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Reading: A New Year

I stopped posting book reviews sometime last year. Not sure why. I’ve been reading the whole time, as always. Maybe no read made me want to sit down and write about it. 

I’ve got one now. I’m suffering “book grief” over “The Copenhagen Trilogy,” by Tove Ditlevsen, a Danish writer (1917 – 1976) celebrated during her lifetime. Not sure why it’s a bestseller these days — a new translation? 

For whatever reason, I’m glad it fell in my lap. Her story begins quietly, just after World War 1, in a working-class neighborhood of Copenhagen. Always a misfit, little Tove discovers her inner life early, though a poetry journal. Her education stops just before high school, but she keeps writing even as she takes on work that dulls her. Editors and elders encourage, and Tove begins publishing poems and novels. Disastrously, she marries an older editor who supports her work but won’t have sex with her. (I love a train wreck.) She marries a student, they have a child and then — she’s pregnant again. The search for an abortion reads like a grimy thriller. Another unwanted pregnancy brings Tove to her third husband, a doctor who eases her pain with Demerol, then continues to feed her addiction. I’ve never read a more graphic depiction of addiction. It’s horrifying. 

I loved this read because I loved Tove. She is odd. She’s relentless in her desire to write and publish. She’s a loving mother and wife. Her descent into addiction is a twist I didn’t expect.

Another big book (580 pages) I liked was Jonathan Franzen’s “Crossroads,” about a Midwestern family in the 1960s. Associate pastor Ross Hildebrandt is husband and father. The story begins with his ridiculous pursuit of a widowed parishioner and a petty feud with the youth pastor who’s more popular with the teens. Wife Marion is overweight and in therapy. You think she’s a dull suburban mom until she relives the youthful affair she had with a married man, in L.A., which landed her in the psych ward. More nuttiness is found on the campus of University of Illinois, where their brilliant son Clem drops out and alerts the draft office of that decision. (His father, and his father’s father, are pacifists.) The other siblings indulge in drugs, alcohol, sex. This is the first of three books about this family. I’m hooked. 

I’d never read “Middlemarch” by George Eliot. It’s the favorite of many writers I admire (i.e., Lauren Groff) so I picked it from my towers of “to be read” and brought it with me to an island in Vermont. There, I had many hours of uninterrupted reading, which is what this book demands. It’s a long, delicious story. The young Dorothea Brooks, imaging herself a helpmate, attaches herself to an older clergyman who imagines himself a scholar. (Again, I love a train wreck.) It’s a passionless marriage and Dorothea falls for the clergyman’s young cousin, who is sent packing. Subplots fill out the story (it’s 835 pages) and include a good doctor who’s bad with money; a respected banker whose hypocrisy catches up with him; lovers twisted by the whims of benefactors and parents. It’s a rich read. 

Finally, I was puzzled by a newly published book that annotates Virginia Wolff’s “Mrs. Dalloway.” Was it that difficult? I’d started it years ago and put it down because the beginning is dull: Clarissa is hosting a dinner party and decides to buy the flowers herself. I thought the book was about the party. It is, and it’s also much more. Set just after World War 1, the book takes place in London in a single day. We are with Clarissa and her help and her family and her guests and we are with Septimus Smith, a veteran, who ends his life. No annotation needed.This is an accessible, devastating read. 

I’m happy to be posting again. More books, more travel, more food and cooking. More life. Let’s hope this is Covid’s last blast. 

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