How Do You Find a Good Book to Read?
You don’t need me to tell you Searching for Caleb by Anne Tyler is a good book. If you love Anne Tyler, you already know it’s good.
But consider a new reader, someone unfamiliar with this author, with only an hour in a three-story, four-block-long sea of books called Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon. searching to find a book to read on the plane. If you only had time to read the first sentence, would you buy this book?
“The fortune teller and her grandfather went to New York City on an Amtrak train, racketing along with their identical, peaky white faces set due north.”
I loved it. First of all, starting with occupations and relationships peaks my attention. The occupation is not common and quirky. A young woman and her grandfather is also an interesting combination. Where are mom, grandma, and the rest of the family?
Instead of traveling in a wagon, or even a car, they racketed along to New York City by Amtrak. The mode of transportation seems odd for a fortune teller, at least an old time one, as does the destination. They sat side by side instead of across from each other at a little table, and if they talked, they didn’t look at each other – ever. “Their identical peaky white faces set due north.”
By the way, what young woman would want to have an identical face to her grandfather? I don’t care if her grandfather is George Clooney.
I’m prejudiced, but a million years ago, when I grew up in Portland, Oregon, there were a lot of fortune tellers, most of whom were gypsies, and they traveled with their children, usually to my mother’s fabric store to buy yards and yards of fabric. They were tan-skinned, not in the least peaky and wore long bright skirts.
Based on the curiosity that one sentence whetted, stimulated, and aroused, I bought the book, felt anxious throughout mostly because I can’t figure out how she thinks of such amazing ways to use words. I’ve been wracking/racking (both are correct) my brain to copy her style without even fully understanding what it means to wrack my brain. She makes up her own clichés.
Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book.
“…their breaths trailing out of their mouths in white tatters.”
It must have been chilly. “Her gritty bare feet whispered on the floor and her bathrobe sash galloped behind.”
First of all, why did she have gritty bare feet? She’s either getting into or out of bed, right? Secondly, she’s in a hurry, she doesn’t bother to tie her sash, and it is galloping behind her. Third, her bare feet whisper, while my thud. She must be light and works hard not to make a noise as she walks. Is she sneaking up on someone? Is the person she lives with a light sleeper or very grouchy that she doesn’t want to disturb him? Only five percent into the book, this sentence disturbed and thrilled me at the same time. I felt a vague sense of worry or pity for this peaky white young woman with tattery breath.
“Although there was no second floor the dormer window of some attic or storage room bulged out of the roof like an eyelid.”
If you’re an author, do you struggle as you describe buildings? Tyler makes body parts work hard.
“waited for her behind four pairs of blue, blue eyes.”
I didn’t note the reason for the four pairs of blue eyes, but what a better way to say that people were looking at her. Not only that, how do you get four people who all have blue eyes together in one room? That’s pretty unusual. My family of four all had blue eyes – it’s a recessive gene, but getting four pair of them together at the same time all looking at one person, that’s a little ominous.
“the bales of ancient, curly-edged magazines, zipper bags bursting with unfashionable clothes, cardboard boxes marked Clippings, Used Wrapping Paper, Photos, Empty Bottles.”
The fortune teller and her husband were moving and this is what they packed AND MARKED! How funny! We carefully pack and label our valuables, and sometimes stick other stuff in boxes and label them Kitchen, or Bathroom. I don’t know what you do. This also reminded me of my mother-in-law and my grandmother’s homes. They went through the Great Depression. My grandmother moved tons and tons of rolls toilet paper, spices and bed sheets, all white, many with holes in them from having gone through the ringer washing machine so many times. My mother-in-law saved all her used aluminum foil.
That’s probably enough to give you the idea that this book is either for you or it isn’t, and I didn’t even get past the ten percent point in the book for you and didn’t include all the quotes I marked.
In a Nutshell
This is a story about a large wealthy family who sticks together more than most families I know, almost to the point of excluding anyone else. Except for those who escaped the family bonds. Caleb was one of those. The Grandfather spent the last years of his life looking for his brother who left home at an early age. His granddaughter and his children helped him in his quest to find the Prodigal Brother. There were some other prodigals, but they never disappeared completely as Caleb did.
I love Goodreads, by the way, because when you read on Kindle, it keeps track of all the highlights you make. I always keep mine secret because I think my comments might seem shallow. Do you think I should make them visible or not? I’ve added to the comments a little bit here, but not much. Let me know what you think.
Additional Books by Anne Tyler
Have you read other books by Anne Tyler? What do you think of her writing?
I wrote about an accidental vacation we took a few years ago. My husband said it reminded him of The Accidental Tourist. That’s how I first learned about Anne Tyler. I’ve been in love with her writing ever since then.