Pub Day Repost: The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman: Believe the hype. All of it. 352 pages of Joy.

The Bookish Life of Nina HillThe Bookish Life of Nina Hill

by Abbi Waxman

eARC, 352 pg.
Berkley Books, 2019
Read: July 1 – 3, 2019

I think it’s entirely fitting to start my post about this book by talking about another book (Nina Hill would approve, maybe even insist on it). I remember a lot of what I read about High Fidelity in the late 90’s (I was a little late to the party), was about guys saying to either hand the book to women to help them understand how we think — or to keep it out of their hands, for the very same reason. That resonated with me. I never thought for a second that I was Rob, Dick or Barry, but we thought the same way, we had a similar weltanschauung — their banter was scripted, where mine frequently fumbled — but overall, they were proof that I wasn’t the only one in the world who thought that way. It took me less than two chapters to feel the same way about Nina Hill — our tastes differ somewhat, she’s more clever than I am, and there’s the ridiculous affection for felines — but on the whole, she’s my kind of person. In fact, many of the people in this book are — she’s just the best example of it.

The authorial voice — Nina’s voice, too — is fantastic. I seriously fell head over heels almost instantly with them. The narrative is specific, funny, observant, compassionate, and brutally honest — mostly funny. It’s just so well-written that I knew (and said publicly) by the end of the first chapter that this was going to be in my personal Top 3 for 2019 — I’ve had some time to think about this, and have reconsidered. I’m confident it’ll be in the Top 5, but I should give the rest of the year a little room to compete. It’s one of those books that’s so well-written you don’t care what or who it’s about, as long as you get to read more of that wonderful prose. By chapter 4 — and several times after that — I had to self-consciously stop myself from highlighting and making glowing notes — because if I didn’t, I’d end up never finishing the book (I still have a lot of notes and passages highlighted).

Let me try to explain via a tortured metaphor (this is where you see why I blog about books, and not write my own). Say you’re taking a road trip, say, to go look at autumn leaves and you know the city you’ll be staying in, but know that there are about 18 different ways for the driver to arrive in that city. You know the whole time where you’ll end up, but you don’t have a clue how you’ll get there, what kind of foliage you’ll see (hint: it’ll be brown, red or orange), what the roads will be like, or what random and surprising things might happen along the way. It’s not about the destination, it’s the journey — as the fortune cookies and high school graduation speeches tell you. This book is the same way — readers are going to know pretty much where this book is going to end up once they’ve read a few chapters. What they don’t know is how they’ll get there, what they’ll see on the way, what kind of surprises will be along the way, and how fast they’ll get there. It’s in these things that Waxman excels — her plotting is pretty obvious, but her execution is dazzling and often unexpected. (I want to stress that this is an observation, not a criticism)

Nina Hill is a reader — books are how she defines herself, the prism through which she sees and interacts with the world. She has a job (bookseller), a cat, a small home with a lot of shelves, a trivia team, book club, a place she exercises, a visualization corner, a fantastic planner and a love of coffee and quality office products. Her life is pretty regimented, but everything is just how she likes it. She also is introverted, prone to anxiety, and averse to change. Nina’s smart with a great memory, a penchant for honesty, and highly-developed sense of who she is.

Her friends are essentially the women she works with and the members of her trivia team — all of whom are intelligent, witty, well-read and fun. The kind of people I’d love to hang out with over coffee or wine for a few hours a week.

Nina’s mother is a noted and award-winning photojournalist and spends most of her time traveling the world being one. Nina was largely raised by a Nanny (although her mother visited frequently). Nina has never known a father.

Until one day her life changes — a lawyer arrives with some news. Her father is dead. Apparently, her mother discovered he was married and refused to have anything further to do with him. He was absolved of any need to support Nina or her mother as long as he never made contact with her. Which he honored — but made provisions for him in his will.

Her father was a successful entertainment lawyer, and a serial monogamist. He was married three times (one divorce, one widowing, and one marriage intact), had several children and more grandchildren (there are contextually appropriate and helpful graphics to help you understand the family structure). Nina went from being alone in the world to being a sister, an aunt and a grand-aunt in one conversation. She slowly meets various members of the family — discovering similar personality traits, interests and physical characteristics. The family she meets is wonderful — I could easily spend more time with them all. One brother and a nephew (who is older than her) in particular stand out — she gets to know them sooner and deeper than the rest. But many others are on their heels, and even the least-likable among them turn out to be great (with one exception, but that’s by design).

While reeling from the changes of learning she has an extended family, starting to meet them, and learning about her father — another thing happens in her life. There’s a member of a rival trivia team that she finds attractive, and who just may find her attractive. They have similar tastes and many shared interests, but he seems to know a lot about sports (including what “a Don Shula” is) and isn’t much of a reader. But there’s something about him . . .

There are three significant child characters in the novel — they’re not around much, but when they are, they have a large impact on the plot. They are all pretty unrealistic, talking and (apparently) thinking in ways that are immature, but not how kids talk and/or think. But they’re so adorable that you forgive Waxman immediately for these overly-precocious children. It’s not a major thing, I just wanted to say something less-than-positive about the book, and this is all I could come up with.

Throughout the novel, Nina learns how little she’s really alone in the world and how she might be able to find time for more people in her life — without losing who she is and too much reading time. This is the core of the novel and everything else is in service to this goal. While this is going on, there are plenty of laughs, chuckles and wit to carry the reader from plot point to plot point.

It’s a good thing that I stopped quoting from ARCs (I almost never got around to verifying the lines in the published version), because this post would either never be completed or would be so long that I’d be the only one who’d read the whole thing. I had to stop myself — repeatedly, actually — from highlighting great lines. Particularly comments Nina made to others (or the Narrator made on her behalf) about books and/or reading. Book memes are going to be mining this novel for years — you’ve seen 357 variations on the Tyrion lines about reading, or the 200+ takes on “Books were safer than people anyway” from The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Folks, Nina Hill is going to bury both of them.

According to Goodreads, I’ve read 122 books so far in 2019. If pressed, I’d easily say this is better than 120 of them, and might tie the other (it’s a lot more fun, I can say without a doubt). Your mileage may vary, obviously, but I can’t imagine a world where anyone who reads my blog not enjoying this novel and protagonist. It’s charming, witty, funny, touching, heart-string-tugging, and generally entertaining. I don’t know what else to say other than: Go, go read this, go buy it, expect it as a gift from me (if you’re the type to receive gifts from me, I’m not buying one for all of you on my wages, as much as I might want to).

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Berkley Publishing Group via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this great opportunity!!

—–

5 Stars

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The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman: Believe the hype. All of it. 352 pages of Joy.

The Bookish Life of Nina HillThe Bookish Life of Nina Hill

by Abbi Waxman


eARC, 352 pg.
Berkley Books, 2019

Read: July 1 – 3, 2019

I think it’s entirely fitting to start my post about this book by talking about another book (Nina Hill would approve, maybe even insist on it). I remember a lot of what I read about High Fidelity in the late 90’s (I was a little late to the party), was about guys saying to either hand the book to women to help them understand how we think — or to keep it out of their hands, for the very same reason. That resonated with me. I never thought for a second that I was Rob, Dick or Barry, but we thought the same way, we had a similar weltanschauung — their banter was scripted, where mine frequently fumbled — but overall, they were proof that I wasn’t the only one in the world who thought that way. It took me less than two chapters to feel the same way about Nina Hill — our tastes differ somewhat, she’s more clever than I am, and there’s the ridiculous affection for felines — but on the whole, she’s my kind of person. In fact, many of the people in this book are — she’s just the best example of it.

The authorial voice — Nina’s voice, too — is fantastic. I seriously fell head over heels almost instantly with them. The narrative is specific, funny, observant, compassionate, and brutally honest — mostly funny. It’s just so well-written that I knew (and said publicly) by the end of the first chapter that this was going to be in my personal Top 3 for 2019 — I’ve had some time to think about this, and have reconsidered. I’m confident it’ll be in the Top 5, but I should give the rest of the year a little room to compete. It’s one of those books that’s so well-written you don’t care what or who it’s about, as long as you get to read more of that wonderful prose. By chapter 4 — and several times after that — I had to self-consciously stop myself from highlighting and making glowing notes — because if I didn’t, I’d end up never finishing the book (I still have a lot of notes and passages highlighted).

Let me try to explain via a tortured metaphor (this is where you see why I blog about books, and not write my own). Say you’re taking a road trip, say, to go look at autumn leaves and you know the city you’ll be staying in, but know that there are about 18 different ways for the driver to arrive in that city. You know the whole time where you’ll end up, but you don’t have a clue how you’ll get there, what kind of foliage you’ll see (hint: it’ll be brown, red or orange), what the roads will be like, or what random and surprising things might happen along the way. It’s not about the destination, it’s the journey — as the fortune cookies and high school graduation speeches tell you. This book is the same way — readers are going to know pretty much where this book is going to end up once they’ve read a few chapters. What they don’t know is how they’ll get there, what they’ll see on the way, what kind of surprises will be along the way, and how fast they’ll get there. It’s in these things that Waxman excels — her plotting is pretty obvious, but her execution is dazzling and often unexpected. (I want to stress that this is an observation, not a criticism)

Nina Hill is a reader — books are how she defines herself, the prism through which she sees and interacts with the world. She has a job (bookseller), a cat, a small home with a lot of shelves, a trivia team, book club, a place she exercises, a visualization corner, a fantastic planner and a love of coffee and quality office products. Her life is pretty regimented, but everything is just how she likes it. She also is introverted, prone to anxiety, and averse to change. Nina’s smart with a great memory, a penchant for honesty, and highly-developed sense of who she is.

Her friends are essentially the women she works with and the members of her trivia team — all of whom are intelligent, witty, well-read and fun. The kind of people I’d love to hang out with over coffee or wine for a few hours a week.

Nina’s mother is a noted and award-winning photojournalist and spends most of her time traveling the world being one. Nina was largely raised by a Nanny (although her mother visited frequently). Nina has never known a father.

Until one day her life changes — a lawyer arrives with some news. Her father is dead. Apparently, her mother discovered he was married and refused to have anything further to do with him. He was absolved of any need to support Nina or her mother as long as he never made contact with her. Which he honored — but made provisions for him in his will.

Her father was a successful entertainment lawyer, and a serial monogamist. He was married three times (one divorce, one widowing, and one marriage intact), had several children and more grandchildren (there are contextually appropriate and helpful graphics to help you understand the family structure). Nina went from being alone in the world to being a sister, an aunt and a grand-aunt in one conversation. She slowly meets various members of the family — discovering similar personality traits, interests and physical characteristics. The family she meets is wonderful — I could easily spend more time with them all. One brother and a nephew (who is older than her) in particular stand out — she gets to know them sooner and deeper than the rest. But many others are on their heels, and even the least-likable among them turn out to be great (with one exception, but that’s by design).

While reeling from the changes of learning she has an extended family, starting to meet them, and learning about her father — another thing happens in her life. There’s a member of a rival trivia team that she finds attractive, and who just may find her attractive. They have similar tastes and many shared interests, but he seems to know a lot about sports (including what “a Don Shula” is) and isn’t much of a reader. But there’s something about him . . .

There are three significant child characters in the novel — they’re not around much, but when they are, they have a large impact on the plot. They are all pretty unrealistic, talking and (apparently) thinking in ways that are immature, but not how kids talk and/or think. But they’re so adorable that you forgive Waxman immediately for these overly-precocious children. It’s not a major thing, I just wanted to say something less-than-positive about the book, and this is all I could come up with.

Throughout the novel, Nina learns how little she’s really alone in the world and how she might be able to find time for more people in her life — without losing who she is and too much reading time. This is the core of the novel and everything else is in service to this goal. While this is going on, there are plenty of laughs, chuckles and wit to carry the reader from plot point to plot point.

It’s a good thing that I stopped quoting from ARCs (I almost never got around to verifying the lines in the published version), because this post would either never be completed or would be so long that I’d be the only one who’d read the whole thing. I had to stop myself — repeatedly, actually — from highlighting great lines. Particularly comments Nina made to others (or the Narrator made on her behalf) about books and/or reading. Book memes are going to be mining this novel for years — you’ve seen 357 variations on the Tyrion lines about reading, or the 200+ takes on “Books were safer than people anyway” from The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Folks, Nina Hill is going to bury both of them.

According to Goodreads, I’ve read 122 books so far in 2019. If pressed, I’d easily say this is better than 120 of them, and might tie the other (it’s a lot more fun, I can say without a doubt). Your mileage may vary, obviously, but I can’t imagine a world where anyone who reads my blog not enjoying this novel and protagonist. It’s charming, witty, funny, touching, heart-string-tugging, and generally entertaining. I don’t know what else to say other than: Go, go read this, go buy it, expect it as a gift from me (if you’re the type to receive gifts from me, I’m not buying one for all of you on my wages, as much as I might want to).

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Berkley Publishing Group via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this great opportunity!!

—–

5 Stars

State of the Union by Nick Hornby: Love on the rocks, Ain’t no surprise

State of the UnionState of the Union: A Marriage in Ten Parts

by Nick Hornby


Paperback, 132 pg.
Riverhead Books, 2019

Read: June 4, 2019

           [Louise says,] “Underneath it all, I love you.”

“Underneath it all.”

“Yes.”

“Great.”

“To be honest, I think you should be happy with that. You’re lucky there’s anything still there.”

Tom and Louise are in trouble — they’ve been married for years, have kids, and on the outside seem to be doing fine. But the marriage is in trouble — and it has been for awhile. Recent events have demonstrated just how bad the situation is, and Louise has talked Tom into counseling. Each week before their session, they meet in the pub across the street for a quick drink and to talk about what they’ll discuss in the upcoming session — also reacting to the previous session, what’s gone on in the week since, and discuss their future — if such exists.

Ten sessions. Ten very short chapters. More than 10 pints and glasses of white wine. 10 fantastic, intriguing, character revealing, entertaining conversations.

I guess I tipped my hand a bit there, didn’t I? It’s not much of a surprise that I loved this book because it’s written by Nick Hornby. And even when I’m not crazy about the novel in the end, there are few writers out there I enjoy reading as much as Hornby (alas, most of his novels predate this here blog, so you’ll have to take my word for it).

But it’s Hornby that takes what could be a maudlin exercise, a too-jokey experience, or an all-around failure and turns it into an experiment that’s successful, entertaining, and emotionally rich. I see Tom’s point of view, understand his pain and get his reluctance to do the work he needs to. I also understand Louise’s take, I get (don’t approve of, but get) her reaction to Tom, and appreciate her willingness to do the work (while seeing her own weaknesses — at least some of them). A lot of times in this kind of scenario, the reader will end up “taking the side” of one of the characters (frequently the one sharing their gender). But very quickly I noticed that I wasn’t rooting for Tom or Louise here, I was rooting for Tom and Louise.

But best of all? I loved reading their conversations — open, honest (an honesty borne from realizing they’ve got no choice at this point, what could would anything else do?) full of that love that’s “underneath it all” for both. And somehow, still entertaining for the reader.

I typically limit myself to one quotation from a book, but I there’s another I want to share to give a flavor for the way the book works on the mechanical level.

           “How are new starts possible?” Louise says. “When you’ve been together for a long time, and you have kids, and you’ve spent years and years being irritated by the other person? But if they stop being irritating, they’re not them anymore.”

“My text was me not being me.”

“Exactly.”

They walk to the door.

“So I’ve got to stay as me.”

“Yes.”

“While at the same time being different, somehow.”

“It’s a conundrum.”

One, count ’em, one dialogue tag. Five words of description. Which is pretty typical of the book (maybe a little heavy on the description). That’s practically nothing — and dialogue tags pretty much only show up after description so you know who’s starting the back and forth — it could easily be a page or more before the next one. It’s like Hornby’s version of an acoustic recording — a story stripped down to its essence. Maybe that’s not the best metaphor — it’s the literary equivalent of espresso, the bare minimum, concentrated. Ian Shane called it “a literary play.” I like that, too.

The minimalism makes this a deceptively quick and easy read — you start flying through the text, caught up in the conversation and then realize just what it was they’re being breezy about, just in time for a line that emphasizes just what’s at stake.

This was also a show on Showtime recently — ten 10-minute episodes, as I understand. I don’t know which came first — the show or the book. If it was the book, I don’t know that a script would really be necessary — just hand them this book and say “go.” And if it was the other way around, it’d be about the easiest adaptation from a script ever.

At the end of the day, this is exactly what you want from a Nick Hornby book (except the length — I wanted more, always): funny, heartfelt, charming, (seemingly) effortless, and makes you feel a wide range of emotions without feeling manipulated. I loved it, I think you will, too.

Note: I won a copy of this from Riverhead Books via Goodreads — and I thank them both for that. But my library got me a copy first, so I haven’t read it yet. But it will be the copy I re-read (and I think I’ll be doing that a lot).

—–

4 1/2 Stars
2019 Library Love Challenge

GUEST POST: Highlighting Shakespearen Women

I’m very happy to have this guest post today — I just wish I’d set the schedule correctly. I love a nicely designed (and informative) infographic, and this definitely fits that. When I was asked if I’d be interested in posting this, I jumped on it. It’s a great way to commemorate the Bard’s birth.

Shakespearean Ladies' NamesApril not only marks the start of warmer temperatures and a new pile of spring reads, it is also the month of the birth of legendary playwright, William Shakespeare. The writer was born on April 23, 1564, and to celebrate, we’re highlighting some of his most strong-willed female heroines. Invaluable created a neat visual [N.B.: the image is much nicer if you follow the link than it does on the left there] that showcases a handful of Shakespeare’s most influential female characters, and explains just how each of them was given their memorable names. From Ophelia to Juliet herself, browse through these wonderful female characters and relive some of the most electrifying plays written by the celebrated, William Shakespeare in honor of his birth.

Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss by Rajeev Balasubramanyam: A Very Pleasant Novel of the Elderly Curmudgeon Reevaluates His Life/Attitudes Stripe

Professor Chandra Follows His BlissProfessor Chandra Follows His Bliss

by Rajeev Balasubramanyam


Hardcover, 345 pg.
The Dial Press, 2019

Read: April 11 – 15, 2019


Cambridge’s Professor P. R. Chandrasekhar is an emeritus professor of Economics, and someone who has come so close to winning the Nobel that it’s jarring to many he hasn’t (well. . . “many” might be a stretch, who actually knows leading economists?). But he’s also alone. His ex-wife and youngest daughter live in Colorado, his eldest son is in Japan and his other daughter won’t let anyone tell him where she is. While he has no room to complain, clearly bits of his life could’ve gone better. He seems well-regarded by those still around him, and while he’s a hard teacher, he seems like a good one.

After a health scare (there’s some humor in it, don’t worry, it’s not that kind of book), and due to worries about his youngest daughter’s behavior, he takes a sabbatical to California. Things don’t go so well with the daughter, or his ex, or his ex’s new husband (the man she had an affair with before leaving Chandra). The trouble with the new husband leads Chandra into going to a “spiritual retreat” at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur. Any type of spiritual retreat is the last place that anyone who knows this irascible conservative would expect him to go — including Chandra himself. But he goes, and as he’s the type to throw himself into anything he’s doing — no matter how silly he thinks it is. He plunges into the exercises.

And he doesn’t experience a giant epiphany turning him into a spiritual kind of guy. Nor does he find the exercises silly and spends the time mocking the experience. Instead, he starts to re-examine some things. Like the way he interacts with his kids, and how they react to him. So he starts trying with them in ways he hadn’t before — and it doesn’t go that well, honestly. But he makes some in-roads.

He ultimately returns to his home in Cambridge and makes some adjustments there, too. Eventually, some things happen that do permit him to further rehabilitate things with his children — and life in general.

I was really worried that this would be about Chandra finding some sort of enlightenment, throwing off all his accomplishments and convictions and becoming a totally different person. Instead, he becomes more thoughtful, more understanding and a better version of himself — with opportunities for further development. I don’t think that’s giving too much away, I hope not anyway. He’s worked hard all his life, and now starts to realize the price he and others paid for him to work as hard and as much as he did, and to achieve the success he has.

Chandra is a fascinating guy — I like the way he thinks. I like the very subtle humor in his approach and response to things, and wish more people in his life could catch it. I’d have liked more time with his daughters, I liked both of them and we only get to see the beginnings of better times between them and their father. Between family, new friends and new acquaintances, there are just too many characters to dig too deeply into. Which is one of the biggest problems this book has — too many great characters to fully appreciate any who aren’t in the title.

This looks like a “lighter” book from the title, cover, etc. — and it is. But it deals with some bigger ideas, just not in an overbearing way. It’s also not as funny as you’d expect from the description (or the blurbs on the cover). But there are subtle bits of humor throughout, and one or two very comedic moments. There aren’t laugh out loud moments — but there are plenty of smile quietly to yourself moments.

Balasubramanyam’s writing is strong, his characters are great, and he can keep the story moving well. He balances the lightness and the darkness of the story well, and while it’s not the kind of book that has a twist or three in the end, there are some things that you probably won’t see coming until they happen (and feel inevitable once they do).

At the end of the day, this was a very pleasant novel with one very interesting character, and a few too many other characters. Some of which had the potential to be just as interesting, but we couldn’t spend enough time with them because of their number. Trim a few of those, so the reader can focus those remaining and this book becomes much better. As it stands — I may not find a lot of bliss in these pages, but I found entertainment and relaxation and would certainly read Balasubramanyam in the future with great interest.

—–

3 Stars

2019 Library Love Challenge

KA-E-RO-U Time to Go Home by B. Jeanne Shibahara: A Sweet Novel (with some pretty big problems)

KA-E-RO-U Time to Go HomeKA-E-RO-U Time to Go Home

by B. Jeanne Shibahara


Kindle Edition, 259 pg.
2018

Read: April 5 – 8, 2019


Every so often I get a book that I struggle writing about. I know what I want to say about it, but I’m worried that my point will get lost. So, stymied, the file sits blank on my screen for a couple of days while I hem and haw. I’ve been doing that for most of the week about this book (and afraid it was going to happen last week). Hear me out.

There are so many things that I’d typically complain about in a book — casual disregard for grammar, sentence structure, mechanics; characters that behave like characters in a book, not people; a plot that makes sense to no one (well, part of it, anyway). Really, this is not a good novel.

But . . . dang it, there’s something about this book that I liked. It’s like a long, meandering Sunday drive — or walk in the woods — you take a windy road/path to nowhere in particular — occasionally stopping at a scenic overlook or wandering from the route for a bit before resuming. You don’t get anywhere fast, you may hit a bumpy/rocky patch, but overall you count it as a pleasant afternoon.

So Meryl’s a Vietnam widow (it’s pretty unclear when this happens — other than her son is an adult now) comes into possession of a flag that belonged to a fallen Japanese soldier from the War in the Pacific. She’s pushed to go to Japan (where her son teaches English) to return the flag to the soldier’s family. She ends up going on the trip and finds the freedom and ability to move on from her husband’s death.

The love story is ludicrous. Actually, there are a couple of them (three) — and they’re all ridiculous, and old Disney cartoons do a better job depicting love. They’re not the actual heart of the book — but man, they get all the attention. The heart of the novel is this simple story of the return of this flag to what’s left of the family of this soldier.

When the novel focuses on that story? It’s a real winner. I can believe those people, I can believe those reactions. I can believe it– and I want to read it (not just put up with it). In addition to this, the looks at Japanese culture are great — on the whole, this novel doesn’t focus on the parts of Japanese culture usually featured in books/films.

We spend way too much time with characters — pages and pages — just for them to appear for a paragraph or three in the story. As interesting as these journeys into backstory may be, by the time we get back to the story for them to disappear just drives me crazy.

To put it in the kindest way I can: this is a very idiosyncratic with a charm that is its best feature. It’s sweet. The historical and cultural insights are great (and almost worth the effort alone). If you give this book a chance — and a lot of leeway — it’ll win you over.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the author in exchange for my honest opinion, I think it’s clear that my opinion wasn’t that swayed by it.

—–

3 Stars
LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, Henning Koch (Translator): A Fantastic, Moving, Fun Tale of a Grieving Widower

A Man Called OveA Man Called Ove

by Fredrik Backman, Henning Koch (Translator)


Hardcover, 337 pg.
Atria Books, 2014
Read: April 2 – 3, 2019

[His wife] often said that “all roads lead to something you were always predestined to do.” And for her, perhaps, it was something.

But for Ove it was someone.

I’ve been fully intending to read all of Fredrik Backman’s books after I read My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry (3 years ago), but there were a couple of things holding me back. 1. I loved My Grandmother so much that I didn’t want something to eclipse it; 2. I didn’t want to be so disappointed in one of his other books that it tainted my memory of My Grandmother. I finally told myself to get over it and just read him — what did I really have to lose?

That was obviously the right call — this was just fantastic.

If at this point, you haven’t heard of this book and decided if you’re going to read it or not, I’m not likely to persuade you. It’s sold about as many books as a person not named James Patterson, J. K. Rowling or Steven King should be able to expect. There’s been a movie made of it in Sweden and Tom Hanks is working on a version, too. This book is practically a phenomenon, and in the years since it’s publication, the author, Fredrik Backman has practically become an industry. So, if you haven’t read it by this point, there’s probably a reason, I’m not going to convince you otherwise. Nor do I think I can contribute much to the discussion about the book beyond what’s already been said. But I’m still driven to talk about it a bit.

Ove is a recent widower who has decided that it’s time to join his wife, and attempts to kill himself by various means in order to do that. But like an aged (and more dedicated) Lane Meyer, he can’t complete the deed. Something always interrupts him — generally, it’s the fools and incompetents that are his neighbors needing his help. Somehow these people have reached adulthood without learning how to back up a vehicle towing a trailer. bleeding a radiator or any number of things. So he stops what he was doing, helps his whatever neighbor needs it (complaining about it and insulting them all the time) and tries again the next day.

Ove’s struggles with the neighbors and his botched attempts to end his life are interspersed with his life story — his troubled childhood, career, early years of his marriage and the tragic end of it. The writing here is incredibly effective — and Backman doesn’t even try to hide his emotional manipulation — he essentially calls his shots sometimes — and it works. He plays whatever tune he wants and the reader dances to it. Try to get through the paragraph where Ove thinks about missing holding his wife’s hand unmoved, I dare you. I was teary at least once before the midpoint of the work — and about a half hour after finishing the book, I had to go back and re-read the last few pages with dry eyes so I could be certain I read what I thought I read.

Ove in his cantankerousness, his particular and peculiar way of approaching life — and in his grief — is a fantastic character. But I think that his neighbor, a Muslim immigrant mother of three, who deices that her angry old neighbor needs a friend (whether he wants one or not) and then becomes that friend (which he definitely doesn’t want) is an even better character. Parvaneh is smart, kind, fun and loving — and as stubborn as Ove. Next to his wife, she’s the best thing to happen to him. There are plenty of other great characters (the overweight computer tech who lives on the other side of Ove is a fine example).

I laughed, I cried, it moved me, Bob.

One of the easiest 5-Stars I’ve ever given. If you keep putting off reading this — knock it off, read the book.

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5 Stars

2019 Library Love Challenge