The Way I Read: Do novels ennoble the human condition?

Last night I had a wonderful opportunity to talk a little about books and what I love about them—and one specific book I love (Doomsday Book by Connie Willis, about which I am happy to talk if you’re interested).  A classmate/colleague/friend is teaching an online course in which she wanted some recorded examples of regular ol’ library students talking about books, and I was asked to participate.  It was an enormous amount of fun, so much so that to talk excessively about it will seem like bragging, and blogging is already an exercise that makes me feel perilously close to Narcissus at times, so I’ll focus only on one moment that’s sticking with me.  Having spoken about Doomsday Book and why it resonates for me, another classmate/colleague/friend (Althea, who blogs with The Bookaneers—I need to add them to the blogroll in the right sidebar!) commented that the way I often talk about books emphasizes how they inspire optimism about human beings.  I tend to read for (and talk about) things like hope, and courage, and dignity.  I can read very sad or even disturbing books (Doomsday Book is often perilously sad, and another book I love, The Sparrow, is a really harrowing experience to read), but I seem to look for those things, and to savor them when I find them.

I mention this because I think it’s worth pondering as a key to why I’ve reacted to the Pulitzer winners thus far as I have.  His Family, the first novel I read on this quest, has been panned by some of my fellow travelers (the witty and wonderful ladies of Along With A Hammer, to be precise), and I get why they disliked it.  But I found it really comforting, and as I look back I think it’s because it emphasized that sunny-eyed hope of a better world that had not quite lost out to jaded cynicism yet in 1918.  I think my attachment to One of Ours, a Willa Cather novel that was also pretty darn idealistic, is another example of this kind of reading.  I like reading the way I do, but I wonder if it will make me miss out on really good books that do not quite brim with hope.  I don’t care for saccharine things, so I don’t fear that I’ll “overindulge” in some really excessively sentimental writing, but I worry that I can be too dismissive of the bleaker stuff.

I share this just because I’m pondering it.  I’m wondering if The Age of Innocence shows anything noble about humans (if so, I’d love opinions as to why, and if not, I’m wondering why I fell in love with it).  I’m wondering if I’d have responded better to a novel like Arrowsmith or Alice Adams (sorry, Able McLaughlins, but no amount of reflection could salvage your reputation) if I was a little more open to that more cutting, sarcastic, cynical perspective that I think both Sinclair Lewis and Booth Tarkington really thrived on.  And I’m wondering if in the long run this way of reading serves me well or not—whether it’s this kind of search for optimism that makes literature such a sustaining presence in my life, or if I risk becoming a 21st century Miss Prism, primly informing people from my pedestal that to be a good novel, the good must end happily and the wicked unhappily, for that is the meaning of fiction.  I threw down American Gods by Neil Gaiman after 50 pages of despair, after all: I make drastic decisions about books (even books beloved by people I respect), and I wonder what this is symptomatic of.  Comments are, as always, welcome, but if none appear, I’m sure I’ll muse on this again before too long, especially once I pick up Laughing Boy again.  Happy reading!

15 comments on “The Way I Read: Do novels ennoble the human condition?

  1. I LOVED The Doomsday Book. I gave it to my sister-in-law who used to be in a handbell choir. I must remember to check out Willis’s other books. I read so much nonfiction and contemporary YA that other books get away from me.

    You are making me consider taking the Pulitzer Journey, though. Or at least a few short hikes.

    • jwrosenzweig says:

      Katherine, if you haven’t yet read “To Say Nothing of the Dog” and Willis’s latest, the two volume novel “Blackout”/”All Clear”, as someone who shares your LOVE of “Doomsday Book” I think you owe it to yourself. 🙂 And I think that “Passage”, a novel by Willis not in the time-travel universe of the above novels, which is not often praised, may be her finest (if most heart-breaking). Though I’ve found some good stuff on the Pulitzer trail thus far (and would welcome another journeyer on the road!), I’d definitely push you to read more Willis. Her anthology of Christmas short stories has some beauties, particularly “Epiphany” — and frankly all her short story collections are really full of gems I think would be right up your alley. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  2. Urgh. Messed up the HTML. Now it’s going to bug me.

    • jwrosenzweig says:

      I believe you can click “Edit This” (in tiny type above your comment) and make the alteration, if you like. But it didn’t bother me. 🙂

  3. Morgan says:

    I have to stomach flu and yet you’ve pulled me in. You’re a compelling muser 🙂

    You wondered what your dismissal of well regarded books might mean and I’m happy to inform you that I have the answer.

    It means that you are an individual with your very own delights and annoyances.

    If you haven’t taken one of Nancy Pearls classes yet I strongly encourage it. Her “doorways” to readership take a minute to learn but a lifetime to master. But essentially they ask one to do exactly what you’ve done here: examine the commonalities in what a reader enjoys and to draw out what makes those books meaningful to them.

    For example, from what you’ve laid out here you’re a a language reader who enjoys stories that grapple with profound human complexities in a way that blurs the line with allegory. So reading for you turns into an broad exploration of humanity and by extension self. American Gods ain’t gonna fit the bill. Am I taking too many liberties here?

    You’re a tough reader for me to think of suggestions for but I can’t resist a challenge.

    Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
    In the Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

    Am I close?

    • jwrosenzweig says:

      Thanks for the thoughts, Morgan — I’m glad to distract (if only briefly) from the flu. Sure, I recognize that fundamentally I’m only saying “I’m a human being and, like other human beings, I read for some things and not others”. And maybe I should relax at that. But I figure one of the things I’d like to do as a blogger about literature (and a current/future librarian) is see if there are fruitful ways of examining my reading and opening myself up a bit more. Though maybe asking the particular question I did isn’t the right way to go about it.

      I did take one of Nancy Pearl’s classes — it’s the class, in fact, which took me away from the blog for several months, and the class that got me energized about this in a new way. I both like and am still critically examining the idea of “doorways”. I’m not at all sure whether readers are as consistent in their use of “doorways” as they sound when we talk in the abstract in class. I think “language” is definitely true for me (though Willis, an author I adore, is not a particularly “language” writer). I do like big human struggles, and I do like allegory, but I’m not sure I really mean allegory. Anyone who tried to read Doomsday Book as an allegory would get a headache, I think. I do think I tend to look for messages in books, and find them (whether or not the author intended them). Maybe that’s what you’re driving at?

      No need to worry about taking liberties — I think you’re making good points (even if, as you can see, I’m not totally sure I agree at every step) and I like the fact that someone’s interested in getting after this question I’ve raised. The funny thing is, as you note, I ought to be a tough reader to recommend stuff to, and yet I read pretty voraciously (and love an astonishingly wide variety of books and authors). Maybe I’m leaving out too many other aspects of The Way I Read ™ (patent pending). Gilead is on my shelf but as yet un-read. I do very much love Eco, and have read that novel several times. But how do we account for my really getting into George R. R. Martin’s Chronicle of Ice and Fire (beginning with “A Game of Thrones”) or, for that matter, Thomas Harris’s “The Silence of the Lambs”? What “doorway” am I not as aware of? Feel free to speculate wildly. 🙂

  4. Blake Crinklaw says:

    I found this post interesting. I haven’t actually read much of this blog because it’s sort of daunting in its size and I admit that I haven’t read most of the literature you discuss here. That said, I consider myself first and foremost a student of literature and everything I write, amateurish and of teenage quality as it may be, stems from that.

    I believe that looking for optimism in books, with all due respect, is sort of limiting. George Orwell is a writer I respect immensely, both for his storytelling ability and his use of language and allegory, but I don’t think anyone would call him optimistic. By my account, I’d say he’s downright dreary most of the time.

    Actually (because I am posting this at 1:45 in the morning and writing it in a stream-of-consciousness style), I think we’re asking for the same thing, using a different definition of optimism. I don’t expect fairness in what I read. I don’t expect every hero to live nor do I expect every villain to get their just desserts. Yet I do expect hope. An author can get away with anything, in my opinion, as long as there is hope, faint as it may be.

    I don’t know your opinion of Stephen King, or if you’ve read his Dark Tower series, but I highly recommend it. It’s a seven book series and not for the faint of heart. Aside from being a near masterpiece in terms of storytelling, it’s also incredibly dark and pessimistic. You may find yourself asking what the point of it all is, why the characters continue on their journey when everything seems stacked against them. The answer is hope.

    On a general note, losing doesn’t diminish the effort, I suppose. Just because a journey doesn’t end happily doesn’t mean that the journey was meaningless. Even if the good guy loses, that he stood up and took a stand at all is optimistic, in my opinion. I am not a complex enough novelist to try and tackle that issue, but I have read ones who have, and I think they should be applauded.

    1984 has a horrible ending, with Winston and Julia betraying their principles, but I think if you think about it a certain way, they still won. They rebelled, and maybe it didn’t make a tangible difference, but it’s a testament to hope and the human spirit that they tried. The book might end with their execution, but what’s to stop you from imagining the future? Is it possible the dictatorship would continue forever? Yes, but it is also possible the proles would eventually rise up and take back their world, and that question gives the reader hope.

    I am a Neil Gaiman fan, partially because he is the closest thing fantasy fans have to a rockstar, and I personally think American Gods has that element of hope. I think duality and contrast is the sign of mature writing and I wouldn’t want to read a book that was all about agonizing despair and dread, just as I wouldn’t want to read one that was all about sunshine and rainbows. I think you need both to tell a good story and which you prefer is ultimately a matter of personal taste.

    There is a distinct lack of a conclusion here because I’m just stringing my thoughts together as they come. Fun fact, I have rewritten this comment like three times because I am nearly 17 and you are older and more well-read and so I’m not entirely sure I should be speaking to you like this, because it feels like I’m lecturing and I don’t feel like I’ve earned the right to do that. Basically, I think that you can find something positive in every book. There will be admirable traits and there will be hope and if you’re looking for a discourse on humanity, then I think that counts for something.

    • jwrosenzweig says:

      Blake, to start with your last comments first, you certainly shouldn’t worry about what you wrote, since I thought it was very reasonable and thoughtful commentary on the conversation I was hoping to start! I won’t necessarily agree with all your points (as I’m about to detail), but I certainly respect where you’re coming from and I like that you were willing to put yourself out there even though you felt a little intimidated. I don’t know when anyone earns the right to “lecture” anyone, but I didn’t think you were lecturing me, and I hope I won’t lecture you (tell me if I am!).

      The more I think about it, the more I think I haven’t communicated well—I think I gave you the impression that I like happy endings, or something similar. You used Orwell as an example of a writer you think has a lot of merit, and I definitely agree that he has a lot of talent and I admire a lot about his work. But I read Orwell in the manner that I’m describing (maybe poorly) as “optimistic” — that is, to continue using 1984 as the example, what I retain most from that book are the glimpses of humanity. The way Winston often made me believe that he could throw off Big Brother and live a different life — the old man and “oranges and lemons say the bells of St. Clements”, etc. The ending does not resonate with me…in all honesty I have difficulty recalling much of it…and I think in part it’s because it dehumanizes the characters past where I can see that glimmer of hope that both you and I look for. In the end, of the famous 20th Century dystopian novels, I prefer Brave New World because the final actions of “The Savage” (John), while desperate and sad, remind me of that primal ability of humans to resist, even if resistance is futile and defeat certain. I’ll re-read that novel before I re-read 1984. Do you think that’s a bad reading of 1984? I may easily misremember the book. I love Orwell’s essays, and admire 1984, but I’ll admit I’ve never re-read the novel (and I’m someone who re-reads a large percentage of the books I read).

      So, I agree with you regarding endings — I don’t expect all heroes to win, or all villains to get their punishment. Brave New World’s just one example of a book where the good end unhappily….but in a way that is more life-affirming to me than 1984. I recognize the power in both books, though, and would recommend either of them freely. I know my reading of 1984 doesn’t fit yours — I think you see a lot more nobility in Winston than I do. If you remember particular scenes or moments toward the end of the book that make you feel that way, I’d love it if you pointed them out — maybe my fading memories are causing me to misjudge the book’s message. I recall him being a sell-out….that the ministry ended up breaking him and forcing him into the psychological acceptance of evil as “the truth”. Your larger point — that the good guys losing can be great — is well taken. C. S. Lewis once wrote that one of the most beautiful statements in storytelling comes out of the Viking sagas, where a character (I cannot remember who) says something like “In the battle at the end of time, the gods will battle Jormungand and lose. And I am on the side of the gods.” I think Lewis is right about its beauty.

      I haven’t read the Dark Tower series, but my wife recommends it highly and I’m sure I’ll try it one of these days. I’m picky about fantasy, but King’s a smart and talented guy, so I’m willing to give it a shot. That balance between darkness and hope is tough to strike, though. As much as I admire George R. R. Martin’s storytelling, for example, I think he tips the scales too much into darkness — at this point, I think his series (the aforementioned “Chronicle of Ice and Fire) makes the case that goodness and courage are pointless and stupid, and that the willingness to be cruel, heartless, and disloyal will always win the game in the end. I’m hopeful that it’s not his ultimate aim (and I know many of his staunchest defenders will think I’m too harsh about the books….which, it must be said, I am still enjoying reading, despite my feelings), but we’ll see. Neil Gaiman is my wife’s authorial hero as well — I quite liked Neverwhere, and I have enjoyed screen adaptations of several of his writings. I don’t think I’m sold on him as a “great” writer yet, but I’ll certainly agree that he’s very good. And I’ll keep trying more of his stuff.

      I think I’ve probably opened the door on a conversation that can’t ever resolve itself — in the end we like what we like and we read how we read. Your comments about 1984 are really useful, though — I think you get a lot more out of Winston, because you manage to admire him, and I don’t think I can. I expect more out of him than I get, and more than anything else, I think that’s the fear I’m expressing about my tendency to so-called “optimism” or whatever other word we can use. I’m worried I don’t cut some authors, some stories, some characters quite the slack they deserve, and miss some good things about fiction that I ought to enjoy. Thanks for your thoughts, Blake!

  5. Blake Crinklaw says:

    I think I might be grasping at straws here, because I do like Winston and I do admire his character and the novel, so this might not be the strongest point, but here is what I found re-reading the last chapter of the book.

    Firstly, for all my admiration of Winston, I think what he represents is more important than the physical man. Winston, in my opinion, is representative of the unbreakable nature of the human spirit. He is not a stupid character and he knows that outright rebellion is a lost cause, yet he still harbors thoughts against Big Brother and The Party. He turns his thoughts into actions when he meets Julia and I think that is the defining moment of his character, not his end.

    That said, speaking about the character himself, there were a few things about the final chapter that I liked. Consciously, Winston is confessing his love for The Party and is, as you described, a sell-out. However, I’ve picked out a few passages that I thought were a bit more ambiguous than that that I think change the ending a bit more than you think.

    “He examined the chess problem and set out the pieces. It was a tricky ending, involving a couple of knights. “White to play and mate in two moves.” Winston looked up at the portrait of Big Brother. White always mates, he thought with a sort of cloudy mysticism. Always, without exception, it is so arranged. In no chess problem since the beginning of the world has black ever won. Did it not symbolize the unvarying triumph of Good over Evil? The huge face gazed back at him, full of calm power. White always mates.”

    I think this passage, and a few later that liken the Oceanian army to the White and the Eurasian army to the Black, has a lot of depth. Obviously, on a superficial level, it means that somewhere inside of him, Winston has accepted Big Brother and The Party as “Good”. This is tragic for a character who professed to hate both of them earlier in the book, but I think the wording has symbolism that shouldn’t be overlooked. You said that Winston accepted evil as the truth. With respect, this contradicts that. Winston hasn’t accepted Evil as what is right, he’s just been convinced that the Evil he serves is Good. It might be a minute difference, but I think it’s hopeful. If you know Evil and willingly serve it, there is no redemption. But if you mistake Evil for Good and work for it under the impression you are doing Good, there is still hope, I think. Winston might be a lost cause, but there are others out there who accept The Party as Good, but if they find out the truth and reject The Party, I’d say that’s a hopeful message.

    This next passage is pretty long, so I’ll just provide context and just use the end. Winston hears that a news is going to come from the war in Africa, and immediately assumes the worst about Oceania’s army. He begins using the chess metaphor for the armies, speaking about a “black horde”. He begins to think about what might happen if Oceania loses.

    “If [Eurasia] could get control of the whole of Africa, if they had airfields and submarine bases at the Cape, it would cut Oceania in two. It might mean anything: defeat, breakdown, the redivision of the world, the destruction of the Party! He drew a deep breath. An extraordinary medley of feelings-but it was not a medley, exactly; rather it was successive layers of feeling, in which one could not say which layer was undermost-struggled inside him.”

    I think the most important thing to take away from this is the conflict inside Winston. He believes himself to be a broken man, tortured to near insanity and brainwashed into servitube. The “medley of feelings” that struggle inside him represent his conflicted inner beliefs. He has been pushed past any man’s normal limits to accept what he does not believe. On the surface, he has embraced The Party. On a deeper level, his original feelings still remain. Again, Winston Smith is a dead man and these revelations mean nothing when applied to him, but if you consider that Room 101 is supposed to completely demolish any inkling of rebellion and yet Winston manages to harbor a small seed of it, even if it’s only in the dark recesses of his soul, then you chip away at the facade of The Party as all-powerful. Winston accepts that Julia was wrong when she said “They can’t get inside you”, but as a reader, I’m not as convinced.

    In this last passage, he’s remembering Room 101 where he betrayed Julia. He keeps thinking that he had meant it, meaning that when he’d asked for Julia to be tortured instead of him, it had not merely been to save himself but had been actively willing her harm in return for his own safety. He is thinking about this when he notices the music playing.

    “Something changed in the music that trickled from the telescreen. A cracked a jeering note, a yellow note, came into it. And then-perhaps it was not happening, perhaps it was only a memory taking on the semblance of sound-a voice was singing: “Under the spreading chestnut tree I sold you and you sold me-”
    The tears welled up in his eyes.”

    This is a much easier analysis, so I’m not going to spend as much time on it. Consciously or not, Winston feels some level of remorse for his actions.

    I think the point to take away about Winston is his view of The Party. He seems victory as unattainable. That he tries in face of what he sees as impossible odds is an admirable quality, but it is also his willingness to accept that he can’t win that is his downfall. He believes himself completely converted by the end, but as I hope I’ve shown, there are a few passages that don’t fit with that worldview. Winston believes he has no power, and that’s why he gives up. All it takes is one person who does not accept that he will lose to sway the proles, and by that point, The Party has no chance anymore.

    So that’s my argument, weak as it might be.

    • jwrosenzweig says:

      Blake, I wouldn’t call that a weak argument at all! Thanks for taking the time to think about it and share your thoughts. I’m not sure you’ve sold me on the Good/Evil thing—if Winston believes that they’re Good, I think it’s a loss of humanity on his part that undercuts hope. It suggests that even idealists will be corrupted in the end. But you might still be on to something there, and I think your reading of the other passages is very sound: certainly nothing I think I could criticize. This is essentially what I feared when I wrote the post initially…that my insistence on reading in a certain way has made me a little too dismissive of good books. I have always “liked” 1984, but I’ve also always been critical of the ending, and the passages you point to, at least, suggest to me that I was too hard on it. Something to ponder. And possibly a novel to revisit. 🙂

      • Paul Hamann says:

        Blake and James–

        I’m a fan of both -1984- and -Brave New World-. I’m somewhere in between your readings. I’m convinced Winston has sold out and has betrayed his friends and his principles. Where I differ from you is that you view this as a character flaw. I’m not sure I do. I look at it from the other way around: Winston and Julia are as tough of fighters as anyone can possibly be, and as human, loving, and real (against impossible odds) as anyone can be. I think Orwell’s point isn’t about the “failing” part, but about the “impossible odds” part. To borrow and morph Blake’s central quote, “Black always mates.” I think that’s the point. This kind of government–the kind that can own even language, as Orwell complains about in “Politics and the English Language”–is simply too big for anyone to stand up to. Or, to put it another way, “Black always mates.”

        However, I’m not sure I view this with the same distaste/uneasiness/lack of preference (pick one, James) that James does. I can think of quite a few examples of people approaching literally impossible fights with gusto and intensity, and they’re some of my favorite moments in history…the “going down swinging” moments. Hektor runs headlong into Achilles even when he realizes he’s been tricked by the gods. Macbeth, even though I don’t like him, redeems himself quite a bit in my eyes when he jumps into the fray even after learning that forests can move and that Macduff was from his mother’s womb untimely ripped. I honestly think he changes there. I think the end of -Oscar Wao- applies here too, but I don’t want to hit that too hard since James may eventually get there. And let’s not forget my own experiences wrestling Todd Lemberger in 1st grade PE. I ran right up to the dude. I don’t like recalling what happened next.

        I’m not sure Winston or John are 100% applicable here, since each honestly thinks they have a chance to “win”. And I’m also not sure “hope” is the right world for this. But my own unique brand of pessimism doesn’t focus on wins/losses, but rather on what we do to create meaning, beauty, and transcendence even at moments when life’s unavoidable and all-too-frequently overbearing ugliness (in the form of Big Brother, Orgy-Porgy, conniving gods, our own breathtakingly evil past mistakes, or Todd Lemberger, who is a head taller and a year older than us and who sets records on the elementary school field day while we’re mostly just good at math) is about to triumph. Did it really triumph if we go down swinging?

        I haven’t taken Nancy Pearl’s class, but to me–even in non-fiction–that question of beauty in the midst of overwhelming ugliness might be my “doorway.”

        I enjoyed your conversation.

        • Paul Hamann says:

          Where is this “edit” button you speak of? One “Black always mates” would surely have been sufficient. Not even I am so dark as to feel the need to repeat it.

        • jwrosenzweig says:

          Paul, thanks for chiming in with your (as usual) insightful commentary. I see what you mean by your reading of 1984, though I love those moments with Hector (Fagles’ Romanized spelling, there, not your Lattimorian “Hektor” 🙂 ) and Macbeth as much as you do. I think for me both those men go to good deaths—the one because, in a way that could never be as true outside of myth, it is actually sweet and fitting for Hector to die for his patria, and the other because for one moment he remembers what made him great and how far he has fallen, and he resolves to die in a way that rejects fate after having been its slave. I don’t think Winston ends half so bravely or well, and I think that’s the distinction I draw, but I recognize that the pieces line up differently when viewed from other angles. It all depends on what counts, for Winston, as “going down swinging”, where you see that happening, and whether or not he’s doing that at a meaningful “end” to his life as a person.

          “Doorways” as a way of talking about books are a distinctively Nancy Pearl idea which she and I have discussed (even argued over at times, but always while smiling!), and which I’ll likely blog about soon. My short response is that what you’re describing isn’t so much a “doorway” as a “way of walking through a door” or a “reason for walking through”. But that may be too technical for something that is, ultimately, very simple. Like I said, I think I’ll blog about the concept when I get the time….which won’t be this week, given the current homework load!

          I enjoyed this conversation too! More than anything, I think this confirms for me that it’s good for this blog to be about more than just reactions to literal Pulitzer reading experiences. But speaking of those, I’d better get reading again—they are, after all, the blog’s raison d’ etre, and I do have that ridiculous goal sitting out there in front of me!

          P.S. Paul, I’ve decided that maybe only I see “Edit This” as the blog’s owner? Even though I think that’s stupid — if I could turn on comment editing for people (at least for logged-in WordPress editors like you), I definitely would!

  6. SilverSeason says:

    Thank you, James. If not for you I would not have read The Doomsday Book, which I have just finished. Years ago I read quite a bit of science fiction but had dropped it because it grew increasingly repetitious. Not Connie Willis’ book which is wonderful in many ways. I loved the characters, the good, the bad and the humorous. I can no longer commit to a book where all of the characters are despicable; give me some variety, and Willis does. I enjoyed the parallel stories and parallel times 700 years apart, along with parallel epidemics 700 years apart. The bells were wonderful, tying the two times together. I love history, especially people history — how people lived, how they thought, what they found important — and the presentation here was outstanding. This is a rave, and I don’t do that very often.

    I am about to start on To Say Nothing about the Dog. The two WWII books look great, but we are about to go on vacation, so I’ll do those when we get back. Thanks again.

    • jwrosenzweig says:

      I’m so pleased! Connie is a wonderful writer, and the basic goodness of (most of) her characters is part of the appeal. A couple of pieces of advice. First of all, before you read the two-part WWII novel, find her short story “Fire Watch” (it appeared, among other places, in a short story collection with that same title)—“Fire Watch” introduces the character of Mr. Dunworthy, and events in “Fire Watch” are relevant to the two-part novel in ways that I can’t say too much about. The Oxford time travel novels are brilliant. Once you’ve finished them, though, keep with her—Passage is her most controversial novel (some people I know think it falters badly in the latter half, whereas I think it’s outstanding), and her other novels and novellas all have their charms. Her short stories are also excellent, some of them a little more disturbing and like the kind of science fiction you’re not as big a fan of, but others are a real wonder. I can come up with names of stories I think you might like, if you ever are looking for suggestions. 🙂 One last gush about Connie Willis—she is, in real life, a wonderful lady. When my wife wrote to her last year she was extraordinarily kind in replying, and went above and beyond in responding to her request for a signature on a treasured copy of a book. We’ve seen her in person for a reading, and she was humble and gregarious and witty…if she ever comes within a hundred miles or so, I’d say she’s well worth whatever trip or ticket is involved. Have fun with “To Say Nothing of the Dog”!

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