The Goldfinch

“Every new event—everything I did for the rest of my life—would only separate us more and more: days she was no longer a part of, an ever-growing distance between us. Every single day for the rest of my life, she would only be further away.”   The Goldfinch 

The Goldfinch book coverI made it through all 771 pages of The Goldfinch. That may sound as though reading it was a struggle. It was, occasionally, but I couldn’t abandon Theo Decker, even though things get awfully dark, because just about everyone else in Theo’s life lets him down one way or another. This doesn’t mean I don’t like the novel – I do, very much. But Donna Tartt’s fiction is a commitment, in the way I remember David Copperfield being a commitment when I read it in high school.

(After I wrote this, I found out Stephen King has compared Donna Tartt to Charles Dickens.)

You have to be a reader to take this one on, and a devotee of fiction, and willing to grapple with life’s big questions.

Thirteen-year-old Theo and his mother, a lover of art, are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art when a terrorist bomb explodes. Unbeknownst to Theo, his mother is killed instantly, while Theo finds himself comforting a dying man in his last moments. The delirious man urges Theo to take the painting that has landed in the rubble nearby. In shock, Theo obeys, managing to find his way out of the museum clutching The Goldfinch, a priceless 17th century painting by Carel Fabritius.

Theo is left completely alone. His alcoholic, flimflam artist father abandoned Theo and his mother some years before. So Theo goes to live with the wealthy family of one of his friends from school. Theo still has The Goldfinch in his possession, though no one knows. He can’t bear to part with it.

“How was it possible to miss someone as much as I missed my mother? I missed her so much I wanted to die: a hard, physical longing, like a craving for air underwater.”

Eventually, Theo’s father and his father’s new girlfriend whisk him away to a god-forsaken development in the Nevada desert, where most of the houses are in foreclosure or were abandoned, half-built, by the developer.

Donna Tartt’s third novel is a serious, funny, sad, wicked story, which won the Pulitzer Prize. It takes her about ten years to write a novel; she has also published The Secret History and The Little Friend. 

Theo’s life is suffused with, and saved by, the spirit of The Goldfinch. He has this to say, which I think also applies to Tartt’s novel:

“I add my own love to the history of people who have loved beautiful things, and looked out for them, and pulled them from the fire, and sought them when they were lost, and tried to preserve them and save them while passing them along literally from hand to hand, singing out brilliantly from the wreck of time to the next generation of lovers, and the next.” 

Summer reading

The Goldfinch book coverI am now thoroughly in the grip of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. (In book circles, it seems as though half the universe is reading Tartt’s latest novel.)

After surviving a terrorist bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (a hellishly claustrophobic, terrifying scene masterfully written), a shell-shocked Theo Decker is making his way home amidst dozens of fire engines, blaring sirens, and chaos in the streets, where he is certain he’ll be reunited with his mother, who had been in the museum gift shop during the blast. Knowing Tartt, I believe things will only go further downhill for Theo in a tragic – comic, picaresque way. I’ll keep you posted over the next few weeks, without spoilers, of course. Having read Tartt’s previous books, The Secret History and The Little Friend, her latest book is a must-read for me.

In the Kingdom of Men book coverIn my perpetual online quest for good reads, I happened upon Kim Barnes the other day. I can’t believe I haven’t yet sampled her writing. In my stack of library books, I now have In the Kingdom of Men, the 1960s story of “a barefoot girl from red dirt Oklahoma, and all the marble floors in the world will never change that” who marries a college boy from her hometown. He takes a job with the Arabian American Oil Company in Saudi Arabia. The novel is loosely based on the experiences of Barnes’ aunt and other American women married to oil executives who worked in the Persian Gulf in the “Mad Men” era. I’ve also placed library holds on Barnes’ two memoirs, In the Wilderness and Hungry for the World.

My Struggle book coverAs usual, I’m overly ambitious, but I’ve decided to take on Norwegian Karl Knausgaard’s three-volume My Struggle after reading intriguing reviews. The fact that our local Barnes & Noble did not have Volume 1 only makes me more determined.

I just purchased Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams (someday we’ll get there) and The Shelf: Adventures in Extreme Reading, by Phyllis Rose. (She wrote A Year of Reading Proust.) Rose read, straight through, all the 30 or so books from LEQ – LES on a random shelf in the New York Society Library stacks – no matter how obscure the author. The books and authors include The Phantom of the Opera, California detective fiction, a novel by an Afrikaans writer, stories of French Canadian farmers, and one “feminist, humane earth-mother Jewish writer” who raises award-winning Newfoundlands.

Domestic Matters

A Woman's Shed book cover

We’ve been putting in raised beds at our house, and my latest obsession is backyard domesticity. I just bought Gill Heriz’s delightful A Woman’s Shed. From our local library I borrowed three or four how-to titles about building fences (made of wood, stone, metal, and plants) and backyard sheds, gazebos, cabins, and other nature retreats.

 

The Kitchen Garden Cookbook coverI’ve also been browsing through Sylvia Thompson’s The Kitchen Garden Cookbook (1995). Thompson has also written The Kitchen Garden, which I’ll have to track down. Both are semi-classics endorsed by Alice Waters and other culinary experts. The cookbook is good reading, and if you’re growing your own vegetables you’ll like Thompson’s tips about when to harvest. The recipes are inventive and  sound delicious – I’m looking forward to trying some of them out. How did I find this title? It was on display at our library – a great way to discover good, not-so-new books.

In my quest to learn about gardening and raising vegetables, I’ve been reading Eliot Coleman’s Four-Season Harvest, as we hope to experiment with raising food through the winter. Eliot’s neighbors were Helen and Scott Nearing, who launched the modern-day homesteading movement. He has made the Nearing’s home farming techniques accessible to home gardeners and small organic farmers. Living the Good Life book cover(The Nearing’s influential book, Living the Good Life (1954) is a fascinating read, by the way.)  I like Coleman’s book because it is simple and straightforward, especially accessible and inspiring to the lay person. I’ve also rediscovered a book I purchased years ago, Barbara Damrosch’s The Garden Primer. Reading the forward to Coleman’s book, I discovered that he and Damrosch are married to each other.

Kitchen Garden book coverI love to visit the many small second-hand and consignment stores in our village. We have a used crafts supply shop I like to browse in, and there I discovered old copies of Betty Crocker’s delightful Kitchen Garden (1971) by Mary Mason Campbell with illustrations by Tasha Tudor; Gardening Made Easy binder coverand Gardening Made Easy (1995), International Masters Publishers, a collection of full-color pamphlets that you order individually and store in a three-ring binder. (I believe these are now out of print.)

 

 

The Supper of the Lamb book cover

For good measure, I requested from the library a copy of The Supper of the Lamb, (1969) by Robert Farrar Capon; this “culinary entertainment” written by an Episcopal priest comes highly recommended by a friend.

So there you are, my summer reading plans – all over the map, highbrow and not, typical for me.

What will you be reading this summer?

 

 

Raised beds

A work in progress

 

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