Literary Hook: Start the new year off with a good book from the library

There are certain New Year’s resolutions that are really fun. A few years ago, one of my resolutions was to take advantage of the Rockford Public Library.

One of the pleasures of the winter season is curling up with a book. It’s especially nice to wrap an afghan around your legs. If you are really lucky, you may have a cat or two that might join you when you read. My two kitties, Pickle and Gherkin, love to snuggle up with me when I read books.

And read books I do! I love to go to the Rockford Public Library regularly. Though you might think I go right to the poetry section, it’s the new, hardbound novels I’m after. Somehow, it seems like such a bargain to pick out any expensive hardbound book and simply check it out. As far as I’m concerned, having a Rockford Public Library card is one of the best things we get for our taxes. I figure that if I read a book a week, at $20 a book, I’ll have read more than $1,000 in books per year. From time to time, I hit the jackpot, and all of the books I check out are winners.

Over the holidays, I read three terrific novels: The Doctor’s Daughter, by Hilma Wolitzer; What Comes After Crazy, by Sandi Kahn Shelton; and Abide with Me, by Elizabeth Strout. All three, though totally different from one another, were very satisfying “reads.”

The Doctor’s Daughter, set in New York in the modern era, is told from the point of view of Alice Brill. We learn from the beginning that she is bothered by an anxiety she can’t quite name. As the book progresses, her marriage unravels, she faces up to her son’s irresponsible actions, delves into her mother’s possible secret love affair with a poetry editor (no affair, but it kept me on my toes), and learns ultimately that it was her father who had the affair—not her mother. We see her in a transitional period in her life, a time when she has been let go from her prestigious literary publishing job and has become “a book doctor.” She has a torrid affair with her young “patient,” a budding but troubled (of course) novelist from Michigan. The book ends on a hopeful note, with the possibility of reconciliation on many levels.

What Comes After Crazy is a zany novel told by Maz Lombard, whose mother, Madame Lucille, is a narcissistic “borderline” personality, and whose husband, Lenny, isn’t far behind. When we meet her, her husband is off to Santa Fe, where he fashions himself a shaman and thinks he might open a “center” there. What we don’t know is that waiting in the wings is Kimmie, his newly pregnant, young girlfriend. Maz’s young children, Hope and Abby, are in constant flux. Hope becomes impossible and begins following in her grandmother’s footsteps, telling fortunes and scaring the children at her school. Maz herself succumbs to an affair with one of the young daycare center men she works with; this, of course, is not a smart move. Along with this, she rejects the very man who might have brought stability into her life, deeming herself “unworthy.” The book revolves around Maz learning to stand up to the people who are obstructing her and to learn she is, indeed, “worthy” of the good life she wants. Written in a fast-paced, humorous style, the book delights and satisfies.

Abide with Me is the touching story of a minister who enters “the dark night of the soul.” After the tragic death of his young wife and the subsequent problems of his first child, Katherine, who, in her grief and confusion, becomes sullen, quiet and secretive; Tyler Caskey, the minister, must endure various griefs and worries. Not only is his family troubled, but also his congregation slowly but profoundly turns against him as he becomes increasingly unable to meet their needs. Written in third person, we meet the characters who make up the 1950s Maine town, where the book is set amidst the bleakness of winter. We learn of their many “secrets, sins and troubles.” Poignantly written, the book ends on a note of reconciliation, but only after Tyler Caskey has “walked through the fire” of standing up to his brittle and judgmental mother and wept in front of his parish. The book is deep and takes us into the mind of a troubled, but well-meaning, pastor who seeks to regain “The Feeling” for life that he has lost.

May your new year begin with a good book!

Christine Swanberg is a local author and poet who has written several books of poetry and formerly wrote a column called “The Writer’s Garret” for this newspaper.

From the Jan. 10-16, 2007, issue

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