My Year of Binchy: Week 2

January 8-14, 2024

I am almost finished with this book of short stories. I have two left. That means I have to decide what to do next – read in a random willy nilly order? Or the publication dates? I could start there and go willy nilly if I want. Yeah, I’ll do that.

Also, I have started picking up any Maeve Binchy books I see at used bookstores. I used to not, because I owned them all already, but then Mickey reminded me that it will be a good idea to have them on hand to lend out.

So if you hear about one you like, let me know and I’ll “lend” you a copy from the Professor Haus (if it’s one I have multiples of).

Monday, January 8
  • Book: “A Few of the Girls”
  • Story: “The Bargain”
  • Location: Front Porch, twinkle lights and headlamp on, 34 degrees
  • Playlist: “For All Mankind: Official Playlist”
  • Smoking: Dirty Little Secret – Indica from Goldkine
  • Did I cry? Yes, surprisingly for such a short story, twice. They were just silent, cinematic tears, though. No heaving sobs or anything.

This story made me feel better about our move. Not that I ever felt ~bad~ about it in the first place. But it gave me the feeling that I am the place I’m supposed to be, in a small town full of people I can take the time to get to know, not in a sprawling city of strangers.

Orlando was fun, but it felt like it lived in this weird purgatory between a real, big city and a country town. I recently came across the concept of “first” (cities like NYC and LA), “second” (cities like Boston, Philly, and Atlanta), “third” (DETROIT!! NEW ORLEANS!!!) cities and realized that I really love the third cities the most.

Here, in Melvindale, I am less than 15 minutes away from a third city filled with all kinds of culture and food and sports and things to do in a concentrated space. In Orlando, I was at least 20 minutes away from everything, 40 in traffic. And if I wanted to do an art museum and eat, I would have to use some sort of wheeled transportation between the two. I’m struggling to place Orlando in the city tier. 5th, I’d say, maybe. The tourism makes it such a strange city.

The difference in the story was living in Dublin proper vs living 200 miles away out in the country proper, but this is what it made me think about, the city tiers.

And how happy I am living in this historical house that both my Nana and Maeve Binchy would be proud of, in this tiny town that is still somehow bigger than the one I grew up in. I love it here.

My indoor setup. Yes, that is a Third Man Records blanket.
Friday, January 12
  • Book: “A Few of the Girls”
  • Story: “Living Well”
  • Location: Front room, cuddled in a blanket. It is snowing outside
  • Playlist: “For All Mankind: Official Playlist”
  • Smoking: not a dang thing. I’m raw dogging these emotions today
  • Did I cry? No, but I did give it the side eye.

First off – bonus! I thought this was the last story, but it is not! There is one more! Woohoooooo. I’m glad, because I didn’t like the way this one made my tummy feel. It didn’t feel like a happy ending.

It felt like a woman got broken up with and then did all this work of bettering herself to get back to the person she was before the fella came along. Then, instead of going through the realization that she is better off without him, she takes him back immediately when he realizes instead how better off he was with her taking care of him.

It was told from the POV of a friend. I think that is what gave it a sad feel of an end, instead of a happy one.

Also, the guy was a total shit. So…

Friday, story 2
  • Book: “A Few of the Girls”
  • Story: “New Year’s Eve and the Garden”
  • Location: Front room, cuddled in a blanket. No more snow falling from the sky, but it’s still yech out there.
  • Playlist: “For All Mankind: Official Playlist”
  • Smoking: not a dang thing. I’m raw dogging these emotions today. still.
  • Did I cry? Okay, yes, almost the entire time, when I realized what the story was about.

This was the perfect story to end this book on. It is about an abruptly widowed woman who threw a NYE party each year with her husband. This is her first NYE without him, and is not having her event. Other people wonder what to do with her, and even what to do with themselves, because they have been going to “The Whites” (ironically also my grandparents last name) for NYE every year.

They debate if they should invite Mrs. White places, but in the end they do not, as she says she is happy to stay home by herself. They, of course all think it’s sad and lonely, but she seems happy with her decision.

Then there’s a quick word montage of the other folks having negative experiences, as Binchy reveals more of Mrs. White’s evening to us. She has a roaring fire, a cozy drink and 14 slim blue volumes arranged in front of her.

Her hubby’s diaries. She took the time to read each NYE and New Year’s Day entry. It’s just a lovely little story.

It hit home for me because a lot of her hubby’s diary entries were mundane about the small things in life – and last fall, we started a diary of sorts for our yard, where we write down all the things we do in it, so we can learn from our own mistakes and successes year after year.

Very similar to how Mr. White wrote about his own garden in this book, before his abrupt exit. I dunno, y’all, it made me feel like I am on the right path right now.

Okay, so now that this book is done, I have a choice to make.

Do I read the books in a willy nilly order? Like, just however I want to? Or do I read them in publication order. Between digital and physical copies (shout out to Robyn for helping me replenish some. the books I had to get rid of in my previous marriage through her diligent trips to used books stores- including an autographed copy!!!!), I own them all.

Okay, I looked at the publication order and I’ think I’m gonna follow it for a bit. “Light a Penny Candle” was one of the ones my brain wants to read the most, so I’m happy to start there!

Saturday, January 13
  • Book: “Light a Penny Candle” (1982 – I was 5 years old when this came out)
  • Chapters: 1 & 2
  • Location: Front room couch, again. My outisde chair has ice on it! The temperature is 28, but due to wind conditions it feels like it’s 15. If there were no wind and no ice, I’d be out there.
  • Smoking: Nada, y’all.
  • Playlist: “For All Mankind: Official Playlist”
  • Did I cry? Got misty when I recognized myself in the main character.

Okay, immediately I am reminded of the very first time I read this book and had no idea how to pronounce the name ‘Aisling’. Spoiler alert, I was VERY wrong. Now that I know the correct pronunciation, I find it to be a very pretty name.

Spoiler alert: This is not the first name this is gonna happen with during this journey.

In fact there were two more in these two chapters alone: Eamonn and Niamh.

Okay, so due to a bunch of brain things, I have a very crap memory. IN fact there is a name for it: SDAM or Severely Deficient Autobiographical Memory. This is a common comorbidity of folks with aphantasia (no mind’s eye) which I also have!

What that means, for me at least, is I don’t remember things as they happen, I remember how they make me feel. Unknowingly, I’ve had a lifetime of this, so I’ve also had a lifetime to build an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine in my brain to replicate memories as they exist to other people.

I call it the card catalogue and maybe I should write an actual blog about that.

The reason I bring it up here is because my bad memory allows me to reread things or rewatch things multiple times and still be surprised. I’ll remember big beats of things, and characters, and catchy lines of dialogue, but only grasp and hang onto the tiniest threads of the story. So much so that when I read or watch it again, I get to experience the story part all over again.

That said, when I started this book, I fell back into the characters immediately. The two mains are Aisling and Elizabeth, currently aged 10. Elizabeth felt like me, the way it is to live inside my brain and Aisling felt a bit like what the loose part of me felt, if I didn’t have all these mental illnesses and other things clogging up the works.

The story starts in wartime London. All of the children are being evacuated due to the threat of bombs, and Elizabeth’s parents struggle to think of a place to evacuate their ten year old daughter to. Elizabeth of course overhears and worries, silently. She is a single child and very timid and easily frightened.

Eventually it is decided that they will ask a school friend of Elizabeth’s mom who lives in Ireland, with a pretty large family. Talk about a culture shock.

So, that’s where I’m starting. I remember this book is sad, because all of the early Binchy novels dealt with some sort of tragedy from what I recall. I had forgotten what an epic it was though. Most of her later work is so slice of life and almost mundane and quaint, I forgot how sprawling her early work is.

I’m really excited to keep going with this.

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