By October 9, 2008 1 Comments Read More →

The Whole World Over, Again

The Whole World Over Cover
When I assemble my book group reading lists each year, there are invariably books on the list that I have already read. I pretty much always reread them when the time comes, but every once in a while I cheat–I skim, I read old notes, or rely on memory. I even admitted to my group this month, that I had not intended to fully reread our October book, Julia Glass’s The Whole World Over. But I was pleased to tell them that I could not cheat!

For one, October is National Reading Group month, and for another, I found myself captivated with the book a second time. I found myself wanting to follow the characters, as my mind was now fuzzy on what happened to them, and I found that I noticed things differently with a second reading.

The maternal themes, for one, struck more of a chord with me this time. Greenie, the bakery and chef who begins and ends the novel, is mother to four-year-old, George. But her real mother, although Greenie never realized, was determined to outshine and undermine her daughter at every turn. Walter, the gay owner of a restaurant for whom Greenie baked, becomes the nurturing, no nonsense maternal figure Greenie lacked. While Walter’s character was built by his grandmother, who raised him when his father’s drinking derailed the family. Then there is Saga, whose memory has been affected by an accident, and who, it turns out, is a mother deferred (which the author brushes aside too easily after quite a build up).

The group discussion was as lively and varied as ever. What was fascinating, as it always is, was to hear how some readers found irritating the very same character others found delightful. Or that while some enjoyed the lush descriptions of the food that Greenie prepared, others had no interest and skimmed right over them. I spoke about how reading about 9/11 in Glass’ novel grated less than the previous time I read it, when 9/11 was emerging over and over again in contemporary literature. Other readers felt it didn’t seem to significantly change the characters, that few of them satisfactorily changed throughout the novel. After discussing the flaws, as well as the aspects we enjoyed, I wondered why I had enjoyed rereading it so much.

What makes us each tick as readers? What informs our reading lives? How does our mood effect our reception of a book? So many mysteries abound in books, and in our relationships with the words on the page. The right book at the right time–this, to me, is the mystery, the magic, that fuels me personally and professionally. How to create that spark. Or, as E. M. Forster wrote, “Only connect!…Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height.”

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About the Author:

Misha Stone is a readers' advisory librarian with The Seattle Public Library. Follow her on Twitter at @ahsimlibrarian.

1 Comment on "The Whole World Over, Again"

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  1. ljohns735@gmail.com' Linda says:

    It sounds like you had another great discussion with you group. I didn’t connect with any of the first crop of 9/11 novels — at first. It was more than it was just too soon to see events in context, but I can’t quite pinpoint what my mood was that made me almost resent novels such as Ian McEwan’s “Saturday” and Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.” Now when I look back, I enjoy them more. Maybe I needed the distance for context, but the authors didn’t.

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