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Books: Start and Stop Reading

Wow. How many doorstoppers in a row?

First, Peter Orner’s “Love and Shame and Love.” A great title! His story is multigenerational but so choppily told I lost interest in every character.

Next, Anna Solomon’s “The Little Bride.” Another great title, well reviewed. I put it down two-thirds of the way through. If you put a young mail-order bride in a home with an old husband and young adults sons, something — O’Neill anyone? — should happen.

I couldn’t get through even the first (confusing) chapter of Lauren Grodstein’s “A Friend of the Family.”

I thought I was much farther into Edie Meidav’s “Lola, California: A Novel” before I quit. Again, a wonderful premise that stalls: a charismatic father on Death Row, dying from cancer. Nearby, at a nudist retreat, his estranged daughter, one of his followers and her best friend from high school. This set up goes on and on and on.

One book I liked a lot: Philip Larkin’s “Jill.” Set during World War II, a working-class scholar rooms with an aristocratic hellion at Oxford University. To make his roomate jealous, the scholar imagines a girl named Jill. Then Jill appears! It’s an odd story, a delicious read.

I did all this stop and start reading during recent travels to Philadelphia, New York and Washington, D.C.

At the Philadelphia Museum of Art, “Van Gogh Close Up” runs through May 6. See it. Some of these works are in the U.S. for the first time. Also in Philadelphia, Parc Restaurant & Bistro is as good as any in Paris and opens out to beautiful Rittenhouse Square.

Because I grew up on Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals, I’m a tough critic. What a delight, then, to be completely charmed by the Broadway musical “Once.”  An at-the-bar dinner followed, at Bond 45, an Italian steakhouse in Times Square. Another New York highlight: an evening stroll on the High Line and a bistro meal at Pastis, on Ninth Avenue.

In Washington we lucked into a guided tour of the U.S. Capitol, thanks to Senator Dick Durbin. The American plants and flowers woven into the interior architecture, and its dome — George Washington lounging with thirteen maidens — were highlights for me. Also Doug Aitken’s SONG 1, cinema and music that envelopes the Hirshhorn Museum, from sunset to midnight, through May 16.

Also in the blog

Living in a city beside an inland sea, my morning walk sometimes yields trash, or an odd hello: a washed up, desiccated raccoon, its teeth bared. Dried vomit. Charging geese. Our harmless resident crazy, who mistakes me for Hillary Clinton, and asks after Bill. Why keep walking? Because there’s treasure to be found: a mother

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More book grief! Paul Auster’s “Sunset Park” grabbed me from its first sentence. “For almost a year now, he has been taking photographs of abandoned things.” He is Miles Heller, an Ivy League drop-out working foreclosures in Florida, inspecting abandoned homes for banks. He finds himself cataloguing, via photographs, the things people have left behind:

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It’s still February, the month of women’s heart health. Take care! Loved and Missed, by Susie Boyt  The aching bond of motherhood is the subject of this beautifully told novel. Ruth is a schoolteacher of teenage girls and mother of drug-addict Eleanor, who has just given birth to Lily. At the baby’s christening — a

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