Thursday, February 7, 2019

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

I read A Spool of Blue Thread in May of 2015. If someone had asked me, I would have said it had been only a year or so ago. As I read along the second time, I didn't remember the details that well. Hmm, in May 2015 Hazel was 17 months old and we had been taking care of her four days a week for a year, Campbell was a year old the day after I finished the book, and Indy was two months from being born.

When I begin an Anne Tyler book, it feels like I am entering the scene, not as a participant but rather an observer who can't be seen by the characters. And the scene is so often a family scene. She is a master of writing family relationships. The book spans four generations of the Whitshank family, though not in a linear way. After a fair bit of the book, we go back to the first generation in the house, and then move back to the present.

The house is a part of this family. And oh, how I wanted to see it - to walk its rooms, to see the "pocket doors" which are in every room but the kitchen, to sit on the front porch which is as deep as a room, and as wide as the whole house.
Under the shelter of the trees the front of the house didn't get the morning sun, but that just made the deep, shady porch seem homier.
Can't you just see it? 

Not only is it beautifully and carefully described, but we learn early on that the older Mr. Whitshank built the house for someone else. He designed every bit of it and often argued the owners out of some decision they had made about it because he knew best. And this reader is sure that he did. What a marvelous thing to build a house, but on the other hand such a sad thing if the house isn't yours. Happily, the family didn't like where they lived and the Whitshanks were ultimately able to live there.

This is also a story of making it in America, of the poor person making good and wanting more for his children. Sometimes the children accept this responsibility of being "more" than the parent, and sometimes they grow up and become what the parent is rather than what he wants his child to be.

And as in Rosamunde Pilcher's The Shell Seekers, we see that families do not have to be "blood" to be "real".

Okay, I haven't told you much of the storyline, but as I've written before, I personally don't like to know too much before I read a book. I don't like to know what's coming next. I want to move along the way the author meant the reader to. I do hope this book report might encourage you to at least give it a try.

There is a lovely quote relating to my new-found love of washing dishes.
Mrs. Whitshank was talking about dishwashing machines. She just didn't see the need, she was saying. She said, "Why, some of my nicest conversations have been over a sinkful of dishes!"
Hazel is still washing them, pretty much whenever she comes. Here's a picture from last week. The sun was streaming in so Pop wore the hat Campbell chose for him.


And yesterday, though I didn't get a picture, she did the whole sinkful all by herself!

35 comments:

  1. I love your book reports and this one made me smile, as I remember Rosamunde Pilcher's Shell Seekers with such fondness. It is one I hope to read again. Maybe this summer!

    What a treat to have a little helper in your kitchen. Rod and I have always enjoyed doing the dishes together. It's a time for us to talk about our day, discussing our plans for the week, seeking answers to problems that may have arisen during the day or simply sharing what went on in our workday. Now that we're retired, we still share the chore, but we are together so much of the day, we are often simply silent, enjoy the peace and quiet as we clean up after our meal together.

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    1. Yes, beautifully written, Les! And your post, as well, Nan. I, too, love your book reports. It’s also delightful to see how Hazel Nina is growing up and becoming her own little person. I’ve never read any of Anne Tyler’s books (I’m embarrassed to admit), so I must remedy that!

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    2. Don't feel embarrassed!! There are a million writers that I read blog entries about that I have never read, and probably never will. She is just the most wonderful little girl. So adult in many ways. Very thoughtful and considerate.

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  2. And now I have just learned from Robin's post that Rosamunde Pilcher has died. I am so sad. No excuses. I am going to re-read her marvelous novel, The Shell Seekers, this year!

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    1. What a good long life she led. The Guardian has a nice obituary - https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/feb/07/rosamunde-pilcher-obituary
      I couldn't stand the children in The Shell Seekers. They were completely self-absorbed and got what they could from Penelope. I loved the young people who became her real family, her soul family. I know you like the novels better, but I prefer the short stories because they generally don't have something negative that puts me off in the novels.

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    2. I thought the same thing, Nan, when I heard the news this morning, that she had a good long life. I’m so glad she left us so many books and short stories. I also agree with you that the children in The Shell Seekers were truly selfish and obnoxious. She definitely made the point clear that families don’t have to be related by blood, but I also thought she created them to really emphasize the contrast between her equally obnoxious husband and her lost true love. The thing I loved most about the book as the art. Such beautiful descriptions!

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    3. Yes, there were some wonderful parts in the book. I did like the movie better because of the ending. (I won't say what it is in case someone reads this and hasn't read the book!)

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  3. The book sounds like my kind of book. But what are "pocket doors"? I've never heard the term!
    Hazel washing the dishes with the sun streaming in and on her bare arms (!) looks very summerly already. And just like the character in the book (and no doubt many other people), I have had some very nice conversations over washing and wiping dishes :-)

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    1. Here's a picture of them - http://www.proconstructionguide.com/how-to-install-a-pocket-door/
      It may look summery but just lovely winter sunshine!

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  4. What a lovely photo! We have a dishwasher but I still wash dishes... things that won't or mustn't go in it. I find it quite a relaxing chore.

    Just seen a post from Monty Don on Twitter... 4 weeks to the new season of Gardener's World. Let joy be unrestrained! Plus he has a 4 week series about Japanese gardens starting soon.

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    1. I'm not on Twitter, but I do follow him on Instagram, and so excited about the show. The other wonderful program(me) that Britbox offers over here is Springwatch, and now Winterwatch! When it ended over there, it began here. Just SO great!

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  5. Nan, I have only read "Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant" and I liked it a lot. I don't know why I haven't read anything else by Anne Tyler.

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    1. I haven't read that one, but will now that you recommended it. Thanks!

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  6. I really enjoyed A Spool of Blue Thread and felt like it was a return to form for her after a few duds. I am eagerly awaiting the next one to come out in paperback (I have a full set of her paperbacks) esp as I thought she'd stopped writing. How come you re-read this, though - was it for a book group or something?

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    1. I hope you come back because I'd like to know what books you thought were "duds". I'm reading as many of her books as I can this year, and I was well aware that I just didn't remember this one very well so I wanted to read it again. And am so glad I did.

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    2. Oh lovely - a year of Anne Tyler sounds like a very good year, something I might do next year actually as I haven't read some of her old ones for ages. When I say duds, I just thought Amateur Marriage and Noah's Compass were a bit samey and not as good as earlier ones. But I loved Vinegar Girl, read quite recently, and enjoyed Spool.

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    3. I'm so pleased you came back! I haven't read Amateur Marriage, but I have read Noah's Compass and really liked it. Here is my book report if you want to see why. https://lettersfromahillfarm.blogspot.com/2010/06/noahs-compass-by-anne-tyler.html
      I'd like to reread it this year- nine years later - and see what I think now.

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  7. What a nice post about this book, Nan! I can see how the book would suit you very well. Love the picture of Hazel washing the dishes (and her Pop, of course). My girl used to love washing dishes at her grandmothers' houses. My Mom would just pull dishes out of the cabinets (mostly plastic ones as this was an early fun activity for them) and she'd would wash and wash and wash.

    I saw Robin's post about Rosamunde Pilcher too. She had a very long life and told her stories very well. Oh, and, of course, I agree that family can be who you say they are. 'Blood' is not a component as far as I'm concerned. LOL

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    1. I would say the best thing about modern life is that we take pictures of "little" things like a grandchild washing dishes. No one thought of doing such a thing when I was little, or when my kids were little. I have fantastic photos of all the grandkids in ordinary circumstances. Makes me so happy. And it is why Tom has TWO backups for our computer!

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  8. What a delight having Hazel help with the dishes. I do think this helps children learn how to work together. As your writers have said it gives people time to talk. I will never forget seeing my daughter and niece at the sink doing dishes after Thanksgiving dinner having a good gossip and giggle. It brings families together. And dirty dishes are a fact of life. Just as well learn about it when you are young.

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    1. I love the thought of your daughter and niece. Wonderful, wonderful. I also love the last two sentences! haha

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  9. I love the dishwashing picture and grandpa in his hat to shade his eyes!

    I hadn't heard of Rosamunde's death. I've probably read Shell Seekers four or five times over the years, went on to buy every other book she wrote. I never could get into her son's books after she stopped writing. She was a beautiful lady and of course my favorite picture of her was the one of her holding her lapful of dachshunds! Her characters were so fully developed and yes, the children in the Shell Seekers were obnoxious, less so the one who was the fashion editor. I did love the way Oliver redeemed himself in the later book, which one was it, September?? Senior memory!

    I remember reading Spool of Blue Thread and loving it. I love when an author makes the house a major theme in the book. My Tyler books were in the group that I put in our estate sale when we moved but I think I'd enjoy getting that one from the library for a second reading now.

    I've gone back this week to rereading the culinary mystery books of Virginia Rich, ever heard of her? She was supposed to have been the first of that genre and I think was the best. Right now I'm reading her third, The Nantucket Diet Murders--hope I've got that title right-- and sadly she passed away while writing her next one. It was finished and a few other Mrs. Potter mysteries were written by Nancy Pickard at Virginia's husband's request but naturally they were far from what I hoped they'd be.

    I was supposed to be reading, for the first time, Middlemarch this winter. There it has sat on my bed table, untouched. I've only wanted gentle books lately and the Rich books have been that. Now to go read about dear Rosamunde's passing.

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    1. I have heard of the Rich books, and may have read one a long time ago, but I may try her again. Thanks. I read Middlemarch in college but not since, and probably I should!

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    2. I meant to say that I did like Robin's books. I think there was only one that I didn't enjoy. I wonder why he stopped writing. Thank you for reminding me. I went back to my notes on his work, and was reminded how much I liked the books.

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  10. Dishes. That's the lovelest gift.

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  11. What a lovely post, Nan. You've really made me want to read the book. And wonderful seeing Nina at the sink. So grown up!

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    1. Thank you! She is so grown up. Amazing how the time goes. (Nina is actually Hazel's middle name)

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  12. I've never read this book, nor many of Anne Tyler's. I think I will have to give this a try. Dean Street Press has reissued a number of D.E. Stevenson's books with a forward from Alexander McCall Smith. You might find that interesting. I realized that a lot of what he wrote about her books applies to his as well! How lovely Hazel Nina looks helping with the dishes. She is indeed growing up and in a lovely way!

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    1. If you have read any, I'd love recommendations. I think you will like this one. It's so hard for me to write about books sometimes because I am so averse to giving away the story. This one unfolds in such a good way.
      I've read about the Dean Street Press books. What a good press they are, and isn't Furrowed Middlebrow associated with them? I bet the forwards are wonderful. He is a constant amazement to me.
      Thanks for your words about Hazel. She is a great little person.

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  13. It's been years since I read any tyler, and can't remember enough to recommend...all the A.McCall Smith forwards are the same one for the recent books.
    Furrowed Middlebrow is recommending books to them and they are publishing them. I can't imagine where he gets his stamina from! That FMiddlebrow.

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    1. Yup, FM is so awesome!!! Makes me so happy that all this is happening.

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  14. I love that photo (so precious) and, I also enjoyed A Spool of Blue Thread which I just read for the first time a few months back.
    It's amazing how time flies especially as we age - now I know what my mother meant.

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    1. I just read somewhere that if we break up our routine, it slows time down. It is doing the same thing every day at the same time that makes it seem like it is flying. I don't know if that's true or not but that's what I read.

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