Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Okay, so I know it has been a while since I posted, but I really do have a good excuse:  I was busy reading and re-reading this wonderful book!  The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern was the official book club selection for June and I loved it so much that as soon as I finished reading the last page, I immediately turned back to the beginning.  And you ask, "But, Smart Girl, can it really be that good?"  Oh, it really, really is that good.  One of the fun things about this book (and there are dozens of fun things about it) is that it isn't written in a direct time line.  One chapter is set in 1873, another chapter in 1886 and the very next in 1902.  It bounces back and forth quite a bit so pay attention to the chapter titles.  So many things happened out of order that re-reading it was the best way to make sure I hadn't missed anything.  And you know what?  I had totally missed some stuff- really good stuff.

Ms. Morgenstern has written a beautiful novel with layers upon layers of story.  Each bit leads to the next and has it's beginnings in another.  It is a kind of literary labyrinth all it's own.  The characters are richly described, the settings are dreamlike.  Each of the five senses is fulfilled and yet also wanting more.  I am seriously in love with this book. 

Le Cirque des Reves, as the circus is named, is only open at nightfall and closes with the dawn.  It is far from the Ringling Brothers circus you may picture when you hear the word "circus."  Everything from the tops of the tents to the dust at your feet is colored in shades of black, white and gray including the performers' costumes and even the food wrappings.  There are acrobats and big cats and a fortune teller, but no elephants and no clowns.  There isn't one large tent with three rings in the center, but lots of small tents with winding paths leading from one to another.  What the devoted followers of the circus don't realize is that much of the magic and illusion that makes up the atmosphere isn't a trick.  Two actual magicians practice genuine enchantment and the circus isn't purely for entertainment.  It is the stage for a competition between two philosophies of illusion.  The competition has no clear rules, and the players aren't sure what they need to do to win.  And then there is the fact that they may be falling in love with one another.  I will leave it there because I would hate to ruin it for you.  It is just so wonderful! 

I know I have recommended books before, but I must insist you read this one.  I insist!  Meanwhile I will be looking for a red scarf so that I can dress as a true reveur!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The New Year's Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini

I recently read The New Year's Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini.  It has been a while since I have gotten around to an Elm Creek Quilts novel, but as soon as I began this one, I was reminded how much I love them.  In this book, Sylvia is finally completing a New Year's Resolution quilt that she began years ago.  While she sews, she reminisces about past New Year's traditions and resolutions she has made beginning with her very first, somewhat disastrous resolutions as a child.  One tradition she recalls is that of her grandmother's:  beginning the new year with a clean home.  Her grandmother tells her, "The purpose was to begin the New Year with a fresh, clean slate, with all the problems, mistakes, and strife of the old year forgotten."  That sounds like a wonderful tradition and one I would like to adopt.  At the very least, it is nice to begin a year with a clean home and if all the other new beginnings and forgivnesses can come with that, all the better. 

The book also details Sylvia's attempts at resolving a family conflict.  Having lost some of her own family to bitterness and pride, she is determined to do what she can to help others learn from her mistakes.  "Anger and misunderstanding could destroy a family from the inside out, as conflict forced everyone to take sides.  Even refusing to favor one side over the other would be seen as taking a position, until even the unwilling were drawn into the conflict."  I can appreciate Sylvia's desire to help others resolve their own conflicts. 

This book is as entertaining as all of the Elm Creek Quilt novels, but it is also instructive.  Family is important.  Don't let your disagreements go on too long.  Do not become too fond of your grudges.  We don't have to wait until January 1st to begin anew.  Today is as good as any day.