A Sunday Commonplace

Books mentioned in this post:

New advance review books:

Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran

Victoria: A Novel by Daisy Goodwin


A Tree or a Person or a Wall by Matt Bell

Molly Fox’s Birthday by Deirdre Madden


The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride

The Marches: A Borderland Journey between England and Scotland by Rory Stewart


Photo credit: Huffington Post

Photo credit: Huffington Post


Well, then. What have we learned this week?

I had a kick in the teeth of sorts, one FB-active divorced parents will identify with: my ex’s next wife has befriended and begun posting photos with my youngest child, something I know not because I’m stalking her – though, okay, sometimes I do: HI! – but because it’s the first time I’ve had to see her face pop up on my personal timeline along with one of my children’s.

Key word: MY.

So yes, if she stumbles past here now she knows target acquired. But then again, if she stops by she won’t stay long. Because I write mostly about literature. And, well…

No. I don’t think so.


Can I get a nerdy boom?

Can I get a nerdy boom?


Moving past. In my special place, in my special place.


Latest Binge Wathing Time Suck: Dexter.

Latest Binge Wathing Time Suck: Dexter.

All around shorter lists this week, bound to happen from time to time. Not as much came through the door, and I continue to progress in my reading at a snail’s pace. Part of this is due to excuses reasons noted previously, but it’s time I admitted it’s also directly related to my fixation with the series Dexter.

A serial killer is my guilty pleasure. When I get home from work every day I watch at least two episodes. Sometimes more. I switch to books when I hop into bed, but several hours’ worth of potential reading time are given over to watching people get hacked into pieces, then tossed into the ocean.

There is some bleeding over into my daily life directly resulting from my binges – and yes, that’s a freebie. Discussing fictional, theoretical murders (I swear, because prison libraries could never rival my own), I mentioned to my older son that Dexter‘s full of great advice regarding how to get rid of bodies. Over breakfast we discussed the most efficient way to kill: severing the aorta with one good thrust of a knife well sharpened.

Then I asked him to pass the salsa.





Perhaps most disturbing, I’m finding myself rooting for a serial killer. It’s true his victims are reprehensible, have taken innocent lives, and he’s taking them out before they can do more harm (since they’ve slipped through the justice system and gotten away with murder – literally), but the man’s killing people. The guilty are one thing. Not that I condone murder (this got weird, didn’t it), but an eye for an eye, now that I can get behind. But now, when a character gets annoying, I’m thinking, “Dexter, you know what to do!

Out of context, that sounds disturbing. Hell, in context it does. But if you’ve watched the show, you’ll know he’s an endearing psychopath. Much like how I’m an endearing raving lunatic. You do agree, right…?


The TV alternative to bingeing a great series is watching Donald Trump having his tantrums. I like my psychopaths fictional, thanks.


In what I’m realizing is more free time than I admit to having when anyone asks if I want to do something, I’ve been book blog jumping much more often. My Twitter feed is my first source for all news – books included – but it’s satisfying complementing that through reading what kindred souls have been enjoying – voracious readers whose opinions I respect. It does make my TBR list grow proportionately, but that’s no reason not to enjoy myself threading my way from book blog to book blog.



Actual reading-wise, I’ve finished both Matt Bell’s latest collection and the surprise upstart Molly Fox’s Birthday. I plucked it off the shelf at random, curling up in bed with it like a squirrel does its nuts. Remember how I don’t need a man in my life? This is why. He’d roll over on my books and cause me to lose my place.


Don’t make me go Dexter on your ass, son.

Reviews of both books to come.


“I realise that a certain school of thought says that who we are is something we construct for ourselves. We build our self out of what we think we remember.” – Molly Fox’s Birthday



In current reads, two are for review: Eimear McBride’s The Lesser Bohemians and The Marches: A Borderland Journey between England and Scotland by Rory Stewart. The former forces me to switch gears to more stream of consciousness prose, working out reading muscles I’ve let atrophy. I’m getting into the rhythm, but slowly.

The latter took a bit of warming up to, due to the fact it started out weighted too much toward Stewart’s relationship with his father. A book should build interest in the main theme, concentrating on developing the hook that’s in the blurb – in this case, and more urgently, the subtitle – before trotting off in another direction to a more personal theme. Get me interested in your project, what the book’s ostensibly about, then tell me about your complex feelings about your father.

Now that I’m about halfway, it’s growing on me. I expect my thoughts to be positive.

I have a goal of getting more detail into these commonplace posts, including more conventional commonplace book content , i.e., quotes and specifics about other elements of my reading – ephemera, in other words. This includes trending topics I’m following, sidebars such as my decision to re-subscribe to The New York Times and why, what I’m picking up from other bloggers, and other details I’d like to track.

Developing the habit of posting on this theme was the first step. Fleshing it out is next.

Speaking of fleshing, maybe I’ll watch another episode or two of Dexter this evening. You know, while I’m sharpening my knife set. Because I watch Chopped, which is about cooking.

Sheesh! So touchy.

Have a lovely reading week. Until next time.


A Sunday Commonplace

Books mentioned in this post:


The Sellout by Paul Beatty

Nutshell by Ian McEwan

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

James Joyce: Portrait of a Dubliner – A Graphic Novel by Alfonso Zapico

Theodor Geisel: A Portrait of the Man Who Became Dr. Seuss by Donald E. Pease

Review copies:

Hoopty Time Machines: Fairy Tales for Grown Ups by Christopher DeWan

He Comes in Fire by Aaron R. Even

The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride

A Tree or a Person or a Wall by Matt Bell

Up Soon in Reading:

The Brontes: Wild Genius on the Moors – The Story of a Literary Family by Juliet Barker

The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe by D.G. Compton (NYRB)






Loads of overtime hours this week: 14, to be precise. Overtime means time and a half, and time and a half means money I’m lusting to spend. A responsible adult, I realize no money should be squandered, which is why I wasted none of it on groceries or rent. As long as there’s money jingling in the buy one, get one Egg McMuffin fund, I see no problem here.

It was a bookwhorish week dreams are made of, both purchased and review books hitting the doorstep with a frequency impressing even me, no stranger to One Click frenzies – the nerdy equivalent of drunk dialing. But books arriving unbidden, oh GOD what a beautiful thing.

It’s best when you don’t anticipate them coming, in a way. Don’t you agree? Slavering for the UPS man is all well and good, but boxes hitting the front door after you’ve torn up the stairs to find a dark place to sit and stroke your new presshussses, well that’s the equivalent of God leaning down and whispering he exists and has a place for you after all, despite all your atheistic snark.

Paul Beatty’s The Sellout is one of the Booker nominees I spoke of a mere couple days ago. It’s the easiest Shortlist title attainable, so I snatched it. Levy’s Hot Milk, Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing and Moshfeh’s Eileen (PEN Hemingway winner) are available now; Szalay’s All That Man Is and Graeme MaCrae Burne’s His Bloody Project are due in early October.

Resist, Amazon one click finger. Mama has bills.

I’ve paged through Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance during Barnes & Noble lurks, but never properly read it. Scoring one of the wingback chairs on my last visit, settled into read the first four or five pages and my hands couldn’t let go. A portrait of the economically depressed South that’s also home to my family, it appeals to my great need for an empathetic portrayal of my roots.

“There is no group of Americans more pessimistic than working-class whites. Well over half of blacks, Latinos, and college-educated whites expect that their children will fare better economically than they have. Among working-class whites, only 44 percent share that expectation.” – J.D. Vance


Next up: a graphic books.  No good reason I haven’t read more save the old complaint about that thief time.  James Joyce: Portrait of a Dubliner – A Graphic Biography leapt off the shelf and hit me in the head. No hesitation; this book was mine.

In 2014 I visited a Dublin bursting with echoes of Joyce. Of course I made a vow to read more of his work, and of course I haven’t since. Goodbye, guilt and hello to a genre I’ve neglected, all in one go.


The Literature Book by James Canton– $ 1.99

The Harvard Classics in a Year: A Liberal Education in 365 Days – $ 2.51

The Yellow Room by Mary R. Rinehart – $ 1.99

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick – $ 1.99

Her Brilliant Career: Ten Extraordinary Women of the Fifties by Rachel Cooke – $1.99

Some Tame Gazelle by Barbara Pym – $ 1.99


As much out of left field as the graphic bio, Theodor Geisel: A Portrait of the Man Who Became Dr. Seuss happened. Ironic it’s another literary biography with A Portrait in the title. It’s like Barnes & Noble had a plan for me, like they’ve been stalking me. Looks like it worked.

Now, the review books – bookwhore crack that didn’t make my credit card scream in agony.

Atticus sent me two: Hoopty Time Machines: Fairy Tales for Grown Ups by Christopher DeWan and He Comes in Fire by Aaron R. Even, both of which are completely unknown to me – books and authors.

Kevin Brockmeier, a writer I met a few years ago and whose writing takes my breath away, had this to say about Hoopty:

Hoopty Time Machines is much like a bag of M&M’s, in that it’s nearly impossible, once you’ve opened it, not to consume it down to the last morsel, and fast. It is less like a bag of M&M’s in that you never know what you’ll find beneath the candy coating: a peanut or an amphetamine, a rosary bead or a thumbtack.” –Kevin Brockmeier, author of The Illumination

A bit baffled by Aaron R. Even. He’s not coming up on Amazon searches. Seldom do I make time for writers with no creds, no blurbs by authors I respect. This one’s described as Southern gothic, an appealing term. Nevertheless, it’s a descriptive thrown around liberally, seemingly by those who have no idea of the true meaning – or less about the meaning than profit margins.

Atticus books feeding my sickness.

Atticus books feeding my sickness.

Two books I’m wildly excited about are also freebies:

The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride and A Tree or a Person or a Wall by Matt Bell. I hang out with Matt on FB, share taste in beer, and was floored by his 2015 Scrapper. I hadn’t yet worked up to asking him up for a review copy; it’s like his publisher read my mind.


And Eimear McBride. A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing is a book which left me conflicted, but ultimately impressed. I said in my review I’d gladly read more of her work. I’m getting that chance.

I was going to write about current reads, but covering this week’s literary immigration into my apartment exhausted me. Disclosure: at least three others didn’t make this report. They were late night One Clickers that haven’t arrived yet, bless their papery hearts. Next time.

Always next time.

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride





Eimear McBride’s novel is the first winner in the new incarnation of what was formerly the Orange Prize for Fiction (1996–2006 and 2009–12) and the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction (2007–08). I think of it as the Man Booker specifically for women, though of course women can win the Man Booker. Lest I leave you gender-confused, It’s a distinguished award and let’s leave it at that. An award that comes with a big cash money wad to the tune of nearly $ 60,000 in Colonial Dollars. That’s £ 30,000.



Winning author Eimear McBride receives her award for her novel "A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing" at the 2014 Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction in London

a glowing Eimear McBride


Curiosity about how the new prize would judge the “best” of women’s fiction compelled me to read this year’s winner. I was also swayed by the other honors McBride has gotten: Goldsmiths Prize, the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year, shortlisted for the Folio Prize, the Desmond Elliott Prize and the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award.

All for a first-time novelist?

I’m mixed on my feelings about the book. On the one hand, I can see its theme of the ruination of sexual abuse is portrayed in all its horrific reality. On the other, I’m conflicted as to how I feel about the writing style. Trying to describe it is difficult. It compares to stream-of-consciousness, though I can’t put a finger on the reason I hesitate considering it the purest example of the form. Better I should quote a passage:

“And we go on travels. Great worlds to our minds, like interrail from here to there. Slum it downtown Bucharest eat cheese in Paris fall in love. Take boats in Venice to Constantinople by the train. Where speak good Russian Portuguese. Know people. Flit around the world to New York parties. Kandahar. We don’t know the world but want and on the very tip of tongue I’d fly away if I could. With her. It is our love affair. How we’d be. Who we think we are beneath royal blue jerseys and pleated skirts. Icon in the making me someone new tell every single one at school to go to fucking hell.”

– A Girl is a Half-formed Thing

Lacking a more accurate term, I suppose I’d use stream-of-consciousness, though still I find it more an adaptation all McBride’s own. So there would be another reason to consider honoring the novel. And it never breaks form, never veers from one exacting and purposely fractured style. Whether I personally find it enjoyable or not is not the issue: is it effective, is it pure and is it unique. That’s what matters.

The story is rip your beating heart out of your chest, throw it dripping onto the pavement and stomp on it awful. A father deserts his family after their young son is diagnosed with a tumor that has grown roots in his brain. An operation slows the progression, giving him a much longer life than I imagined he’d have, but leaves him partially brain damaged. At school they’d refer to him as slow, which is so politically incorrect but true. He falls behind his grade level and struggles academically and with his motor skills, becoming frustrated with his own clumsiness and inability to function academically, acting out both at school and home. Some of his anger is possibly due to what the surgeons had to remove from his brain, perhaps also the tumor itself growing by increments.

His older sister is viciously raped by their uncle at a young age, her self-destructive reaction to turn to drinking, drugs and a prodigious amount of humiliating, often brutal sex with strange men. And, which is perhaps even harder to bear as the reader, she continues having sex with her uncle when the opportunity arises.

What I fear most is reader judgment on her character due to her warped attraction to the perpetrator who took her virginity. There is no logical nor rational reaction to having been sexually abused; despising her for anything she does or becomes is blaming the victim. Nothing is natural about a grown man forcing himself on a child and there is no way for her to process this that makes sense on any level.

Hatred of herself, blaming herself for something not her fault turns off the logical thought process. Its extremity is shown in a manner very ‘in your face, look what happens when a child is abused’ and I understand it’s horrifying to read. The character herself becomes unlikable, which is precisely the point: she hates herself. Eimear McBride’s writing shines when describing something so depraved and just horrendous to contemplate. Readers who use this as a reason not to “like” the book are missing the point entirely and judging the author unfairly. It’s precisely this she does best, peeling back the lid of the horror we’re so afraid to look at, revealing the hell of it in great detail.

I’m left with great admiration for the author’s skill, grudgingly granting the style – which wore a bit thin with me sometimes – fits the turmoil of this narrator. She’s broken from abuse and her little brother is dying slowly. Her father, who should have been there to protect her, has left them. Her mother calls her a whore, losing patience with both her children, smacking them around and verbally abusing them when she breaks down – another aspect which could be analyzed as to its realistic reaction to what her character is suffering – not to mention her echoing of what many readers will think of the girl, that she’s a worthless whore.

It’s all tremendously ugly as a story but realistic. It’s just difficult reading, setting off all sorts of triggers inside us. But that’s the point and after writing it out I believe I understand why Baileys chose A Girl is a Half-formed Thing as the recipient of its first award. It’s unlikely to be popular on a mass level and readers will say awards like this are only given to obscure books, when the fact is they’re given to writers operating at the height of their very impressive powers, only seen when broken apart and looked at for style and form.

Ultimately, I am very impressed by Eimear McBride and look forward to what she produces in the future.