All right, all right. It’s part of my blog name and about as general as a post title could be. But one of the things I’ve accomplished in my few days “off” (I still wrote a few pages) was that I actually finished reading two books and made great inroads on a third.
The first one was Caroline Leavitt’s Pictures of You. Caroline wrote a fabulous guest blog for me. She’s one of those writers of whom I am in awe. It’s not just her technical ability and commitment to her work. It’s the way she manages to write something exceptional and literary and keep me turning the pages. I stayed up way late just to finish her book.
When I stand back from it, I’m left with a complex web of relationships that feel neither forced nor superficial. I have lived with the characters through their tragedies and triumphs, and feel, in the end, every searing ambivalence that has led them all to the altered states in which they find themselves.
One of the principal characters, the young boy named Sam, has severe asthma. I know it’s hot and airless right now, but I’m certain there’s more than that behind my vivid, frightening dream last night that I simply couldn’t breathe. The images Caroline used—breathing through a straw; lungs crushed in on themselves etc.—were so powerful that I feel grateful every time I take a deep, full breath. And the misunderstandings, miscommunications, secrets, lies—the book is life, distilled, reordered, mirrored and wrung out.
I’m haunted by this book and will be for a long time.
The other book I finished was an e-book, which I read entirely on my iPhone. The Sixteen Pleasures, by Robert Hellenga. This, too, was an engrossing, absorbing book. It was a tremendous feat of craft as well. Where Leavitt gives us a convincing and poignant little boy suffering a tragic loss, Hellenga manages to inhabit the mind of a young woman searching for something to add meaning to her life, and takes us on a vivid journey to Florence after the flood that nearly destroyed countless priceless works of art and literature.
I was particularly fascinated by his choice to tell the male protagonist’s story in the third person and the female in the first. I’m not put off by multiple points of view, but they do have to be handled skillfully. No disappointment here. Especially since the distancing achieved by the close third person narrative serves as a metaphor for the core of the character, who remains ultimately inaccessible.
Hellenga also dances around the issues of religion and the choice to leave the world and remain in a cloistered community of women. Frankly, he made it sound pretty appealing…
Both of these books are well worth the time to read them. They are twining around each other in my brain, the sensitive, elusive humanity they both portray giving me plenty to think about as I work on my own writing.
Finally, I’m well into an ARC of Matched by Ally Condie. I’ll report on it when I finish, but it’s one of those books that in its quiet way disturbs the very foundation of one’s world view. Chilling and wonderful.
And that’s what I love about reading. It’s such a personal experience that you share with characters who are—if the novel is good—only partly the invention of the author. They come to life in your mind, becoming as much a part of you as the flesh and blood people in your life.