Monday, November 29, 2010


Instead of shopping like a “normal” American, I spent the days after Thanksgiving reading, and I felt fortunate to find two excellent books, that I highly recommend:

Let’s Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell is a memoir about the friendship between two women, one of whom dies quite suddenly and definitely too soon. The book is also about dogs, and the nature of story-telling, and alcoholism, and rowing…and I’m not particularly interested in dogs or rowing, yet I loved this book. The writing is clear, and the writer is honest and insightful. What I found most remarkable is Caldwell’s ability to avoid seeming overly sentimental as she describes the deep friendship shared by these women, even as she captures how remarkable (and enviable) this friendship was. The literature on grieving a lost friend is rather thin (IMHO), and so this book fills a certain need, and well beyond that, it’s a book I wish I had written, about women I wish I knew.

From the beginning there was something intangible and even spooky between us that could make strangers mistake us as sisters or lovers, and that sometimes had friends refer to us by each other’s name: A year after Caroline’s death, a mutual friend called out to me at Fresh Pond, the reservoir where we had walked, “Caroline!”, then burst into tears at her mistake. The friendship must have announced its depth by its obvious affection, but also by our similarities, muted or apparent. That our life stories had wound their way toward each other on corresponding paths was part of the early connection. Finding Caroline was like placing a personal ad for an imaginary friend, then having her show up at your door funnier and better than you had conceived. Apart, we had each been frightened drunks and aspiring writers and dog lovers; together, we became a small corporation.

Read more from the book’s opening chapter here.
Washington Post review.

Room by Emma Donoghue
has turned into the “must read” book of the season (at least according to my Facebook feed!) and there’s good reason. It’s taut and gripping, horrifying and beautiful, tragic and redemptive—and, always, very, very smart. The premise is sraightforward—a young woman was kidnapped when she was 19 and has been held captive as a sex slave for 8 years; during this time she gives birth to a son, also held captive. But the execution is remarkable, since the point of view character is Jack, the five year old boy, who knows only this world: the 11 x 11 room and his Ma. The rest of the world is fake, glimpsed only on a ratty TV set. I can’t say much more because it’s the kind of book I read entirely in one sitting, my hand occasionally on the facing page so I wouldn’t accidentally see what happened too soon, and not only was I in tears, but I also laughed out loud. An extraordinary book.

Today I’m five. I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe, but when I wake up in Bed in the dark I’m changed to five, abracadabra. Before that I was three, then two, then one, then zero. “Was I minus numbers?”

“Hmmm?” Ma does a big stretch.

“Up in Heaven? Was I minus one, minus two, minus three--?”

“Nah, the numbers didn’t start till you zoomed down.”

“Through Skylight. You were all sad till I happened in your tummy.”

“You said it.” Ma leans out of Bed to switch on Lamp, he makes everything light up whoosh.

You can read sections of the book here (but the site is irritating to navigate).
Washington Post review.
(I’m a little jealous that the author reports here that she drafted the novel in only 6 months!)


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.