This week’s book

This week I finished Summerlong by Dean Bakopoulos.  Before I had surgery in February I stocked up on reading material.  This was one of the books I purchased from a good old fashion, brick and mortar bookstore.  I think I’ve been spoiled with my Book of the Month subscription because going to a store with thousands of options at my fingertips, and no real direction, was overwhelming.  Overwhelming in an enjoyable, fun-way-to-spend-an-afternoon sort of way, but overwhelming the same.  I always leave the book store with a bag of books and a nagging feeling that I missed something amazing.  And who knows if I’ll find it next time.  And who knows when next time will be.  And who knows if it will still even be there because what if someone else buys my book.  Now that you know the thoughts that plague me all night, let’s get to the book.

Summerlong is identified on the back cover as a sort of midlife crisis tale, which I was drawn to immediately because I tell myself that I’m getting to be “a lady of a certain age” all the time.  Within the first few pages we meet all of our main characters, and it was.  On the first page we meet Don Lowry taking a walk at his wife’s request, unable to call 911 when he debated doing so, “But he does not bring his phone on these walks; his wife has urged him not to — he works too much, he has chest pains at night, and his face is often lit by a screen — and so he cannot call anyone” (Bakopoulos 1).  Claire is introduced a few pages later and I could picture her in the parents I run into at my kids’ school, every lady in yoga pants at the grocery store, all the moms walking around the gym aimlessly who are biding their time until they can buy their protein smoothie before heading home.  “Claire is not a regular runner, but she is an occasional one, and when she wakes up from a dream that same Friday night in late May, she feels like running, wants to run until she loses her breath and sweat slicks her limbs,” she’s also reflected in the faces of ladies in their 30s across the country (7).

I liked the way the author mirrored the characters.  We had the late 30s Lowrys involving themselves with Charlie and ABC who were over a decade younger.  I know that I’ve changed over the years, and so has my husband, but what I enjoyed about this book was the way you could see the characters pitted against younger versions.  Essentially they were falling in love with the carefree versions of who they really wanted to be, not the paunchy failures they had become in their own eyes.  Towards the end I found book striking close to home, especially when they all attend the heat wave party.  “Most of the women are in thin dresses, though a few are in bathing suits—bikini tops with wraps around their bottoms and some of the women follow ZeeZee’s lead and drop the sarongs and wraps and wear only swimsuits after a few drinks make them bold enough to do so.  Nobody, thinks ABC, looks as good as she and Charlie look” and it is this kind of situation, where parents find themselves sitting around a body of water half clad, that I found myself in this past weekend for a July 4th celebration (277).

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When I started this book I didn’t want to like it.  I wanted to think that Bakopoulos was sensationalizing the state of things as one approaches midlife.  I especially didn’t like the way he was portraying the private lives of the Lowrys and mundane nature of life.  When it all hits the page though, I realize that life is kind of mundane.  Not every day is a winner.  Sometimes you just go to the grocery store.  Sometimes you watch Netflix.  Sometimes you go for a run, even though you are only a sometimes runner, and you decide to change the course of your marriage and life forever.  This book ended up being unbelievable in some regards, but at the heart of it, the story is alarming and altered my point of view as I’ve gone from looking to “older” people for advice to realizing I am the older person!

This week’s episode of books I’ve read…

This week I read Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid.  Last summer, Reid’s The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo held my interest, so when Book of the Month offered her latest as one of their options for March, the decision was practically made for me.  Evelyn Hugo didn’t exactly make me laugh or cry, but she was interesting and kept me engaged.  I didn’t want the story to be over.  Those types of books tend to be bittersweet and leave me in a daze afterwards, searching Amazon for other works to help assuage my dilemma.  Basically, I know the next item on my list won’t make me feel the same way: satisfied, but not exhausted.

I like the way the author blends the voices of several members of the fictional band The Six, along with the people who surrounded them during this entirely fictional experience.  I knew the book was a complete work of fiction but around when they start mentioning the Grammys and Saturday Night Live, I wondered if I had it wrong.  “DAISY: As soon as they left, Eddie called me and Karen back into the booth.  And somebody, I don’t remember who, said I was good with kids.  And then Eddie said, ‘I bet you’d make a great aunt’” (Reid 195).  I found it interesting because you don’t typically hear those words.  People are generally parent material, or not.  How was the author so thoroughly presenting these individual, well-developed, coherent characters, along with song lyrics and pop culture, if it was entirely fabricated? I admit, I googled it.  I found playlists inspired by The Six, but no work from the actual group.  Despite painting a full, interesting, and believable cast of characters; they were just that, fictional characters.  Reid had me second guess what I knew to be true, and I like that in an author.

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I was surprised at the business with Karen and Graham.  The author tackles a sensitive topic in a matter-of-fact manner.  While I’ve never been specifically ambitious, I felt for Karen and the ending to her part of the biography was satisfying.  Graham too, but I felt his reaction was designed as pretty typical.  Not to stereotype, but she captured the stereotype.   

“EDDIE: Billy and Daisy always believed they were the most interesting people in the world.  And that album cover confirmed it for them.

BILLY: It’s a great cover.

DAISY: It’s iconic” struck me because the author draws out the personalities of the characters (229).  As the whole novel unfolds, Eddie actually becomes my favorite character.  He shows that Reid understands that all good things must come to an end.  Billy represents pretty much every rock star of that era, and Eddie is everyone who is sick and tired of being pushed around.

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I didn’t find that there was any specific sort of resolution to any specific problem.  Early on in the book the terms of the agreement with Daisy Jones & The Six are defined as temporary.  Once the probationary period expires, the group disbands.  Each character goes on to various, fictional success and you can tie a bow around the story as a whole.  The book is satisfying, all of my questions were answered, and I wasn’t left looking for a sequel. 

Overall the book is worth reading and I’ll be adding more items from Reid to my shelf in the near future.

If you think Book of the Month sounds intriguing, (who doesn’t want a book every month?!) check out this link and we can both get a free book.

So I’ve been reading

This week I finished The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett. Every summer I make it my goal to read at least one of her books because it helps me decompress after a long academic year. This summer’s book has been on my shelf for a few years and it was a treat to get to it finally. 

I like the way the author uses rich descriptions.  While the content is always vastly different, the feeling invoked from reading such vivid text is the same.  I use her books as a treat for myself, and have not strayed from my tradition in over a decade.  In this particular novel she explains, “Young.  Parsifal shone with health.  It came like light from his skin.  He was an advertisement for milk.  For fresh air and sunshine.  For life in beautiful Southern California” (Patchett 198).  Her pairing of sentence lengths with figurative language slows the reader just enough to make them take notice, yet not enough to make the lose interest.

The narrative voice is that of Sabine, (I hope you are sitting down) the magician’s assistant.  After the loss of her magician, husband, and general guide, she struggles to understand a past she never knew existed.  Parsifal had buried his pain deep, and now Sabine is after it with a shovel in both hands.  Her  investigation takes her to Nebraska and a family he had not disclosed in their two decade relationship.  While Sabine is taken back at first, she eventually understands why his origins were not divulged.  “Sabine pulled out. She would take them to the cemetery.  She would take them to the hotel.  And then she would get these people the hell out of her car,” encapsulates her first impressions of the newly found mother and sister in law (46).

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The book is structured with a series of flashbacks, across several decades, as Sabine spans half of the country looking for answers.  She is deep in the grieving process when Bertie and Dot Fetters show up in Los Angeles.  After a brief visit, where she is left with more questions than answers, Sabine decides to visit the Fetters’ home in Nebraska.  I would start reading a flashback before I realized that Patchett had hooked me, “Sabine realized that all of this was meant to insult her, that the great wave of awkwardness that came up from every corner of the room, save Howard Plate’s, was the embarrassment generated on her behalf,” exemplifies how Patchett develops a strong internal monologue for her narrator, but then she draws the reader with a flashback as Sabine continues, “But Sabine herself, still standing after the handshake, didn’t feel insulted or embarrassed.  She only felt a vaguely tired sort of depression because it wasn’t summer, because she wasn’t sitting next to the pool underneath the shade of the big red umbrella with Phan while Parsifal brought out three Beefeater tonics” (207).  Patchett goes on the explain all of the idiosyncrasies that develop a character, even a secondary or deceased character, fully.

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While this wasn’t my favorite book by this author, and I did feel the ending looming as the book drew to a close, it was still satisfying to enjoy Patchett’s richly descriptive work in continuation of my personal tradition.

The Journey Begins

Afoot and lighthearted I take to the open road, healthy, free, the world before me.

-Walt Whitman

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It is hard to summarize how one gets to be 35, college educated, and unemployed in a few words- so humor me.  I never wanted to be an astronaut, president, doctor or lawyer.  As a small child I wanted to be an artist or lumberjack.  After I was bested by logistics and realized that I am neither creative nor agile (in fact I’m quite awkward in all respects), I floated around for a decade knowing only that I wanted to be someone’s mother one day.

I found myself finishing up at ASU at the age of 19.  I knew that unless I wanted to take on a lifetime of student loan debt I needed to complete my studies quickly as tuition and costs were on the rise.  I decided to go with what I knew.  Education.  My father had recently finished his post baccalaureate studies in Secondary Education, thus living his lifelong dream, and seemed happy enough.  I, myself, had some enjoyable experiences in my high school English classes.  After a quick check of the math requirements, I decided high school English teacher was the path for me.  It would be great I told myself as I rocketed towards my final few 27 credit hour semesters.  I would have the same schedule as my someday children.  I could even take them to work with me.  No weekends, evenings, holidays, heck you even get the summer off.  Teaching is honorable.  It is fun, it keeps you young, it is always interesting.  Some of the things I told myself were true, many proved to be incorrect.

I settled in teaching 8th grade ELA at a school I envisioned bringing my still unborn children to from the first time I walked through the door.  It was rough a first, but everything worth doing is, right?

Fast forward four years and I was on maternity leave with my newborn baby boy.  He was not a week old when the phone calls started arriving.  “When will you be back?”, “Your substitute is struggling,” and my favorite “You’ll be gone that long?  This will be a mess when you get back.”  Being 25 I didn’t really know that ins and outs of employer/employee relations.  I didn’t know I could just not answer the phone since I was on unpaid medical leave.  I didn’t realize that if I was to just never come back the world would keep spinning and the public education machine would churn out the next crop of cogs for the machine.  I felt guilty.  I left my baby at just three weeks old because people were counting on me, but what I didn’t realize was that he was counting on me too.  He needed me more than I could comprehend, but he didn’t have the voice to explain it.  However the facts were being presented to me daily.  If I stayed with him I was letting people down and making my life more difficult down the road.  What a mistake.  My meager wages covered daycare and not much else.  Someone else raised my boys.  I told myself it would all be worth it though when they were at the school with me.  In my mind it would be perfect.  We would arrive and depart together, every bit the happy family.  They would have the best teachers and I would be able to “keep my finger on the pulse” of their education.

Let’s just say things didn’t work out.  Best laid plans typically never do.  After thirteen years of faithful service, four classroom moves, over 1400 students, and raising my two boys to school age I parted ways with the public education system.  I have a jump drive full of lessons, thirteen signed yearbooks, a painting with my name spelled incorrectly, and countless boxes of books to show for it.

It is June.  I should be scanning Pinterest and building new lessons.  I should be reading perspective novels and researching new technologies and ideas.

But I’m not.  Instead I’m enjoying a family vacation.  I am changing focus and putting my boys first.  I am on the precipice of something exciting and new. 

So many emotions were involved with breaking out of my former identity, but none of them involve regret.

I cannot wait for the next chapter as this new journey unfolds.