Folly By Laurie R. King

This is one of King's earlier novels. Considering that, I was all "I bet I can figure out what the deal is before the character does!"

I failed. Well, I partially failed. I continue to be humbled by the genius that is Laurie R. King.

Folly is a stand-alone novel (there is a later companion, Keeping Watch, which I will be reading soon, but to my knowledge it is not a sequel. Do not, however, read it first or Folly will be somewhat spoiled for you.) I say this because we all know how much I love her Mary Russell and Kate Martinelli books. King does not disappoint even when there aren't several books of backstory and character development to add nuance to her work.

Folly is full of nuance and rich layers. It's full of suggestion and emotion, memories and ghosts. Rae (the heroine) is a 52 year old widow recovering from a mental breakdown. The book opens as she is being deposited - at her request - on a private island, deserted save the birds who find sanctuary there. She has two main goals: rebuild her mind and rebuild the lone structure on the island, an architectural folly built by her great-uncle...both now little more than charred remains.

Kings portrayal of mental instability and of the aching loss felt by her character is heart-rending. Here before you is a broken woman, hell bent on righting herself despite what every other person in her life thinks. Of course there are other characters who round out the world of Folly - the surviving family members, sometimes more of a drain than anything - save the granddaughter whose existence is what propels Rae to heal rather than succumb. There are the deputies, couriers, and park rangers who keep her from being completely isolated on the island. There are the shadows from her professional life hovering in the background. There is the island itself - much more than merely a setting.

King sprinkles chapters with excerpts from Rae's journal and letters, letters from her granddaughter, and the journal of Rae's great-uncle - also a person who came to Folly in need of repair.

The plot is suspenseful, but not in the nature of a traditional crime novel. Were crimes committed? Yes. Are things tense and vaguely creepy? Yes. But mostly this is a novel about a woman who needs to heal. It is eloquent and rich and well worth your time. Curl up in front of a fire and get absorbed.


The Guinea Pig Diaries by A.J. Jacobs

Unfortunately for Julie, this book is not about Eleanor Roosevelt. Fortunately for Julie, it includes a month wherein A.J. is her slave. This time around, Jacobs has published a collection of essays previously written for various magazines and since updated.

They include such shenanigans as outsourcing his life to India, living as George Washington did, and - as aforementioned - being Julie's slave. I found myself wanting to conduct some of my own immersion experiments, but given the presence of an 11 month old my only immersion is in sleep deprivation.

I think my two favorite experiments - ones which I would take on myself - are "The Rationality Project" and "I Think You're Fat" (aka: Radical Honesty.) In the former, Jacobs tempers everything with a cold sheen of rationality. It's a bit like Dr. Brennan on Bones, but with more humor and the awareness of what he's doing. The latter encompasses not only saying only truthful things, but completely removing the filter between what you think and what you say. An amusing endeavor...until you remember that society functions on niceties and white lies of omission and then things get complicated.

The beauty of all of these is that not once do you get the sense that Jacobs is trying to be funny. Or trying to be interesting. He has merely stumbled upon something that is interesting to him and is sharing it with anyone else who might have the same interest. The result is a candid look at what happens when you voluntarily change your habits and embark on what is frequently seen by others as whimsical folly.

Luckily it's lucrative enough for him that he continues to be published so the rest of us can enjoy his flights of fancy.

Here he is at TED - a little bit about the essays in this book, but also the Year of Living Biblically:

PS - The Year of Living Biblically movie is still slated for 2011...but Marlan Wayans signed on to star in it and I'm not sure how I feel about that.

Hand Wash Cold by Karen Maezen Miller

This delightful little tome was hidden in the "Self Help" section of Borders...which is a bit like sticking Heathers in the Suspense section of Blockbuster (it's a comedy, people.) While the subtitle does lend itself to being a "how-to-DIY-your life into amazingness," the real inspiration lies in Miller's recollections and reflections and for that I call it a memoir.

While Miller is a mother, this is not (necessarily) a book for mothers. Or for fathers, for that matter. It's a book for people who would like to know how to slow down a little and enjoy their life as it comes to them...people who want to take care of themselves in a way that you just don't find at a gym or (ironically) in the self-help section.

Miller, a Zen Buddhist Priest and teacher (Sensei), is spiritual without being preachy. Her faith might not be your faith and that's alright because the answer doesn't necessarily lie in faith. It lies in the willingness to slow down and take your life as it comes.

There's a quote on the back by Katrina Kenison that sums it up nicely:

"Ever found yourself up to your elbows in the messy stuff of your own everyday life and wondered, "Is this all there is?" Karen Maezen Miller answers that age-old question with a resounding "Yes." Read this deceptively simple, deeply wise little book not to change your life, but to fall quietly, unequivocally back in love with the life you already have."

I feel that I will read this one again and again and every time I will glean new insights into why and how my life is perfect just as it is. You should, too. And bonus: she has a blog.

PS - a little confession, as I read I keep flashing to Dorothy at the end of The Wizard of Oz:  "...if I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn't there, I never really lost it to begin with! Is that right?"
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