Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Romance of Bookshops, Readers of the Last ARC, RIP Harper Lee and Umberto Eco and After You by Jojo Moyes

Quotation of the Day
"There is nothing like the romance of a bookshop. A living, breathing
behemoth where people wander around in dreamy circles, bump into
interesting strangers, flirt, buy a book, go for coffee, fall in love,
get their hearts broken, then go back for consolation. We know this from
films of old, from 84 Charing Cross Road and The Big Sleep to Manhattan,
Notting Hill and You've Got Mail. This is the 'How We Met' story that we
would like to tell our children and friends: 'Oh, we met in the poetry
section of that old bookshop in 1984, and look at us now!' "

--Arifa Akbar in an Independent story with one of our favorite
headlines: "Bookshops are back--because you can't meet a lover on your

This is just so cool! I love it that this ARC traveled far and wide and developed into
a new book!

Readers of the Last ARC
After the Woods, Kim Savage's just-released debut psychological
thriller, was generating so much buzz--and requests for advanced
copies--that publicist Morgan B. Dubin at Farrar, Straus & Giroux Books
for Young Readers ran a "traveling ARC blog tour
" with
one single ARC, the last one she had on hand. That copy traveled from
blogger to blogger, from New York City to upstate New York, Boston,
Pennsylvania, Chicago, northern Illinois, Texas, Louisiana and finally
back to N.Y.C. Dubin asked the bloggers who received it to record their
doodles, ideas, theories and reactions in the ARC itself as they were
reading, creating a community of passionate readers within the pages.
The dog-eared ARC--thoroughly marked up with doodles and comments from
"great first sentence!" to "double eeek!"--is now back in the offices of

This past wee we lost two great authors, Harper Lee and Umberto Eco, whose works I've read and loved. 

Harper Lee Dies at Age 89
Harper Lee
author of the iconic To Kill a Mockingbird--one of the most beloved
works of American literature--and the more recent Go Set a Watchman,
died on Friday in her hometown of Monroeville, Ala. She was 89.

Published in 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird became an immediate bestseller,
won the Pulitzer Prize and was made into what has become a classic
movie. The book was been a steady seller since it was published--most
American students read it at least once in school--and has sold more
than 40 million copies.

Set in the 1930s in a small town like Lee's hometown, the story is a
coming of age-Southern gothic tale dealing with pervasive racism,
inequality and legal injustice from the point of view of a young girl,
Scout. The book is revered for its narrative style, its sense of humor,
its vivid and eccentric characters. The plot involves a tragically
common situation in the Deep South during the time: Scout's lawyer
father, Atticus Finch, represents a black man falsely accused of raping
a white woman. Most townspeople want to lynch the defendant and deeply
resent Atticus's strong defense. Atticus's wisdom, integrity, high moral
values and gentleness are a shining example for Scout and a signal of
hope for readers. To Kill a Mockingbird's characters, including Scout's
brother, Jem, and friend Dill (based on her real-life friend Truman
Capote) are among the best known in the world. As one fan said over the
weekend, "You can go to France and mention Boo Radley, and people will
know who you mean."

Lee was famously reclusive, declining interviews, uncomfortable with her
fame and success. In 2007, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of
Freedom by President Bush for her contribution to literature, and she
traveled to the White House for the honor.

Lee published nothing after To Kill a Mockingbird--until last July, when
Go Set a Watchman, an early draft of To Kill a Mockingbird, with many of
the same characters but set in the 1950s, appeared. The book was an
instant sensation, celebrated with the same kind of excitement and
public events that greeted new Harry Potter books. Although not as
polished as To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman was marked by the
same strong narrative style. Some fans were disappointed that Atticus
Finch is portrayed as a segregationist and says demeaning things about
blacks, but for many, it was wonderful to read more prose by Harper Lee.

Remembrances and testimonials have poured in. Among the many eloquent
ones was this from President Obama "When Harper Lee
sat down to write To Kill a Mockingbird, she wasn't seeking awards or
fame. She was a country girl who just wanted to tell an honest story
about life as she saw it.

"But what that one story did, more powerfully than one hundred speeches
possibly could, was change the way we saw each other, and then the way
we saw ourselves. Through the uncorrupted eyes of a child, she showed us
the beautiful complexity of our common humanity, and the importance of
striving for justice in our own lives, our communities, and our country.

"Ms. Lee changed America for the better. And there is no higher tribute
we can offer her than to keep telling this timeless American story--to
our students, to our neighbors, and to our children--and to constantly
try, in our own lives, to finally see each other."
Umberto Eco
"an Italian scholar in the arcane field of semiotics who became the
author of bestselling novels," as the New York Times put it, died
February 19. He was 84. Eco "sought to interpret cultures through their
signs and symbols... and published more than 20 nonfiction books on
these subjects while teaching at the University of Bologna, Europe's
oldest university. But rather than segregate his academic life from his
popular fiction, Mr. Eco infused his seven novels with many of his
scholarly preoccupations."

The most successful of these was The Name of the Rose, which sold more
than 10 million copies in about 30 languages. His other books include
Foucault's Pendulum, The Island of the Day Before, The Prague Cemetery,
History of Beauty, Baudolino, Serendipities: Language & Lunacy, The Book
of Legendary Lands
recently, Numero Zero. Eco was honored with Italy's highest literary
award, the Premio Strega; was named a Chevalier de la L├ęgion
d'Honneur by the French government; and was an honorary member of the
American Academy of Arts and Letters.

The Guardian reported that Italy's prime minister, Matteo Renzi, praised
Eco as "an extraordinary example of a European intellectual
combining unique intelligence of the past with a limitless capacity to
anticipate the future. It's an enormous loss for culture, which will
miss his writing and voice, his sharp and lively thought, and his

In the Telegraph, novelist Allan Massie paid tribute to Eco, noting that
"intellectual though he was, with a personal library of some 50,000
Eco didn't immure himself in the proverbial Ivory Tower
A whisky-drinker with, for most of his life, a 60-cigarettes-a-day
habit, he was an accomplished journalist and early media don, who adored
popular culture, starting with the comic books of his childhood. 'I
suspect,' he said, 'that there is no serious scholar who doesn't like to
watch television.' "

But Stephen Moss observed in the Guardian that the "key, in taking stock
of his 60-year career, will be putting the fictions in context
Do not trust obituaries that emphasize 'the author of The Name of the
Rose' to the exclusion of his other personae. His novels were a
relatively small part of his output, and his contributions as critic,
editor, literary theorist and all-round provocateur should not be
forgotten. He was fascinated by--and wanted to look afresh
at--everything. Nothing was sacrosanct. The society in which he had
grown up had been torn apart by the second world war, and he sought to
understand why. That was the key to his leftwing politics and to his
restless intellectual wanderings. Perhaps the Anglo-Saxon literary and
intellectual world is safer and more self-contained because it did not
suffer that mid-century catastrophe."

After You by Jojo Moyes is the sequel to Me Before You, her bestselling fiction book about assisted suicide and quality of life. Though I read and enjoyed Me Before You, I felt that the women in the book were somewhat stereotyped and lacked backbone, other than the main character, Louisa "Lou" Clarke, who was firmly ensconced in the Manic Pixie Dreamgirl trope. So I was heartened when, in this book, Lou's mother finally breaks free of her role as a slave to her husband with no opinions that aren't approved by him, and decides to develop her life by taking classes and not shaving her legs. Yet Lou herself can't seem to move on from the paralyzed man she fell in love with, Will Traynor. Here's the blurb:

The sequel to Me Before You, which is soon to be a major motion picture releasing 6/3/2016
“We all lose what we love at some point, but in her poignant, funny way, Moyes reminds us that even if it’s not always happy, there is an ever after.” —Miami Herald
“You’re going to feel uncomfortable in your new world for a bit. But I hope you feel a bit exhilarated too. Live boldly. Push yourself. Don’t settle. Just live well. Just live. Love, Will.”
How do you move on after losing the person you loved? How do you build a life worth living?

Louisa Clark is no longer just an ordinary girl living an ordinary life. After the transformative six months spent with Will Traynor, she is struggling without him. When an extraordinary accident forces Lou to return home to her family, she can’t help but feel she’s right back where she started.

Her body heals, but Lou herself knows that she needs to be kick-started back to life. Which is how she ends up in a church basement with the members of the Moving On support group, who share insights, laughter, frustrations, and terrible cookies. They will also lead her to the strong, capable Sam Fielding—the paramedic, whose business is life and death, and the one man who might be able to understand her. Then a figure from Will’s past appears and hijacks all her plans, propelling her into a very different future. . . .

For Lou Clark, life after Will Traynor means learning to fall in love again, with all the risks that brings. But here Jojo Moyes gives us two families, as real as our own, whose joys and sorrows will touch you deeply, and where both changes and surprises await.

So one day, out of the blue, Lily Houghton-Miller, a horrible 16 year old claiming to be Will's daughter shows up on Lou's doorstep. Lily's mother was Will's long term girlfriend in college, and apparently got pregnant and then broke up with Will without telling him she was going to have his baby. Fast forward to years later when said girlfriend is remarried to a wealthy man but hears of Wills death and then tells her daughter that this man was her biological father, and, because Lily wasn't getting along with her mother and stepfather (she calls him "F-face") she decides to leave home to find out more about her father and his family by imposing herself on Lou. Lily is a lying, scheming, thieving and manipulative girl who uses drugs and people without conscience. Lou is somehow a complete push-over for this girl, to whom she owes NOTHING, but seems to feel she's responsible for throughout the novel.  No matter how badly she behaves, Lou always supports her and picks up the pieces of whatever mess she's gotten herself into. Even when Lily steals all of Lou's family heirloom jewelry and anything of value, including money, from her apartment (the "friends" she lets into the apartment to do drugs help in this endeavor), Lou tells Lily that she "owes her nothing" and that all is forgiven and fine. Lily has abused her trust so many times by this point, and been horrible and mean to her so often that I was having sympathy for Lily's cold and cruel mother by this point. Meanwhile, Lou has the worst job in the world, working in an airport bar for this nutball manager, and when she gets the opportunity to actually move to NYC and have a great job doing what she loves, she turns them down because Lily is missing and she feels she can't leave the evil little troll until she's "safe and stable." 
Honestly, I wanted to smack Lou in the face at least twice in every chapter. She's such a doormat! She finally finds someone to love, a handsome EMT named Sam, and she screws that up, too. In the end, though, she finally manages to fix things with handsome Sam, and Lily ends up living with her grandparents, and Lou's parents finally reconcile. So all is well that ends well, though I found the whole novel rather maddening and frustrating.  Still, it is worthy of a B+ and I'd recommend it to anyone who read Me Before You and has the patience to find out what happened to Lou and her family.

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