Wow, the 30th give away; at total of 40 books given away, it'll be 42 with this post.
Today I'm offering two great reads. One is an all-time favorite of mine, that I found I have two copies, Plainsong, by Kent Haruf. The other is an ARC of the new memoir, by Roger Rosenblatt, Making Toast.
Haruf is so adept at capturing the heart of an innocent side of America that it's hard to believe anyone wouldn't be affected by his work. Plainsong is set in Holt, Colorado, a rural community well outside Denver; the setting is timeless, with only the occasional, fleeting reference to VCRs or pop culture indicating that the book takes place closer to "now" than "then." Tom Guthrie is a high-school teacher left raising two young sons after his depressed and disappointed wife moves to the city. His children bake cookies, ride horses, and run a paper route, but at the same time they almost consciously seek out a cool, hardened, cowboy sense of maturity.
Meanwhile, another teacher helps a pregnant teen disowned by her mother find love and acceptance in two hilariously well-intentioned elderly brothers. The two tentatively take the girl on as a boarder on their cattle farm even though they barely know how to communicate with anyone but each other. These seven characters form the core of Plainsong, which switches vantages from chapter to chapter like a more direct Faulkner, though the prose is no less poetic and evocative.
On December 8, 2007, Roger Rosenblatt's 38-year-old daughter, Amy, collapsed while running on her treadmill in her Bethesda, Maryland, home. The two eldest of her three children, ages 6, 4 and 1, were playing nearby and ran for help. Amy's husband, a hand surgeon, rushed to her and performed CPR, but it was too late. Amy -- mother, daughter, sister, friend, doctor -- had died instantly of a heart defect she hadn't known she had. What happened in the months following this unimaginable event, how a family reassembles itself after a devastating loss and moves on, is the subject of Rosenblatt's spare, moving book Making Toast. And while Rosenblatt's story, which originally appeared as an essay in the New Yorker, is deeply sad -- about 20 pages in, I had to put the book down and hunt down a box of Kleenex -- it is never sentimental. Neither is it angry.
Convinced of the meaninglessness of Amy's death, Rosenblatt, who calls himself "nonreligious," doesn't go looking for big answers. Instead, he seeks a way to get through each day -- and to help his suddenly motherless grandchildren make it through as well. He and his wife, Ginny, move into Amy's house to help care for the kids. They take them to school, soccer games, piano lessons; arrange playdates; attend class events; prepare breakfasts, lunches and dinners. "I am leading Amy's life," Ginny observes, heartbreakingly. It is in these everyday moments -- mastering the art of making toast precisely the way his youngest grandson likes it -- that Rosenblatt, who has been a Time columnist and "McNeil/Lehrer News Hour" contributor, finds the answer he hadn't sought, a lesson not about death, but about life. The key, he discovers, is "to value the passage of time." That's a lesson for us all.
If you're interested, leave a comment. Let me know which book(s) you're interested in. I will keep the comments open until Sunday afternoon and then announce the winner on Monday morning when I offer a new book. The winner will chosen by the Random-Number-Generator.
Last week's winner is Allie.