Our Virtual Commonplace Book

commonplace:  noun, Archaic. A place or passage in a book or writing
noted as important for reference or quotation.

Findings from Our Work and Reading


John Sayles' Massive New Novel

I am at the very start of what promises to be a good, long read: A Moment in the Sun, the new 955-page novel by noted indie film writer and director John Sayles. Sayles' work has always satisfied me, whether celluloid or print, and I have no doubt that A Moment in the Sun will live up to the precedent he has set.

My favorite line so far: "The manager is an older man with a face like boiled ham." (page 38)

I have a long way to go and expect to encounter many more gems of plot, character, and language.

            Books & Movies by John Sayles


Romeo & Juliet in Pakistan

My Sisters Made of Light by Jacqueline St. Joan


This deeply moving and well-told tale of women in Pakistan — victims of so-called honor crimes, including murder, and their allies and advocates both female and male — effectively immerses the reader in an important culture and cultural divide. While it may be impossible to ever comprehend the motives behind honor crimes, the novel makes a clear case for the need to eliminate them entirely.

An excerpt:

Kulraj and Nafeesa in London. Romeo and Juliet in Verona. A Muslim and a Sikh in Pakistan. All of history conspired against them, but no matter. They would find a new way.

            One day Nafeesa and Kulraj met at a London tea shop. Its walls were lined with shelves of books, cups and saucers, metal canisters of tea. His knees could not fit under the tiny tables.

            “I have to admit, before I met you, I’d only seen Sikhs from a distance,” Nafeesa said. Kulraj’s teacup clattered against its saucer.

            “Yes, religious minorities in Pakistan, or in London, for that matter, have little opportunity for social interaction,” he said.

            “I’ve offended you?”

            No. It is my choice whether to take offense or not. But it is not easy to be a Sikh in an Islamic country.”

            Then she tested him.

            “Yes. It must be something like being a woman in a man’s world?”

            “Yes, it must be,” he said, relieved.” (Kindle edition, location 1333ff.)


The Hidden Thing You Seek

Ghost Light by Joseph O'Connor

A day in the life of an old, down-on-her-luck Irish actress, who remembers her love affair with playwright J. M. Synge. Beautiful prose that reads like poetry. Heavy going at times, but hauntingly memorable. One of those novels that seems to have been revealed, rather than written.

An excerpt:

A stretch into the sideboard’s deepest recess and you find the hidden thing you seek. A child’s Sunday School bible, the ribbon frayed and tangled, the threads of its binding unravelled. Folded into Ecclesiastes is the only letter you saved. The first time he had ever written your name. Wrong to have secretly kept it when his family had wanted everything, but on the morning when they came to take away all the proof of your existence you had been unable to surrender the last you had of him. Here it is now, the only thing you have ever stolen. You open the withered notepaper, its creases greyed by age, its inkblots like a mapped archipelago. It has not seen daylight in seventeen years. There were nights you hoped the mice would devour it. (pages 21-22)


. . . Mimicking a Face that Wasn't Human

The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht

Wow! An amazingly beautiful novel by a young woman who grew up in the former Yugoslavia. The kind of rich fictional experience we're always looking for in novels, but so rarely find.

An excerpt:

The tiger’s wife must have seen the hesitation in his face, because at that moment, her upper lip lifted and her teeth flashed out, and she hissed at him with the ridge of her nose folded up against her eyes. The sound — the only sound he ever heard her make, when she had made no sound over broken bones and bruises that spread like continents over her body — went through him like a rifle report and left him there, left him paralyzed. She was naked, furious, and he knew suddenly that she had learned to make that sound mimicking a face that wasn’t human. He left with the bottle, without turning his back to her, reaching behind him to feel for the door, and when he opened it he couldn’t even feel the cold air coming in. The heat of the house stayed with him like a mark as he walked back. (pages 319-320)


Pining for Questions

The Sherlockian by Graham Moore

Great fun! The narrative switches between Conan Doyle trying to use "Sherlockian" techniques to solve a murder in the year 1900, and a modern "Sherlockian" trying to solve a murder in the year 2010.

A pair of excerpts:

“Not knowing is the worst outcome for any mystery story, because we need to believe that everything in the world is knowable. Justice is optional, but answers, at least, are mandatory. And that’s what I love about Holmes. That the answers are so elegant and the world he lives in so ordered and rational. It’s beautiful.”
    “The romance of a rational world,” Sarah said. (page 256)

Harold found himself pining not for solutions, but for questions. For more. He realized that even after all the stories he’d read, he’d been left completely unprepared for this moment — for the quiet days after the climax when the world ticked onward. He’d read thousands upon thousands of moments of revelation, of grand gestures of explanation, in which the torn fabric of life had been stitched tightly shut and patted over. He’d read thousands of happy endings and thousands of sad ones, and he had found himself satisfied with both. What he had not read, he now realized, were the moments after the endings. If Harold believed in stories because they presented an understandable word . . . well, what happens when the world is understood and that understanding means nothing to anyone but you and the empty tumbler of bourbon nestled in your palm? Harold had understood that not finding a solution would have been awful, but he had never before thought that finding one, and then having actually to go on living with it, might be worse. (pages 286-287)