Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Mini reviews - The Suicide Run by Wm. Styron, The Song of the Tree by C. Bickford-Smith, and two rereads

These are all books from my personal shelves that I don't feel require a lengthy review. Two I've read and reviewed in the past, so I'll just talk about the rereading.

The Suicide Run is my second read by William Styron. The first was so vividly written that I had to look the book up to make sure I was actually reading fiction. It was a book of three short stories and, yes, they were fiction. I don't recall the title, it's been so long.

The same was true of The Suicide Run. There's just something about Styron's writing that feels real and immediate. The stories in The Suicide Run (my favorite of which felt to be novella length, although I can't say if it qualified as such) are about military life or preparing to go back into the military, and they are based on Styron's experiences in wartime but not autobiographical.

Much as in Tim O'Brien's writing, the focus of the stories is on incompetence, mistakes, desire, thoughts of home. The difference, in my opinion, is that while both write in a way that makes you feel present, O'Brien is more of a craftsman. Styron used so many obscure words that I kept thinking, "He had to have sat with a thesaurus on his lap." There just wasn't any reason for a lot of his word choices, other than to sound fancy. So, I liked The Suicide Run for the realistic feel of the writing but it was not a favorite.

The Song of the Tree by Coralie Bickford-Smith is a book I bought on the basis of an Instagram post. It sounded lovely, and it is. It's the story of a bird who loves the tree he lives in and when it comes time to migrate, the bird doesn't want to leave for fear of the tree becoming lonely. But, then, in few words over beautiful page spreads, the bird finds that there are many other creatures hanging out in or near the tree and it will never be lonely.

Satisfied, the bird flies away. The Song of the Tree has been described as a "picture book for grown-ups" and I think that's an apt description. It could be read to a child (or by a child) but it just feels like it's meant for adults in some indefinable way. Still, I would probably pass it on to my granddaughters if this particular copy, which I purchased secondhand by mail, didn't happen to have a rather strong odor. It is one smelly book. I suspect it may have been a library book that had its cover removed and was resold. I'm sensitive to smell and it just feels dirty with that unpleasant scent, so I'll probably just donate my copy of The Song of the Tree when the library reopens. Maybe someone else will be able to tolerate it.

I've read The Secret Lives of People in Love by Simon Van Booy enough times, over the years (I originally read the Turtle Point Press ARC in 2007) that I've lost count but it's been a few years since the last reading. It felt like coming home.

My two favorite stories remain the same. "Where They Hide is a Mystery" and "Little Birds" mean the most to me. Those who have dropped by my blog for many years will know that I met up with Simon Van Booy in 2007 and interviewed him. Later, I went with Carrie of Care's Books and Pie to see him speak in Boston. I've bought almost every book he's published since we met. His writing is a marvel and I appreciated The Secret Lives of People in Love as much on this reading as I have the many readings of the past, possibly more because it was the blankie I needed.

I chose to read The Secret Lives of People in Love when the pandemic isolation started to get to me. I needed a comfort read and it absolutely fit my aching need. I may pull Love Begins in Winter off the shelves and read that, soon. There's sadness and hardship in Simon's stories but always a ray of light, as well.

Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins is another reread that I pulled off the shelf, both for comfort and because it's National Poetry Month. Have to squeeze in at least a little poetry in April!

I love Billy Collins' poetry but I have to confess that I felt a little impatient with this book and I don't know why. Maybe I wasn't in the mood for Collins, after all. Or, maybe I needed something new. He apparently has a new book coming out soon, Whale Day. I was disappointed to find that it's not available till September and only in hardback or Kindle. Had it already been available and in paperback, I would have happily broken my current book-buying ban to get a copy. It's probably for the best that it's not.

I should mention that Sailing Alone Around the Room has always been my favorite of the Billy Collins books I own (I think I have 4 of them). It contains selections from a number of his other books, so I guess it's along the lines of a "greatest hits" type of book. I like how straightforward his poetry is. There's no scowling at his lines and wondering what on earth he's getting at. He's also very witty. Simon once asked me if I've ever met Billy Collins and I said no. He said, "He's very serious." I guess you should expect that of a poet. They're probably a little pained by the sharpness of their observations.

At any rate, it might not have been the best time for this particular volume of poetry but I remain a Collins fan and it wasn't a misery to reread. I just sometimes felt like, "I see what you're doing, here." I was too moody for it, maybe, thinking I saw through the poet in some mysterious way (which makes me giggle to think of). I still feel like I need to read more poetry so we'll see what I can come up with from the personal shelves, this month.

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  1. The Secret Lives of People was very good. It took me a long time to read it because I only read (savored really) a few pages before bedtime and it was such a treat.

    How are you doing? I am comforted to see posts from the bloggers I follow. It is a little bit of business-as-usual without all the other stuff, the pressure of a full schedule, etc.

    1. That's how I usually read short stories. I'll just read one and let it roll around in my head for a day or two before I move on to the next. In this case, I zipped through Secret Lives because I just needed a comfort read and I'd read all the stories before.

      We're doing great. We've hardly gone anywhere for over a month, now -- no grocery runs for 3 weeks, just a drive to a farm to pick up a produce box once a week. With a 30 cent per gallon discount I paid $106.9 for gas, when I filled up after my last farm run. Wild!

      I know what you mean. Anything semi-normal is a comfort, right now. I'm actually starting to miss the old television commercials, now that everything is all about, "We're with you in these uncertain times." I was irritated seeing the regular ones with people gathering so I didn't expect to miss them but all the pandemic-updated commercials feel a bit like overkill. I guess nothing feels quite right when everything is so unsettled.

    2. Forgot to say I hope you're doing well, too! I've been spending a lot less time on FB so I haven't seen any of your posts in a while.


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