A name

July 10, 2012

Charlie Beale had his reasons, but he kept them to himself, the way he did everything else. There was a reason, though, and he knew it in his heart. A reason to build an empire, to make an impression. The reason had a name, and that name, ever since that first day in the butcher shop when she walked into his life in a white linen dress, the reason his travels almost always took him by her house, that name was Sylvan Glass.

He heard her name everywhere. He heard it in the rustle of the trees outside his bedroom window while he slept. He heard it in the ripples of the creeks on his land, in the swish of his tires on the asphalt. He felt it as a sweetness on his skin, a freshness of the air he breathed, a blessing in the sheets that wrapped around his body at night.

Heading Out to Wonderful, page 109

I read Robert Goolrick’s other book, A Reliable Wife, in 2010, and it took me quite awhile to decide how I felt about it. But clearly, it — or at least its author — made an impression; I read an excerpt from Heading Out to Wonderful in the Algonquin Sampler several months ago, and I immediately added it to my library holds queue, before it even came out. (I was first in line, and can I just tell you — there’s something magical about being the first person to check out a new book from the library.)

Some authors compose three page-long paragraphs to describe the landscape of their story, the backdrop almost personified. And there’s something exquisite and lovely to that, to have the sense that the author knew this place so intimately that he could walk you through every inch in highly specific detail. But then you have authors like Goolrick, to whom the landscape has equal importance, who so clearly inhabit the world of the book, but who choose to bring that world to vivid, luminescent life through artful, delicate impression. It’s the difference between John Smybert and Claude Monet. For me, the latter is more effective — either because it engages the reader in the creation of the book’s expression, or because I interact with the world through an intuitive lens, or perhaps both.

Like many great authors, Goolrick blurs the line between fantasy and reality. You’re never entirely certain where that line is, and that’s what makes it work so well. Don’t let the cover description of this book as “erotically charged” scare you off; this is certainly not a crude or overly explicit book, and there’s a depth to the work that transcends any one aspect of the story.

The one enduring reality

June 20, 2012

I was shaken by what I suddenly knew: If I live to be very old, all my memories of the glory days will grow vague and confused, till I won’t be certain any of it really happened. But the books will be there, on my shelves and in my head — the one enduring reality I can be certain of till the day I die.

Q’s Legacy, page 177

Last year, a good friend loaned me a copy of 84, Charing Cross Road, and it proceeded to sit on my bookshelf for far too long (half a year? longer?) before I picked it up to read. It’s a small, unassuming book, and I am constantly inundated by library books that are always coming up for return before I can finish them. But I finally pulled it off the shelf, and I was instantly filled with remorse. Why did I wait so long to read this charming little collection of letters? It was over in two sittings, and I wished Helene and Frank had more letters to share with me, more of themselves and their lives to impress on me.

Frank merely worked in a bookshop, and thus didn’t write anything else for me to devour, but Helene wrote a couple of other books, and I was especially interested in her memoir, Q’s Legacy. When that one arrived at the library, I started reading it immediately, and I’m so glad I did. It reads like a love story to books and to London, and if you love either, you’ll be enchanted. I highly recommend both of these books, in the order I read them, and look forward to reading the rest of Hanff’s works in the months and years to come.

Leaves like human voices

May 3, 2012

All at once the sound of children singing in the monastery stopped them in their tracks. The voices calmed Tin Win. As if someone were stroking his face and his belly, soothing him. He stood frozen, listening. The soft rustling of leaves intermingled with the voices. It was more than a simple rustling, though. Tin Win realized that leaves, like human voices, each had their own characteristic timbre. Just as with colors, there were shades of rustling. He heard thin twigs rubbing together and leaves brushing against one another. He heard individual leaves dropping lightly to the ground in front of him. Even as they drifted through the air, he noticed that no two leaves sounded alike.

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, page 116

When I was halfway into this beautiful book, I flipped to the opening pages to check the publication date and was shocked to see that it was published 10 years ago and translated into English six years ago. Why haven’t I heard of this book before? Why isn’t everyone reading it?

In poignant yet accessible prose, Jan Philipp Sendker draws a portrait of the contrast between Western and Eastern thought through a modern-day fairytale. The only words that come to mind for this book are lovely and beautiful. I read it in only a few sittings, barely able to put it down. It felt like my reward after persevering through The Paris Wife (which I wish I could recommend but cannot as it somehow, inexplicably, makes Hemmingway in Paris in the ’20s boring). I’ve read so many great books this year that it’s hard to say where it ranks in comparison, but I found it delightful and hope you do too.