Morningside Heights by Cheryl Mendelson
I read a lot of novels and certainly each one affects me in different ways. Some are striking in their originality or they portray life and love and family in a new way. Sometimes I read a novel and learn more about a people group or a certain type of experience. Some are funny, some are convoluted, some are tangled in both consciousness and storytelling. I seem to like nearly everything (to the point that I question my taste) but few are as heartwarming, memorable, well-written and just as true as Morningside Heights (a neighborhood on Manhattan’s Upper West Side). At the center of the novel is Charles and Anne Braithwaite and their small circle of friends as they confront personal and social changes that threaten to destroy their tight-knit community. I just can’t even describe how much I just *enjoyed* this novel. The characters are so vividly drawn and warm and alive and intelligent…the plot is just beautifully drawn together in the end. Marriages take place that should, wrongful deaths are made right, and the deserving get money dropped in their laps. I just loved it.
I almost should have saved this book to in order to space out Mendelson’s two novels…but I couldn’t hep myself. Set again in Morningside Heights (she is planning a trilogy), Love, Work, Children centers around Peter Frankl, a good and moral man is trapped in a unsuitable marriage, hates his job as a corporate lawyer, and fears his children have grown up without the perceived need for marriage or a deep commitment to a family. And that’s what the book is basically about, Peter’s children, Louis and Susan, some of his neighbors, his wife, Leslie (truly a horrible person – the only really one dimensional person in the novel and thankfully and conveniently killed off – certainly an homage to Dora in David Copperfield if I ever saw one!), and the cast of characters at a foundation he helps run.
"There is nothing wrong with exchanges of assets – emotional, physical, material, intellectual – in marriage, if and when the marriage is built on a moral foundation of love, mutual respect, equality, and all those other things that I hope we taught you to demand. There is everything wrong with mutual exploitation. It offends me to hear that you don’t know the difference."
The Whole World Over is not quite as polished as Three Junes, but it is heartfelt and wonderful; she writes about home, family, love, marriage, motherhood and the complex connections human beings can create. The novel’s center is Greenie Duquette, a pastry chef in New York, who is wooed by the Governor of New Mexico who needs a chef. Sensing the need for change (her marriage is definitely on the wilting side), she moves her young son, George out West with the understanding her husband will follow. Of course, it’s never that simple. The novel tells the story of Greenie and Alan, Ray, Saga, Walter, Uncle Marsden and Fenno McLeod (yes, that Fenno) among many others with grace and warmth.
"That’s too complicated for me…I’m desperately in need of simple. Simple, simple. Simple."…"Darling, simple is the childish prayer on everyone’s lips…" Walter & Greenie
Greenie knows, however, that a good cake is like a good marriage: from the outside, it looks ordinary, sometimes unremarkable, yet cut into it, taste it, and you know that it is nothing of the sort. It is the sublime result of long and patient experience, a confection whose success relies on a profound understanding of compatibilities and tastes; on a respect for measurement, balance, chemistry, and heat; on a history of countless errors overcome.
Alyssa has read all 17 Anne Tyler novels which I think is quite a feat. While at the Baltimore airport picking up/meeting their newly adopted Korean daughters, two very different families, one a very American family (the Donaldson’s) and the other, an assimilated Iranian couple (the Yazdan’s) meet and become friends. Every year, the families get together to celebrate the "arrival day" of their Korean daughters….As the novel progresses, it becomes clear that Maryam, the Iranian grandmother, is at the heart of the novel. Through her, the reader gets a sense of what it’s like to be on the outside of a society, the loneliness that is apart of daily life but also the strange pride and strength that comes from holding oneself apart. This novel is about what it means to be American, from opposing viewpoints.
I read all of Michael Dirda’s books in 2006: Book by Book (my favorite), Readings: Essays & Literary Entertainments, Bound to Please, Caring for Your Books, and An Open Book: Coming of Age in the Heartland.
Dirda is a book critic for the Washington Post who sets out to show how reading can intersect with life in meaningful, surprising ways. Dirda is very practical; he includes ways to encourage children to read more, Christmas reading lists, and the must-haves for a guest room library. What’s not to LOVE about this?
Men and women who read and study and learn may go termporarily astray, but they can never be completely lost. Knowledge isn’t only its own reward; it gives us maps through the wilderness, instruments to guide our progress, and the confidence that no matter where we are we will always be, fundamentally, at home.
All guest rooms are presumed to start with the Bible, Shakespeare, and at least one novel by Jane Austen.
But a fortunate marriage offers more than mere "tranquil affection." It is, in essence, a civilization of two, and its greatest joy is a conversation that goes on for decades.
Books, by their very nature and variety, help us grow in empathy for others, in tolerance and awareness. But they should increase our skepticism as well as our humanity, for all good readers know how easy it is to misread. What counts is to stay receptive and open, to reserve judgment and try to forsee consequences, to avoid the facile conclusion and be ready to change one’s mind.
White’s essays are simple and beautiful and essentially America. Whether he’s writing about New York or Thoreau or a hurricane or the raccoon in his front yard, I was intensely moved by his charm and love of the natural world. I actually own three books of his essays, but I didn’t want to even begin the third because what would I have to look forward to?
One never knows what images one is going to hold in memory, returning to the city after a brief orgy in the country. I find this morning that what I most vividly and longingly recall is the sight of my grandson and his little sunburnt sister returning to their kitchen door from an excursion, with trophies of the meadow clutched in their hands – she with a couple of violets, and smiling, he serious and holding dandelions, strangling them in a responsible grip. Children hold spring so tightly in their brown fists – just as grownups, who are less sure of it, hold it in their hearts. From, A Report in Spring
When my mom tells me about a book, one that she cannot put down, I naturally order it from Amazon immediately (and one for Chris & Mendy too). Ron Hall, a Texan art dealer that has it all, a job he loves, a happy family, a big house, lots of money and Denver Moore, a modern-day slave who grew up in the deep South, and found himself a homeless man on the streets of Fort Worth as an adult. Their stories are told side-by-side and the disparities are breathtaking. The two men finally meet through God’s working in the life of Ron Hall’s wife, Debbie (who Denver calls Miss Debbie). Debbie feels called to work at the homeless shelter in Fort Worth. After awhile, she ends up dragging her husband with her and is convinced that God will use Ron in the life of Denver. This is a hard book to describe well, but I highly recommend it as such an example of how God can work in the lives of His people when we listen.