Post-Easter reading blitz and domestic disasters


Hope you all had a lovely Easter. Sorry I had nothing of note to post. It's difficult keeping our heads above water right now, what with my father-in-law battling cancer, our water heater breaking and leaking all over the basement floor and our upstairs bathtub deciding to join the party and drip into our living room.

Re: the water heater, that's been replaced and so far all's well (save the bill). The bathroom has been completely ripped out (it needed it, anyway, as the decor was decidely 70s modern – Far out!) and it's down to bare walls and plywood flooring. The potential, the potential, yes that's already going through my head. Eighteen years of looking at that dog vomit yellow were eighteen years too many but other, more crucial projects kept getting in the way. 

The family room needs painting as well but may just have to hold out a while longer since the kitchen is in more serious need, what with the scratches on the sliding door trim, courtest of a certain two dogs, who shall remain nameless. Then there are the marks on the wall, which happen to match up perfectly with the tops of the kitchen chairs. Sounds like a case for Sherlock Holmes.

Right now it's that sort of seafoam green I associate with Martha Stewart (in fact, it's from her line of paints) and goes beautifully with the cabinets (birch), countertops (dark granite) and appliances (stainless). It was all the rage in the early 2000s, before Martha was sent up river for insider training. Whatever I choose will probably lean toward pastel again. Maybe a blue? An updated yellow? The mind boggles.

Since we probably aren't going on vacation this year, between worry over leaving the area too long and the need to conserve money since my daughter's starting college this fall (scream here), I'm thinking about taking a week's worth of vacation to repaint the kitchen. What larks, Pip! And what a wonderful way to spend my time off.

I'm sort of a slob when it comes to painting. I lack the crucial "painting along the top of the wall/below the ceiling" gene.  I can do walls, around woodwork and other things. But that ceiling line… I have shaky hands naturally, probably related to the fact my fight or flight sensor is set to Code Red.  Every, single time I paint I get a ceiling line that looks like an EKG report without a single flatline.

But ne'er mind all that. Let's shift to what I'm reading, which is becoming completely out of control again, SURPRISE.

First, Anne Tyler's latest The Beginner's Goodbye. I'm not a Tyler fan and I've felt inadequate about it a long time. Yet, nearly every time she comes out with a new book I'm all over it. Such is my utter determination to like something she's written, dammit!

In the case of her latest, so far it's actually not so bad. Not great, but, as some critics are wont to say, "readable." A more back-handed compliment's hard to find but I guess they mean it well.

TBG is about a new widower who, in his great sorrow, is trying to get his life back in order after the loss of his wife. I know from reading the blurb he's going to start seeing his late wife everywhere, so that's no spoiler. Guess I haven't gotten that far quite yet, though I'm just over the mid-point. Anytime Tyler's ready to let that start happening is fine with me.

The book's character-driven and to my surprise I haven't found any of them irritatingly quirky, the word so often used to describe Ms. Tyler's characters. The husband's a bit wacky but I suppose that's to be allowed, considering his current situation. But one complaint I have is this same character acts and speaks so much older than he is. I keep forgetting he's a 30-something, from the way he speaks in general and about himself, even if he does has a disability. I felt vindicated when I located this from Ron Charles, saying the same basic thing in his own review:

"Nothing about him suggests we’re in the company of a 35-year-old in the early 21st century; he seems dustier than the 60-year-old in “Noah’s Compass.” “That tickled me no end,” he tells us when he hears Dorothy talking. Confronted by an angry colleague, he exclaims, “Goodness.” Seeing his dead wife standing in the street, he says, “Dorothy, my dear one. My only, only Dorothy.” "

The novel's occasionally quite funny and tells a story of universal appeal but beyond that it's really quite superficial. I'd classify it a "beach read," or at the least a summer or book group. I'll probably forget it as soon as I close the cover. As entertainment it's not a total waste of time. It does that quite well.

As Ron Charles said later in his review:

"Even die-hard fans of Tyler’s work should probably let this one float by."

Err… I'm not a fan to begin with. That's not very good news, now, is it.





Next, a very strange, shorter novel called Spurious by Lars Iyer. The whole thing's a sort  of dramatic monologue between the unnamed narrator and W., a man never at a loss for words. If you aren't into dark, philosophical sorts of  books run away from this one very quickly. I'm around halfway and wonder if I should continue on or just drop it. Though I tend to lean toward darker books, for some reason this one's making me feel slightly uncomfortable and squirmy. It isn't bad. Not at all. It's funny and reads very quickly but it gives me a sort of Russian Novel Depression Disorder. (RNDD):

 "Idiocy, that's what we have in common. Our friendship is founded upon our limitations, we agree, and doesn't travel far from them.

We're full of joy, W. says as we walk back from the supermarket, that's what saves us. Why do we find our failings so amusing? But it does save us, we agree on that; it's our gift to the world. We are content with very little: look at us, with a frozen chicken in a bag, and some herbs and spices, walking home in the sun. The gift of laughter, I say – 'The gift of idiocy,' says W."

 From Steven Poole from

"It is near to the end of days, shortly before the appearance of a "stupid Messiah". Two British men, employed somehow in academia, muse on their lack of success and incapacity for real thought while drinking too much gin. "We are Brod and Brod, we agree, and neither of us is Kafka." Sometimes they travel to a conference, and drink too much there instead. One of the friends insults the other with spectacular, relentless cruelty. The insultee also has to deal with a damp problem in his flat that gradually assumes apocalyptic proportions of sweating metaphor."

This is a very well-written book by an assured writer. It's just that I'm a depressive to begin with and nothing here makes me feel any better. Not that it should but, at the least, I'd like there to be a reason for all the downer, dark comedy and not just show-offy "look how smart I am" quips.

Maybe, as one commenter replied to Poole's review:

 "…not something that Americans generally appreciated. A lot of the American reviews seem to have missed the point!"

 I can't comment back to him either way, since comments on the post have already been closed, drat it. It's true we in the States often don't get British humoUr and vice versa I assume. I tend to adore it, that dry sort of wit, and in fact it's my own style. But even I run up against a wall now and then. Maybe I've done that here?

I'll give it another go before I throw my hands up in despair.


Quickies – In Progress:


Sister by Lupton:

Compelling, if a bit over-written at times.

Marriage Plot by Eugenides:

Late night, pre-sleep Kindle read. Funny, funny and more funny.

This Burns My Heart by Park:

Free Review Book for bookgroup moderation at

1984 re-read:

Another Kindle read, for Classics Book Group discussion at my library.

Religion for Atheists by de Botton:

Free review book. Compelling ideas I, so far, agree with.


Reviews actively working on or just finished:


The Cove by Ron Rash for

Published 4/10/12 (today!)



(UK cover)

A Daughter's Tale: The Memoir of Winston Churchill's Youngest Child by Mary Soames

for Library Journal

Pub. 7/12


Carry on! As you were.





Finally, first finished book of 2012!

Well, now. It's taken me eleven days but I have actually finished my first book of the year. I won't review it here, as it's slated for publication in Library Journal next month and I consider it theirs, but once it's up I'll link to it, I promise, though I've been woefully shameful about that. It's hard keeping up with it all but I am bound and determined to make 2012 THE YEAR LISA GETS IT TOGETHER. Or at least isn't quite so pathetic.

The book I finished is one I've been talking about here, A Magnificent Obsession: Victoria, Albert, and the Death That Changed the British Monarchy by Helen Rappaport. Really great stuff, can't emphasize it enough. If you're a Victorian buff keep an eye out for it. It will be published sometime in March.

Think you know all there is to know about Victoria? Well, think again.

VictoriaI feel a bit sheepish because I realized earlier today I've read another book co-authored by Ms. Rappaport, Dark Hearts of Chicago.


"When young, inexperienced but very ambitious female reporter Emily Strauss bluffs her way into newspaper magnate Joseph Pulitzer’s office, she comes away with a treacherous assignment: to find out what happened to Anna Zemeckis, one of many women who have disappeared during the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. With the support of a young man who is just venturing into the burgeoning trade of news photography, Emily soon finds herself in a race against time to save Anna’s life and to bring her story back to New York before Pulitzer’s tough deadline expires."

Really good novel, especially if you live in Chicago. It's still good even if you don't. I also like books with strong female characters in professions generally considered the realm of men. And in the 19th Century that was usually the case. Not always, but usually.

Harriet Martineau wrote some pretty brazen articles about the rights of women. Ditto Nellie Bly (pen name of Elizabeth Jane Cochran). So they were out there but not in huge numbers. Just wish I had the time to read a lot more by these determined women. Same for the suffragettes, one of whom, Mina Van Winkle, was very likely related to me since this side of my family originated in the NY/NJ area as did she. And it's not that common a name. I smell a research opportunity, another one I have no time to pursue. Sigh.



Next, three books I requested from Yale University Press:

Losing It: In Which An Aging Professor Laments His Shrinking Brain, Which He Flatters Himself Formerly Did Him Noble Service by William Ian Miller

A Little History of Philosophy by Nigel Warburton

Reading the 21st Century: Books of the Decade, 2000 – 2009 by Stan Persky

And, hiding beneath those, Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward, the surprise, come from behind winner of the National Book Award. If you know my love of southern writing the attraction will make sense and this one's set in my native Mississippi.

 The Yale U.P.s are, unsurprisingly, VELLY academic in tone. Or at least the first I've started, Reading the 21st Century. They may be a bit slower going but I will fit them in somehow. Great titles, too, aren't they?

Salvage the Bones I've already started and it slammed me into Mississippi within the first couple of pages. I mean that in a good way, as far as sense of place. Her style is delicious: simple, not flowerly and it conveys both place and character masterfully. I have a feeling this is going to be a "read more quickly than I'd like" book, one I have to finish to know what happens and wish I had time to re-read.

But thank goodness I finally finished that first book of 2012. Not sure why that bothered me, but patience has never been a virtue of mine. Speaking of, a load of laundry stands between me and some reading. Catch you later.


The Sunday Salon: January 8, 2012


One whole week into 2012 and as far as I know I haven't broken a single resolution but then again that's not saying much as I can't recall what I resolved.

Oh, wait! I think one was something about my knees and taking positive action to improve my pain situation. If working out qualifies then I am ahead of that game. I did go, once. I was on the elliptical trainer for half an hour. With every step, ellip, or what have you, I felt a disgusting feeling of pain. It wasn't a sharp pain but did involve the sound of bone grinding on bone, with a pinch of loose cartilage or other organic matter being pulverized, accompanied by localized swelling.

For several days after I felt a distinct change in the status of my knees. Along with the stiffness and pain was added a general weakness in the joint, resulting in my knees giving way suddenly, and with no notice, the cheeky things. I guess you could say so far my resolutions are going gangbusters in 2012.




Basically, still reading all I was reading before:

Bleak House by Dickens (over halfway)

Striving hard to finish before the group discussion and I'm between half and three-quarters with a medium to pathetic chance of finishing on time. Still reading primarily from bedtime until I'm too tired to read further, which is usually a good hour or two. I've passed the rough patch in which I wasn't sure what was going on with a vague plotline and have passed through the much more fun and upbeat scene of Caddy's wedding to Prince Turveydrop. The deportment, I assure you, was impeccable.


A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry (ditto)

Reading this slowly to savor.


A Magnificient Obsession: Victoria, Albert, and the Death That Changed The British Monarchy by Helen Rappaport

Nearly finished and will write the review today. It continues to be an exceptional work of history. Fascinating stuff.




Restoring Grace by Katie Fforde

Reading for Readers Advisory Interest Group – a professional library group dedicated to reading a variety of genre literature, and next up is "Modern Romance." When I first heard this was the upcoming genre selection I felt my heart sink. I can read fantasy, thrillers, science fiction, graphic novels, etc., but I'd rather have the dry heaves than read romance.

So, I selected by going for something with subject matter I have interest in: old manor houses, British settings and characters, an artist, and a divorced woman being wooed, reluctantly, by an Irishman. Throw some flowers on that ancient, drafty house and my interest is piqued well enough.

I'm around a quarter through and, aside from the short-cut telling instead of showing parts and occasional clunky dialogue, it's honestly not that bad. I don't believe in romance, at least not the storybook sort, which I guess makes me a good test subject. If I think it's a fairly good read you know most readers of romance – minus the bodice-rippers, and you people can just forget it – set in modern Britain will have a good shot at liking it. At the least it proves I'm a fairly good sport.


Essays by Truman Capote

One by one I'm getting through a fairly chunky collection of Capote's essays at a snail's pace, which is intentional since it's a great way to dip into intelligent writing when I have a few minutes here and there. I'm a fan of his fiction – what little I've read – plus he was a southerner. Slam dunk. Will have more to say about some of the individual pieces in a future post. Hint: Mixed reaction.


Have to go switch the laundry, so that's it for today.

Ciao, y'all.