At BOLLI, we spend a great deal of time talking about books–in class and out. Recently, a large bookshelf appeared outside the Purple Room, bearing a BOLLI BOOK EXCHANGE sign. The shelves are already full–and changing daily. Here, on our blog, we have an opportunity to share some of our “good reads” with each other. Book lover Abby Pinard kicks off our monthly “Book Nook” Feature with the following items. (Be sure to leave a comment! And feel free to send your favorites as well. Send to: firstname.lastname@example.org)
by Edith Pearlman, 2015
Where has Edith Pearlman been all our reading lives? Right down the road in Brookline, turning out sparkling gems of short stories that are filled with strikingly intimate observation and precise language and that capture a life and a world in just a phrase. This is Pearlman’s fifth collection — she is now near eighty — and she was little known until the last one, Binocular Vision, was showered with prizes. Better late than never.
The lives of four young women are shaped by a parlor game as the mother of one of them has them pick from a hat the names of the men they will marry, assuring them that men are “interchangeable” and they will be “happy enough.” The headmistress of a girls’ school, pregnant with her married lover’s child, tries to help his daughter, a brilliant and desperately ill anorexic. A middle-aged real estate agent, contemplating a second marriage that will secure her financial future, is shaken by what she finds in the chaotic home of an annoying neighbor.
Many of these characters who have known loss and disappointment have learned to adjust their expectations, have found that they can indeed be “happy enough” as they navigate complex relationships and surprising turns. Edith Pearlman is generous to her characters, gives them the gift of quiet determination and moments of grace.
If you love short stories, read these. If you don’t read short stories because you think only a novel can deliver the satisfaction of fully developed characters you care about and stories that stay with you, read these.
THE 6:41 TO PARIS
by Jean-Philippe Blondel (translated byAlison Anderson), 2015
I seldom buy, borrow, or otherwise acquire books I’ve never heard of. But once in a while, I take a flier. This was one of those times. The 6:41 to Paris caught my eye two different bookstores in Cambridge and the second time I took it home. It turned out to be a happy diversion for a cold winter day.
Two people who haven’t seen each other since a nasty breakup twenty-seven years ago find themselves sitting side by side on a crowded early morning train to Paris. Neither acknowledges recognizing the other but both are drawn into the past and roiled by still-raw emotions. Cécile is still angry. Philippe is still embarrassed. Neither of their lives has turned out as might have been expected when they were twenty.
There’s no fancy prose in this short, competently translated novel, thankfully without romantic drivel. In alternating chapters, we are made privy to the thoughts and reminiscences of Cécile and Philippe and each gradually becomes a fully realized character.
I liked this slight book. The lives and feelings of these two people felt real. And there’s a natural tension as the train rolls toward Paris. Will they speak to each other? What could they possibly say? Nicely done.
THE LOST: A SEARCH FOR SIX OF SIX MILLION
By Daniel Mendelsohn, 2006
The two teenage girls at the right in the back row in the picture below are my paternal grandmother and her sister. Their parents and grandfather are in the front row. The picture was taken around 1900. A few years later, my grandmother, rebellious and politically inclined, left the small town in Poland and came, alone, to the United States. She was one of the very few members of her family to escape the Holocaust.
Like many American Jews, I don’t know precisely what happened to my relatives. Daniel Mendelsohn didn’t know what happened to six members of his family who he heard spoken of in hushed tones as a child. His effort to find out took many years and took him all over the world in a frantic effort to interview eyewitnesses before they died.
The story he tells in this book is both personal and common to millions of people. It is beautifully written, sometimes tedious, often suspenseful, always heartbreaking and indispensable in commemorating what has been lost.
Abby Pinard is a lifelong book nut who retired from a forty-year computer software career in 2007 and ticked an item off her bucket list by going to work in a bookstore. She is a native New Yorker who moved to Boston recently to be among her people: family and Red Sox fans. She is a music lover, crossword puzzler, baseball fan, and political junkie who flunked Halloween costumes but can debug her daughter’s wifi.