book beginnings on Friday: Maya’s Notebook by Isabel Allende

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.

maya

Recently, after trying so hard to be patient, I finally gave up on The Aviator’s Wife (more on that next week), and breathed a sigh of relief and pleasure as I hit “play” on this novel by Isabel Allende. Her language is so lovely, rhythmic and perfectly chosen; her sentences, translated from Spanish by Anne McLean, are both short and simple, and lyrical. Also, I am very much enjoying this reading by Maria Cabezas.

The book begins with a quotation that I can’t help but share:

Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

–Mary Oliver, “The Summer Day”

And then Allende begins writing, in the voice of 19-year-old Maya Vidal:

A week ago my grandmother gave me a dry-eyed hug at the San Francisco airport and told me again that if I valued my life at all, I should not get in touch with anyone I knew until we could be sure my enemies were no longer looking for me. My Nini is paranoid, as the residents of the People’s Independent Republic of Berkeley tend to be, persecuted as they are by the government and extraterrestrials, but in my case she wasn’t exaggerating…

Isn’t that a wonderful beginning? We have a precipitous moment, as Maya sets off on what is clearly a fraught journey, to an unknown destination; the colorful character of Nini; the suspense of this 19-year-old girl’s “enemies”; and the humor involved with the “People’s Independent Republic of Berkeley.” I’m so happy to be back in Allende’s capable hands.

book beginnings on Friday: Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.

five days

I have been intrigued by the idea of this book for some time now. I have some perspective on Katrina, to begin with. Not that my personal life was profoundly effected, but Houston residents saw the consequences come our way. For one thing, in the form of Katrina evacuees, and for another, because when Hurricane Rita was forecast for us just a few months later, the response was quite different than it might have been if our neighbors to the east had not just been so badly beaten. And then I suppose my interest is piqued as well because I work at a hospital now. Finally, I got to see Anna Deavere Smith perform last month (at the Medical Library Association Annual Conference in Chicago), and she did a short piece on the conditions at Charity Hospital in New Orleans that was – naturally – very moving. So here we are, finally.

Five Days at Memorial begins with an Author’s Note in which Fink describes her research methods (lots of interviews & other primary & secondary materials) and notes that she wasn’t at Memorial during the storm, although she visited later. She makes it clear that this is a journalistic work, and that she has been faithful to what she learned in her research – all dialog in quotations comes from interview, etc. – and that she has made an effort to keep her own reactions (“any book reflects the interwoven interpretations and insights of its author”) clearly delineated from the facts. I appreciate this.

I’d like to share two bits for your book beginning today. First of all, “Part I: Deadly Choices” begins with a quotation:

Blindness was spreading, not like a sudden tide flooding everything and carrying all before it, but like an insidious infiltration of a thousand and one turbulent rivulets which, having slowly drenched the earth, suddenly submerge it completely. РJos̩ Saramago, Blindness

And then the Prologue:

At last through the broken windows, the pulse of helicopter rotors and airboat propellers set the summer morning air throbbing with the promise of rescue. Floodwaters unleashed by Hurricane Katrina had marooned hundreds of people at the hospital, where they had now spent four days.

And that, I think, says enough for today.

book beginnings on Friday: The Cormorant by Chuck Wendig

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.

cormorant

Following on Blackbirds and Mockingbird, Chuck Wendig returns us to the strange and darkly wonderful world of Miriam Black with The Cormorant. I like cormorants (we have them in the bayous ’round here) and I like Wendig’s weird sense of humor. First, the dedication: “To all the foul-mouthed miscreants and deviants who are fans of Miriam, and who make this book possible.” Thank you, sir.

It begins:

“And the Lord said, let there be light.”

A flutter of black fabric, and the hood is gone.

Miriam winces.

Right on schedule.

book beginnings on Friday: Shirley by Susan Scarf Merrell

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.

shirley

This is a new novel about Shirley Jackson, styled after that author’s own creepy-crawly work. It begins:

“You have green eyes,” she said. I handed her my end of the fitted sheet and she tucked the corners deftly together, folded again to make a smooth square, her knob-knuckled fingers making quick work of a task I’d never had to do. Bed-making I knew too well, but, oh, the luxury of a second set of sheets!

“No,” I said. “My eyes are blue.”

How’s that for a spooky beginning? Coupled with that cover – good stuff!

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

book beginnings on Friday: The Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar by Martin Windrow

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.

owl

This book is as thoroughly delightful as the title implies. I’m only a few pages in, but I’m hooked. Check this out.

Shaving is tricky with an owl on your shoulder.

When I am working on the right side of my throat, Mumble tends to make darting, snake-like passes with her beak at the handle of the razor as it reaches the top of each stroke.

Windrow goes on to note that he has tried to shift Mumble to his left shoulder while he shaves his right side, but she is no more a morning person than he is; they are both reluctant to try new things at such an hour.

Subtitled “Living With a Tawny Owl,” The Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar (a bust of Caesar, that is) is absolutely charming so far. I think I’m going to recommend this one.

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

book beginnings on Friday: Have You Seen Marie? by Sandra Cisneros

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.

marie

I cannot say enough nice things about this short piece of beauty by Sandra Cisneros. It begins:

The day Marie and Rosalind arrived on a visit from Tacoma was the day Marie ran off. It had taken three days of driving to get to San Antonio, and Marie had cried the whole way.

You will be captivated. Do check it out.

book beginnings on Friday: The Falling Sky by Pippa Goldschmidt

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.

falling sky

You will recall that my father also reviewed this book, here. What fun that I get a shot at it now, too. I have two beginnings to share with you; the first is part of the novel but comes before the first chapter; a preview or dream, perhaps.

Nothing is as certain as death.

And from the more concrete world of “Now”:

Jeanette may as well be invisible. She’s standing on the stage in the auditorium in front of about two hundred other astronomers, presenting the results of her PhD work at the annual British conference. But she can tell no one’s listening.

More pedestrian; but it quickly becomes an involving story, nevertheless. Stay tuned.

book beginnings on Friday: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.

harold

The first few chapters of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry have charmed me. I heard just a little about this book a few years ago, but it was enough to put it on my list, and here we are; I’m going in almost entirely blind, which I often enjoy. Check out these first few lines:

The letter that would change everything arrived on a Tuesday. It was an ordinary morning in mid-April that smelled of clean washing and grass cuttings. Harold Fry sat at the breakfast table, freshly shaved, in a clean shirt and tie, with a slice of toast that he wasn’t eating.

I think this is a fine beginning, setting the scene as it does. Clean washing & grass cuttings are important, as are the fresh shave and the clean shirt and tie. A well-ordered life, clearly. Just wait & see what happens next…

book beginnings on Friday: The Brothers Lionheart by Astrid Lindgren

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.

lionheart

Astrid Lindgren is far better known as the author of Pippi Longstocking. But I remember Pippi only vaguely, and have remained enchanted by The Brothers Lionheart since I read it first as a child. I was excited to find a new copy and open it back up again. We begin:

Now I’m going to tell you about my brother. My brother, Jonathan Lionheart, is the person I want to tell you about. I think it’s almost like a saga, and just a very little like a ghost story, and yet every word is true; though Jonathan and I are probably the only people who know that.

I love this childlike tone. But don’t be fooled: this is a hell of a story, exciting and beautiful and poignant and scary and fantastic.

book beginnings on Friday: Gone Feral: Tracking My Dad Through the Wild by Novella Carpenter

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.

gone feral

Novella Carpenter’s Gone Feral tells the story of seeking a relationship with her mostly-estranged father, who prefers the outdoors to the city. It begins:

My dad officially went missing on October 17, 2009.

The morning I found out, I woke up to the hum of traffic from Interstate 980 harmonizing with the nickering of milk goats at my back stairs.

She managed to sneak right in there her own preferred ratio of city-to-outdoors: she has an “urban farm” in Oakland. Not a bad beginning, I think.

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

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