What Kind of Books Make You Cry?

This morning, self answered a Bookshouse tweet that asked: What kind of books make you cry while reading them?

She wanted to say: Almost every book.

Or she could have said: Angst-y books.

Instead, she decided to name a book. No, it was not The Subtle Knife, though that book certainly did make her cry. It was Tim O’Brien’s In the Lake of the Woods. Because of the character of the wife.

Like Dead Letters (which she compares almost every book to, now), it’s a mystery. While Dead Letters gives us closure on the very last page, In the Lake of Woods doesn’t give us even that much. Read at your own risk! O’Brien executes the wife’s point of view so well.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Favorites So Far, September 2018

  • Moshi Moshi, by Banana Yoshimoto (novel)
  • La Belle Sauvage, vol. One of The Book of Dust, by Philip Pullman, and His Dark Materials, the entire trilogy: The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass (novels)
  • Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson (novel)
  • The Summer Book, by Tove Jansson (novel)
  • In the Lake of the Woods, by Tim O’Brien (novel)
  • Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout (novel in stories)
  • Manderley Forever, by Tatiana de Rosnay (novelized biography)
  • Jamaica Inn, by Daphne du Maurier (novel)

This was a great reading year for NOVELS. Which means self has come full circle in her reading life. Until this year, her favorite books were histories and nonfiction.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

6 June 1944: Manderley Forever, p. 170

Self’s rate of reading has picked up quite a bit.

It’s the war, and Daphne Du Maurier has secluded herself in her beloved Menabilly while her husband Tommy gets himself promoted to lieutenant general but still travels everywhere with his “eight favorite teddy bears.” He signs his letters to his wife “with all the love a man’s heart can hold.”

On June 6, 1944, Daphne gets a call from her sisters, who tell her that “while they were taking care of their tomatoes for the Women’s Land Army, they noticed that, by evening, there was not a single American ship in the bay.”

Operation Market Garden, “the biggest airborne operation of the war,” is about to start, and Daphne’s Tommy has expressed his doubts about the operation to General Bernard Montgomery in no uncertain terms: “We might be going a bridge too far, sir.”

At the bridge at Arnhem, “seventeen thousand soldiers are killed.”

At this point, her husband is 47 years old. He earned a medal for valor at just 19, he has served in the military for almost 20 years and the experience has gutted him.

It reminds self of Tim O’Brien’s In the Lake of the Woods, that novel’s main character could never recover from what he witnessed at Vietnam, things so unspeakable.

But Daphne goes on writing. She writes a play that reminds self of The Return of Martin Guerre (great, great short novel by Janet Lewis. Self feels like re-reading it, even just so she can get to that last line, which totally shattered her) A wife loses her husband at sea, manages to forge a new life, and falls in love with another man. Then her husband returns. That’s a good trope.

“At the end of 1944,” Daphne’s husband becomes Lord Mountbatten’s chief of staff in Ceylon and . . .  Daphne begins writing her next book.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Piles and Stacks

Hooray! Self thought of something she could post for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Piles and Stacks

Of course it’s book-related. This first shot shows the books self checked out of her local library, a month or so ago:

DSCN0063

Self’s “To Read” Pile: 8 June 2018

And here’s the stack of books currently checked out from her local library:

DSCN0364

Self’s “To Read” Pile: 5 July 2018

Stay tuned, dear blog reader. Stay tuned.

Dawdling Over Travels with Charley

Self has been reading blazing fast, ever since she began Philip Pullman’s La Belle Sauvage, vol. 1 of The Book of Dust, in late March. The last week of March, and through April and May, she was on such a tear. After La Belle Sauvage, she read all of His Dark Materials, then moved on to childhood classics like Treasure Island and Lord of the Flies, Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey, Tove Jansson’s exquisite The Summer Book, two first novels (As Lie Is to Grin by Simeon Marsalis and Mikhail and Margarita by Julie Lekstrom Himes, both excellent), and two books by Tim O’Brien (In the Lake of the Woods gutted her. In fact, she can’t stop thinking about it)

Since beginning Travels with Charley, however, she’s been moving at a glacial pace. It took her forever just to get through the Jay Parini introduction, and she’s just on p. 17.

She almost put the book aside last night, because it suddenly struck her that the kind of problems a man might encounter while traveling alone through America are very different from the kind of problems self experiences when she travels alone — self has traveled through not just America, but through Asia and Europe — and she is usually alone. It gets harder with every passing year. Security seems more suspicious (so many stamps on her passport!), people are less kind (or maybe self has just become more paranoid), and she’s definitely become more impatient. For one thing, she hates delays of any sort, and she hates flying because it’s so dehumanizing.

On p. 17, Steinbeck shares one of his underlying reasons for undertaking this trip, and she understands:

  • A kind of second childhood falls on so many men. They trade their violence for a small increase of life span. In effect, the head of the household becomes the youngest child. And I have searched myself for this possibility with a kind of horror. For I have always lived violently, drunk hugely, eaten too much or not at all, slept around the clock or missed two nights of sleeping, worked too hard and too long in glory, or slobbed for a time in utter laziness. I’ve lifted, pulled, chopped, climbed, made love with joy and taken my hangovers as a consequence, not as a punishment. I did not want to surrender fierceness for a small gain in yardage.

Travel is one way to resist the gravitational pull of age. It’s like being young again because everything is new, and you can still be surprised, on a daily basis.

(Note: Self was taken aback that Steinbeck viewed himself as a kind of Ernest Hemingway manly man. She’s always thought of him as ‘gentle.’ He might even be insulted by that description.)

Onward!

Self can’t believe summer is officially here. Time moves so fast. Soon, she’ll have a harvest of figs and plums from her backyard:

Stay tuned.

In the Lake of the Woods: Finis

Four things:

  • Self got sucked in by the Hypothesis chapters.
  • She liked all the quotes from the transcripts of the court-martial of Lt. William Calley, but the quotes about Custer, then about the British slaughter of American civilians during the war of independence — the lines being drawn across history — couldn’t say she really liked that approach.
  • She will never, ever go to that part of the border with Canada. Never. The Hypothesis section that describes Kath getting turned around, thinking she was going south when she was actually going north, the bitter cold, the running out of gasoline for the boat engine, the vast and empty wildnerness, ugh.
  • Landscape, landscape, landscape. Whether describing Vietnam or a lake or the dense, wooded forests of the border with Canada, there is great precision in O’Brien’s descriptions of physical settings. Compared to them, self’s own (meager) evocations of setting are like the dot dash dot dash of semaphores.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Hypothesis: In the Lake of the Woods, p. 170

Here are her frustrations with this novel:

  • The main character is deeply troubled, and his wife is long-suffering.
  • His campaign manager is a walking cliché of everything that was wrong with male entitlement before the #metoo movement (He constantly makes sexist remarks about the  main character’s wife in front of the husband and the wife and no one tells him to shut up)
  • My Lai is dealt with in a very blunt manner.

Here are the reasons self is glad she is still reading:

  • My Lai is dealt with in a very blunt manner.
  • She is reminded of The Nuremberg Principles (NOT fake news)
  • The hypothesis chapters — brilliant chapters, just brilliant. When O’Brien is in Kath’s head, it’s clear he is no mysogynist, and his feeling for the landscape is intense. Also, Kath being lost and thinking rationally about her situation and struggling to become un-lost all by herself is heartbreaking. First rule of nature: As soon as one is lost, stop moving, take shelter, and wait to be found. (Self is far from the outdoorsy type so she can see herself getting considerably more lost, just as Kath does in the novel)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Beginning IN THE LAKE OF THE WOODS, by Tim O’Brien

The recommendation is six years old, from a print-out she took home with her during her 2012 residency in Hawthornden International Retreat for Writers. We six writers in June 2012 did a lot of sharing of our favorite books. Someone decided to type them up. Self took the list home, and promptly lost it. She found it again, just a month ago, stuck in the back of a drawer of her writing desk in Redwood City. There, on p. 3, were two books by Tim O’Brien: The Things They Carried and In the Lake of the Woods.

Self began with The Things They Carried. She read it decades ago, taught it to classes. It’s held up. She liked most of the stories.

She decided not to do too much advance research on In the Lake of the Woods. She assumed it was another book about Vietnam.

She loves that O’Brien begins with descriptions of the lake. The lake is in his short stories, too — there is such a lyricism to his descriptions of it. She loves that In the Lake of the Woods is about a wounded candidate, a man who’s lost an election by a landslide.

Also, she loves (so far) the mystery.

  • Anthony L. (Tony) Carbo: Show me a politician, I’ll show you an unhappy childhood.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

2nd Sentence of the Day: “The Ghost Soldiers”

Self’s only quibble, three pages in, is that she wishes they had dropped the word ‘The’ in front of ‘Ghost Soldiers.’

But, she can feel it in her bones: this will be a good story. When O’Brien is firing on all cylinders, he is never ‘just ‘good,’ he is great.

“So when I got shot the second time, in the butt, along the Song Tra Bong, it took the son of a bitch almost ten minutes to work up the nerve to crawl over me.”

Whereas the previous medic came “every so often, maybe four times altogether” to check on the narrator — in the middle of “a wild fight.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

Sentence of the Day: “Speaking of Courage”

The lake lay flat and silvery against the sun.

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