Pythonga reads: A thrill and a bore

Our dog was misbehaving in Pythonga so every morning after breakfast I’d take him for a long walk up the road. There he’d run ahead of me, into the woods, then scamper back, checking in with me. It was raspberry and almost blackberry season, so I brought a small tub with me, filling its base. That gave me uber-fresh berries for my midday salad, for my morning fruit and yogurt.

I didn’t like the reason for the walk — that our dog couldn’t be trusted alone — but the (ha!) fruit it bore seemed some kind of karmic payback. Bad dog; good fruit.

Some days that 20 minute walk was my sole exercise. My Pythonga this year was lazy: no hike up the mountain, no portage into Stony Creek, no morning kayak to Lac Moore. It was cold some days and nights; I’d make a fire indoors, curl up beside it, read, nap. I swam, but not my usual to the island and back. It was still Pythonga, of course: shore lunches, star gazing, before and after dinner cocktails and conversation. Reading: on the porch, on the dock, in a boat on a beach. Also talk of books: last year’s hits, this year’s maybes, the forevers.*

The read that made me happiest: Cathleen Shine’s newly published Fin & Lady. Eleven-year year old Fin is orphaned; he leaves his Connecticut farm to live with his 24-year-old half-sister, who is fabulous, beautiful, undependable. It is 1964. They live in Greenwich Village and become a family, of sorts, along with Lady’s three suitors, who invade at cocktail hour. Who is narrating this smart, sweet tale? To find out, you’ll have to follow Lady, and then Fin, to the sun-kissed ancient island of Capri.

Coming-of-age novels come in all varieties: James Salter’s A Sport and A Pastime (1967) tells the story of a Yale dropout’s erotic liaison with a beautiful but not very bright French girl. Salter’s writing is exquisite; his descriptions of rural France and Paris are cinematic. My sole complaint: erotica, in general, is a thrill and a bore.

More pleasing in the canon of unequal-love literature: Junichiro Tanizaki’s Naomi, first published serially in Japan in 1924. An engineer from an upstanding family takes in a teenage waitress whose family runs a brothel; he aims to make her over into a woman who could be his wife. Naomi is an unusual beauty, often mistaken for the American actress Mary Pickford. Naomi plays along, pretending to study English and ballroom dancing, overspending on delivered food and clothing…all the while keeping up love affairs with younger men. When the engineer discovers her duplicity, he runs her out of their home…but she keeps coming back, teasing him. A strange, intoxicating read.

I picked up and put down and picked up Lara Feigel’s The Love-charm of Bombs: Restless Lives in the Second World War, a non-fiction account of London writers during the Blitz. Every day could bring death…how would you behave? (This is a scholarly work, well written and researched.)

Never a bore and always a thrill: the fiction of Carl Hiaasen. His latest, Bad Monkey, sets a disgraced Key West detective on a hunt for a Medicare fraudster who fakes his own death. Of course there’s a monkey involved…and he is very, very bad. Also a voodoo priestess and a hapless Northerner, trying to flip a waterside monstrosity. A smart, sleazy read.

I’m back in Chicago; my (bad) dog still in Quebec. I go to the farmer’s market alone, and buy peaches and string beans and flowers. It’s good to be home, but I am missing my dog, and that walk, and those berries, and unbroken hours to read.

* Canada, by Richard Ford. A Hologram for the King, by Dave Eggers. John Updike’s “Rabbit” series.

Also in the blog

Six of us went to Paris last week to eat and shop and look at art. We had no trouble (volcanic ash) coming or going, and while we certainly didn’t plan to benefit from other travelers’ canceled plans, we found it easy to nab reservations at top restaurants, and lines at museums were remarkably short.


Can a book bring you solace? Zachary Mason’s “The Lost Books of the Odyssey” was a comfort to me. Everything about this slender tome — its tone, its elegant paper cover — soothed me during a physically trying time earlier this year. It’s small and slender, even in hardback, so I could easily carry it


The war in Gaza is top of mind, which led me to books and a television series set in Palestine and in Israel. You may remember that in mid October, after the Hamas attack on Israel, the Frankfurt Book Fair canceled a celebratory award for Palestinian author Adania Shibli, for her novella Minor Detail, a finalist