Tag Archives: read a shelf

RAS 5: Come Along with Me — Shirley Jackson

Run, don’t walk to your nearest bookstore and purchase a copy of Shirley Jackson’s posthumously published short story collection Come Along With Me. If you have read anything by Shirley Jackson before, you know this has got to be good. If you have never read anything by Shirley Jackson, what are you waiting for?

I, like most of the world, was introduced to Shirley Jackson through reading her short story, The Lottery, in high school. It wasn’t until years later when I picked up her books about raising her children that I realized what a wonderful writer she was. After reading Raising Demons and Life Among the Savages I moved on to We Have Always Lived in the Castle and fell madly in love.

Come Along with Me is the name of her incomplete novel which is about a woman who escapes from her past reinvents herself.

The rest of the book has something for everyone: Humor (Pajama Party and The Night we all had Grippe); Mystery (A Visit and The Bus); Suspense (The Little House); Drama (The Summer People and The Rock); and Non-fiction (Three Lectures: Experience and Fiction, Biography of a Story, and Notes for a Young Writer).

At some point, I must make time to read all her novels. Maybe after this Read-a-Shelf thing is over.

Statistics: Stats: 243 pages (paperback). Started October 2016, finished May 23, 2017.

RAS 4: Charlotte Gray — Sebastian Faulks

Charlotte GrayOh dear me God. I am so glad I have finally finished this book. I would have stopped, but didn’t want to give it away (like I had to with The Bronte Myth).

Like The Book of Ruth, I don’t know where the book came from, I just remember remembering that we owned it shortly after I saw the tail end of the film, Charlotte Gray, and thinking that the ending was just too romantic then looking at the ending of the book and feeling righteous in my assessment.

Where to begin? I cannot say I liked Charlotte Gray. But I didn’t hate it either. I didn’t like the author’s style of writing the first third of the book, it reeked of man-writing. (just a type of writing I can’t explain but I dislike)

The book is about a Scottish woman during World War II who joins the special services and flies to France to deliver a message. She discovers that her lover has gone missing and resolves to stick around German-occupied France to try to help him. While in France she meets French folks involved in the Resistance and joins forces with them. There are sub-plots, some heart-heartwrenching, some horrifying, others boring.

The end of the book was much more interesting and kept my attention, but come on, it took me nearly two years to read this book. I don’t think I will be reading another book by Faulks, at least not until I am done with this project.

Stats: 401 pages (paperback and Kindle version). Started June 2015. Finished March 18, 2017.



RAS 3: The Book of Ruth — Jane Hamilton

I couldn’t tell you where this book came from. I am sure it was not new when I got it — I probably picked it up from a used book store after reading and liking Jane Hamilton‘s second book, A Map of the World.

What I liked most about the extremely depressing A Map of the World was that it took place in Wisconsin. While I don’t know the area of Wisconsin in which this book took place, the fact that it was in Wisconsin made me happy, despite the subject matter.

The Book of Ruth is also depressing, but very well-written and the story is engrossing. The Book of Ruth takes place in Honey Creek a (made-up) small town in Northern Illinois on the border of Wisconsin.

Honey Creek is way up in the very north of Illinois. If you lean over the Abendroths’ back fence your torso is in Wisconsin.

I tried to plot where the town could be by clues in the story.

  • Borders Wisconsin
  • 40 miles from DeKalb
  • Rockford is closest big city

I figured it was somewhere near Harvard, Illinois. I have probably been there. Dean was there just last week. Ruth’s Aunt Sid (from the book) lives in DeKalb — where I went to college and near where Dean’s brother lives.

The Book of Ruth centers on young Ruth, the daughter of a bitter, likely depressed, woman named May and an absent father named Elmer. Ruth has a brother, Matt, who is brilliant and who eventually escapes to MIT. Ruth marries a local man, Ruby, who may or may not be developmentally delayed. The book is about dysfunctional families living in poverty and what they do to survive.

I’ll continue reading Jane Hamilton (happily she’s written at least two more books) but will wait a while in case her other stories are as depressing as A Map of the World (social ostracization) and The Book of Ruth (poverty, depression).

Stats 298 pages. Started June 14. Finished June 26.

RAS 2: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin — Benjamin Franklin

A fair number of years ago I bought a set of books at a library sale in Minocqua, Wisconsin. I was with my sister-in-law, Jill, and she claims I paid more for the set than I thought. No matter, it was a collection of well-known dead authors and to me it was a bargain.

Not that I read any of the books which eventually found their way to the top self of the living room, then to a box in the attic. One book, however, remained on the top self. It was a pure accident.

I never expected to read Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography. I am not very much into history — especially American history — so had no interest in reading this. However, I figured I would give it a try.

Franklin was quite ambitious as a teenager and beyond. In his early adulthood he embarked on a sort of self-actualization quest trying to better himself in 12 steps (virtues):

  1. Temperance – eat not to dullness; drink not to elation.
  2. Silence – Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
  3. Order – Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
  4. Resolution – Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
  5. Frugality – Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; that is, wast nothing.
  6. Industry – Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
  7. Sincerity – Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly; speak accordingly.
  8. Justice – Wrong none by doing injuries; or omitting the benefits of your duty.
  9. Moderation – Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
  10. Cleanliness – Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.
  11. Tranquility – Be not disturbed at trifles or at accidents common or unavoidable.
  12. Chastity – Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.

I learned a few things about American history that was otherwise elusive to me. For instance, I never quite understood who General Braddock was, even though we lived for years near one of his abandoned cannons. I knew he was a British soldier, so why would Franklin want to help him obtain horses and carts? It was the French and Indian War which was before the Revolutionary war so we were not necessarily enemies of the British at that time, although it seemed much of the colonies were a bit passive aggressive. I didn’t know that!

I was surprised that the book was as readable as it was. Benjamin Franklin was interesting and had a captivating way of writing.

That’s not to say that it was not incredibly boring in parts. Lots of parts. I basically skimmed the end of the book.

I cheated on this book. I turned every page, but did not read every word.

This 200 page book took me many weeks to read. Hopefully the next book won’t take that long.

Stats 200 or so pages. Started May 12. Finished June 14.

RAS 1: Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons — Lorna Landvik

I finished my first Read a Shelf (hereafter to be known as RAS) book at around 3 in the morning. I started it Friday, the day I wrote the blog post.

Angry Housewives Eating Bon bonsI bought Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons at a Barnes and Noble many years ago probably because I was angry about something and because it was about a book group. I’d been thinking about trying my hand at writing a book about a book group so I wanted to see what my competition was like. It was also 20% off, according to a big red sticker that was still on the book when I began reading it on Friday I had the book on my “to read” shelf for a long time and eventually it found itself to my, “heck, I’ll never get to that shelf” shelf. The book is so old it is browning around the edges.

I think I avoided reading it because of the word “bon bons” in the title. Also I was watching Desperate Housewives at the same time and maybe I figured too many angry and desperate housewives might make me the same. (although I was working part time — it was from home).

So about the book. It was good. I was completely caught up in the lives of Kari, Faith, Audrey, Merit and Slip. Ms Landvik fleshed out their characters very well. Not so much the males in the book; except for a neighbor, Grant, and Faith’s son Beau, males were more or less one-sided, which makes sense, in a way. And the “bon bons” made sense after one of the husbands remarked that he thought the book group was just a bunch of angry housewives sitting around eating bon bons. The women liked that so much they called themselves AHEB.

The book mentioned three places with which I am very familiar, which I found interesting and put a smile on my face.

  • One of the AHEB’s daughters attends Oberlin College (where my son goes and a place I adore).
  • At a wedding reception in Washington, DC another AHEB shares a table with a developer who claims to have built most of the houses in Bethesda (where I live).
  • Finally one of the children of a third AHEB ends up living in Eau Claire, Wisconsin (a town just south of Chetek — when we got to Eau Claire we knew we were nearly at Grandma and Grandpa’s house).

The book was predictable, but that’s okay. I don’t really mind guessing what is going to happen in a story I am reading. The only complaint I have about the book is the author’s use of clichés and slang when unnecessary. Yes, the book began in 1968 but the only slang that should have been used is in conversation, not narrative. I admit this is a pet peeve of mine — and maybe it is something I need to get over.

Stats: 404 pages (paperback). Started May 8, finished May 12, 2015.