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Monday, April 19, 2004

Book lovers

As promised, Jen and I spent two hours pouring through 32 rooms of books at The Book Loft in German Village on Saturday night. The warm night air welcomed extended browsing at the outdoor tables. She and I laughed together as we chatted about sisterly stuff and found ourselves picking up the same books over and over.

What makes you pick up a certain book? Is it an evocative title, a mesmerizing cover, a favorite author, or the memory of something so sweet, you clutch the book close, hoping its contents will allow you to savor the moment long after it has passed. For me, it's a combination of all those things. So, with that in mind, here's what I picked up.

Ernest Hemingway "The Short Stories." I had to have this because he's one of my favorite writers. His prose is so moving and yet so simple. What interested me in this particular collection, billed as "the definitive," was that it includes some of his earliest pieces and traces his development and maturity as a writer. That's something I'm keenly interested in at this point in my writing life.

"Summer at Gaglow" by Esther Freud. OK, this one I picked up for the cover. It's a vintage photograph (1913) of three young women in long white gowns in a garden. And it reminded me of a dream I had as a little girl. It's one of those generational family stories by the author of "Hideous Kinky," so I thought I'd give it a try.

"Unearned Pleasures and Other Stories" by Ursula Hegi has a great story behind it that maybe I'll share one day in some form. This slim collection intrigued me because of its title and its subject matter: the problems of love—familial, parental, conjugal and emergent.

"The Good Men: A Novel of Heresy," by Charmaine Craig first attracted me because of the title, and then because of the photo of the positively gorgeous author. But what made me buy the book was the author bio. "Charmaine Craig was studying medieval history as an undergraduate at Harvard when she read the fourteenth-century testimony of Grazida Lizier, a young woman tried by the inquisition against heretical Christians in medieval France. Craig was haunted by the document, and when she entered the MFA program at the University of California at Irvine, she decided to write a novel based on it." If a subject grabs you that tightly, if it seizes hold of your heart and your brain, you've got to be able to write about it well. We shall see.

And finally, I picked up a book simply titled, "Prague," by Arthur Phillips. There's a great story behind that one, too. "Really an old-fashioned novel of ideas…very funny…likley to leave you aching, too," wrote The New Yorker. Sounds like my kind of story. It's the story of five American expats living in Budapest, but believing their counterparts in Prague have it better. I sometimes dream of living abroad…maybe in Tuscany where the light, I'm told, is luminous.

My sister has a tremendous amount of books, so I asked her to scour her many bookshelves for some good stuff (who knows when I'll get back to Columbus). So she also sent me home with Milan Kundera's "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" (I've seen the film), "Bread Alone" by Judith Ryan Hendricks, John Irving's "The Fourth Hand" and "Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls," by Mary Pipher. This last selection she told me is a poignant read. "Even though you don't have girls, you'll find yourself in this book," she told me over coffee.

Of course the next big question is what to read first. I think I'll try … "Prague."

Happy reading!

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