Previous month:
October 2016
Next month:
December 2016

November 2016

J.D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy.

I am decidedly undecided about J.D. Vance's memoir Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis.

Hillbilly elegyOn the one hand, it's straightforward, an easy read, and it was tough to put down. What is it about trainwrecks, either culturally or personally, that we can't look away from them? Because Vance describes a childhood that was surrounded by trainwrecks: a mother with substance abuse problems and a willingness to bring any sort of boyfriend or new husband into her house with her children; "hillbilly" grandparents who could be downright scary in their willingness to exact their own brutal vengeance on people they viewed as enemies; a school and culture and economic surroundings that largely did not encourage anyone to try or succeed (why bother, if no jobs were waiting for them at the end of their educations?). So this is a stark, personal, succinct (257 pages) read. Here's how Vance starts, in the introduction:

"I was one of those kids with a grim future. I almost failed out of high school. I nearly gave in to the deep anger and resentment harbored by everyone around me. Today people look at me, at my job and my Ivy League credentials, and assume that I'm some sort of genius, that only a truly extraordinary person could have made it to where I am today. With all due respect to those people, I think that theory is a load of bullshit. Whatever talents I have, I almost squandered until a handful of loving people rescued me." (p. 2)

It is emphatically a memoir; Vance admits early on that it is not an academic or sociological study. And that's fine. As a memoir I think the book worked. So why am I not more enthusiastic?

I don't know why, really. Vance's story is an inspiring one (man from impoverished childhood eventually graduates from Ivy League law school and marries one of his fellow students), but perhaps that's the problem. I'm really not much of a reader for inspiration. And there's something about his tone that just bugs me. You can tell by reading this book that he is no real fan of government programs or social justice laws.* He says a lot of things like this about his hometown of Jackson:

"The truth is hard, and the hardest truths for hill people are the ones they must tell about themselves. Jackson is undoubtedly full of the nicest people in the world; it is also full of drug addicts and at least one man who can find the time to make eight children but can't find the time to support them. It is unquestionably beautiful, but its beauty is obscured by the environmental waste and loose trash that scatters the countryside. Its people are hardworking, except of course for the many food stamp recipients who show little interest in honest work. Jackson, like the Blanton men, is full of contradictions." (p. 21.)

Okay. I know that government programs are not the whole answer. I know that lots of people don't want to work long hours or at physically demanding jobs. But Vance's tone sounds a little too much like "okay, people, pull yourself up by your bootstraps" for me. Just once in this country I'd like to see this argument NOT phrased as either/or: how about we expect people to try a little harder, but still try and implement common-sense government or social or charitable programs that would provide the most help where it is the most needed? Particularly since Vance making this argument seems a bit distasteful, as it does seem that he relied on his grandmother and some other family members for his work ethic and some help. Does he just want to write off everyone who had a troublesome mother, like his own, but who maybe wasn't lucky enough to have a kind and hard-working grandmother? That begins to smack of George W. Bush disease: Born on Third Base, Think You Hit a Triple.**

Anyone else read this one? What did you think? Can't decide if you want to read it? Here's a couple more reviews if you're interested.

*At one point he rails against legislation to try and cut down on payday lenders and their over-the-top interest rates, arguing that for people in poverty sometimes just a little bit of cash can get you through or past big problems. I understand that. I have an appreciation for how a couple of hundred bucks can sometimes make all the difference. But I think what he's missing is that maybe the payday lenders don't have to make a gazillion dollars off someone else's short-term financial need. Again: what about some moderation?

**Although of course George W. Bush was born into a family with a gazillion more dollars than Vance's family had. Still, you get my point.

Citizen Reading: 28 November 2016

A weekly selection of reading and book news, sometimes with completely inappropriate commentary.

Creating a "parent-friendly" library.

Hey, librarians! Anyone out there a member of the Public Library Association? You can get a free webinar from Becky Spratford of RA for All.

Irish author William Trevor has died. I kind of liked old William Trevor.

Jack London died a hundred years ago this week. I kind of liked old Jack London.

Infographic: Reading habits from around the world.

Library Journal's Indie Ebook Award Winners, 2016.

Costa Award: Shortlist.

J.K. Rowling talks about her new Fantastic Beasts movie franchise.

Come on, shop at Barnes & Noble a bit this holiday, won't you? They're trying so hard. Let this be the Christmas you say "Merry Christmas" to someone while simultaneously saying "fuck you" to Amazon. (Especially since B & N's sales are down.)

Anne Rice "adapting the Vampire Chronicles as TV series."

Director Peter Jackson has found a new movie series project: adapting Philip Reeves's Predator Cities series.


Oh, Christ. I was sanguine about our political situation, but now this news that Thomas Friedman has a new book coming out has me wanting to end it all.

How Americans speak. Totally want this one, although I maintain the correct word is "pop."

I kind of want to read Carrie Fisher's new memoir.

New York Times: Steven Johnson on how "play shaped the world"; Andrew Sullivan on AIDS; the trickery of stealth advertising; author Mark Shriver on Pope Francis; a 20-something falls in love with the Ukraine-- god, do I have the energy to read something by a twenty-something); a new history of France.

Calvin Trillin, I AM IN LOVE WITH YOU. Call me. I think Mr. CR will understand.


IndieBound: Bestselling books the week of Oct. 24.

New York Times: Notable Books; Notable Children's Books 2016

GQ: Best books of 2016. (You do know I love the magazines GQ and Esquire, right?)

Glamour: Ditto. God help us, they've named Curtis Sittenfeld's Eligible one of the best books of the year.

7 books about colonialism.

A book list for when you're done with J.D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy.

10 books to distract you "from all the awful shit happening right now."

School Library Journal: 10 best graphic novels of 2016.

Ten beautiful holiday gift books.


Nonfiction November: Be the Expert

Thank goodness some nonfiction book bloggers have had their acts sufficiently together to host Nonfiction November. It's such a great idea, and every year I'm late to the party, because, well, I'm always late to parties (if I go at all). If you haven't seen any NN posts yet, please check some out. It's great stuff.

The discussion this week is called Be the Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert, and I first came across it when reading Unruly Reader's post about aviation books. (A great post, by the way, and even better comments discussion.) So I thought, I'm not really an expert on anything and I don't have the time or energy to become an expert at anything (and my TBR pile is too huge to even think about asking for expert recommendations and adding to it), so I should probably leave that discussion around. But then I looked around my house and noticed that I have three, count 'em, three books on the go (and a fourth on hold at the library) about...television. So I may not be an expert, but three or four books on the subject seems like a good start for now.

First, a word about me and television. One of my family members is not really a fan of television, and although she never tells me to get off my butt and turn it off (or turn off the CRjrs' PBS Kids, which, not to put too fine a point on it, was the only thing between me and total insanity this past summer, when the CRjrs' sole entertainment was pushing each other down every. single. minute.), I have gathered from her that TV really is a big waste of time. Finally I just had to tell her, okay, but here's the thing: I LOVE TV. I always have and I do and I think I always will. I am the kid who avoided working on the farm by telling my mother I had to do homework, and then I snuck into my brother's room to watch Remington Steele.* I love television almost as much as I love reading. And that, as I think you know, is a lot A LOT. It's like I have two best friends: the solid one who is always there for me and knows just what I need and yet still manages to make me laugh, often. That friend of mine is named Reading. And then I have my other friend, the slightly flashier one who is almost always tons of fun and who isn't always good for me but who I love anyway. That friend is named Television.**

I come from a family of workers and producers, so it has been a long lifetime for me trying to become comfortable with the fact that, for the most part, I am a consumer. I can churn through work with the best of them but for my money? NOTHING is better than reading a book or watching a truly great TV show. It's just the way it is.

So you can see how I ended up with three books about TV in my house at one time. (Incidentally, how's that for having my cake and eating it too? Reading books about TV? So awesome.) And here they are:

Tv the book1. TV (The Book): Two Experts* Pick the Greatest American Shows of All Time, by Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz. I'm really enjoying this one. The general theme is that these two longtime TV critics used some sort of "objective" number scale to rank what they feel are the greatest (American) TV shows of all time. I don't care at all about their rankings but they generally do a nice job of summarizing a wide variety of television programs, without giving too many spoilers away. For instance: I can quite safely state that I have never had a desire to watch one episode of the show "Homicide: Life on the Street." But after reading these guys' description of it? I totally want to watch it. The book also includes nice sidebars with further rankings, like "Best Mustaches" (the winner there is Tom Selleck on "Magnum, P.I.," of course). I don't always agree with their choices, because I think their rankings and choices reflect their stereotypical male tastes (their top five shows are "The Simpsons," "The Sopranos," "The Wire," "Cheers," and "Breaking Bad." Now, I know women watch and enjoy those shows, but to me that list still reads like it was written by two men. Which it was.

Still. A fun compendium.

Seinfeldia2. Seinfeldia: How a Show about Nothing Changed Everything, by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong. I'm actually only partway through this one. It's a serviceable read and I'm enjoying the behind-the-scenes tidbits about how the show started, was cast, and the various personalities that made it all happen. And the author (a former writer for Entertainment Weekly) seems to have done her homework on all the interviews and resources she could find, as well as an impressive interview list with many of the show's key writers and other creators (among them Peter Mehlman, Alec Berg, Spike Feresten, Carol Leifer, and many more). But it does not appear that she got to interview any of the four main stars personally? I know. I suppose none of them have the time or inclination to grant interviews, but it still makes this book feel like it was written at a bit of a remove. Although it's getting terrific reviews. I should probably reserve judgment until I've read the whole thing. I was glad to see that a woman wrote this book, though; have you ever read what a sausage fest most TV and movie reviewing is? Jesus.

Play all3. Play All: A Bingewatcher's Notebook, by Clive James. This book, on the other hand, is annoying the piss out of me.

First of all, it's boring. The introduction is titled "Title Sequence," and here's a sample: "There will always be formal scholarly work to be done. But it will be done best if contact is not lost with the tone of common speech in which habitual consumers discuss the product; a tone not all that far from the voluble congeniality with which they pass the popcorn. Binge-watching is a night out, even when you spend the whole day in. It's a way of being." (p. 11.)

Okay, whatever. It's good writing but it's not exactly prose that you just blow through because it's so fun. I should give James a pass; he was diagnosed with leukemia in 2010 and points out himself that, while drugs are currently keeping the disease in check, he's still facing his mortality. And I'm sure he knows his stuff; he wrote a weekly column about television for the London Observer from 1972 to 1982. But I'm just not enjoying the book. For one thing, it's another sausage-fest of programs: those that get the most attention include "Band of Brothers," "The Sopranos," "Game of Thrones" (I know GoT is popular with women, too, but something about it still says GUY to me), "Mad Men," and "Breaking Bad" (although it doesn't read like he's a very big fan of "Breaking Bad"). Secondly, he blows spoilers all over the place where he wouldn't even have to. I don't even particularly mind spoilers but the way he uses them doesn't even seem necessary (he really lets a big one out for "The Wire," which annoyed me somewhat, because I'd still like to watch that one without knowing about the plot point he's told me). Definitely not a book I need to binge-read.

So that's what I've got home. And now I just heard about this new one, The Platinum Age of Television: From I Love Lucy to The Walking Dead, How TV Became Terrific. Anyone read any of these books? And, of course, here's the real question: Seen anything good on TV lately?

Have a very happy Thanksgiving, all.

*Eventually my older brother, not as dedicated to shirking work as I always have been, noticed the blue glow from his room when our mother was out working in the garden alone, and ratted me out for not doing my homework. Yes, it was not nice to make my mother work alone while I watched TV. But, in my defense: it was REMINGTON STEELE.

**If I really wanted to beat this analogy into the ground (and I do) I would say I have a third friend, like a good guy friend who I have a little crush on but who isn't interested in me in that way. That friend is named Movies. Movies are great but are just a little more standoffish (sometimes you have to leave your house to see them, after all) than books and TV.

***OOooh, extra points, because "expert" appears right in this title!

Citizen Reading: 21 November 2016

A weekly selection of reading and book news, sometimes with completely inappropriate commentary.

Here's one for the "no shit, Sherlock," files: National Book Foundation's "new chief wants young people to read."

Red Hot Dickie narrates Romeo and Juliet: A Novel. If you are not familiar with who "Red Hot Dickie" is, you should really correct that situation.

Another book in the Stieg Larsson Millennium series is expected, to be written by David Lagercrantz. Cause, you know, there's not enough living authors around writing new books who could use your book-purchasing dollars.

2016 National Book Award: Winners. (And RA for All has already provided read-alikes for the winners.)

Can we get rid of the term "graphic novel"?

I know you're dying to hear the continuing Bob Dylan Nobel Prize story: he'll be skipping the awards ceremony. So much for their free concert!

A good reminder to keep an eye on Constant Contact, if you use that for email contacts.

Booklist: spotlight on religion and spirituality.

Give some nonfiction books to kids you know this holiday season!

The rise of the online book club.

A new online service that allows readers to connect and discuss their favorite books: Bookstackk.

Okay, 'tis the season for book-to-movie adaptations, apparently:

Live by Night: Trailer.

The Zookeeper's Wife: Trailer.

Netflix's version of A Series of Unfortunate Events: Trailer.

Before I Fall: Trailer.

The J.K. Rowling film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is doing well.


Glennon Doyle Melton, author of the bestselling memoirs Carry On, Warrior and Love Warrior, has announced that she is dating a woman (after separating from her husband).

Oh, gosh: Megyn Kelly's book "gets trolled by Donald Trump supporters on Amazon." How do all these Internet trolls have so much time on their hands?

Hmmm...a look at Ray Kroc and his wife. Could be interesting: "Ray Kroc, to use his proud words, put the hamburger on the assembly line. The 15-cents McDonald's hamburger wasn't his idea, but he turned it into a fortune, which his third wife, Joan Kroc, would survive to give away to places of which the founder of that fortune might not have approved, including this organization (NPR)."

A new book from Joan Didion is expected next March!

You can help fund a new Jane Austen travel guide.

Need some comfort reading? Try some true crime.

A new spy thriller is out.

Ever think about the person who caught the assassination of JFK on film? Me either--this one could be interesting too.

In the New York Times: black deaths matter too; the American battle over war powers; wanna learn a lot about 2,500 years of history in India?; a biography of Enrico Fermi; a look back at Pearl Harbor.


IndieBound: bestsellers the week of November 17

Amazon: Best Books of 2016

Washington Post: Best Books of 2016 (and notable nonfiction)

The 10 best books podcasts

Ten great horror books that will never be movies

Five great instances of authors reading their own audio books

Readings (Australia): The best crime books of 2016

100 days of counting books for kids

Snow in picture books.

6 great new picture books.


Neil Gaiman developing fantasy series for Fox.

Glennon Doyle Melton, perspective, and other random thoughts I had while washing the dishes.

All summer my sister kept asking me, what is the deal with this book Love Warrior, by Glennon Doyle Melton, and I said, I don't know, I've been hearing about it but I haven't paid much attention. All the while I was thinking, Glennon Doyle Melton. Glennon. Why do I know that name?

Carry on warriorAnd then it hit me. When she came out with her first book, Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed, it became a bestseller, so I'd requested it from the library, even though I'd never seen much at (Melton's blog, on which the book was based) that really set me on fire. I still remember looking it over before I left the library (sitting in the chair next to the train table, where of course CRjr would have been crashing the trains and the second CRjr would still have been gestating), thinking, yeah, I just don't think there's anything here for me. So I turned it back in without even reading it.

That changed this fall. Melton published a new memoir, titled, of course, Love Warrior, which became an Oprah book and was a book about healing her marriage. Which made it all the more awkward when Melton announced, shortly after her new book's publication, that she and her husband would be separating. And then my sister kept asking me about the book. So I thought, well, I don't really want to wait for ages on the hold list for Love Warrior, but maybe I should give Carry On, Warrior, another chance.

And so I did.

I read it, and then I left it around*, and that's how Mr. CR found it and must have read some of it too. So the other day he said to me, "What's up with that Carry On Warrior book?" And I said, "It's terrible." And he said, "Yeah, it is." And we left it at that and just enjoyed (at least I did) a somewhat rare moment of quiet solidarity in our marriage.

And then I left the book on my table, thinking I should blog about it. So tonight I looked at it and realized what the problem is: I no longer have the heart to write negative reviews about books. Which is a shame, because I am a real believer in the well-written negative review, and I used to like writing a good negative review. So no: I don't think Carry On, Warrior was a great book. I didn't particularly enjoy it. Just as I thought that long-ago day in the library, there was really nothing in this book for me. Here's a bit from an early chapter, when Melton talks about her inspiration for writing and blogging, and describes how one day at the playground she just wanted to have an honest conversation with another woman there:

"I shed my armor and I waved my white flag. All of a sudden I heard myself saying the following to Tess:

Listen. I want you to know that I'm a recovering alcohol, drug, and food addict. I've been arrested because of those things. Craig and I got accidentally pregnant and married a year after we started dating. We love each other madly, but I'm secretly terrified that our issues with sex and anger will eventually screw things up. Sometimes I feel sad and worried when good things happen to other people. I snap at customer service people and my kids and husband regularly. I always have rage right beneath my surface..."

Tess stared at me for so long that I wondered if she was going to call our minister or 911. Then I saw some tears dribble down her cheek. We sat there, and she told me everything. Things with her husband were bad, apparently. Really bad. Tess felt scared and alone. But at the playground that day, Tess decided she wanted help and love more than she wanted me to think she was perfect." (p. 4.)

Okay, whatever. It's not bad writing (most of Melton's essays are so neatly put together, as a matter of fact, that I'm thinking I should study them for my own writing), but it's just not an experience or an outcome that speaks to me. With the exception of a slight problem I have with Reese's peanut butter cups, I don't really have an addictive personality. I also don't have the type of personality that really responds deeply to the heavily repeated use of the word "love." It wasn't really fair of me to describe the book to Mr. CR as "terrible"; it's just a book that is fundamentally NOT FOR ME.

On top of all of this I see tonight, on the Interwebs, that Glennon Doyle Melton is now in a relationship with former soccer superstar Abby Wambach.

I really don't care who Melton dates, and it makes no difference whatsoever to me if who she dates is a man or a woman. But it did make me chuckle just a bit, especially after another popular female memoirist's recent announcement that she had divorced her husband and was now dating a woman. Here is the quote all the news stories have been using, as culled from Melton's Facebook announcement:

"They’re lucky kids, to be surrounded by so much love. We have family dinners together — all six of us — and Abby cooks. (She is an AMAZING chef because Jesus loves me). We go to the kids’ school parties together. We are a modern, beautiful family. Our children are loved. So loved. And because of all of that love, they are brave."

You see what I mean? That is a LOT of uses of the word "love" in one paragraph.

Anyway. So tonight I was washing dishes and wondering why I can't get into these "love"y types of books. And then, I thought, well, of course not, you hate everything. Which is true, in one way. I do profess to hate a lot of things, like all doctors and politicians and people who think corporations are people, etc. But then I thought about it some more and thought, well, you know, I don't really HATE all those things. I like to think that I wouldn't actively go out and cause harm to anyone, even someone I hate. (Although I can't be sure, I don't entirely trust even myself.) And then I thought some more (I had a lot of dishes tonight) about how this all related to Trump, and how everyone seems to be going way overboard in one way or another in reaction to his election. But me? For once I'm kind of sanguine about the whole thing. Yeah, he's a pig. But are we really holding up Bill Clinton as the example of how to respect women? What about JFK? Everyone was so busy NOT looking at all his indiscretions, did anyone ever even count the number of women he used for sexual encounters and then just tossed away? And the nuclear weapons stuff? Yeah, one of our presidents has ALREADY USED NUCLEAR WEAPONS and people mostly called him a hero for it. Is Trump gross? Yes. Was Hillary gross? Yes. Are all politicians gross? Yes.

You see the circles my brain runs in?

So here's what I figure. I'm going to skip the negative review on Melton's book. So it's not for me. Maybe next time I'll realize that sooner and use my time to get up and go help someone instead. That's also what I'm going to do about our political situation. Not pay attention, try to save time and energy that I can hopefully devote to maybe visiting someone who could use a visit. Or helping someone who could use some help. Or even just doing a little better job paying attention to my children rather than reading books that I'm not really enjoying while I'm with them. And maybe in four years we can all vote for someone better, although I would guess whoever comes along in four years is also going to be gross.

See? I ended up being negative somehow. But here's the title of the self-help book I want to write: We're All Assholes but Let's Try to Get Along Anyway. I can't imagine it will become an Oprah book anytime soon.

Citizen Reading: 14 November 2016

A weekly selection of reading and book news, sometimes with completely inappropriate commentary. Kind of a slow news week bookwise; evidently there were other things going on.

Waterstone's Book of the Year Award: Shortlist.

Have you seen this Funny Girl anthology book? Looks good.

Wow: 79% of Americans use Facebook.

Dungeons & Dragons has joined the National Toy Hall of Fame (and is 42 years old--wow!).

A new technology to determine a book's genre is right more than 20% of the time! I weary of all things algorithm.

Expect a movie about J.R.R. Tolkien.

Amazon wants to get the kids reading by selling you an app to send them texts. Is it just me or does that sound like the least fun thing ever?

Emma Watson's evidently trying to drum up readers for her Our Shared Shelf feminist book club by leaving its titles in NYC subway stations.

Trainspotting to become a TV series as well?


The School Library Journal is not a fan of nonfiction for kids that blurs the line between fact and fiction. I don't know how I feel about this article. Yes, I believe that items presented as nonfiction, particularly to very young kids, should contain facts. On the other hand, I also believe nonfiction is about more than just the presentation of facts, and even adults need to recognize that all nonfiction is written from somebody's POINT OF VIEW, making it all a bit "made up." But that's probably too tough a distinction for kids to grasp? I don't know.

This history of Bellevue Hospital in New York looks stupendous.

New York Times: a new look at the Indian Wars (from the army point of view?); two new books on two of our favorite animals; 6 books to help understand Trump's win; a new biography of Nelson Algren; the "price we pay for an ad-powered Internet".

I'm interested in this book You Will Not Have My Hate, by a French man whose wife died in the 2015 Paris terror attacks, primarily because of the way the author ended this interview.

This could be good: A Space Traveler's Guide to the Solar System.


Amazon: Ten best books of November

Preview: the Indie Next list for December 2016

IndieBound: The bestselling books the week of Nov. 10

Here's a simple heading for a list: 10 beautifully written books

Ten female writers to "help you understand the world after the election"

Publishers' Weekly best books of 2016


A role in the TV adaptation of "American Gods" was declined by Nicolas Cage.


A week off, and a new venture.


Thanks for stopping in, as always. There's no Citizen Reading post this week, nor will there be a mid-week review or a Friday book lists round-up; I am taking the week off. This is partly because I love taking time off. But I'm also taking some time this week because I'm starting a new venture!

Please do consider visiting me over at a new blog, The Great British TV site, at For this week I'll just be there, but the hope is that in upcoming weeks I'll be here on Mondays and Wednesdays (posting a Citizen Reading links list on Monday, complete with book lists at the end), and there on Tuesdays and Thursdays, posting reviews of British television, viewers' guides to British programmes (yeah, you know I'm totally just looking for an excuse to use Brit spellings), and eventually conversations with a British friend of mine about the telly she's watching. I hope it will be a good resource for people who love British TV (you know who you are), but also for librarians and others whose job it is to help people find entertainment that they want to watch. Please do consider visiting the new site and telling any Brit TV fans you know about it.

So. We'll see how it goes. I figure the only thing more cost-effective than writing for free three days a week would be to do so four days a week. But let's face it: reading nonfiction and watching British television are two of my most favorite ways to pass the time anyway, so what better subjects to write about?

Friday Book Lists: 7 November 2016

A round-up of the week's bookish lists from your friend and mine, the Internet.

New York Times: Ten new nonfiction books they recommend this week

Bustle: 15 best nonfiction books coming in November (and the best fiction of the month as well)

You have a chance to add to the Best of 2016 lists yourself: at GoodReads

TeenVogue: 12 new young adult books to read in November

Bustle: Ten books to read on a cozy fall day

Entertainment Weekly: New November books they can't wait to read

Barnes & Noble: best picture books of November

And here they all come: HarperBazaar's Best Books of 2016

Diana Athill's Alive, Alive Oh!

You know, I really like Diana Athill.

AliveOr, I should say, I like Diana Athill on the page. I rather suspect we would not have a good rapport in person. Athill seems like a real "lust for life" personality (which is lucky, as she is currently in her 90s), whereas I am decidedly not a lust for life person. I am grateful for my life and I really enjoy my life, but anyone watching my daily routine, I don't think, would say I have a real "lust" for living.

But there is something inspiring about Athill's enthusiasm for life and all its experiences. In this slim collection, Alive, Alive Oh!, she has put together a few more essays, following up her earlier memoirs/essay collections Stet, Instead of a Letter, and Somewhere Towards the End (as well as several other NF books and novels). One of the most interest to me in this book was the one from which the book took its title, "Alive, Alive Oh!":

"In my early forties I thought of myself as a rational woman, but while I could sleep alone in an empty house for night after night without worrying, there were other nights when my nerves twitched like a rabbit's at the least sound, regardless of what I had been reading or talking about. On the many good nights and the few bad the chances of a burglar breaking in were exactly the same: the difference was within myself and signified nothing which I could identify. And I had always been like that over the possibility of pregnancy." (p. 63.)

She goes on to describe becoming pregnant at age 43, by a man who was her lover but who was married to someone else and was nine years her junior. She also describes being pregnant two times previously, and how she had "overruled" what might have been any subconscious desire of her body by having abortions:

"I had overruled it twice before and had felt no ill effects. 'All right, so you want a baby. Who doesn't? But as things are you can't have one--I'm sorry but there it is, too bad for you.' Neither time had it put up any fight. It had accepted its frustration placidly--and placidly it had resumed its scheming." (p. 65.)*

But, at 43, she decides to have the baby and is happy with her decision (and you have to read this essay just to see how her boss, Andre Deutsch, responds to news of her pregnancy, and what it might mean for her work in their publishing firm. It's enough to make you love all mankind, or just Deutsch specifically), and her description of her early pregnancy is one of the most interesting (and happiest) I've read:

"Those weeks of April and May were the only ones in my life when spring was wholly, fully beautiful. All other springs carried with them regret at their passing. If I thought, 'Today the white double cherries are at their most perfect,' it summoned up the simultaneous awareness: 'Tomorrow the edges of their petals will begin to turn brown.' This time a particularly ebullient, sun-drenched spring simply existed for me. It was as though, instead of being a stationary object past which a current was flowing, I was flowing with it, in it, at the same rate. It was a happiness new to me, but it felt very ancient, and complete." (p. 76-77.)

If you are familiar with Athill's life and works you probably know how this story turned out; if not, you will simply have to read the book. I may not always agree with or even particularly like her, but she has a beautiful way with words and I always find her interesting. Also of particular note in this collection is an essay about how she chose to move to a slightly nicer and more independent version of what must be a British nursing home; once again her continuing interest in life and her pragmatism to get what she can out of every experience (even at age 98!) is truly something to behold. Alive, alive, oh! Indeed.

*This is one issue on which Athill and I would disagree. I continue to be anti-abortion and find her to be rather too coldly practical on this issue for me.