Book Review: The Art of Mending by Elizabeth Berg

By this time, I have spent one week in London. I hope it’s going well (these posts have been schedled in advance). Here’s a lovely Women’s Fiction Novel.

Elizabeth Berg writes women’s fiction, and she does it well. She was born around the time most of the people who read this blog were, and she mostly writes stories about that age group. Her books aren’t romance novels but are stories about friendship, families, divorce, even death. I really like Ms. Berg’s novels, I’ve read several of them and I will likely go on to read many more.

The Art of Mending is about a woman, Laura, who makes her living as a quilt artist, designing custom creations for clients. She was always the domestic type, hence the title and says the following about the art of mending:

You’ll always notice the fabric scar, of course, but there’s an art to mending: If you’re careful, the repair can actually add to the beauty of the thing, because it is testimony to its worth.

At a family reunion, her sister reveals some things, things that happened during their childhood, about their mother, things that Laura doesn’t believe, or maybe she half believes, or maybe she really knew all along, but didn’t want to believe. I was hooked, on the suspense of what it was Laura’s sister would tell her, and it kept me reading.

I liked this book, but it might not be my favorite. Some of the others were funnier. Ms. Berg has a distinctive voice, and some of her characters are unusual and quirky. She writes about everyday things, things that could happen to anyone, from breast cancer to broken marriages to high school reunions.

There were characters and revelations and situations and I wasn’t quite sure why they were in the story. An example: Laura decides to throw a small dinner party and the attendees promised to make an interesting mix and then it didn’t happen. Everyone cancelled and I wondered why it was brought up in the first place. I didn’t clearly understand the motivation behind a certain revelation from her husband, and occasionally I felt like some of the story was “filler”.

The author has a way of ending a chapter that is filled with meaning. There might be a name for it; Jodi Picoult does it to an even greater degree than Elizabeth Berg, a way of saying something and then twisting it around, so that it is more dramatic. Here’s an example:

My mother, smiling brightly, looking directly into your eyes before she embraced you tightly, would feel a million miles away. My father, averting his gaze before he took you into his arms, would be the one who felt close.

(If anyone knows the name for that particular technique, please comment!)

There is a section I particularly liked, as Laura described her life and the love she has for her husband. She married later in life, he had lost his first wife, and they are a genuinely happy couple. Laura talks about how nothing has changed for her, as far as her husband is concerned, that he still thrills her, and as a couple, they are as they always were. It was a very sweet internalization, and it made me think.

I would recommend this author to anyone who likes good women’s fiction.

5 Blogging Insecurities or Will I Ever Be Freshly Pressed?

I started reading an Elizabeth Berg novel yesterday called Once Upon a Time, There Was You. I’m not sure I should have done it and I will now tell you why I say that.

Ms. Berg is one of the very best women’s fiction authors in the country, in the world, in the universe. That’s merely my opinion but I know a lot of people agree with that statement. I was immediately hooked. There was a prologue about a couple who’d planned to marry, from each of their POVs. They each had second thoughts about the other and misgivings, serious misgivings that they might be doing the wrong thing, but went through with the wedding anyway. They were both in their late thirties and felt it was “time to settle down”.

Fast forward twenty years. They have an eighteen-year-old daughter and guess what? They are now divorced. Not surprising, given their reluctance to go through with the marriage in the first place. A few chapters in and I am still hooked, and I really like the main characters. What a lovely book it’s going to be. And what I really want is to be reading it, instead of writing this blog or editing my own novel.

Reading a Berg novel, while it may not educate you in anything other than great food presentation, or perhaps serve as a tool to demonstrate what really good writing looks like, is vastly entertaining.

Uh. All the insecurities rear their ugly heads.

I won’t ever be as good, I can’t compete, I might as well devote my life to chasing after dust bunnies and finger prints. Is it too late to learn how to cook? Maybe bake a pie? Yeah, probably.

My day is divided into thirds while I babysit for my four-month-old grandson. He is remarkably predictable, and has periods of wake, sleep and eat. Three times during my day, he repeats this cycle and while he sleeps and sometimes while he is awake, I can do things other than tend to him. I promised myself, one period of Elizabeth Berg, one period of editing Perigee Moon and one period of blog writing.

This is period three, blog writing. Speaking of blogging, check out my stats from the beginning of time. Not sure I can keep it up but it sure looks good to see the lovely graph of hits go up and up each month.

And even though I see this steady increase, still my blogging insecurities are ever present.

Here are some of the things I worry about, blog-wise:

  1. Have I remembered to answer everyone’s comment? It is not polite to ignore comments and only if one goes viral is it acceptable to lump one response to several comments. A successful blogger should at least attempt to answer each one individually. I think I may have ignored a couple, but wait, crap. There’s one from last week I forgot about. Well, I’ll respond to that one right now.
  2. Does my latest blog post suck? Does it sound like I just wasn’t in the right mood but it was time so I wrote down just anything? Looking back at some of the earlier ones, I think some of them do, in fact, suck. Some more than others. Some are helpful to writers but boring to non-writers, some are superficially entertaining and have no redeeming value to writers but may appeal to non-writers. Some are vents and some are just whatever happened to inspire me that day, like political rallies or food labels or maligning the Kardashians. Do the writing posts suck, or the non-writing ones? Do they all suck?
  3. Why don’t many bloggers “like” my posts? This is a big deal. If I have more readers now, why doesn’t anyone “like” it? Do they hate it? If they do like it, why don’t they tell me, then I can get those cool emails from WordPress telling me Congratulations! Someone liked your post enough to click the Like button!
  4. Why don’t I get many comments? Is it because my posts aren’t interesting enough, or funny enough, or educational enough? Probably all of the above. I love getting comments! Whenever I see emails from I get euphoric with joy. The email has all the information, the name of the comment and the text. It’s so exciting to see these in my inbox!
  5. Will I ever be Freshly Pressed? This may not be familiar to some readers, but other WordPress bloggers know well what this status symbol does for the old stats. This is when the WordPress gurus themselves find a blog that they consider to be original and worthy of a place on the home page. I have started to follow many blogs based upon their Freshly Pressed status. My personal goal is to achieve this someday. What a feather in the old writing cap that would be. I’m not sure how the individual blogs are picked by the WordPress people, but somehow they find them.

So I wonder. I like to post once a week. Is it better to post a so-so article, or a rather dumb article, or a completely lame article, rather than post nothing at all?

I haven’t been feeling all that funny lately, so I hope the readers I have managed to accumulate stick with me.   

Literary Crushes – Who is Yours?

Enough time has gone by, that I’m treating myself to another Scott Spencer novel, although this time I am not quite so enamored. The title is “Willing”, and it is about a man who goes on a sex tour to a few relatively obscure foreign countries, and is paid a rather handsome sum to write a book about it. I’m guessing that such an assignment might not be unappealing to a number of male writers.

I think, to read Mr. Spencer, one must not be sexually squeamish, as there is something in every one to send a few shock waves. But the way he talks about such things, so naturally, I can’t help but get a picture of the kind of person Mr. Spencer might be. I’m guessing, the quiet, introspective type, much like Jonathon Franzen, that the outward persona does not match the man inside.

My author friend Benison O’Reilly coined a term (at least I think she is responsible for it, so I am giving her due honors here), “literary crush” and mine is on Mr. Spencer. Hers is on Mr. Franzen. But that is not to say I haven’t had literary crushes on women too, and two of them are Anne Tyler and Elizabeth Berg, who write in a way in which I could only hope to come close.

I would have to use the term “envious” when it comes to these three authors. It’s what I would want for myself, to write in such a way. Recently, I read an interesting post which examined the difference between “jealousy” and “envy”. Jealousy is when you want what another person has and you attack it in a negative way, the I-am-just-as-good-as-that-writer so poor me, why am I consistently ignored and kicked around? Envy is when you see what good things others have done, and want the same for yourself, but in a positive way, it allows you to strive for more, for better writing, for lovelier sentences, for better hooks and dialogue and characters, by seeing the good in others.

Back to Willing, Mr. Spencer breaks a lot of rules with this one. There is not one quotation mark in the whole novel. The dialogue is intermixed with the narrative. We are told in the How To books to put each person’s dialogue in a separate paragraph. Nope, he doesn’t do that either. So we have dialogue, which we aren’t always sure really is dialogue, and two or more people speaking in the same paragraph, so we aren’t always sure who is doing the talking. But somehow it works. There are pages with hardly any whitespace, another faux pas. Lack of whitespace makes readers weary, shorter paragraphs and single lines mix it up visually and the reader is less intimidated by droning on and on, so they say.

I am only two thirds through the book, and I have only found a couple of sexual reference that might be construed as troubling, even though one would think there would be more, given the subject. But I have found (so far) six editing errors, five which were duplicate words or wrongly phrased such that I knew it was   unintentional, and one punctuation error. I always feel a little compensated when I find errors in the works of “real authors” (if I dare use that term), as if – see, we are all fallible!

So, even if this is not my favorite of his novels, the writing is still all there, superb, funny, gripping descriptions of characters (of which there are a great number). Take this description of himself, on the first page, written in first person POV:

Physically, I was of the type no longer commonly minted, a large serious face, a little heavier than necessary, broad shoulders, sturdy legs, hair and eyes the color of a lunch bag.

Gives you a pretty good idea, right? I especially loved the reference to a lunch bag.

Or this description of someone encountered at one of the stops:

One was a heavyset guy with a shaved head who looked like the world’s most enormous baby, with a nose like a knuckle and dark little eyes the size of watermelon seeds.

The book is crammed with stuff like this. On every page, there are great thoughts and descriptions. This author understands people, he gets it so right. Humorous, witty, and insightful.

And yes, I am envious.