Friday, October 28, 2016

I heart libraries

Looking for a new series for my third grader, I headed to the reference desk.  The librarian directed me to an online database called NoveList Plus. (note: This is a subscription service, but your library might offer it as well.) We did a search for his current favorite, The BFG, and a list of “Read-alikes” popped up in the margin. 

A search for my pre-teen resulted in these “Read-alikes”...

Once I had found books for my kids, I headed over to the shelf labeled “Lucky Day.” On it sit copies of current bestsellers and popular titles (you know, the ones with 87 people on the waiting list). If you happen to be in the library on your lucky day, as I was, you can check out anything on the shelf. The one caveat: no renewals. I checked out copies of Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth and Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible:A modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice


Friday, October 21, 2016

The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop

Fine, she’d said. Fine. Then on a whim: If you find a job, I’ll go.” So sets off the events that take Charlotte and her family from the comforts of England to the sunny promises of Australia. Her husband Henry does find a job and soon Charlotte is tending to two small children in a strange land. Although she takes small delights in the smell of freshly line dried laundry, she misses her work as a painter. When a friend sees promise in a portrait she paints of Henry, she begins imagining a different life. Away.

Meanwhile, Henry, the son of an Indian mother and English father, faces prejudice at work as he is overlooked for a teaching position and relegated to a smaller office. Seeking to console Charlotte, he applies for a position in England. Before he can tell her, he is called to India to say goodbye to his dying mother. Charlotte is then left with the perfect opportunity to say her own goodbyes.

Bishop’s depicts the conflicts of marriage, the dissatisfaction of motherhood, and the impossibility of returning home. With her lyrical descriptions, she transports the reader to England, Australia, and India with poetic ease.

Friday, October 14, 2016


You’ve all seen the hashtag. The kid didn’t get into the gifted program. The furnace is on the fritz. Her vacation will be in Miami rather than Paris. The housekeeper quit.

Enter Eleanor Flood.  In Maria Semple’s new novel Today Will Be Different, a once-upon-a-time animator of a popular TV show is now writing her graphic memoir and shuttling her 8 year-old son from private school to make-up counter. She and her surgeon husband (with a side gig on the sidelines at Seahawks games) have agreed on Seattle for 10 years for him and then back to New York for 10 for her. In the meantime, her mantra is “today will be different.” And the day of this novel is. 

With her customary wit, quirky flourishes, and uncanny depiction of the familiar, Semple has created another character, like Bernadette, that will stay on your mind long after you’ve closed the book. Despite the (first world) problems Eleanor encounters, her desire to do better and be better resonates with thrilling (and depressing) accuracy.  

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Play's the Thing

When my daughter was three and my son an infant, I realized that when I was driving, I could not easily understand what they were saying from the back seat. This, along, with my husband’s frustration of always having to repeat himself, sent me to an audiologist, who strongly recommended my getting hearing aids. After a short period of adjustment in sorting out important sounds from un (no, the click of the car lock should not be as loud as the ambulance siren approaching), now it is usually just a matter of remembering not to get them wet and having batteries on hand. Although the world is not louder, it is much, much crisper.
Despite that, I still prefer to turn down the sound and turn on the Closed Captions when I’m watching a TV program or movie. I don’t lose any of the nuances of the dialogue, and I’ve noticed most captions tone down the profanity.  Are those of us reading CC considered a gentler folk?

Therefore, I thought this week’s challenge of reading a play would be familiar. Not being in tune with the theater world, I first referred to this list.One of the only plays the library had from the list (in book form) was Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia.

The play features one set and two casts of characters from separate time periods. In earlier scenes, the characters appear only in their own time periods, but as the play progresses, they soon cross paths with each other.  

In addition to contrasts in period, the action plays off contrasts in math versus literature, Newton
versus Byron, and experience versus research. The cast of the 19th century looks to the future in creating a legacy. The cast of modern times is preoccupied with looking back to uncover the mysteries of the past.

Since I probably haven’t read a contemporary play since my Neil Simon phase in high school, I had forgotten how much I enjoy reading the stage directions, both in setting the scene, and in instructions to the actors.

Stoppard delights in both the lines his characters say and how they are directed to say them. I loved his stage directional asides (see the scene in which Hannah interrupts as her rival and critic Bernard reads from his lecture) almost as much as his word play. He frequently creates scenarios to amuse the audience whereby lines such as “Oh, no! Not the gazebo!” allude simultaneously to sex and landscape design.

Having read this play, I’m curious about actually seeing it performed live. However, unless the actors are mic’d, I might have to stick to the book.