Review: The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo

photo (24)Chances are that by now you’ve run across Marie Kondo’s The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up; it’s a big bestseller, and I know my Instagram feed has definitely featured before and after pictures of friends’ clothing collections.

In brief: Ms. Kondo, who is a celebrity in her native Japan thanks to her wildly successful books, shares her prescription for tidy living. It is a one-time process (though it may take weeks or months to finish) that involves sorting through every item one owns, according to categories (clothes, books, papers, etc.) and relinquishing those that do not “spark joy.” In her experience, clients who try her system not only find themselves in a tidy, clean space (very important in Japan, where housing is smaller and even more expensive, than, say, Boston, ahem), but also find myriad other benefits to living a tidy life.

As Molly Young writes for The Cut,

Kondo doesn’t nag. Instead, she urges a kind of animistic tenderness toward everyday belongings. Socks “take a brutal beating in their daily work, trapped between your foot and your shoe, enduring pressure and friction to protect your precious feet,” she writes. “The time they spend in your drawer is their only chance to rest.” Purses merit similar reverence: “Being packed all the time, even when not in use, must feel something like going to bed on an empty stomach.” Kondo’s thesis—that the world is filled with worthy recipients of mercy, including lightweight-microfiber ones—is as lovely as it is alien. It’s empathy as an extreme sport.

I wanted to read this book because I love organizing. I loathe doing the dishes and try to make existential jokes whenever I’m forced to vacuum, but show me a closet in need of sorting, and I am there for you.My son (nearly 4) has seen me organizing with glee often enough that he requests it at least once or twice a month (6:30a.m.: “Mama, Daddy! Today we or-nize my dressah!”). Ms. Kondo advocates folding clothes in squares, to be lined upright in drawers, which is a method I saw on Pinterest quite a while ago, and friends, it is awesome and I had a marvelous time folding laundry during that happy week.

But this is a serial sort of organization, never truly finished, that Ms. Kondo claims will be unnecessary once her method goes into effect. I believe her, and so I’m a little afraid to try it and lose an activity that I find both calming and absorbing.

The other reasons I’m wary of the Konmari method, as she calls it, can be found in this excellent essay by Lisa Miller (also in The Cut). I don’t really believe, in my heart of hearts, that if I’m without something, that I’ll always be able to run out and replace it. First, there’s the simple convenience factor; I much prefer having a pair of stockings in the drawer for the one time a year I’ll wear them—though they decidedly do not spark joy—than finding out 30 minutes before the wedding or party that I’ll have to run to Target. Second, I’m prone to anxiety, and that anxiety extends to the possibilities of layoffs and apocalypses, and if either of those things happens, I’d like to have backups of backups of things already in our apartment.

Then there’s the chapter on books. I leave you to contemplate the possibility that I will put all 1000-odd books I own on the floor, touch each one, and discard a great many before replacing the ones I truly love on the shelves.

[Sidebar: Coming later this year is my Theory of the Personal Library.]

Anyway, I think this book could be very helpful for people who do want to engage in major cleaning and tidying projects, since it’s not a self-perpetuating system and does not involve the investment of thousands of dollars in Elfa products. I also like some of Ms. Kondo’s strategies for letting go of objects with sentimental value, though don’t ask me how I’m faring with that. It’s also fascinating in terms of its tidbits about Japanese culture (shrines and charms get their own section, for instance) and about Ms. Kondo’s own life; she’s very honest about the reasons she thinks she became so interested in organizing.

And then, of course, you could ignore the spirit of the book and pick and choose some of her organizational strategies. Not that I did that with my socks, or anything.

photo (25)

A Book in Need of a Book Club: Jill Alexander Essbaum’s Hausfrau

photo 2 (4)I found Jill Alexander Essbaum’s Hausfrau* to be well-written, intriguingly structured, and deeply frustrating.

This last characteristic is a measure of the skill Ms. Essbaum, who is a very well-regarded poet, brings to her characterization of Anna, the eponymous hausfrau.

Anna is an American who’s lived in Switzerland for many years, but who’s never felt at home in her adopted country. Outwardly, her life seems orderly and comfortable. She is married to a handsome and successful banker, has three beautiful children, and lives in a charming suburb of one of the world’s best cities.

Inwardly, Anna is a mess. She has trouble making friends, her husband is emotionally distant, and she doesn’t speak the Swiss variant of German, so she feels constantly isolated, even from herself. It’s difficult for her to understand her own feelings and impulses. To combat her isolation, Anna starts Jungian analysis (one of the best parts of the book, I thought), German classes, and ill-fated affairs.

As I said, Hausfrau is very well written—calibrated to elicit the reader’s undivided attention and inability to look away from Anna’s increasingly disastrous life. The narrative arc covers only a few months in time, but each chapter reaches back to past events and is molded by Anna’s conversations with her analyst, an interesting strategy that I came to admire as I adjusted to it.

Anna is very much alive, but reading about her was exhausting; I often felt overwhelmed by the details of her thoughts and experiences. And this is why I think this book screams for a book club: some readers are going to hate her, others are going to be entranced by the full psychological portrait, and some are going to feel both ways at once (yes, that’s me).

Spoilers ensue. 


 

If I were part of a real-life book club, here are some things I’d want to talk about.

photo 1 (3)1. The heroine’s name is Anna, she’s adulterous, and the first chapter involves trains. Anna Karenina much? We all knew what was coming, right?

2. If Anna is so unhappy because Bruno is so emotionally distant (and prone to violence, though it’s not clear how far that goes before the last episode), why doesn’t Anna get a divorce? Why not even talk about it or think about it? I thought this was unrealistic. Marriage certainly didn’t define Anna to such an extent that she’d be adrift without it. She’d be adrift no matter what.

3. Anna’s failure to recognize her privilege annoyed the hell out of me. She does not need to worry about money at all (this is a complaint I have about a great many novels, as I discuss in this review), but doesn’t seem to appreciate this gift.

And while being the at-home parent is challenging (believe me, I know), she is not juggling working from home at the same time, her children are healthy, and she has so much help! Her mother-in-law is available to her almost at-will (and at no cost), freeing Anna up to take German classes and have sex with various accented men. She sends a text and Ursula magically picks up her sons from school. She calls Ursula and suddenly she has a night free to spend with her husband. Ta-da!

I’m all for at-home parents taking all the help they can get, but as someone who doesn’t have in-home help, or daycare, or my child in school, I cannot believe that Anna doesn’t take better advantage of her free time—which she’s had for years. I can imagine a person in the heady rush of child-free time taking a few weeks to adjust and figure out what to do with themselves, but years? No. Honestly, it drove me crazy that Anna devoted so much time to navel-gazing and destructive behavior instead of learning the local language, reading a book, writing a novel, volunteering, getting another degree, going to a museum, or for heaven’s sake, just taking a nap. 

On the other hand: Am I being too harsh? Is Anna in the grip of profound mental illness–depression seems the most likely–that somehow accounts for her myriad irresponsible choices and inability to appreciate the good parts of her life (particularly her children)?

4. I found it weird that I’m reading a novel in 2015 that punishes a woman for having sex, even adulterous sex. Very nineteenth-century novel.


 

End of spoilers.

Anyway, I recommend this book for its writing and because people are going to be talking about it, and if you read it, you will definitely have something to say.

I’m off to find a collection of Ms. Essbaum’s poetry, because I’m guessing it’s amazing.

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes, which did not affect the content of my review.

Recommended Reading: Making Nice, by Matt Sumell

photo (14)When I finished Making Nice*, Matt Sumell’s debut novel-in-stories, I couldn’t stop thinking of it as a bildungsroman, even though the narrator, Alby, is about thirty.

I think that’s because we can come of age not once, but at least three times: when we physically and, to some extent, emotionally “grow up” (the fodder for the archetypal bildungsroman, like Great Expectations or Jane Eyre), when we meet our own children, and when our parents die.

This last sense is speculation on my part, for which I am very grateful, but I can imagine the jarring sense of being alone in the adult world that would accompany the grief over a parent’s death.

Making Nice is about how Alby deals with his mother’s death from cancer—not very well, it turns out—but at the same time, it’s about his whole life, his family, his environment, and his choices. It’s a bruising account of that final and terrible kind of growing up.

On paper, Alby is not a sympathetic character: he drinks to violent excess, he steals pain medication not meant for him, he fights, he’s often contemptuous and belligerent toward women. He’s prone to egregious lapses in impulse control.

However, in Mr. Sumell’s capable hands, he is very much a whole person: studded with flaws more visible than most people’s, but a man of blistering emotions who demonstrates a profound capacity for empathy. The book’s structure—linked stories—is ideally suited to conveying the complexities of Alby’s character. Rage and humor sit uncomfortably close to one another, and the result is great writing, even if it’s sometimes difficult to read. This is a compassionate, humane book, and I recommend it.

(The Paris Review, which published one of the stories now included in Making Nice, has a fascinating interview with Matt Sumell that explores some of the novel’s autobiographical aspects.)

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration, which did not affect the content of my review.

Recommended Reading: The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen

photo (12)Last year, when I was reading Emmi Itäranta’s Memory of Water, I came across the phrase “Finnish weird,” which is an umbrella term that encompasses the speculative fiction that’s been coming out of Finland for the last couple of decades.

The Rabbit Back Literature Society* is definitely Finnish, and definitely weird, so I’m going to go ahead and say it’s Finnish weird. Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen’s novel is set in contemporary Finland, in the small town of Rabbit Back. The town is known primarily as the home of the famous children’s writer Laura White and her Rabbit Back Literature society, a club of nine children whom she trained as writers and who went on to become some of Finland’s most important and popular authors.

Ella Milana is a young substitute literature teacher in Rabbit Back, living with her mother and dementia-ridden father. After a short story of hers is published in the town paper, she receives an invitation to join the Rabbit Back Literature Society as its tenth member—an honor, as far as anyone knows, that hasn’t been conferred in the society’s long history.

On the day she is to meet Laura White, however, something very strange indeed happens, and Ella falls down the rabbit hole, so to speak.

One of the jacket blurbs compares this book to Twin Peaks and The Secret History, and those are pretty good comparisons, up to a point. Rabbit Back is populated by strange small-town souls and subject to peculiar quirks, like gnome infestations and an epidemic of stray dogs. The members of Ella’s new society play a very strange game that one player describes as “psychic strip poker around a glass table” (181). And there’s a plague infecting books, leading Sonja to murder Raskolnikov, for example, in the copy of Crime and Punishment that Ella confiscates from a student.

I loved the weirdness of this book, the little and large strangenesses, but the novel as a whole does have some limitations (some might be due to the fact that it’s a work in translation). Some phrases repeat without a strong reason to be repetitive, and I caught one editing error (“phased” instead of “fazed”). The ending isn’t neat, which didn’t bother me, but might annoy some readers who like all the answers, or at least a good sense that the answers they come up with are quite possibly correct. And the sexuality in the book tends toward the creepy (with a notable exception at the very end of the book, which I thought was really interesting and good) and uncomfortable, which didn’t quite mesh with the book’s atmospheric weirdness.

Still, if library book theft gets your heart pounding or if you often wonder where your favorite authors get their ideas, you might just love The Rabbit Back Literature Society.

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes, which did not affect the content of my review.

Bringing Sexy Back (To Valentine’s Day): 15 Steamy Poems by Esteemed Poets

Dear Readers,

This post was a big hit last year, and so it’s back (It’s 2015, there are 15 poems . . . it works, right?). I hope you’ll post in the comments so I can get a head start on 2016’s Valentine’s poetry post.

Happy Valentine’s Day in advance!

(Special mention to our friends J and D, celebrating their first anniversary this week, and our friends D and E, whose birthdays are on Valentine’s Day.)


 

Toss that teddy bear and give your significant person the gift of verse this Valentine’s Day.

Red Rose Petals by Victor Habbick, courtesy freedigitalphotos.net

Red Rose Petals by Victor Habbick, courtesy freedigitalphotos.net

That poet everyone reads at weddings is actually much more appropriate for the bedroom:

e. e. cummings, “i like my body when it is with your” 

An unsexy title for a very sexy poem (check out those ellipses!): 

Li-young Lee, “This Room and Everything In It”

The “Oh, snap” kind of sexy:

Edna St. Vincent Millay, “I, being born a woman and distressed”:

Wistful sexy:

C. P. Cavafy, “Body, remember”

Bitter sexy:

Thomas Wyatt. “They Flee from Me”

Literate sexy:

Robert Hass, “Etymology” (start watching at 18:42)

Damn sexy:

Audre Lorde, “Recreation

Desire, frustration, and jewelry. Also: socioeconomic tension. (And the first overtly lesbian poem I read as a teenager. Bit of a lightbulb moment, there.)

Carol Ann Duffy, “Warming her Pearls”

Difficult to choose just one Donne poem, but hey, let’s go with the salute to nakedness:

John Donne, “To His Mistress Going to Bed”

Restraint and abandonment, all at once:

Emily Dickinson, “Wild Nights – Wild Nights! (269)”

For the Dear Readers who are also parents: 

Galway Kinnel, “After Making Love We Hear Footsteps”

Maybe this is where they got the title for Blue is the Warmest Color:

May Swenson, “Blue”

I hate birds, but this poem is still amazing: 

Henri Cole, “Loons”

You’ll never look at roses the same way again, I promise:

D.H. Lawrence, “Gloire de Dijon”

And yes, a Neruda poem. But I can’t find it anywhere on the interwebs, so you’ll have to go find a copy of World’s End or Late and Posthumous Poems for yourself. 

Pablo Neruda, “Física”/”Physics”

Your turn: what’s the sexiest poem you’ve ever read?

Recommended Reading: Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie

Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice has won essentially every sci-fi award available–and justifiably so. It’s one of the best sci-fi books I’ve ever read, an intelligent, gripping tour-de-force that demands and rewards the reader’s undivided attention.

photo (5)I’m going to say almost nothing about the plot because I’m hoping you’ll read this book and I want you to get the most out of the experience. In brief, two stories run side by side.

Breq is the sole survivor of a twenty-year-old disaster. She’s out for justice, or maybe revenge, but a figure from an even more distant past might complicate things.

The Justice of Toren is an enormous starship, its artificial intelligence nearly omniscient and able to “be” in many places at once, both on the ship and off. The ship serves the Radch, a human empire that has been conquering the galaxy, but Justice of Toren’s mission is one of the last of its kind, and something’s afoot that’s resisting its analysis.

This book is so smart, so original, so interesting. What’s been getting the most play is Ms. Leckie’s take on gender; the Radch do not recognize gender at all, so the only pronouns in use are female. Every character is “she”; it’s jarring at first, and I found myself, ardent feminist though I am, analyzing characters for hints of their “actual” gender, when of course no such “actual” gender exists in the world of the novel. I suspect Ms. Leckie knew readers would do this; it’s a subtle critique of our own gender-obsessed culture, and a commentary on the way in which for many hundreds (if not thousands) of years, humanity accepted “he” as the universal pronoun for people and for God.

[I have utterly no idea how they’re going to make TV series out of this book, let alone cast it. Well, I can imagine Ronald D. Moore doing it, but he’s otherwise occupied right now. The book has been optioned for TV, which you can read about here. Don’t read the last paragraph–spoilers, sort of.]

Gender aside, Ancillary Justice has a great deal to say about consciousness, psychology, empire, and cultural assimilation — we’re talking Battlestar Galactica-level nuance and interest (you knew I was going to bring BSG into this eventually, right?). Thematic concerns aside, it’s action packed and suspenseful, and a treat to read.

Ms. Leckie’s world-building is fascinating — it’s minimalist compared to some of the overwrought work that pops up in speculative fiction. Details are carefully placed, and often mysterious — I can’t wait to read the next book in the planned Imperial Radch trilogy to learn more (saga-phobes, never fear: Ancillary Justice works just fine as a standalone).

I’ll leave you with a few questions from the novel, ones I’m still thinking about, weeks after I finished it:

“[. . .] is anyone’s identity a matter of fragments held together by convenient or useful narrative, that in ordinary circumstances never reveals itself as a fiction? Or is it really fiction?” (207)

*Special hat tip to Mr. O, who got me this book for my birthday. Well done, sir.

Fast Read: Dirty Chick, by Antonia Murphy

photo (3)In a late episode of The West Wing, Toby asks a senator what she’d like to do if she weren’t politicking. “I’d grow apples,” she says.

The first time I saw that scene, a lightbulb went off. That’s what I’d like to do too, if I weren’t writing and reading, and if I had a propensity related to green things that didn’t involve killing them. (Although I like to think that this year I’ve progressed to benign neglect.) Someday I fully intend to (a) buy a house and (b) turn half said house’s backyard into a garden, which will (c) necessitate the acquisition of many, many gardening books. Doesn’t that work out nicely?

Anyway, you’ve perhaps noted that my agricultural ambitions involve only flora, not fauna, and if you’re wondering why, look no further than Antonia Murphy’s Dirty Chick*, a funny, brash, and often gross memoir of her foray into farm life.

Like many of us who saw The Lord of the Rings, Antonia Murphy thought that New Zealand looked like a pretty great place to live. Unlike many of us who saw The Lord of the Rings, she actually moved there.

Rural New Zealand, in her account, certainly has its charms — beautiful countryside, interesting and friendly neighbors, an abundance of fruit with which to make homemade wine — but it’s still a whole new world for an American free spirit with a penchant for embellished headbands and animals that look cute (at first).

Dirty Chick is a zany romp through Ms. Murphy’s first year in Purua with her family, as she deals with grumpy alpacas, a renegade cow, too many maggots, goat medical emergencies, a flock of chickens, and moldy cheese (that last one is a good thing). At the same time, the family adjusts Ms. Murphy’s son’s developmental delays, hoping that life in Purua and the quality of its local school will help him thrive. Ms. Murphy’s obvious dedication to her son, her family, her friends, and her animals is endearing and wonderful to read about.

Dirty Chick is not for the squeamish, those offended by profanity, those with an oversensitive gag reflex, or those who prefer their romantic dreams of artisan farming unshattered (if you don’t believe me, just read the prologue, which involves goat placenta). But if you’re looking for a taste of farm life without the work, a book that will make you laugh every few pages, and an author whose wine recipes you’d love to ask for, and who you’d like to raise a glass with, Dirty Chick is for you. (On that last one: just don’t look in Antonia Murphy’s purse.)

*I received a review copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration, which did not affect the content of my review.

Recommended Reading: To the Letter and Letters of Note

Dear Readers,

I have mail on my mind. I’ve been—with the help and crayon skills of a small boy of my acquaintance—putting together the annual batch of Christmas/Hanukkah/Solstice/Festivus cards (if you’d like one, blog friends, do get in touch) and reflecting on the very great pleasure a handwritten note can elicit.

Earlier this week, I received an unexpected package in the mail—a note and two extraordinarily thoughtful gifts from a friend who visited this summer. This friend (who is a very private person, and who I’ll call L) happens to be one of the most wonderful writers I know; she thinks deeply and expresses herself clearly, and I’m fairly sure that if she had been born 200-odd years ago, she would have been a real-life Jane Austen heroine.

L writes gorgeous letters via email, but I am afraid that I have been a terrible correspondent, falling off the epistolary train, so to speak. Fortuitously, as this lovely gift arrived, I was reading a book that suggested to me a way to catch the train again: writing letters.

To the LetterSimon Garfield’s To the Letter: A Celebration of the Lost Art of Letter Writing* is one of the most charming books I’ve read in years. Part popular history, part love letter to letters themselves, it’s an entertaining, lively read that will have you reaching for pen and paper by page ten.

Mr. Garfield traces the history of the letter, letter-writing advice, and postal services in general, from the Romans to the twenty-first century, pausing over figures like Madame de Sévigné, Virginia and Leonard Woolf, Erasmus, and Ted Hughes. Examples and illustrations are abundant, but perhaps the crowning gem of the book is the correspondence between Chris and Bessie, two English friends (and also postal workers) who fall in love by post during World War II. Mr. Garfield places a selection of these letters between his longer chapters, approximating the delay that’s part and parcel of letter writing. (I should note that for most of the book the correspondence is one-sided; Chris felt the need to burn Bessie’s letters when he moved billets.)

I highly recommend To the Letter, especially for anyone (ahem) who reads mostly fiction, but would like to read more nonfiction.

Letters of NoteAnd since ’tis the season, friends, I’d also recommend To the Letter as a gift, especially if you pair it with Letters of Note (which I received as a birthday present from my husband—thanks, dear!), a gorgeous, coffee-table kind of book you’ll actually read. Shaun Usher, who runs the website Letters of Note (a Rosemary & Reading Glasses favorite) collects letters old and new, famous and not, and includes photocopies (and transcriptions, if needed) of the missives. It’s glorious.

Anyway, I’ve decided to join the movement to keep letters alive (to a particular uncle: I’m late to the party, I know!)—perhaps you’re already on board? Let me know!

Cordially,

Carolyn

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes, which did not affect the content of my review.

Literary Wives: Wife 22, by Melanie Gideon

literarywives2If you’re new to Literary Wives, here’s the summary: we’re an online bookclub of five to six book bloggers, and we post every other month about a different book with the word “wife” in the title. When we read these books, we have two questions in mind:

1. What does this book say about wives or the experience of being a wife?

2. In what way does this woman define “wife”—or in what way is she defined by “wife”?

This month, we’re talking about Melanie Gideon’s 2012 novel, Wife 22.  We invite you to join the discussion by commenting on our blogs (links below) or posting your own review on our shiny new Facebook page.

We also hope you’ll join us next time, on Monday, December 1, when we’ll be discussing Adriana Trigiani’s The Shoemaker’s Wife.


Here’s the jacket copy/summary from the publisher:

Maybe it was those extra five pounds I’d gained. Maybe it was because I was about to turn the same age my mother was when I lost her. Maybe it was because after almost twenty years of marriage my husband and I seemed to be running out of things to say to each other.

But when the anonymous online study called “Marriage in the 21st Century” showed up in my inbox, I had no idea how profoundly it would change my life. It wasn’t long before I was assigned both a pseudonym (Wife 22) and a caseworker (Researcher 101).

And, just like that, I found myself answering questions.

7. Sometimes I tell him he’s snoring when he’s not snoring so he’ll sleep in the guest room and I can have the bed all to myself.
61. Chet Baker on the tape player. He was cutting peppers for the salad. I looked at those hands and thought, I am going to have this man’s children.
67. To not want what you don’t have. What you can’t have. What you shouldn’t have.
32. That if we weren’t careful, it was possible to forget one another.

Before the study, my life was an endless blur of school lunches and doctor’s appointments, family dinners, budgets, and trying to discern the fastest-moving line at the grocery store. I was Alice Buckle: spouse of William and mother to Zoe and Peter, drama teacher and Facebook chatter, downloader of memories and Googler of solutions.

But these days, I’m also Wife 22. And somehow, my anonymous correspondence with Researcher 101 has taken an unexpectedly personal turn. Soon, I’ll have to make a decision—one that will affect my family, my marriage, my whole life. But at the moment, I’m too busy answering questions.

As it turns out, confession can be a very powerful aphrodisiac.

photo (128)Meet Alice Buckle. She’s a former playwright, current children’s drama teacher, and her marriage to William, an ad executive, is not failing, exactly, but it’s not going exactly well, either. Both love their children; she loves their dog. They live in the Bay Area in a nice house, and have suitably cool friends. [Memo to novelists and screenwriters: enough with the token the San Francisco non-white lesbian friend, ok? Maybe try a non-white San Francisco lesbian as a main character? Sheesh.]

And of course she’s in the middle of a mid-life crisis, because “having a secret is the most powerful aphrodisiac in the world and, by necessity, exactly what’s missing in a marriage” (88).

In Wife 22, being a wife is difficult because it involves boredom and stagnation, and because the wife in question has difficulty communicating directly with her spouse. Motherhood seems equally difficult (for different reasons) but more rewarding. 

The novel’s plot is predictable, the characters mostly so, and the commentary bland, but the dialogue is lively and the format keeps things moving. If Alice narrated the whole thing, I don’t think I would have enjoyed the novel, but Ms. Gideon uses e-mails, Google searches, Facebook messages, and discussion board postings (that made me fear PTA parents) to break up the text. I did think that providing Alice’s answers to the survey questions without providing the questions themselves until the end of the book was pretty gimmicky. 

Wife 22 is about a very specific type of marriage: white, affluent, heterosexual, urban; Alice and William’s struggles feel frivolous and self-indulgent given the experiences of the great majority of couples in the United States and, indeed, the world.

But perhaps that’s not a fair assessment, since Wife 22 is really light reading. It has its moments of perceptiveness, of course, like this one, when Alice meets with her support group composed of women who, like her, have lost their mothers:

[. . .] we offered shoulders to lean on, hands to hold, and ears to bend. And when we failed at that, there was lumpia and waterproof mascara samples, links to articles, and yes, vodka-laced tomato juice.

But mostly there was the ease that came from not having to pretend you had ever recovered. The world wanted you to go on. The world needed you to go on. But the Mumble Bumbles understood that the loss soundtrack was always playing in the background. Sometimes it was on mute, and sometimes it was blasting away on ten, making you deaf. (106)

And it can be quite funny, especially when the novel focuses on the couple’s two kids, or when Alice makes an unexpected comparison.

I want to have a conversation with my husband that goes deeper than insurance policies and taxes and what time will you be home and did you call the guy about the gutters, but we seem to be stuck here floating around on the surface of our lives like kids in the pool propped up on those Styrofoam noodles. (33)

Wife 22 is like,  I think, a slightly more serious version of a post-2000 Nancy Meyers movie, only without the divorce. It’s good-natured, well-intentioned entertainment about a subset of Americans who get more than their fair share of screen (and page) time.


Please visit the other Literary Wives bloggers to get their takes on the book! 

Emily at The Bookshelf of Emily J. 

Ariel at One Little Library

Cecilia at Only You

Kay at WhatMeRead

Lynn at Smoke and Mirrors

(Audra at Unabridged Chick is on hiatus)

Recommended Reading: Entries, by Wendell Berry

EntriesI find myself rushed this week, Dear Readers, so this post will not be as long as it ought to be given its subject: Wendell Berry.

Mr. Berry is a noted essayist, novelist, poet, and environmentalist; he is particularly concerned with the loss of small farms in America. He practices what he preaches, living and working on his own farm in Kentucky.

Entries is the first book of his that I’ve ever picked up; I wish I’d come across it sooner, because the poems in it are wonderful. They are human and humble, agile and grounded. Though I admired all the poems, and the poet’s fine sense of our relationship to nature, I particularly loved a poem called “The Wild Rose,” which is a tribute to his wife, and In Extremis, a series of poems about his father’s illness and death. If you’d like to get a sense of Mr. Berry’s style, the Poetry Foundation has links to quite a few poems on this page.

I highly recommend Entries; I’ll be on the lookout for more books by Wendell Berry. If you have a favorite book or poem, please let me know what it is!