Time Reading Program 1965: The Member of the Wedding

Cover art by Leo & Diane Dillon

This slim novel by Carson McCullers is a wonder — nuanced, sensitive, sad, and sometimes funny. Published in 1948, it tells the story of a lonely twelve-year-old girl, Frankie Addams, at the end of one summer in a small southern town. From the beginning sentences, McCullers announces her major theme:

It happened that green and crazy summer when Frankie was twelve years old. This was the summer when for a long time she had not been a member. She belonged to no club and was a member of nothing in the world. Frankie had always been an unjoined person who hung around in doorways, and she was afraid.

This summer, Frankie has grown tall and gangly, “almost a big freak,” and she spends hot, monotonous days mostly hanging around the kitchen table with the family cook, Berenice, and her six-year-old cousin, John Henry. Her older brother, an army soldier who’s been living in Alaska, has returned with his bride to get married. Frankie will attend the wedding with her father, and as the book begins, it is this upcoming event that spurs the action of the story. Continue reading


Time Reading Program 1962: The Ox-Bow Incident

It’s been quite a long time since I read and reviewed one of my Time Reading Program books. But this September, I read The Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark. In fact, it was the only book I finished in September — which says a lot about how hectic life’s been for me of late.  Walter Van Tilburg Clark published The Ox-Bow Incident in 1940, and Time, Inc. reprinted it in 1962.

Two cowboys return to town in the spring after spending months isolated on a winter range. They are thirsting for drink and interaction with more people than each other. In the saloon, they learn that one or two locals have been the victims of cattle rustlers and tensions are running high. Soon a young man enters the bar and excitedly announces that the rustlers have struck again, but this time, they killed a man, too. The sheriff is out of town, but that suits many of the locals well; they’d rather take the matter into their own hands by tracking down the rustlers and hanging them. Continue reading

19 Books of Summer + Middlemarch Round-Up

I did pretty well on the 20 books of summer challenge — better than I expected. Before September 3 rolled around I had finished 14 books. This number includes the last three books of Middlemarch and concludes it. Huzzah! That’s a pretty good run for me, especially considering how busy my summer was.

But September has proved to be busier yet. I’ve not even finished a single book this month. But in the spirit of finishing this up and moving on, I am going to mini-review the last three books I read as part of the challenge and say a few words about Middlemarch. And be done.

  The Marquise of O— by Heinrich von Kleist

In this strange novella, published in 1808, the virtuous,  respectable, and widowed Countess of O— finds herself unaccountably pregnant with her fourth child. Certainly the Marquise is aware of how babies are made, but she cannot recall the circumstances that have brought about her condition, and it puts her honor in serious question with her family. So she places an ad in the newspaper asking for the father of her child to present himself to her. The story is a bit more complicated that I am describing, but even a close reading left me puzzled. Most analyses infer rape by a Russian Count seeking her hand in marriage, but there is a strange scene with the Marquise sitting on her father’s lap kissing him deeply that was disturbing and suspect. It’s a short and interesting read, but I guarantee you will be going back to try to figure out what you missed. Let me know if you find it. 4/5 Continue reading

Two Best Westerns (and I don’t mean motels)

I don’t think it’s really fair to call Death Comes for the Archbishop a Western, but it is set in the west — in New Mexico in the nineteenth century — and it evokes the landscape, air, and light of that western state so well that I’ll take the liberty.

The ride back to Santa Fe was something under four hundred miles. The weather alternated between blinding sand-storms and brilliant sunlight. The sky was full of motion and change as the desert beneath it was monotonous and still,–and there was so much sky, more than at sea, more than anywhere else in the world. The plain was there, under one’s feet, but what one saw when one looked about was that brilliant blue world of stinging air and moving cloud. Even the mountains were mere ant-hills under it. Elsewhere the sky is the roof of the world; but here the earth was the floor of the sky. The landscape one longed for when one was far away, the thing all about one, the world one actually lived in, was the sky, the sky!

Continue reading

On pilgrimage

On my bucket list for many years has been the desire to do a long walking holiday, and most recently, I’ve been curious about walking a 1,000+-year-old pilgrimage route around the Japanese island of Shikoku to 88 temples. This pilgrimage traces the same route of one of Japan’s greatest Buddhist teachers, priests, and folk heroes, Kobo Daishi, who lived in the 800s and founded the Shingon sect of Buddhism. The pilgrimage (or henro in Japanese) takes about 45-50 days to walk straight through for a distance of about 1000km (670 miles) or more if you also go to satellite temples. Pilgrimages, and this one in particular, are still incredibly normal (if not popular) in Japan although most Japanese now drive or take tour buses to complete it (all perfectly legit in Japanese terms). Continue reading

Imaginary Worlds: #20books 4 & 5

The library system I work for has a cache of noncirculating popular titles called Lucky Day books. You can’t reserve them or find them in the catalog, but if you walk into a library and see a title you want on the shelf,  it’s your “lucky day” and you can check it out. I was lucky enough to snag a copy of Exit West by Moshin Hamid after my shift, so it’s jumped into my 20 books of summer reading list.

Exit West starts in an unnamed middle eastern city, where Saeed and Nadia meet and start a love affair. As the violence deepens, their relationship deepens as much by necessity as by desire. Rumors swirl in the city about magical doors that are escape routes to western cities. Nadia and Saeed pass through such a door and find themselves in Berlin, and then take another door to London. They join hundreds of others, all unnamed, from a variety of countries, forming haphazard alliances and stateless communities in these Western cities. Of course, they are refugees, immigrants, the diaspora in general, and the novel reads like a parable on current political and social upheaval. The only characters with names in the entire novel are Nadia and Saeed — the rest are the huddled masses they are swept along with.

I did not love this novel even though I usually enjoy novels about immigrants and crossing cultures. There are some beautifully written passages, and Hamid can construct paragraph-long sentences with the best of them (a la Virginia Wolf or Faulkner). But the novel left me feeling kind of empty because as Hamid writes, “for when we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind.” I guess I just found it depressing.

But I bounced from this sobering book into the high-energy fantasy land of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Set in a dystopian future where everyone is wired into a giant virtual reality net called Oasis, this is the story of one lonely, orphan teenage boy who becomes a cultural superhero when he is the first to unravel a clue in an 80s-themed virtual Easter egg hunt/game constructed by Oasis’s creator before he died. And he gets the girl.

It’s fun and smart, and I especially enjoyed all the 80s references because, even though I wasn’t into video games, such as they were back then, or  fantasy role-playing games, the 80s were my teen/young adult decade — my youth. My son read this book before I did and adored it, too, but perhaps for different reasons. In his case,  I know it’s because he would love to be strapped into a virtual reality world 24/7 and living out every wild fantasy. Gah!

These were books 5 & 6 in my 20 books of summer.


20 Books of Summer 3 & 4

I am already being very flaky about how strictly I follow the rules of the 20 books of summer. I’ve added in two books not on my list (Train Dreams and Exit West). And  I said I was going to read In the Wet by Nevil Shute, but I opted for his Pastoral instead.

Pastoral2Pastoral is romance  set during WWII. At first I found the writing, especially the dialogue, stilted in that old movie way and it turned me off. But slowly I warmed to the story itself.

Both the main characters, Gervase and Peter, serve in the British military. She is a WAAF section officer and he is the highly capable captain of a bomber running raids with his devoted crew  over targets on the continent. Some of the best parts of the book are the fighting episodes when Robert and his flight crew get into trouble and barely make it home. I’m not a huge war novel fan or plane buff, but I was completely engaged. Continue reading