Monthly Archives: February 2010

Saint Maybe – Anne Tyler


I picked this book us from the library (in large print! – I quite like large print I wonder if that means I need reading glasses?).

I liked Anne Tyler. I like how her novels focus on more domestic themes – everyday life with all of its complexities.

Here is the book description …

In 1965, the happy Bedloe family is living an ideal, apple-pie existence in Baltimore. Then, in the blink of an eye, a single, tragic event occurs that will transform their lives forever — particularly that of seventeen-year-old Ian Bedloe, the youngest son, who blames himself for the sudden “accidental” death of his older brother.Depressed and depleted, Ian is almost crushed under the weight of an unbearable, secret guilt. Then one crisp January evening, he catches sight of a window with glowing yellow neon, the Church of the Second Chance. He enters and soon discovers that forgiveness must be earned, through a bit of sacrifice and a lot of love.

The characters in this novel are wonderfully portrayed – they all seem to be real (and completely ordinary). This novel is about guilt and atonement, but also about family and where individuals fit into a family and what is required to be part of a family. Ian sacrifices greatly to atone for his brother’s death (which he thinks he caused). He raises his brother’s children (with some help from his parents) which involves giving up college and the life he might have imagined for himself.

‘Right,’ Ian told her. ‘I had both my parents helping, and still it wasn’t easy. A lot of it was just plain boring. Just providing a warm body, just being there; anyone could have done it. And then other parts were terrifying. Kids get into so much! They start to matter so much. Some days I felt like a fireman or a lifeguard or something – all that tedium, broken up by little spurts of high drama.’

I think that’s a fantastic quote about parenting. Sometimes it is boring – admiring the thirtieth picture of a dinosaur for that day, reading yet another Princess story and yet it does matter.

Having said that, I was a bit disappointed with the ending. I wanted something better for Ian – not just more of the same – still living at home (albeit with his wife), looking after another baby and his aging father.

Here’s a study guide …

and it was made into a TV movie

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Superfreakonomics – Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner


This was one of my husband’s Christmas presents and I thought I would read it too.  I’ve never been particularly interested in economics – I studied it at school and that was enough. However, this book is fun and interesting almost makes me want to go back and study economics. Although it appears microeconomics rather than macroeconomics is the interesting stuff.

Here is the book description from Amazon …

The New York Times best-selling Freakonomicswas a worldwide sensation, selling over four million copies in thirty-five languages and changing the way we look at the world. Now, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner return with SuperFreakonomics,and fans and newcomers alike will find that the freakquel is even bolder, funnier, and more surprising than the first.

Four years in the making, SuperFreakonomics asks not only the tough questions, but the unexpected ones: What’s more dangerous, driving drunk or walking drunk? Why is chemotherapy prescribed so often if it’s so ineffective? Can a sex change boost your salary?

SuperFreakonomics challenges the way we think all over again, exploring the hidden side of everything with such questions as: 

    • How is a street prostitute like a department-store Santa?
    • Why are doctors so bad at washing their hands?
    • How much good do car seats do?
    • What’s the best way to catch a terrorist?
    • Did TV cause a rise in crime?
    • What do hurricanes, heart attacks, and highway deaths have in common?
    • Are people hard-wired for altruism or selfishness?
    • Can eating kangaroo save the planet?
    • Which adds more value: a pimp or a Realtor?


Levitt and Dubner mix smart thinking and great storytelling like no one else, whether investigating a solution to global warming or explaining why the price of oral sex has fallen so drastically. By examining how people respond to incentives, they show the world for what it really is – good, bad, ugly, and, in the final analysis, super freaky.

This is book is a fun read. The authors have a conversational style and they write about witty, interesting (and slightly bizarre) things.

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Surfacing – Margaret Atwood


Atwood is one of my favourite authors. I was amazed I found one of her novels that I hadn’t read. This is one of her earlier works – her second novel first published in 1972.

Plot summary from Wikipedia …

The book tells the story of a woman who returns to her hometown in Canada to find her missing father. Accompanied by her lover and another married couple, the unnamed protagonist meets her past in her childhood house, recalling events and feelings, while trying to find clues for her father’s mysterious disappearance. Little by little, the past overtakes her and drives her into the realm of wildness and madness.

This novel has a wonderful sense of place – I can picture the lake and the cabin. The characters are beautifully portrait, but they are people of a definite era (I can imagine the men with hairy chests and medallions). The sexual revolution has started – both women took the pill and then stopped – women are beginning to be emancipated, but not quite.

The descent into madness is fabulous to read and it all seems quite logical.

I think this is a fabulous novel, but Atwood goes onto greater things with Cat’s Eye, Handmaid’s Tale, Alias Grace and Oryx and Crake. If you’re an Atwood fan, then it’s worth reading to see where she came from, but otherwise I probably wouldn’t bother.

Here are some other (and better) reviews …

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The Bell – Iris Murdoch


I got this book from the library – I’m not sure why I chose it. I think I felt that she was a novelist that one should read.

A lay community of thoroughly mixed-up people is encamped outside Imber Abbey, home of an order of sequestered nuns. A new bell is being installed when suddenly the old bell, a legendary symbol of religion and magic, is rediscovered. And then things begin to change. Meanwhile the wise old Abbess watches and prays and exercises discreet authority. And everyone, or almost everyone, hopes to be saved, whatever that may mean. Originally published in 1958, this funny, sad, and moving novel is about religion, sex, and the fight between good and evil.

This novel isbeautifully written, but I think it has dated. I don’t think a gay man in the twenty-first century would spend so much time soul-searching about his sexuality. The characterisations are fabulous – I didn’t like any of them, but I thought they were convincing.

The narrative switches between characters and we get insights into thoughts of the characters – Michael and Dora. It is clear that was is appearing on the surface is not what is going on in the depths – a bit like the old bell being hidden in the lake. Things do come to the surface (including the bell) and the characters need to face their true selves and then move forward.

One quote that stands out for me is from Michael’s sermon

One must perform the lower act which one can manage and sustain; not the higher act which one bungles.

This book could definitely be read more than once with more and more connections becoming apparent, however, I don’t think I will read it again.

More reviews …

A reading guide …

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