Friday, September 21, 2018

Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett

Image result for pond book

I am not sure what to think of this book. Pond reads like an undated cut-and-paste diary. Or maybe it is simply the journal of a wandering mind. Scenes from the past overlap scenes in the present. All the happenings, past and present, are narrated by an unnamed woman who is renting a cottage in a small village on the Irish coast

There is a pond. 

And, just like you would dip your toe into that pond or other body of water to test it, perhaps this book is best dipped into as well. One-page observations mix with longer chapters with titles such as "Morning, Noon & Night", "Finishing Touch", and "A Little Before Seven".

It is very mysterious. In one chapter, author Claire-Louise Bennett has her narrator reporting on the activities preparing for the Big Day but never really explains what the Big Day is and the narrator doesn't attend the event anyway so I guess it doesn't matter.

I found myself wondering: are these stories from the author's experience? What was her writing process? Did she just document daily happenings and create her narrator to share them with the reader? Did the author wander from room to room recording her random thoughts during the day and then spend her evenings transcribing them? 

Is the book the result of notebooks filled with observations of her daily life — from filling a bowl with fruit and setting it on a stone window sill to looking at the empty cereal bowl on the kitchen table and wondering if it was from today's breakfast or yesterday's? (I could so identify with that one!)

This book certainly won't appeal to some. In fact, it might be maddening if you like a linear timeline and hate wild tangents.

For example, in the chapter "The Deepest Sea" the narrator begins musing about the blue-black ink in her fountain pen and wonders why the green ink in the cartridge she has just inserted is not appearing on the page. This followed by a brief history of the fountain pen. Then she goes on to tell where she found the green ink cartridge — in the bottom of a shopping bag. Also discovered is a Letter — a letter she thought was in a clutch purse in her closet but all this time, since she moved into the cottage anyway, it has been in the bottom of the shopping bag. With the cartridge. And the Letter is one she hesitates to reread due to the heartbreaking nature of its contents.

In another chapter, she moves from contemplating the three knobs on her cooker/oven to reflecting on a book she just read about the last woman on earth and that in one scene the woman sits at the table and counts her matches because once the matches are gone, the light will be gone, and that leads the narrator to imagine how this woman might have died and thought it quite clever of the author not to tell but to leave it to the reader to determine how she might die, this being the end of the world and all, and then it's back to the cooker and the narrator's search for replacement knobs as there is now only one knob left that isn't broken and she has to use that one to control the two top burners and the oven and what will happen when this last knob is broken and useless. 

You can see how this goes. 

You will either like this meandering or you will be totally put off. I usually prefer a straightforward narration, but I also like to read about the details (real or imagined) that make up someone's day and there are plenty of those included. And anyway, I have long thought I would do just fine living by myself in a cottage and perhaps I too would spend my days recording my random thoughts and memories.

A compelling read, but like I said, very mysterious.

Friday, September 7, 2018

I'd Rather Be Reading by Anne Bogel

I am going to recommend a book — it was just published days ago — based on three things:

1. I met the author last night at an event at my neighborhood            bookstore    

2. The cover illustration couldn't be more perfect

3. It is a book about books

I'd Rather Be Reading: The delights and dilemmas of the reading life by Anne Bogel just came into my hands in the past 24 hours. I have not had a chance to read more than the introduction and the first entry, "Confess Your Literary Sins." 

(My literary sins? I will confess a few: I am not a fan of Jane Austen and barely made it through Pride and Prejudice. I hated Wuthering Heights. I have never read any of The Great Russian Novelists.)

Anne Bogel is the writer behind the Modern Mrs. Darcy blog. She is also the voice behind the podcast What Should I Read Next? on which she gives book recommendations to callers based on three books they love, one book they hate, and what they are reading now.

She has quite a loyal following.

All of this was new to me until last week when I read the email newsletter from Carmichael's Bookstore and caught a glimpse of the cover of IRBR. Based on that alone, I put the author event on my calendar. It was only later I discovered that Anne grew up here in Louisville and lives less than two miles from me. 

How have I missed her?

The event — I am so glad I went early — was standing room only. The woman sitting next to me (on the front row, of course) had come from Lexington, 90 miles away, and said she was a long-time fan of both Anne's blog and podcasts. 

The book is not a compilation of blog posts, but contains original content. There are 21 essays within its 150 pages. There are even illustrations — always a plus.

Anne didn't spend too much time with opening remarks but went right to Q&A. She was funny and engaging. She loves libraries. She loves books. She loves reading. 

Here's a paragraph from the introduction:

We are readers. Books are an essential part of our lives and of our life stories. For us, reading isn't just a hobby or a pastime; it's a lifestyle. We're the kind of people who understand the heartbreak of not having your library reserves come in before you leave town for vacation and the exhilaration of stumbling upon the new Louise Penny at your local independent bookstore three whole days before the official publication date. We know the pain of investing hours of reading time in a book we enjoyed right up until the final chapter's truly terrible resolution, and we know the pleasure of stumbling upon exactly the right book at exactly the right time.

Sound familiar? 

I know what I'll be reading this weekend. 

Anne Bogel signing books at Carmichael's Bookstore
I'd Rather Be Reading