Saturday, July 2, 2016

First lines

Here are the opening lines of books I was reading in June.

(PSA: In case you don't feel like wading through all these words, feel free to skip and just go to the comment section to wax rhapsodic about whatever you love best among the books you are currently reading.)

Book #1
Home.  Mona Butterfield felt contentment settle inside her chest like a deep sigh as she drove past the familiar billboard on Rural Route 20.  The billboard depicted a giant wide-mouthed bass, its body arched in a shower of splashing water, a cartoonish fisherman triumphantly reeling it in.  Beneath the picture large red letters announced Welcome to Bassville – the White Bass Capital of the Western Hemisphere.

Book #2
How did the Marquis de Lafayette win over the stingiest, crankiest tax protesters in the history of the world?  He trudged from France to Philadelphia, hung around the building where they signed the Declaration of Independence, and volunteered to work for free.  The Continental Congress had its doubts about saddling General George Washington with a teenage French aristocrat, but Ben Franklin wrote from Paris that the kid might be of use and, what the hell, the price was right.

Book #3
German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that “the early mornings belong to the Church of the risen Christ.  At the break of light it remembers the morning on which death and sin lay prostrate in defeat and new life and salvation were given to mankind.”  This comes as unfortunate news for someone like me who can barely remember who she is at the “break of light,” much less ponder the theological implications of the resurrection.

Book #4
I am almost a whole day old, now.  I arrived yesterday.  That is as it seems to me.  And it must be so, for if there was a day-before-yesterday I was not there when it happened, or I should remember it. It could be, of course, that it did happen, and that I was not noticing.  Very well; I will be very watchful now, and if any day-before-yesterdays happen I will make a note of it.

Book #5
Let’s get one thing straight right from the beginning: I didn’t set out to be a comma queen.  The first job I ever had, the summer I was fifteen, was checking feet at a public pool in Cleveland.

Book #6
St. Petersburgh, Dec 11th, 17__
TO Mrs. Saville, England
            You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings.
Book #7
Mr Logiudice: State your name, please.
Witness: Andrew Barber.
Mr Logiudice: What do you do for work, Mr. Barber?
Witness:  I was an assistant district attorney in this county for 22 years.
Mr Logiudice: “Was.”  What do you do for work now?
Witness:  I suppose you’d say I’m unemployed.

 * * * * * * * * *

Here are the titles that go with the above excerpts.  I’ve listed them in order of how much I liked the book, from best to least.  It’s difficult to rank books of different genres all together.  Is it fair to compare a history book to a novel?  No.  But I can say that I liked the first five books, but not the last two, which are for our book club.

1. Across the River by Melissa Westemeier 
This novel met my biggest reading need:  to get away to a small town with an excellently named river, and meet the people who live there, and enter into their lives.  I think my favorite character was Grandma Nancy. This was a fun read.  You can also get this book here.
Melissa Westemeier blogs here.

Sarah Vowell’s Lafayette answered my need for a snarky take on Our Nation’s History.  I have no way of judging her historical accuracy, but it’s amusing reading, especially considering that it’s history. 

Rachel Held Evans is by turns funny and poignant while Searching for Sunday, but always passionate about her topic, her relationship to the church.  I’m just grateful that when I was growing my church youth group was not like hers. 
Rachel Held Evans blogs here.

4. The Diaries of Adam and Eve by Mark Twain
Mark Twain wrote The Diaries of Adam and Eve late in his life, and his writing shows surprising tenderness.  That is the book that I wish the book club would pick. 
Mark Twain blogs here.

Mary Norris’ Between You and Me is well done, if you love grammar-related stuff.  Her chapter on pronouns is a striking personal story on just how much those tiny words matter. 
Mary Norris blogs here.

6. Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley (for book club)
Some count Frankenstein as a classic, a genre I usually enjoy, but Mary Shelley’s writing style was just over-the-top maudlin, a sort of literary wringing of the hands.  Much weeping and death and coldness.  She wrote it when she was 18 years old, so I suppose she should be excused.  I liked the book discussion much more than I liked reading the actual book.

7. Defending Jacob, by William Landay (for book club)
I had no business reading Defending Jacob, by William Landay, except our book club picked it.  I am not a fan of novels about horrendous crime.  I truly disliked this book.  Maybe I'll feel differently after the book discussion.  In my view the writing style was not anything special, and the plot was very disturbing to me.  It’s going to give me nightmares.  I was happy to read Mark Twain afterwards.
William Landay blogs here.

I also read The Edwardians by Vita Sackville-West, but I neglected to note the opening lines.  It started out rather Downton-Abbeyish, as a snarky-fun commentary on British upper crust life in the early 20th century, but it got tedious, and some characters that could have been quite interesting were not fully developed.

Now it's your turn.  What did you read during June?


smalltownme said...

Across the River, Melissa Westemeier
The Weekenders, Mary Kaye Andrews
Reader, I Married Him, Tracy Chevalier ed.
Jane Steele, Lindsay Faye
Everyone Brave is Forgiven, Chris Cleave
Boston Noir, Dennis Lehane ed.
Sandy Shorts, Nancy Powichroski Sherman
Islands of Time, Barbara Kent Lawrence
Modern Lovers, Emma Straub
Leaving Lucy Pear, Anna Solomon
Serafina and the Black Cloak, Robert Beatty
Eligible, Curtis Sittenfeld
Elegy for April, Benjamin Black
Grunt, Mary Roach

Cassi said...

Across the River, Melissa Westemeier
The Coffin Trail, Martin Edwards
The Woman In Blue, Elly Griffiths
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman
Lost Among the Living, Simone St. James
The Third Sin, Aline Templeton

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

First, thank you for the kind words! Second, I want to read that Sarah Vowell book!
I read some unpublished manuscripts, "Station Eleven" by Emily St. John Mandel (fabulous), "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" by Stieg Larsson and "A Small Indiscretion" by Jan Ellison. I'm taking notes on these lists posted.

Patience_Crabstick said...

What a fun idea for a blog post! I may have to do a first lines post on my own blog. :)

Last Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope (still reading)
Nostromo by Joseph Conrad (still reading)
Palladian by Elizabeth Taylor
Galore by Michael Crummey
We'll Always Have Paris by Emma Beddington
Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton
Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene
A Rex Stout murder mystery whose title escapes me
The Tortoise and the Hare by Elizabeth Jenkins

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

Across the River, by Melissa Westemeier
I wish I could say I'd read more, but aside from articles at work, I'm currently working through 3 other books (yes, three at once):
The Unsubstantial Air: American Fliers in the First World War, by Samuel Hynes
The Summer of the Great-Grandmother, by Madeleine L'Engle
Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, by N.T. Wright

Of course, I recognized Melissa's work immediately, and I was pretty sure of that #3 was RHE (haven't read it yet, but I'm familiar with her writing). I'd be interested in reading #2-5 on your list as those are not yet crossed off my list.
No maudlin reading for me, thanks.

The Crislers said...

I started to panic about halfway through your opening lines, worried you weren't going to divulge their respective books. The only one on that list I've even semi-read is Defending Jacob, which we read for book club and I couldn't bear to continue after about a 100 pages. I can't seem to finish 90% of the books I pick up right now, which isn't like me. I'm starting to think it isn't the books, but the reader. Blargh. I appreciated your take on the other books on the list.