Tag Archives: ann hood

THE BOOK THAT MATTERS MOST by Ann Hood

Oh, this is a mess of a book.

Ann Hood’s The Book That Matters Most is about Ava, a middle-aged woman living in Providence who has a lot going on. Her husband has left her for another woman. Her troubled daughter is studying abroad in Italy, but she’s not answering Ava’s emails. She’s still dealing with residual sadness over the deaths of her younger sister and mother when she was young. And she has joined a new book club with some eligible, single men in it, two of whom seem to be interested in her.

I wish Hood’s editor had told her to pick just two plots and focus on those. Because there were simply too many stories to tell at once.

The chapters about Ava’s daughter Maggie – who it turns out is a drug addict – are harrowing. (Plus she’s a pretty hateful person.)

The chapters about the deaths of her mother and sister are sad, but that plot ends up with a twist that really makes no sense and is very unrealistic.

The chapters about the book club, whose participants each pick the book that has mattered most to them in life, had the most promise, but I hated that they all picked such predictable books (The Great Gatsby and Pride and Prejudice and Anna Karenina) and I found the book club discussions kind of hard to follow. (Also, it appeared that no one other than the person who had picked these books had ever read them before. ??)

The chapters about the men in Ava’s life were pretty ridiculous. I’ve basically read them before in other books and they didn’t really fit in here, and when her ex-husband drifted back into her life with regret about how it all ended, I was fed up. (Where did *that* come from?) Unsatisfying.

And there are a bunch of random coincidences that tried my patience.

In the end, The Book That Matters Most didn’t hang together well and was unsatisfying. Threads were dropped and relationships were left unresolved.

Need I go on?

The best thing I found in this book was the following quote, which I loved, and will try to remember every day.

“To look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first of last time: Thus is your time on earth filled with glory.”

 

 

BEA 2014 Wrap-Up

I spent three glorious days in NY last week for Book Expo America 2014 (BEA).

This year, I focused on learning about new books (mostly fiction) at a number of panels held over the course of Thursday and Friday, as well as on obtaining copies of a select few galleys. I discovered some unknown authors by wandering the floor and checking out galley stacks and author signings. I also attended some fun off-campus events, such as the HarperCollins 2014 Fall Preview and Blogger Party, the Bloggers Recommend happy hour, and the annual audiobook narrator-blogger lunch (which I LOVE going to – more on that later this week).

Here are some of my impressions of BEA 2014, as well as some photos:

1. There are a LOT of exciting books coming out in the next few months. I picked up galleys from a lot of big-name authors that I have enjoyed in the past – Sue Miller, Jane Smiley, Ann Hood – and also heard some very passionate editors rave about upcoming books from new authors. These new authors are edgy and have written about difficult topics, which I found encouraging. It shows that fiction is alive and innovating. 

2. Celebrity memoirs are as big as ever. There were huge lines for author signings by such stars as Neil Patrick Harris (who wasn’t even signing a book!), Angelica Huston, and Billy Idol, not to mention the ticketed author events that also featured celebrities. (I didn’t wait in these lines.) I also attended a panel discussion with Jonathan Tropper, who adapted his novel This Is Where I Leave You for the big screen, along with the movie’s director Shawn Levy and stars Tina Fey and Jason Bateman. It was a huge event, with hundreds of people turning out. Tropper spent a lot of time talking about the fascinating process of adapting a novel into a screenplay.

3. But the really long lines were for YA authors. The longest line I saw during BEA was for a signing by Lois Lowry. RJ Palacio also had a huge line for a signed tote bag. There were many other lines for authors I’ve never heard of, and I presume that most of them were YA.

4. E-readers might be big, but galleys moved quickly. I saw stacks of books one minute that were gone 15 minutes later.

5. Big news for audiobooks: a new format that features MP3 files and that allows a whole book to be saved onto a single disc. This will make audiobook production cheaper and faster, which should benefit the publishing industry and listeners alike.

6. Readers – whether they are bloggers, librarians, educators, or industry insiders – are as passionate as ever. Everyone seemed very excited to be at BEA, and were enthusiastic about the authors they interacted with and the books they collected.

And now the pics!

Signed copies:

photo 1Unsigned fiction(mostly):

photo 2

 

Books from the HarperCollins 2014 Fall preview and blogger party:

photo 3Books I picked up for friends and other odds and ends:

photo 4And books for my kids:

photo 5

Here are some authors who signed my books:

Jane Smiley:

photo 1 (5)

 

Ann Hood:

photo 2 copy

Sue Miller:

photo 5 copy

BJ Novak:

photo 3 (1)

Jeff Kinney:

photo 1 copy

RJ Palacio:

photo 4 copy

I am already excited for next year!

THE OBITUARY WRITER by Ann Hood

A couple of friends highly recommended The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood, so I picked it up at the Strand on a trip to NY this past winter.


The Obituary Writer is about two women separated by 40 years: Vivien, a twentysomething in San Francisco whose lover disappeared during the devastating earthquake in 1906, and Claire, a housewife in Arlington, VA on the eve of President Kennedy’s inauguration. Both women have suffered devastating losses – Claire has had an affair and fallen in love with a man who is not her husband, and is now carrying a baby whose paternity is unclear. Claire and her husband (who discovered the affair and is trying to get past it) travel to Providence, RI for his mother’s 80th birthday, a trip which Claire must endure despite her deep ambivalence toward her husband. Meanwhile, the Vivien subplot follows her attempts to find her own missing beloved while she writes obituaries of people she has never met.

The  theme unifying these two distinct but ultimately related subplots is grief: grief for the death of the dream of true love; grief for the loss of children; and grief for the death of hope. Vivien and Claire live very much inside their minds. They keep their swirling, intensely felt thoughts to themselves while putting on facades to satisfy others. Yet they are both achingly, vibrantly yearning for happiness and the passion they have each felt at different times. The settings – turn of the century San Francisco and early 60s East Coast – provide a compelling backdrop for the book, which is full of period detail about what it was like to be a woman in those time periods. I particularly liked the depiction of 60s housewives and all of the ways in which they were supposed to please (and serve) their husbands. I also liked the settings – all places I’ve lived (San Francisco, Washington DC and Providence, RI).

I enjoyed The Obituary Writer quite a bit, but I can’t say that I loved it. I sympathized with Claire, but I didn’t find her particularly compelling as a woman. Beyond her obsession with the Kennedys, it was hard to see what she was passionate about other than the man she had an affair with. Her marriage was unfulfilling, yes, but she wasn’t exactly crackling with personality. Vivien was more interesting, but her inability to let go the dream of finding her love after 13 years made her less appealing. There were a few contrived plot twists – timing that was too convenient, messy situations that were too neatly wrapped up – that distracted me from the overall story.

I like Ann Hood’s writing, and I enjoyed The Obituary Writer more than the other Ann Hood book I have read – The Red Thread. This one was worth reading, despite a few flaws.

Depressing-o-meter: 7.5 out of 10

Book Haul From The Strand

You know what I DON’T need? More books!

But I recently found myself with the opportunity to go to The Strand, which I couldn’t pass up. Thanks to my Goodreads to-read list, I ended up with these books:

photo 1 (1)Here is the list:

The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood (I have wanted this since it came out; have heard that it is better than The Red Thread)

How to Be An American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway

How to Be A Good Wife by Emma Chapman (see a theme here?)

In Zanesville by Jo Ann Beard (coming of age in the 70s)

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler (highly recommended by Ann Patchett)

The Antagonist by Lynn Coady

Shout Her Lovely Name by Natalie Serber (short stories)

Tell The Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt (have wanted this since it came out too)

Sparta by Roxana Robinson (read the Q&A with Robinson about Sparta here)

If you’ve read any of these, please weigh in! What am I in store for?

THE RED THREAD by Ann Hood


I picked up The Red Thread by Ann Hood because it is about a few subjects that I am always interested in: motherhood, infertility, and adoption (specifically adoption from China). The book centers around Maya, who runs an adoption agency specializing in Chinese adoption based in Providence, RI (another plus for me, because I went to college there). Maya lost her own baby daughter many years earlier, and the adoption work is her attempt at redemption. (She couldn’t save her own daughter, but she can save many others.)

The chapters rotate among several other characters who are each part of a couple applying to adopt a daughter through Maya’s agency. Each couple has a reason for why they have turned to adoption – infertility, fear of passing along a genetic disease, etc. – and the book traces what brought them to the point of choosing adoption through the process of applying for and being matched with a daughter from China. There are also stories spread throughout the book about mothers (and one father) who gave up their daughters in China for adoption. Those are the babies who end up being matched with the couples in Rhode Island.

So, the good: I liked the couples’ stories, and found the stories set in China to be very sad but compelling. Hood’s writing was generally fine, and the depiction of miscarriage, infertility, and loss of children seemed genuine.

The not so good: the stories were a little pat, tying up too neatly at the end. And some of the prose is ridden with cliches. I don’t know that Hood had anything particularly original to say in The Red Thread. Maya herself was a bit hard to believe – on the one hand she was so capable and sympathetic (though she tended to dismiss her clients’ concerns rather than actually help them work through them), and on the other she was a mess. Some of the other couples didn’t really make sense either, especially one where the husband and wives switched positions on adoption simultaneously (why?!). Also, I have friends who have adopted from China, and the process is MUCH more sped up in The Red Thread than in reality. (Hood’s couples got their babies within a year!)

I enjoyed this book mostly because of the subject matter. I don’t recommend it unless you want to learn more about the process of international adoption, and particularly Chinese adoption, or are otherwise interested in the subject matter. Otherwise you may be disappointed with the cliches and somewhat shallow storytelling.