Books Read by Others

On Christmas Day, after breakfast and gifts, my daughter Rebecca plucked Roald Dahl’s Matilda from the bookshelf and offered to read it to us. On the sofa, Mary was tying a quilt, Hannah lounging. Jack was tidying up the kitchen, and Mark and I were at the table, hard at the Christmas jigsaw puzzle.

Matilda is a fantastic story. Rebecca is a wonderful reader, as is Hannah, who took over for a few chapters. Both adapt their voices to the characters as they read, giving the story special life.

I recently I tried recorded books for the first time, listening to Ann Fessler’s The Girls Who Went Away, and then Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation, on my daily walk. I do two miles in about 40 minutes, the perfect distance for multitasking a couple of chapters.

The Girls Who Went Away (non-fiction) describes the experience of “unwed mothers” who surrendered their children for adoption during the post-WWII era before sex education and reliable birth control were available, when having a baby “out of wedlock” was socially unacceptable. Fessler took me inside the maternity hospitals of the 1950s and 60s, where girls sometimes gave up their newborns without holding or even seeing them. I’m working myself on a novel set in 1957—developing a protagonist who will refuse to relinquish her child—so absorbing this information as I walked served my research purposes. That said, I missed the satisfaction of holding Fessler’s excellent work in my own hands.

The cover of Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation intrigued me each time I saw it on display or on lists of recommendations. Intent on using my early morning hours to write instead of read, I downloaded Moshfegh’s novel and listened to it on my next series of walks.

The protagonist (whose name we never learn) is a young, wealthy, Columbia University graduate who holes up in her apartment for a year simply to sleep. She’s enabled by a helpful quack who prescribes an incredible assortment of pharmaceuticals. I disliked our anti-hero immediately, and I have to give the actress who read part of the credit. Her deadpan voice perfectly captured jaded, privileged ennui.

I’m a Pollyanna who keeps reading even a bad book in hopes it will get better, so I stuck with My Year for miles of Winterset sidewalk, empathizing when the speaker described the horrible parents who clearly never wanted her, disgusted as she made more and more of a mess of the present, glad I wasn’t at home in my chair squandering my precious morning hours. (For a better story featuring a character whose life is a mess, read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.)

To my great pleasure, I was recently invited to join a local book club. January’s title is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Rebecca Fons, unless you would kindly pop home for a couple of days and read this novel to me, I’ll just do it myself.



14 Responses

  1. Mary Ann
    | Reply

    I too am plagued by not being able to quit on a book but end up so annoyed it’s a bit before I pick up another. Happy New Year!

  2. Jan Jordan
    | Reply

    Dear friend, I have learned how to quit a bad book. It was hard the first time but it gets easier and is a very freeing experience.

  3. Cynthia
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    I am currently racing through a book that I intend to quit. Racing, as in leafing through page by page. It is a new author for me, but it turned out to be not what I expected. I will return it to the library and pick up one or more of five books that are on hold for me. It’s your time, and you can only spend it once. As I get older I find that I am less inclined to waste time on things that disappoint me.

    • Marianne Fons
      | Reply

      What’s the title of your rejected book, if I may ask?

  4. Jean Etheridge
    | Reply

    A most magical moment recently – my 13-year-old grandson texted me to tell me he was reading The Book Theif. He wondered if I had read it (yes, with my seventh grade students my last year of teaching) And did I know how good it was.

  5. Cynthia
    | Reply

    My rejected book is RAISINS AND ALMONDS.

  6. Janie
    | Reply

    So glad to read that others quit a book when it doesn’t work for you. I just did quit LAST SUMMER. The story line as well as the writing just didn’t work for me. And yes, so freeing. On to the next one! Happy New Year of reading to all!

  7. Janeann
    | Reply

    One of my favorite times is when I can listen to a book on my iPad, while I am sewing and creating with beautiful fabric!! When I do hold a book, I read to page 50, and if I do not like the book, I close it, then maybe read to page 100, but if I am not hooked on the story by then, it goes back!!

  8. Valerie Fons
    | Reply

    Good read. Thank you for inviting us to be with our friends – books. And family with books.

  9. Brian Downes
    | Reply

    On our Christmas drive to Chicago we listened to Justice Clarence Thomas read aloud his incredible life story, from unimaginable poverty to the Supreme Court of the United States. It was thrilling.

  10. Lori
    | Reply

    I read The Book Thief several years ago.
    It was an excellent book. But, after reading it, I was depressed for a week. I’ve never had a book affect me like that.

    • Marianne Fons
      | Reply

      Thanks for the warning. I’m about 80 pages in and am not particularly enjoying the writing style. That said, I will finish because it’s for my book club. I’ll be writing a review in a couple of weeks, so stay tuned.

      • Jan Sturtevant
        | Reply

        Tried to read it–couldn’t get into it, so I gave it to my brother for his birthday that year!

  11. Jan Sturtevant
    | Reply

    I’ve had the same I-can’t-stop/leave (as in I’m not allowed to do so) experience with movies. I’m 72 now and I think I’ve only done it once or twice. At least I know I can! I used to give a recorded book one or two cds (of many) before ditching it. A friend gave me her copy of one of her favorites of all time and I have yet to understand why. I must have re-started it five times earlier this year. Still haven’t finished it.

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