The splendid things we planned by Blake Bailey

This is a memoir about two brothers, sons of a talented lawyer and German mother, raised in Oklahoma.  Both were attractive and smart, Scott, the oldest, a little more handsome, and Blake, a little smarter.  By high school, their golden lives are starting to tarnish. Both are into alcohol and drugs, the parents are divorcing and each son tries to be the favorite of both parents. The father remarries and leaves no “home” for the brothers. The fraternal rivalry continues, fueled by drugs and Scott becomes a danger to himself and others.  (Just when you think nothing worse can happen to Scott, it does.) But the amazing thing is the parents never can fully give up on their son. And however pained Blake is by his brother’s life, there is a part of him that rejoices in being the survivor.

It sounds hard to read (it is) but it was so fascinating I couldn’t stop. Somehow Blake lifts himself out of it. He manages to graduate, teach and become a respected writer (biographies of Cheever and Yates and is working on an Updike).

A Circle Of Wives by Alice LaPlante

I enjoyed this novel; it was a whodunit with one deceased plastic surgeon, three wives and one fiance! Talk about a busy guy… It begins with an investigation into the death of Dr. John Taylor by Detective Samantha Adams, and is written in her first person point of view. The novel continues with alternating chapters in the voices of either Deborah(1st wife),MJ,(wife #2)or Helen(wife #3) and Samantha’s, and is interspersed with Sam’s interviews with each wife and Claire, the fiance. The author paints an interesting picture of how each character reacts to being left alone, some managing better than others. The ending is quite a surprise, and I found the last page a bit of a letdown, but it was still an enjoyable read. I would recommend it for female readers who like a bit of drama and relationships in their mysteries.

Another self-help

I checked out Thrive: the third metric to redefining success and creating a life of well-being, wisdom, and wonder by Arianna Huffington. It’s mostly common sense. “We must slow down, reflect and relish each moment, unplug devices and give.”  I did get a laugh here and there. One quote was “No matter where you go, there you are.” (Buckaroo Banzai, a movie character from the cult film The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzia Across the 8th Dimension.)

Also have had From Moon Cakes to Mao to Modern China, an introduction to Chinese civilization out for over a month and haven’t gotten through it. It’s an overview of ALL things China and very interesting.





“Really? You’re Not in a Book Club?

James Atlas writing in the NYT on Sunday, March 23, reports that, by some estimates, there are five million Americans who gather every few weeks to discuss a book.  These book clubs meet in someone’s living room, a book store, a bar and, of course, on the Internet.  It was widely believed that book clubs were an urban happening, but Atlas says that isn’t true at all.  In Waco, Texas, the “A Good Book and a Glass of Wine” book club has 21 members, women only.

Books clubs appeal to all varieties of readers.  Some are for women only.  Some are for seniors or those in their 20s and 30s.  He reports that there is the “Queer Lady and Lesbian Book Club,” “The Sassy Sistahs Book Club,” The Smutty Book Club,” and so on.  In the world of virtual book clubs, there is ZolaBooks and Goodreads to name just two.

Since reading is a solitary experience, book clubs give readers the opportunity to share opinions and different perceptions.  Robin Henig, a journalist, says “It’s like sitting around gossiping about people, only you’re gossiping about characters in fiction, which is more meaningful.”

A new twist on the idea of book club gatherings is the professional book group facilitator.  A writer, with a master’s degree in English lit, presides over three adult groups for which her fee is up to $300 a session.  She also runs groups for children.

One of the downsides of being part of a book club is how time consuming they are.  One group, Atlas reports, has dealt with that problem by focusing on poetry.  Even though it is harder now to be fully committed to a book group due to the pace of modern life, people still crave that sense of community and exchange of ideas that book clubs provide.

New branch for a city library

One of the things that you see very often in airport waiting rooms is people reading.  Well, the Free Library of Philadelphia recently took advantage of that situation  by opening a branch of their library at the Philadelphia International Airport.  In a library themed lounge, passengers can access free Wi-Fi to the library’s digital catalog.  “Patrons” can download books or author podcasts from the more than 30,000 titles in the library’s collection.

Librarians are on hand several times a week to answer questions and also accept applications for library cards, which are free to any Pennsylvania resident, $50 a year to all others.  What a good idea!