Reader's Exchange

May 2010 - Posts

Sense and Similarities

Certain phrases always catch my eye as I'm scanning book reviews: "debut author", "projected series", "only die-hard fans", "shortlisted", for example. This spring, "beach read" has been much in evidence.

That's a loaded term, isn't it? Sure, it conjures visions of striped tote bags with paperbacks spilling out onto the sand (promising ample time to soak up a good story), but it also denotes a certain lightness in, er, intellectual content. Problem?  Not for me; I maintain that some well-crafted froth is essential for a happy reading life.  Besides, "light" and "clever" are not mutually exclusive terms. The only truly unfortunate application of the BR label that I can envision is this scenario: you're an author, you've poured months of your life into a novel that is eagerly received as a beach read--only you didn't think that's what you were writing. Ouch!

Cathleen Schine needn't worry. Her latest, The Three Weissmanns of Westport, captures the BR spirit with its endearing family dynamics, but its homage-to-the-classic structure and sprightly dialogue deserve extra points for literary appeal.

English cottageSee if this sounds familiar: elderly patriarch exits, thus depriving mother and two daughters access to his financial assets. Decamping to free lodgings offered by a cousin with an expansive personality, the three women resort to a life of reduced circumstances in--that's right--a cottage. Did I mention that one sister is impulsive, while the other counterbalances that rashness with decorum and grace?  Retaining Austen's essence--the sense of devotion to ideals underscored with a witty wariness--Schine updates the script with daytime TV actors, commuting, Palm Beach, and Central Park West.

Guess the outcome if you wish, but be prepared to remain, along with Betty, Miranda, and Annie, happily involved and alive to all the possibilities.

Poolside books: the other economic indicator

Our vacation is just winding down.  During this time, my husband and I have been hauling around two sorts of baggage.  There's the bulky but uncomplicated variety encompassing scuba equipment (his) and heels for Formal Night (mine), also the cumbersome should-we-be-taking-a-vacation-in-this-economy? stigma.

Everyone knows that this season is a buyer's market for cruises and other vacation packages, so why have we felt compelled to extol the fabulousness of the cruise deal we found, rehearsing the fact that "you couldn't get entertainment, transportation, and food for this price anywhere else", blah, blah?  Our friends and co-workers are aware that we both work for nonprofit entities and further know that we're too cheap to pay any interest on our one credit card, so obviously this trip was a bargain.  

Apparently, our fellow vacationers also remain mindful of the economy (except, possibly, the folks with the balconied suites overlooking prime cruising vistas).  The subject arose frequently over dinner, and not just because it's a safe but guaranteed conversation starter for a group of strangers.  Further evidence of concern was detected by my anecdotal and highly unscientific survey: Data for Reading Inventoried at Poolside (DRIP).Sand dollars

I adopted a simple but foolproof data collection method:  I asked my husband to help me keep an eye out for book titles/authors observed at poolside.  (A book chosen for noisy and distracting aquatic venues is, I feel, particularly reflective of the reader's interests.)  You can probably guess what we observed during the exhaustive ten-minute canvass: lots of the usual suspects.  James Patterson, Daniel Silva, Nora Roberts, Danielle Steel, Lynsay Sands, Charlaine Harris, Eckhart Tolle, and other heavy hitters were much in evidence.  A bit of variety was provided by my husband's choice--my copy of Ann Patchett's Bel Canto--and my own pick, Jacqueline Winspear's Birds of a Feather.

This part was interesting, however: while these books were all (unsurprisingly) paperbacks, in no case did they represent the author's most recent title available in paperback.  Contrary to the trend I've seen previously, backlists were the order of the day, suggesting that more folks are now doing as we do--planning way ahead to ensure a plentiful, low-cost, low-risk vacation library.  Each selection must meet these guidelines:

  • It's gotta be cheap: copies for which you spend $2.00 or less don't upset you when an on-flight beverage or chlorine splash engulfs them.
  • Current bestsellers are out--too expensive for travel.  Besides, choosing something not on the top ten list requires more imagination.
  • It's gotta look good.  Even when I'm rummaging through a garage sale box or a clearance bin, I demand smooth pages, stainless condition, and a pretty cover.  Call me shallow.

For this journey, I purchased our supply from Half Price Books' clearance section and the Friends of the Round Rock Public Library book sale.  I knew that I'd collected an acceptable number when my daughter inquired whether I planned to do anything besides read the entire week.

Like us, our fellow vacationers are finding small but numerous ways to economize.  And, because everyone is affected in one way or another, it's helpful to buy even bargain books on home turf in order to support libraries and local vendors.  One last tip:  did you know that, if you contract one of those nasty shipboard viruses and are quarantined to your cabin, your cruise line will probably offer to give you a prorated credit for that time?  Don't ask why I know that. 

Vintage is the new old

Because three co-workers and I celebrate a "palindrome birthday" this year, we decided to be thrilled about the milestone and splash out with a dessert buffet.  Amid the crumbs and frosting, one colleague declared that none of us look our age.  Our library staff is noted for the qualities demonstrated by that observation; I refer of course to accuracy and acute perception.

Are the others equally startled to discover fragments (I refuse to call them "artifacts") from our childhoods in antique stores?  Bubble-coiffed Barbies, princess phones, and carrying-cased typewriters and turntables may have morphed into sleeker iterations, but they retain their charm.  The era that inspired these products also begat McDonald's, Disneyland, and the microwave oven--evidence that the 1950s still shape our lives.

50s memorabilia may be "vintage" in the shops, but it's historical fiction here in the library.  It's also a mini-trend in recent/forthcoming fiction, with themes to intrigue natives of any decade.

Sandra Kring's How High the Moon (on the library's May order list) registered first on the mid-century radar.  Featuring a precocious 10-year-old narrator, the story's small-town 1955 setting may enchant you--that is, if you consider find the term "irrepressible" a hook rather than a caution.

Gwen Kirkwood's Dreams of Home and A Home of Our Own, set in 1950s Scotland, should also arrive at the library late this month.  Beginning with Dreams, you can follow the postwar lives of Meg and Steven in the days when food was still rationed and a mass viewing of the Queen's coronation on TV highlighted the social season.

Colm Toibin's Brooklyn portrays the early 1950s from both sides of the Atlantic--Ireland and New York.  Though characterization is the true star of this novel, period details are infused seamlessly and to wonderful effect. 

I haven't gotten my hands on the library copy of Olga Grushin's The Line yet.  The story was suggested by an actual event, Igor Stravinsky's return to Russia for one concert.  The queue for tickets reportedly formed a year in advance, and Grushin mines the possibilities of the resulting interest group (one critic termed it a "microsociety") to create suspense and unique social interaction. 

Stravinsky's concert was actually announced in 1962, but The Line is still appropriate for today's focus.  None of us birthday folks recall much before the Sixties anyway!  Confronted with wavy B&W images of classic 50s kids' programming, no one even recognized Howdy Doody.

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