Reading, traveling, lodging, dining New England

by anneMoore on January 10, 2018

I ate and drank and traveled and read my way through December and early January. Here’s what I enjoyed:

Exit West, by Mohsin Hamid, which turned out to be my favorite read of the year. It’s about young lovers in an unnamed country that falls into civil war. The two must flee, leaving family behind, first to Greece, then England and finally, the United States. It’s a harrowing journey, of course, but the magic of this book is their passage, through doors that lead them to their next stop. I loved this read because it was both intimate — we see the two grow and change and part — and universal, a story of migration.

I’m a fan of Edward St. Aubyn, especially his Patrick Melrose novels which, if you’ve never read, you must: they’re disturbing (as a boy, he’s repeatedly raped by his father, and later he’s a drug addict) but they’re deliriously funny and beautifully written. (Thank you, Georgia Dent, for recommending them.) St. Aubyn’s latest work is Dunbar, a modern retelling of King Lear. I liked it a lot but was oddly unmoved, given that the play leaves me in tears. Dunbar is a corporate titan shelved by his daughters in a rural sanitarium so they can take over his empire. Along with a comic drunk and an “inmate” who has cash, Dunbar escapes the place. But Dunbar is separated from the others and wanders the English countryside, close to freezing. Dunbar’s ravings and paranoia and the true peril he faces in the outdoors made for good reading; the reunion with the one faithful daughter is thin. Even so, no one writes like St. Aubyn: his story never lags and his sentences are a marvel.

I tried to read Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing but got bored after a few chapters. Same with Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere, which I put down after a few pages because I hated all the characters. Frustrated with fiction, I picked up Reckless Daughter, a biography of Joni Mitchell by David Yaffe. What a great read! I’ve always loved her music, but I didn’t know anything about her life, about contracting and recovering from polio as a child, her disinterest in school, a terrible early marriage. I knew she’d given up a child; I didn’t know the extreme poverty she was in at the time and the shame she thought an out-of-wedlock birth would bring upon her parents. I didn’t know that she doesn’t read music, that she tunes instruments in a way that no one else does, that she’s a genius. Yaffe is a smart, sympathetic biographer. A wonderful read.

Just after New Year’s I traveled with my daughter to Hanover, New Hampshire, where she was starting her second term at Dartmouth College. It was supposed to be a quick trip for me but the cyclonebomb storm on the East Coast kept me in Hanover an extra day. The snow there, though constant, was pleasant and pretty: a winter wonderland.

Again, I stayed at the Hanover Inn, a perfectly run hotel opposite the college. It’s my third or fourth visit; I’m always pleased by its quiet, its clean and attractive rooms and bathrooms and lobby, the excellence of all staff, from the valets to the front desk. The servers in their Pine restaurant are especially thoughtful to weary travelers.

Hanover is a compact town, about two blocks long, with many dining options.

Most mornings I had a double latte and house-made croissant (as good as any I’ve had in Paris) at Dirt Cowboy. One afternoon we were especially cold and stopped in for chai tea, cafe au lait and cookies. Everything we’ve tried on their vast menu — they serve breakfast and lunch and dozens of drinks — is delicious.

We went to the industrial chic Market Place for an excellent dinner (pasta ragu, vegetarian curry) and the next morning for scrambled eggs sided with smoked salmon and frothy lattes.

For lunch one day (before the storm) I drove about 15 miles to White River Junction, where I met my childhood friend LGD, who made the drive from her home in Burlington. That’s a good friend. We ate at Tuckerbox, a glassy, sun-filled spot that serves mostly Mediterranean food.  Yum! And so reasonably priced. We shared chai tea, a meze platter, lentil soup, baklava. All for $40.

Other spots we enjoyed in Hanover: The Canoe Club, for its supper club vibe, good service and pleasing food. Also Murphy’s on the Green, a book-lined pub that’s rightfully known for its burgers. We planned to have lunch (soup, salad, sandwiches) at King Arthur Bakery & Cafe in Norwich, but the snow kept us in Hanover.


Reading: Old over new

by anneMoore on November 15, 2017

Of course I’ve been reading. Newly published books left me frustrated — nicely written but tedious — so I turned to my daughter’s college humanities list and my own stacks of old books I haven’t read yet. Here goes:

Dorothy B. Hughes’ In a Lonely Place. Did I want to be in the mind of a serial killer? Not especially, given our culture of mass slayings. But I’d read that Hughes’ 1947 novel was a noir masterpiece. It is. Set in post-war Los Angeles, we’re instantly absorbed in the doings of Dix Steele, a former fighter pilot, who is in the city to write a detective novel. He’s a prowler, but he’s also a dandy, dressing for dinner and reacquainting himself with a friend from the military, who has become an L.A. detective. In desolate places, at night, women are strangled: the killer is in their midst. A beautiful, suspenseful read about a flawed man made understandable.

Philip Larkin’s A Girl in Winter (also from 1947). I’d loved Larkin’s Jill so reading the poet’s only other novel was a natural; he’d conceived of them as a series. The story concerns a young foreign woman in provincial England; she works, unhappily, at a library. It is winter, during World War 2. Years earlier, she had come to England at the invitation of a pen pal. Most of the book is those few weeks in summer, when she and her teenage host tour the countryside and Oxford and sort of fall in love. Will they reunite? That is the book’s tension. I earmarked a dozen pages: this is how a character wakes up in a strange home, this is what it is to be a teenager in love, this is a city street on a winter day, this is the only way this can end.

From the Dartmouth College humanities reading list — the theme was the other, the outsider — I plucked a few classics I didn’t know.

Francoise de Graffigny’s Letters of a Peruvian Woman (1747) tells the story of an Inca Virgin of the Sun, kidnapped by the Spanish Conquistadors, rescued by a nobleman who brings her to France. Throughout, she longs to be reunited with her beloved, and it is her letters to him that form the novel. I loved this story for her descriptions of things she’d never seen: a carriage is a box on wheels drawn by horses, a ship is a floating house, her reflection in a mirror is a friend. All is alien in this new world. De Graffigny used this exotic tale to comment on French society, culture, and the role of women.

Another: Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the the North is set in the 1960s, along the Nile, in Sudan. A scholar returns home, hoping to make a contribution to this postcolonial place. There he befriends a stranger who has also made the place his home. The stranger is Mustafa Sa’eed; the story within the story is Mustafa’s years in London, where he was an educated economist entangled with women who loved him for his exoticism, the color of his skin, the smell they decided was him. Those loves ended badly, in suicide and death. These men are not at home in Europe, they’re not at home along the Nile. “Help, help!” is the last line. This is a good one for understanding that part of the world.

And finally, Lazarillo de Tormes, a novella from 1552 anonymously published and banned for its mockery of Spanish clergy and aristocracy. It’s the story of a boy made to earn his living serving others: a blind man, a squire, a thief, a cardinal. He must steal to survive. It’s picaresque, a boy’s adventure; from him we get Huck Finn, we get Donna Tartt’s Theo Decker, we get the children in The Florida Project film, a sad must see..

I’m reading Dave Cullen’s Columbine (see above, mass slayings) on the advice of a journalist friend, and I’m advising all to see the movie Lady Bird, because it’s sweet and funny and its situation real, it’s beautifully filmed and performed, it was written and directed by a woman.


Books: End of summer reads

by anneMoore on September 18, 2017


I spent the end of August and into early September on the East Coast. First stop, beautiful Hanover, New Hampshire, where my youngest child and only daughter is a freshman at Dartmouth College. (Beginnings for all of us!)

From there I spent a few days with dear friends at their summer house on Lake Champlain.

Still more: up to Quebec for a week at our summer home on Lac Pythonga. Everywhere I walked, ran, swam, toured, read, ate well, laughed. With my eldest, I played a Civil War board game that was more interesting than I expected (the North prevailed.) I spoke a lot of French, piloted a big-ass Dodge Durango, and felt like I’d been away forever.IMG_8193.JPG


This is what I read:

I’ve inhaled everything Tom Perrotta has written (and own a first edition Little Children with its controversial Goldfish cover)  and was recently besotted with The Leftovers, both the book and the tv series. So it was a given to pre-order his latest, Mrs. Fletcher. I love Perrotta’s fiction (he also writes about sports) because it is clearly written (that is, words don’t get in the way of the story) and well plotted, surprising, relatable. Even the worst of his characters gets his, and our, empathy.
Unknown-1Mrs. Fletcher is sweet, a little raunchy, and less dark than his earlier works. It tells the story of divorced middle-age Eve, who runs a community center for seniors, whose only child leaves for college. It starts with a literal bang: while Eve packs the mini van, Brendan gets a farewell blow job from his high school girl. Brendan is off to the bro life of a good looking athlete, replete with booze and girls, while lonely Eve comes home to binge Facebook and make lists to improve her dreary life. Oh, how the tables turn.
It’s not a short book at 307 pages, but I read it in a day. So did my sister Liza. It’s that kind of tale: engaging, funny, real. I didn’t want it to end.


Mid 20th century Japan is an interest of mine since I studied it at Columbia University with Donald Keene, who translated ancient to modern Japanese Unknownliterature. Since college, I’ve been happily making my way through the work of Junichiro Tanizaki, who writes about post-war Japan and its cultural changes. Some of his, like Naomi, are erotic high comedy. The Makioka Sisters, a favorite of mine, is the story of a family, where nothing and everything happens. The Maids, which I just read, is a companion piece to Sisters, and brings us into the lives of the family’s servants. I liked it for the descriptions of everyday life (fashion, footwear, cuisine) and the weird intimacy that forms between these girls and the man of the house; they’re more than help, they’re chaste companions, shown off for their beauty and poise. These girls serve ten years or more, and form bonds with the family; some are married from the home.


I turned to the shelves in Pythonga for two great reads. One is Michael Lewis’s Flash Flash Boys pbk mech.inddBoys, which explains the machinations of high frequency trading and the “fair” stock market established because of it. A must read. I also picked up and enjoyed Michael Pollan’s A Place of My Own, which chronicles the building of his writer’s studio. So much to love: the shack’s design and siting, the architect’s thinking, Pollan’s change from befuddled to adept, the step by step beauty of custom-made windows. A gem.


Finally, back at home I picked from my piles Ali Smith’s Autumn. I’m glad I did. It’s a strange read, an elegy of England as it leaves the EU, a treatise on art and artists, and the story of an everlasting friendship between an old man and a young girl that turns to love as they age. Beautiful.

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Summer reads, last installment

by anneMoore on August 29, 2017


IMG_7925Bliss: three weeks off the grid at our home within Club Lac Pythonga in Quebec. Few bugs, hot sun, lake water the perfect temperature for swimming. I kayaked, practiced yoga outdoors, gazed at stars, visited with friends. So much time and quiet, a good place to write and read.

I finished the fourth and last of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan series, The Story of the UnknownLost Child. If you haven’t read this series, I urge you to: it’s rare to read the lives of women, of a long friendship, careers, children, love and loss. The personal is the political: always the violent workings of Naples, and Italy, is present in these books. I didn’t especially like the first in the series, My Brilliant Friend, but everything that follows hangs on it. I’m glad I kept reading: such drama!

Always I bring a classic for my summer reads and this year I chose Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables. I’d read his The Scarlet Letter (again: Unknown-1who assigns this to a 14 year old?) a few years ago, also Melville’s Moby Dick, and with both I was enthralled by story and language. No wonder they’re classics! Well, all classics need not be read, including The House of the Seven Gables. It’s the overwrought !!! tale of the cursed family Pyncheon. If you ever feel the need to read it, think: Anne did it for me.

World War 1 and its poets have always interested me. Testament of Youth, by Vera Unknown-2Brittain is a memoir of that time and those people. Brittain worked as a nurse at the French front and in London hospitals; her poet fiancé, her brother and their best friend die over the course of the war. I wept more than once over her losses, and later for her awkward re entry into every day life post war. This is a big story, beautifully told.

My “beach read” this summer was Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown. I was engaged throughout, didn’t guess its conclusion until the last page and didn’t feel the need to shower after reading because of hateful non-sensible characters (Gillian Unknown-3Flynn’s Gone Girl). Brown’s characters are mostly believable and I felt for them. Here’s the story: Bille Flanagan disappears hiking in the California wilderness, but her body is never found. Dead or alive? Teenage daughter Olive has visions of her mom and follows her commands. Husband Jonathan is writing a memoir of Billie and discovers a whole life he’d never know about his wife. A quick, engrossing read.

My on-her-way-to-college daughter pressed two books on me.

Unknown-4Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson tells the true stories of men on death row and Stevenson’s efforts to free them. One of those reads I’ll never forget.

The other is a political satire that everyone in her freshman class was asked to read. The book is A Man of the People, by Chinua Achebe, first Unknown-5published in 1966. It’s set in an unnamed African country run by a dictator; I’d say the corruption, thievery, betrayals, grandstanding, double talk and misogyny in the book boggles the mind, but with Trump in power it feels like our everyday.

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Summer Reads, part 2

by anneMoore on July 14, 2017

Our place in Quebec is my place to read, on the dock, in the boat, in our newly furnished living space, in a big oversized chair and ottoman in the reading loft designed for me. Unbroken hours, and quiet. No tv, no telephone, no cell, no Internet. Someone else does the cooking. Bliss.
There I inhaled Jane Mayer’s Dark Money, a magnificent work of reporting and analysis that began as a New Yorker article. Mayer details the chilling history of the Koch family, imagesindustrialists (read: polluters) bent on dismantling regulatory government. After failing to win people over to libertarianism, the family (and others attracted to their cause) put their fortunes into think tanks, universities, and political campaigns. If they couldn’t change thinking, they’d buy it. And they have. I didn’t understand, once Trump took office, why the EPA was targeted to be dismantled. Now I know. A propulsive read.
Next I turned to the third (of four) Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante. They’re so rich I had to take a break; I’d read the second last summer. Such satisfying fiction! The women, images-2whom we’ve known since childhood, are in their twenties. It’s the late 1960s and Italy is roiled by demands for workers’, students’, women’s rights. Lina works in a meat processing factory. Elena is celebrated for her racy first novel. This being Naples, there’s head-turning violence and twisted devotion. (As my friend Debbie said about these books, appreciatively and with her hands, “They’re sooooo Italian.”) Studying code, Lina and her lover make a better life for themselves; Elena abandons her young daughters. There’s drama on every page.
I was eager to read China Mieville’s October: The Story of the Russian Revolution. Mieville is a gifted writer; I kept earmarking pages to look up words I didn’t know. Mieville is celebrated for his post-modern fantasy and science fiction so I’d hoped for a images-3compelling read; reviewers called it a “dazzling” retelling. It’s not; it’s a slog. Mieville recounts every meeting, every vote, every slight. His commentary made me smile, but the whole read I can’t recommend.
Earlier in Chicago I picked up a slim book from my piles to stick in my purse. Such a pretty book, too, with its pale pink cover: Junichiro Tanizaki’s Devils in Daylight. I’m a fan of Tanizaki, a mid-century Japanese author (1886 – 1965) whose novels detail everyday lives that go off the rails, typically because of an obsession. I loved The images-1Makioka Sisters, Naomi, Some Prefer Nettles. He has more, and I’ll read them all. Devils in Daylight is 87 pages, a novella. This is the story: A tired writer is awakened by his louche friend, who insists he join him to witness a murder foretold by a code in Edgar Allen Poe’s The Gold-Bug. (A nod to Poe will always get my attention.) The writer and friend, after a few mishaps, come upon the aftermath of the murder of a gentleman, by a beautiful woman and her servant, who are preparing the dead man’s chemical extinction. Shocking. It gets better: the friend becomes involved with the murderous woman, and asks the writer not to interfere in his certain death. Weirdly wonderful.


Books: Summer Reads

by anneMoore on June 20, 2017

I read all the time, but I read most during the summer: beside the pool, on the dock, in my leafy green Chicago back yard. Here’s some recent reads I enjoyed. Ah, summer.

The Death and Life of the Great Lakes, by Dan Egan
I live beside Lake Michigan and the sight of its limitless waters astonishes me still, even after 30 years living in Chicago. I’d read about invaders to this chain of great lakes, the world’s largest unfrozen freshwater system, caused by man-made shipping channels that link to the Atlantic Ocean, though never in one sitting. (Lamprey sea eels decimated native fish, zebra and quagga mussels choke off water-intake pipes.) Egan traces this sad history: lakes once thick with fish and plankton are so clear today you can spot deep water shipwrecks. Egan is a master storyteller, and this reads like a thriller: will the lakes and its tributaries survive?


Locking Up our Own: Crime  and Punishment in Black America, by James Forman, Jr.
A neighbor dropped this book through my mail slot with a note, “I think you’ll find this interesting.” I did. I carried this book around day and night, leaving her book spotted with sunscreen, nail polish, a splat of red wine, a smear of avocado. (I replaced it with a fresh copy.) That I left so much of my life on its pages says it all: this is a compelling and necessary read for anyone interested in the roots and reality of black incarceration and gun violence.


Afterlife, by Marcus Sakey
I get bad dreams reading dystopian fiction, but sometimes I’m sucked in and keep going. (I consumed Station Eleven, for example.) Afterlife is set in urban beauty Chicago, where a serial killer is at work. Tracking him is the city’s FBI director and her top daredevil agent, who are lovers. Ensnared, the two are killed ….but live on and work smartly
in an eerie “echo” of Chicago populated by the dead, controlled by ancient gods. This is a love story, a thriller, a mind bender.

Girls, by Kate Moore
In the 1920s, young women were employed in factories to paint numbers on timepieces with a glow-in-the dark substance that contained radium. To paint precisely, the girls were instructed to wet the brush with their tongues. Radium dust clung to their clothes and for fun, they’d coat their eyelids or nails with radium. (At the time, radium was thought to be a wonder drug, safe to ingest.) Not all and not at the same time, these working girls fell ill: their teeth fell out, their jaws disintegrated, tumors grew from legs or arms, they became feeble, they couldn’t get pregnant or miscarried. Gruesome, yes. The heroes of this story are the poisoned women who brought suit against the dial companies (and won) and the men (fathers, brothers, husbands) who loved and cared for these women.


The Full  English, by Bull Garlington
This fellow Chicago writer asked me to read his travel memoir and supply a blurb. What a fun read! Garlington is a wise, grumpy humorist in the style of Bill Bryson; his tru-isms about travel made me stop and think and his humor about life in general made me laugh out loud. He and his wife, teens and Southern mother embark on a “lullabus” tour of the United Kingdom. He’s the star: a fat man trapped on a tour. Indigestion, outrage, discomfort, deep sleep, discovery, wonder, kindness ensue. I’d follow him anywhere.


One of the Boys, by Daniel Magariel
I have piles of books in my office and sometimes I pick up a slim volume because I’m tired of carrying around heavy books. This in one of those, at 167 pages, though its subject is not light. A boy self inflicts bruises with the help of his father and brother so that the father can win custody of the boys. The father is a monstrous charmer; he persuades the boys to run off to Albuquerque with him. It’s hopeful at first, with sunshine, a new school, basketball. The father is a junky and a bully; their lives devolve into violence, terror, poverty. Beautifully told.


Ghachar Ghochar, by Vivek Shanbhag
This is another small book I could tuck in my bag, a memorable 118 pages. How did he pack so much drama into so few pages? Shanbhag is an Indian writer, and this is one of his few works translated into English. It tells the story of an impoverished family whose fortunes change when an uncle starts a successful spice company. Ghachar ghochar is a phrase that means a hopelessly tangled mess; with new wealth that’s what becomes of this family. Marriages, especially, fray beyond repair. I loved this read for the glimpse it gave me of contemporary life in India.







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Travel: Weekend in New Orleans

by anneMoore on April 11, 2017

My college-bound daughter and I visited New Orleans last week (sunny, dry, breezy, 70‘s) for another look at Tulane University and to visit family. We stayed near campus, at the Hilton Hampton Inn on St. Charles Street in a spacious top-floor room. The hotel offers free breakfast and afternoon tea; its common and pool areas are many and nicely furnished. The hotel’s location provided instant access to the St. Charles streetcar and its wide median, where I could safely run. Too, we were walking distance to Magazine Street shops and restaurants.

Day One we revisited Tulane, a gorgeous campus humming with students. It’s an academically demanding but happy place. From there we walked the paths of beautiful Audubon Park, to Magazine Street, where we had a tasty and reasonably priced Italian lunch at Reginelli’s Uptown. We noticed diners of all ages, from children to elders; it felt like a neighborhood place instead of a tourist spot. From there we walked the Garden District, marveling at block after block of magnificent 19th century mansions with gardens edged by 10 foot gardenias and honeysuckle. Such scents!

Later, we met my son and his girlfriend downtown for drinks and a pimento cheese board at Willa Jean  and for dinner at Maypop (run, don’t walk: easily one of the best meals of my recent life. Mopho chef Michael Gulotta’s Thai/Cajun cuisine in an elegant space, with excellent service.)

A note on running. Past trips to New Orleans we’ve stayed in the French Quarter, which never shuts down. I’d been warned by more than one native to skip running
there. I brought my running shoes this time thinking I could run Audobon Park. But I noticed, all day, runners on the St. Charles streetcar median. I got up early the next two days and ran there; it’s a fun way to take in the avenue’s grand homes and apartments.

Day Two we skipped the hotel breakfast and headed to Gracious Bakery and Cafe, a brightly lit breakfast and lunch spot on St. Charles that serves delicious egg sandwiches, pastries, speciality coffees. (We returned the next morning, too.) My son was working and we’d walked more than 10 miles the day before, so we lounged by the hotel pool. Midday we were the only ones there. What a treat to lie in dappled shade, reading. (My daughter did her homework.)

Restless, we walked to Magazine Street to shop and eat po’ boys at Mahony’s.  That night we returned to Magazine Street for cocktails at The Bouligny Tavern, a Mad Men-esque spot with great service, then onto dinner next door at Lilette, a French bistro we’d been to before. There the service was wackily off, but the fare was, as always, a foodie’s delight. Truffle toast, duck gnocchi, drum over couscous, steak frites, brown butter cake.

Day Three we met my son at his MidCity apartment (small, charming, sunny and a balcony to the street) then hopped the streetcar (highly recommend, $1.25 exact change per person) to City Park, where we walked the foot/bike path beside the lake and toured the Besthoff Sculpture Gardens, a favorite place.

For lunch we headed to the Warehouse District for hand-carved meat sandwiches at Butcher, a sister spot to Cochon, where my son works. Neither is to be missed for food that’s not like everything else in New Orleans and for the brick-walled industrial but airy atmosphere.

From there we walked through the arts district and boarded the Charles St. streetcar for a priceless ride back to the hotel. A seller of flower garlands, tourists alone or in groups, bros, a girl handing out free croissants and baguettes, coiffed old ladies grateful for seats.

If you’ve never been to New Orleans, or haven’t been in awhile, go!

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Books: Recent reads in dark times

by anneMoore on April 4, 2017

I’m still in a funk over our elected leader and his mendacious staff. Fiction, even dark difficult fiction, provides an escape. Here’s where I’ve been:

In the Midwest, two men heedlessly press on to their deaths. One is a right-to-life activist set on eliminating abortion providers. The other is a doctor who provides abortions for women in areas where there may be only one such clinic. Both are certain of their calling.

This is the engine of A Book of American Martyrs by Joyce Carol Oates. It’s a long, troubling read. Oates takes us deeply into the families of the two men. The activist is a failed preacher with a drug-addled wife and teenage children. The doctor is an urban sophisticate dragging his educated wife and brainy children to rural Michigan so he can be of service to women.

I admire Oates’ storytelling: we are at the murder, we are in prison, we are at the botched death penalty procedure. The families left behind — how they come apart and come together — is the balance of the book. A magnificent read.

Also in the Midwest, a Cleveland psychiatrist mourning his wife learns that his foster brother has been released from prison, wrongly convicted of murdering four adult family members. Among the doctor’s patients: a former police detective obsessed with a pattern in unexplained drownings. At home, the psychiatrist’s teenage son has ditched his first year of college for heroin.

These are the triangles in Dan Chaon’s Ill Will, a creepy tale of repressed memory and unraveled professionalism. It wasn’t til the last page that I figured it all out. Bravo, Mr. Chaon. (If you haven’t, please read his Await Your Reply, one of my all time favorites.)

Ah! New York City in the the late Forties. Kafka Was the Rage is a memoir from Anatole Broyard, who went on to write for The New York Times.

Fresh from the war, Broyard leaves his parents’ Brooklyn home at the invitation of a siren who lives in Greenwich Village. His every decision is supported by his parents because “he’s a veteran.” He opens a bookstore, takes classes at the New School, hangs out with artists and musicians. It’s a gentle grungy time.

His love affair with Sheri is the funniest, dearest part of this memoir: he doesn’t understand her or her art. She plays him mercilessly, bringing home suitors who try to persuade him to give her up or telling him that her heart is weak, so she must be carried up stairs.

This is a thoughtful look back at time and place that planted the seeds for the cultural and sexual revolution of the Sixties.

Barbara Comyns is a 20th century English author getting a fresh look thanks to reissues by the New York Review of Books and other publishers. Comyns writes clearly and beautifully about the horrors of family life. (I am forever haunted by her Our Spoons Came from Woolworths). In The Vet’s Daughter, teenage Alice is left motherless to her cruel father, a veterinarian whose work spills into their suburban London home: a rug is made from a skinned Great Dane, on the mantle is the skull of a double jawed monkey, a parrot flies about freely. The smell of chloroform pervades.

Life without mother becomes increasingly fraught; coping with violence and another death, Alice finds herself able to levitate. I’d like to say this ends well, but this is a Barbara Comyns book. Brace yourself.

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Big reads for uncertain times

by anneMoore on February 22, 2017

In these unsettling times, my reader friends tell me they’re reaching for fun or light or soothing reads. A comfort, for me, is a big read. Below, a few that have taken me far far away from CNN, my Facebook feed, the daily papers.

I loved C.E. Morgan’s All the Living and looked forward to a thick book from such a talented writer. Wowza! The Sport of Kings clocks in at 545 pages and covers — beautifully, lyrically — slavery, white supremacy, incest, racism, poverty, disease, ambition, horse breeding and racing. It’s a page turner; I never lost interest. A great American novel or an overwrought Gothic tale? I can’t decide.

I needed to get out of the American South, so I picked up Henry Green’s Caught, first published (and censored) in 1943, recently reissued by New York Review of Books. It’s set during the Blitz, and centers on the men in a fire brigade. Why all the fuss? Class conflicts, excessive drinking, boredom, affairs, an incestuous rape, mental illness, kidnapping. Periodically I turned back to James Wood’s introduction: why am I reading this? Because Green captured the everyday speech of the time and, instead of celebrating war, shows us the awful toll it takes on a man and his marriage.

Back to contemporary U.S. I brought Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth with me when I traveled to D.C. for the Women’s March. Every night I tried to read a few pages; nope! Tired, restless, sharing a room with three friends. On the plane ride home I finally got into the book, a sad funny read about two families joined by divorce. It’s narrated by Franny Keating, whose beautiful mother runs off with a lawyer. The six children joined by this marriage are the story of this novel. Nothing happens, everything happens. A satisfying read.

T.C. Boyle’s The Terranauts is a doorstopper (507 pages) that kept me engaged, though I wasn’t sure why. It concerns the scientists who seal themselves off from the outside world and the people who monitor their survival; no one is likable. Again, why keep reading? Well, Boyle never lets me down. I knew there was some point to this story and once found, I was hooked. Motherhood is selfless, right? Not inside the dome.

I’m half way through Joyce Carol Oates’ A Book of American Martyrs: A Novel (752 pages!) It’s about an assassin for Jesus, the abortion doctor he slays and the families they leave behind. Achingly sad, an important read. I’ll let you know.

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Three friends and I headed to Washington, D.C. mid January to be a part of the Women’s March. I have a fear of crowds, but I had to do “something” about DT’s presidency. Shortly after the election, my dearest friends found a hotel room in Du Pont Circle and reasonable air fares to D.C. In their embrace, I can do anything, so I latched on to their plan. In return, I offered to book restaurants for dinner.

As I left, I thanked my husband for sending me in style. I know many women, men, children who rode buses to and from the march, the largest in U.S. history.

Four of us stayed in a spacious room at the Kimpton Hotel Palomar, a hip place with friendly help at the front door, front desk, bell hop. Highly recommend.

For breakfast, we found Emissary, a brick-walled, light-filled lower-level space serving pressed coffees, pastries, egg dishes. It was our go-to spot daily.

I’d been to D.C. many times; this was the first I’d stayed in DuPont Circle. It’s a neighborhood much like mine in Chicago, with an easy 20 minute walk to the Washington Mall.

We were wise to pre-book dinners. Not because we’d have been shut out — the area is filled with restaurants and bars — but because we had a plan. There was no “what should we eat, where should we go” at the witching hour. Thank you Open Table, and reviewers, for making it easy to make reservations within a specific area.

First, we dined at Firefly, a funky chic place built around a thick tree. The food — upscale American — was good but not great, the wine list was pricey.

Next night, we ate at a seafood spot, Pesce. Don’t be put off by modest storefront entry; inside is bright white, fresh and clean. Wide variety of dishes, excellent service.

Finally, after a long, thrilling, exhausting day at the March, we found ourselves in good hands at Ankara, a stylish place that puts out delicious Middle Eastern food. Attentive service. Don’t miss their hummus or citrus salad.

For drinks, skip the Dupont Circle Hotel bar; it could be anywhere and the service is so so. A better choice is the bar inside Carlyle Hotel, elegant and cozy. Sophisticated.

On the plane ride to D.C., we sat with a fellow marcher from Chicago who shared a project worth looking into: 12 for 12, a video collection of 12 iconic Chicago brands.

On the way home I finally had a chance to dive into Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth, which starts with a bang and never lets up. About adults and children in fractured families. Sweet, funny, smart. That book was my companion for the next week, and at its close I was sorry to give up her characters.

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