Monday, September 11, 2023

Tom Lake

The other day, I went to hear Ann Patchett speak about her latest novel, Tom Lake. Ann was in conversation with Cheryl Strayed, another generous and supportive author. What a fun evening! For one thing, my girlfriends and I made a night of it with a dinner out beforehand. I wasn't quite finished with the book at the time of the reading - mere pages to go. But I later found how much was in those pages - a very satisfying end to a satisfying story. 

It is the early months of covid19. While working the cherry farm with her three daughters (who moved home because of the pandemic), Lara tells the story of how she came to be dating a man who would become the most famous actor of her generation. She'd played the part of Emily in Our Town while in high school, went on to play the part in college, was discovered, and eventually spends a summer performing the part, at Tom Lake in Michigan. This is where Lara dated Peter Duke, back when she was the age her daughters are now. 

There was much I could relate to in the book, and I love the way Ann writes. I had to restrain myself from quoting full pages. Beautifully crafted. 

Page 23:  Nineteen eighty-four was nothing like what Orwell had envisioned and still it was a world nearly impossible to explain. 

Page 25:  "You can't pretend this isn't happening," Maisie said.    I couldn't, and I don't. Nor do I pretend that all of us being together doesn't fill me with joy. I understand that joy is inappropriate these days and still, we feel what we feel. 

Page 33:  When I asked what was wrong she said nothing in the same voice one would say go fuck yourself. 

Page 152:  I drop beneath the surface and open my eyes. It's as if someone bought up all the diamonds at Tiffany's and crushed them into dust, then spread that dust across the water so that it sifts down evenly, filtering through the shards of light that cut into the depth. 

Page 253:  The rage dissipates along with the love, and all we're left with is a story. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Remarkably Bright Creatures

Remarkably Bright Creatures, by Shelby Van Pelt, is full of memorable characters. The industrious and practical Tova feels steadfast and is easy to root for. Cameron is flawed yet forgivable, and Marcellus the Octopus is the wise one. The story, a ponderance on loneliness and purpose, is well-crafted and its ending wraps up like a hug. A satisfying read. Some quotes: 

Page 9:  Tova has always felt more than a bit of empathy for the sharks, with their never-ending laps around the tank. She understands what it means to never be able to stop moving, lest you find yourself unable to breathe. 

Page 81:  Now, Tova comes here to be alone with her thoughts, when she needs a break from being alone in her house. When even the television can't punch through the unbearable quiet. 

Page 167:  The smile on Tova's face hangs there, for a long moment, like it's unsure whether to fall off or not. 

Page 184:  But I have knowledge. To the extent that happiness is possible for a creature like me, it lies in knowledge. 

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Northwest Angle

I am reading William Kent Krueger's murder mystery series set in Minnesota, sprinkling them amongst my other reads, and just finished the 11th, Northwest Angle. They tend to be fast and absorbing, and I rarely keep many quotes, but I enjoy them. Northwest Angle did not disappoint. 

Page 76:  The moon was directly above them, and they walked in puddles of their own shadows. 

Sunday, June 11, 2023

Black Cake

 The secret family history in Charmaine Wilkerson's Black Cake is intriguing. It did take me a while to get through. Sometimes chapters were a little too brief, barely a snapshot. I picked up this book because my second book begins with the death of a mother and her estranged adult siblings forced to interact. Some complex relationships. A friend suggested it might be a good comp title for me. But that was the extent of the similarities. 

I liked how one's surroundings - like the sea, like food - becomes the connector to identity. Glad to have read it. I always do love a good tale. 

Page 70:  While Benny's mother stood leaning against her kitchen counter in California, a blood clot quietly inching its way up from her pelvis to her lungs, Benny was still back in New York, getting fired from her afternoon job and boarding the wrong bus and finding herself standing in front of the kind of coffee shop that she wanted to have for herself. The cafe, with its too-early Christmas decorations, stood next to a small bookshop in a neighborhood that hadn't yet had the stuffing gentrified out of it. 

Page 140:  She'd grown up hearing that her parents' upbringing had not been as easy as hers, so she hadn't insisted on knowing more. Well, she finally has a chance, now, and the thought of it scares her. Benny feels like the more she knows about her mother, the more of her she will lose. 

Page 153:  "Everything is connected to everything else, if you only go far enough back in time." 

Page 199:  Eleanor wanted to run after the car, shout to Byron, call him back, explain to him that no, raising him and his baby sister was not the most important thing that she had ever done. What defined Eleanor most was not what, or whom, she had held close but what she had allowed herself to let go of. 

Sunday, April 16, 2023

A Tale for the Time Being

Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being was Multnomah County Library's selection for their Everybody Reads program of 2023. Sometime in January, my cousin invited me and gave me a copy. I attended Ruth's author talk mid-March in Portland and have only now finished reading the book. I can't adequately explain my slowness. It is long, but more than that, it is steeped in complex issues of memory and philosophy and quantum physics and parallel worlds. It hits all the major social issues as well, from environment and climate to bullying and suicide. The book follows a writer (Ruth's own self!) and her discovery of a packet of interesting items on the Pacific coast, likely having floated over from Japan, perhaps as a result of the earthquake and tsunami in 2011. The book alternates between the diary of a teen girl and Ruth's life, which somehow becomes a dialogue over space and time. The interaction between Ruth and her husband as they read the diary is beautiful and probing. There are some pretty heady conversations around being, observing, knowing, and conjuring. It's a wonderful book. Writing is Ruth Ozeki's superpower, and from reading this story, it's clearly not her only one. 

Some interesting quotes: 

Page12:  Print is predictable and impersonal, conveying information in a mechanical transaction with the reader's eye. Handwriting, by contrast, resists the eye, reveals its meaning slowly, and is as intimate as skin. 

Page 31:  Ruth snapped the book shut and closed her eyes for good measure to keep herself from cheating and reading the final sentence, but the question lingered, floating like a retinal burn in the darkness of her mind: What happens in the end? 

Page 84:  An unfinished book, left unattended, turns feral, and she would need all her focus, will, and ruthless determination to tame it again. 

Page 159:  Dad kept climbing. One step. Another. Higher and higher. We were an army of two, him and me, marching up a mountain, but not to conquer it. We were in retreat, a defeated army on the run

Page 188:  He held out an oyster. His fingers were wet and raw. 

Page 246:  "Life is full of stories. Or maybe life is only stories." 

Page 317:  I unscrew the cap on my fountain pen, worried that the ink might run dry and be insufficient for my thoughts. My last thoughts, measured out in drops of ink. 

Page 345-6:  "Think about it. Where do words come from? They come from the dead. We inherit them. Borrow them. Use them for a time to bring the dead to life." 

Page 389:  He's stopped reading The Great Minds of Western Philosophy completely, and spends all his time programming, which really is his superpower. I mean there are lots of superheroes with different superpowers, and some of them are big and flashy, like superstrength, and superspeed, and molecular restructuring, and force fields. But these abilities are really not so different from the superpower stuff that old Jiko could do, like moving superslow, or reading people's minds, or appearing in doorways, or making people feel okay about themselves just by being there. 

Saturday, March 4, 2023


Such an absorbing saga! Pachinko follows an extended family from occupied Korea in 1910 to Japan in 1989, where even those born there were not considered citizens and had South Korean passports - essentially leaving them a foreigner in every land. Author Min Jin Lee deftly navigates the human condition and all its complexity. I know that's quite a statement, but I stand by it. It's haunting me even now, recalling her poignant dealing of such universal issues as limited opportunities based on deep cultural bias, how our choices can be what ruins our lives but in some ways also results in our greatest joy, the way guilt and blame can devastate, how resilient people can be, in spite of it all. I loved the conversations between characters hashing out different perspectives, without being preachy or absolute. I could go on and on, because she tucked so much nuance into every corner.

Personally, I felt connected in that I lived in Japan for a year in 1989/90, teaching English after I graduated high school. I remember being aware that Koreans were second-class citizens but not having any real grasp of the issue. I also never went to a pachinko parlor there. I chose this book because the author will be speaking at a writer convention I'm attending next week. Good book. Hai. Soo desu, nee? Dozo.

Page 54:  "You're too healthy to be in bed," the pharmacist said. "But don't get up just yet."

Page 117:  Sins couldn't be laundered by good results. 

Page 178:  For every patriot fighting for a free Korea, or for any unlucky Korean bastard fighting on behalf of Japan, there were ten thousand compatriots on the ground and elsewhere who were just trying to eat. In the end, your belly was your emperor. 

Page 248:  At lunchtime, Haruki sat at the end of the long table with two seat gaps around him like an invisible parenthesis while the other boys in their dark woolen uniforms stuck together like a tight row of black corn kernels. 

The chapter on pages 279-284, showing those young adult time of discovery and how a person can be challenged to a richer, fuller understanding by being confronted by different perspectives. 

Page 296-7:  His Presbyterian minister father had believed in a divine design and Mozasu believed that life was like this game where the player could adjust the dials yet also expect the uncertainty of factors he couldn't control. He understood why his customers wanted to play something that looked fixed but which also left room for randomness and hope. 

Page 399: Etsuko held the watch case in her hands and wondered how they'd stayed together with him not giving up and her not giving in. 

The chapter on pages 416-422, showing the fraught and complicated relationship of mother and child,. How we hurt those we love the most. 

Page 478:  Phoebe's shoes were black or brown leather; a pair of pink espadrilles, which had once given her terrible blisters, stood out from the others like a girlish mistake. 

Thursday, February 23, 2023

The Music of Bees

How fun to read a book set in my little corner of the world! Eileen Garvin's The Music of Bees is a lovely, well-woven story of a convergence of three lonely lives. 

Two quotes jumped out: 

Page 22:  The sunburned tourists who plodded through downtown clutching iced coffees had no idea that the heart of this place was far from Oak Street, up the valley, and out in the orchards. Those long rows of trees were far more than a postcard backdrop for their scenic drives. 

Page 63:  The wind banged around the house all night like it was looking for something it had lost.