Written By: sherridaley - • •


I always check out 4-5 books at a time, sometimes more. I stack them up on the windowsill next to my bed and when I decide that a book isn’t worth my time, I flip to the end to see if the guy dies or the wife walks out or the doctors give up but the baby lives. Then I toss the book on the floor and reach for the next book. This saves a lot of trips back & forth to the library.

However, this last stack of books provided me with three great books in a row, and I recomend you go out immediately and find them and read them all.

The Awkward Age by Francesca Segal does star a couple of teenagers, but it is absolutely not your average coming-of-age novel.  This is a story of a whole family: kids, stepkids, parents, grandparents, in-laws, lovers, exes, and a dog. There are so many different kinds of love here, so carefully arranged and presented, that I wouldn’t have been able to tell you which “relationship” I was actively following. The plots unravel slowly, with enough hints and foreshadowing to have me thinking, “Oh god, please don’t let THAT happen.” But it does, of course, except for the couple of things that didn’t, even though I was totally expecting them.

I hurt for everyone, reading this book. Even the love hurt a bit. They all tried so hard, analyzed decisions, not realizing that some things just happen without any human (or divine) intervention.  Polite.  This book treats awkwardness, passion, disappointment, anger, and loss politely, slipping hope in there to make me feel better.

The Floating World is a love story of a completely different nature. The author, C. Morgan Babst, evacuated New Orleans one day before Katrina made landfall, and after 11 years in New York, she went back to live in New Orleans with her husband and child. Although this is a sort of murder mystery involving a missing sister and dead woman, it’s really a love story between the city of New Orleans and the people who live there.

I fell in love myself – with the mud and the placid, standing water weeks after the storm, with the mold and the rot, and the broken trees and abandoned houses filled with sodden shoes and mattresses. The resilience of the survivors is stunning. I could never have been so stubborn, so strong. But I have never loved a city like these people love theirs.

When I finished the book, I could almost smell the heat, see the wind. It’s a book heavy with scent and scenery.  It’s almost palpable.

Standard Deviation. Well.  I didn’t have much hope for this book. Three good books in a row is really too much to ask of any library, but who can’t love a book with a sentence like this?

Elspeth had the deeply reflective air of someone who has just seen a particularly savage wildlife documentary, and Bentrup had taken on the seedy, shellacked look of a late-night convenience store shopper.

Every page had sentences like that. Every page!

Unlike The Awkward Age, Standard Deviation has only a few characters to follow, but it’s tough keeping up. Our hero’s second wife is mildly crazy, unpredictable, and so beautiful that our man can’t stop admiring her. His first wife is intelligent, accomplished, and very, very neat. The progeny from the second marriage is Matthew, an 11-year-old boy with Asperger’s and an obsession with origami. Living with, and trying to raise, Matthew is practically a fulltime job, skirting his many social issues, planning and cooking his complicated food issues, tolerating the very few friedships he’s managed to acquire, and driving him to and from whatever activities they’ve arranged.

Still our hero, Graham Cavanaugh, has time to vacillate between right and wrong, moral and amoral, acceptance and curiosity, lust and friendship. It’s not easy.

As houseguests came and went, I found myself getting tired. I wanted to force myself into a chapter or two just to clear people out of the apartment so Graham could THINK.

I was disappointed that the book ended, and as Graham and Audra (that’s the second wife’s name) tottered off into the night, I wished I could have followed them!

The Skinny on Bad Behavior

Written By: sherridaley - • •



The Skinny on Bad Behavior

I swear to God you are the only person I have told this to.

The other night I went out for a walk on the beach and about a half-mile from the marina, I ducked behind a couple of trees, took off my clothes, ran across the sand, and jumped in the water. I cavorted around for a while, made some big splashy noises; and then I streaked back to where I had hidden my clothes, got dressed, and walked home.

It felt great.

I may never do it again. Something tells me that it would be bad business to make a habit of swimming naked on neighborhood beaches even in the dark. But if I never have the urge again, at least I know now that I can if I want to. I got away with it, and I must tell you, there was something liberating about running through the dark without my clothes on. I could see lights in the windows of the shore houses; there was a wide arc of a spotlight over the tennis courts at the beach club and headlights twinkled through the dune rose bushes that separated the swimming area from the street. I kept watching the public pavilion for the night watchman. I squinted through the dark, on the alert for some locals out for a stroll or a couple of teenagers looking for a place to be alone. And there I was, naked as a jaybird and flaunting it, dancing around on the sand bar. Am I nuts?

Maybe. All I know is, there are a few things I miss as I (gently) grow older, and one of them is misbehaving. Good clean fun, with a little mischief tossed in and a slight dusting of danger, that delicious fear of “getting caught.”

My best friend Patty and I used to sneak into MaryLou Durentini’s house when we knew nobody was home. We were, I think, nine. We never took anything. We never even touched anything. We just went in through the porch door because we knew it was always unlocked and walked around looking at things. We never spoke. We just walked through the rooms holding onto each other, holding our breath, hearing imaginary clicks and door latches that could signal the arrival of Mr. or Mrs. Durentini. The anxiety was like ice water running over our skin; the air in our lungs strained at our chests till we were ready to burst. When we snuck back out again, we walked nonchalantly down the driveway and then took off running at top speed and threw ourselves, spent and breathless, into the drainage ditch behind the Methodist church. Ah, it was grand.

When I got a little older and could get around without grownups, I was forbidden to hang out by the river. The current was swift and the water was ice-cold. Behind the river’s edge was the local park where evil lurked in the bushes. To sit with your boyfriend on the river bank was just about as exciting as you could possibly get. It was a small town. Anyone could see you – just happen past, tell your mom and you would really catch it. I just loved being in love when and where I wasn’t supposed to. At 15, all those hormonal nerve-endings are like live electrical wires downed by high winds. They jump and send sparks. It’s a great feeling.

Misbehaving got a little more wicked as the years went on. I remember the first time I was awake – and out – at 3AM.. Only naughty things happen at 3AM. Lovely, wicked things. Dancing on picnic tables, drinking contests and kissing contests and whispered confidences. Lapses in judgment and memory, illicit sex, and precious little lies we all think we can justify and lies we want to believe. Things that you can only do in the dark on not enough sleep and too much liquor.

Then you grow up. The penalties for misbehaving start to get inconvenient, and the authorities are less forgiving. You begin to look foolish or downright stupid. Furthermore, I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time staying up long enough to get into too much trouble, especially if I drink. Used to be that if I had a couple drinks too many, I’d tell bawdy jokes, dance on the bar, flirt with the bartender, or take somebody home. Now I just nod off.

But oh I miss the electricity that heats up when I misbehave. That skin-tingling anxiousness, the bubble of breath that rises in my chest and threatens to cut off my air supply. It’s heady and exhilarating, and I felt it the other night when I hid my clothes behind the trees at the beach and ran barefoot and naked into Long Island Sound.

I wonder who saw me.

Skinny-dipping may just be the last bastion of naughtiness we can allow ourselves. According to police (I called several towns), skinny-dipping as a concept is not illegal. “The term is ‘breech of peace’,” said the officer at the Westport Police Department, who of course remains nameless. Cops can’t bask in media limelight. “If there’s no complaint, you haven’t broken any law. Frankly, I wouldn’t bother anyone I saw skinny-dipping.” (This is the cop I want to catch me.)

You must be careful about where you run around naked, however. It either has to be a public swimming hole or your own property. If you trespass, it doesn’t matter if you have your suit on or not. You broke the law.

So if you’re considering a little naughty midnight swim, consider the following.

Swim naked in your own backyard pool. You can heighten the danger factor here by swimming naked during the day. Diving off the high board drives the scare factor up some more.

Midnight skinny-swims on public beaches. These are sometimes patrolled, so keep your clothes handy and leave your ID in the car. Remember we don’t run so fast anymore.

Skinny-dips in reservoirs in broad daylight. This is highly illegal, even if you’re wearing a suit. Reservoirs are always patrolled, and the cops know where the kids sneak in. You will be the oldest one in the courtroom and the fines are nasty.

Sneak into the pool of a swanky golf club. The rewards are clean water, no horseshoe crabs or unidentified muck to step into. If you’re quiet, you might get away with it, but some clubs have night watchmen, some are regularly visited by he cops, and neighbors have no sense of humor. They’ll call the police.

Saunter breezily and in your favorite bathing apparel into the deep water of a local swimming area. Paddle around for a while, and when you think people aren’t looking, wiggle out of your suit. You can tie your suit to an ankle and swim around naked. If your fellow swimmers turn you in, however, you better work on your softshoe.

Do not go gentle into that good night.
Go naked.

Read Brewster. Just read it.

Written By: sherridaley - • •

By Mark Slouka

I can hardly wait to read the other books Mark Slouka has written to see if they are as gripping and sad and unforgettable as Brewster. Ostensibly a novel about teenage friendship, Brewster is anything but a typical coming-of-age story. Plots develop side-by-side as they charge through the book like they’re racing. Just when you get caught up in the love triangle of Ray and Jon and Karen, you learn to be afraid of Ray’s father’s cruelty, fear for the safety of Ray’s little brother, and come to admire Karen’s unbelievably steadfast commitment. Jon is on the track team and training for a race, Ray is fighting his battles – both physical and emotional, Karen is lighting up the narrative with her love and her quiet beauty.

The little town of Brewster, New York, is as much a character in the book as the people are. It’s alive with a haunting personality and verve; Slouka pulls his readers into town where they shiver in the bitter cold wearing thin jackets, smell the shit and mud that Ray pries off his boot soles with a stick, feel the autumn wind that sends dry leaves into spirals. The town is poor, the people resigned, and Ray and Jon hear the sleet against the window, “…dry, like sand, like somebody was trying to get [their] attention.”

The outside world is trying to get their attention, calling the three friends, but the town is holding them tight in its fist. The three of them plan to leave, they fight to leave, but the harder they fight, the tighter the grip, the more violent the narrative becomes, and the unexpected comes with breathtaking surprise and unspeakable butchery, although we should have known. We should have known.

Slouka writes with powerful ease, the dialogue is swift and authentic, and the descriptions are palpable. Brewster is a robust, intoxicating read. Ray and Jon and Karen, their families, and their friends will stay with you long after you put the book away.

Intimacy Idiot – Twice

Written By: sherridaley - • •

idiotI got the book out from the library again because I wanted to refresh my memory about exactly how funny this book is. Now I am half-way through the darn thing again and I do not – repeat do not EVER – read books or see movies twice. Life’s too short. This guy, though, this Isaac Oliver, a swishing queen of a New York City homosexual really is – as the book jacket promises – as funny as David Sedaris, Tina Fey, and Augusten Burroughs would be if they all got together for shots. Wouldn’t that be a trip?

But you don’t need that to happen You have Isaac. He calls himself an idiot when it comes to intimacy, but by the 5th page, it’s clear he’s no idiot. He’s smart and he’s brazen, but he’s afraid of his own boldness. He’s funnier ‘n shit and that’s the way he sees everything – from the rats in the subway to the guy he met on Grindr who likes to dress up as a dolphin. If he has not been able to solidify a relationship, it’s not for lack of brains .. or trying. He thinks too much and maybe he tries too hard, but by the time I finished the book (the first time) I wanted to track him down and go out on the town with him.

He writes about casual sex, serious sex, food, lipstick,funerals, and MoMA. There’s a chapter on how to build a fire (in thirty easy steps) and, a favorite of mine, a little note he writes in his mind to a one-night stand: “To the gentleman who made me hide in the closet so he could pay his cleaning lady: First of all, she totally saw me. Second, that’s all you pay her?”

Why have I heard so little about Isaac Oliver?

I’m going to Google him right now. Maybe he’s free for a cocktail later.

Instant Expert — not

Written By: sherridaley - • •

instant expert


INSTANT EXPERT (A visual guide to the skills you’ve always wanted)
By Nigel Holmes
Publisher: Lonely Planet 2015
OK, so the title is misleading. Reading this book will not make you an expert in anything, nor is it crammed full of skills you’ve always longed for. But then the title of GONE WITH THE WIND didn’t seem to have anything to do with Rhett or Scarlet or the Civil War or anything else for that matter.

PAGES AND PAGES OF GREAT ILLUSTRATIONS AND USELESS INFORMATION is probably a better title for INSTANT EXPERT but that was probably rejected by the publishers as too long and not very marketable.

Well, they were wrong. After over 200 pages of said useless information and great illustrations, I wanted more. This little book, published by the world’s largest travel guide book company, is entertaining, addictive, funny, downright clever, and has nothing at all to do with travelling anywhere. It will, however, make you a terrific party guest.

After reading this book, you can hold a valuable conversation about how to read those annoying little laundering tags sewn into the seams of your clothes. Careful translation of those mysterious symbols means you – and your dinner companion – will no longer end up with dresses the size of Barbie doll clothes or a load of pink underwear.

After reading this book, you will be able to make dependable weather predictions by looking at cows, impersonate a fitness trainer, explain the art of caber tossing, comment intelligently about climate change, tie a bow line, and meow in a dozen languages.

Imagine how you will charm your boss’s insipid wife with your knowledge of oriental rugs, the handsome man sitting next to your host with how to out-brake a Formula One race car, or the stunning Asian girl with what you know about the essence and grace of a tea ceremony. You will be everyone’s favorite dinner companion.

But let’s not forget the great illustrations. They are bright and clever, clearly drawn and informative. Much like a very good children’s book with a grown-up twist … which makes it a perfect bedtime experience for you and your children. They might like to learn about the possibility of extra-terrestrial life, shooting stars, the best methods for building sand castles, games for long car rides, origami, how to play a bagpipe, meow in several languages, or how to brew beer.

No, that would be you. You might want to brew beer. Or how to pair wines with your meal, make a crepe, or build successful sushi.

In either case, INSTANT EXPERT is a pleasure to own or bring as a gift to that dinner party where you will be scintillating.

No, on second thought, don’t give away your secret.
INSTANT EXPERT is written by Nigel Holmes, who was born in England and made a career in graphic design on both sides of the pond, creating graphics and illustrations for, among others, Apple, Fortune, Nike, The Smithsonian Institution, Sony, United Healthcare, US Airways and Visa. He also continues to create illustrations and graphics for Harper’s, The New York Observer and The New York Times.

He has his own Wikipedia entry which warns readers not to confuse this Nigel Holmes with Nigel Holmes the UK photographer of nudes — or Nigel Howard Holmes, a research scientist specializing in nano-particle coating technology research scientist.

INSTANT EXPERT Nigel Holmes lives in Connecticut with his lovely wife Erin and he always wears round eyeglasses with blue frames. He has twenty

Sometimes winter in New England is nice

Written By: sherridaley - • •


Jan 24,, 2015

I woke up with a strange feeling of having missed something. When I opened my eyes, my bedroom was bright and shadowless and the sky was white. Had the sun come up?  Is that what I missed?

At 3:30 in the morning, the sun wasn’t even nearing the horizon. It was the moon that was lighting everything up, making a low cloud cover glow.  Snow had fallen, covering everything with a couple inches of virginal white which softened corners and tree branches and made the shrubs in the garden look like like huge flowers. It was pure Hollywood.

Kimo, the little cat, gets what she wants. She pushes stuff off shelves and the sound of glass shattering would propel me out of bed to let her out. I lost a few bottles of cologne this way until I got smart and kitty-proofed the place, setting only unbreakables where she might reach them. The sound still gets me up because she’s relentless, and I’m pretty sure she’d figure out how to open the kitchen cupboards and shove glasses into the sink.

But this morning, she hadn’t done any damage. She only pushed at the covers till she found me and then stared at the side of face until I opened my eyes so I could share what she had already discovered. The world was beautiful.

Lately, I’ve been a little unhappy, although not unhappy enough to declare myself depressed.  Just disappointed in the way the days go. Not much happening, and when I get home, there’s nothing to do.  Sometimes I even make ridiculous lists of things I could do to fill the hours: take tap dance lessons, learn to weave – you know, get an actual loom – buy a keyboard and play the piano again.  None of this takes place, however.

What I don’t want to do, and it takes a great deal of will power not to do it, is what Mother did the last few years before she died.  She had boxes of old photographs and she emptied them out on the kitchen table and sorted through them for hours. Remembering her girlhood, mostly, before she married dad, before my brother and I came along.  I thought it was the saddest thing I had ever seen, those little piles of black&white photos, some with their edges curling up, reminding Mother that she was once young and pretty and laughing a lot.

I have a photos of my own, of course. Scrapbooks in the attic, and collages of  dozens of happy photos, framed. I used to have them on the wall of my office at home because they made me happy, but finally I took them down and put them in the basement. Those good times were too long ago, and I am not that girl any more. I need new photographs.

We all need new photographs., but when I rolled over this morning – or more accurately at 3:30AM, which frankly, I don’t consider morning – the silent beauty of the snow and the sky was, for the moment, all the photograph I needed. For a quiet moment or two, I wasn’t pressured by a need to do something and take a picture of it. I got up and walked around the house, looking out all the windows, and then I went back to bed.

And I was happy.





Put Your Underwear On

Written By: sherridaley - • •

Nothing says, “I mean business.” like putting on a bra. I am surprised that men have not noticed this and adopted this strategy themselves. On any random morning, men all over the country have watched their women transform from plushy, sleepy-eyed females into get-it-done, don’t-get-in-my-way, all-business sharks, sweeping half-dressed toddlers into strollers, dirty dishes into the sink, and husbands who can’t find a pair of brown socks out of their way. I am woman; hear me roar.
The minute a woman snaps that bra into place, she is focused and sharp. If men were to do this every morning, they would not be nodding off into their newspapers on the train or half-heartedly elbowing people out of the way to the coffee machine at the office.

I know this bra theory to be true because I have tested it. For example, I promised myself that I would do yoga every morning when I wake up, but the problem was I slept in a nightgown. Pretty, yes, but no one can do Pigeon in a nightgown. Getting up and changing into yoga clothes and then again into work clothes meant a lot of wardrobe decisions and some serious waffling. I’d drift from breakfast to thinking about yoga, to changing my clothes, to reading the newspaper, to checking my email, back to thinking about yoga, to changing my clothes again, until the time before I had to leave for work was all used up. And I hadn’t done Pigeon. Just a few minutes of Child’s Pose, and if you have ever been to one yoga class, you know what that means.

So I started wearing comfortable yoga pants and a tank top to sleep in, thinking I’d get up and get right on my mat and bloom into Warrior One. However, feeling comfy was not an inspiration to be a Warrior or even a Pigeon. It made me want to stay in bed longer because I knew I had saved serious minutes changing clothes. Then I had no time for yoga when I slobbered out of bed.

Sleeping in my yoga clothes didn’t work. So I gave up on yoga in the morning. Now I get up, put on a bra, get dressed, and go to work. Sometimes I look at my yoga mat.

Now let’s examine my bra-wearing habits when I go to the gym. A form-fitting Lycra tank top does the job of containing breasts for moderate exercise like walking and yoga. However, dressed like that, I feel good and healthy and calm and rested, so therefore, I do not have the animal spit it takes to lift weights, and most certainly I cannot run on the treadmill or jump rope wearing a pretty little tank top with spaghetti straps. Any woman knows this.
However, wearing a sport bra, I am girded for battle. Ready for the treadmill and Nautilus machines. Ready for anything. I am woman; hear me roar. When I take that extra minute to struggle into a sport bra, I head straight for the free weights. I know that I and my breasts are ready for a serious workout.

It’s the same at my job. I am a schoolteacher. I cannot discipline obstreperous students or command respect if I am not wearing a bra, no matter how many layers of undergarments I am wearing or how thick my sweater might be. Sometimes I don’t wear underpants, never when I am wearing leggings, and my verve and authority are not compromised. I am competent and at ease with myself. But if I want to go that extra mile, I always fasten on a good bra before I stride out into the fray.
There are women out there reading this, and they are nodding their heads. They know.
Regarding men and bras, on second thought, we ladies should keep this our little secret. Men don’t need the extra advantage. They’ve got the upper hand in too many arenas in our culture. We cannot let them go around wearing bras and herding more successes into their bank accounts.
Nope. Bras are for us girls.
Us powerful girls

Lone Survivor: the Book not the Movie

Written By: sherridaley - • •

lone survivorBecause that’s the kind of chick I am. I read books.  I want good stories and great writing, preferably together, and I almost didn’t finish Lone Survivor because the first third — almost half — of the book is not particularly good writing. It’s repetitive and ordinary, all about training to become a Navy SEAL: grueling, unbelievable, inhuman training which made me wonder if these men were really from this planet.  I have always admired Navy SEALs, but “admire” is not a big enough word now. I am in awe.

But I didn’t put the book down. I wanted that story, but frankly, I was exhausted running to and from the mess hall, swimming with combat boots on, climbing and crawling and shouting and rolling in the sand, and then running and climbing and crawling some more in wet gear and sandy underwear.  Their commitment and fervor stunned me.

And their talent with weapons and maps and military technology, radio transmitters, strobe lights and lasers. These men could find their way out of flooded catacombs, hog-tied and blindfolded, I am sure.

But I had to cut through some of the training chapters to get to the 24-hour  battle in the brutal Afghanistan mountains which led to the deaths of three of the Navy’s most well-trained, focused, and fiercely patriotic men. I wanted the story.

I’ve seen great war movies before, we all have, but none had exposed what the Geneva Convention, the Rules of Engagement, and the free world’s media have done to make it all but impossible for the United States military to win a war in the Middle East. Men who are risking their lives to protect us here at home, reading books and eating bad carbohydrates, must consider whether or not the American media will portray them as murderers before pulling the trigger in a situation where they KNOW they should kill.  Never have I read anywhere how acutely aware are soldiers of their vulnerability to their own country.

Luttrell, the lone survivor of Operation Redwing, explains that the enemy knows this, and they send their bombs and ammunition on the backs of goats, shepherded by unarmed men, knowing that even though our soldiers know that is a military convoy, they cannot shoot — because the goat herders look like ordinary peasants. And they have no guns.

It was the uneasy awareness that their own country could ruin their lives, that they could go to prison for doing their job, that made Luttrell the deciding vote to let a trio of goat herders free, their goats’ bells tinkling, when chances were good that the goat herders would give away their position.

And they did.

The resulting kill-fest was bloody and fast, 200 or more Taliban against four men. And one survived.

Lutrell also wrote about the unsettling hatred that he saw and felt there, and the lack of regard for personal life. Their own as well as for their enemy.  I did not come away with a feeling of kindness for my fellow man, despite the Pashtuns who risked their own lives – the lives of every man, woman, and child in the village – to rescue, harbor, and get Luttrell to safety. They did not do it because of the love of their fellow man; they did it because of an age-old tradition, older than rocks, older than hate.

I want to see the movie to see if Luttrell’s story has been white-washed, if the producers/writers took out the excoriating of the media and the Rules of Engagement.

And I wonder how many police officers, should they read this book, are feeling a teeth-grinding empathy.



I can’t believe all this happened in one summer.

Written By: sherridaley - • •

Product Details

Please don’t miss this book. The only reason I got it was because I love Bryson.  (If you haven’t read A WALK IN THE WOODS, do so immediately and be prepared to laugh your butt off.  I love this guy.)

But I’m not big on history, baseball, or aviation, so what happened in 1927 was just about last on my list of things to give a shit about.  I told myself to not bother, but thank God I don’t listen to myself.  First of all, baseball. This is not your ordinary history of baseball.  Much like PERFECT STORM, where the author made a bunch of weather reports riveting and suspenseful reading, ONE SUMMER snags its readers with unexpected connections and details. I’ve always been impressed with Bryson’s research, but this time, he’s outdone himself. The book drips with incredible statistics and little-known juicy facts – and not just about Babe Ruth, although Babe would have been plenty.

Just when I started to think that this was the book for my Yankee-obsessed friends, straight-laced nerdy Charles Lindbergh shows up and steals the plot away from Ruth, and I think I must tell my friend Kevin about this book because he will love all the aviation stuff. Even I am amazed that early pilots actually flew in those rickety contraptions made out of balsam wood and paper which often went up in a ball of flames.

But then somehow, Bryson manages to bring in Henry Ford and the sketchy transition from the Model T to the Model A (Those letters mean nothing, by the way.), the execution of Sacco & Vanzetti (They may not be as innocent as we have been led to believe …), the advent of the “talkies”, and the original Ponzi scheme. Did you know there really was a guy named Ponzi?  He built his house of cards with postage stamps.

It all coalesces into a completely understandable combination of fascinating stories, interwoven into a solid experience that sent me back to the library to get a couple of his older books that I missed.

ONE SUMMER is a perfect perfect book for guys, full of machinery and gore, kidnapping, explosions, speed, competition, politics, sports, booze, and lust.  Actually, I like all those things myself.  Except for baseball.  I don’t much care for baseball.


Woof Woof (book reviews)

Written By: sherridaley - • •

Product DetailsProduct Details


Usually, I hate short stories.  Just about when I get involved with the characters, the story ends.  However, I just finished two (yup, TWO) short story collections that I loved.  Really loved.  Enough to go back to the library and get earlier books by both authors, who happen to be women … another oddity for me.  There once was a time I didn’t read any women except Doris Lessing and Anais Nin. But I was stupid back then.

BARK by Lorrie Moore is her first collection  since Birds of America fifteen years ago, which I didn’t read only because I didn’t read the New York Times’ review which called it “fluid, cracked, mordant, colloquial …” adjectives which would have sent me screaming to the bookstore with my pocketbook. BARK had me at the page right after the dedication – you know, that page where authors put their favorite quotations lifted from obscure books which seem to have no connection with the book at hand.  Moore quotes Amy Gerstler, “Don’t be gruff. Anything that falls on the floor is mine.”

These stories deal with love, lack of it, longing for it, remembering it, creating it … you name it. Each story closes in on itself like a fist, separate, powerful, and fierce.

The stranger of the two books  is THE UNAMERICANS by Molly Antopol. Here, whatever love and discord talked about is set in faraway countries.  Well, far away from America, that is.  There’s war, there’s dying, there’s pain and nausea and hopelessness.  No need to know anything about these countries – people are people, no matter where they live – but the foreign settings bring a sort of brilliance to the plots, something unexpected, maybe a little strange, so that something which may have seemed ordinary on a street in, say, Pittsburgh has a poignancy, a loftiness, and sometimes grittiness.  The book jacket calls the characters “deeply sympathetic” and they are.

My advice.  Read them both. ASAP.