It’s Top Ten Tuesday!

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme sponsored by The Broke and the Bookish.  This week’s top ten – in recognition of BBAW (that’s “Book Blogger Appreciation Week”) is:

” Top Ten Books I Read Because Of Another Blogger.”

I don’t always do these top ten lists, but they’re always fun and this one also is a good list to give a nod to some fellow book bloggers, so here goes…

9. Oh, yeah.  I forgot to say I only could come up with nine… This one (and the next few) are books that I don’t know where specifically I first heard of them, but I do know I read them because I learned of them within the blogging community.  So for number 9 I’ll go with Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games.  Yes, it’s intended for a little younger reader than me, and yes it’s a little out there, but it was a great story (actually a trilogy, along with the follow-ups Catching Fire and Mockingjay) and a fun, diverting read.

8. The Ubiquitous The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (book and series).  A towering best seller, I think driven by the great character of Lisbeth Salander.  I’d like to meet her.  I think.

7. The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan.  Another book outside of my usual genre, but an entertaining, diverting read for me.  Here’s what I had to say last year.

6. Beastly by Alex Flinn.  I can’t remember which blog I first heard about this modern retelling of the Beauty and the Beast story.  I did download it at about the same time as my blogging colleague, Jade, at Chasing Empty Pavements though, so I’ll give her a plug.  This book became a pick in my book club as well and we all enjoyed it.  My original post about the book may be found here.

5. Under the Skin by Michel Faber.  Learned about via The Literary Nomad.  An interesting concept for a book blog, where the blogger “visits” a country by reading a book about it or taking place in it.  This book was creepy but a real page turner.  A beautiful alien (reported to be portrayed by Scarlet Johansson in an upcoming movie adaptation) picking up hitchhikers in Scotland.  How could I resist? My original post is here.

4. Gullivers Travels by Jonathan Swift.  I read this one because Allie at A Literary Odyssey hosted a read along.  Like other read alongs I’ve participated in, I started off with great intentions only to fall behind the schedule.  I did finish it, though, and I’m so glad I did.  I took a lot out of it that I am ‘carrying around in my head.’  Truly a classic work, and I can’t believe I waited until I was so “old” to finally get around to reading it.

3. Two on a Tower by Thomas Hardy. I learned of this previously ‘unknown’ Hardy book at Chris’s blog, “ProSe.”  A great, lesser known work by one of my favorite authors with a predictably intricate plot.  Great 19th century literature!  My original post about this book was written back in November 2010.

2. After Rain by William Trevor.   Heard about at one of my favorite blogs, Ana the Imp.  Not exclusively a book blog (lots of politics and history too), but I take her book and movie recommendations seriously.  This is a collection of short stories by an recognized master of the form.  I posted about several of them this year.  Lost Ground, After Rain, and Gilbert’s Mother.  The first two were my favorites.

1. The Warded Man by Peter Brett.  Heard of through Borough of Books. My friends and I have all enjoyed this book and its sequel, Desert Spear.  We are eagerly awaiting the third book…  My praise of the book was written this past May.

After Rain – a short story by William Trevor

Wow, I have really come upon some true gems with the short stories I’ve read so far this year. When I started this reading project, I told myself “Since you’re only obligated to read one per week, you should really make an effort to delve deeply into the stories and try to understand the ones that you may previously have just skimmed through or dismissed.” This story by William Trevor was one that didn’t grab me at first, so I slowed down and made a real effort. It was so worth it.

***warning: some spoilers follow***

At the simplest level, this story is about the aftermath of a love affair that has ended. I can’t imagine there is anyone who is unable to relate to this theme to at least some degree. In the story, the woman, Harriet, goes on a holiday to an Italian resort familiar to her from childhood visits, having decided not to waste the scheduled time that she would have used to go with her former lover to the island of “Skyros.” (Is that a real place? I don’t know.) The story begins with her in the restaurant of this resort – a setting which only emphasizes her single-ness, and one which leads her to speculate on how things could or should have been different for her.

There is one passage where she recalls the dialogue when the breakup occurred. It sounds so real: “…’But weren’t we happy?’ she hears herself exclaim. A little shrill because she can’t help it. Yes they were happy, he agreed at once, wanting to make that clear. Not happy enough is what he meant, and you could tell; something was not right. She asked him and he didn’t know, genuine in his bewilderment.” This has to ring familiar to many…

At one point she meets a fellow solitary diner. An older gentleman who is likely lonely himself. We are treated here to some of Trevor’s great, brief characterizations. The old man’s hair is described as “so sparse it didn’t register whether it was white or gray,” and later we get “He smiles. His teeth are still his own.” I particularly liked that one.

One telling observation I had was that Harriet “knows” the staff of this restaurant, but only superficially. The waitresses are described by their physical characteristics: “the one with the rusty hair,” “the one with a wild look,” “the plump but pretty one,” etc. It’s almost as though her character doesn’t want to be alone “in her condition” and wants to be among people, but doesn’t want any social intimacy with them.

At one point in the story, while waiting out a rainstorm, Harriet becomes immersed in pondering a painting of “The Annunciation” in local church. Trevor’s description of the painting and her reactions to it are masterful. Later, after the rain has passed, she ventures outside again, delighting in the renewing effect the showers have had on the town, the scenery, the fragrances. She is witnessing this landscape in a rare moment. She also realizes that the painting she has just been observing captured a similar rare moment. “The Annunciation” was painted after rain. “It was after rain that the angel came: those first cool moments were a chosen time.” I was blown away by this passage.

What does it all mean? I can’t really be certain. Perhaps the speed bumps of failed relationships are – like some dry and dusty Italian landscape – just preludes to a periodic cleansing and renewing “rain.” Perhaps there is a fully intended religious tie in (The Annunciation is the appearance of the angel Gabriel to Mary, revealing to her that she will conceive a child who is the son of God), but I choose not to interpret the story this way. Whatever the ‘deeper meaning,’ it’s truly a beautiful little story and I would heartily recommend it. It can be found in a collection of short stories with the same name, After Rain….

Gilbert’s Mother by William Trevor

I’ve been slowly working my way through William Trevor’s short story collection, After Rain, for several months now. The title story of this collection is part of my “Deal Me In” short story reading project for 2011, but the other remaining stories are fair game for ad hoc reading whenever I have a spare half hour or so. I had just such a half hour today, and I didn’t want to delve back into The Persian Expedition with Xenophon (mainly because I knew I wouldn’t want to return to the 21st century after “only” half an hour with my mercenary Greek hoplite friends…). So – I chose instead to knock out another William Trevor story.
I first learned of William Trevor at one of my favorite blogs: Ana the Imp. Ana is a young but very astute reader who focuses mainly on history and political topics. She is a great writer, prolific blogger and always seems to have something fascinating to post about. Back in September she introduced me to William Trevor. Her original post about the author can be found at:

As one reviewer on put it succinctly – and accurately, Trevor is “The master of the quiet, but important story”

The story I read today was wonderful and chilling at the same time. It begins with the news that a young girl is murdered on the way home from work in South London. In the following pages we meet another resident of them neighborhood where this happens. She is Rosalie Mannion, a fifty year-old single mother who Trevor describes economically as having a “round, pretty face (that) had taken charge of what wrinkles had come, by chance distributing them favorably.” Isn’t that a great description?

Anyway, what we then learn is that Rosalie has an adult son living with her who has always been a bit odd and troubled. We learn that he is antisocial and even spent a year once in an institution. His mother had hoped they “would keep him” but was assured by the haughty doctors that “as long as he stays on his medication, there’s nothing to worry about.” She knows they are wrong, and her life becomes a kind of private hell as he becomes wont to disappear for sometimes days at a time, during which she hears on the news of crimes or mischief where he has been. He mysteriously acquires a car, is absent from home and in a town where serious arson occurs, etc. etc. Yet seemingly he can also function rather normally in society and even holds down a job in an architect’s office.

What makes this tale chilling is the gradual realization for the reader that “he knows that she knows” (or suspects) that he is evil. Worse yet, she knows that he knows that she knows, and even worse HE knows that… well, you get the picture. She’s too afraid to report him to the authorities – partly because he’s her son, but mostly because of her fear. The reader can imagine the fear and tension that this poor woman lives in day after day, and can sense that there is not likely to be an end to it. A disturbing but masterful short story.


“In Hiding” – a short story by Joyce Carol Oates

Yes, I have become addicted to reading a short story in the morning as part of my routine. Now that my “required reading” of short stories for my two book clubs (both meeting today!) has been exhausted, I am turning to a couple other collections I have loaded and ready on my Nook reader.

The first is Joyce Carol Oates’ collection, “I Am No One You Know,” which I purchased because I thought one of the stories was going to be part of my book club’s short story month in July. However, the member who had originally picked a story from that collection (the disturbing “The Girl With the Blackened Eye”) retracted it and picked something else. Too late for me, as I had read it anyway, but now I am left with a whole book of Stories to nibble on in the mornings.  Below: Joyce Carol Oates

The second is William Trevor’s collection, “After Rain,” which was brought to my attention by one of my favorite bloggers, Ana, over at Ana the Imp (a link to her awesome blog is on my blogroll “to the left”) Her blog is often about history and politics, but I have also found her insight on books helpful, and she has yet to steer me wrong. I’ve only read the first story in this collection, but I’m sure I’ll be posting on some of them as time goes by. Below: William Trevor

Back to today’s story. ****SPOILER ALERT!**** “In Hiding” is about a “single mom” poet/writer who finds herself beginning a correspondence with an inmate serving a life sentence (he claims to be innocent, naturally) who has poetic ambitions of his own. Though hesitant, she allows the correspondent relationship to slowly grow, and he sends her more and more poetry and excerpts from his diary. She is painted earlier in the tale as a typical low self-esteemed person; her husband – who she was surprised would ever like her in the first place – left her and she is now living (hiding?) in a small town in New York. I guess this is why she willingly engages in this correspondence.

She sends the inmate some paperback books and other collections of poetry, and even inquires with various publishers about the possibility of publishing some of his poetry, but without success. Eventually, their correspondence lessens to a trickle and then stops. She speculates that perhaps he has found another correspondent and is actually relieved. Some time later, she receives a form letter from an “Innocents Defense Fund” – or something of the like – requesting financial assistance in the inmate’s interest. She sends $500, receiving another form letter that thanks her. She begins to feel that her contribution was too small and sends another $1,500. Another thank you – another form letter – follows.

Nothing happens until one day, looking out the front window of her house, she sees a strange car with out of state license plates in her neighborhood. Something tells her “it’s him” as it creeps past her house and turns right further down the block. It returns shortly after and slows to a stop in front of her house. A man gets out, looking very much like the photos that the inmate had sent her. She retreats to an inner room of the house in fear, and there is a knock on the door. She waits, but then in horror hears her son answer the door (she has forgotten that it’s Saturday, and he is home). He seeks her out In her “office” where she has slid into a closet-like alcove, and the story ends with his inquiry, “Why are you hiding, Mom?”

Short and sweet. I like that how the story ends – or at least what happens next – is left to the reader.

Have you read any Joyce Carol Oates? What do you think of her as a writer?