“The Journey of the Eyeball” by Katherine Vaz

(Ace of hearts image above from the video game “Fallout: New Vegas”)

Katherine Vaz was one of my favorite new to me authors last year, which earned her a “recurring role” in my Deal Me In challenge for this year as the Ace of Hearts on my story roster. I’m slowly working my way through the tales in her collection “Fado and Other Stories,” and this is the sixth one I’ve read. Last year, I posted about “Undressing the Vanity Dolls”  and “Fado,”  both of which I enjoyed immensely.

A cutesy way to summarize this story would be “Kind of a Nikolai Gogol rewrites “The Nose” using an eyeball while assisted by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.” You see, Jose is in love with Ana. Ana is married but they have a secret place where they meet at regular intervals. Jose – or “Ze” to his friends – yearns for more and cherishes opportunities to see and observe her outside of their routine. One such opportunity presents itself in “The Day of Contests” in the valley where they live. Though Ana is in attendance with her husband, Ze decides that distinguishing himself by accumulating the most points in all the contests will further insure Ana’s devotion.

During the last of the contests he spots Ana in the crowd.

A short, stocky man was resting his hand against the back of her neck, where the tips of her blonde hair lay, always, neatly. She was laughing at something he was saying. Was it the laughing done by married people who did not love each other but wanted to reassure others that any fighting would be done at home…”

Ze is an over-analzyer of everything in his affair with Ana. Every expression, every laugh, every look, every word. It is during the final contest that he has spotted Ana and her husband. During this contest, he also realizes he’s over extended himself in his exertions in the prior ones, and he begins to slip into a sort of altered state of consciousness and then a prolonged hallucination or waking dream. In this dream, he is being punished by the people of the village in a sort of medieval “cucking chair” (pictured below), being lowered into a river and held there. During this procedure his eyes pop out of their sockets(!) and though one is “eaten by a fish” the other survives and takes us on a surreal journey through the town in search of his Ana.

I have to admit this story wasn’t one that grabbed me right away, but the further I read the more fascinated I became with the new form of protagonist of the story. Its “observations” we’re unique and often quite humorous. I was reminded, too, how poetic Vaz’s writing is. At one point the eyeball is accidentally kicked by a passerby:

The kick left the eye’s vision blurred, and in the dimness it wonders if it were a boy again in the Azores, seeing the women in their doorways doing their embroidery in the last light of day – God’s light – because electricity was too expensive.”

And once, when the eyeball is “picked up cautiously” by a dog:

“…in a mouth that was fragrant like rotting straw. The tongue was velvet, with those bumps that put everything eaten onto a pedestal of sorts before it is consumed.”

Overall, an interesting read and one which has likely ‘earned’ this author a spot in next year’s DMI roster as well. 🙂

Below: the author at an appearance at CUNY.  The link below the picture also includes a brief video of her speaking about her writing, etc.  Worth a watch – it’s only a few minutes long.

http://www.baruch.cuny.edu/wsas/academics/journalism/Vaz.htm

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Top Ten Tuesday – 10 Favorite “New to Me” Authors of 2014

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme sponsored by The Broke and the Bookish blog. Pay them a visit, or check out everybody’s lists at the home post for this week.

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Top Ten New to me Authors in 2014:

This is one of my favorite topics of the year. One of the best benefits of participating in the book blogging community is learning of new authors from your fellow bloggers. I’m happy to say that my reading the past five years has been greatly enriched by the addition of many authors who I only learned of through my fellow book bloggers. I heartily thank you all, and today I’ll share some of my favorite new-to-me authors of the year. The following are in a rough ascending order with my favorite being number 1…

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  1. Katherine Vaz – I’ve been reading through her collection of short stories, “Fado and Other Stories” this year and have just been blown away. I’ve posted about a couple of her stories, “Undressing the Vanity Dolls” and “Fado” if you’d like to hear more about her.
  2. Ernesto Sabato – His book, “The Tunnel,” was recommended to me by a co-worker. It was great! I even recommended it for the book club at Indy Reads Books when they were looking for a ‘short’ book before reading a longer one (I think the longer one was Jonathan Franzen’s “The Corrections” – HE didn’t make this list) and they liked it too.
  3. Ralph Ellison – One of those “I’m embarrassed that I’ve never read” books for me has always been Ellison’s “Invisible Man.” Fortunately, the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library book club read it for Banned Books Month in September. Very deep and often brilliant.
  4. Jess Walter – Wow. His collection of short stories “We Live in Water” blew me away a couple months ago. It looks like another local book discussion group will also be reading his novel Beautiful Ruins next year, which I’m looking forward to. Top that off with an Indy visit by this author for “Vonnegut Fest” in November, and he’s certainly become one of my favorite new-to-me authors.
  5. Ben Winters – I read a couple short stories of his, then his Edgar Award-winning novel “The Last Policeman” as preparation for a launch party for the final book in that same trilogy. Met him in person at that event and have subsequently read another great short story of his (“Between the Lines”) in the hot-off-the-presses anthology of local writers, “Indy Writes Books”
  6. Roxane Gay – Her story “North Country” has been one of my favorites from my 2014 Deal Me In short story project. I read a couple others by her since – and have one on my radar for next year – and was looking forward to a scheduled visit of hers to the local Vonnegut Library, but it was unfortunately cancelled due to health reasons.
  7. Leonid AndreevHis story “Lazarus” may be my favorite short story read of the year. I had never even heard of this author before I made “stories by Russian writers” a suit in my annual Deal Me In challenge
  8. Ken Liu – I enjoyed his sci-fi flavored story “What I Assume You Shall Assume” in the “Weird Western” anthology “Dead Man’s Hand” which I completed recently. He’s an author I definitely want to explore further. I need to write a blog post about that anthology too. It was a lot of fun. 🙂
  9. Martin Amis – I just finished reading his book, “Time’s Arrow” and hope to write a blog post about it soon. Very enjoyable fresh narrative perspective – a novel written in reverse time. Now that’s ambitious.
  10. Salman Rushdie – I’d never read him until I read the exceptional short story “Christopher Columbus and Queen Isabella Consummate their Relationship” earlier this year. Of course I knew of him because of the infamous “fatwah” from back in the day, but this is the first I’ve read of him. I received some recommendations from others for subsequent reading which I hope to follow up on..

Okay, so those are ten of my favorite “New to Me” authors in 2014. Now I want to know who YOURS are… 🙂

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Deal Me In – Week 46 Wrap Up

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A little behind schedule getting this posted as i was “out late” last night at the Colts game (which was a disaster for the home team, ugh). Anyhoo, here we are:

Only a few cards left now… Below are links to new posts this week.

It’s time for James to shuffle up as he drew his last two cards, getting Haruki Murakami’s “The Rise and Fall of Sharpie Cakes” and Henry James’s “The Figure in the Carpethttp://jamesreadsbooks.com/2014/11/10/henry-james-vs-haruki-murakami-a-deal-me-in-short-story-challenge/. James becomes the first of us to complete his 52 stories this year. Can’t remember everything he read? His original roster can be found at: http://readywhenyouarecb.blogspot.in/2014/01/deal-me-in.html

Dale read the oft-anthologized James Baldwin story, “Sonny’s Blues” http://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2014/11/12/james-baldwin-sonnys-blues/

Randall read Bruce McAllister’s “The Boy in Zaquitos” http://timeenuf.blogspot.com/2014/11/the-boy-in-zaquitos-by-bruce-mcallister.html from the Best American Short Stories anthology of 2007.

I read Katherine Vaz’s “Fado” https://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2014/11/16/fado-by-katherine-vaz/ and continue to enjoy one of my favorite new to me authors of 2014.

Return Reader delivers four new posts:
On George Saunders’s “Sea Oak” http://returningreader.wordpress.com/2014/11/15/short-story-35-sea-oak-george-saunders/

On Olufemi Terry’s “Stickfighting Days” http://returningreader.wordpress.com/2014/11/15/short-story-36-stickfighting-days-olufemi-terry/

On Saki’s “The Mouse” http://returningreader.wordpress.com/2014/11/16/short-story-37-the-mouse-saki/

On Ray Bradbury’s “The Veldt” http://returningreader.wordpress.com/2014/11/16/short-story-38-the-veldt-ray-bradbury/

Katherine wrote about Matthew Costello’s “The Final Vanish” http://katenread.wordpress.com/2014/11/16/deal-me-in-week-46-the-last-vanish/ and shares a video of another famous vanishing…

“Fado” – by Katherine Vaz

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It’s week forty-six and I drew the seven of hearts. This is my second story from this author for this year’s Deal Me In short story reading challenge. I wrote about her “Undressing the The Vanity Dolls” earlier this year, and it remains a strong contender for my favorite DMI story of 2014. I read, ad hoc, another story of hers this year titled, “The Birth of Water Stories,” and was blown away by that one too. The story “Fado” was not as moving as those other two (that, admittedly, set the bar quite high) but I continue to enjoy getting acquainted with this author.

Plus I learned a new word from this story’s title. 🙂 Do you know what a “Fado” is? I do (now). It’s “a plaintive, Portuguese folk song.” It’s a perfect title for this “cover story” of the collection, and seems appropriate for the collection as a whole too. I also learned what a “wish ribbon” was. One of the characters in this story puts great stock in their efficacy. Primarily, I believe, a Brazilian tradition, the wish ribbon enters this story when Xica is at the post office to pick up a ribbon “do Nosso Senhor de Bonfim” sent from that country by her cousin. How are they supposed to work? “Wrap the wish ribbon around the wrist, and make 3 knots, making a wish for each of the 3 knots tied. Once the Brazilian Wish Bracelet falls off the wrist on its own, it is believed that the 3 wishes will come true.”

In this story, “Xica” is the neighbor and ’surrogate grandmother’ of the young female narrator. Xica has endured many hardships and the worst of them is that her bright and promising son Manuel has been rendered mute and apparently brain damaged by an auto accident. Compounding the problem is that Manuel’s young and beautiful wife, Marina, has lost interest in him because of the accident, where Xica feels she should be supporting him “in sickness and health” as the vows go.

Xica is one of the more interesting characters I’ve met during this year’s Deal Me In reading. I was particularly amused by the fact that she kept an “ofensa ledger” wherein she catalogs the sins of those around her and proposes appropriate punishments. She knows that keeping such a register is God’s job but feels that “once again, He was asleep.” Much of her grit, and unfortunately, her superstition and vengefulness as well are passed on to her surrogate granddaughter, Rosa.

The last few pages of the story feature an accelerated recap of Rosa’s growing into a woman after Xica has passed on. I believe it is in these chapters that we see how Rosa has applied what she learned from Xica’s somewhat unique approach to life. We see her through her fist sexual encounter “Sex happens the way a pearl is formed. It begins with a grain or parasitic worm that itches in the soft lining until the entire animal buckles around it. With enough slathering it will relax into a gem.” Not bad, huh?

Rosa even later makes peace with Marina and tends to her when she becomes sick, leaving us with our other “take away” from the story: Rosa tells us, “Here is the seal from which all grace comes: We must create Pietas in order to live. Flesh that is torn, flesh that is dead or dying, even as it is rotting through your fingers – hold it next to your heart. Find ripe and tender flesh too, and hold it in your arms, because your life depends on it. Hold it for as long as you can, and ask for its blessing.

Below: Michelangelo’s “Pieta”

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Okay, so after reviewing the story in accompaniment of writing this post, I’ve decided that I like this story almost as much as the other anyway. 🙂 There is some powerful stuff in these thirteen pages.

Have you read Kahteirne Vaz before? I can unreservedly recommend her.

Only six stories left to read for DMI 2014!

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Deal Me In – Week 45 Wrap Up

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New posts this week from the DMI crew:

Coincidentally, with me also reading The Martian Chronicles this week, two of us drew a Ray Bradbury story from their Deal Me In deck.

Dale read “Some Live Like Lazarushttp://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2014/11/06/ray-bradbury-some-live-like-lazarus/

And Randall read “Let’s Play Poisonhttp://timeenuf.blogspot.com/2014/11/lets-play-poison-by-ray-bradbury.html

The avalanche of stories from Returning Reader continues:
1) Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “Eva is Inside Her Cathttp://returningreader.wordpress.com/2014/11/03/short-story-30-eva-is-inside-her-cat-gabriel-garcia-marquez/
2) the Ernest Hemingway classic “The Snows of Kilimanjarohttp://returningreader.wordpress.com/2014/11/05/short-story-31-the-snows-of-kilimanjaro-ernest-hemingway/
3) Anton Chekhov’s “Gooseberrieshttp://returningreader.wordpress.com/2014/11/06/short-story-32-gooseberries-anton-chekhov/
4) Dylan Thomas’s “A Child’s Christmas in Wales
http://returningreader.wordpress.com/2014/11/09/short-story-33-a-childs-christmas-in-wales-dylan-thomas/
5) Ungulani Ba Ka Khosa’s “An Unexpected Deathhttp://returningreader.wordpress.com/2014/11/09/short-story-34-an-unexpected-death-ungulani-ba-ka-khosa/

Katherine has exhausted her hearts suit after reading Robyn Carr’s “Natasha’s Bedroomhttp://katenread.wordpress.com/2014/11/08/deal-me-in-week-45-natashas-bedroom/ There’s also a magic trick video featuring her card 🙂

I missed Halloween by one day in drawing Ambrose Bierce’s ghost story, “Beyond the Wall” (I got goosebumps) https://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2014/11/08/beyond-the-wall-a-ghost-story-by-ambrose-Bierce/

Candiss posted about Margaret Atwood’s “Happy Endinghttp://readthegamut.wordpress.com/2014/11/09/deal-me-in-challenge-story-45-happy-endings-by-margaret-atwood/

Some other short story content from the week that I found interesting:

Have you heard of author Ron Rash before? I hadn’t, but this collection sounds like it would be at home on my bookshelf http://www.thedailynewsonline.com/entertainment/article_6fa4c738-66d1-11e4-9fcb-dfce161211a2.html

Great article about an event in NY where some of the authors featured in The Best American Short Stories (2014 edition) read their work at a Barnes and Noble. I’ve included some stories from The BASS series the past couple Deal Me In challenges. Looks like I may want to do so again. 🙂 http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/nov/07/jennifer-egan-writing-technologies-short-stories

I follow a couple Irish literary accounts n Twitter and they appear to have a thriving short story culture over there. The Davy Byrnes award is one of their prestigious writing prizes. (I’ve read one story from this source in a previous DMI, Claire Keegan’s “Foster”. https://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2013/04/15/a-perfect-opportunity-to-say-nothing/)
Here’s a collection of the cream of that crop.
http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/six-of-the-best-davy-byrnes-stories-2014-1.1988889

Deal Me In – Week 14 Wrap Up

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We start the second quarter of Deal Me In 2014 with another eclectic group of short stories and thoughtful posts. Below are links to new posts by our participants since our week 13 update last Sunday. (I try to meet an unofficial deadline of five p.m. EST for these wrap-up posts)

Please consider taking the time to visit the other participants’ posts or even “like” them or leave a comment to share some feedback.

Dale posts about a baseball story by Zane GreyThe Redheaded Outfield http://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2014/04/03/zane-grey-the-redheaded-outfield/

Hanne reads Alice Munro’s The Bear Came Over the Mountain http://readingoncloud9.wordpress.com/2014/04/06/week-14-the-bear-came-over-the-mountain-by-alice-munro/

Katherine links to another card trick for her two of hearts, “16 Minutes” by Eric Lustbader http://katenread.wordpress.com/2014/04/05/deal-me-in-week-14-16-mins/

My king of hearts led me to Katherine Vaz’s story “Undressing the Vanity Dollshttps://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2014/04/06/undressing-the-vanity-dolls-by-katherine-

Candiss of Read the Gamut drew the five of clubs and read Denis Johnson’s story, “Emergency” http://readthegamut.wordpress.com/2014/04/06/deal-me-in-challenge-story-14-emergency-by-denis-johnson/

“Undressing the Vanity Dolls” by Katherine Vaz

This week for my Deal Me In Short Story Reading Challenge I drew the “mustache-less” King of Hearts (he’s the only king without a mustache – a fun bit of trivia I only learned today when preparing this post).

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Did you also know that the four kings in the standard deck of cards also supposedly represent four historical kings? The King of Hearts is Charlemagne, while Spades = King David, Clubs = Alexander the Great, and Diamonds, depending on who you ask = Julius or Augustus Caesar. Okay, done with the trivia. 🙂

For this year’s challenge, Hearts are my suit for stories recommended by others.  (Update 4/12/14: actually I have this wrong: diamonds are my “recommended by others” suit. I had more stories recommended by others  that I had room for in that suit and a few bled into other suits. Hearts is actually my suit for women authors) Katherine Vaz is a Portugese-American writer who I learned about in quite a random way. Often, after our monthly meetings at the Kurt Vonnegut Library book club, some of us will adjourn to a nearby restaurant (named after the Vonnegut novel, Bluebeard) for lunch. Last July, it was just going to be two of us going, so I agreed with my colleague to “just meet you over there.” I got there first, and when he arrived he had two strangers with him. Seems he had been chatting with some “international visitors” in the library and, when asked to recommend a good place for lunch, did what any fine ambassador of our city would do and invited them along. They were in town for a “Portuguese Diaspora” conference (apparently there’s one every year somewhere in the world) at Butler University. We enjoyed a nice lunch and also a sharing of our literary interests. Long story short, I saw this as excellent opportunity to collect some reading recommendations. I explained my annual short story reading challenge to our guests, and they offered several Portuguese authors to consider. One was Katherine Vaz, and I’ve included two of her stories from her collection “Fado and Other Stories” in my 2014 roster.

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I got off to a slow start with this story and was worried I wouldn’t like it. I even remember thinking, well, at least I learned what vanity dolls are (“people use them to displace vain desires. If a nun, or any devout person, painted a ball-gown onto a doll and gave it new earrings, the doll absorbed her wish to have those things. A doll dressed as a sailor could cure a travel bug, and one painted with flowers could relieve one of carnal aches.”) I’d never heard of vanity dolls before, and I guess I’ve assumed they really exist and aren’t just a vehicle for this story. Does anyone know?

Anyway, the story really blossomed the more of it I read. The main character, Reginald, now an astronomer, is making a visit to an old favorite botany professor of his (from twenty years ago) who is dying. The hook of the story is that Reginald has always suspected that there was once “something between” the professor (Eduardo Dias) and Reginald’s wife, Alicia. Reginald has never directly confronted Alicia with his suspicions, but has hinted around the bush about it for years. Appropriately, Vaz describes his marriage thus: “Reginald’s marriage to Alicia was redolent with what was withheld, which made it an ordinary, garden-variety union.”

Dias was/is an inveterate charmer, and Reginald has before told his wife that Dias “…had that ability to make everyone feel that he, or she, I suppose, was the only other person alive. It’s a gift. He was like that with me.” On Reginald’s visit to the dying man, Dias insists he take him to the seashore, as a red tide will be coming in, and he wants to see it. Reginald is spellbound by the phenomenon and thinks of Dias that “…he still knew the best secrets. He had a way of making you want to give him something in return.” His visit to Dias also leads him to know, “better than he has ever known… that vitality is plainly the cloak that sexuality wears, so that it can go out in public. That was what his professor was made of, that was his cloak, his finery.”

Vaz’s writing in the final pages of this story totally wowed me. An example: “The red tide was drifting south, the neon blue receding, and as easily as that, as easily and swiftly as a comet arrives, passes on, and does not return again, not in one’s lifetime, the moment for Dias to ask Reginald why he had given him the silent treatment, and for Reginald to ask if the letters were never for Alicia out of a well-founded guilt, came and left, and would present its chance to be regarded no more. Such nullifying moments exist, and their vacancy is as strong as all else that one might name.”

That passage – especially the last sentence – gave me goosebumps, and did again just now as I typed this. So … I guess I liked this story. 🙂

What about you? Have you heard of or read this author? What about other Portuguese or Portuguese-American writers? Id love to hear of them.

(Below: a red tide.)

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Top Ten Tuesday! – Top Ten Books on my Winter Reading List

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the talented folks over at The Broke and the Bookish. Hundreds participate EVERY week. Why not be one of them – if you’re not already? & If you’re visiting Bibliophilopolis for the first time, I invite you to look around a bit to see if our reading tastes overlap orjustleave a comment to say “Hi.” I usually check out every tenth TTT post on their list. I’d like to view more, but there’re just way too many. 🙂

Top Ten Books on my Winter To Read List:

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10. The Universe vs. Alex Woods by Gavin Extence
I’ve forgotten where I first heard of this one, but it sounded interesting. It’s on my TR shelf at Goodreads.com which I’ve promised myself to clear out. (Where have I heard that before?)

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9. Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin
This one’s been around for awhile and I’ve been hearing good things about it for just as long. My blogging colleague Dale at Mirror with Clouds is reading it now, so unless he pans it in a review, it’ll be part of my winter list.

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(above: Eleanor Catton with her prize-winning novel)

8. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
The 2013 Mann-Booker prize winner. I enjoyed one of the other finalists for this year’s prize so much (see my last post), I thought I should give the winner a try.

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7. Dirtyville Rhapsodies by Josh Green
Recommended to me by author Robert Rebein at a book event this summer at Bookmama’s Bookstore. Green was also a student here in Indy. AND it was reviewed favorably by my local blogging colleague, Melissa at  so I’ll give it a read.

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6. Annals of the Former World by John McPhee
A non-fiction classic. Recommended by a neighbor of mine from I was growing up, who has now lived in New Mexico for many years. He visited here this summer and we talked books. It was also a favorite of my Dad, who didn’t dispense his approbation lightly.

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(above: Herman Melville)

5. Benito Cereno by Herman Melville
Somehow I was volunteered to lead a discussion of this novella next month. I’ve read it before, but probably twenty years ago and I remember almost nothing

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4. Our Lady of Artichokes and other Portuguese-American Stories by Katherine Vaz
I met a couple from Portugal who were in town for a conference and happened to visit the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library. Over lunch at Bluebeard (a restaurant named after a Vonnegut novel!) I mentioned my annual short story project and asked for recommendations. This was one of them.

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3. Crimes in Southern Indiana: Stories by Frank Bill
I was intrigued by this title, and then I also heard some good things about it. As an Indiana resident myself, I feel I should read it. 🙂

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2. The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
Several friends and acquaintances have read this one. It’s my turn.

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1. Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro
Finally I will read this, which has been on my list for a long time. Its another Mann-Booker prizewinner (from 2005). My friend and co-worker Jane gifted her copy to me after she finished it or her book club. So, no excuse not to read it now. 🙂 This will be first up if I ever finish Barbara Kingsolver’s “Flight Behavior”

That’s it for me. What books will you “hole up with” while you’re awaiting spring…?