I feel like I cut my reading teeth on memoirs, especially memoirs written by middle-aged women who had been through it all. Folks like Anne Richardson Roiphe and Alix Kates Schulman, and the brilliant Anna Quindlen. I loved reading about the life I was about to embark on--marriage, motherhood (or so I thought), a writing career (or so I thought)--from the other end, a life lived. Amy Dickinson falls into that category, too. I loved her The Mighty Queens of Freeville about moving back to her small hometown to raise her daughter alone. Her latest, Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things, is the continuation of that story. Her daughter is off to college, and she finds herself falling in love with a local man with four daughters of his own. She talks about blending the families, becoming a stepmom, and losing her beloved mother. It's in turns wise and searching. She's an advice columnist ("Dear Amy"), so she knows the conventional wisdom on the situations she finds herself in, not that that always helps one. This is a well-written book. She writes in a straightforward, honest way, and you get to know and like the "characters" in her life. I am especially drawn to small-town life stories, having grown up in the smallest small town you can imagine. If felt very real. I found myself nodding along with the stepmom chapters. How I could have used what she knows now 15 years ago! Also, I must add, the newlyweds "wait" until they're married. How refreshing. My rating: 3.5 stars.
How I long for another full-length Calpurnia Tate novel. I don't know if another one is on its way, so I have to be happy with the recent chapter book series. While I like these books (I've read two; a third is due out this fall) they don't hold a candle to the fully-fleshed full-length version (The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate and The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate). They're fun for the younger set, and the illustrations are wonderful, but they aren't nearly as interesting for the adult crowd. At least, that's my assessment. The first one was about a skunk; this one was about sheep (and a wounded butterfly makes an appearance), and the next will be about an owl. Calpurnia is a young scientist (a "girl vet") at the turn of the last century--when it wasn't considered ladylike nor proper for a young girl to be interested in such things. It's a nice series, but I'm still waiting for another novel. Of course, I'm not the intended audience. My rating: 3 stars.
I was late to the party on the Pulitzer Prize-winning All the Light We Cannot See, and while you really can't be too regretful about such things, I do regret not knowing what a wonderful writer Anthony Doerr is. I loved that book, and his memoir, Four Seasons in Rome, seals my affections. This book is about Doerr's year in Rome on a writing fellowship. He and his wife pack up their baby twins to live in Italy for a year, not being fluent in the language, not really knowing what to expect. While there, Pope John Paul II dies, and Rome becomes the site of the "biggest funeral in history." The book is written in a polished-up diary form. There really aren't any chapters or divisions, one entry leads to the next to the next, which makes it compulsively readable. His writing and imagery is beautiful. He's a master observer, and sometimes funny (like when he goes to the local grocery and asks for "grapefruit sauce"), and it's just such a pleasure to be along for the whole journey. If you love travel memoirs or "stranger in a strange place" memoirs, this is one you have to check out. My rating: 4.5 stars.
Last week I started:
My last book to read this month is My Life with Bob, a reading memoir by a woman who has kept a notebook of what she's read (a Book of Books: "Bob") for nearly 30 years. How I love books about books.
I also got a jump on my poetry read for next month: Poems to Read.
This week I'll finish:
It took me a long time to come around, but I think I love Rules of Civility. More on my complex feelings next week.