Eagerly Anticipating German Lit Month V

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Lizzy and Caroline have announced the arrival of German Lit Month V this November. I saw Stu‘s possible list on Twitter last night, and of course couldn’t sleep until I’d come up with at least a few titles of my own. Reading Buddenbrooks last year was one of the highlights of 2014 for me, yet another time when the blogging world has enriched my reading life.

As my world revolves so heavily around children, for a few more years anyway, I want to revisit Heidi. I haven’t read it since I was a child, and I’m wondering how it would effect the children of today. (They adored Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio when I read it a few year’s ago, much more than the Disney film to my great relief. I also have enjoyed the books by Cornelia Funke such as The Thief Lord as well as Inkheart. I would love to carry on toward Inkspell and Inkdeath.

An adult book seems appropriate, too. Tom of Wuthering Expectations, mentioned Effi Briest to me long ago which I immediately downloaded on my kindle. This would be a good time to read it. Even Death in Venice has been patiently waiting on the kindle. So many books, so many temptations.

German Lit MonthWill you be joining in?

In Anticipation of the BBC National Short Story Award

bbcnssa_2015_logo_webI almost loved my drive to work this morning. I spent thirty minutes in my car, amidst traffic which largely consists of trucks bearing down full speed on my little red Beetle, oblivious to the stress around me as I listened to “Briar Road” by Jonathan Buckley.

It is a marvelous story, narrated by a clairvoyant who has come to help a family deal with the disappearance of their daughter. The suspense is palpable, the tension exquisite. But, I have to listen to the other four to see which will become my favorite.

The short list includes these five stories:

  • ‘Briar Road’ by Jonathan Buckley – A psychic investigates the case of a missing teenager.
  • ‘Bunny’ by Mark Haddon – A morbidly obese young man makes an unlikely friend as his world shrinks around him.
  • ‘Broderie Anglaise’ by Frances Leviston – A tale of tensions between a mother and a daughter.
  • ‘The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher’ by Hilary Mantel – An intruder hovers at a window hoping to catch a shot at Margaret Thatcher.
  • ‘Do It Now, Jump The Table’ by Jeremy Page – A young man meets his girlfriend’s parents for the first time – not knowing that they are nudists.

Booktrust says, “Interviews with each of the shortlisted writers will be broadcast over five weekdays on Front Row at 7.15pm from Friday 18 to Thursday 24 September 2015. Each writer’s story will be then be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 3.30pm on the following working day, from Monday 21 to Friday 25 September 2015Each story will also be available as a free download from the day of broadcast for 30 days.”

2015 short listSo, won’t you join me in listening to each story to determine your favorite? Here is the guide to each scheduled story. The winner will be announced October 6, so that gives us plenty of time to listen to them all.

Sunday Salon and A Flurry of Books In The Mail (Several of Which Include a Future Give-Away)








I have been so busy reading for the Man Booker Prize I’ve practically forgotten that other books are waiting to be read. And while reading for the Booker was extraordinarily interesting, it was also emotionally exhausting; the often heavy subject matter within those novels became quite a weight when combined with personal stress and the start of school. But now, look! Did you see The Secret Chord from Geraldine Brooks?! I’m so excited to begin her latest novel about the life of King David. (Viking tells me I can offer a copy as a give away with my review, too.)

Peirene Press sent me The Looking Glass Sisters, part of their Chance Encounter: Meeting The Other series, a “tragic love story about two sisters who cannot live with or without each other.”

SoHo Press sent His Right Hand, which Anne Perry describes as “A fast-moving crime story…Deep social and moral issues dealt with, and made real with compassion and honesty. I couldn’t out it down!”

The Mystery of The Lost Cezanne, from Penguin, continues the wonderful series by M. L. Longworth, with Antoine Veralaque and Marine Bonnet as investigators. You may remember how much I enjoyed Murder on the Ile Surdou this summer, not only for the mystery but for the wonderful menus and ambiance of Aix en Provence. (Look for a give-away to come with this novel, too.)

Although I own A Russian Concubine, it resides with so many books as yet unread, but still I look forward to Kate Furnivall’s The Italian Wife, set in Mussolini’s Italy.

I did not accomplish my goal of reading Emma for Roofbeam Reader’s Austen in August Challenge, instead I was swept up in plowing through the Booker long list. But, with the arrival of the 200th Annotated Anniversary edition of Emma, sent by Penguin, I am offered a second chance. This edition provides an introduction to the importance of the novel to Austen’s career, as well as original contextual essays. “Additional features include tips for reading, a glossary of eighteenth century usage, maps if Austen’s England  suggestions for further reading and illustrations from early editions of Emma…” (Another give-away opportunity to come.)

Finally, there is Bats of the Republic, An Illuminated Novel, by Zachary Thomas Dodson, which “offers a breathtaking tale of epic adventure and perilous heartbreak across multiple generations in a single family of restless and reckless explorers and wanderers. Presented in a stunningly designed package featuring hand-sketched maps, futuristic drawings, a nineteenth century novel-within-a-novel…complete with an actual sealed envelope integral to the plot’s climatic resolution.”

As if those aren’t enough, I’m also going to read The Quick along with others at the Estella Society. They probably began yesterday, although I am beginning today, with a check in at the midway point on October 12. I can’t commit to the entire R.I.P. X, as I have in previous years, but one can’t help not welcoming autumn with such atmospheric reads.



Initially reluctantly, perhaps, but now joyfully, I joined in the group of techies who are holding an iPhone 6 plus (inside its book-like leather cover to the right of my Italian journal). It baffles my family, both parents and husband, as to why I can be so enamored by technological gadgets, but I confess to that truth. I have two Nooks, one Kindle paperwhite, an iPad mini and now an iPhone 6 plus. Each one is so fun. They will never replace my passion for true pages, the scent of a leather binding, or the  gold leaf edges of my Bible(s). But, they bring a certain contentment and ease into my life which is irreplaceable. Not to mention necessary to those as young as my third graders.

The (Wo)Man Shadow Jury Comes to a Decision

Frances, Teresa, Rebecca, Nicole and I comprised the Shadow Jury for the (Wo)Man Booker Prize. They did a more thorough job than I of reading the long list before the short list is officially announced on Tuesday, September 15. Both Frances and Teresa read all 13 of the books. I know that Rebecca read at least 11. Here is the list of top six books agreed upon by the five shadow jury members:

Did You Ever Have A Family? by Bill Clegg

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

The Year of The Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota

Sleeping on Jupiter by Anuradha Roy

Satin Island by Tom McCarthy

Lila by Marilynne Robinson

The inclusion of Did You Ever Have A Family? was unanimous, and all who had read A Brief History of Seven Killings highly favored it. Indeed, as I read more and more of it now, I can see what a fine work it is.

How fun it will be to see the official short list on Tuesday. To compare my thoughts, and my fellow Shadow Jury’s thoughts, with the judges’ decision.

My Personal List for the (Wo)Man Booker Shadow Panel Prize


Yesterday, amidst all my Saturday chores (making meatballs and homemade tomato sauce for dinner, cleaning the house, folding the laundry, putting on an indulgent pout because I just wanted to read), there were a flurry of emails between the Wo-Man Booker shadow panel and myself. Feelings were strong, but as I was only able to read 8 of the 13 books listed on the long list, I acquiesed to those who have read all of the long list. The official shadow jury’s list will be shared tomorrow.

For today, let me share my top three from the eight that I have read:

Number 1, and the book that I think will take the Booker for 2015, is A Little Life. Some have said that the judges for the Booker do not choose long books to win, but when I look at last year’s winner, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, and the year before, The Luminaries, I have to disagree. Yet, length is not really the point. I have to choose A Little Life because of the sheer power of emotion is able to evoke.

Number 2 for me is Sleeping on Jupiter. The writing in this novel is exquisite, and the story of courage in one young woman against her cruel, and evil, circumstances moved me greatly.

Number 3 is Did You Ever Have A Family? The way that Bill Clegg offered his story from multiple perspectives is brilliant. He brought each character to life; he told of adversity in the extreme without leaving us hopeless.

None of the others struck me as powerful enough to be on the list, although let met say I have not yet read Lila or A Brief History of Seven Killings (see yesterday’s post) which seem like they will need to be added to my top three. I have begun A Brief History of Seven Killings and cannot put it down. I thought A Spool of Blue ThreadThe Illuminations, and even The Green Road, fine books. Just not fine enough to win the Booker. And, Satin Island I loathed! I could not connect with that novel in any way; even though initially I enjoyed his sarcastic tone, it quickly became overbearing, and worse, meaningless.

Tomorrow, find the official list of the Shadow Jury Panel. Meanwhile, I will continue with the books I have not yet read before the Man Booker Prize is listed October 13.

But I’ve Been Away for Hours and Hours


Lucy ran out of the empty room into the passage and found the other three.

“It’s all right,” she repeated, “I’ve come back.”

“What on earth are you talking about, Lucy?” asked Susan.

“Why?” said Lucy in amazement, “haven’t you all been wondering where I was?”

“So you’ve been hiding, have you?” said Peter. “Poor old Lu, hiding and nobody noticed! You’ll have to hide longer than that if you want people to start looking for you.”

“But I’ve been away for hours and hours,” said Lucy.

The others all stared at one another.

“Batty!” said Edumund tapping his head. “Quite batty.”

“What do you mean, Lu?” asked Peter.

“What I said,” answered Lucy. “It was just after breakfast when I went into the wardrobe, and I’ve been away for hours and hours, and had tea, and all sorts of things have happened.” ~The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, Chapter 3

I feel like Lucy. I feel like I’ve been gone for hours and hours, and had tea, and all sorts of things have happened since I spent the summer on the couch in a Vicodin haze praying that a small surgery would eventually turn out all right.

I’ve begun teaching a new school year, for one thing.

And listened to a message from my husband during a small pause on Institute Day to say that he was in the ER with our son. It’s strange how one car accident can have a domino effect on stress, on finding out layer after layer of things that need to be resolved.

My son is okay, and that of course, is the main thing. But, he has no car. We have court and insurance and lawyers and lots of residual to take care of.

I’ve had 90+ degree days with no interruption in which I’m teaching over the whir of three fans as our elementary buildings have no air conditioner. It’s a strange thing in the 21st century, in a suburb of Chicago, to teach over endless white noise. I didn’t quite realize the racket until the children had gone, and I turned them off to go home.

Needless to say, I haven’t been blogging. Or, commenting. I’ve been trying to manage each new day with grace, and truthfully, it was a relief to leave the computer mostly unplugged.

I sat with my stack of books long listed for the Man Booker Prize and tried to read as many as my concentration would allow. But, did you ever notice how novels that are listed for prizes often contain life’s hardest moments? It felt like no issue was left unturned, from poverty to abandonment, divorce to death, everything heavy and hurtful has been included in these books.

It was good to read Tana French’s The Likeness for something light.

Now I’m ready to come back. I’m ready to visit you again. See what you’ve been up to. Comment on posts you’ve written about life, the books you’ve read. I’m ready to return from the wardrobe in which I’ve been hidden to rejoin the rest of you.

I hope you’ve been fine.

Did You Ever Have A Family? (Book 7 for the (Wo)Man Booker Prize)


Another book about family in the long list for the Booker. But, Did You Ever Have a Family? stands out as especially piercing. I thought I would be too vulnerable to read it, for the pain I’ve experienced in my life over losing my first husband; for the pain I’m enduring now while trying to help my son through a particularly rough patch in his life. That isn’t the case. Instead, I am fortified by the reminder that no family is perfect, and, in fact, many suffer. I’m strengthened by the story of June, the only surviving member of her family after they are lost in an explosion from the faulty stove.

“For most of that night I was awake, wondering at it all, the pattern that seemed to emerge when I laid out every fluke and chance encounter, puzzling through all the possible signs and meanings; but any trace of a design disintegrated when I remembered the chaos and brutality of the world, the genocide and the natural disasters, all the agony. I never felt so small, so humbled by the vastness of the universe and the fragility of life.” (p. 113)

I have lain awake like that, reviewing words said and deeds done, going back over them as if there were any chance they could be redone. That there could be a different outcome. The futility amazes me.

Did You Ever Have a Family? is not a futile story, though. Clegg offers us hope and forgiveness. Through our suffering we may be able to help others. Through that premise, our pain can be worked for good, which is such a redeeming factor.


Now off to read The Chimes by Anna Smaill. You can follow the Shadow Jury, if you choose, at #ShadowWoManBooker. The Man Booker short list is to be announced on Tuesday, September 15, for which I am already forming my top three favorites.


Satin Island by Tom McCarthy (Book 6 for the (Wo)Man Booker Prize)


Frances loved it.

I could barely finish it.

While I found McCarthy’s style initially resembling the satire and wit of Edward St. Aubyn, I quickly tired of his pedantic prose. Oil spills, conglomerates, parachuters who die because their strings have become unattached, all the metaphors for business as usual in a world gone awry. For me, what could have been endlessly fascinating fizzled to a firecracker which wouldn’t explode.

And now I’m reading The Chimes, a book with beautiful, melodic phrasing. So far.

You can follow our progress at #ShadowWoManBooker should you choose.

The Illuminations by Andrew O’Hagan (Book 5 for the (Wo)Man Booker Prize)


Another book about family. Written beautifully, to be sure, but like Anne Enright’s The Green Road, not worthy of the Booker.

An old woman named Anne, suffering from dementia and the loss of her life long love, Harry. She speaks to a rabbit, who isn’t real, and heats up tins of soup for him in the microwave.

Her grandson, Luke, who is a Captain with his troop in Afghanistan, led by the Major into a wedding feast which goes horribly wrong.

Her daughter, Alice, an aloof woman with some validity to her attitude as we come to find out at the conclusion of the novel.

The illuminations refer to more than the beautiful lights in Blackpool. They also refer to how we discover who we are, often with great pain. They refer to the peeling back of shadows under which we live our life in apparent illusion.

I like the concentric circles on the cover. I like how they indicate that we come from a core which is our family, imperfect at best. I liked this book. But, I didn’t love it. (Quite possibly nothing after A Little Life will be able to affect me in such a powerful way.)

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (Book 4 for the (Wo)Man Booker Prize)


And it wasn’t until a few weeks after that that I was able to open the letter he had left us on his table. I hadn’t been able to bear it earlier; I wasn’t sure I would be able to bear it now. But I did. It was eight pages long, and typed, and it was a confession: of Brother Luke, and Dr. Traylor, and what had happened to him. It took us several days to read, because although it was brief, it was also endless, and we had to keep putting the pages down and walking away from them, and then bracing each other–Ready?–and sitting down and reading some more. (p. 717)

If you asked me where I’ve been the last twelve days, I would tell you that I have been wrapping my mind around a new school year. Preparing for the twenty-eight children who will walk into my classroom next week. And I have been reading A Little Life in bits and pieces, as much as I can bear until I must set it down again, for it is the most tragic book I have ever read.

I thought that last year’s winner of the Man Booker Prize, The Narrow Road to The Deep North, by Richard Flanagan, was tragic. It is a deeply moving book about atrocities committed to men during war. But, A Little Life is even more moving, about the atrocities committed to an abandoned boy during childhood.

With each page that I read, I wondered how I could continue, and indeed I could not had Hanya Yanagihara not offset the story with hope offered by those few who knew how to love unconditionally. Their love to Jude was deep, and loyal, and faithful. But how can it overcome the damage which the evil from his childhood had done to him?

It is late tonight, for me. I am exhausted from the emotions which this novel wrung from where they had long been tucked away, for it uncovered many fears I unwillingly hold tight.

A Little Life is a book I have long avoided. The cover alone made me turn from picking it up when reviews starting popping up upon its publication. I did not know how I could bear the story contained within such a painful image. I still don’t know how to bear it. But, turning aside does not allow us to face that which frightens us. In fact, some of the very best literature is that which causes us to confront fear and sorrow within our lives, while remembering the good that has been offered.

That is what Hanya Yanagihara has done brilliantly. That is what makes me ultimately glad that I have read this novel through the tears it made me weep.

(Find thoughts from other (Wo)Man Booker shadow members here: Shelf Love, Of Books and Bicycles.