Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Good Reading, Good Listening, and Flying

I will tell you the truth. I read this, in Janet Maslin's New York Times review, and, even though I lurve Kate Atkinson, I thought, "No thanks."

Ursula is the main character in “Life After Life,” but she appears in different, contradictory versions of similar events. She also seems to die at many different times during the book, only to reappear unscathed, as if mortal danger were only a trick of the mind. 
"No thanks," as in Wake me when the ginourmous postmodern novel has arrived at its mystifyingly opaque lack of closure. But I was very, very wrong. If you read it, and you should, Life After Life will be the best book experience you have all summer and, most likely, all year. It's so magical and odd and wonderful and devastatingly un-put-down-able that I don't even want to say more. Except this: it is, strangely, a more linear narrative than it sounds like it would be. And also this: if you're not going to stagger with it to the beach this summer, and you should, then at least put yourself on the wait list at your library and forget about it until they email you a year from now to say it's yours for two weeks.

Another recommendation: my recent advice to listen to Mary Roach's Packing for Mars led to Tabatha's advice back to listen to Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, which we did, in our gazillion-hour car trip to Maine (we paused only long enough to eat lobster rolls at the Kennebunkport Clam Shack and to taste 14 trillion kinds of jam at the Stonewall Kitchen). As long as stories about poop and catastrophic constipation and poop transplants and pooping and chocolate-covered bananas shaped like turds constitute good listening in your family, as they do in mine, I cannot recommend this audiobook highly enough. Plus, it gave us a lot to think about, as we experienced those 14 trillion jam-smeared crackers making their merry way through us.

Finally: the unassuming little game Anomia has been cracking us up completely. It's tiny, which makes it a great travel game, and it's very silly, which makes it a great all-ages game. Plus, your children will maintain the sober evening high ground when you face off over the category "vegetable," and they say "zucchini," while you laugh and laugh beerily after blurting only, lamely and illegitimately, "vegetable."

Meanwhile, the summer is flying by. I downloaded photos from our little old camera, and came upon literally dozens that the kids had taken of each other, all of which look like this:

They'd been chasing each other around the house, apparently, even thought they look more like specters in flight.

Birdy finally settled down in a hut we hiked to in Maine. More on that another time!
Happy travels, or relaxation, or, even, working with the AC on. I am sending you all a million kisses and imaginary dinner invitations.



  1. Oh I love Kate Atkinson too, and I just didn't love this book. I kept trying to--and there were moments when I thought--"Aha! Now it's going to get great!" But then it just didn't, for me. And I thought the historical twist was bunk.
    To be fair, everyone I know who has read it, loves it.

  2. We read Life after Life in book club. I had the hardest time trying to give a summary to people I told about it, because it does sound like it would be *terrible.* But we all really liked it. At one point, I was *hoping* she'd hurry up and be killed already! (Because of Derek.) Very interesting story concept.

  3. Collin8:26 AM

    I'm a big Mary Roach fan. Her first one, "Stiff", about what happens to bodies postmortem, was great, and also worth a read are "Bonk" and "Spook".
    Happy summer!

  4. Rhylin10:26 AM

    Another fascinating Kate Atkinson book is Human Croquet, with an almost equally twisted story line. If you're looking for a beautiful book, try The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver. Some of the most beautiful writing I've ever encountered, and it doesn't have the same "hit you over the head" moral message that her books usually have. If you're looking for a laugh-out-loud read, try Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson. Happy reading!

  5. I have Life After Life on my list of books to read so I'll get to it eventually. Maybe after all the hub-bub dies down and I won't have to wait so long for it!

    I can't get over how much I love Birdy's hair. Just adorable and fierce all in one, which is how I imagine she must be.

    I made the rice salad (with asparagus and feta) recently. My husband was skeptical, but even he loved it.

  6. Well, you may have only made a few stops, but at least they were good ones! Stonewall Kitchen is a favorite place in my family, as well as the Clam Shack. I just wish I would have bumped into you there!!!!! ( I live about 20 miles from K'Bunkport)

  7. Anonymous7:58 PM

    Catherine, have you read Meg Wolitzer's new book, The Interestings, yet? My best summer reading (although I'm also reading Neil Young's memoirs right now, which is amazing and he is 100% the shit- in a good way). xoxo Joanna

  8. I'm going to read The Interestings too!

    Also: Big Brother (Lionel Shriver) I couldn't stop reading but then hated the ending. And Sisterland (Curtis S.) I'm in the thick of now and love.

    I reserved Life After Life at the library, and saw Jill McCorkle published a Life After Life this year too. How about that.

    You give such good recommendations. I gave Joe Anomia in his Xmas sticking 2 years ago and we haven't played it yet. None of us is good at figuring out how to have fun. Now we know to deal the cards, drink beer, and say vegetable.

  9. Oh, good. Even though you didn't come to LA to get our set of four different colored sheet sacks it looks like you found at least one for Birdy.

  10. c'mon, you need to share more about the Maine adventures! ;-) (I'm re-reading recent posts)...

    And I actually have a question about a game you once recommended, but I'll post it in the sidebar game post. ;-) And go order Anomia now. It sounds like a fun game for our road trip coming up!

  11. Is Birdy holding the Jelly Cat pig? I used to have one of those! Now where did it go.....? And! Oh! I don't think Birdy has it. :)

  12. Anonymous11:20 PM

    Great informative article