A Man Called Ove

One might say, “Like mother, like daughter” when it comes to what makes a good package. The card read, “Kathe selected this for our January Book Club. Mom, you can check off the ‘family member recommended’ box on the 2016 Reading Challenge and Dad, you’ll recognize yourself on page 140 especially (and other pages as well). You’ll both enjoy this.” In the package was A Man Called Ove.

I’ll briefly fill you in on finding Al on page 140. “When he was driving somewhere, he drew up schedules and plans and decided where they’d fill up and when they’d stop for coffee, all in the interest of making the trip as time efficient as possible. He studied maps and estimated exactly how long each leg of the journey would take . . .” You get the drift, and anybody who knows Al sees a kindred spirit in Ove. There were other similarities.

Gruffly, Ove avoids his neighbors only to help them out just this once with driving lessons, chauffeuring, or repair and building work. Then the curmudgeon lets his aggravation go, “He’d never understood the need to go around stewing on why things turned out the way they did. You are what you are and you do what you do, and that was good enough for Ove” – a philosophy Al shares.

When his neighbor’s wife opens the door, Ove sees and knows enough not to comment as she, “. . .wipes her eyes and blinks away the pain. As women of that generation do. As if they stood in the doorway every morning, determinedly driving sorrow out of the house with a broom.” Instead, he gives her something to do that gives momentary reprieve from her sorrow.

I’ll leave without comment my last similarity quote. “It is difficult to admit that one is wrong. Particularly when one has been wrong for a very long time. Sonja used to say that Ove had only admitted he was wrong on one occasion . . .”

Al gave up on the book and said, “I couldn’t get into it.” Whether he recognized himself in Ove, I don’t know. More likely, the problem was that the book does not begin at the beginning and travel straight to the end. While I loved the narrative that switched back and forth between past and present, I think Al and Ove would have admonished Fredrik Backman to start at the beginning and tell the story straight.

I loved every word. It’s hard to explain how a book with the main character making multiple attempts to commit suicide after his wife’s death (about the only way he is different from Al) could be so amusing – attempts always interrupted by a nuisance call from someone who needs him. I’ve passed the book along. At last count, five friends share my enthusiasm even if the mirror image of Al is not quite as clear as it was to Anna and me.



Why We Should (Not) . . . 

“Well,” my daughter said, “I wrote a number of essays.” She and her husband were going through the process to be approved as adoptive parents, and the question was what kind of discipline they had experienced in their home of origin. I admit her answer was true. The general requirement usually included 200 words of explanation (no number of pages, I’m onto writing big) of what was wrong with the action and some attempt at repentance.

I’ve been on a cleaning jag and found one of those saved missives written when we lived in Germany which I publish here, without the permission of my oldest son. I consider it a “work-for-hire” which means it belongs to me. His photograph reflects the age and attitude of the culprit at the time. You will note on the picture of the essay that a careful tally of words runs on the left side. He didn’t want to run over, yet he did feel compelled to finish his last sentence.

Why We Should Not Play Ball in Mom’s Room

The reasons we should not play ball in Mom’s room are many and diversified. Not only is it dangerous, but noisy as well.

Dangerous is a very ambiguous word, so let me ponder a moment to discuss this in full detail. Playing ball in mom’s room is, yes, very dangerous. In fact, it’s quite lethal. One, while playing ball, may find himself falling over desks, chairs, rolls of tape and/or even little clouds of dirt, which could result in the connection of one’s head to the floor below, further resulting in irreversible brain damage. Falling over the aforementioned objects brings into the picture the subject of noise. Have you ever, just for the fun of it, pushed a chair off the top of a desk? If you have, then you know about the tremendous impact this can have on the noise pollution scale, not to mention the headaches it can bring about.

Another point is about the walls. Germans may make their walls quite sound, but this does not, in any way, condone the bouncing of balls on them. Bouncing balls on walls (say, that rhymes) can leave ugly, nasty-looking marks that may cause negative reactions from (200th word) children and thus stunt their learning process.

A few years later, his  little younger brother had to write one on why one did not sass his mother while she was teaching him to drive. His concluding reasons admitted that she might be right and she did own the car keys.

Truth to tell, I was never sure my discipline with any of the three was taken as seriously as I intended. Nor am I sure that it had anything at all to do with their becoming productive adults – just grateful that it happened.  


Vinegar Girl

One might ask why there is a need for yet another version of The Taming of the Shrew since Shakespeare did a fine job with the first one and multiple productions have followed in various forms with plays, opera, musicals, ballet, film, TV, and radio. My personal favorite was seeing Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate on Broadway with a younger generation group who wondered how I knew all the songs.  Yet, all the convincing I needed for an updated version was to see that Anne Tyler had written this one. I read an advance reading copy of the book that goes on sale June 21 furnished by Net Galley .

Vinegar Girl, set in today’s world, begins with Kate Battista answering the phone. Her father, Dr. Battista, wants her to bring his lunch. So begins the strangeness since he distrusts telephones and forgets his lunch about twice a week without noticing it. Irritated at being interrupted, she follows his request. The left lunch and phone call finagle Kate into meeting the doctor’s assistant Pyotr Shcherbakov.  

As if Kate didn’t have enough trouble keeping up with some version of tact with the kindergarteners and their parents at work and running the house for her peculiar scientist father and spoiled, prettier, younger sister Bunny, now her father wants her to salvage his impending scientific breakthrough. Pyotr’s time in the country is almost up, and Dr. Battista needs his help to bring the project to completion. If only Pyotr and Kate can fall in love and get married – or just get married – all will be saved. Needless to say, Kate is furious at being manipulated by the two men.

If you are familiar with Shakespeare’s story in one of its many iterations or have read the synopsis, you can guess where this is going and enjoy making comparisons. If you have read Anne Tyler before, you will know she makes her characters unique and interesting. If you haven’t experienced either, it doesn’t matter. The novel will stand alone. Anne Tyler knows how to give the old tale a new humorous twist and create a nice diversion for her readers.


They're Back!

If you plant it, they will come. Truthfully, when I ordered three maypop or passion flower vines, I anticipated the purple filigree flowers and fall maypops. I didn’t know they would come.

For two years, the vines performed as expected covering the lattice, cooling the carport on the west side of the house as the sun went down, blooming profusely, and making poppers in case any grandchildren showed up.

A surprise occurred about this time last summer when I found an obese caterpillar munching around a maypop leaf. As quick as my mother used to head for the encyclopedia, I headed for a search engine and typed in, “identify caterpillars.”

There was my caterpillar – bright orange with black stripes and black spikes sticking up all over! It seems the Gulf Fritillary caterpillar is a picky eater and only feeds on passion flower vines. So began my summer distraction as I watched the entire cycle from egg to butterfly repeatedly until I was left with stripped vines and a yard full of butterflies.

I’ve spent the winter and spring wondering about two things. I’ve wondered why Monarchs seem to get all the press. The Gulf Fritillary also has a migration cycle, spending winters in Florida, and is beautiful both topside and underneath. The upper layer is soft orange with a delicate pattern around the wings while the underside is even more spectacular. Showing off as it sips nectar from my nearby lantana (adult butterflies aren’t so picky about their food), the wings fold up showing off a pattern that looks like stained glass.

My second puzzle has been how long I had to wait for their return. Lush vines and abundant passion flowers have been enticing. Last week I saw a Gulf Fritillary butterfly and spotted an egg. This morning there are a couple of baby caterpillars, just small spiky black things munching their way around a maypop leaf.

They’re back! And with them a new puzzle. How do I keep myself on task with such an intriguing distraction just out the side door?



Seventeenth Summer

Selections for the de Grummond Book Group are only limited by target age. Any book for babies through young adults may come up for reading and discussion. This month we went back in time and selected the book Seventeenth Summer, published in 1942. It was written for adults but became popular with teens and is considered by many experts to be the first young adult novel. Adding to the intrigue, Maureen Daly wrote the book when she was still in college herself.

As I mentioned in Friday’s blog on my own summer between high school and college, it covers that same three-month transition of June, July, and August. Customs of the time are apparent quickly as Angie Morrow has her first dating experience this late in life. Naïve in many ways by today’s standards with more control by her parents, there is an innocence to the love story itself, yet, chain-smoking and underage drinking are handled casually.

Angie’s family story is secondary but entwined with the romance. Her father spends most of  his time away working while her mother takes care of proper appearances and tries to keep Angie at home. The stability of older sister Margaret, engaged to Art, contrasts to second sister Lorraine who delivers the greatest amount of stress in the story as an older guy trifles with her affections. Ten-year-old tomboy Kitty provides a bit of humor.

It seems almost too simple for today’s teens so I checked out reviews. Early used editions were listed from $98 to $79.99, and it has been in print since its first publication. Descriptions of the book use the words “quintessential,” “enchanting,” and “perennially.” They all fit, and my guess is that today’s teens love the romance partly for its trip back to a different time.

If you’re in the neighborhood, you can join us to discuss the book at 11:30 AM on June 15 in the de Grummond display room in Cook Library at USM. Having read the book is not a requirement, but you might bring memories of your own transition summer between high school and college.