November 2004

I went off for two weeks in the woods and finished a first draft of my next (and maybe last) murder mystery in the Juliet Applebaum series. I took along a lot of dead Russians to read, because I was in Washington State where it rains all the time, and I figured rainy, cold days curled up in front of a wood stove just cry out for Russians. They're down at the bottom of the log. I also read some Chekhov. Finally. Searching for Caleb by Anne Tyler I read this as I finished the final rewrites for my book that is now called Love and Other Impossible Pursuits. Anne Tyler is a perfect role model for me as a writer. High aspirations are good for a person. I liked this book very much, despite the fact that the main character is a fortune-teller. I usually hate free spirits, and I was afraid she'd be one. But she was significantly less of a twit than I had feared. The Photograph by Penelope Lively She's got excellent style, does Ms. Lively. And I liked this book. I sort of wish it had been about more, though. It started with this nice premise, a man who finds a photograph of his dead wife holding another man's hand, and then it seemed like she just wasn't sure what to do with it. She is Me by Cathleen Schine The next time I get grief for writing an unsympathetic main character, I'm going to point my critics to this book. Case Histories by Kate Atkinson I love Kate Atkinson. I really do. In a perfect world she would be able to call this book a mystery without having her literary credentials trashed. But the world isn't perfect, now, is it? Highwire Moon by Susan Straight Damn it, I was going to write this book! I mean, I had a plot sitting in the back of my head that was exactly this - woman comes to America, gives birth, gets picked up by the INS and cannot get back to her baby. I can't believe it. Well, Ms. Straight did it better than I could have, I expect. The Follow by Linda Spalding Okay, so I know Linda. But I still loved this book. Seriously. I'm not just bullshitting to keep from embarrassing myself in front of a friend. I can believe what that NUT JOB Birute Galdikas is doing in Borneo. She's got to be stopped. I worked myself up into such a rage over this that I called Linda to holler my fury. She, of course, had put all this out of her mind years ago. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier I'm reading this again because it's important to the next novel I'm going to write. I won't say anything more. Also, I'll say this: the main character is such a goddamn wet blanket! Still, love the gothic romances. I used to read them compulsively when I was in Junior High School. I wish more of them were written this well. Liars and Saints by Maile Meloy I liked this book very much, although as often happens with family sagas, I sort of resented being dragged out of one character's point of view and into her child's, and then into that of the next generation. An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison Perhaps my interest in the subject matter of this book has more to do with my own issues than with anything else, but I found it very fascinating. The writing was alternately beautiful and then sort of clunky but I was rapt by this woman's story. She has very serious manic-depressive disorder. I'm mildly bipolar from a family where the Lithium river runs wide and deep. So it had personal resonance. Touched With Fire by Kay Redfied Jamison So of course the next thing I did was read this. I actually sort of skimmed it, dropping into sections and reading them. She goes a little too in depth into various chapters to hold my interest for long. However, it's incredibly comforting for someone like me to read this book. I've always felt like such a literary fraud. I didn't spend my life longing to write, I didn't do an MFA. But, now that I realize that I'm bipolar just like William Blake, Lord Byron, Emily Dickenson, Virginia Woolf, Victor Hugo, Nikolai Gogol, Henry James, Mary Shelley and a whole lot more, I feel like maybe I do come by my writing aspirations naturally, after all. Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev This is part of my Nabokov plan of self-improvement. This book was a delight. Funny and tragic. And wouldn't Vlad be enraged by my one line, rather trite, capsulation of the novel? The Overcoat by Nikolai Gogol All right, I know it's not a novel, it's just a short story, but I read the accompanying Nabokov lecture, and I just loved this story so much I had to put it in here. It was so incredibly sad and awful. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy This translation is remarkable. I'm just so sad that Pevear and Voloshonsky had to deal with the horror of not selling well after being selected by Oprah. I think it sold upwards of three hundred thousand copies, which is only a failure if you expected to move a million units. Otherwise, the idea that three hundred thousand people immersed themselves in this complicated novel is sort of wonderful. Tolstoy is my kind of writer, ornate and histrionic, but with a sharp sense of humor and irony. What, however, was with all the awful Levin sections? I mean, do we really need that much postulating on various farming techniques and ideologies? I have to admit I started skipping those.