I find myself turning the pages more quickly these days. My hands know what the calendar confirms: it’s almost time to go back to school. Although there are lots of wonderful things about a new school year, I do miss having time to read the books on my own list rather than the next homework assignment! Here’s what I’ve been reading over the past couple of weeks:
The Hundred-Year House by Rebecca Makkai. I really enjoyed this symphony of a book. I refer to it as a symphony because it’s a novel in four parts, but rather than moving forward, the reader begins in the year 2000 and goes back to 1900. It’s the story of a house, Laurelfield, that belongs to a family with “old money” and like any old house worth learning about, the house is haunted. The ghost in charge of haunting Laurelfield is Violet Devohr who in true gothic fashion, killed herself in the attic. You know about Violet right away – before beginning the novel’s first (and longest) section which belongs to two married couples who share the coach house. Dee, a professor at a local college, and Doug, her husband who is supposedly working on a book about a poet named Edwin Parfitt, but who is actually contributing installments to a formulaic middle grade series are already facing challenges in their marriage when another couple moves in to share the house. Not surprisingly, that doesn’t help. The most interesting thing about Laurelfield is that between the 1930s and 1950s, the house served as an artists’ colony, and among its well-known guests at that time was Edwin Parfitt. So much family history to unravel! My only challenge with Makkai’s well-constructed and complex story is that I’m not good at reading books that change their focus midway. I admire Makkai’s architecture, but when I had to leave all of the characters I got to know in the novel’s first 160 pages, I was grumpy about leaving them. Now I want to read Makkai’s first book, The Borrower, which I remember hearing good things about when it was published in 2011.
A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd. This was on my “must read right now” list since the book was published in…..February! The reviews have been glowing from both professional journals and from friends. I knew Lloyd’s book was something special from the first sentence: “They say all the magic is gone up out of this place,” said Mama.” It’s that phrase – “gone up” – that was the sign of a good story coming. The sentence would be a whole lot plainer if it read: They said all the magic is gone from this place. “Gone up” gives the reader a voice to latch on to immediately. Anyway….a good story does follow. About magic and the power of words and friendship. The names alone are worth the price of admission – the story takes place in Midnight Gulch, Tennessee and the protagonist’s name is Felicity Pickle. Felicity, her mother and her six-year-old sister drive around in a car they call the Pickled Jalapeño. Felicity, along with her new friend Jonah, saves her family and makes some memorable friends along the way. A Snicker of Magic reminded me of Savvy by Ingrid Law, and there’s even a fun reference to Holes! Worth the wait….
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. Speaking of waiting too long…almost embarrassing to list this one, but I did finally read the popular and beloved novel and now understand its enormous appeal. Admittedly, I didn’t expect to be knocked off my heals by a teenage romance, but I was. Eleanor & Park is more powerful than I would have expected – especially since I am much older than the main characters. Eleanor, in particular, became so real to me over the course of the book that I felt kind of sick when it was over. A heartbreaking but beautiful story.
On a completely different note….
I was in Boston last week and this sign caught my attention and made me laugh. I tell my students regularly (more than they want to hear) that in literature, “a garden is never just a garden.” We talk about the Garden of Eden and gardens as symbols of peace and rebirth. So…I had to take a picture of this sign to show them during a class this year!
If you’re looking for a perfect bench for your garden, you might want to plan a trip to London between now and mid-September. A friend told me about this incredible summer-long exhibit on the streets of London – Books About Town. There are 50 benches celebrating London’s literary culture. Here’s a link to see all of the benches – and thanks, Debbie!
My favorite is the Mary Poppins bench!