Reading Deeply

At_A_Reading_Desk_by_Frederic_Leighton

“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.”

Mortimer J. Adler

While reading one of the excellent stories in Ursula Hegi’s collection Hotel of the Saints, it occurs to me to slow down; to savor. To read each of these little masterpieces as if every syllable counts—to be present for each word. Her writing begs it of me. These stories are compressed and nuanced, and the writer in me wants to see how she makes them that way, not only to study technique, but to appreciate hers fully. By doing so, I am rewarded; each story is a Monet, small swipes of color, small subtleties, which, if I were reading for plot, or terminus, I would miss.

The style of a person’s reading can say volumes about that person’s mode of being. Are we the type who simply want to get to the destination (sometimes I am!) rushing through the day, to arrive at some culmination we imagine gleaming in the distance? Are we the sort of reader who likes to see the growing pile of finished books, and takes a great deal of satisfaction out of adding another to it? There, that’s done!

Or are we able to enjoy the journey?

Can we be both kinds of readers?

What kind of reader are you?

Lillian on Life – a review

Lillian on Life

LILLIAN ON LIFE: A NOVEL
By Alison Jean Lester
On Sale January 13, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-399-16889
Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, Penguin Random House

 

Often, when I read a novel that is constructed as individual, standalone chapters that read as short stories, I end up feeling the writer was afraid of the extended toil of writing a novel, and come away disappointed. So it was deeply gratifying to read Lillian on Life, by Alison Jean Lester, and discover an author who not only knows how to do this kind of novel justice, making it all hang together as a novel, but also knows how to write like a boss.

With pointed observations, and dry, often self-depreciating wit, Lester’s lusty heroine, Missouri-born Lillian, Vassar dropout, who “dated men from Yale” leads us deep into her life in the mid-twentieth century, a time when women were just beginning to rediscover the government of their own sexuality and lives.

Clocking in at a spare 218 pages, Lillian’s journey takes readers from the teen-aged kitchen of her parents, where she enjoyed an after-school coke with the family maid, Mary, to the final premenopausal chapters where she loses Ted, the love of her life. In between we are treated to an abundance of sex and hilarity, as she searches for satisfaction and happiness in Germany, Paris, London and New York.

In Germany she meets her first scoundrel, the Hungarian Laszlo, who haunts her, in a stalkerish way, until she finally rids herself of him in a dramatic scene later in the novel.

“His heavy hair hung in shining waves, and his eyelashes sprang away from his blue eyes as if the color surprised them.”

And:

“Such things were not called rape back then. (Paragraph) I ate the bread and cheese in my room the next day and mended the blue dress.”

Lester’s first-person prose manages the feat of being at once stark and tight, and also rich and vibrant. Reading Lillian on Life gives the feeling of substance being delivered under pressure through a tightly focused aperture.

“They thought of themselves as realists, but they were merely brutal.”

“Alec was very tall, and broad, and had been bred to pass judgment.”

“In the restaurant he ordered for both of us, which was irritating, but if I’ve learned anything with other men, it is to keep my distance from male pride. It’s an electric fence.”

“Going home that evening, I wondered if I would look for a platonic escort of my age if I were in Pyam’s position. I decided not. I’ll always want someone whose fingers are strong enough to pull my hair. Always.”

Lillian on Life is a grownup novel, written by a writer at the peak of her powers. It certainly deserves to garner interest and win awards. I highly recommend it.

About the Author:

ALISON JEAN LESTER is an American writer and corporate communication skills coach who lives in Singapore. Born in California in 1966, she has travelled all her life and has variously studied, worked and raised a family in the UK, Italy, China, Taiwan, Japan, and Singapore. She is a seasoned improvisational comedian, and speaks Mandarin, Japanese, and French.

The Dress Shop of Dreams – a review

 

Dress Shop of DreamsCora counts everything. You might say she’s a bit of a nutter about counting and numbers. She knows how many beans fill a bag (1,233, approximately), how many fleurs-de-lis adorn the ceiling of her bedroom (564) and the number of cobbles that pave the lane where her grandmother has a tiny storefront, how many bricks are in the wall (28), and how many dresses (1,349) hang in her grandmother Etta’s shop, where Como, Gillespie, and Waller fill the air with notes and magic.

What she doesn’t know, is that Walt, the shy bookseller with a shop in the same cobbled lane as Etta’s, loves her, and has since they first met as children. Cora eats the cherry pie Walt bakes, and reads in his book store twice a week like clockwork, but she’s absorbed in her scientific studies, and just lately, in unraveling the mystery surrounding her parents’ deaths.

Etta’s dresses have a little something extra sewn into their silk and sequin perfection – a little magic, and the power to transform the lives of the women who wear them, setting them free to fulfill their dreams. But she can’t seem to help Walt get the attention of her granddaughter, Cora, even after sewing a tiny red star into the collar of Walt’s shirt.

Cora must uncover the secret of her parents’ deaths. She has little memory of the night their home burned down. Just enough to throw the official report into shadows of doubt, and fuel the search to uncover the truth. But will the truth turn her world on its ear?

Told in narrative style, Menna Van Praag’s The Dress Shop of Dreams is a charming, light read. Van Praag moves the narrative seamlessly between present tense and past, and there’s mystery, complications, and angst aplenty.

Read and reviewed for She Reads.

And now for the results of last week’s Random House Giveaway!

The 3 lucky winners of copies of M. O. Walsh’s novel, My Sunshine Away are:

Suzy @Suzy4PR

Melissa @CrytzerFry

Leah @leahs_thoughts
Winners, please contact me with your mailing info so Random House can get your copies to you!

My thanks to all who participated.