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Club Lac Pythonga

A holiday weekend made for a get-out-of-the city escape to a winter wonderland in Quebec. In mid January, we spent four days at Chateau Montebello, a Fairmont resort that’s a 90 minute drive from Montreal’s international airport. Truth is, we “had to” go there: it was the annual meeting of Club Lac Pythonga, where we spend summers. 

What a place to land! (Thank you, Marie Hélène Sevigney and Becca Baughman.) Chateau Montebello, built in 1930, is the largest log structure in the world. Every time I walked into its lobby, I gasped. It’s tall and spacious, warm and inviting. A perfect place for families and friends to gather and talk on their way to or from an adventure. Let me count them: swimming, spa-ing, squash, hiking, snow-shoeing, skating, sledding, cross-country skiing, dog sledding. Equipment — even outerwear — was lent, free of charge.

I can’t remember the last time I went to resort and didn’t want to leave.

On to books. I had four days to read at Montebello. Nothing to recommend.

Back at home, I was happy to receive a story collection by Alice Adams. I’m not a fan of short fiction because — I want more! Not so with Alice Adams. The blurb on the front, from Joyce Caro Oates, captures the experience: each story is “like a watercolor perfectly executed.” Adams’ stories feel complete at 20 or so pages; they’re unique, and memorable.

At the same time, I was devouring the first half of a doorstopper, The Manor and The Estate, by Isaac Bashevis Singer. Why is this not a mini series? It’s a delicious story, set in Poland during the latter half of the 19th century. There, a Count returns from Siberia, exiled for his part in a failed uprising against Russia. His son Lucian, also exiled, flees to Paris, but not before he lures a Jewish girl to go with him. (Squalor, illness, imprisonment follow.) That girl is one of four daughters of Calman Jacoby, a devout Jew who has taken possession of the Count’s manor and land. I loved this saga because it detailed the lives of European Jews (and Gentiles) at a turning point in history. Characters question the strictures of religion, marriage, manners, domesticity. I’m looking forward to reading part two, The Estate. 

In the meantime, I picked up Say Nothing, a True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland, by Patrick Radden Keefe. I’m only a few pages in. It’s very good. 

Happy New Year, happy trails, happy reading. 

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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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I am just returned from my favorite reading spot, our home on Lac Pythonga, where I sit with a book on the dock or the beach or Pythongastretch out on our new couch and/or reading chair with ottoman (thank you, Georgia Dent) — quiet spaces all. What a treat: to read for hours at a time in the woods, by the lake, in a space that’s off the grid. There’s no phones, no television, no Internet.

Sure, I did other things: yoga on an unscreened porch, spa treatments on the dock, hot sauna/cool lake runs, long hard swims with my friend Sharon, to and from her dock, where we’d rest a bit and chat. At night with my family we played Scrabble or Giant Jenga while Evan and Harry listened, via Sirius satellite radio, to Chicago Cubs games.

Here’s what I read and can recommend:

Eccentric Orbits, by John Bloom, is the jaw-dropping story of orbitsMotorola’s development, and abandonment, of the Iridium satellite system and the retired airline executive who saved it. My friend Joe was reading the book, too, and we’d come to breakfast sharing outrage at Motorola’s stubborn resistance to saving the system and its complicity in Iridium’s bankruptcy: shocking, like watching an animal eat its young. Joe and I agreed that the book went on too long, but otherwise, this is a deep and satisfying read.

The Story of a New Name, by Elena Ferrante, part two of the four part Neapolitan novels.

ferranteI read the first of these last year and while I liked it a lot, was exhausted by the story’s everyday violence and granular telling: after 331 pages, the girls (Lila and Elena) were only 16 years old. That said, I’m glad I picked up part two, because now I’m hooked and will read all four.

What’s so compelling? The character of Lila, who marries at 16 and immediately — at the wedding! — rejects her husband. From there it’s an affair, a child by another man, and later, flight with still another man. Studious Elena goes off to college in Pisa and manages, despite her poverty, to succeed. Part Two ends on a note of hope, which will get me to Book Three.

Earlier this summer I read:

yearofrunawaysThe Year of the Runaways, by Sunjeen Sahota. This is the story of contemporary Indian immigrants in England. I loved every page and held this big book (484 pages) close. Short-listed for the Man Booker Prize, it’s a full-bodied read that takes us, via four characters, to an India they each must leave and the England in which they must learn to survive. A fitting, rueful ending; my favorite read of the year.


They May not Mean to, But they Do
, by Cathleen Schine. I’ll read schineanything by Schine: her work is about everything and nothing and always funny, sweet, real, heartbreaking. Also, typically about New York and its people. (If you haven’t read her “Fin & Lady,” do.) This one is about the family Bergman: the decline and death of paterfamilias Aaron followed by his wife Joy’s grief and aging. Their adult children are well meaning but hilarious in their attempts to care for Joy, then outraged when Joy brings an old boyfriend into the family fold. Little girls, a wandering grandson, women in love: Schine gets everything right.

tribeI also enjoyed Tribe, by Sebastian Unger, a slender (136 page) collection of writings on homecoming and belonging. Deeply personal but expansive, historical, topical. Many dog-eared pages.

Too, I was surprised to thoroughly enjoy Clementine, by Sonia Purnell, a biography of the wife of Winston Churchill, which I read because I’d been invited to a book talk. (Thank you, Jennifer.) What a life! Clementine loved andclementine devoted herself to Winston (a fascinating, brilliant tyrant) at the expense of all else, including their children. Reads like a Mitford novel.

About Girls on Fire, by Robin Wasserman: I loved its lyric beginning and end. In between is a gruesome and not very believable “mean girls” tale.

hillbillyRight now I’m reading Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America, by Jill Leovy. Great reporting and storytelling, about L.A. homicide detectives tasked with solving black-on-black crime. Also Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance, about white Americans left behind in the post-industrial Midwest. Violent, telling.

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