Sunday, November 29, 2009


Wow! Don and I have just finished the third season of this incredible BBC production recommended, as I mentioned before, by our two lovely acquaintances from Britain who we met while vacationing on Crete. Once again, I can't say that I've ever seen an American TV series or even a movie that can compare to this series. I have so many thoughts rumbling around in my mind based upon this show, the news of the day, and my other reading.

The British Secret Service is supposed to be the creme de la creme and the organization that our CIA was based upon. My disillusionment with our own government and its operatives continues in light of revelations in the Times today that secret prisons are still operating at US bases in Iraq and Afghanistan under our new leadership in Washington. I have answered Marcella's call and written a letter to our president expressing my deep disappointment.
Watching MI-5 at work is appalling and fascinating all at the same time. Much as a driver can't help but slow and gawk at an accident, we sit and watch this tv show knowing full well that the devious, terrifying, despicable things that these agents do for their country are being done every day in our own country in our name, whether we agree with it or not. It's not for the faint of heart. (or is that feint?)

Interestingly enough, it seems that as characters are written out of the show, their leavetaking coincides with their realization that they are losing their souls. One can only continue in this line of work for so long before a line is crossed that can never be undone. Do we all have a little devil inside of us that leans to the dark side? Perhaps we do and by heading into the living room and putting in season 4 I can appease that devil and remain in the real world, a little less oblivious to the "collateral damage."

Speaking of this, I can't wait to take a good long look at In Defense of the Realm, the Authorized History of MI-5 by Christopher Andrew. Even the "authorized" version should be full of fascinating tidbits and behind the scenes stories. At 1000 plus pages, I can guarantee that I won't be reading the full thing but will blog with impunity about it nevertheless!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Reading Just for Fun!

Should there be another way? Well....naturally, we read to educate ourselves and I've often found that fiction does that even better than non. How, you might ask. I suppose it's because through fiction that we learn how to accept, understand, and even embrace, all peoples, cultures, and classes. This is why I normally steep myself in the literary kind of fiction that pushes me beyond my comfort zone - especially when it comes to fiction for book discussions.

That being said, there comes a time when we all need to lighten up a little bit and I've been feeling that way lately. Murder mysteries are one way of doing that and I can highly recommend Hallie Ephron's Never Tell a Lie if you're looking for one of those thrillers that begin so sweetly that you don't see it coming until it builds inexorably to a terrible (and one hopes, faulty) conclusion. It may sound a bit like a cliche but the formula works and the New England setting is perfect for a haunting or a disappearance. I still have New England in the blood afterall.

Dave and Lily appear to have the ideal life with a thriving business in the cozy little town where they've just purchased and are remodeling an old Victorian multi-storied home with plenty of room for the requisite pets and the baby due any day now. Decluttering and feathering their nest, they hold a big garage sale which is attended by a woman, also ready to give birth any day, who knew both Dave and Lily from high school. While they scarcely recognize or remember her, she seems to have an uncomfortably huge amount of knowledge about them and the hairs begin to rise on the back of your neck in anticipation of what's to come.

24 hours later the mystery woman is missing, Dave is pulled from the baby shower by the local police farce - oops - Freudian slip but that's what we used to call them in Gt. Barrington - and hawled down to the town hall for questioning as pieces of circumstantial evidence pile up around him. Will Lily cave or fight? I already see this as a movie. More on Hallie Ephron at

Have you ever read Valerie Martin? Her latest novel, The Confessions of Edward Day has been getting some good press as a literary mystery which inevitably doesn't end up really being much of a mystery but a darn good read anyway, even if the characters are not exactly bound to be your best friends. They're theatre people so what can I say? If you are fascinated with theatre - as I am - and if you're willing to give the characters the benefit of the doubt because they are, after all, actors, then you'll have fun with this book starring a cadre of young people who have all come to NYCity, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, as my dad used to say, hoping to trip the light fantastic.

Madeline and Edward are attracted to eachother right from the start but she's a fickle lass and also seems to find the myterious Guy Margate equally entrancing. Where did he come from anyway? No one invited him to the party! As it turns out though, fate brought Guy to Long Island that summer night. When Edward fell through an old pier and into the night waters and the undertow of Long Island Sound, it was Guy who heard the calls for help and came to the rescue. Little did Edward know that Guy would become a rather sinister, unshakeable ball and chain around his leg, insinuating himself into every aspect of Edward's life from that point forward.

What ensues is a study of people who make their living by pretending. The reader is never quite sure who's real, what's true, what's part of the game or part of the show. Assumptions are turned on their head and you're in a world where things are always off balance. There's love, loss, betrayal, and friendships that span decades, all played out against a backdrop of off-off Broadway productions, summer stock, acting classes with all the greats, their individual foibles on display rather than hidden behind the scenes.

Next up? Nicholas Kristof's Half the Sky; Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, written with his wife Ms. Wu Dunn, won't be an easy read but it's a necessity. Not only do I hope to meet the authors when Maryellen and I travel to the Public Library Association Conference next Spring where they're the opening day speakers, but I truly believe we owe it to people who have suffered beyond our wildest imaginings to at least bear witness by listening to their stories. There but for a trick of FATE go we!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Slowing Down (or not)

I've been in a funk lately, the cause of which I can't quite put my finger on, but I think it involves TIME. I want more time - am I just being cranky and will it pass? Oh, I'm sure that it will. Nevertheless, I feel less and less inclined to listen to an alarm in the morning. I've tried all the tricks, using those crazy radios that let you hear water running, brooks rushing, birds singing but, hey, I still know it means that I have to alight from the bed prior to my body clock's recommendation.

For the first time in my life, I'm not ready to go back to work when vacation ends. When did that happen? I love my career, I truly do but....I'm less and less inclined to enjoy having to account for every hour of the day, following that task master, the written schedule, that says you will be here at 10 and you will be here at 11 and you will have supper at 4. What?? Do civilized people eat at 4?

What's happened to me is that I've regressed. I've become the person I was when I graduated from college all starry eyed - holding what some would say was a useless degree in English (unless you want to teach which was one of two options open to "girls" of my age at that time). What I wanted to do then, before life intervened for the next 40 years, was sit in a little cottage on a beach somewhere and write. Guess what I want to do now? You guessed it! Perhaps not a beach any more - skin cancer put an end to that dream - but maybe a bungalow in southern France or Umbria? A cliche you may say but wouldn't it be worth checking out? After all, no matter what you may read in the local press, the fact of the matter is that Europeans do live longer than we do. Ever wonder why? They live slower.

So here I am in this frame of mind and then I read that Arianna Huffington is going to have an online book group - like I don't belong to enough of those already. But guess what book she's featuring first up? Carl Honore's In Praise of Slowness.

Reading about the so-called slow movement has been a revelation. I no longer feel guilty about wanting to scale back. I no longer feel as though life is passing me by if I'm not going 24/7. I no longer revel in my reputation as the "energizer bunny." I look at the piles of books around the house and want to delve into each and every one. If I don't vacuum as often as I used to? Oh well. If the car isn't spotless - tough. Mow the yard? Yes, I still enjoy it but I no longer obsess. Those things will be here long after I'm gone but the experiences that I miss, the bike rides I don't take, the books I don't get to, the tastes and smells that I overlook, may be gone for good.

All I hope for this weekend? Sitting with Don with our noses in our books. Now I'm off to my latest terrific read (which I've had to renew twice because I can't find TIME for it!) Valerie Martin's The Confessions of Edward Day. More on this later in the week.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Book Group Alert - Shanghai Girls

I'm just finishing up listening to Lisa See's latest novel and, though I seldom say this, I suspect that this one might be better read than listened to. It's such a multi-layered book and can be analyzed in so many ways but on the surface it's a tale of two sisters, Pearl and May, who are as different as night and day - aren't we always?
Even though Pearl is the eldest, the strongest emotionally, the one who suffers greatly throughout the book to hold her small family together and take care of her younger sister as she promised her dying mother she would, the reader's voice has a complaining tenor to it that doesn't do justice to Pearl's strength but somehow makes her seem hard and less than sympathetic.
I'm on the last disc and have a terrible feeling that a bomb is about to drop, literally, not figuratively, that will split the two sisters forever. I've had a sneaking suspicion for quite a while that I might know the father of May's illegitimate child, born while the sisters were incarcerated on Angel Island, a holding place on the west coast for immigrants trying to enter the U.S. much like Ellis Island was on the East coast. Speaking of Angel Island, how many of you ever learned about this in history class? I went to great public schools but I sure did not! Ellis island for white Europeans? Lots of info? Asian immigrants at Angel Island? Not so much. Do you ever think about how much we can learn by reading fiction? The possibilities are endless. Read more here:

This is not an easy book to read, fair warning, there are very few bright moments. Those familiar with her very popular book group fave Snow Flower and the Secret Fan will not be surprised. Though I led that book discussion I can't say that it was one of my personal choices and I passed up the sequel, Peony in Love. I am drawn to many unfamiliar cultures but, for some unfathomable reason, the Asian culture has never been one of them. On the other hand I feel that I owe it to myself and to history to try to understand and learn about our country's dismal history with the Japanese and Chinese immigrants whose futures in the United States were whimsically tied to the "fortunes of war."

In fact, as I read, I realized that Ms. See may have drawn the two sisters to represent the two cultures, with Pearl the sensible, rule following, hard working woman who bears the burdens of an arranged marriage, the raising of her sister's daughter as her own, and subjugating her own desires for the common good as a symbol of the old world values and the self-centered, ambitious May as the symbol of the new American culture.The author may not have had this in mind but, if you decide to read this book or use it for discussion, you can see for yourself what I mean and run with it.

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while know that I tend to gravitate to difficult fiction that upsets, angers, or moves me in a deep and profound way. It's why I read. That's not to say that I don't love to take a break and just get into something that's pure fun. Having read and reviewed Hallie Ephron's delightful Bibliophile's Devotional, I decided to peek into one of her suspense novels, Never Tell a Lie. I'm not far enough along to write about it yet but the premise is great fun, an old New England home with secrets hidden in the attic, a mysterious woman with her own secrets who knows a bit too much about Ivy and David and the Victorian they're renovating. It's so great to lighten up and just enjoy. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Stephanie Kallos and Serendipity

Hi everyone, How I miss it when I don't get to the computer to write about what I'm reading. I feel as though I'm personally letting you down. Then I say, Sally, are you crazy? Does anyone really wait to see what you have to say next? Well, we'll find out. Now that I'm participating in Nanowrimo it seems that all I do is spew words out. The question is, will they ever amount to anything?

Don had the cleverest idea for a mystery novel revolving around the various disparate members of the library staff and their quirky associates. I'm sorry to confess that my imagination just doesn't work that way. My nanowrimo novel is simply writing what I know and putting a "spin" on it. Just call me James Frey. I'm writing about my life but in the third person so that it'll sound like fiction. What a cop out. The question is, as Don just asked me, if there are only X amount of hours a day, how many do I want to devote to reading for pleasure, how many must I devote to reading for Library Journal (which is also my great pleasure) and how many can I devote to being with my friends, exercising, working, the list goes on and on. Is this what they mean by "the horns of a dilemma?"

Sing Them Home is the novel that I'm totally engrossed in right now. I had planned to read it but am listening instead and, though it requires, once again, a great expenditure of time, I think it's just wonderful! Andrea and I fell in love with Stephanie Kallos several years ago when she came out with her first book Broken For You. She is such an imaginative writer with an amazing sense of people and character development.
Reading her memo on the website, she says she was taught that a writer must love the reader and I might add that she certainly loves her characters too. They may be deeply troubled but redeemable, they may also be remarkably normal and then do something so off the wall that you simply pull back in awe. But no matter what, they are oh so real.

Her new book is difficult to describe but I've learned some things I never knew about Nebraska and Wales and who knew how many Welshmen settled in Nebraska? Or that their funeral rites seem to mimic those of the Jewish faith? In Emlyn Springs, the dead are very much a part of the picture, observing those they've left behind and commenting among themselves. The Jones family has folks on both side of the divide. We hear from Hope, who is assumed dead after she and her youngest daughter Bonnie were swept up by a tornado, through years of diary entries in which she examines her life married to Llewelyn Jones, small town family doctor, father also to Larken and Gaelan.

Another narrator is Viney Kloss, Hope's best friend, the doctor's nurse and long time companion, who took over the raising of Hope's children and the care and feeding of Llewelyn after Hope's disappearance. The adult children are glorious characters, so prickly, so different from eachother that it's difficult to believe that they could truly be related by blood - much like my own family and, I'm sure, many others who won't admit it.
If you enjoy long, langorous, reads that suck you in and people that you understand, empathize with and maybe even know, if you believe in serendipity and that things happen for a reason, if you loved Richard Russo's Empire Falls or Bridge of Sighs, then you might want to try this book on for size.

On my mp3? Lisa See's Shanghai Girls. I can't say that I'm enamoured yet but will keep you posted. On to my novel!