Read On: Finds from a literary sojourn

"THE RATHBONES" by Janice Clark, Doubleday, August 6, 2013 Hardcover, $26.95

I just finished this book - fantastic! What a perfect fit for us and the area. I loved all the names and characters. Completely captivating and compelling, Janice Clark has done her research as well as added a little magic to her novel, intertwining all the eccentric members of the Rathbone and Stark families during the whaling days in coastal Connecticut. Evocative and fabulous writing, I just couldn't get enough. The visual images provoked by Clark's writing are magical, from the descriptions of the clothing to the whaling ship's sails, to the ambergis in little carved ivory box, I wished I were alive then to meet all these people. Just a fabulous literary ride of historical fiction.

"BREWSTER" by Mark Slouka, Norton, August 2013, $25.95

I read this from cover to cover, savoring each word and sentence. What an amazing work of literary art. Set in a small town in eastern New York, Brewster could be any blue-collar working town where love is scarce and violence is sequestered. Slouka writes of friendship and loss with grace and clarity, creating an incredible read.

"AND SONS" by David Gilbert, Random House, July 23, 2013, Hardcover, $27.00

One of my favorite things as a bookseller is to receive a galley with a personal letter from an editor. I recently received "And Sons" by David Gilbert, with a note from David Ebershoff, editor of two recent Pulitzer Prize winners, "The Orphan Master's Son" and "Embers of War".

I began this book a few weeks ago, reading in the early morning and then again at night, and quickly realized that this was a book that demanded to be read in one long sitting. It was not fair to read these pages in spurts, in between life and competing with it. So that's what I did.

Once a year, I disappear to our house in the San Juan Islands to read for a week. It is a very special and precious time for me, and I cherish every minute I can sit and read alongside the silence.

One day, during this reading vacation, I picked up "And Sons" and read the last 350 pages in one sitting, saving the ending chapter for itself. Many of the pages are dog-eared, underlined and re-read. Gilbert does this brilliant job of changing narrators in mid-sentence that makes you stop and say "Wow, how does he do that?" I found myself looking up words, wondering if they are really words or truths? Like palingeneticists? And found that, indeed, they are. One tragic event in the book brought tears to my eyes, but I understand why it had to happen.

One of the most common myths is that men don't show emotion; they are supposed to hide it to be men. These men, young and old, boys some, all show emotions of love, anger, humility, desire, wanting and the entire gamut. Gilbert allows them to do so and does such an epic job of it.

I could go on and on but will leave it at this. I am so grateful to have received it and to have taken it on my literary sojourn.

"MEN WE REAPED" by Jesmyn Ward, Bloomsbury, September 17, 2013, Hardcover, $26.00

I just finished Jesmyn's memoir, sitting on the point here in the San Juans and found myself sobbing and profoundly stunned that her life carries such grief and loss; and in my short meeting with her over a year ago, her ability to share her eloquence at Oyster Club for "Salvage The Bones".

So powerful, I am at a loss for words right now. Everyone should read this book if they want to learn a vital lesson about being Black and poor in our South and what all of that means to many of us who have no such sense of loss.

"UNREMARRIED WIDOW" by Artis Henderson, Simon and Schuster, January 2014, Hardcover, $25.00

On my six-day reading sojourn I read this memoir and was completely blown away by it. I read it in one sitting on the porch in the sun, the way I love to read a book so I can really get into its soul, and that I did. Artis' prose is impeccable and sharp, talking about grief like you can feel it on your tongue. One sentence I loved - "Losing a spouse is in no way losing a child but all loss is in some way like losing ourselves."

"Unremarried Widow" is a powerful story of love, loss and grieving that I could not let go of until I read the afterward, again and again.

Annie Philbrick is the co-owner of Bank Square Books in downtown Mystic.

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