Dory L.'s blog

Paris: a Love Story

The defining moment of Kati Marton's life occurred when she was six and the police came for her mother during the Hungarian Revolution. Her mother was imprisoned for a year, joining her father in prison. The authorities forced Marton and her sister to move in with strangers. Before that their lives had been blessed especially by Communist Hungary standards. Kati's parents had hired a French nanny and she learned to speak French as a child.

If you love Paris or even if you are just curious about life in the famous city, this memoir makes a good read. I wasn't familiar with Kati Marton's books or journalism - she worked as a foreign correspondent for ABC news and NPR - so this memoir made a nice introduction to her work.  

Marton was one of the first women to be hired as an international corresponded for ABC.  She met Peter Jennings in London before beginning her post to German in the 1970s. They fell in love and began an international romance that was mostly centered in Paris. But before that Kati had studied abroad in the city of light during the momentous year of 1968. She came from the States where her parents had emigrated after leaving prison.

   

The Man on the Third Floor

I journeyed back into the 1950s with this novel about a closeted gay editor. It's all here: the strong prejudice against homosexuality, the gender stereotyping, the cold war, the loyalty oaths, friend turning against friend and colleague against colleague. Some accused Communists leap out high-rise windows when their livelihoods are destroyed.

But McCarthyism is just a side issue in this intriguing novel - The Man on the Third Floor centers on a very successful editor who has a secret domestic life. When he and his wife, Phyllis, and their two young children move back to New York after the World War II years in Washington, Phyllis decides they can afford a house of their own. They finds a nice brownstone with three floors, the top of which was originally servant quarters. But Phyllis is a modern woman, college-educated who worked in radio and journalism until she had children, and she's not keen on having servants live with them. 

But one day, a very handsome man comes to measure Walter's office for new carpeting.  Although Walter has had only one sexual experience with another male in his life--he was raped at camp as a teenager--he immediately finds himself inviting Barry, the carpet man, to a bar. Almost immediately, he offers him a job as a driver despite the fact the family owns no car, and soon gives him a room on their third floor. For some reason, Phyllis agrees to both ideas.

   
Family    Fiction    LGBTQ+   

Flight Behavior

This novel is the first that I've read that tackles the problem of climate change head-on. An environmental tragedy in Mexico has forced most of the continent's monarch butterflies to find a new winter habitat. Flight Behavior also narrates the story of a young woman, Dellarobbia, who lives on a hard-scrabble farm in Appalachia. She's herded in by a strict mother-in-law, Hester, and even more so by the family's poverty. One day she decides to risk her marriage by having a tryst on the family's mountaintop with a telephone lineman named Jimmy.

After hiking up the mountain, Dellarobbia sees through the fog (despite her severe myopia) that the hills and trees are on fire: hundreds of monarch butterflies have nestled there. The young woman abandons her plan for an affair and returns to her mother-in-law's to pick up her two young kids, Preston and Cordelia.

Dellarobbia's history affects many pieces of the narrative: she's lost both her parents when she was young, got pregnant as a senior in high school, and married Cub to do "the right thing." Then she suffered a miscarriage and it took many years for her to have a child.

   
Fiction   
Reviews   

Marilyn & Me: A Photographer's Memories

This slim memoir about one of the great stars of cinema is a quick and easy read. As you might guess, it provides some really fine images of the star that you might not have seen. Yet because of the book's small format, the photographs are not as big as you might hope.

The photographer, memoirist Lawrence Schiller, was only 23 years old when he first got the opportunity to photograph the actress. What I like especially in this book, is how he humanizes Marilyn, shows how uncertain she was, longing yet afraid to have a child; Schiller started his family over the couple year-span of the memoir and they often talked about his wife and family.

Marilyn & Me shows the actress to be incredibly smart.  Also, Schiller reveals her skills at conversation--when she was in the right mood--she could really draw people out. On the day she met the author, she discovered that he had blindness in one eye caused by a childhood accident. This fact she never forgot.

   

Library Staff Recommended Books for 2012

I love the long winter nights of December and January for reading. You can start a book at dusk, and if you're lucky and don't get distracted, finish it before bedtime. It's also a good time of year to discover new authors, subjects you've never investigated, and different formats. (Power up that e-reader!) Magazines, newspapers, and websites also offer their best book lists this time of year.

Librarians have the advantage of being able to browse the stacks and the new book section often. Frequently, they employ the magic of serendipity, accidently discovering that dynamic cover that draws one inside a book, or they notice a title on the cart they've seen reviewed, or find themselves staring at a never-read classic that's been on their lists for years. It's also a great place to overhear book gossip, "That's the best book I've read in months."

   

A Surrey State of Affairs

Because they seem so personal and individual, I'm attracted to novels written in blogs, diaries, and letters.  You really feel as though the writing comes directly from the blogger's heart. Ceci Radford's wonderful first novel A Surrey State of Affairs provides hundreds of delightful escapades while involving you with a cast of peculiar though mostly likeable characters.

Here's the plot in a nutshell: on the advice of Rupert, her IT consultant son, a middle-aged married suburbanite named Constance begins a blog where she tells of exciting and not-so-exciting events in her life. She doesn't work outside the home and has a surly eastern European housemaid named Natalie.  Constance's main hobbies are throwing dinner parties (including faux detective ones), visiting her Mom in a nursing home, and improving her skills as a competitive church bell ringer. (Who knew Brits even competed at this?)

Pretty soon, you discover that she is also heavily involved in matchmaking: the aforementioned son with the minister's daughter and also with a bell-ringer's child. Did anyone accidentally give out her son's address to a gentle stalker?

While Constance learns the nitty gritty of posting blogs, she entertains her husband's burly Russian guest who has nasty spats with Natalie, and then takes off with Sophie. Oh Sophie!  I failed to mention Constance's 18 year old surly daughter who is on her gap year counting fish in France but comes home often for non-talking visits with Mom.

   
Fiction   

Polar Wives: the Remarkable Women behind the World 's Most Daring Explorers

What a cool (pardon the pun) idea for a book.  We read so much about men who have conquered the poles or Everest but hardly anything about the women who have explored alongside them or have waited patiently at home. The author knows both how it feels to travel to remote places on dangerous missions and also the anxiety and deep worry that comes with being left at home--she's the daughter of two explorers, Wally and Marie Herbert. She conceived the idea for this book while camping with her father in a tent on a Greenlandic glacier thirty years ago.

Many of the famous arctic and Antarctic explorers' wives are featured here beginning with Lady Jane Franklin, the powerful and persistent lady that pushed for rescue expeditions to find her husband's ship. Also included are portraits of Jo Peary, Eleanor Anne Franklin, Eva Nansen, Marie Herbert (the author's mother), Emily Shackleton, and Kathleen Scott.

What struck me most reading Polar Wives was how talented the woman were in their own right, for instance, Eva Nansen was a leading singer in Norway while Kathleen Scott was a very talented British actress. In addition, Eleanor Anne Franklin, first wife of Sir John, was a Romantic poet who died young at age twenty-nine. Sir John then married her dear friend, Jane.

Imagine how it felt to watch your spouse ship away for a three, four, or five year journey to the coldest and most inaccessible parts of our planet. In the chapter "An Eagle in the Backyard" the author describes the feelings of both Emily Shackleton and her husband Ernest on the British docks. To make matters even worse, many explorers died on these journeys as Sir John Franklin and Robert Falcon Scott did.

   

The End of Your Life Book Club

You don't have to be in a book club to be touched and inspired by this generous, warm-hearted account of a son helping his mother through her last year of life with the help of books. Former teacher and refugee worker, Mary Anne Schwalbe, had always been close to her son, Will, who was an editor and worked in publishing. Not only did they constantly share books and recommend titles to each other, but they also had many discussions--some heated--about these same books.

After his mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Will spent a lot of time with her in hospital waiting rooms before her doctor visits and chemo treatments. On one of those trips they decided to pass the time by exploring the same books. "But how can we have a book club without food?" Mary Anne asked.

But The End of Your Life Book Club is so much more than analyzing contemporary literature à deux. Will also chronicles his mother's illness, her acceptance of her forthcoming death, and the effect these changes had on the family.

In one chapter Mary Anne and her husband revisit her favorite foreign city, London, where she lived as a young student. The book that mother and son shared that month was Felicia's Journey by Will Trevor. In another section, Mary Anne, Will and his brother discuss Russell Banks' Continental Drift while sharing a table with Mary Anne's birthday-bash barbecued pig. Will had stayed awake the night before regretting that he had encouraged his mom to read such a depressing book, but at the party, he heard her recommending it to many people.

   

A Working Theory of Love

Scott Hutchins' first novel A Working Theory of Love is a wonderful spoof of California's trendiness. It also pokes fun at its computer geek population, but more importantly it's also a tender love story. In my experience few novels by men focus on love and relationships, so it's especially nice to explore this landscape from a male writer's perspective.

Recently divorced Neill Bassett just barely copes after his wife Erin leaves him shortly after their honeymoon (at least he can keep their charming San Francisco apartment). Each day begins with the same breakfast taco. Also boring and routine are his homemade dinners. He allows himself a glass of wine several times a week. The mission of Neill's day job at Amiante Systems is to give voice to his dead father who left thousands of pages of journals when he committed suicide. A non-geek himself, Neill has become the family representative at this small business working to perfect artificial intelligence and give voice to a dead man.

Why did the techies choose Neill's Dad? For years, Neill's father wrote long and extremely detailed journal entries about his life. This gave the engineers a large amount of material to parse and code into computer memory.

Hutchins knows enough about artificial intelligence to portray life at a small tech company. He also succeeds at exploring the weirdness of a character asking his own dead father questions and then having him both listen and analyze the simulated answers. Talk about father and son issues!

   
Family    Fiction   

The Lost Hippies of New York State

During the Byzantine Empire, the Greek district of Arcadia was famous for being a simple pastoral place where people, mostly herdsmen, lived at peace in nature. Later writers described it as a kind of Utopia. In Lauren Groff's intriguing second novel, Arcadia becomes a place of both good and evil: a New York state commune where people share idealistic dreams but never fully translate them into reality.

Bit Stone, a tiny scrawling kid, is the first child born on the commune after visionaries and druggies complete a nomadic journey across the country from the west coast. This group decides to create an intentional community of shared work and dreams. And what an intelligent, enquiring boy this protagonist is.

Although the author was too young to experience the late 60s and early 70s, she does an amazing job of capturing the feel of the era (except for those cassettes which had not become popular yet.)

   
Arcadia   

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