Review: A Loaded Gun: Emily Dickinson for the 21st Century, Jerome Charyn

I believe I first saw Jerome Charyn’s book A Loaded Gun: Emily Dickinson for the 21st Century at the Emily Dickinson House and Museum in Amherst. I put it on my wishlist, thinking I would get it some time, and my husband bought it for me for my birthday.

Jerome Charyn recently gave a lecture at the Frost Library at Amherst College, which I attended and wrote about on this blog. I wanted to start reading the book right after the talk, but I believe I was in the middle of The Club Dumas, which took me forever to finish (because I didn’t like it and should have given up on it). I wanted to finish The Club Dumas before reading A Loaded Gun. After a while, I sort of used A Loaded Gun as a carrot to encourage myself to finish The Club Dumas.

A Loaded Gun is not a straight biography of Emily Dickinson. If you are looking for a chronological narrative of Dickinson’s life, this biography will likely not satisfy you. However, if you are interested in looking at Emily Dickinson with fresh eyes, casting away the stories you heard about her reclusive nature and her white dress, then this book is definitely the book for you. A Loaded Gun is really more the story of Dickinson’s genius. She is compared to and contrasted with other artists that we have struggled to understand—memorably, Joseph Cornell, who made shadow box art. This is his piece based on the work of Emily Dickinson, entitled Toward the Blue Peninsula:

Toward the Blue Peninsula

Toward the Blue Peninsula © Joseph Cornell, used according to Fair Use guidelines

The piece is inspired by the following poem (Fr. 535, Dickinson’s exact language and punctuation):

It might be lonelier

Without the Loneliness—

I’m so accustomed to my Fate—

Perhaps the Other—Peace—

 

Would interrupt the Dark—

And crowd the little Room—

Too scant—by Cubits—to contain

The Sacrament—of Him—

 

I am not used to Hope—

It might intrude opon—

It’s sweet parade—blaspheme the place

Ordained to Suffering—

 

It might be easier

To fail—with Land in Sight—

Than gain—my Blue Peninsula—

To perish—of Delight—

Charyn spends the bulk of one of his chapters discussing Cornell’s art and connecting it to Dickinson’s. Ultimately, however, Charyn finds Dickinson elusive. As he says in his introduction, “I know less and less the more I learned about her” (8). I snapped a photo of the following page, with discussion of one of the most “well-known” facets of Dickinson’s life:

One thing that is clear to me after reading this book is that we may never really know Emily Dickinson at all. Who was this genius who played with language in a way no other American poet has matched?

If you haven’t seen the way Emily Dickinson thought about variant word choices, you should definitely take a look at some of her poems. The Dickinson museum has one such poem posted as a display, and visitors can try out Dickinson’s different word choice ideas by moving levers (they don’t allow photography, so I can’t share a picture of it, but it’s really interesting). Dickinson marked her variant word choices with a + and wrote the variations in the margins and on the bottom of the page. Because Dickinson didn’t publish her work, it’s hard to say which variations she would ultimately have preferred, and in some ways, I absolutely love the freedom I have as a reader, if I see Dickinson’s original work, to construct my own favorite version of her poems. Ultimately, her editors have had to make the decisions that Dickinson did not make, and I’m not always sure I agree with their choices.

As he did in his lecture, Charyn discussed the possibly new daguerreotype discovered by “Sam Carlo” in a Great Barrington, MA junk shop. I had a chance to talk a little bit with Sam Carlo at Charyn’s talk, and he also let me take a picture of his replica of the daguerreotype. Charyn, like Sam Carlo, believes the other woman in the daguerreotype was Kate Scott, and Charyn advances the theory that Dickinson was in love with Scott, and also that she was in love with her sister-in-law Susan Dickinson (this theory is not new—Charyn said at his lecture that if you read Dickinson’s letters to her sister-in-law, there really isn’t another way to interpret them except as love letters; I plan to read them and see what I think). Was Emily Dickinson a lesbian? Bisexual? Charyn argues that partly, our picture of Emily Dickinson has been the virginal spinster in white who never left the house, and the image of her in the known daguerreotype supports this vision of Dickinson. She remains forever fifteen in our imaginations rather than the grown woman who wrote fierce poetry.

I enjoyed Charyn’s book very much. One aspect I particularly liked is that he didn’t remove himself from the subject matter. He is a part of the story he is telling as well. He describes visiting Vincent van Gogh’s room in Auvers-sur-Oise outside Paris.

And for the price of a few euros, collected by a ticket taker at a little kiosk in the rear yard, I climbed upstairs and visited van Gogh’s room. It was barren, with a tiny skylight and a cane-back chair; the walls were full of crust, the floor was made of barren boards, and I couldn’t stop crying. I imagined him alone in that room, his mind whirling with colors, his psychic space as primitive and forlorn as a lunatic’s world… he was always alone. (211)

Charyn doesn’t explicitly connect Dickinson’s room to van Gogh’s. Perhaps he wants the reader to make that connection if he/she so chooses. I don’t know if I will ever forget ascending the stairs the first time I visited Emily Dickinson’s house and seeing the sunlight illuminating the replica of Emily’s white dress on a dressmaker’s dummy. The docent told us a story about Dickinson pretending to lock her door and telling her niece, “Matty, here’s freedom.” What freedom did Dickinson find in that small room?

Even her poetry on the subject is elusive:

Sweet hours have perished here,

This is a timid room—

Within its precincts hopes have played

Now fallow in the tomb. (Fr. 1785)

R. W. Franklin’s edition of her poems differs from Thomas H. Johnson’s edition:

Sweet hours have perished here;
This is a mighty room;
Within its precincts hopes have played,—
Now shadows in the tomb. (1767)

Which was it? If I had my way, it would go like this:

Sweet hours have perished here;
This is a mighty room;
Within its precincts hopes have played,—
Now fallow in the tomb.

I suppose part of the beauty of Emily Dickinson in the 21st century is that now we know more about what she actually wrote, including all her variant word choices. All the layers of changes made by editors over the years have been stripped bare. We can look at Dickinson’s original manuscripts and examine her poems in Franklin’s Variorum Edition. As a result, the poet we thought we knew and understood is more elusive than before. Still, she remains as intriguing a subject of study as she ever was—perhaps even more than she was when we assumed she was a waifish, homebound spinster in white.

Rating: ★★★★★

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Review: Haroun and the Sea of Stories, Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie’s novel Haroun and the Sea of Stories is the story of Haroun Khalifa, the son of storyteller Rashid. Rashid has lost his “gift of gab” after his wife, Haroun’s mother, leaves him for the boring, clerkish Mr. Sengupta, their neighbor. The Khalifas live in the country of Alifbay in a sad city that has forgotten its name. When Rashid attempts and fails to tell a story at a political rally (he makes something of a career telling stories at such rallies), he is quite literally run out of town and must go to the Valley of K and redeem himself at a rally for Mr. Snooty Buttoo. Or else. Mr. Snooty Buttoo takes Rashid and Haroun out on the Dull Lake in a ship, and Haroun wakes in the night to find a Water Genie disconnecting his father’s invisible tap, from which all his stories spring. Haroun is whisked away by the genie to speak to the Walrus, leader of the Eggheads who control the Processes to Complicated to Explain on the moon of Kahani, or Story, where the societies of Gup and Chup are about to go to war over the pollution of the Sea of Stories and the kidnapping of Guppee princess Batcheat.

Haroun and the Sea of Stories is ostensibly a children’s or young adult book, but the philosophical underpinnings and questions it raises are definitely meant for people of all ages to ponder. It was the first book Rushdie wrote after the fatwa dictated by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini put Rushdie’s life in danger in an attempt to silence Rushdie’s own stories. It’s a fantastic novel that explores the complexities of where stories come from and what happens when they are “polluted” by those who would attempt to use them for their own ends or to silence them altogether. Motifs such as freedom of speech, the truth or reality of stories, creating meaning from stories in a modern world, and the purpose of stories and storytelling are at the center of what looks, at first blush, like a fantasy children’s tale. It’s a thoughtful meditation on the importance of stories. Rushdie apparently began telling the story orally to his son at bathtime, and it later evolved into this book.

I will start teaching it tomorrow to students in my ninth grade World Literature course. I should have finished the novel a long time ago, but it’s not been an easy year for me in a lot of ways, and perhaps it’s for the best that I waited to read it so that it is quite fresh for me. It means I wasn’t able to help as much as I wanted to with the initial planning of the novel, but I am blessed to have wonderful colleagues who stepped in when I wasn’t ready, and I feel I can contribute now. I’m so glad we picked this book, not just because it has a hero’s journey motif, which is one focus for the year, and not just because we were able to introduce an Indian author where previously we had a white British author, but also because it’s an excellent book that speaks to our schoolwide essential question: How do we honor and harness the power of our stories?

Rating: ★★★★★

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Review: The Club Dumas, Arturo Pérez-Reverte

The front of the jacket blurb on this book describes it as “A cross between Umberto Eco and Anne Rice… Think of The Club Dumas as a beach book for intellectuals.” The source for this description is The New York Daily News. I don’t know that I agree with the description.

The Club Dumas is the story of Lucas Corso, a book detective who searches for rare editions for wealthy clients who don’t mind if Corso bends the law to obtain what they’re looking for. Corso becomes embroiled in the story of The Club Dumas when the owner of part of the original manuscript of The Three Musketeers, is found hanged, the victim of an apparent suicide. Corso is hired to authenticate the fragment, but soon finds himself enmeshed in a search for copies of Of the Nine Doors of the Kingdom of Shadows, a book purported to contain instructions for summoning the devil. Only three copies of this book survived, according to Corso’s client, Varo Borja. The book’s author was burned at the stake in the Inquisition, and most of the book’s copies were destroyed. This book was apparently made into a film, The Ninth Gate, which I haven’t seen, starring Johnny Depp as “Dean” Corso.

I purchased this book at a used bookstore in Northampton on my birthday. It looked promising. In the end, I really had to force myself to finish it because I just wasn’t into it, but I had passed the point of no return. You know what I mean. You’ve invested too much time in a book to stop reading it, and there is also this bit of curiosity about the ending and how it will all tie together. Perhaps if I had read The Three Musketeers, I might have enjoyed it more. I do actually think that familiarity with that book is a prerequisite for enjoying The Club Dumas.

I really despised the cardboard cutout women characters, standard-issue blond femmes fatales. Ugh. No personality and only described so far as the sexual desire they provoke in the male characters. So tired. So boring. So sexist. I think it was the depiction of the two women characters (I only counted two) that soured me on the book. Otherwise, it has a lot of what I like—books at the center of a mysterious plot. The ending I was hoping would pay off wound up being weird and confusing. I don’t know that I really get it. I don’t want to re-read it to figure it out either because I just don’t care about any of the characters enough to try to figure out what happened.

It seems like a lot of readers like this book, so your mileage may vary, but it didn’t do much for me, and I’m so glad I’m done with it so I can read something good. Please Lord, let the next book I read be good. I need a palate cleanser. I keep saying life is too short to read bad books. I wasted a lot of time on this book. I need to take my own advice and forget about how much time I’ve invested in a book. Even if I’ve passed the “point of no return,” I need to put the book down and walk away. I think I need to give up on this genre, too. Too many turkeys in the bunch. I think Matthew Pearl does it well, and perhaps a few other folks out there, but by and large, it’s resulted in quite a few of my worst reads in the last ten-fifteen years (cf. Interred with Their Bones, The Book of Air and Shadows, The Rule of Four, Codex, and The Geographer’s Library—for which I apparently never wrote a review).

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

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My Grandmother

2014-07-14-18-07-34

I think most people who read this blog do not follow my education blog, so you likely have not seen my post from this last Tuesday.

I will be flying to Denver early tomorrow morning. I will give a eulogy at her funeral. I wrote her obituary, which doesn’t begin to capture everything that is important and everything I will cherish about her.

I love her, and I am looking every day for that feeling that she is with me and watching over me. She said she would be. But all I feel is her absence. I will keep hoping. This poem by Emily Dickinson (Fr. 428) has been my lifeline:

We grow accustomed to the Dark—
When Light is put away—
As when the Neighbor holds the Lamp
To witness her Good bye—

 

A Moment—We uncertain step
For newness of the night—
Then—fit our Vision to the Dark—
And meet the Road—erect—

 

And so of larger—Darknesses—
Those Evenings of the Brain—
When not a Moon disclose a sign—
Or Star—come out—within—

 

The Bravest—grope a little—
And sometimes hit a Tree
Directly in the Forehead—
But as they learn to see—

 

Either the Darkness alters—
Or something in the sight
Adjusts itself to Midnight—
And Life steps almost straight.

Dickinson, Emily. The Poems of Emily Dickinson: Reading Edition. Edited by R. W. Franklin, Cambridge, Belknap, 2005.

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Fall is for Leaving

I have already decided I need to quit NaNoWriMo. Before anyone gives me a pep talk, I have two really good reasons:

  1. My heart isn’t in it. My grandmother, one of the most important people in my life, is gravely ill, and I think it’s just a matter of time. My head is not right for writing right now, at least not something like NaNoWriMo.
  2. I have a great idea, but it’s becoming extremely clear to me that I need to do more research on the topic before I feel confident enough to write about it. I have the materials I need to do the research, but not the time or the focus (see #1).

It bothers me to give up so soon, and I hate kicking myself for something that I need to do for my own good right now. I keep wondering what Granna would want me to do.

I went out this morning and had my hair cut. I picked up some coffee and washed and vacuumed my car. The leaves are gorgeous right now. A riot of gold, red, and orange. There just isn’t anything in the world like fall in New England, even in an old industrial factory town like Worcester. The beauty of the trees just pierces me right through the heart. I hate it that my grandmother is lying in a hospital bed, 2,000 miles away, when everything is so beautiful right now. When it’s my favorite time of year.

When I visited my grandparents in July 2014, I had an opportunity to talk with both of them about whatever they wanted. While talking with my grandparents about how they met and married, I realized that my own marriage story was similar. My grandparents were married 66 years on October 27. I made a video about our two marriage stories.

I have a great deal of interview audio. I am so lucky to have it. I also made this video about my grandmother’s work as a seamstress.

I don’t know when my grandmother is going to leave us. She nearly left us two weeks ago, but she rallied. The last few days, however, it seems as if she has had one more medical issue after another. She’s really scared. I’m really scared. I don’t really know how to be without her. I know that it’s part of life—getting used to losing people. I am really lucky I have had my grandmother for 45 years. I really am. I am also really lucky that I haven’t lost an extremely close relative like this before now. But selfishly, I wish there was a way that she could stay. I wish she didn’t have to leave me behind. I don’t know how you get ready to say goodbye. I’m not really sure it would have mattered when she left; I probably never would have been ready. I just love her very much. I am so grateful she is my grandmother because she is absolutely the best grandmother in the world. I don’t even want to imagine what my life would have been like without such a grandmother, and I don’t want to imagine how different it will be without her. But I know this: I am extraordinarily blessed to have had my beautiful grandmother in my life.

I have to give credit to my husband. I borrowed the idea in the title of my post from a poem I remember that he wrote some years ago.

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TLC Book Tour: The Opposite of Everything, Joshilyn Jackson

tlc1I have had the pleasure of reading and of meeting Joshilyn Jackson before, so when TLC Book Tours offered her latest novel, The Opposite of Everything, I was excited to be included. Jackson is a fresh Southern voice, and I have enjoyed her previous work very much.

This novel is the story of Paula Vauss, a gutsy divorce lawyer living in Atlanta. Paula grew up nearly homeless, constantly moving and changing her name, with her hippie mother Kai, an admirer of Indian religious philosophy who called Paula Kali, after the Indian goddess. Paula carries a great deal of guilt over her broken relationship with her mother and blames herself for her mother’s stint in prison because it was Paula who called 911 and summoned the police the day Kai was taken to jail. However, when some unexpected and unknown elements of Kai’s past drop into Paula’s life, she has to decide what to do and whether to let Kai—and those relics of her troubled past—into her life and reconcile with her mother’s ghost.

I really enjoyed reading this book. It’s a mix of Southern humor and Southern gothic, as most great Southern literature is. Jackson is very funny in person, and this humor spills over into her books, even when she’s dealing with the dark subject matter of unwanted children, foster care, and ugly divorces. Paula is a wounded character who has built up a tough exterior so she can face the world, but she is completely discombobulated by what she discovers about her mother. I loved the end—it was perfect. I used to live in Atlanta, and Jackson is on familiar territory here, too. She clearly knows the city well and captures it without making it a necessary part of the narrative. Her characters are well-drawn and true-to-life. Paula conjures the memory of her mother with perfect clarity. The reader has no doubt how much feeling has passed between Paula and her mother, as much as Paula herself tries to distance herself from that past. It winds up very much a part of her present, and she discovers that owning it and dealing with it will finally make her whole.

Rating: ★★★★½

tlc2Tour Schedule

Tuesday, October 11th: I’d Rather Be At The Beach
Wednesday, October 12th: G. Jacks Writes
Friday, October 14th: Art @ Home
Monday, October 17th: Peeking Between the Pages
Tuesday, October 18th: The Book Bag
Tuesday, October 18th: Wall-to-Wall Books
Thursday, October 20th: Literary Quicksand
Tuesday, October 25th: The Reading Date
Wednesday, October 26th: Luxury Reading
Thursday, October 27th: Mom’s Small Victories
Friday, October 28th: Much Madness is Divinest Sense

Read on to learn more about the book from TLC Book Tours and the publisher.

the-opposite-of-everyone-pb-coverAbout The Opposite of Everyone

Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (October 11, 2016)

A fiercely independent divorce lawyer learns the power of family and connection when she receives a cryptic message from her estranged mother in this bittersweet, witty novel from the nationally bestselling author of Someone Else’s Love Story and gods in Alabama—an emotionally resonant tale about the endurance of love and the power of stories to shape and transform our lives.

Born in Alabama, Paula Vauss spent the first decade of her life on the road with her free-spirited young mother, Kai, an itinerant storyteller who blended Hindu mythology with southern oral tradition to re-invent their history as they roved. But everything, including Paula’s birth name Kali Jai, changed when she told a story of her own—one that landed Kai in prison and Paula in foster care. Separated, each holding secrets of her own, the intense bond they once shared was fractured.

These days, Paula has reincarnated herself as a tough-as-nails divorce attorney with a successful practice in Atlanta. While she hasn’t seen Kai in fifteen years, she’s still making payments on that Karmic debt—until the day her last check is returned in the mail, along with a mysterious note: “I am going on a journey, Kali. I am going back to my beginning; death is not the end. You will be the end. We will meet again, and there will be new stories. You know how Karma works.”

Then Kai’s most treasured secret literally lands on Paula’s doorstep, throwing her life into chaos and transforming her from only child to older sister. Desperate to find her mother before it’s too late, Paula sets off on a journey of discovery that will take her back to the past and into the deepest recesses of her heart. With the help of her ex-lover Birdwine, an intrepid and emotionally volatile private eye who still carries a torch for her, this brilliant woman, an expert at wrecking families, now has to figure out how to put one back together—her own.

The Opposite of Everyone is a story about story itself, how the tales we tell connect us, break us, and define us, and how the endings and beginnings we choose can destroy us… and make us whole. Laced with sharp humor and poignant insight, it is beloved New York Times bestselling author Joshilyn Jackson at her very best.

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Joshilyn JacksonAbout Joshilyn Jackson

Joshilyn Jackson is the New York Times bestselling author of six previous novels, including gods in Alabama, A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty, and Someone Else’s Love Story. Her books have been translated into a dozen languages. A former actor, she is also an award-winning audiobook narrator. She lives in Decatur, Georgia, with her husband and their two children.

Connect with her through her website, Facebook, or Twitter.

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Who Was Emily Dickinson?

It’s not a secret I love Emily Dickinson. My blog’s title is taken from my favorite of her poems. I have visited her house twice and paid my respects at her grave twice in the last year and some change. Last Friday, I had an opportunity to hear a talk by writer Jerome Charyn at Amherst College. The title of his talk was “Did Emily Dickinson Really Exist?” Of course, Charyn chose the title to provoke. He has written two books about Emily Dickinson—one fiction and the other nonfiction.

Steve bought me A Loaded Gun for my birthday, and I bought myself The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson after hearing his talk.

The center of his discussion concerned a new daguerreotype believed to feature Emily Dickinson and her friend Kate Scott Turner Anthon. I believe the daguerreotype is copyrighted, so I won’t reproduce it here, but you can see it on Amherst College’s website. After hearing Charyn speak about the photo and also learning more about its provenance from the person who found it, I am fairly convinced it is Emily Dickinson on the left in the photograph. Of course, it’s true that many people would say the opposite, and the only way we’ll get to the bottom of it, finally, is if the FBI is willing to look into it with their special equipment. I have a feeling they don’t spend a lot of their time verifying suspected photographs of 19th century poets, though.

The photograph’s owner let me take a picture of the copy of the daguerreotype that he brought with him. It is in a frame case that is nearly identical to the original and is the same size as the original. It’s not the best picture, so in order to see the photograph properly, please do check it out at the link I mentioned previously.

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As you can see, it’s about wallet-sized and would have been a personal photo—something carried in the pocket or placed in a drawer. It’s an intimate photo. Kate Scott Turner, pictured on the right, was wearing widow’s mourning. Emily’s dress was probably blue, green, or gray (I learned a lot about how we can determine colors from daguerreotypes). I didn’t know that because daguerreotypes were printed on silver, they do not pixelate. If you zoom into a photo on paper, eventually you get dots. Not so with silver. The photograph’s owner said that we really haven’t duplicated the quality of a daguerreotype with our modern technology. Of course, I thought that was fascinating.

I learned that the known daguerreotype of Emily Dickinson was taken when she was a teenager, right after an illness, so she is a bit thinner than she otherwise would have been. The known daguerreotype has not been handled with care and has been damaged over the years. It was also made with older technology than this newer daguerreotype, and what happened was the edges of the daguerreotypes made with this older technology tended to warp the edges. The “new” daguerreotype’s owner pointed out that Emily’s thumb looks like a lobster claw.

627px-black-white_photograph_of_emily_dickinson2

Well, it does look weird now someone has pointed it out to me. He said that there was something wrong with the way her nose looks—large on one side and thinner on the other. He said this was likely due to the same issues with the older technology. He said that Dickinson’s family didn’t think this photograph was a good likeness. However, I think if you examine the eyes, they do look like the eyes of the woman on the left in the new daguerreotype. She had astigmatism, so there is a flatness to the eye on the viewer’s left that is similar in both photos. The mouth looks the same to me as well, as does the hair. I’m not a photographer, and I know very little about the history of photography, so I learned a lot I didn’t know.

Aside from these interesting particulars, the daguerreotype’s owner said a trunk of fabric swatches for a quilt was found in the Emily Dickinson house, and he thinks one of the swatches looks like the dress Emily is wearing in the new daguerreotype. Interestingly, and even more tantalizingly, when Thomas Wentworth Higginson asked Emily Dickinson for a photograph, she responded, “Could you believe me—without? I had no portrait, now. . . .”

I have to agree, as an English teacher and a writer, that the comma Emily Dickinson uses after “portrait” is purposeful. She seems to be saying she used to have a photograph, but that she gave it away or doesn’t have it anymore for some other reason. The owner of the new daguerreotype believes that Emily gave the portrait to Samuel Bowles, a friend of both Emily’s and Kate’s. The daguerreotype’s present owner, who is a daguerreotype collector, bought the daguerreotype in a junk shop and was able to trace the provenance to Bowles.

A lot of circumstantial evidence, yes, but it convinced me. I was intrigued by Jerome Charyn’s description of Dickinson as a “sexual predator.” I think that’s going a bit far, but the subject of his talk was her poem “My Life had stood—a Loaded Gun,” which Charyn claims is near impossible to explicate. However, he thinks that this poem, which he sees as written from the viewpoint of a gun, indicates that Emily herself is the loaded gun. Kate looks distinctly unhappy. Perhaps she was coerced to pose for this portrait and didn’t want to. Dickinson, however, projects confidence, looking boldly into the camera and putting her arm somewhat aggressively around Kate.

Emily famously wrote letters to her sister-in-law, Susan Huntington Gilbert Dickinson. Charyn claimed in his talk that there is no way to read those letters except as love letters. Of course, I immediately ordered a copy of them so I could see for myself. He spoke so eloquently of how delightful her letters were that I felt I should read them myself.

Dickinson’s sexuality has been the subject of some speculation for a long time. I don’t know enough about it to make a judgment, hence my desire to read her letters and poems and see what I can learn. I can’t wait to dive into Charyn’s books and Emily’s letters and learn more about her.

The evening certainly gave me a lot to think about, and it didn’t do much to shrink my ever-growing to-read list. Charyn claims the more he learns about Dickinson, the less he knows. I was more intrigued by Emily Dickinson than ever after this talk. I loved the drive up to Amherst. The fall colors are gorgeous right now, and it was a beautiful night. It had been a long time since I did something that was geeky fun by myself.

What do you think? Is this Emily Dickinson in this daguerreotype? Anyone want to “book club” Charyn’s books with me?

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Sunday Post #45: Rainy Day Reading

Sunday Post

I ask you: is there anything better than sitting inside on a rainy day, listening to the rain fall as you read and sip a hot beverage of your choice? Especially if it also happens to be fall, and even better, October? I live in New England, and our falls are just perfect. My favorite season.

I haven’t written a Sunday Post in a really long time. I’m making good progress with the R. I. P. Challenge. I read the second two Miss Peregrine books, Hollow City and Library of Souls. I have two other contenders currently on the nightstand: The Club Dumas by Arturo Pérez-Reverte and The House Between Tides by Sarah Maine. Progress on my other challenges is mixed.

nanowrimo_2016_webbadge_participantI don’t know that I’ll be able to do 50,000 words this November, but I’ve signed up again for NaNoWriMo. I have an idea that I’m very excited about, but it will involve some research, and I don’t have a ton of time to do it. Still, I do have some, and if I can prioritize some things a bit this month, perhaps I can be ready to go on November 1. I’m returning to my favorite: historical fiction. At any rate, I have a Scrivener file ready to rock and roll with some notes and preliminary sketches. I am thinking about whether or not to get involved with some local events. My experience with writing groups has been decidedly negative up until this point. Not in terms of discouraging feedback or anything, but more in terms of finding a group who takes writing seriously and isn’t, you know, weird.

It’s a nice long weekend. I have Monday off. We are still talking about what we might want to do since it’s rare these days that my husband, my kids, and me all have the same day off. If it’s raining still, I’m not sure we’ll go out, but I was hoping we could go into Boston and look around, but if we’re going to do that, we need to make some plans.

Well, I’m going to curl up with the coffee and book again. I have some reading to do. Enjoy what’s left of your weekend!

The Sunday Salon

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TLC Book Tour: Commonwealth, Ann Patchett

tlc1I’ve been seeing Ann Patchett’s newest novel Commonwealth on all the “best of the fall” lists and displays in bookstores, so I was really excited to be among the first to read it, courtesy of the TLC Book Tours. I was also excited to read it because I really enjoyed State of Wonder. I haven’t read her book Bel Canto, but I understand it’s amazing.

Commonwealth begins at Franny Keating’s christening party in Southern California, when Bert Cousins, attorney at the DA office, shows up uninvited with a bottle of gin that never seems to run out and the idea to make screwdrivers with oranges, abundant in the trees of suburban LA. Before long, Bert is Franny’s stepfather. She and her older sister spend most of the year in Virginia, where Bert and Beverly, Franny’s mother, move after their marriage. Meanwhile, Fix Keating, Franny’s father, stays in California, close to where the Cousins children spend most of their year with their mother. However, during the summer, the families combine when the Cousins children fly out to Virginia to spend time with their father. Bert and Beverly, clearly worn out by caring for all six children at once, don’t pay quite as much attention to the wild adventures the children undertake—an oversight that will prove disastrous and ripple through the family for decades. Years later, Franny meets renowned author Leon Posen, and her family story finds its way into his first novel in years.

This book flashes around in time and takes on different points of view, but for the most part, it is told by Franny. I am not sure if the revelations about Franny’s family or the aftermath when they become the subject of Leon’s book would have been as effective without time jumps, but all the same, it makes it more challenging to follow the plot. However, this book is much more about the characters and how they relate than it is about the plot. Some readers might want to return to other parts, and it’s easy to miss a small but important detail. I did feel the plot meandered too much, and I kept looking for a great revelation or some major event that would tie the ends together in a grand theme, which I did see in State of Wonder. The writing at the sentence level was great—Patchett on form. Patchett pulls some sleight of hand with the pivotal event (I can’t reveal too much) that seems unfair à la Chekov’s gun. Honestly, that particular choice somehow made the universe feel especially cruel. I’d be interested to see if other readers felt the same way. The novel takes a while to get into, but once it grabbed me, it was hard to put down. I wanted to find out how everything would end. The result didn’t feel like a novel story—it felt more like a real family story, passed down over the years, with all the flaws, gaps, and drawbacks as well as all the great realism and importance that a family story is.

Rating: ★★★★☆

tlc2Tour Schedule

Tuesday, September 13th: BookNAround
Wednesday, September 14th: Books and Bindings
Thursday, September 15th: Vox Libris
Friday, September 16th: Art @ Home
Friday, September 16th: 5 Minutes For Books
Monday, September 19th: A Bookish Way of Life
Wednesday, September 21st: A Chick Who Reads
Thursday, September 22nd: Tina Says…
Monday, September 26th: bookchickdi
Tuesday, September 27th: Books on the Table
Wednesday, September 28th: Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World
Thursday, September 29th: West Metro Mommy
Monday, October 3rd: Fictionophile
Tuesday, October 4th: Literary Quicksand
Tuesday, October 4th: Luxury Reading
Wednesday, October 5th: Much Madness is Divinest Sense
Thursday, October 6th: Lit and Life
Friday, October 7th: The Well-Read Redhead

Read on to learn more about the book from TLC Book Tours and the publisher.

commonwealth-coverAbout Commonwealth

Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Harper (September 13, 2016)

The acclaimed, bestselling author—winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize—tells the enthralling story of how an unexpected romantic encounter irrevocably changes two families’ lives.

One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly—thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.

Spanning five decades, Commonwealth explores how this chance encounter reverberates through the lives of the four parents and six children involved. Spending summers together in Virginia, the Keating and Cousins children forge a lasting bond that is based on a shared disillusionment with their parents and the strange and genuine affection that grows up between them.

When, in her twenties, Franny begins an affair with the legendary author Leon Posen and tells him about her family, the story of her siblings is no longer hers to control. Their childhood becomes the basis for his wildly successful book, ultimately forcing them to come to terms with their losses, their guilt, and the deeply loyal connection they feel for one another.

Told with equal measures of humor and heartbreak, Commonwealth is a meditation on inspiration, interpretation, and the ownership of stories. It is a brilliant and tender tale of the far-reaching ties of love and responsibility that bind us together.

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HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Photo by Melissa Ann Pinney

Photo by Melissa Ann Pinney

About Ann Patchett

Ann Patchett is the author of six novels and three books of nonfiction. She has won many prizes, including Britain’s Orange Prize, the PEN/Faulkner Prize, and the Book Sense Book of the Year. Her work has been translated into more than thirty languages. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where she is the co-owner of Parnassus Books.

Find out more about Ann on her website and follow her bookstore, Parnassus Books, on Twitter.

Harper Collins was kind enough to send me an advance reader copy of the book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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Review: Library of Souls, Ransom Riggs

Library of Souls is the third novel in the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series. At the end of the previous novel, Hollow City, Jacob Portman has discovered that he not only has the power to see and fight hollowgasts, but he can also control them. He is going to need this power as he travels to the Devil’s Acre, a corrupted loop in the cesspool of Victorian London controlled by wights, to rescue all his peculiar friends and their guardian, Miss Peregrine, along with other ymbrynes.

Emma and Jacob encounter Sharon, who says he can take them to Devil’s Acre, near the docks in London. They set off with Addison the dog for the most dangerous adventure they will yet experience—right into the fortress of the wights itself. The fate of all peculiardom rests on their shoulders.

Library of Souls introduces what I think is probably one of the best secondary characters in the series—the boatman Sharon (think Charon). His dark sense of humor is fun, and he’s interesting to watch—can he be trusted? Jacob and Emma also learn a lot more about the seedier side of peculiardom, including the horrible accident in Siberia (we know it as the Tunguska event) that created hollowgasts, and therefore, also created wights—a scourge peculiars have been hiding from for about 100 years.

As Jacob and Emma learn more, the mythos of peculiardom is fleshed out, and there are ample opportunities for Riggs to continue the series, focusing on new adventures. This particular volume of the series was hard to put down. I think it had perhaps a little bit less of the humor (thought it still retains plenty of funny moments), which makes sense due to the seriousness of the situation in which Jacob and Emma find themselves. I read nearly all of the last half of the book in one big gulp today. It’s been a while since I’ve picked up a book so good I didn’t want to put it down.

Rating: ★★★★★

This book made for a great creepy read for the R. I. P. Challenge, and I’m counting it also for the Reading England Challenge, as Devil’s Acre is the worst of Victorian London. However, I am not counting for other challenges. I just bought the book in September, and it hasn’t been on my TBR list long. It’s not exactly historical fiction either—more of a fantasy.

RIP Eleven

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