Friday, June 24, 2016

In Between

It must be because my birthday's coming up soon. I've been prompted to think about age a lot lately.

Being older doesn't bother me. In fact, I usually don't think about it at all. When I do, I can't quite believe I've accumulated as many years as I have. Maybe turning 60 will really rock me. That is one gigantic number, indeed.

However, I still have a few more years of being "middle aged" (ha!) before I'm forced to admit that I'm not middle aged anymore unless I'm going to live to be 120.

More importantly, I'm still physically capable of doing the things I want to do. My outdoor pursuits aren't extreme by any means (no pinnacles for me, thank you very much), but I'm able to have those adventures without any pain. I tire more quickly, and my knees sometimes make funny noises, but generally speaking, I'm still able. I'm never the fastest, but I always finish.

The other day at the pool we chatted with a couple who was full of stories about the past: where they used to live, the vacations they've taken, and the places they used to go boating and fishing. Those stories perked us up a bit, because we are always on the lookout for new friends who might want to do outdoors stuff with us. But no, it turned out that they don't do any of those things anymore -- it's all in the past.

How sad for them. And in the not-so-distant future, how sad for me, too. I don't look forward to the days when I can't go on a snorkeling or hiking vacation, or drop my kayak in the water without worrying about keeping up over an 8-mile paddle.

On the other end of the spectrum, we sat near some recent college graduates at the ballgame the other night and overheard them bemoaning the fact that they didn't have any focus anymore. Their job searches weren't going well and, as one of them put it, they knew they had passion and skills, but they didn't have anything to be passionate about anymore.

It doesn't seem so long ago that I shared that feeling, after a final year of college spent joking with my closest friends about the perils of the real world we'd be entering soon. We had no idea what was ahead of us, but we knew that our world was still expanding with possibilities.

Those two conversations leave me bookended between the past and the future. Maybe I am middle aged, after all.  

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Waylaid at the Bookstore


In my town, we have a fabulous bookstore. They have quite a bit of everything, new and used -- including what I would consider a surfeit of romance novels -- but they are also strong on contemporary fiction. I noticed a lot of prize-winning books and authors as I was browsing the shelves on my last trip. That's one sign of a quality bookstore.

Anyway, I was using some of the newly refreshed book lists and my semi-reliable memory to sleuth out some new reads. Maybe I should have been at home with Wolf Hall, but you know how that goes.

These days it can be a challenge to rely on my memory, because lots of books sound familiar to me and sometimes I can't quite remember why.

For example, the book on the Pulitzer list (which I did not have with me) is this:


It was first published in 1921 and chronicles the dangers and costs of social climbing in the small-town Midwest, as practiced by the title character. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1922.

What I came home with was this:


This book, written by Alice Adams, a real person, begins at Radcliffe College, 1943, and follows 5 women friends from their first meeting through the next 40 years of their lives. I can imagine that the 40s through the 80s will provide plenty of opportunity for personal development and social commentary.

Alice Adams the book, Alice Adams the author, what's the difference, right? Thank you, whoever is running my mental catalog these days.

But Superior Women sounds good, so I will probably read it. Eventually.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Family as Microcosm


"A costly delicacy indeed, when to get to the heart you must kill the tree."

Heart of Palm begins with this epigraphic statement and in some ways tells you everything you need to know from the very first page.

This is the story of the Bravos, told at first in a prologue which left me curiously unengaged with the story of how the parents in question, Dean and Arla, met, married, and almost immediately began the string of disasters that passed for family life. I had trouble with the prologue; it seemed to be trying too hard, namedropping right and left in a self-conscious effort to be quirky and charming, and perhaps also to establish the author's Florida cred. (She gets almost all of the details right, by the way.) Despite the prologue, I found myself thoroughly engrossed in the story soon after it stopped being a summary.

Once it gets going, it really gets going. There's a little bit of everything jumbled together here, much as Florida is a jumble of its own. Dean disappears, while Arla soldiers on with their children in an increasingly dilapidated Queen Anne house. Daughter Sofia lives at home and has what one can politely call "issues," son Carson has a morally and financially precarious life in nearby St. Augustine, and son Frank capably sustains the family restaurant business while longing to be somewhere else, specifically a very un-Florida cabin in the mountains. An adorable dog, a disbarred lawyer, a pushy real estate agent, and a host of other colorful characters round out the picture of life in Utina, a backwater Florida town just being "discovered" by developers and the rich.

This could be a romp, but it's more like a swim on the surface of tannic water when you know a gator probably lurks below.  The Bravos must decide whether to sell their unique property on the Intracoastal Waterway, knowing they are one of the first dominoes to fall in Utina. As the temptation of "big money" soaks into their consciousness, they find themselves facing up to their family legacy of tragedy, guilt, regret, and longing, poorly equipped to make a decision presented in so many shades of gray.

All this creates a microcosm for Florida itself: the layers of history, much of it tragic; the inevitability of change; and the destruction of the natural landscape and the local way of life by those who come here for the small town charm but still want their Publix, Starbucks, and Wal-Mart.

What's surprising is the amount of reconciliation and healing that can be found in this story. For all their bruises and wounds, conflicts and failings, the Bravos somehow discover that what they have in common is immutable. And that holds hope for Florida, as well. Even swimming in that tannic water, maybe you're safe after all.

Excerpt:

[Arla] walked out to the back deck, where the reflection of the moon was now splintered across the water and the cries of the barred owls had begun to echo in the trees. She'd had too many glasses of wine, she knew, though she didn't particularly care. She clutched her cane in one hand and her purse in the other and made her way to the end of the boat dock. She looked left, to the distant glow of the porch light at Aberdeen. She looked right, to where Morgan's restaurant had stood years before. Along the reedy shore, in the light of the full moon, were a series of small, newly cut wooden posts, each tied with a bright red band. Surveyors' marks, she supposed. The beginning. Or the end, depending on how you looked at it.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

I've already read a few of these, thanks to a liberal arts education and the Battle of the Prizes reading challenge from a few years back. It seems kind of silly not to make it a thing

(That's a new phrase to me, but I really love it and find myself using it quite often. It's a bit vague, perhaps, but appropriately blase for the languid days of summer.)

Green means still seeking. Blue means waiting patiently on the TBR shelf for me to give it my full attention. I don't plan to collect these so I'm not tracking hardback vs. paperback as I usually do. There's only so much room on the shelves these days. 

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction Winners

2016:  The Sympathizer - Viet Thanh Nguyen
2015:  All the Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr
2014:  The Goldfinch - Donna Tartt
2013:  The Orphan Master's Son - Adam Johnson
2012:  No award given
2011:  A Visit from the Goon Squad - Jennifer Egan
2010:  Tinkers - Paul Harding
2009:  Olive Kitteridge - Elizabeth Strout
2008:  The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Diaz
2007:  The Road - Cormac McCarthy
2006:  March - Geraldine Brooks
2005:  Gilead - Marilynne Robinson
2004:  The Known World - Edward P. Jones
2003:  Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides
2002:  Empire Falls - Richard Russo
2001:  The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay - Michael Chabon
2000:  Interpreter of Maladies - Jhumpa Lahiri
1999:  The Hours - Michael Cunningham
1998:  American Pastoral - Philip Roth
1997:  Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer - Steven Millhauser
1996:  Independence Day - Richard Ford
1995:  The Stone Diaries - Carol Shields
1994:  The Shipping News - E. Annie Proulx
1993:  A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain - Robert Olen Butler
1992:  A Thousand Acres - Jane Smiley
1991:  Rabbit At Rest - John Updike
1990:  The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love - Oscar Hijuelos
1989:  Breathing Lessons - Anne Tyler
1988:  Beloved - Toni Morrison
1987:  A Summons to Memphis - Peter Taylor
1986:  Lonesome Dove - Larry McMurtry
1985:  Foreign Affairs - Alison Lurie
1984:  Ironweed - William Kennedy
1983:  The Color Purple - Alice Walker
1982:  Rabbit Is Rich - John Updike
1981:  A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
1980:  The Executioner's Song - Norman Mailer
1979:  The Stories of John Cheever - John Cheever
1978:  Elbow Room - James Alan McPherson
1977:  No award given
1976:  Humboldt's Gift - Saul Bellow
1975:  The Killer Angels - Michael Shaara
1974:  No award given
1973:  The Optimist's Daughter - Eudora Welty
1972:  Angle of Repose - Wallace Stegner
1971:  No award given
1970:  Collected Stories - Jean Stafford
1969:  House Made of Dawn - N. Scott Momaday
1968:  The Confessions of Nat Turner - William Styron
1967:  The Fixer - Bernard Malamud
1966:  Collected Stories - Katherine Anne Porter
1965:  The Keepers Of The House - Shirley Ann Grau
1964:  No award given
1963:  The Reivers - William Faulkner
1962:  The Edge of Sadness - Edwin O'Connor
1961:  To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee
1960:  Advise and Consent - Allen Drury
1959:  The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters - Robert Lewis Taylor
1958:  A Death In The Family - James Agee
1957:  No award given
1956:  Andersonville - MacKinlay Kantor
1955:  A Fable - William Faulkner
1954:  No award given
1953:  The Old Man and the Sea - Ernest Hemingway
1952:  The Caine Mutiny - Herman Wouk
1951:  The Town - Conrad Richter
1950:  The Way West - A. B. Guthrie
1949:  Guard of Honor - James Gould Cozzens
1948:  Tales of the South Pacific - James A. Michener
1947:  All the King's Men - Robert Penn Warren 
1946:  No award given
1945:  A Bell for Adano - John Hersey
1944:  Journey in the Dark - Martin Flavin
1943:  Dragon's Teeth - Upton Sinclair
1942:  In This Our Life - Ellen Glasgow
1941:  No award given
1940:  The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
1939:  The Yearling - Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
1938:  The Late George Apley - John Phillips Marquand 
1937:  Gone With the Wind - by Margaret Mitchell
1936:  Honey in the Horn - Harold L. Davis
1935:  Now in November - Josephine Winslow Johnson 
1934:  Lamb in His Bosom - Caroline Miller
1933:  The Store - T. S. Stribling 
1932:  The Good Earth - Pearl S. Buck
1931:  Years of Grace - Margaret Ayer Barnes 
1930:  Laughing Boy - Oliver Lafarge 
1929:  Scarlet Sister Mary - Julia Peterkin 
1928:  The Bridge of San Luis Rey - Thornton Wilder 
1927:  Early Autumn - Louis Bromfield
1926:  Arrowsmith - Sinclair Lewis 
1925:  So Big - Edna Ferber 
1924:  The Able McLaughlins - Margaret Wilson 
1923:  One of Ours - Willa Cather
1922:  Alice Adams - Booth Tarkington
1921:  The Age of Innocence - Edith Wharton
1919:  The Magnificent Ambersons - Booth Tarkington
1918:  His Family - Ernest Poole

Friday, June 17, 2016

This Bit of Summer


I could have styled this photo better (just a slight turn would have covered the sink drain with a leaf, right?) but I just slapped and snapped. Obviously.

And so you get a microcosm of early summer: a surprise hydrangea, backed up with some organic tomatoes in a blue bowl, and a sweet potato and an onion in one of my favorites, a blue-and-white polka dot bowl.

The hydrangea isn't native and so I am inclined to look askance at it, except when it fluffs up these pretty pale blue or creamy white flowers, as if to woo me into having more positive feelings about it. When it's not flowering, the only reason I tolerate it is that Kayak Guy's dad probably planted it, an unknown number of years ago.

The tomatoes come from the nearby CSA and the downtown farmers market, and are so much more deliciously local than what the grocery store offers. The CSA is almost done for the year -- once this run of summer squash ends -- because the Florida growing season is essentially backwards from traditional garden timing.

The farmers market will soldier on through the hot months, but will switch over to okra and collards, two things that I like even less than hydrangeas and store-bought tomatoes. It may be a long summer.

I remember buying the polka dot bowl on a "junking" trip with a dear friend, about 25 years ago when I collected blue-and-white pottery and displayed it in an antique cupboard. Now all I really collect is books, being more inclined to shed most other possessions whenever I can. But I've kept a few of my very favorite pieces from the decorating days, and I've kept the friend, too.

Such small things, and so much pleasure from each of them. There's a lesson there somewhere.