The SF Turkey Trot and Six Links

The Peripheral william gibson 81WCwPZNGyLMy cousin and I are in a Turkey Trot race.

We’re racing to finish two science fiction books between now and Thanksgiving.

That’s because I recently bought two hardcover SF novels,  William Gibson’s The Peripheral ($28.95) and David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks ($30)..

“I can read them and then give them as Christmas gifts,”  I said chirpily to the clerk.

But then I had a spark of genius.

My cousin Megan and I are competing to lessen our cooking responsibilities.  The loser has to “make” the pies.  That means picking them up at the Village Inn.

“It will be a blast,” I said confidently.

Megan, a librarian who flaunts the fact that she doesn’t read (“Librarianship is just a job”) and mocks Library of Congress classifications (“The Luminaries is shelved in the mystery section”), does in fact read science fiction.

She even went to WorldCon, a science fiction convention, a few years ago in Chicago.  “It was a drunken weedy blast.”  She dressed up as a character from an SF novel, went to a panel on “Are you a Dickhead?” (about Philip K. Dick), did science fiction origami, and toured the Science and Industry Museum.

William Gibson is a fast,brilliant writer, and. I adored  Zero History, an SF thriller about postmodern marketing, fashion brands, and corrupt American military contractors. It is the third of a trilogy, but can be read as a standalone.

And David Mitchell’s new novel, which was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize this year, is a shoo-in for folks who belittle science fiction but will read anything reviewed by James Wood.  In other words, it is a perfect Christmas gift.

I’m also reading Proust, so I’ll be very surprised if I win this contest, and Megan reminds me that she has a full life watching TV, though our favorite “Selfie” was canceled.

Who will win?

Probably both of us, or none.

Laurie Colwin

Laurie Colwin

Laurie Colwin News:   Laurie Colwin’s  brilliant books, among them her novel Happy All the Time and her charming cookbook, Home Cooking,  have been published  as e-books by Open Road Media. Check out their webpage on her life and work.

I wrote of her masterpiece, Family Happiness:

Those of you who have read Laurie Colwin’s wonderful fiction and charming cookbooks will understand what brings me back again and again to her masterpiece, Family Happiness. This slender, quirky novel is a comic version of Anna Karenina, as might have been written by Jane Austen, with many comic twists, much confusion, and ultimately triumph for the heroine.

productimage-picture-testing-the-current-327William McPherson, author of the American classic, Testing the Current (NYBR), has written a harrowing essay about poverty in old age at The Hedgehog Review Since his retirement from The Washington Post, he has descended into poverty.

…Like a lot of other people, I started life comfortably middle-class, maybe upper-middle class; now, like a lot of other people walking the streets of America today, I am poor. To put it directly, I have no money. Does this embarrass me? Of course, it embarrasses me—and a lot of other things as well. It’s humiliating to be poor, to be dependent on the kindness of family and friends and government subsidies. But it sure is an education.

On a lighter note, here  is a charming Abebooks article about a 20-year-old book club in Vancouver.

Karen Gillan and John Cho in "Selfie"

Karen Gillan and John Cho in “Selfie”

And here’s my question:  Why did my favorite new sitcom, “Selfie,” get canceled?  Entertainment Weekly analyzes it.

And here is a link to my favorite episode of “Selfie”:

An American Classic: Laurie Colwin’s Family Happiness

Laurie Colwin

Laurie Colwin

Those of you who have read Laurie Colwin’s wonderful fiction and charming cookbooks will understand what brings me back again and again to her masterpiece, Family Happiness. This slender, quirky novel is a comic version of  Anna Karenina, as might have been written by Jane Austen, with  many comic twists, much confusion, and ultimately triumph for the heroine.

People aren’t perfect. Colwin knows this.

In Family Happiness, Polly Solo-Miller Demarest is tired of being perfect.

Polly Solo-Miller Demarest was the perfect flower of the Solo-Miller family.  this family had everything:  looks, brains, money, a strong, fortified sense of clan, and branches in Boston, Philadelphia, and New York, as well as London.

Can’t you already feel the pressure?

Everyone takes Polly for granted. Her lawyer husband pays no attention to her, and her finicky mother gives unconditional love to Polly’s two odd brothers but is critical of Polly.  Polly is the mother of two children, and her mother thinks she shouldn’t work.

Family Happiness by Laurie ColwinPolly does get respect at work.  She is coordinator of Research in Reading Projects and Methods for the information arm of the Board of Education.

She leaves Sunday brunch at her parents’ early to go to a reading seminar.  A reading seminar on Sunday? you ask.

She is actually meeting her painter lover, Lincoln, “the friend of her heart.”

Polly is conflicted about the affair, but this friendship with Lincoln keeps her going in hard times. She knows she couldn’t run away with him:  he loves her but needs solitude.  What should she do?  She is in agony.  Her husband Henry comes home late night after night and barely talks to her.  She feels she has to beg him for sex.

We feel for her predicament, but  it is Colwin’s wit and the understated description of Polly’s confusion that make us love Polly so.  We can feel her frustration as she walks home in the snow,  unable to find a taxi,  trying to balance “her briefcase, her handbag, and two large shopping bags containing her ten baguettes, the cheeses, salted almonds, a box of cigars, a large box of her family’s favorite chocolate, two bottles of champagne, and a bottle of brandy….  She felt like throwing herself and everything else into the street.”

And then she mentions Anna Karenina.

Polly had had her adolescent swivets, her bouts of nerves, her small heartaches.  She had read, good student of literature, novels in which great unhappiness and emotional tragedy unfolded.  She knew these states of feeling existed.  She had sat on the deck of an ocean liner going to France on her honeymoon and read Anna Karenina.  Heroines in literature fell from grace little by little.  Did nice people ever feel this miserable?  Lincoln said they did, but Polly did not really know many people outside her family; and no one in her family, she was sure, had ever felt the way she did, or if they had, they had triumphed over it in secret.  Her distress frightened her.  It was not because she had fallen in love with Lincoln.  It was what allowing herself to fall in love revealed:  that everything was wrong.

The love affair allows Polly to reach for happiness.  She doesn’t leave her family; she loves her family; but she starts demanding more.  And the ending is unexpected.  I won’t tell you what happens to Polly, but you will be surprised, too.

The New York Times ran a story last week on Colwin, whose cookbooks, Home Cooking and More Home Cooking, both collections of her Gourmet Magazine columns, are still very popular.  (I have both of them, and the recipes are excellent.)  Here is a link to  he NYT article, “Laurie Colwin: A Confidante in the Kitchen.”

What are your favorite Laurie Colwin books?  I’m sure that many of you, like me, read them in the ’80s.  She died at 48:  so sad.  Her books should be in the Library of America.  (Another selection I’m happy to make for them.:))