Jack London’s The Call of the Wild has been on my radar for as long as I can remember, and for as long as I can remember, I’ve always been hesitant to read it because of the whole animal cruelty thing. But I’ve been quilting up a storm over the summer while listening to audiobooks, and I discovered that Jeff Daniels narrated one of the many versions of this novel that exist, so I finally dove in.
The book is told from the perspective of Buck, a loyal dog in a wealthy Santa Clara family. He’s obedient in his role as the family’s protector, and he has never known cruelty. But it’s the turn of the century and the gold rush is exploding in Alaska. Large dog breeds are in high demand and Buck is kidnapped and sold up north as a sled dog. There, he faces the brutality of being broken in and learning his place within his new pack.
Quoyle — pathetic, depressed, and loyal to a fault — lives in the United States and quietly suffers the indignities of being married to Petal, an openly promiscuous woman with no regard for anyone but herself. He is basically a single father, caring for their two bratty daughters whenever Petal goes gallivanting off with her latest lover.
The book has its share of over-the-top episodes, and Petal meets an untimely death early on that serves as the catalyst for the rest of the book. He loses his job at the newspaper and his father also dies around this time; with nothing left to hold on to, Quoyle is left floundering in his grief. Along comes Aunt Agnis, his father’s sister, and convinces him to move with her to their ancestral home in Newfoundland.
The house hasn’t been lived in for ages and is crumbling from disuse. Quoyle has a job at The Gammy Bird, the local paper, but has no easy way of getting to work without a boat. Even if he does get a boat, he can’t swim. It’s freezing. It’s windy. It will be a while before their house is livable. Have they made a huge mistake?
The Year of the Hare by Arto Paasilinna
Publisher/Year: Penguin, 2010
What it is: While he’s on assignment with a colleague, a journalist named Vatanen realizes he’s tired of his life. The two hit a hare while driving down a road in the middle of nowhere, and Vatanen gets out of the car walks into the woods to check on the hare. He finds it, but rather than returning to the car, he prefers to stay on his own and walks off on a year-long journey around Finland with the hare. Meanwhile, his wife and co-workers have no idea where he went.
Why I read it: I was looking for a book by a Finnish author in preparation for my trip. This one won out because it includes a stop in Helsinki, where I had a day-long layover.
What I thought: This is one of those cases of, “It’s not you, it’s me.” This book is an international bestseller. It’s charming and distinctly Scandinavian. But more than anything, this book brought Anton Checkov’s Dead Souls to mind because of the humor and over-the-top scenarios. Mix that in with a small pinch of some Confederacy of the Dunces humor, plus a solid dose of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, and you have this book. And the thing is, I liked those first two books — sometimes a lot — but I could only take them in small doses. Same here.
I Remember Nothing: And Other Reflections by Nora Ephron
Publisher/Year: Vintage, 2011
Source: Personal copy
What it is: A collection of memoir-ish essays — some of them very very short — about getting older.
Why I read it: I love Nora. She was great. I had this book for a long time and went back and forth on reading it when she passed away, but I ultimately held off. I read this on my flight back to the U.S. this summer.
What I thought: There were some essays in this collection that I really loved, including one that gave an interesting little back story related to When Harry Met Sally. I liked the humor and I’ll admit to liking the name-dropping. But. For such a short book, it pains me that the collection as a whole was so uneven! For every essay I loved, there were one (or two) throwaways that were either kind of pointless or just…dumb. It’s like she had half a solid book and then had to dig around for some filler. And that makes me sad because this was her last book.
Earlier this year, I finally caved and signed up for Audible. I’d been eyeing the Claire Dane’s narration of The Handmaid’s Tale since before it was even available for purchase, and I was putting off reading anything by Margaret Atwood until I finally read what’s probably her most famous title. Well. It took me long enough, but I finally got my my introduction to Atwood/Claire Dane’s narration.
The book is set in the dystopian Republic of Gilead — America in the near future — where all of the former government officials have been killed off and a new totalitarian government has taken over. Women, once free to work and do as they pleased, are now living in a twisted theocracy. They all have roles in society, and the handmaid’s role, one of “honor” in this new world, is to breed. Offred — literally, “of Fred,” Fred being the commander she’s been assigned to for now — has lost her mother, husband, and child in the regime change. Her carefree friend from college tried to rebel against the new world order, and Offred has a sickening idea of what became of her and others who can’t or won’t follow orders.
A Prayer for Owen Meany is one of those books that I kept hearing everyone rave about but I just never got around to. I’ve actually had the book on my shelf for over a year now, so when The Estella Society announced the book as its pick for a summer readalong, I figured it would be a good push to get the book finally crossed off my TBR list!
The book is about two boys, Johnny Wheelwright and Owen Meany, and their unique friendship that lasts from childhood through early adulthood. At first glance, the two are opposites. Owen is unusually small, with a squeaky and unique voice that’s WRITTEN IN ALL CAPS. He’s an extremely intelligent boy from a working class background. Johnny doesn’t know who his father is, but he’s a Wheelwright in a town where legacy is important; he lives with his grandmother and mother on a well-off part of town. The two boys are inseparable, and Owen is practically part of the family. Then the inexplicable happens: Owen kills Johnny’s mother in a freak accident. Rather than ending their friendship, the two become closer than ever.
The plot is mostly linear, though it’s narrated by a much older Johnny who is haunted by his past. He keeps looking back on his youth and thinking of all the ways that Owen changed his life. Owen would be a hard person to forget even under normal circumstances, what with THAT VOICE and all, but Owen was anything but unique. He believes that he’s an instrument of God, and that everything that happens to him or because of him is part of God’s plan. This is at times exasperating to Johnny, but nothing can dissuade Owen from that belief.