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Fish Whistle

I finally got around to putting a Kindle reader on my work computer and Chrome browser. (My home computer is too antiquated.) The reason? Daniel Pinkwater’s Fish Whistle, whose title is apparently two words now, is free today and tomorrow! Thanks for the tip, shellynoir. :)

book review: The Beginner’s Goodbye, by Anne Tyler

This review contains spoilers!

The Beginner’s Goodbye is fewer than 200 pages long, and some aspects of it felt too slight. It’s a first-person narrative, but the beginning is strangely summary-like, flitting from incident to incident in the narrator’s attempt to explain the phenomenon of his dead wife’s reappearance and his theories on why it might be happening. It isn’t until 25 pages in that we see the circumstances of her sudden death…and those scenes, at their house and in the hospital, are masterful. The unreality, the weird details, the dialogue and misunderstandings, all perfect. The book is worth reading for these ten pages.

The portrait of grief that follows, however, didn’t bring much I haven’t seen before in Anne Tyler’s other books. It reminded me very much of The Accidental Tourist after Sarah leaves Macon, but without the humor of Macon’s devising his domestic systems. This protagonist even has a job similar to Macon’s– he edits a series of questionable how-to books for beginners on every conceivable topic. And as in Tourist, someone the protagonist knows in a professional capacity starts dating his sister…but unlike in Tourist, there’s not much tension, as we have every indication the guy is decent and successful and it’s a good match.

I wouldn’t say that this was merely Accidental Tourist Lite, but I did feel that a lot was left undeveloped, or mentioned too late. The new love interest at the end seemed almost random, like the narrator could have picked a different co-worker just as easily, to show us the importance of getting to know, love, and cherish someone because time goes so quickly. Turns out he and his new wife have known each other since first grade, which would have colored their relationship for me throughout the book, but I didn’t know til near the end.

The observations and word choices I have admired for so many years are still here (this is Anne Tyler’s nineteenth novel). Yes, Thanksgiving sweet potatoes are cobbled with mini-marshmallows. Yes, 911 dispatchers’ questions sound like statements, with the pitch going down at the end. The doctor’s chef-like clogs and too-long pants and crisp white coat rumpled by the practical satchel strap, and her blunt bad haircut, are perfectly in focus in my head. But not so much the history and texture of the marriage, though we’re dutifully told about their first meeting, courtship, wedding, squabbles. Maybe the problem is that the narrator is waking up to the missed opportunities and misconceptions he had, and we the readers aren’t getting there any faster than he is. I spent a lot of the book not being able to see as much as I wanted.

Daniel Pinkwater and Anne Tyler are two authors who have meant a lot to me (a lot!) over the years, but whose books I don’t rush to anymore. Maybe the part of me that drank up their work got saturated at some point. Even if their new stuff is just as wonderful–and I can’t really tell if it is or not, I can only tell that it’s largely the same–I can’t imagine loving it the way I loved the older work that I was so thirsty for.

Opaque and Transparent

Authors whose books I admire greatly but have to read over and over again because I never quite get a complete understanding of them:

Ellen Raskin
E.L. Konigsburg
Diana Wynne Jones
Henry James

Authors whose books I read over and over because they are transparent to me and show me myself (they feel too close to me to say I admire them greatly…though of course I do):

Beverly Cleary
Jean Little
Daniel Pinkwater
Lois Lowry
Jane Langton

ETA: when I typed tags for this entry, all the authors on the opaque list were already in my tags. Only DMP from the second list was already there. I guess there is a trying-to-understand motive when I blog about books? (unless it’s a showing-off motive.)

Glad to be home

Happy New Year! I have been away–very far away, it felt like. To be specific, I was on a cruise in the Caribbean. The cruise-ship culture sometimes seemed as far from home for me as the islands are from Oregon.

“Are you having a good time?” people asked me everywhere I went. Yes, I said, I am! Then– all these people had been on multiple cruises, and there was the faintest hospitable air of recruitment–they always asked, “So would you go on another cruise?”

I wasn’t sure how to answer that. Not for the sake of going on a cruise? Not as a means of travel? I loved meeting the new-to-me cousins we traveled with, and seeing the blue water and the rainbows over the islands as we pulled into harbors on misty mornings. Yet we were a 14-story hotel pulling into those small harbors– as Sanguinity said, it was like the cruise ships warped space and time and economies all around them.

So all that is still sinking in. I’ll leave you with just a bookish note or two. The Carnegie libraries we found in San Juan and in Castries, St. Lucia, were closed on the days we visited, but we did get to go to the library in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas: Charlotte Amalie Public Library I reflexively check the Daniel Pinkwater holdings when I visit libraries, and Sanguinity checks for Peter Dickinson books. We saw one of each on the shelf.

In St. John, Antigua, there was a really good bookstore called The Best of Books. The children’s books were from British publishers, and there were shiny new paperback reprints of Enid Blyton’s books from the 1940s! I even overheard one girl in a school uniform tell her friend, “I just LOVE Enid Blyton!”

In Castries, we stopped in at a bookstore with lots of school supplies and textbooks. In the fairly small young adult fiction section, there were at least 15 copies of Sarah Ryan’s Rules for Hearts (which features lesbians in Portland)! Maybe a teacher ordered a classroom set and then the curriculum changed? Sanguinity wondered what Caribbean teenagers would make of the Portland setting. It felt so different and so far away.

Traveling was a full day in each direction– the redeye on the way out, and downtime in San Juan and Chicago on the way back, arriving at 11 p.m. Portland time and 3 a.m. by the clock we were used to. I’d caught a cough by the time we left the ship, and then there was jet lag and a day of stomach trouble when I got home. After awhile I began to feel that watching bad airplane TV to get through the second leg of the flight had been a bad, poisonous idea, and maybe part of my soul was still trapped up there in a United Airlines jet, going back and forth. When I was falling asleep and got that floating-away sensation, I tried to impress on myself that no, I didn’t feel the motion of the ship, I was in Portland. Home in Portland.

So glad to be home, but for days I was still clinging to each little Portland thing like I was stitching myself in. The chow dog that lies by a bench in Ladd Circle every morning! The cedar waxwings mobbing a tree! I was actually glad to go back to work, too, especially since the cough was finally departing by then.

So now I’m back, and I’m not minding the gray days or the chill or the rain at all, and things have been happening. Bookherd is staying with us for a few weeks before her next adventure, and we helped evannichols put together a lot of IKEA furniture, and refgoddess is renovating her shed to move into so her B&B can expand, and I went shopping for a bridesmaid dress on Northwest 23rd Avenue and actually enjoyed it. (Good thing, too, because I’m still shopping. One way or another it will be sorted out by the end of this month.)

In reading news, I added eleven new favorite books that I read in 2011 to my LibraryThing collection. If you want the whole long list of books I read in 2011, let me know and I’ll email it.

In writing news, I was turned down for the Oregon Literary Fellowships— congratulations to the winners announced yesterday! I hope to apply again next year. With a story that I haven’t even met yet–exciting.

I am busy again, so busy. (Some of you would laugh at what I consider busy.) I hope 2012 treats us all well and we all stay in touch.