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book beginnings on Friday: Fierce Attachments by Vivian Gornick

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. Participants share the first line or two of the book we are currently reading and comment on any first impressions inspired by that first line.

It has been a long, long time since I’ve featured a book beginning here (over a year), but I wanted to share these opening lines because I find them a fine example.

First: I knew before I even got to Gornick’s text that I had misjudged her. I think I’d been cool on this book because I did not enjoy Gornick’s craft book, The Situation and the Story. But as I opened Fierce Attachments to Jonathan Lethem’s glowing introduction, I knew this was different, and I felt I’d been wrong to wait so long.

Gornick’s opening lines are,

I’m eight years old. My mother and I come out of our apartment onto the second-floor landing. Mrs. Drucker is standing in the open doorway of the apartment next door, smoking a cigarette.

I love the immediacy of this scene, the way Gornick places us there in the very moment, in present tense. Even that first sentence, “I’m eight years old,” is such a choice on the part of the writer. It does what we are sometimes afraid to do: just comes out and gives up a piece of setting-information (age, in this case) outright. It’s simple, but that present tense makes it snappy somehow. That sentence says scene, bam. And I’m on board.

Thanks for stopping by for a book beginning. I’ll be back to reviews next week.

book beginnings on Friday: A Giacometti Portrait by James Lord

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. Participants share the first line or two of the book we are currently reading and comment on any first impressions inspired by that first line.

This is another I’m reading for school (see last week’s teaser), and deals with a work of visual art. The portrait of the title is both one being painted by the author’s friend of the author himself, and the book I hold in my hands: a portrait of the painter.

giacometti-portrait
James Lord is in conversation with the painter Alberto Giacometti as the former sits for his portrait.

“But is even a photograph really a reproduction of what one sees?” I asked.

“No. And if a photo isn’t, a painting is even less so. What’s best is simply to look at people.”

And I thought those lines began to capture part of what the book is about. Also, they spoke to me as a writer who tries to capture life. It makes it all a little futile, perhaps; or maybe it helps the artist to refocus. Plenty to think about.

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

book beginnings on Friday: The Delicacy and Strength of Lace, letters between Leslie Marmon Silko and James Wright

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. Participants share the first line or two of the book we are currently reading and comment on any first impressions inspired by that first line.

And so begins graduate school: with advanced reading to prepare for the winter residency I’ll be attending in West Virginia in just a few weeks. I chose to begin with this collection of letters, which will inform a seminar entitled “Another Voice at the End of the Line: Correspondence Between Writers.”

Here’s a confession: I’ve never read any Silko or Wright before.

the delicacy and strength of laceWe begin:

Misquamicut
Rhode Island
August 28, 1978

Dear Mrs. Silko,
I trust you won’t mind hearing from a stranger.

And so began a strong friendship. I’ve really been enjoying this, actually, although I wasn’t sure at first that there would be enough to grasp onto, between two writers I was not familiar with. I’m also looking forward very much to this seminar, which I think speaks to some of the challenges of being a writer, let alone in a low-residency program; and it is taught by a faculty member I very much enjoyed meeting last summer, Doug Van Gundy. Plenty to go on there.

Happy Friday, friends.

book beginnings on Friday: The Signal Flame by Andrew Kriv├ík

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. Participants share the first line or two of the book we are currently reading and comment on any first impressions inspired by that first line.

A new novel for the weekend.

the-signal-flame

A fire in the great stone fireplace was as constant in the house as the lengthening days when Easter was early and spring was late. But on the morning after his grandfather died, Bo Konar took the logs and the log rack in the living room out to the barn, swept the bricks clean of ash, and dusted the andirons so that they looked like thin faceless centaurs of black.

These are good, if not simple, opening sentences. I lingered over the first one, its concept of the constancy of lengthening days when… there’s a lot to take in there. The second is much simpler, concrete and physical: logs, log rack, barn, bricks, ash, andirons–and then that fine simile, the faceless centaurs of black, which seem so appropriate to the grief we are witnessing. In just these two sentences, I felt like I was in the hands of a skilled writer with a story I would care about. So far, this is so.

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

book beginnings on Friday: Human Acts by Han Kang, trans. by Deborah Smith

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.

Earlier this year, I reviewed Han Kang’s The Vegetarian, an odd and engrossing novel. And now I’m holding her next English-language release, Human Acts. Deborah Smith again translates from the Korean (and this time there’s a brief introduction by Smith, as well). Obviously I’m pleased.

human-acts
It begins:

“Looks like rain,” you mutter to yourself.

What’ll we do if it really chucks it down?

You open your eyes so that only a slender chink of light seeps in, and peer at the gingko trees in front of the Provincial Office. As though there, between those branches, the wind is about to take on visible form.

Lovely language and picture-painting words. I’m intrigued by the second-person perspective, and wonder if it will last. I’m often a little skeptical of this literary trick, as it’s perhaps getting a little overused, but I trust Kang.

Come back to see what I thought of the whole; this book publishes in mid-January.


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

book beginnings on Friday: The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. Participants share the first line or two of the book we are currently reading and comment on any first impressions inspired by that first line.

Today I’m beginning a new book for a Maximum Shelf, so you’ll eventually see a long-form review here as well as an author interview. The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, a work of historical fiction, begins with an entry from Mrs. Tilling’s journal, Tuesday, 26th March, 1940:
chilbury-ladies-choir

First funeral of the war, and our little village choir simply couldn’t sing in tune. “Holy, holy, holy” limped out as if we were a crump of warbling sparrows. But it wasn’t because of the war, or the young scoundrel Edmund Winthrop torpedoed in his submarine, or even the Vicar’s abysmal conducting. No, it was because this was the final performance of the Chilbury Choir. Our swan song.

And I believe this sets up the whole story nicely, as I understand it from descriptions. Don’t you love the “crump of warbling sparrows”? It’s got music, itself, as well as a certain feeling of bumbling, which I think is very much the point. “The young scoundrel Edmund Winthrop torpedoed in his submarine” is a little awkward: did Edmund torpedo a young scoundrel, or is he the young scoundrel, torpedoed? After some studying, it’s the latter, but it did make me stumble. I wonder if the English setting and English heritage of the author (who now lives in the U.S.) would read that line a little more clearly. Stick around for more notes on this one in the months to come!

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

book beginnings on Friday: Modern Death: How Medicine Changed the End of Life by Haider Warraich

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.

I do enjoy learning more about end-of-life issues, medical and legal and ethical. This one seems to be for me.

modern-death

The opening chapter, “How Cells Die,” begins:

It had been the longest of months–in both the best and the worst possible ways. Brockton is a small town about a half-hour drive south of Boston, but in many ways it seems a world apart.

A little out of context, it seems, but we are just beginning. I like that it’s not a dry, thesis-sentence sort of beginning. Reading on, Haider Warraich does seem to grasp the idea of narrative writing, making his storytelling immediate and personal; and he does have a personal story to tell, being an MD. I am optimistic.

Modern Death is forthcoming in February. Stick around!


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

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