Bacchanull.

by Alexa on April 9, 2013

I read the first Tana French, In The Woods, on the recommendation of you fine people, and you did not steer me wrong. I more or less lost two days of my life, however, because I was not capable of putting the damn thing down. I tried! I swear I tried. Actually, several times I picked up my phone and opened Twitter to make a comment about how absorbed I was by the book, and then instead I went back to reading. Too absorbed even to tweet! (It is a hard life I live.)

I found the book at first delicious (the writing is excellent, she creates a very complete world and clear voice to lose oneself in) and then later horribly sad. Part of me would have liked to prolong the first part indefinitely. I am feeling a little melancholy about it all still. Not about the crime itself, but—oh, if you have read it you know what I mean, and if you haven’t I don’t want to spoil things (though really, if you haven’t read it you might want to skip this whole section because I am bound to give something away without meaning to do so).

The Thing That Was Supposed To Be a Surprise seemed obvious from the start, but this didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book much. Occasionally I found it a little annoying or got impatient, and the obviousness did affect my feelings about the main character some, and I did find myself a bit incredulous at the idea that we were supposed to find it surprising, but at least in this case I didn’t know how it was all going to work out. Actually, despite The Thing being obvious, most of the rest remained mysterious until later, which was unusual and kind of great. It seems unlikely that the other central mystery will be solved in a future book, and I respect that this is very true-to-life and kind of marvelous, in its way, but it is maddening because I want to know.

I do not tend to judge mysteries on whether I am surprised by the mystery part, because I never—or almost never—am, I suppose because I read so many of them and have had such a thorough Law & Order education. Usually I don’t mind the mystery not really being a mystery, as long as the rest of the book is compelling enough. A lack of subtlety seems inevitable, especially in a mystery author’s early books: it must be very tricky to trust your reader to pick up on clues—it is always tricky to trust your reader to pick up what you are putting down, so to speak, and I know in my own writing I am always having to go back and take out superfluous/heavy-handed bits that result from that.

Anyhow, I am not going to start the next one yet, because I have deadlines looming and I suspect I won’t be able to get any work done if I do. Also, I think I need something cheery as a palate cleanser first. (Have started it. I have no willpower at all. None.)

I ought to update you all on the books I’ve read this year so far and what I’ve thought of them, but that will have to be another day. (Though I will say The Fault in Our Stars was as good as everyone said it would be, though I kept wishing 17-year-old Alexa was reading it instead, for various reasons) (It was a wee bit precious, and I know that at 17 I would have read it less cynically and likely been besotted with it.) (Shades of Franny and Zooey, I suppose.)

Not all of my current anxious melancholy can be blamed upon my recent reading material. It is very grey here, and the mood-parts of my brain have always been dramatically solar-powered. It doesn’t take a very long stretch of cloud cover to start me brooding and feeling jittery and fragile and as if everything is DOOOOOMED. I guess it is a good thing I don’t live on one of those dreary English moors I was so fond of reading about as a child. (OR DO I?) It is supposed to rain and then SNOW this week, as much as five inches, so I’m predicting at least one weeping episode and two wild tantrums about the state of the apartment, with scattered panicking over my financial future. Happily, when the sunshine does finally break through—which it must do, eventually—it triggers something like euphoria, and I beam at tree buds and sigh at the sound of birds singing and am as frolicsome and insufferable as the star of a tampon/birth control/yogurt commercial. I look forward to skipping down sidewalks and chucking bewildered robins under the chin any time now.

I rarely have social engagements other than the very occasional dinner with my mother, even more rarely social engagements extending past 8pm, and yet last week I went out in the evening on TWO SEPARATE OCCASIONS, for Culture. I accompanied my mother to The Dakota (jazz club) on Tuesday to see Madeleine Peyroux, and a mere two days later I was out again, this time to the Walker (museum) with Scott to see Noah Baumbach’s new movie, Frances Ha. Both times I was away from my apartment until past ten o’clock. Next week on my trip I have plans for two evening outings with virtual acquaintances, and the Friday after I return Scott and I may attend a reading. Step back, Dionysus!

I am looking for some additional freelance work–editing, not writing–and so if you have any lying about, please feel free to send it my way. Most of my editing experience is in the legal and scientific fields, but I’ve done all sorts.
Relatedly, if any of you are writing things (fiction or non) and were thinking of having someone take a look at them with a professional eye—or even two—I am available for everything from line-edits to general “here’s where I think you ought to go with this” type consultations. I’m actually quite a bit better working with other people’s writing than my own, and while I often do this sort of thing for fun (just ask all of my roommates, ever–though I am still bitter about Lizzie’s refusal to let me title her linguistics thesis “Hmong Among Us”), I have decided that this is something I would like to do more of professionally. It makes me feel a tad soulless asking people for money to help them with their personal wordsmithery when that kind of editing is so fun for me anyway (*I* don’t have to do the writing, you see, so it is all reading and guiding and bossing) but there is no law that says you can’t enjoy your work, and I am very good at it, and Spicy Thai Kettle Chips don’t pay for themselves. I’ve written such a variety of things myself now–a memoir, magazine features, essays, etc., that I think I could be useful to almost anyone. (Anyone writing prose. You poets are on your own.)

As long as I am already blushing and feeling squeamish about self-promotion, our beloved NICU (Children’s) is hosting a 3k/fundraiser on June 1st, and Simone, Scott, Twyla and I have formed a team, “Team Simone!” (the exclamation point is part of the name, yes). If you are local and want to walk with us, you can sign up for our team here. There is a party afterward with a bouncy house and face painting and god knows what else, and I am sure it will be an excellent, and finally SNOW-FREE time. Simone has begun to show curiosity about her early/tiny birth, and we’ve been talking about it more and looking at pictures, and she has a Playmobil isolette and baby, of all things, and I thought Team Simone! would be a good idea, for her. (I have more to say about talking to Simone about all of this, enough for a whole fleet of posts, but that will have to wait.)

Frog and Toad are Friends is my favorite children’s book, and to my delight, Simone is enchanted with Frog and Toad as well. We read at least one of the Frog and Toad books every day lately, and the more time I spend with them, the more I think Toad really ought to have his thyroid checked.

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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

mjb April 9, 2013 at 12:57 pm

I just listened to In the Woods on my commute, and was highly vexed by the days we switched cars and I was without my CD’s. Weekends are tough, too. I’m listening to the next one now, and it’s making me feel like the previous mystery could one day be solved, but I could be projecting too much. The problem with listening is that I have to stay at the slower pace of the narrator, but it paces me out, I guess. And even though they’re like 20 CD’s long, I’m not resenting the book by the end, which is good.

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Elissa April 9, 2013 at 1:25 pm

Fellow Frog and Toad lover here. Have you ever seen the Frog and Toad claymation series? I think it may have originally run on PBS, but many of them are available on YouTube. They are mostly true to the books and I find the animation very sweet (just so you know I am normally very skeptical of this type of thing and prefer my literary characters unadulterated). If Simone likes the books I bet she would also enjoy these–my 4 year-old son loves them and gets to watch them as a special treat. Our favorite is “The Garden.”

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Liz April 9, 2013 at 2:26 pm

My friend called that feeling.his In the Woods hangover. If you’re on Goodreads, check out Nataliya’s review; she nails it. Myself, I picked the book up to skim in the boston airport, and nearly missed my flight. The day i finally got it from the library, I stayed up till 3 reading it straight through. I knew *something* was off with that character, but couldn’t put my finger on it. There is a pretty big reveal at the end of “The Likeness” that I didn’t see coming at all, nor did two of my friends. And I agree, the first 2/3 of the book is so lovely, it’s literally heartbreaking to watch it crumble. I had the exact same reaction to the ending as you: briefly angry, then respectful, still avidly wanting to know what happened. God, her writing. Gorgeous.

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Alex April 9, 2013 at 2:57 pm

I read the first three of Tana French’s books just a couple months ago, in succession and barely coming up for air. Excellent stories. Am waiting for the 4th through the library.

Secondly, I am of the same mind when it comes to writing/editing other people’s writing. I do quite a bit of the latter at my current job, although it is not specifically what they hired me to do, and it brings me such a solid sense of satisfaction, taking That Which Is and turning it into That Which Sounds Buch better.

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Alex April 9, 2013 at 2:58 pm

…or Much Better. Whichever.

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Alexicographer April 9, 2013 at 3:19 pm

Oh good heavens your last sentence had me laughing as I am forever telling people (like my husband) that they should get their thyroid checked (OK, OK, no, I don’t, mostly, because — hello? — assvice! But I want to. And I have from time to time told this to my hubby although it seems in fact: no. Or at least probably not. He may in fact just BE a slug. It is possible. I mean that in the kindest and lovingest way, of course.).

That is all. Except I have just recently for the first time in my life acquired a tablet and started using it for Kindling, and now I guess I better add that book to my list. But not for a week when I have, you know, anything else to get done, it appears.

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Alison Presley April 9, 2013 at 3:48 pm

Why, there are you! I’m glad you have been trapped under a heavy pile of books and not something else. Also, while I will admit to SOBBING my way through The Fault in Our Stars, I do agree with you. Waiting for Alaska is his best book, in my opinion.

And good for you on reminding folks that you’re a supreme editor. No need to blush. That’s what a community is for, right?

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Jen April 9, 2013 at 3:51 pm

I am glad you enjoyed the first Tana French; I adored it but felt so betrayed by the ending! (I may have even, in a fit of pique, thrown the book across the room when I finished it. I prefer Resolution in my mystery novels, as it is so often elusive in real life.)

I very much enjoyed the rest of her books, but here is my warning: do not read her most recent one–Broken Harbour–until it is the full height of summer, with sunshine a-plenty, twittery birds, etc. It is a gorgeous, gorgeous book, and entirely worth your while, but it simply gutted me. Even months after finishing it, I am haunted by it, and I would be concerned what that book + gloomy snowy darkness might do to a person’s psyche.

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Claudia April 10, 2013 at 10:34 am

This is the advice I was about to offer. Enjoy “The Likeness” (engrossing and possibly the most “fun” that could be had in a Tana French novel, if that makes any sense). But Broken Harbor, while an absolutely stunning book, left me a devastated wreck of a human being.

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Carrie April 11, 2013 at 9:40 am

Ditto that you should read in sunshine. The whole book is “gray” and “cloudy” so I agree. And I agree with all the comments about Tana French’s books, and Im so happy to read that so many people enjoyed her as much as I did.

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AlisonC April 26, 2013 at 3:26 am

Oh Broken Harbour is devastating! My heart was broken for everyone in the story. I don’t have children which I am sure would make it even worse but every single character came out of this story broken in some way. Best book I read in years.

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celia April 9, 2013 at 8:35 pm

My son loves Frog and Toad. Most especially The Letter. I think that was actually the driving force behind his obsession with mail.

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Jen April 10, 2013 at 7:29 am

You can count our family as fellow Frog & Toad fans. We all love them. We have all the books and I bought all of them on Audible as well!

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Angella April 10, 2013 at 8:41 am

I read In The Woods last summer and I WANT TO KNOW, too. It’s bugging me, nine months later.

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Gaby April 10, 2013 at 12:05 pm

Your description of why you enjoy editing more than writing mirrors my thoughts exactly. I, too, was frequently the friend who looked over the work of others, and I loved it. I went to grad school thinking they’d teach me how to be an editor; unfortunately, they did not have a “Here’s how to get a JOB editing!” course, so I floundered after obtaining my degree. I would still love to be able to work on other people’s work, guiding, suggesting, tweaking, but I have almost nothing in my resume to suggest that I am capable of doing such a thing. Instead, I waste my time writing technical documentation and wondering what I could’ve/should’ve done differently with my career choices–FUN! Anyway, this is a long way of saying that it’s nice to read someone else feels the same way that I do about editing, and I sincerely hope you are flooded with job opportunities.

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MR April 10, 2013 at 12:05 pm

Hi! For the “looking at prose,” how do we get in touch with you for that? (Though, I think you should title your services: “Editing Prose!” with an exclamation mark) :-) .

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Jeanette April 10, 2013 at 1:36 pm

Alexa…I just got the May 2013 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal and there you and Simone are on page 82. What a treat to find you in the magazine! Way to go girl…
Also…I sure do enjoy your blog. What a good writer you are…just like your Aunt LeAnn. (must run in the family) Thanks for sharing your story!

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Liz April 10, 2013 at 2:29 pm

Also, agree with your thougts on TFIOS. “looking for alaska” is by far my fav! There is nothing precious about it, and the writing is excellent. It’s sad, but somehow hopeful, and is not CRUSHING like certain other books in this post. ;)

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HereWeGoAJen April 10, 2013 at 2:41 pm

I loved Frog and Toad as a child. I haven’t been able to get Elizabeth into it yet, but I am working in it.

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JenC April 11, 2013 at 11:49 am

My favorite of Tana French in Murder series is Faithful Place, it was so melancholy and full of regret. I thought it was really beautifully done.

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KathyM. April 11, 2013 at 2:19 pm

I have loved Tana French books too, and when reminded about them in this post, I did a little research. She’s writing a book right now and it will be out in 2014–I hope that’s EARLY 2014.
Also, I am interested in some editing for a book about a lost fairy door to the Fairy Realm I have been writing for my 4 and 3/4 year old granddaughter. I have only one or two more chapters to go, and can’t get my writer sons to help me! I don’t know how to communicate with you except this way; I need to know what the costs would be. Not sure if I could afford it. That’s right: my granddaughter. What is a 61 year old woman reading your blog (and your amazing book!) since her children have been grown up for a long time? I love [good] memoirs, especially about babies, and I suffer with anxiety so much like yours that I’ve found it comforting knowing others UNDERSTAND. After much pain, counseling and medication I’m doing quite well MOST of the time. But I’ve been near tears and very cranky today (the dentist needed to know if I’ve ever had psychiatric treatment! None-a-yur-beezwax, buddy). It’s been pouring rain for four straight days and I sat in it yesterday at a Tigers baseball game in Detroit (greater love has no mother than to sit in the cold at a game on his birthday). At least it’s not snow! My heart goes out to you. OK. Hope to hear from you.

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KathyM. April 11, 2013 at 2:24 pm

P.S. It occurs to me that the idea of a sweet granny’s fairy book may make you want to run the other way. I have been a children’s librarian, know good books, and have done a lot of writing; certainly enough to make my prose spelled, punctuated, and reasonably grammatically correct.

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Susanna April 13, 2013 at 8:27 pm

kate morton.

the distant hours and the secret keeper.

read!

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Beverly Case April 14, 2013 at 1:17 pm

You and Simone are adorable in Ladies Home Journal this month

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Lisa April 15, 2013 at 9:04 pm

Frog and Toad!!
Two things:
1. I so love Toad’s occasional “Blah.” We use it in our house when the need arises; the 2-year-old loves to look at his dinner plate, pronounce “Blah,” and burst into fits of laughter.
2. Our local library has CDs of Arnold Lobel reading the Frog and Toad books, as well as Mouse Soup and Mouse Tales. They are wonderful. He is just terrific, and listening to him read his stories in a lovely and emotive reading voice, complete with a slightly higher-pitched Frog voice and a slightly lower-pitched Toad voice, makes me feel like we’re friends. I recommend them! I think you (and Simone, and later Twyla) would really enjoy them.

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Jane April 16, 2013 at 10:41 pm

Loooove Frog and Toad! I remember them from my own childhood and am so happy that they are still around for our children to enjoy. Strange Bumps and Tear Water Tea are some of our favorites. I almost boycotted Tana French after the “big mystery” was not revealed at the end of In The Woods but completely caved when her next book came out. I have not totally forgiven her though and still wonder about what happened out in those damned woods. Also, if you have not read any of Kate Atkinson’s books yet, that should be your next author. She is wonderful.

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tree town gal April 19, 2013 at 5:59 am

So loved this post.. just happy life goodness from our brilliant editor. I’d hire you in a flash if I had a reason. Frog and Toad fill nights around here with my four year old.

When in second grade, my now 4th grade daughter played Frog in The Letter… highlight of five years of education. The Frog and Toad musical is adorable… check out YouTube for offerings. “Cookies cookies, eating cookies, we’re so happy eating cookies, cookies cookies… we adore…”

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