It’s a drippy, rained-all-night kind of Friday morning. 8.30 am and I have the lights on in my room. I’ve just finished reading the last book that had me so engrossed I’ve been waking up, turning over and grabbing my kindle to read a few pages even before I get out of bed or brush my teeth.
This book: This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage, Ann Patchett
A book of essays about a huge range of experiences and topics from across Patchett’s life, this book was first recommended to me by B, when I met her in Singapore last year. I have fond memories of a couple of hours I spent with her in her chatting about life, writing, reading and books, over home style chai and pakodas, while intermittently chatting with the incredibly cute Bobo. I snapped a picture of the cover of her book, and made a mental note to get to it at some point. Of course that point, of reading in earnest again, only came earlier this year.
So, about the book: it’s an incredibly diverse collection of essays about such a range of things that the writer in me, who hopes to be able to someday write an essay about any dang thing in the universe, is in serious awe. Entirely a work of non-fiction, this is a collection of her essays from over the years contributing to an array of magazines like The Atlantic, New York Times, Gourmet, Vogue. They cover everything from making a life in writing, to choosing to remain child-free, heartwarming essays about her relationship with her father, a particularly moving one about caring for her grandmother, her complicated first marriage, eventual divorce and her how she made marriage work the second time around. Some of the essays were hyper focused to a context so American, that I read them without really getting a feel for it. But 80% of the book was a sheer delight.
I found her essays about writing particularly relatable. And reassuring. Patchett is considered one of the seminal writers of essays in the ilk as Rebecca Solnit and Joan Didion, so I’m glad I could read this to start off on exploring her other writing.
Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris
Some books need the right time place and pace of reading. Clearly this was one of them for me. I’d picked it up about two years ago, read only about 20% of it before abandoning it entirely. I just couldn’t sink my teeth into it, for some reason. Which was odd because I’d really loved Dress Your Family In Corduroy And Denim.
Anyhow, when I finished reading The Bell Jar and was contemplating my next read, I found this already on my Kindle and decided to give it a second go. This time around I breezed thru it and enjoyed large parts of the book. Mainly because I’ve realised I enjoy this brand of wry, almost sardonic humour. I don’t do humour, and I know how hard it is to get it right, so when I chance upon writing that is simple and funny, it makes me very happy.
This is a very simple memoir of humourous anecdotes that — and this is the bit about Sedaris’ style that I enjoy — display his ability to turn inane, everyday observations and events into fully fleshed-out anecdotes. The events are relatable, even though he masks his cynicism with humour that’s witty, yet wry and almost acrid and may only sometimes make you LOL, but that you will otherwise just breeze through with a chuckle here and grin there. Again, the context is American, so it takes a little familiarity to really get it. This, I suspect, is why I didn’t enjoy it so much the first time.
It’s not a book that’s going to deeply impact you, or stay with you and linger in the back of your mind for a long time to come. It’s a fun, quick read and that’s another one struck off this list that I’m still aiming to work through.
Bernadette is an oddball. She’s a woman with too many loud opinions about everything, wild unconventional ideas about life and her work (she’s an architect), and has what could be naively considered a strange relationship with her husband and daughter. She goes against the grain in every set up — professional, social, familial — and this is what makes her loveable. And then she goes missing.
The mystery that then unfolds as her daughter and husband take an epic journey to the end of the earth (literally!) in search of her is quirky, funny, yet moving. In searching for her, they’re somehow also searching for themselves, and the relationships between them. Between the mystery and the emotional bits, this one was hard to put down.
It helps that it is written entirely as an epistolary narrative and is cleverly put as the story unfolds through letters, emails, blog posts, magazine articles and flashbacks. The writing is simple, but satirical and very relatable. I later found out that Semple has a career in TV too, writing for shows like Arrested Development and SNL – so no surprise why I enjoyed it so much.