from here to eternity: the summer book

photo(7)So I am technically dreaming right now because summer for me is still nearly a month away and just last night I realized I was entering the dizzying vortex of finals: finals weeks . . . three to be exact, with literally hundreds more student papers to touch in some meaningful way.  At this point, really, I just sort of toss them around like balls in the air and hope they don’t bounce back.  So what better way to keep my crazy panic at bay than to dream of that summer book.  Oh, the summer book!  Aren’t you already shopping for yours?  Calling out to all your friend lists.  Tweeting . . . have any recommendations?  I need some summer books!!  Checking out everyone else’s Facebook updates to see what their friends recommend?  Well, last summer I was totally swept away by All That Is by James Salter, and I can’t wait to read his classic 1975 novel Light YearsDescribed as lyrical, iridescent, mystical, magnetic, seductive, witty, elegantly nuanced . . . what more could we ask for in a summer book?

Extraordinary . . . at once tender, exultant, unabashedly sexual, sensual, and profoundly sad.  Light Years is a masterpiece.

~ Elizabeth Benedict, Philadelphia Inquirer


mccaullifeThis looks good as well.  Had me at salacious details.

“With Twilight of the Belle Epoque Mary McAuliffe offers a delightful romp through one of the most vibrant periods in French history, even as she elegantly captures the shadows looming on the horizon. Those unfamiliar with this period will be awestruck by its riches, while connoisseurs will delight as McAuliffe brings to life the colorful cast of artists and innovators—from Picasso to Peugeot—who ushered in the twentieth century in the City of Light.” (Rachel Mesch, Yeshiva College; author of Having It All in the Belle Epoque)

“Picasso, Stravinsky, Proust, Marie Curie and Gertrude Stein are just a few of the creative dynamos who appear in the pages of this new volume—a lively account of an era of literary, artistic and technical innovation that ended with the world-altering tragedy of WWI.” (France Magazine)

“It’s actually not so much a history of a time as a collection of biographies—over 30 of them—of early 20th-century French inventors, politicians, and artists. The author divides the book by year, with each chapter relating significant events in the life of the main subjects during that one year. . . . McAuliffe has an eye for the evocative, using quotes—and salacious details—to bring these early 20th-century men and women to life.” (Library Journal)


What’s on your summer reading list?

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july’s book

Romantic and haunting, All That Is explores a life unfolding in a world on the brink of change. It is a dazzling, sometimes devastating labyrinth of love and ambition, a fiercely intimate account of the great shocks and grand pleasures of being alive.

salterIt is perfect.  I lingered over the last few pages because I didn’t want it to end!  Of course, I know if I were someone else I could write a scathing feminist critique of the protagonist for reasons I will not reveal here because they are too scandalous (contact me if you are dying to have that conversation).  But since I am long past graduate school and under no professional pressure to publish my brilliant insights, I will leave the smartypants theory alone and just say, this book was absolutely beautiful.  all that is

The characters come and go like apparitions in the fog.  Crowded New York bars.  Uptown apartments.  London or Parisian literary salons.  The effortless, lyrical way Salter sets a scene and introduces someone new or the latest lover of a bumped-into old friend and then eases into their story and then back again.  Written in simple, seductive prose, All That Is is really a collection of encounters.  Chance and otherwise.  It’s a collection of parties and conversations, romance and travel.  And within all this alluring conversation that takes place with incredibly interesting people is a palpable sense of every character’s desire and longing and belief in the transformative power of love.

Enjoy this excerpt, and if you want an intelligent romantic summer read, buy the book!

They walked straight in, and when it was to the waist he dove, arms stretched out and his head tucked between them.  The water was a dusty green, pure and silky with a gentle swell.  This time they didn’t swim together but went in different ways.  He swam towards the east, slowly falling into a steady rhythm of it.  The sea was passing around him, beside him, beneath him in a way that belonged to him alone.  There were a few other swimmers, their solitary heads showing further in.  He felt he could go a great distance, he was filled with strength.  With his head down he could see the bottom, smooth and rippled.  He went a long way and at last started and turned back.  Though he was tiring, he felt he could not swim enough, stay long enough, in this ocean, on this day.  Finally he came out, spent but elated.  Not far from him a group of children, ten or twelve years old, were running into the water in a long, uneven file, girl with girl, boy following boy, their faces and cries filled with joy.  He began walking towards Ann, who had come out earlier and was sitting in her sleek red bathing suit, he’d been able to pick her out from a distance.

With a feeling of triumph — he could not explain it — he stood drying himself before her.  It was nearly eleven.  The sun had terrific weight, it was like an anvil.  They walked up together to where the car was parked off the road.  Her legs seemed to have tanned even more as she sat in the seat beside him.  The cheekbones of her face were burned.  As for himself, he was completely happy.  He wanted nothing more.  Her presence was miraculous.  She was the woman in her thirties in stories and plays who for some reason, circumstances, luck, had never found a man.  Desirable, life-giving, she had slipped through the net, the fruit that had fallen to the ground.  She had never spoken of their future.  She had never mentioned, except in enthusiasm, the word “love.”  Standing before her that day though, having come out of the sea he had nearly said it, knelt beside her and said it, the love he had for her.  He had nearly said, will you marry me?  That was the moment, he knew.

He was unsure of himself and of her.  He was too old to marry.  He didn’t want some late, sentimental compromise.  He had known too much for that.  He’d been married once, wholeheartedly, and been mistaken.  He had fallen wildly in love with a woman in London, and it had somehow faded away.  As if by fate, one night in the most romantic encounter of his life he had met a woman and been betrayed.  He believed in love — all his life he had — but now it was likely to be too late.  Perhaps they could go on as they were forever, like the lives in art.  Anna, as he’d begun to call her, Anna please come.  Sit here beside me.

Wells had married again sure of even less.  He had seen a woman’s legs and talked to her in the neighboring yard.  They had run off together and his wife had formed her life around his.  Perhaps it was a question of that, arranging a life.  Perhaps they would travel.  He had always meant to go to Brazil, to the place where Elizabeth Bishop had lived with her Brazilian companion, Lolta Soares, and to the two rivers, one blue and the other brown, that came together and she had written about.  He had always wanted to go back to the Pacific, where the only daring part of his life lay, and travel across it, its vastness, passing the great forgotten names, Ulithi, Majuro, Palau, perhaps visiting a few graves, Robert Louis Stevenson’s or Gauguin’s, ten days by boat from Tahiti.  Sail as far as Japan.  They would plan trips together and stay in small hotels.


She had gone to visit her parents.  It was October, he was alone.  The clouds that night were a dark blue, a blue such as one seldom sees covering a hidden moon, and he thought, as he often did, of nights at sea or waiting to sail.

He was content to be alone.  He’d made himself some dinner and sat afterwards reading with a glass at his elbow, just as he had in the little living room on Tenth Street, Vivian gone to bed and he sitting reading.  Time was limitless, mornings, nights, all of life ahead.

He often thought about death but usually in pity for an animal or fish or seeing the dying grass in the fall or the monarch butterflies clinging to milkweed and feeding for the great funeral flight.  Were they aware of it somehow, the strength it would take, the heroic strength?  He thought about death, but he had never been able to imagine it, the unbeing while all else still existed.  The idea of passing from this world to another, the next, was too fantastic to believe.  Or that the soul would rise in a way unknown to join the infinite kingdom of God.  There you would meet again all those you had once known as well as those you had never known, the countless dead in numbers forever increasing but never as great as the infinite.  The only ones missing would be those who believed there was nothing afterwards, as his mother had said.  There would be no such thing as time — time passed in an hour, like the time from the moment one fell asleep.  There would be only joy.

Whatever you believed would happen was what happened, Beatrice said.  She would go to some beautiful place.  Rochester, she’d said, as a joke.  He had always seen it as the dark river and the long lines of those waiting for the boatman, waiting in resignation and the patience eternity required, stripped of all but a single, last possession, a ring, a photograph, or letter that represented everything dearest and forever left behind that they somehow hoped, it being so small, they would be able to take with them.  He had such a letter, from Enid.  The days I spent with you were the greatest of my life . . .


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all that is and the faraway nearby

My reading takes a turn from the raucous dark humor of Gone Girl to a quiet reminiscing with James Salter’s All That Is.  I must tell you I am not that far along into his book to give it a fair review, but let’s say I am plugging away with great hope I will be able to finish this one.  Salter’s protagonist Bowman finds himself in New York after returning from WWII an unlikely hero, mainly because he survived.  He lands a job as an editor of a small bookish press and sets about falling in love.  I say the book is quiet not because it isn’t interesting but because Salter writes with such a keen reserve–he’s that observer who takes in every detail and ruminates over only the best to give back.  It must be agony for him to write!  But his prose is lovely, and he’s often funny.  In 1993, the poet Edward Hirsch published this charming (but lengthy) interview with Salter in the Paris Review which I’d highly recommend giving a skim.

I am also adding to my bookshelf another title I stumbled upon during this morning’s browse.  It’s a new memoir from San Francisco-based author Rebecca Solnit called The Faraway Nearby.  The reviews are so-so, but who thinks they get it right all the time anyway?  The huffingtonpost describes Solnit’s book as “a beautiful, meandering look at stories, writing, family and memory.”  The editors go on to say, “This is one of more beautifully written books we’ve read this year, filled with insight and gut-wrenching phrases. It is simple to read, yet generates complex reactions in the reader. If you enjoy stories and storytelling, this book will expand your understanding of them, and yourself.”  The title is a reference to the 1938 painting “From The Faraway, Nearby” by Georgia O’Keefe, which sounds lovely but is actually in my humble opinion a hideously unattractive painting of an animal skull with antlers depicted in those peachy southwest hues of early 1980s wall paper or living room decor–certainly nothing to write a book about.  Despite that, Solnit’s memoir still sounds to me like something worth spending the kids’ lunch money on.  And if I keep splurging on all these new titles, they just might need to start foraging for food downtown or start a macaroni garden in the backyard.

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