Reading too many books at once

I’ve done a round-up of the number of books I’m in the middle of right now, and am ashamed that it’s crept up so high.  At this moment, I am actively in the middle of 25 books.  Yep, that’s right, 25!  Of that list, there is only 1 that I have not read any part of for the last week, so, when I say actively reading, I do mean active.

I am usually in the middle of multiple books, and make no apologies for that, as they all have their place.  I could no more read just one book at a time then I could only talk to one person/friend per week, watch only one TV show per week or eat out at only one place in any given month.  I need and crave variety.  My husband claims I have AD/HD.  Having gone through the many issues dealing with my son’s AD/HD, he could be right, but, it does not really matter.  I have learned to deal with my brain in my own way, and have been successful with it, so, whether I am or not matters little to me.

The reasons I can justify being in the middle of multiple books:

  • 2 novels in physical format (a book with physical pages as opposed to e-book or audio).  One might be a more meaty read, and one might be a quicker read, so, I can switch between the 2 of them.
    • At the moment, I have 8 of those going, so, do need to finish up with a number of them before I can justify starting a new one.
  • One book on my Kindle app.  This is still not my favorite format for reading, but, I have found 2 places where it comes in handy.  First is before I sleep.  My husband goes to bed before me as he gets up earlier for work, so, when I come to bed, I can easily read without turning on the light and waking him up (not really an option for any sort of happy marriage!).  The second time that I have found this is a great format is when I am on the treadmill or elliptical.  Propping up my ipad is much easier than a physical book which has a hard time staying open.
    • I am actively reading Crime & Punishment this way, but, I have another one going as well, not as active.  I hope to finish C & P soon (~60% finished already) and then can concentrate on the other one I’m reading – A Brief History of Seven Killings.
  • One book of short stories.  This is great to have so you can just pick it up, finish a story and put it down without having the feeling that you will lose track of the story.
    • However, I find myself reading 3 of these right now.  2 are by a single author, and one is an anthology.
  • One audio book.  This is the easiest rule to keep to as I would not want to switch between audio books.  The app is too slow to do that.
    • I’m listening to The China Collectors: America’s Century-Long Hunt for Asian Art Treasures, a book I started for my Ringling art book club, but, did not finish in time for the meeting which was yesterday, but, am still committed to finishing.
  • One book of poetry.  I am not always ‘in the middle’ of actually reading a poetry book from front to back, but, I love to have them on my shelf to pick up once in awhile.
    • Right now, I am actively reading the Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams.
  • One book I am reading to/with my husband.  This is a relatively new habit, that I am very glad we are doing.  It is usually non-fiction, his favorite format, but, we did read Animal Farm together, and most recently finished The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.
    • Currently, we are reading The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History.  It’s a bit slower going as we don’t read every day, but, I’m glad for the times when we do.
  • One book of essays.  This is also an optional one for me, like the poetry.   Similar to short stories, this category is another great one where you can dip in and out when in the mood without losing track of any plotline.
    • I am reading 100 Best Paintings in London, which I would classify in this category.
  • Between 1-3 non-fiction books (other than audio).  I choose my non-fiction books for multiple reasons, sometimes because I’m interested in the subject, or have heard they had a great story, or for reference.  I’m in the middle of 8 of them (that are not in other categories like audio or reading to my husband), and that’s probably a bit too many.
    • I should finish up one soon, Shark’s Fin & Sichuan Pepper, a memoir by Fuchsia Dunlop which is quite relevant to me at the moment as we are travelling to China next month.  But, I do need to finish up a number of the others before starting anything new.
    • The categories of ones I’m in the middle of is quite varied!  Chinese food, French food, history of domesticated plants, memoir of reading books,  Renaissance Italian architecture, 2 biographies, one of a modern artist and one of an 18th century rakish author, and lastly, a history of ghosts and spirituality by Dan Akyrod’s father.
  • Whichever book I am reading for my next book club(s).  I lead one book club, and try to stay active in 2 other ones.  Ideally, whatever book(s) I’m reading should fall into one of my other categories, like the 2 novels, or one kindle, but, if it doesn’t, at least it’s justifiable in my mind to have these also going.  I only have one of these going as I’ve already read the next month’s selection for one of my book clubs and will miss my other book club next month due to a vacation.
    • The one I’m reading is for my classic book club, All the King’s Men.

So, out of the total 25 books I’m in the middle of, I can justify only 12 of them belonging to the categories above.  This means, I should finish up at least 13 before starting a new book.  Whether I will stick to that though is yet to be seen as books just seem to call to me and it’s so hard to resist!

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Freezing outside/Books set in the cold

After a few days with normal 70-80 degree weather after the brief cold snap, I left the house today to freezing weather.  It was only 50 out!  I live in Florida.  I’m allowed to say it’s freezing when it’s only 50, even when we are warmer than the rest of the country.  I don’t own a coat!

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Proof

We moved down to Florida in 1993, so, I’ve never really experienced cold weather as an adult, except over the last 4 years.  London is not known for much snow, but we did have a bit, and it was exciting for me.  I had my nose pressed up to my 4th floor flat window at 11 at night when I saw my first snowfall in almost 20 years, wanting to go outside and play in it, and it wasn’t all that much.

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I did have some interesting and pretty walks though to work.

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The most fascinating snow experience I had though was during a short trip to Bucharest, Romania, when my husband and I just happened to be there for their National Day parade, an old style Communistic type parade in front of Nicolae Ceaușescu’s Palace, or more properly named – Parliamentary Palace.

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It was quite unexpected to suddenly see a very familiar site during that parade.

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What a way for those American soldiers to spend their Thanksgiving!

But, this has nothing to do with books.  The main purpose here was that to honor the freezing weather outside, I pulled a list together of books from my Goodreads list that are set mainly or partly in cold weather.

Let me know if you have any good ones to add, as this list is in no way complete!

One’s I’ve read

Fiction

  • A Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin
  • Doctor Zhivago – Boris Pasternak
  • Ethan Frome – Edith Wharton
  • Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
  • Gorky Park – Martin Cruz Smith
  • Smilla’s Sense of Snow – Peter Høeg
  • Snow – Orhan Pamuk
  • Snow Falling on Cedars – David Guterson
  • Snowdrops – A.D. Miller
  • The Call of the Wild – Jack London
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson
  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – C.S. Lewis
  • The Road – Cormac McCarthy
  • The Shipping News – Annie Proulx
  • White Fang – Jack London
  • Winter’s Bone – Daniel Woodrell

Non-Fiction

  • Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors – Piers Paul Read
  • Into the Wild – Jon Krakauer
  • Race to the Pole: Tragedy, Heroism, and Scott’s Antarctic Quest – Ranulph Fiennes
  • Seven Years in Tibet – Heinrich Harrer
  • The Snow Leopard – Peter Matthiessen
  • The Worst Journey in the World – Apsley Cherry-Garrard

To-Read

Fiction

  • A Winter Book – Tove Jansson
  • Dark Matter – Michelle Paver
  • Dark Winter – William Dietrich
  • Forty Words for Sorrow – Giles Blunt
  • Independent People – Halldór Laxness
  • Laxdæla Saga – Anonymous
  • One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
  • The Brief History of the Dead – Kevin Brockmeier
  • The Colony of Unrequited Dreams – Wayne Johnston
  • The Outlander – Gil Adamson
  • The People’s Act of Love – James Meek
  • This Cold Heaven – Gretel Ehrlich

Non-Fiction (the longest as I have quite a few from National Geographic’s top adventure books on this list)

  • Alone: The Classic Polar Adventure – Richard Evelyn Byrd
  • Annapurna – Maurice Herzog
  • Annapurna: A Woman’s Place – Arlene Blum
  • Arctic Dreams – Barry López
  • Endurance – Frank Worsley
  • Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage – Alfred Lansing
  • Everest: The West Ridge – Thomas Hornbein
  • Farthest North – Fridtjof Nansen
  • Gulag: A History – Anne Applebaum
  • In Siberia – Colin Thubron
  • In the Land of White Death – Valerian Albanov
  • Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster – Jon Krakauer
  • Journals: Captain Scott’s Last Expedition – Robeert Faldon Scott
  • K2, The Savage Mountain – Charles Houston
  • Kabloona: Among the Inuit – Gontran De Poncins
  • Minus 148 Degrees – Art Davidson
  • My Life as an Explorer – Roald Amundsen
  • One Man’s Mountains: Essays and Verses – Tom Patey
  • Race to the South Pole – Roald Amundsen
  • Scott’s Last Expedition: The Journals – Robert Falcon Scott
  • South: The Endurance Expedition – Ernest Shackleton
  • Starlight and Storm – Gaston Rébuffat
  • Terra Incognita: Travels in Antarctica – Sara Wheeler
  • The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War – David Halberstam
  • The Cruelest Miles – Gay Salisbury
  • The Crystal Horizon: Everest – The First Solo Ascent – Reinhold Messner
  • The Gulag Archipelago 1918 – 1956 – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
  • The Home of the Blizzard: A True Story of Antarctic Survival – Douglas Mawson
  • The Mountains of My Life – Walter Bonatti
  • Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man’s Miraculous Survival – Joe Simpson
  • Travels in Siberia – Ian Frazier
  • We Die Alone: A WWII Epic of Escape and Endurance – David Howarth

Books about Art & Ringling Museum

After I moved back to the U.S. from London in July 2015, a Florida friend told me about a new book club she was attending.  This was run by our really nice local museum, Ringling.  If you are ever in the vicinity of Sarasota, this is a place well worth checking out!  It is basically 3 museums in one, complete with beautiful gardens.  There is the Art and Antiquities museum, a Circus museum and then the Ca’ d’Zan (house of John).  All were built for John and Mable Ringling (of circus fame) for their winter home, with the art museum purposely built for his collection.  One of the most impressive things to see there is the 44,000 piece miniature circus model (I believe the largest in the world and so detailed!).

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Bird’s Eye view of the Art Museum with the bay in the background

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Facing the courtyard in the Art Museum

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Sarasota has some of the most beautiful sunsets!

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The gorgeous Ca d’Zan from the Bay.

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Circus Museum

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Part of the incredible miniature circus – Inside the main tent

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Another part of the miniature circus – Side shows

After that segue into the wonders of Sarasota, my main reason for this posting was to write about the last book I finished.  I started attending the Ringling Literati book club, which was once a month.  The first book I started with them was The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art by Don Thompson.  I wsharkas familiar with most of the artists and quite a bit of the art mentioned in the early chapters (mainly from the Tate), including the eponymous shark from Tate’s Damien Hirst exhibit, which was kind of fun to read about.  It is amazing the amount of money that is spent on contemporary art!  This was a very interesting book however, at times it got a bit bogged down and probably needed more editing.  It read mainly as individual essays about all areas of the art world, from auctions, to branded collectors, galleries, art fairs, etc.  The one chapter I was most interested in, about forgeries, turned out to be the shortest, leaving me wanting more.

Having a book club with a particular topic, in this case art, is intriguing.  I have tried one which focused on science related books, but, never kept up with it due to the distance.  There certainly seems enough interesting books about art out there to keep us going though!

 

How do we, and do we even need to define a ‘Classic’? – Part 1

This has been on my mind quite a bit recently, because I recently launched my new book club on Meetup and we have our first gathering tomorrow.  The last 2 that I started in 2005 are still going strong after I had to hand over the reins in 2011 when I moved to London.  As I can’t really take them back, I decided to start a new one, but, with a bit of a difference this time.  We are going to focus on the classics.  I even named the group ‘Their Eyes Were Watching Books’, my (feeble) attempt at a bit of word play with the title of a classic book that I hope is at least familiar to those interested in the group.

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I have some ideas of how we will choose books, but, I think and hope that one of the enduring questions will be as to whether we can call a particular book a classic or not.  I had a 45 minute monologue with myself on the way to work on this topic (with only brief interludes to sing along to 80’s songs from the radio), but, as the book club is not a place for me just to come and lecture, I remembered that I have this forum to write down my thoughts, whether or not anyone reads them!

Countless people much better than me have written about this very topic, so, I know I am not saying anything really new.

In my internal monologue, I separated books into 3 groups – fiction (of all kinds, novels, epics, short stories, etc.), non-fiction (traditional, biographies/memoirs, essays, travelogues, philosophy, etc.) and poetry.  And, I tried to come up with some understanding, at least for myself, of what kind of criteria would make a particular book be called a ‘classic’.  Below are my thoughts on ‘Fiction’.  The other 2 groups will wait for different posts.

Fiction

Any story should have some sort of universality with human emotions.  We should be able to connect, feel and empathize with the characters whether we like them or not.  The setting should not matter, nor must the characters even be human.  How many of us can read The Lord of the Rings, or a classic sci-fi book like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and not feel akin to the characters?

For example, one of my favorite book passages is the following:

Then Hector reached out to take his son, but the childHector_Astyanax_MN_Jatta
shrank back, screaming, into his nurse’s arms,
scared by the flashing bronze and the terrible horsehair
crest that kept shaking at him from the peak of the helmet.
At this, his father and mother both burst out laughing;
and right away Hector took off his helmet and laid it,
glittering, on the ground. And he picked up the child,
dandled him in his arms and stroked him and kissed him…

Source:  http://pages.simonandschuster.com/iliad/hector-and-andromache

This is from the Iliad, written at least 2,500 years ago, but haven taken place more than 3,000 years ago, and yet it still resonates.  Replace the descriptions of the helmet with a mask as the father is heading out for a Halloween party, and it could be something written yesterday.

Other books, well written and fully appreciated don’t have the same magic.  Last year, my book club read The Group by Mary McCarthy, supposedly the inspiration for Sex and the City.  This was a good book, a very good book.  Set in the 1930’s, it tracks a group of young women following their graduation from Vassar describing their affairs, marriages, financial and career problems, etc. as they make their way in the world.  However, I found the groupmuch of it too dated to consider it a true ‘Classic’.  One of the girls has a baby and ends up having numerous problems bonding with her newborn as the hospital has strict rules of when and how much to feed, to not pick up a crying baby, etc., while her husband tops it all by insisting on breast feeding over the more acceptable practice of bottle feeding.  All this confuses her and she is unable to stand up for herself.  This would have perfectly been empathized by so many mothers who also felt the fear and difficulties of being a new mother for the first time.  However, I (as a mother myself) felt it ended up being so much more about the practices of the time, rather than the universality of human emotion.  I just kept yelling at the nurses, doctors and husband to leave her alone with her baby and stop telling her what to do and all would be fine.  (They didn’t hear me, of course!)  Other people may read this differently of course.

I understand this also can change during one individual’s lifetime.  Books that we couldn’t stand when younger, often school reads, are later placed among our favorites when rereading as an adult.  I also hear many times from people that they refuse to reread a particular teenage favorites because they are afraid of it being ruined when either it doesn’t resonate with their adult selves, or they realize the quality of the writing or the story itself is poor.

Please share any of your thoughts about what you think makes a good classic, fiction or other below, or any of your own experiences with classics!

Feeling guilty

As a consumer of many things both in person and online, from local stores, restaurants, and most importantly, books, I realize once in a while how much I tend to read and sometimes even rely on reviews.  It is so easy to find information about where and what you are considering buying than it ever has been in the past.  However, I myself, have never been much (barely at all… no, make that virtually never) of a reviewer myself.  I always think that there are plenty of others out there happily writing their opinions.

To clarify, I also do not make negative reviews either.  From being in marketing myself, I know there is a strong cohort of people who have no problems complaining and often quite loudly to as many as they can when a product or service fails their expectations.

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However, a fair negative review can be quite useful both to future consumers and to the company who now has a chance to rectify any issues.  (A good company will always try to examine issues and make changes.  What is sometimes difficult is actually getting real consumer information that can help them improve!)

What is not as common though is those that make both negative and positive reviews.  Previously, a good rule of thumb would be that a person having a negative experience will tell at least 10 people, while those with a good experience will maybe tell one person on average.  It has to be exceptional to even get somewhat close to the average number of people hearing about a bad experience by word of mouth.  Very frustrating for any business!Collage-Review-logos

In today’s world with all kinds of sites promoting reviews, like Yelp, Google, Amazon, TripAdvisor, Yahoo, Angie’s List, etc. more and more people do seem to enjoy sharing a wide variety of opinions both positive and negative, which is great, in many ways.

Today, I received a new (used) book from Ridgmar-Westover Village Books, through Amazon, and it reminded me how I should take the time to write reviews, or at least give some stars to the seller, as I know these do build up and help them.  And, I’m feeling guilty that I do not ever take the time to do this.

This was on the back of the package that I received.  So, if someone can take the extra few seconds to write a personal ‘Thank You’ on their package to me, then I should be able to take a few seconds to star them at the very least!

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Wrong Book

I recently ordered a book from my extensive wish list, one that would meet the requirements of one of the tasks from my reading challenge (a book that is #4 in a series).  The book I ordered was A Miracle in Paradise by Carolina Garcia-Aguilera.  I received the package yesterday only to find a book called The Housewife and the Assassin by Susan Trott.

This was through a private vendor through Amazon.  I’m sure it was an honest mistake, and so this is not any sort of rant about inept customer service.  They very quickly responded to my message to apologize and refund my money.  And, I was able to find another vendor offering the book I wanted for even less money.  Case closed.  All good.

I have, however, had a few giggles trying to figure out how the mistake was made.  The titles are nowhere even close!  I’m sure it was just a lack of attention rather than someone thinking that this must be the book I meant.  Or, who knows, maybe the person who packed it was a relative of Susan Trott!

Now, there have been times that I picked up or got a book somewhere and it turned out to be something other than what I originally thought I was getting.  For instance, you see a book at a used book store that you believe is one that you have on your wish list only to find out later that it was a similar but slightly different title.  But, who knows, the wrong book may end up being onhousewifee of your new favorites!

I usually try to live adventurously, but, I have to admit, that in this case, neither the book cover, book description or ratings or even the book title (as quirky as it sounds) appeals to me at all.  None of my co-workers seems to want it, and I can’t see myself plying this on any friends, or at least not if I want to keep them as friends!  Poor Susan Trott.  Sorry.  I guess I can just leave it in a public place somewhere or donate it to my used book store and hope that it finds a happy home somewhere.

 

What does a Chicago boy during the Depression and the possible Rapture have in common?

Nothing, except they are related to the latest 2 books I finished.

The first, which I finished listening to yesterday, was The Adventures of Augie March, by Saul Bellow.  I love listening to books, however, this one took me a while.  I started it before Christmas, so, it took me 3 1/2 weeks to finish, longer than usual, even accounting for it’s length.  Some reasons for the longer time, was a distraction of Christmas music, time off during the holidays, leading to less commuting/listening time, but, also, I’ve found that I tend to get distracted easily when listening to books without a distinct plot.

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Now, this is a classic book, and was written partly as a coming of age story during the Great Depression, continuing with the exploits of a young man before and during the war, and thus not designed with a single plot.  It’s an adventure book, and an extremely good one.  Augie meets loads of different people (another reason that made it more difficult to follow in the audio version), seems to be someone that everyone wants to either take care of or include in their various schemes, and it takes him a long while before he figures out that what he really wants is to make his own decisions rather than letting things happen.  Sometimes he succeeds in this, and sometimes he doesn’t.  One highlight, for me, was that there were some fantastic descriptions of people in this book!  “…small nose, gross thighs, and those back-bent smoke-dyed fingers”.

I found the second half to be easier to listen to as by then, you have gotten to know most of the main recurring characters, and each adventure seems to last longer, especially his time in Mexico with his girlfriend who wants to hunt giant lizards with eagles.  Unfortunately, the eagle turns to be a bit of a coward.  Yes, this book is quite exciting.

I believe the eagle they had was a young bald eagle.  Can you imagine training this?

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I’ve had the chance to hold one at a Bird of Prey center (an amazing day!).  They are huge and heavy, even for a baby! 

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And, having those talons on your wrist is quite daunting!

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Ok, how I found out about this book and decided on reading it is a bit embarrassing and shows how book obsessive I can be.  Among my many sources of potential reading material, I have a few lists that I made a spreadsheet from.  These are:

The Adventures of Augie March is on every one of those lists except for 501 Must Read Books.  (The only Bellow included in that list is Herzog).  Between the 5 lists, I have 2,600+ books to read, of which, I’ve only read 12%.  I tend to read more books not from that list then I do from the list, and, I will never finish it, but, so far, it’s been a very good source of new reading ideas.

To help choose a little easier, I sorted the list (minus first letter “the’s”) as a general guide when in need of a new book.  So far, that’s led me to 84, Charring Cross Road, an attempt at Absalom, Absalom! (will pick this up again sometime) and now The Adventures of Augie March.  Ok, I know this is all a bit obsessive and geeky, but, hey, that’s how I can get about books sometimes.  And, getting through ‘A’s is a lot easier sounding than the whole list!  Only 127 more to go.  🙂  Has anyone ever heard of Tobias Smollett??  He’s the author of 3 books starting with ‘Adventures’.

The next book I finished, just this morning, reading up to the last 3 pages at the Toyota dealership waiting for my 10,000 mile service, and the rest in the parking garage at work, was The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta.  I wish I could say that I found this book through a bit more respectable way, like wanting to read this author again after enjoying The Abstinence Teacher, which I read some years back.  But, the truth is a bit more gaudy.  I watched the HBO show and was intrigued and it was only halfway into the book that I discovered I had read this author before.

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The book cover I had, which was published after the show came out

The show is only loosely based on the book, which I was fine with.  Both worked in their different ways.  For those not familiar with the story, it takes place in a respectable, middle to upper-middle class town, 3 years after the Disappearance, when people all over the world suddenly vanished.  The one thing that you want an answer for was why ~3% of the world’s population suddenly disappeared, but, this would have turned it into a thriller or mystery.  The only explanation people can seem to come up with is that it was the Rapture, but, others distinctly try to disprove this, because, if it was the Rapture, then why weren’t they taken?  However, this book was mainly about how those left behind dealt with the event, whether or not they lost someone close to them.  Everyone has some form of connection to a Disappeared person, from your daughter’s friend, to Nora, the saddest person in the world who lost her husband and both children.

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The original book cover which I actually like better

People deal with this in different ways.  Some try to just move on, some can’t overcome their sadness, while others look for meaning in one of the cults that have sprung up, of which, 2 play a prominent role in this book.

The Leftovers was a nice quick read, a good balance to Augie March, however, nowhere near in the same class.  Augie March rightly deserved it’s place on those lists.  The Leftovers was good, solid reading candy, and something that made you think a bit.