Posts tagged ‘Reading’

The story of the used book’s margins -“Swimming Lessons” by Claire Fuller

My local library is pretty amazing.  It has been even more fun to go with 61iF2AsxQEL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgmy eight and a half year old (she would want me to include the “half”) and let her browse for books while I do the same.  I ran into “Swimming Lessons” on the new book shelves and, though I was a bit wary about the premise  (a story told through letters seems overdone), I decided to carry it on home.  And then I read it in two days because well, it was that good.

The story itself is not completely original. Woman, here Ingrid, has plans to be an independent, career woman and adventurer.  Instead falls for her womanizing professor, gets pregnant and thus finds herself stuck in the role of housewife, mother of two.  But while the premise is very familiar the weaving of the story is too amazing to not give it your full attention.

“Swimming Lessons” picks up at the end of the story, as Gil (aka philandering professor) looks out the window of a used bookstore and swears he sees Ingrid, who has been presumed dead for over ten years.  He chases her and ends up injuring himself.  His adult daughters, Nan and Flora, must come home and take care of him in their childhood home on Dorset Beach which is now filled with towers of used books.  As an aside, I can picture these towers vividly and feel that this  may be my house in about 15 years.

The story plays out with one chapter about Nan and Flora tending to their father while dealing with their history and childhood and then the next chapter is a letter from Ingrid  to Gil documenting their life together.  Before Ingrid disappeared off the shore of their home, she spent time writing Gil letters and placing them inside books through-out their home, carefully choosing the book that best suited the letter (a story about a cocktail party placed in T.S. Eliot’s play “The Cocktail Party”). This telling of Ingrid’s story is so heartfelt and lends such a wonderful prospective to what is happening in the proceeding and following chapters as Nan and Flora care for their father.  The letters add a backstory but also an emotional undercurrent that really moves the story in a thought-provoking and unexpected way.

Fuller’s writing and understanding of families, relationships and loss makes this book a meaningful experience for the reader.   I will say at the end you will not have all the answers you want, but you will have all the answers you need to keep you thinking and wondering.  That usually annoys me but here Fuller wins because she does it so well.  I have to say this is one of the best books I have read in quite a long time (with the exception of “Homegoing”).

The lesson here is if you keep returning to that same book on the library shelf and are skeptical – just check-out it.  The worst thing that can happen is you don’t like it and then you just pick another book. Unless you are me and you don’t return it on time and need a budget for library fines. But that is a story for another day.

Happy reading!

May 27, 2017 at 11:04 am Leave a comment

In vain have I struggled* – “Longbourn” by Jo Baker

“Longbourn” by Jo Baker. Published in 2013. 

I  do this to myself. I hear about a book and I think “I will not read that book about four angry single women who find love” or “I will not read this Jane Austen spin-off.” But then the New York Times Book review tells me that the book is good or a pleasant surprise and then, against all reason, I find myself in the middle of a book thinking “why did I do this?!!!”

longbourn-by-jo-baker-2013-x-200Longbourn” is about the servants in perhaps the best known household in British Literature, the Bennets.  This new take on “Pride and Prejudice” is…well…pointless.  It is mainly the story of Sarah, one of the housemaids, who has been in service since she was dumped on the Bennet’s doorstep as a young orphan.  She spends her days washing the soiled linens worn by  Jane and Lizzie Bennet, feeding the livestock, helping in the kitchen – all the while catching bits and pieces of the family conversations, heart breaks and scandals.  Her life is lackluster and pointless until the day the new footman is hired. Need I really say more?

This has been called “The Upstairs/Downstairs of Pride and Prejudice” or the “Austen Downtown Abbey” but it is actually neither. This is really just all about the servants.  And, while the reading is good and the story is fairly well executed (though a bit long in the middle), the fact that they are servants in the Bennett household seems to be a gimmick to sell the book.  Baker throws the reader the occasional storyline from “Pride and Prejudice” but it is all really not needed.  The story could hold its own and it is troubling that an author as famous as Baker couldn’t just have written the novel without riding the notoriety of the Austen spin-off.   But sadly, she did.  Of course, the gimmick is a good one.  Case and point, I am now an owner of “Longbourn” in hardback. Curses.

*Mr. Darcy, of course.

October 23, 2013 at 9:00 pm 12 comments


There is some great literature out there, but there is a lot of bad literature as well. We shouldn't all have to read it. These are my recommendations and thoughts about the books I read.


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