“We have neither of us anything to tell; you because you do not communicate, and I, because I conceal nothing.” Marianne Dashwood to her sister, Elino
“We have neither of us anything to tell; you because you do not communicate, and I, because I conceal nothing.” Marianne Dashwood to her sister, Elinor.
And thus is Marianne’s yang to Elinor’s yin. Two halves of a whole, two women bound in love and in blood, as different and dependent as the sun and moon. Passion and logic. Emotion and propriety. ESFP and INTJ.
Jane Austen first crafted this story as an epistolary novel and titled it “Elinor and Marianne.” Although the structure would change as she revised the novel over fifteen years until it was published in 1811 as Sense and Sensibility, the relationship between these two young women remained its core.
But this novel isn’t about a conflict between sisters with opposing characters, one directed by Sense, the other driven by Sensibility. It’s about recognizing the sense and sensibility we each possess and how to release one and harness the other when love beckons and threatens in equal measure. It is about a quest for harmony and the embrace of one’s true self, about the ability to admit fallibility while still seeking personal growth. Sense and Sensibility is the Tao of Austen.
The moments of self-actualization are many and profound. Elinor’s is the least notable because she enters and remains the most centered and stable person; Colonel Brandon’s came many years before the novel takes place—we learn of it as he relates the sorrowful story of his lost love and the child he takes on as a ward; but John Willoughby, Edward Ferrars, Marianne Dashwood—each has a period of reckoning that challenges the weakest aspects of their characters and each arrives at a resolution.
Elinor may well be my favorite of Austen’s women (I hedge, because as soon as I reread Pride and Prejudice, I’ll claim it to be Lizzy). She is certainly the most dignified and humane. She is also the most relatable. Her compassion is justified and deeply-felt, which makes her uncharitable thoughts all the more delicious. In this comedy of manners, Elinor is above reproach, but beneath her unflappable surface is a wry sense of humor, prone to irony and exasperation.
Lucy was naturally clever; her remarks were often just and amusing; and as a companion for half an hour Elinor frequently found her agreeable; but her powers had received no aid from education: she was ignorant and illiterate; and her deficiency of all mental improvement, her want of information in the most common particulars, could not be concealed from Miss Dashwood, in spite of her constant endeavour to appear to advantage.
And although Edward Ferrars does not make my heart thump in the slightest, not compared to the enigmatic Mr. Darcy, the dashing Mr. Knightley, or the heroic Christopher Brandon, I have the most tender of spots reserved for the most hopeless of introverts:
My judgment," he returned, "is all on your side of the question; but I am afraid my practice is much more on your sister's. I never wish to offend, but I am so foolishly shy, that I often seem negligent, when I am only kept back by my natural awkwardness. I have frequently thought that I must have been intended by nature to be fond of low company, I am so little at my ease among strangers of gentility!"
Sense and Sensibility has Austen's most rousing cast of secondary characters, with the wicked witch Mrs. John Dashwood (portrayed with perfect insufferableness by Harriet Walter in the 1995 film adaptation. The one I must watch at least once a year), effusive, lovable busybody Mrs. Jennings, sly and silly Lucy Steele, and the preposterously mis-matched Mr. and Mrs. Palmer. But it is Elinor for whom I turn each page, in admiration and tenderness. It is Elinor who I most aspire to be, to create, who I wish I could have known, who I mourn because she is the closest connection to the author herself. Elinor had the Happily Ever After that Jane was denied.
“Know your own happiness. You want nothing but patience- or give it a more fascinating name, call it hope.”
The Tao of Elinor. The Tao of Jane Austen.
And now. I’m done parsing Jane Austen. For that is Sense. I read Jane Austen to indulge my Sensibility. I sink into her novels and want them never to end. I cherish her language, I adore her characters, I marvel at the simplicity and perfection of her plots, I cry because love triumphs in the end. There is just no making Sense of why I adore Jane Austen. There is only Sensibility: Capacity for refined emotion; delicate sensitiveness of taste; also, readiness to feel compassion for suffering, and to be moved by the pathetic in literature or art. (Oxford English Dictionary; 18th and early 19th c. Usage); the ability to appreciate and respond to complex emotional or aesthetic influences; sensitivity (Modern Usage).
Until next time, Jane.
Edited: Correction and Apologies to Harriet Walter!...more
Mind-bendingly beautiful, witty, charming homage to mushrooms both humble and exotic. I'm blessed to live in a part of the world where a walk in the wMind-bendingly beautiful, witty, charming homage to mushrooms both humble and exotic. I'm blessed to live in a part of the world where a walk in the woods can net a bounty of comestible 'shrooms and the most exotic of species can be found in our little local co-op, but I've never ventured beyond porcini, shiitake and chanterelle in my own cooking. Lion's Mane, Lobster, Hedgehog, Oyster—gorgeous to look at, but what the hell do I do with them?
Enter 'Shroom. Not only is this ripe with divine and accessible recipes, it's written with incomparable verve and humor. I've had the great pleasure of working with Becky, and her vibrant, funny, warm self shines through in the text. This is as much fun to read as it is gaspingly gorgeous to peruse.
Since it 'Tis the Season, here's a brilliant gift for the chef or culinary historian or mycologist in your life. ...more
There is something marvelously cathartic about Us. David Nicholls, graced by both Thalia and Melpomene, succeeds in making a tender salad out of raw sThere is something marvelously cathartic about Us. David Nicholls, graced by both Thalia and Melpomene, succeeds in making a tender salad out of raw satire. Humor, whether it’s on the page or the screen, is so hard to do well. When it works, really truly works, we’re wiping away tears of hilarity mingled with tears of sadness. Because what makes us laugh most deeply, what brings on that cathartic release, is comedy and tragedy sharing the stage.
Douglas Petersen is in his early fifties and his wife, Connie, thinks she may want a divorce. She’s not entirely certain, but at any rate, they have a long-planned trip to Europe with their teenaged son to get through, so let’s take the summer and see how things go, shall we? Their son Albie, barely on speaking terms with his father for reasons anyone who has parented a teenager or who has ever been a teenager will understand (namely, that the loathed parent exists), balks at spending several weeks schlepping around the Continent with his parents. He agrees to go only out of adoration for his mother. They are, as Douglas explains, a “small family, somewhat meagre, and I think we each of us feel sometimes that it is a little too small, and each wish there was someone else there to absorb some of the blows.”
Douglas determines that this Grand Tour of Europe is his chance to make his wife fall in love with him all over again and to close the rift with his son.
It is the simplest of premises: how one man tries to save his small but splintered family. It doesn’t even sound all that interesting, really. Oh, but I couldn’t put this down. I didn’t want to put it down. And I laughed and cried all the way through.
I confess I’d never heard of David Nicholls, despite his wildly popular novel One Day (2009) and being a huge fan of the movie Starter for 10, which I learned is a Nicholls’ novel and a screenplay he wrote. I plan to catch up if his other novels are as deeply satisfying as Us.
The story is structured as a series of present moments punctuated by the past, recounted by Douglas, a methodical, staid, and unprepossessing scientist who once devoted his research to the genetic structure of the fruit fly. How he managed to enthrall and hang onto Connie, a blithe spirit, a moody, beautiful artiste, is revealed in self-conscious wonder and tenderness by her still-smitten husband.
It would be easy to feel exasperation and pity for a man whose son regards him with such sullen disdain and whose wife trifles with their twenty-year marriage, but Douglas is never mawkish. Bewildered, yes, but his fumbling determination is endearing and empathetic. And, for heaven’s sake, the unraveling of the trip is just so very funny. Nicholls injects a series of slapstick events into the Petersen’s traipsing through Europe, but the comedy routine is always tinged with Douglas’ own sadness and anticipation: will he save his marriage or not?
The adventure takes on a breathless singularity when Albie, in a fit of pique over an unintended insult by his father, abandons his parents in Amsterdam and disappears with a peripatetic busker from New Zealand. Connie decides the trip is over for her, too, and returns to England. At the eleventh hour, Douglas realizes this is his chance to be a hero to his wife: he decides to stay on in Europe, find his son and make things right. What ensues is a comedy of errors that lands him in jail, in the middle of a school of stinging jellyfish, and in the arms of a sympathetic Scandinavian divorcee. How it all comes together, or falls apart at the end, you really must discover for yourself.
At its heart—and it’s such a very big heart, indeed—Us is the portrait of a marriage, one that will be very familiar to those of us who’ve spent at least half our lives as part of an Us, and perhaps a cautionary tale for those who have not. It is all the taking for granted, the piling up of misdemeanors large and small, the loss of joy in the drudgery of day to day rolled up into a one-sided love story and the coming-of-age of a husband and father. Poignant and hilarious, Us is also hopeful, awkward, darling, and full of joy.
Color you and me surprised. I loved this. Start to finish (which took about 3 hrs). Couldn't put it down. Will buy the rest of the series this weekendColor you and me surprised. I loved this. Start to finish (which took about 3 hrs). Couldn't put it down. Will buy the rest of the series this weekend. Brilliant. ...more
Most of us lead lives of quiet desperation, knocked about every so often by rude shocks or lifted up by brief, brilliant joys. But our quotidian troubMost of us lead lives of quiet desperation, knocked about every so often by rude shocks or lifted up by brief, brilliant joys. But our quotidian troubles and triumphs rarely create ripples beyond our own little ponds.
As readers, we often gravitate toward lives played out on a grander scale—adventures, dalliances, crimes, and misdemeanors far more colorful than our own. But reader, if you haven’t experienced the transcendent storytelling of Ireland’s Colm Tóibín, you may not know what it’s like to feel the earth tilt with the most subtle of emotional tremors.
The story unfolds in rural County Wexford in 1969. Nora Webster, mother of four, is mourning the recent death of her husband, Maurice. She hasn’t worked outside the home in twenty-five years, has neither savings nor higher education and cannot look to extended family to support her, her two daughters pursuing University, or the two boys still at home. The outlook is grim.
She cherished her husband, and her anguish, though closely guarded, is breathtaking. But grief has coated Nora’s emotions with a thin sheen of ice. She longs to escape the endless parade of neighborhood mourners, to simply be left in peace. She regards her young sons, Donal and Conor, with a clinician’s distance and her older daughters, Aine and Fiona, with cautious exasperation. It occurs to her belatedly that she did not once visit or call the boys in the two months they stayed with an aunt while she remained at Maurice’s bedside. She accepts her neglect as a fact, but her remorse is slow to come.
Nora’s reawakening is the found treasure in this elegant, softly spiritual story. Tóibín writes without judgment. His Nora is fierce, stronger than she has any idea of or experience with, but it takes her time to figure out how to straighten her formidable backbone. She also must learn how to accept and adapt to others’ grief, namely that of her children, for she is a jealous guardian of her husband’s memory and love.
There are so many rich moments that show a woman coming into her own: the book’s opening scenes when Nora decides to sell the family’s modest summer home; the simple acts of having her hair done in a new style, purchasing a hi-fi, or deciding to update the “back room” where the family spends most of its time. Nora deftly steers her way through office politics, using her connections and the sympathy her husband’s death elicits to secure her position at the largest business in town, and she rediscovers her singing voice, which makes a lovely metaphor for the discovery of her voice as a grown, independent woman. Her response to Donal’s meltdown when he is denied access to a television to watch the moon landing, her decision not to rescue him from the boarding school where he is so miserable, and her grudging respect for her daughters show a mother relearning compassion.
There are cultural touchstones that keep the reader grounded in place and time, reminding us that just as Nora is awakening to her independence and power, so too is Ireland wrestling with its political and cultural boundaries. The Troubles of early 1970s Ireland, where violence erupts across the border and closer to home, arrive on the Webster’s doorstep in ways you don’t expect from this portrayal of anonymous domestic life.
Nora Webster caused me to reflect on another Nora who entered my literary life this year: Nora Eldridge from Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs. What emotional bookends they make to my reading year: one Nora, driven by lust and longing into a state of rage and self-loathing; the other, slowly awakening to her own keen possibilities. Both Noras are compelling, their stories crafted by superb writers. And each is a reminder that the quiet lives, the secret lives, are often the most astonishing of all.
I recall what Tóibín said about his writing after the publication of his last novel, The Testament of Mary. He stated that he writes the silence; the space between words. God, but I love that. For Tóibín is a master of the quiet dramas that unfold in kitchens and bedrooms, in back offices, in church naves and cafés. He takes the ordinary, and with sublime writing and rich characters, changes our way of perceiving the world. ...more
**spoiler alert** This is a fantastically satisfying read. Within the intersecting circles of thriller, medical drama and popular fiction, Carol Casse**spoiler alert** This is a fantastically satisfying read. Within the intersecting circles of thriller, medical drama and popular fiction, Carol Cassella's confident debut emerges in vivid, three-dimensional relief. With her first-hand knowledge of the field of anesthesiology, Cassella creates an original and compelling plot: a child dies in the middle of surgery and all fingers point to the one most responsible for keeping her alive -- the anesthesiologist.
For this reader, the mystery is not in the who- that is obvious as the stage for the disaster is set. The mystery is how the truth will be revealed. The book rolls out from the child's death during a routine operation through the months it takes to mount a malpractice suit against the doctor, Marie Heaton, and the hospital, which promises to stand behind her. Cassella deftly constructs an agonizing drama as Marie lives her weeks of personal torment, waiting helplessly for attorneys and administrators to decide her fate.
Cassella writes Marie's voice so clearly- you believe how this woman moves, behaves and reacts. Her emotions and motivations ring true- you walk in her shoes, body weary from a 24 hr shift, your heart pounds with every phone call, your hands shake as Marie tears open the autopsy report that may exonerate her from the little girl's death. Secondary characters are fully-realized as well; even walk-on roles are detailed enough to pivot the mood of the narrative.
I'm always on guard with books set in my backyard, looking for the slightest detail out of whack. Cassella nails Seattle, right down to the orientation of light on a rooftop, the playground that's across the street from Queen Anne High School Condominiums, the dim, smoky interior of Larry's Bar in Pioneer Square (the book is set prior to 2006, before Seattle's ban on smoking in eating establishments and before Larry's was closed after a New Year's Eve murder). First Lutheran Hospital is so clearly Swedish Hospital. I can see its hallways and even an operating theater, where I have gained a great appreciation for the skills of anesthesiologists in recent years.
Cassella includes a family drama, involving Marie's elderly father. He lives alone in Fort Worth and his declining health has forced a critical decision point for Marie and her sister, a Houston stay-at-home mom of three. Marie's leave from the hospital allows her time to confront her father's needs and their confused relationship. It also gives her time to consider her own lonely state and the promise of love with a trusted friend.
I'm pleased to be so pleased with a novel that, if you strip it down, is a formulaic fiction. An inciting incident leads the protagonist into crisis, sub-plots introduce characters to provide protagonist with depth and backstory, a false resolution notches up the crisis, a plot twist changes the game minutes before the end. But it works. It works because Casella's characters are real and earn your empathy, it works because the subject matter is both original and to-the-moment relevant, it works because of the author's terrific sense of pacing and attention to detail. Three cheers for the home team! This is a Northwest writer I'll be keeping an eye on. ...more
A novel of beauty and grace, showing again that Niall Williams is more than a writer, he is a composer who elicits music from the magical combinationA novel of beauty and grace, showing again that Niall Williams is more than a writer, he is a composer who elicits music from the magical combination of letters we know as words.
Young Ruth Swain has returned home from university to convalesce in her attic bedroom, where the rain of Co. Clare pours ceaselessly on the two windows above her head, and three thousand, nine hundred and fifty eight volumes of classic prose and poetry surround her in teetering stacks. Her father is gone and Ruth seeks him, his history, and his truth, in the vast library he left behind. Her clear, funny, and poignant voice guides us through misty decades of Swain and MacCarroll family lore to illuminate how her father, Virgil, and her mother, Mary, came to farm the worst fourteen acres of land in Ireland.
The reminders of present-day Ireland—references to the Crash, the internet, Marty in the Morning on RTE's Lyric FM—jolted me out of the dreamlike meanderings in a timeless world, casting a surreal glow over this rain-sodden ode to Ireland, literature, and love. But the anachronisms make the story more bewitching; Williams shows us that even in this hyper-connected world, it is possible to escape. And the greatest escape is found in the pages of a book.
This is a book to savor, slowly and delicately. It pokes gentle, meta, self-mocking fun at the conventions of novel structure. If you are a reader who expects tidy packages of chronological storytelling, plot points, and story arcs, give this a try. You might be surprised what beauty can be woven outside the confines of the Fiction 101 blogosphere. And read with a notebook by your side, because you'll want to make note of each volume Ruth references in her vast library—it's a primer on Western literature's greatest works of poetry and prose. Tissues would be good, too. I reckon you won't make it through this with dry eyes.
Tied up in my delight with History of the Rain is my love for Ireland, particularly the west. Williams, as he always does, captures this incomparable spirit, the particular state of longing that I feel when I am in Ireland, or just thinking about being there:
We're a race of elsewhere people. That's what makes us the best saints and the best poets and the best musicians and the world's worst bankers. ...It's in the eyes. The idea of a better home. Some of us have it worse than others. My father had it running in the rivers of him.
Let this river of words take you away. But be forewarned: you won't want to return. ...more
The single best wine + food reference I have read. Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page- a husband and wife power duo with heaps of experience in and accoThe single best wine + food reference I have read. Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page- a husband and wife power duo with heaps of experience in and accolades from the world of fine wine and dining - want nothing more than to evangelize the joy of beautiful food and drink, in combination! They make the pairing experience accessible and fun, but still challenge the reader to experiment, to break out of the "white wine with fish, red wine with steak" rut.
This is an indispensable reference, divided into two primary sections: What to drink with what you eat & What to eat with what you drink. Their approach is incredibly comprehensive, but the editorial content is engaging and demystifying. This will be my go-to guide professionally and personally. And for $2.99 on i-tunes, there IS an app for that!
Oh, this was so worth the wait. This fantastic piece of investigative story-telling combined good old-fashioned was-there-a-crime-and-if-so-who-done-iOh, this was so worth the wait. This fantastic piece of investigative story-telling combined good old-fashioned was-there-a-crime-and-if-so-who-done-it, the history of Bordeaux, a peek into the oft-bizarre world of the obscenely rich, and an expose of global wine snobbery. It seems that there are few commodities that can invoke the passion, competitive spirit, imagination and ego as much as the fermented juice of grapes.
Crisply written with spirit and punch, this is a read not only for vino-geeks but for anyone who'd enjoy a rollicking good truth that's far stranger and more entertaining than fiction.
_______________________________ well darn it all. I received a notice from the library that this was due today and there is a waiting list, so no renewals. If only I hadn't spent a precious couple of hours slogging through that Amy Tan book, I could have finished this.
Back to the library it is & I'm back on the wait list. The mystery will just have to wait. ...more
What a tremendous memoir. It is vivid, full of life and passion, taking the tragedy that is Liberia and wrapping it in memories of a childhood gracedWhat a tremendous memoir. It is vivid, full of life and passion, taking the tragedy that is Liberia and wrapping it in memories of a childhood graced with laughter and love. Cooper tells her unique history, as a child of privilege and opportunity living in a family compound outside Monrovia, Liberia in the 1970s. She is forced to flee with her mother and youngest sister in 1980, after Samuel Doe and his rebel soldiers staged a coup d'etat and assassinated President Tolbert; she would not return for twenty-three years. In the intervening two decades she would become an American citizen and a celebrated journalist and would experience devastating losses and joyful reunions, even as Liberia deteriorated into epic chaos. Cooper's voice is one of such joy and love- she is never detached from her story, yet never sentimental. The research is evident, in the care she takes to present the historical timeline of Liberia's founding as a nation and its recent history, yet her own family's story is so entwined with Liberia's that even the recitation of facts is deeply personal. ...more
Disclosure note: I am one of the contributors to this anthology.
In July 2009, my first pregnancy ended at eleven weeks. In July 2012, my second pregnDisclosure note: I am one of the contributors to this anthology.
In July 2009, my first pregnancy ended at eleven weeks. In July 2012, my second pregnancy ended at ten weeks. There will be no others. Those experiences--as well as the years of baffling infertility that preceded the losses, the attempts at adoption, the anger and hope, resolution and relief, the sense of a life unfinished and unfulfilled--have shaped me as an adult. They have affected me as a woman, a writer, as the mother I will always believe I was meant to be, as a wife who shares forever-grief with her husband.
In 2005, the wife of writer-producer Sean Hanish gave birth to a stillborn son. In their journey through sorrow and healing, Sean wrote the screenplay for a film. That film, Return to Zero, starring Minnie Driver and Paul Adelstein, premieres worldwide on Lifetime Network, Saturday May 17, 2014, 8:00 p.m. EDT. Return to Zero. Sean's original intention was to see this film distributed on the big screen. But realizing he would reach a vastly greater audience on a solid television network, he signed on with Lifetime at the Rome Independent Film Festival in Italy earlier this year. Bravo, Sean. Congratulations for your brave and beautiful work.
In tandem with the release of the movie and in the spirit of shattering the silence surrounding neonatal death, stillbirth, and miscarriage, Sean and Brook Warner, editor of She Writes Press, conceived an anthology of prose and poetry. Three Minus One: Stories of Parents' Love & Loss is the result of their collaboration and our--the contributors'--journeys.
This collection of essays and poems speaks of pain and loss so profound, you are left breathless. Yet there is also incredible beauty, joy, and redemption. I can't get over so many things as I read: how extraordinary the writing is, how unique each voice, yet how similar the experiences and emotions, and how profoundly relieved I am to know I am not alone. How baffled I am that I felt so alone for so long.
In just a few lines Heather Bell's poem, Executioner, captures the absurdity of grief--the acknowledgement that life goes on, even as yours is falling apart, and the strange, sad ways people react--trying so hard to empathize, to understand, and botching it all, bless their hearts:
And the baby is dead but we need lettuce in the house, maybe some bread for morning toast so
I am at the store touching the potatoes at the spin, the slim wrists of carrot. And the baby is dead so
this entitles humans to talk about their dog's death, or gerbil's. This means I am expected to sympathize at
their loss. Because all death becomes, somehow, equal
Gabriela Ibarra Kotara reveals the Masters of Disguise that grieving parents become after the loss of a child: "I am that cautionary tale. No one wants what happened to us to happen to them." In Address Book, Meagan Golec reflects on how her friendships have changed since her child was born dead at 38.5 weeks. Elizabeth Heineman's What to Do When They Bring You Your Dead Baby in the Hospital is a tender, beautiful, elegiac prose-poem that I read over and over, wanting to sink inside her words. Marina del Vecchio Silent Miscarriage, Shoshanna Kirk, To Balance Bitter, Add Sweet, and Susan Rukeyser, Our Bloody Secret made me realize that I was not crazy for wanting to miscarry in my body's own time, even though it took weeks--the first time-- or left me writhing on the floor for hours, hyperventilating in pain--the second time--and that searching in the mass of blood and tissue for signs of your child's body is horribly, gruesomely, okay.
All this death and loss is not a thing you talk about--not in polite company. Not with strangers and rarely even with friends. And yet, death brought me to life. The deaths of my children brought me at last to the page, to be the other thing I've always known I was meant to be: a writer. Isn't that strange and awful and wonderful? I can't fulfill one destiny, but in its denial, I am walking the road of another. My essay Their Names touches on the discovery of another way to create life.
Miscarriage affects an astonishing number of would-be parents: an estimated 30% of pregnancies ends in loss. Mercifully, many of these occur so early that the mother doesn't know she was pregnant. But sadly, many of us spend weeks and months planning for and anticipating life. Stillbirth occurs in 1 of every 160 births in the US and neonatal death--death within the first 28 days of life--1 in every 85 births. Shocking, isn't it? It's probably happened to someone you know. If and when it does, a simple "I'm so sorry for your loss" and a hug would be a beautiful gift. Offering this book would be such a lovely gesture, as well. Parents in mourning need to know they are not alone. This book offers all the right things to say and do and feel and not feel. It is an embrace of compassion and empathy.
I adored this novel! It contained all the elements of my favorite contemporary fiction: impeccable historical research, geographic locales that are asI adored this novel! It contained all the elements of my favorite contemporary fiction: impeccable historical research, geographic locales that are as strong as the characters, characters who are multi-dimensional & believable, a plot that weaves multiple threads and themes in good pace and with precision. With this, Brooks moves into my favorite authors column. ...more
If I had a category for Most Charming Read of the Year, there would be one entrant for 2014: My Salinger Year, Joanna Rakoff’s blithe memoir of her teIf I had a category for Most Charming Read of the Year, there would be one entrant for 2014: My Salinger Year, Joanna Rakoff’s blithe memoir of her tenure at the Agency, the arch moniker she gives to Harold Ober Associates—one of Manhattan’s most venerable literary agencies.
I know, I know: the year still has many months and reads ahead, but I’m calling this one right now. My Salinger Year shimmers with Wilt Stillman Bright Young Things, and it's imbued with a Woody Allenesque-patina that warms the city’s brownstones until they glow with autumn light or sparkle with the diamonds of freshly-fallen snow.
The year is 1996 and Rakoff, fresh from completing a Master’s degree in English in the U.K., needs a job. She really doesn’t need a boyfriend, but she finds lover and employment in quick succession. The latter becomes her entrée into the New York literary scene. The former, a struggling novelist, informs her emotional and artistic development, and breaks her heart more times than he's worth. Which is, as it happens, not much.
Although the coming revolution of digital publishing and e-readers is a mere ten years away, the Agency doesn’t possess a single computer and has only recently acquired a photocopier. Rakoff, hired as an assistant to the Agency’s president—to whom she refers only as “my boss”—types dictation on an IBM Selectric, Dictaphone headphones planted on her head, her feet working the Dictaphone pedals beneath the desk. Correspondence is done via the postal service. There are telephones of course, but no one has voicemail. If anyone calls after hours, the office phones simply ring and ring, echoing down the dimly lit hallways lined with plush carpet.
Enter Jerry, the Agency's most celebrated client. And if the Agency's president doesn't step up her game, he might be the last client standing. Delivering a breathless scene with a comic's sense of timing, Rakoff meets another famous client, Judy Blume. Just the one time. Judy, along with a steady stream of other writers, quits the Agency to seek representation where the 21st century is acknowledged as a done deal.
Jerry is, of course, J.D. Salinger. A writer whom Joanna Rakoff, budding writer herself, has never read. Jerry, hard of hearing, reclusive, and endearing, has expressed interest in having his long short story, Hapworth 16, 1924—which first appeared in The New Yorker in 1965— published as a novel by a tiny press in Virginia. For eight months, Rakoff resists reading Salinger, certain his lionized status is hyperbole and his writing trite. But she becomes immediately fascinated by the enormous volume of fan mail the author continues to receive, thirty years after his last publication. It is her job to inform each correspondent that the Agency, per Mr. Salinger's directions, cannot forward the letter to the author or respond to any requests. When she finally does read Salinger, it is in a revelatory binge. That weekend of Salinger sets the tone for the brief time that she remains at the Agency, but it also leads her to finding her writing voice.
The interactions with J.D. Salinger and the near-farcical subplot of the reissue of Hapworth ground the story in the disappearing age of traditional publishing, when a few elite readers determined what the rest of us would be checking out from our public libraries, or purchasing from the rapidly-vanishing independent bookstores, or once-were-giants Borders and Barnes & Noble.
But at its tender heart, My Salinger Year is the coming of age tale of a young woman and writer and an ode to being young and sort-of single in New York, living in an unheated apartment in Williamsburg and taking the subway to Madison Avenue to talk in plummy, tweedy tones with other underpaid literati. It is a gloriously, unabashedly nostalgic memoir and yes, utterly charming. Rakoff's writing is breezy and self-effacing, completely in character with the twenty-three-year-old woman who recounts this seminal year. Only an accomplished and confident writer could manage to sustain that tone with authenticity. Joanna Rakoff enchants readers with an elegant memoir that reads like a curl-up-with-a-cuppa novel. She's just won a new admirer.
The definitive tome on gnome lore and culture. A must-read for any self-respecting cultural anthropologist. Or lovers of pointy red hats. And small roThe definitive tome on gnome lore and culture. A must-read for any self-respecting cultural anthropologist. Or lovers of pointy red hats. And small rotund creatures. ...more