By Gail Caldwell
August 2010, Random House
An unbelievably honest, moving and heartbreaking account of Caldwell’s midlife friendship with fellow writer Caroline Knapp, who died suddenly of lung cancer in 2002. Caldwell and Knapp shared everything—profound love for their dogs, Clementine and Lucille, a history of alcohol addiction and a passion for writing. Read it—and try not to weep.
"I have a photograph from one of those summers at Chocorua, framing the backs of my dog and Caroline's, Clementine and Lucille, who are silhouetted in the window seat and looking outside. It is the classic dog photo, capturing vigilance and loyalty: two tails resting side by side, two animals glued to their post. What I didn't realize for years is that in the middle distance of the picture, through the window and out to the fields beyond, you can make out the smallest of figures—an outline of Caroline and me walking down the hill. We must have been on our way to the lake, and the dogs, now familiar with our routine, had assumed their positions. Caroline's boyfriend, Morelli, a photographer, had seen the beauty of the shot and grabbed his camera.
I discovered this image the year after she died, and it has always seemed like a clue in a painting—a secret garden revealed only after it is gone . . . . Like most memories tinged with the final chapter, mine carry the weight of sadness. What they never tell you about grief is that missing someone is the simple part."
Like all of the BookPage staffers, I've always been an avid reader. But after majoring in English in college and then working in publishing in New York, I never thought I had the time to join a full-fledged book club. A few publishing girlfriends and I briefly began "The Bad Girls' Book Club" (where we would only read fun, self-indulgent books we couldn't admit to reading in the office) but we only met twice—and we weren't terribly diligent about our assignments. For the record, we WERE diligent with the delicious appetizers and specialty cocktails—and maybe that was the root of our problem...
After leaving the craziness of New York City for Nashville, I found myself with more time to read outside of work. The idea that I might actually finish one of the many books on my "to read" list was thrilling. And while gleefully explaining to my Nashville friends that I had all this time to read again, just for fun, I decided it was time to start a REAL book club. I pitched the idea to a few friends, who pitched the idea to a few of their friends, and voila—instant book club. We decided our first read will be Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. It's almost 1,200 pages long, so I'm a bit worried we've set the bar a little too high for our first meeting. But I have faith in our group. I'll check back in after our first meeting—hopefully in the next month or so!
What are your book clubs reading? Here are a few ideas, just for fun.
Bad Girls' Book Club reading list
The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe
Lighting Up by Susan Shapiro
From my mom’s "Ladies Who Lunch" book club
Peony in Love by Lisa See
The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan
From my dad’s “Guys Only” book club
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
The Tender Bar by J. R. Moehringer
(For the record, they meet at a bar, and they talk about sports, too)
Henry Holt recently released a new paperback edition of one of my favorite memoirs, Are You Somebody? by Nuala O'Faolain, the Irish writer who died last year of cancer at the age of 68. The new edition includes a foreword by Frank McCourt, who describes O'Faolain as "[a] woman who wore on her sleeve, not only her heart, but her mind and soul and whatever else she could offer." Still most definitely worth reading—or re-reading, if you're already a fan, like me—Are You Somebody? captures the author's feisty, defiant spirit in all its glory.
The new paperback concludes with the text of O'Faolain's final radio interview, which McCourt says "shocked listeners all over Ireland." An iconoclast til the end, O'Faolain said she wasn't having any further medical treatment and proclaimed, "Even if I gained time through the chemotherapy it isn't time I want. Because as soon as I knew I was going to die soon, the goodness went out of life."