Welcome to the Misadventures of Widowhood blog!

In January of 2012 my soul mate of 42 years passed away after nearly 12 years of living with severe disabilities due to a stroke. I survived the first year after Don’s death doing what most widows do---trying to make sense of my world turned upside down. The pain and heartache of loss, my dark humor, my sweetest memories and, yes, even my pity parties are well documented in this blog.

Now that I’m a "seasoned widow" the focus of my writing has changed. I’m still a widow looking through that lens but I’m also a woman searching for contentment, friends and a voice in my restless world. Some people say I have a quirky sense of humor that shows up from time to time in this blog. Others say I make some keen observations about life and growing older. I say I just write about whatever passes through my days---the good, bad and the ugly. Comments welcome and encouraged. Let's get a dialogue going! Jean

Saturday, February 10, 2018

The Goldfinch and the Book Club



When I first looked at the novel my monthly Book Club selected I was overwhelmed. It was 771 pages and as I thumbed through the book I felt like I was back in grade school where I often got hopelessly bogged down in the minutia of trying to sound out words. The book was filled with foreign words and art and antique terms that were so far out of my vocabulary that they might have been written in Klingon and I knew I’d struggle too much to read The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. Perfectly timed to my dilemma, a gift from the gods of Amazon came along---an offer for two free audible books appeared in my email box. I downloaded The Goldfinch so fast I’m surprised my Kindle Fire didn’t squeal like a stuck pig in the process, but I soon figured out that the volume on the device was so low that even with my hearing aids in I had to sit in my La-Z-Boy with the Kindle on a table three feet away. A master at multitasking I thought about knitting something while Kindle read to me, but instead I ended up following along, my eyes touching every single word in the entire book. Wow!  Thirty-two and a half hours of listening and I did it all over five days which should tell you something about how highly I’d rate the book. That's definitely the way to devour books that intimidate you. 

I loved the characters, loved the story line and looked forward to discussing them both in Book Club. The depth of the author’s knowledge and/or research abilities blew me away. The book is being made into a movie coming out next year and out of curiosity I wanted to see how IMDb summed up the plot and can you believe it, they did it in one lousy sentence! “A boy in New York is taken in by a wealthy Upper East Side family after his mother is killed in a bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.” Wikipedia did a better job saying: “The novel is a Bildungsroman told in the first person by Theodore Decker who, at the age of 13, survives a terrorist bombing at an art museum in which his beloved mother dies. Staggering out through the debris, he takes with him a small, Dutch Golden Age painting, The Goldfinch, which will serve as a singular source of hope as he descends into a world of crime. The painting is one of the few surviving works by Rembrandt's most promising pupil, Carel Fabritius; nearly all of Fabritius' oeuvre was destroyed in the Delft explosion of 1654, in which the artist himself was killed.” I dare anyone reading this to tell me what “bildungsroman” means without looking it up. Give up? It’s just a fancy way to say it’s a coming of age story. 

Book Club took place just a few hours before a major snow storm was due to hit the area. All of us showed up with the same plan to stop at the grocery store on the way home so we'd have supplies to hunker down for the weekend weather siege. But no one seemed to be in a hurry to start discussing the book and finally it came out that only four of the twelve us had finishing reading it. What a disappointment! Those of us who read the book spent the rest of the hour answering questions from the others who hadn’t read it wanting to know how this or that aspect of the complicated plot turned out. And for once, I came to club super prepared with my answers to the Readers Guide Questions written out, complete with page numbers to passages like: “Because our secrets define us as opposed to the face we show the world, the painting was the secret that raised me above the surface of life and enabled me to know who I am. And it's there: in my notebooks, every page, even though it's not.” I thought about that passage a lot and I wanted to know if the others in the club agreed with that passage. Am I defined by the secrets I keep? Are you? As much as I’ve written about my life, I still have a few secrets tucked away. 

I’ve been reading a lot of books lately. Some good, more a waste of time. I’m getting better at not finishing those that don’t hold my interest or are riddled with stuff that drives me crazy. I mean come on, if you set a scene in Minnesota on Christmas you don’t have your characters splashing water in a backyard swimming pool! I checked, the author lives in California so maybe she didn’t know that back yard pools get drained in the fall in climates where water freezes in the winters, but that's what Google is for, isn't it? You research what you don't know---but how do you know what you don't know? Oh well, wordsmiths like Donna Tartt who take your breath away and make you think more than make up for the writers who don't. ©

Dialogue from The Goldfinch

33 comments:

  1. Jean It is so frustrating when you have read the big book and you get to book club and no one is up to date on the book. I have been in clubs like that and I always feel a bit bummed out about it because I am excited to share and then can't because not everyone read it.
    Now having said that the author who had a pool splashing about in December in Minnesota was just lazy. First of all I find it difficult to believe that one wouldn't know that whether in California or not.And was there no editor? That would have annoyed me enough to stop reading the book. Silly me.
    As for that comment about being defined by our secrets, has really stuck with me. I don't think I am yet I can't shake it and keep thinking about it. Damn you Jean!! Making me think and do the work (wink wink)

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    1. The pool splashing came nearly 2/3 of the way through an otherwise cute book. Things like that often make me quit reading too. If I had been the editor I would have sent it back and told the writer to have the characters have a snowball fight instead. So easy to fix!

      That passage about the secrets defining a person haunts me too. People keep a lot of secrets, just look at the Me Too Movement, for example. One good thing about getting older that it's getting harder and harder to remember our secrets---that's a joke, by the way. But it is interesting to wonder WHY we keep them, who are we protecting? Are we protecting our own reputations or someone else's? What's to be gained or lost by telling something that's been buried for years? I've decided that our secrets---at least mine---don't define me as much as they helped shape me. Don't asked me what's the difference between the two because I haven't worked that out yet. LOL

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  2. There are some things that I try to listen to on my iPad and the volume is too low. Occasionally I find if I put ear buds in, the volume is better, so I don’t know if you have tried that. I thought I would mention it in case it does help.
    I never would have gotten through such a long book!!
    Regards,
    Leze

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    1. I bought some ear buds just to go with the Kindle but they are actually worse than without them because they don't work with my hearing aids. I wish Kindles had a louder volume so you didn't have to sit in one place. I would use audible books more often if they did.

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    2. P.S. I suggested in the future we'd better check the number of pages a book has before putting them on our 'request list' at the library.

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  3. I admire your perseverance. The Goldfinch lies unfinished in my Kindle. I just couldn't get into it and thought it had a ton of--to me-- useless filler material. Maybe I ought to try the audio.

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    1. I never could have read the book the regular way but it held me captivated listening to it. The person reading it did such a great job with accents and dialog I didn't want the story to stop.

      We discussed in book club that the book would have been better if it would have been cut 200 pages shorter. If I had been the editor I would have cut out everything to do with Theo's engagement. Others, like you thought there was pages here and there where it had fillers that could go. I'm going to be very curious when the movie comes out what they cut from the story line. They'll have to cut something to fit it all into a 2 hour movie.

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  4. Jean:

    after my stroke I always thought about joining book club at our library, but would only like to join if they are reading my interest book,So I never did, instead I love oprah talking with authors about their book. I believe in paragraph you shared with us which make me go AHA I believe to be the case atleast in my life"what if our badness and mistakes are the very thing that set our fate &bring us round to good?"

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    1. My reasons for joining the book club was more about trying to build friendships than about reading books though I do love books. Many of the books on Oprah's list are in the library's Reading Club in a Bag program. I love her author's talks, too.

      Boy, knowing your history with the stroke/your husband that passage up above really fits you, doesn't it! I love it because I tend to think in black/white and good/bad terms and it reminds me there are lots of grayness in between. The conversation in the book was a couple of pages long and was a AHA conversation for me.

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  5. I have had l experiences with book clubs ... quit after my first gathering at each because only one other person (besides me) had read the book! It was just social for them!

    I think now you will want to invest in the REAL Alexa (and maybe a mini for another room)and she will read while you listen AND dust! Pretty sure the volume will be a lot better.

    My hearing aids have blue tooth built in for use with my cell phone ... but I never use it. I don't wear hearing aids when the family is around (NOISY) so earbuds with the phone work great. Of course I can only have a phone conversation when I am in my room because of course each of them has a question or a problem or "he pushed me" .... Every. Single. Time.

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    1. It's not normal in this club for people not to have read the book...maybe 1 or 2 but never this many. Goldfinch was just too long! But I've heard others complain about clubs that have mixed goals like you experienced.

      I've been trying to resist getting a REAL Alexa that isn't part of the Kindle. They really don't cost much but how tech to we really need to be? I struggle with that. But I really would like to listen to a book while I paint or do crafting.

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    2. There is your answer! You would use it every day!

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    3. That's what I'm afraid of! It seems like the perfect tool for the disabled and I'm not. I need to keep moving! Did you know you can get smart plugs for your appliances and lights so Alexa can turn them on and off?

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  6. I haven't read this book yet and to tell you the truth didn't realize that it was that long, there is no way that I could read it in a weeks time, and as for "bildungsroman" I read the definition that you provided and am not afraid to admit that I didn't have a clue what it meant beforehand.

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    1. If you ever get curious about the book there is actually a Cliff Notes version. Apparently the book is studied in college classes and she's been compared to Dicken's.

      The word struck me as very funny because I doubt very many people would have a clue what it means.

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  7. I didn't know the meaning of that word either! ~ Libby

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    1. Someone was showing off they wrote that synopsis.

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  8. Ah yes, I have a review about my book club and books next week. Years ago, My book club in Germany had somehow decided to read the book the Historian. These days I always say, Unless you haven't read the Historian or the Pillars of the earth, you haven't read. But back then, we all looked at said gigantic book, (we had more than a month, we planned ahead), back at each other and we all agreed that we would each read 20 pages a night. And so it went. Until we got to that "ahh" or "oh shit" moment of wakening when I think we finished the darn thing in a weekend, lol. I do prefer when book clubs plan ahead so that we have time to read. And when the chooser picks a book that is not new so we dont have to go out and buy the book because they are all on hold, ya know?

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    1. We don't have to buy books because our library has the Reading Club in a Bag program. Twelve books packed for the club to take for a month and they have tons of choices with multi bags of the popular books.

      I've read The Pillars of the Earth but never heard of The Historian. 704 pages about Dracula? No way would I attempt that one. Vampires just don't do it for me.

      If we ever pick a long book like that again I'm going to suggest we spread it out over two months and discuss the first half one month and second half the next. Thanks for the idea.

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  9. Interesting that you're "getting better at not finishing" those books that don't hold your interest. Me too. I used to finish a book no matter what, but life is getting too short to spend hours on a book that isn't good enough.

    Defined by our secrets? There's some truth to that. Over a lifetime, we can put a lot of effort into protecting ourselves and others from secrets. If it doesn't define us, it must at least influence us in some ways.

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    1. I used to keep looking for the redeeming quality of books and for the reason others felt it was worth publishing. But now, at Amazon there so many books are self-published but mixed in with the others and some of those are really badly.

      It's that the truth! we do put a lot of effort into protecting ourselves and others from secrets. Your relative with the giant secret is Exhibit One. I would not want to live with a secret that big and probably wouldn't.

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  10. Have to admit I was one of those who didn't always read the book during the waning year of me being in a book club. I barely had time to think in those days, but still, it wasn't fair to the others,but we had such fun talking and laughing together I didn't want to drop out...but eventually I did.

    I'd have a hard time with the dense material in The Goldfinch. I've become a rather lazy reader, I think. And I typically don't like audio books -- I get distracted when just listening. But your idea of reading along is brilliant. I may give that a try on books I don't care to read "alone".

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    1. I don't mind if a couple of people don't read the book on any given month---life happens to us all---but when more people don't than do it's hard to have a discussion.

      I actually think following along while listening to the book can help me a lot. I tend to stumble over words I can't pronounce and don't know the meanings of, but with listening to the book I had to move pass them in a hurry.

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  11. I used to be a serial Bad Book Finisher. I finally let myself off the hook with that. But I cannot abide audio books; they make me impatient. The only reader I like is me.

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    1. Did you know you that audible books have settings that will allow the reading to be at different speeds? Maybe you've tried books that were read too slow if you were impatient?

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  12. After all the initial hoopla about The Gold Finch' I tried reading Tartt'sI don' first novel and couldn't get very far. She writes like a poet and that can be exhausting. Beautiful, but exhausting.

    This one obviously spurred some deep thought on your part.

    I've been reluctant to bring Alexa into my house because I don't like the idea of being listened to, but if she would read to me.....hmmmm.

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    1. I love the lyrical quality of Tartt's writing...she does have a poet's soul.

      I don't mind having Alexa on my Kindle because when you close the case, she is not active and can't be woke up. (Different from Alexa Home who is on all the time.) And while they say no real person ever hears what is said in your house and they don't record your voice, they are gathering information on how and when you use the device. You don't have to have Alexa to get audible books. Goldfinch was read by a guy who did great accents and voice variations for the different characters.

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    2. On NPR yesterday was an interview with a couple who attached a specific router to their Alexa and discovered it pinged Amazon every 3 days with info on what they used her for.

      I mostly think that kind of monitoring is to improve the functionality, but there's no question it could be used for ill in the wrong hands.

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    3. In the settings I found a place where you can turn that collection of data off. It even said it was collected to improve function tailored to user...but you never know when that can change.

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  13. I started The Goldfinch, and gave it up pretty quickly. I don't mind length, but I just wasn't enamoured. When I find myself thinking, "This one could have used an editor," it's time to move on. Of course, I like O'Keeffe, too, so what can I say? :-)

    I did enjoy your question: "Are we defined by the secrets we keep?" Living as we do in a society that seems to consider secret-keeping unbearably retro at best and a moral failing at worst, it's an interesting one to ponder. I can't remember which theologian it was -- I don't even know if he was Christian or Jewish -- but I remember reading once that each individual bears at their center a secret known only to God: a secret often hidden even from ourselves. I've always been intrigued by that, and feel as though it's true in a way that escapes most boundaries.

    Anyway -- I'm glad your review of the book brought that back to mind

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    1. We spent time in book club talking about what we'd cut out of the Goldfinch to make it shorter. You are not alone in believing an editor could have done more cutting.

      Wow, I love what you wrote about secrets! I find it quite serendipitous that after I wrote this blog entry I got invited out to lunch and ended up writing about secrets a second time---secrets that molded peoples lives and shattered illusions when reveaaled.

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  14. This book has been on my radar for a while, but I haven't been motivated to read it. You've definitely moved it up my list. Thanks! -Jean P.

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    1. I hope you like it. It's very layered.

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