The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
July 2002, Little, Brown
These were the lovely bones that had grown around my absence: the connections—sometimes tenuous, sometimes made at great cost, but often magnificent—that happened after I was gone. And I began to see things in a way that let me hold the world without me in it. The events that my death wrought were merely the bones of a body that would become whole at some unpredictable time in the future. The price of what I came to see as this miraculous body had been my life
Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby
September 2009, Riverhead
Juliet, Naked follows the intertwining stories of Duncan, a college professor in a small English town whose one passion is for the music of Tucker Crowe; Duncan's girlfriend Annie, who is beginning to realize how angry she is that she's just spent 15 years with a man who loves Tucker Crowe more than her; and Tucker Crowe himself, who has been in near-seclusion in rural Pennsylvania since shortly after the release of his greatest album, Juliet, in 1986. Hornby has a gift for illuminating the inner lives of his characters, from their moments of petty jealousy to the recognition of their scariest or most humbling needs. I especially appreciate his insight into the kind of fannish obsession that Duncan has for Tucker Crowe, which both embarrasses and sustains him. I always love Hornby's characters, and this book is no exception; I'm almost excited that I have another flight tomorrow, so I can have an excuse to plow through the rest of Juliet, Naked and find out how it ends!
What really frightened him was how spectacularly his transgression had paid off. All these years, he'd done nothing more than read and listen and think, and though he'd been stimulated by these activities, what had he uncovered, really? And yet by behaving like a teenage hooligan with a screw loose, he had made a major breakthrough. He was the only Crowologist in the world who knew about that picture, and he could never tell anyone about it, unless he wished to own up to being mentally unbalanced. Every other year spent on his chosen subject had been barren compared to the last couple of hours. But that couldn't be the way forward, surely? He didn't want to be the kind of man who plunged his arms into trash cans in the hope of finding a letter, or a piece of bacon rind that Crowe might have chewed. By the time he got back to the hotel, he had convinced himself he was finished with Tucker Crowe.
What are you reading today?
Tunneling to the Center of the Earth: Stories by Kevin Wilson
March 2009, Harper Perennial
From “Grand Stand-In”
The key to this job is to always remember that you aren’t replacing anyone’s grandmother. You aren’t trying to be a better grandmother than the first one. For all intents and purposes, you are the grandmother, and always have been. And if you can do this, can provide the level of grandmotherliness with each family, every time, then you can make a good career out of this. Not to say that it isn’t weird sometimes. Because it is. More often than not, actually, it is incredibly, undeniably weird.
I never had a family of my own. I didn't get married, couldn't see the use of it. Most of my own family is gone now, and the ones that are still around, I don't see anymore. To most people, I probably look like an old maid, buying for one, and this is perfectly fine with me. I like my privacy . . . . I like the dimensions of the space I take up, and I am happy. But it's not hard to imagine what it would have been like: husband, children, grandchildren, pictures on the mantle, visits at Christmas, a big funeral, and people who would inherit my money. You can be happy with your life and yet still see the point of one lived differently. That's why it seemed so natural when I saw this ad in the paper: "Grandmothers Wanted—No Experience Necessary."
Safe From the Neighbors by Steve Yarbrough
January 2010, Knopf
Steve Yarbrough’s fifth novel is one of the finest examples of lovely language in fiction I’ve read all year. The vehicle for Yarbrough’s words is the story of Luke May, a local history teacher in Loring, Mississippi, in the Delta. When a new teacher comes to Luke’s school, he is pushed to investigate a Civil Rights-era tragedy. This consuming quest—part murder mystery, part personal reckoning—will lead Luke to make a drastic and painful choice.
She’s not there. I hang around near the door until two minutes before eight, nodding at the students as they file past, a couple of them giving me funny looks, wondering what I’m doing here. When I finally give up and head for my own room, at the far end of the west wing, I see her: like me, she’s been standing outside the door, this small, trim woman in the same white slacks and purple blouse she wore the first day of school. She looks anxious, her hands working nervously as they hang by her sides. She has no intention of leaving. The bell rings, but she doesn’t move.
She watches while I walk toward her. When I’m four or five feet away, she says, “Yes?”
I don’t know how I know this, but I do: yes with a question mark after it doesn’t mean yes and it doesn’t mean no. It’s not a statement, but neither is it a question. What it is is an opening, a space you can either fill in or choose not to.
What are you reading today?
Blackout by Connie Willis
February 2010, Spectra
Eileen, Polly and Mike are historians at Oxford in 2060, where a time-travel machine can send researchers into the past to study history as it happens. Eileen is observing the children evacuated to the British countryside during World War II, while Mike is studying the heroes of Dunkirk and Polly is sent to London during the Blitz. But back in 2060, the future of time travel grows increasingly uncertain, and the scheduled "drops" more erratic. What will happen to Eileen, Polly and Mike if they can't get home again?
Four months, Eileen thought, separating them. I only have to put up with them for four more months. "No one's going to invade," she said firmly, "tonight or any other night."
"'Ow do you know?" Alf demanded.
"You can't know something what ain't 'appened yet," Binnie said.
"Why ain't 'e going to?" Alf persisted.
Because the British Army will get away from him at Dunkirk, Eileen thought, and he'll lose the Battle of Britain and begin bombing London to bring the British to their knees. But it won't work. They'll stand up to him. It'll be their finest hour. And it will lose him the war.
"Because I have faith in the future," she said, and, getting a firmer grip on Alf and Binnie, set off with them into the darkness.
What are you reading today?
True Confections by Katharine Weber
January 2010, Crown Publishing Group
In the form of an affidavit, narrator Alice Tatnall Ziplinsky (formerly known as “Arson Girl”) chronicles the history – the good, the ugly and the absurd – of her family-by-marriage’s candy company.
“Candy makes people happy,” Sam used to say as a way of summing up and moving the conversation past a challenging moment, “and I make candy. So my business is to make people happy. Who could ask for anything better?”
Zip’s Candies might make people happy, but it doesn’t make the Ziplinskys happy. I take peculiar solace in finding myself part of a great American tradition of troubled candy families. At an awards dinner during a candy and snack show in Atlanta last year, an inebriated vendor told me fascinating details of two Mars family divorces, which make my situation seem like a piece of cake. And let us reflect for a moment on Hart Crane’s suicidal leap into the sea from a ship sailing between Havana and Florida at age thirty-three, in 1932. His father, Clarence, had invented Life Savers candy twenty years before, inspired by the recent innovation of round flotation lifesaving rings on ships.
Related in BookPage: Katharine Weber writes a behind-the-book essay about Triangle, her fourth novel.
What are you reading today?
In this new weekly series, we’ll excerpt a memorable passage from a book we’re currently reading.
The Privileges by Jonathan Dee
January 2010 from Random House
She looked at him as if he were a little mad, but then she caught something exciting in his eyes and threw up her hands and said, “Why not?” That was it: everything was open to them. What was life’s object if not that?