A few months ago, I happily signed up for a Ponzi scheme, perpetrated by the inimitable Citizen of the Month.
Neil is like some kind of internet era Pied Piper. I first encountered him years ago, when he was organizing the Great Interview Experiment. He is also the ringleader of the Annual Blogger Christmahanukwanzaakah Online Holiday Concert, which he started back in 2006, and which I have contributed to several times.
The schtick of the Ponzi scheme is that it's a book swap - instead of an old-style chain letter, or the recipe or poem chains that I get regular emails about - it was this:
WANTED: Participants for a book-loving social experiment. Comment if you want to participate and I’ll send you details. What do you have to do? Buy or locate your favorite book and send it to a stranger (I’ll send you a name and address). You will only be sending one book to one person. The number of books you will receive depends on how many participants there are. The books that will show up on your door are the other people’s much loved stories #SaveTheCulture #BookExchange #LongLiveBooks
So I duly mailed a book off to a stranger, and in return, had five books show up on my doorstep:
I'd read A Man Called Ove, but hadn't read any of the others - and they were all good: serious, interesting fiction. And even though I'd read Ove, I was happy to get a copy, because I'd read it as a library book, and I think my 13 year old will like it.
I was particularly happy to read the Flannery O'Connor. She'd been on my mind, because someone in my office loves her and talks about her a lot, but somehow I hadn't ever read her. The Violent Bear It Away is powerful, crazy, interesting and mind-bending - and the first thing I did when I finished it was take O'Connor's letters out of the library. Fascinating woman.
Anne Tyler's A Spool of Blue Thread is kind of shaggy, kind of meandering, kind of touching. I rather loved a passage about painting the swing blue, which reminded me of Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House, and turns out to be a contentious plot point. "I'm thinking a kind of medium blue, like a ... well, I don't know what shade exactly you would call it, but it's darker than baby blue, and lighter than navy. Just a middling blue, you know? Like a ... maybe they call it Swedish blue. Or ... is there such a thing as Dutch blue?" It goes on, winding though Mediterranean blue and sky blue and not powder or aqua or pale and back to Swedish blue.
The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri is a rich family saga. Towards the end, she writes "In so many ways, his family's life feels like a string of accidents, unforeseen, unintended, one incident begetting another." In so many ways, every family's life is like that - this book and A Spool of Blue Thread are exceptional iterations of that age-old truth.
The Giant's House is beautifully written, but I vacillated between really liking it, and feeling like it was just going through the motions. Nothing really happens, but some of the descriptive language is beautiful and sharp and inventively odd. Like this:
Somebody did want his bones: me. Not just bones, or the quilted muscles that wrapped them, or the resistant but assailable cartilage in his ears. I wanted to ladle together my hands and dip them in him and cast from my netted fingers a net of blood onto the floor to read, untangle what was wrong and fish it out, see, no wonder you felt poorly, this was in your blood.
I found the ending to be tidy and preposterous - and if a book ends poorly, it leaves a bad taste. That said, I plan to read Elizabeth MrCracken's memoir, called An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, about her life in the aftermath of a stillborn child.
But what is my point? Not all pyramid schemes are bad. At worst, I'd have been out a book plus postage. That I got five books from complete strangers was gravy.