Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Two Sweet Short Reads

December is here, and while I am close to having read 100 books, I'm not there yet! YIKES! But fortunately, I only have 1 more to go to hit the 100 mark, so I should be there by the end of this week, as I am very nearly FINALLY at the end of The Shipping News, this month's book club selection.

But this past couple of weeks, I had the pleasure of enjoying two very short but extremely endearing books about the joys of marriage and loving the one you're with. Call me a sentimental ole softy, which yes, I am these days, but these two books really hit my soft spot.

The first book is C.S. Richardson's The End of the Alphabet. Ambrose Zephyr is a contented man, living in a house full of books in London with his wife, Zappora Ashkenazi, when he is diagnosed by his doctors as having a rare and incurable disease and given 30 days to finish living his life. Ambrose makes a list of places from A to Z that he wants to visit before he dies. As Ambrose and "Zipper" travel the world from Amsterdam on, Ambrose ponders over his life and how this end is made more bearable by the life he and Zipper shared, while Zipper tries to keep Ambrose's spirits up and figure out how she will live without her husband.

The book was not in the least what I expected. At a mere 119 pages, the book completely captures the desperation one must feel in having a mere month to live, and the feelings of the person who knows and loves him best. This is accomplished remarkably, particularly considering that Richardson must convey the places that Zipper and Ambrose travel, as well as the coming day in which they will be separated by death. The book is not cloying, laden with heavy speeches about love and how they feel for each other. It is far gentler and quieter than that. I read the book two weeks ago, and in just sitting here thinking about it and writing this paltry review, tears are streaming down my cheeks.

Get this book (it's a Target Bookmarked book right now) and read it with someone you love. In fact, I just sent the General an email that said, "Come downstairs so I can give you a hug and tell you I love you." When a book inspires you to do that, you know you have a gem on your hands.

The second book is Calvin Trillin's About Alice. Calvin Trillin was/is a big time New York City writer, and fell in love with the beautiful Alice in December 1963. After meeting at a party, their romance blossomed and they were happily married until 2001, when Alice succumbed to cancer. He wrote About Alice five years after her death and the back cover shows him with a beaming and beautiful young Alice after their wedding in London.

Through the years, Alice appeared in many of her husband's articles and books as the voice of reason and also fun. As a friend put it in a letter written to Calvin after Alice's death, she managed to "navigate the tricky waters between living a life you could be proud of and still delighting in the many things there are to take pleasure in."

Through this small book, which clocks in at 78 pages in hardcover, Alice's spirit shines through in the stories about her with her children, with her friends, and with her husband. The book is a lovely testament to a woman that, while most of us never knew her, I think we all would have loved.

Included in the book flap notes were the words of the dedication he wrote for the first book he published after she passed: "I wrote this for Alice. Actually, I wrote everything for Alice."

As a reader, it is certainly gratifying to have a sneak peek into the life of an author and to read such love for a woman he surely cherished.

Note: Calvin Trillin will be at the Folger Library in February. I will probably attend, if anyone else would care to go.

So for just short of 200 pages, you can immerse yourself in two wonderful books about the love we share with the people who know us best. If forced to choose, I would say I liked The End of the Alphabet a bit better, mainly because it was more of a universal story than About Alice. However, what a slim margin of victory between the two!

0 pearl(s) of wisdom: