Sunday, March 31, 2024

First Lines: March 2024 edition

Reading skills

Below are the first lines of the books I finished reading in March.   It’s been a tough month, for reasons I may go into later on.  Or not.

About mid-month I found I was disappointed with the large list of books I had hastily downloaded to read in the hopes of taking my mind off things. I haven’t even listed them here as “Did not finish” because I didn’t get far enough.  I abandoned those, and instead I searched for authors I had enjoyed reading in the recent past.  And found something I actually liked reading.


Book 1

That Veronica and I were given keys and told to come early on a frozen Saturday in April to open the school for the Our Town auditions was proof of our dull reliability.

Book 2

September 1955

It had been raining for hours and still a light pattering soaked the cobbled pavement, fallen leaves swimming in puddles all around.

Book 3

1:  Pat Distracted on a Tedious Art Course.

Pat let her gaze move slowly round the room, over the figures seated at the table in the seminar room.  There were ten of them; eleven if one counted Dr Fantouse himself, although he was exactly the sort of person one wouldn’t count.

Book 4

1: I Really Hope… But Then Again

As the final chapter of my junior high school life comes to an end, there’s so much that I’m hoping for… or AM I?  For example: I really hope that I get into art school.  But I’d miss all my friends at RAD. 


Book 5

The Story of Two Sons and Their Father

There was a man who had two sons.  The younger one said to his father, “Father, let me have the share of the estate that will come to me.”


Book 6

Prologue:  Tumult at Carnegie Hall

May 5, 1916. Some three thousand people are packed into seats on both the sloping main floor and the four tiers of boxes and balconies sweeping in graceful arcs around the side and back walls.


The titles and authors revealed:



Book 1

Tom Lake, by Ann Patchett. Published 2023. 312 pages. 

I loved this book, I think, because of the rhythm of it, the acknowledgement of the pandemic, and because the main character used the dilemma of the pandemic to tell her story (or at least some of it!) to her children.  The love that is expressed in the family, the sense of home that was found after searching – it turns out I was longing to read about that.  I read it for book club, to be discussed in May.

The one big problem with my reading of it is that I have never seen nor read the play Our Town, which features prominently.   I also liked Patchett’s recent memoir. But I could not read Bel Canto. I am not a full-throated fan of Ann Patchett’s writing, sad to say.



Book 2

The Radcliffe Ladies' Reading Club by Julia Bryan Thomas.  384 pages. First published 2023.

The book takes place in the mid-1950s in Cambridge, Mass.  The first part of the book seemed stilted and weird.  A woman who has left an unpleasant situation in Chicago establishes a book shop in Cambridge, near Radcliffe & Harvard.  She hosts a book club in her shop, to which four undergrad women show up.  The book discussions were interesting to me but mostly involved the bookshop owner pedantically driving the book discussion.  The characters of the four college women seemed one-dimensional.  Then suddenly the book took a very dark turn, with a violent incident.  It seemed like a completely different book.  But I guess this plot twist was what kept me reading to the end. 



Book 3

Love over Scotland:  44 Scotland Street Series #3, by Alexander McCall Smith.  Illustrations by Iain McIntosh.  First published 2006.

Lighthearted, funny, loveable characters.  Bertie’s trip to Paris is The Best.


Book 4

School Trip, by Jerry Craft. Y.A. graphic novel.  248 pages. Published 2023.

The author is a Newbery Medal winner for a different book.  This one seems geared toward middle school kids, but it held my attention.  I liked the art work and the characters, although a few characters are ultra-annoying, to make a pedantic point, as is sometimes the case with YA novels. 



Book 5

 ​​The Return of the Prodigal Son:  A Story of Homecoming, by Henri J.M. Nouwen. Published 1992. 162 pages. 

I read this for my church’s Lenten study.  It’s slim but gave me plenty to think about.  A parable is an allegory which gives us an opportunity to decide which one character in the story represents us.  Nouwen’s genius is to depart from that unnecessarily narrow method, allowing a much richer understanding of the parable.

I found myself exploring the title of the parable/book in other languages.  Here are two.  The German one is very different from the notion of “homecoming” in the English title.

Title in Dutch: Eindelijk thuis = Finally Home

Subtitle: Gedachten bij Rembrandts 'De Terugkeer van de Verloren Zoon

= Thoughts on Rembrandt's 'The Return of the Prodigal Son

Title in German: Nimm Sein Bild In Dein Herz = Take His Image Into Your Heart 

Subtitle: Geistliche Deutung Eines Gemäldes Von Rembrandt

= Spiritual Interpretation of a Painting by Rembrandt


Book 6

Rebel Cinderella: From Rags to Riches to Radical, the Epic Journey of Rose Pastor Stokes by Adam Hochschild  320 pages • first pub 2020.

The story of a woman in the early 1900s who marries a man in the upper class but who maintains her passion for rights for workers.  I picked this book because I had read another by this author, and appreciated his writing style.  

The book starts out with a public violation of the Comstock Act, a law originally passed in the 1870s which outlawed the distribution of contraception or information about contraception.  As our (bad) luck would have it, the Comstock Act is rearing its ugly head now, 150 years later.  Pay close attention.  The powers that seek to control and oppress are still there and still strong.


Sunday, March 3, 2024

First lines: February 2024 edition

This is false advertising: this is NOT my stack of books.
The finger puppets, however, are mine.
The only one of these books I have read is Persepolis.

February was a month of mostly light reading.  Even though this particular February had a whole additional day added to it, I managed to finish just four books.  I had a ridiculous amount of other tasks on my plate.  



Book 1

“We’re white!” my three-year-old son yelled from the back seat before pausing to shout, “And blue!”



Book 2

Eleanor Roosevelt never wanted to be a president’s wife.



Book 3

Omertà, and Fascinators

Even if she had not been an anthropologist, Domenica Macdonald would have understood the very particular significance of weddings.



Book 4

The Riding Ring

Perveen Mistry sighed, adjusting her hat on her sweating brow.  It was six-thirty in the morning and already eighty-two degrees.


Did not finish

When I sat down to write this book, I imagined it would be a history of Russia under Vladimir Putin, detailing the changes that have taken place in the mind-set and the worldview of the man himself and his inner circle: how it all began, and where it has all led.  As the book progressed, I came to realize that the participants in the events described did not fully remember what had actually happened.




The titles and authors revealed:



Book 1

The Color of Life: A Journey Toward Love and Racial Justice, by Cara Meredith.  Cara Meredith.  240 pages • first pub 2019


At first I felt the author was so enthusiastic and giddy that I would not finish the book.  But then it got more serious, with the examination of what it means to be a white mother of mixed-race children.  I read it for a community church discussion in March.


Book 2

Eleanor Roosevelt:  A Life of Discovery, by Russell Freedman.  Published 1993.  187 pages.  Newbery Medal.

It’s a book aimed at ages 9-12, but it addresses some (but not all of the possible) adult themes – the marital situation of the Roosevelts, including the affair FDR had with Lucy Mercer.  It’s well written, and has interesting photos.  I read it for book club.

Eleanor Roosevelt traveled to so many places, to report back to her husband the Governor or the President, that she was nicknamed “Eleanor Everywhere.”   She did not have a particularly happy home life, neither during her childhood nor her adulthood.  But she did fulfill her sense of purpose.  After WW II she worked hard in the UN and was responsible for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. 



Book 3

Sunshine on Scotland Street (44 Scotland Street Series #8), by Alexander McCall Smith.  297 pages.  Published 2012.

An enjoyable and amusing tale which includes a dog, a wedding, a doppelganger, and a holey kilt. 

For those who are wondering, a 'fascinator' is “a particular style of ladies hat that serves no practical function and is intended only to be decorative,” according to Professor Google.

See more info and photos here:



Book 4

The Satapur Moonstone, by Sujata Massey.  Published 2019.  340 pages.

Second in the mystery series starring a woman lawyer in 1920s India.  Includes lots of horseback riding through the forest.  A well-spun tale.



Did not finish

All the Kremlin’s Men: Inside the Court of Vladimir Putin, by Mikhail Zygar.  Published 2016. 396 pages.  “Translated from Russian; no information is available about the translator.”

It turns out I could not bear to read about this topic right now. 

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 I would love to hear about what you are reading these days.