank slate, a charmer, a man we go back to despite his flaws. Just as there are women who stay with the wrong man, there are just as many who leave him, and still others who realize that, for a little while at least, the wrong man was, for reasons only they can determine, right for them.

My delight in opening yet another Hoffman gift was enhanced by attending a reading/signing on April 22 where Ms. Hoffman spoke about third angels (the people who come into our lives unannounced and who make changes in our lives…third angels that we don’t even realize until much later who they were and what they have done for us) and the wrong man (who may truly have been the right man all along). Alice Hoffman started out as a voracious young reader who now delights us all with her writing. She says she was “lost in the magic of reading and is now lost in the magic of writing.” And the ghost in Room 708? Real.

5/5 (General Fiction Scale)
Shaye Areheart Books [Random House Imprint] (2008)
278 pages
Finished: April 2008

Outside the Back Door

Portulaca is a favorite summer can you not be happy
when greeted by this display as you go in and out the back door?