Recently, a colleague of mine and I were discussing upcoming books. Both of us were intrigued with one book in particular, Maria Semple’s Where'd You Go Bernadette. A heartfelt, hilarious and extremely quirky read, Bernadette centers around a particularly unique family: Bernadette Fox (a formerly famous architect turned misanthropic recluse), her husband Elgie (a Microsoft guru) and their genius daughter Bee. When Bernadette disappears just before a family trip to Antarctica, Bee compiles emails, faxes, articles and handwritten notes in an attempt to find her mother. In tribute to the epistolary form of the book, my colleague and I have composed quite the unique blog post. Please read on…
July 25, 2012
So – a joint blog post. I’m thinking let’s not make it literary; I want it to be visceral. Last week, when we sat together and discussed Maria Semple’s new novel Where'd You Go Bernadette, I could tell we were on the same wavelength. This novel is something special: unique, quirky and undeniably heartfelt. Immediately upon reading the last line, I wanted to group hug the Fox/Branch family. We need to get the word out. Are you in?
July 30, 2012
I was thinking about what you said last week about Bernadette as it relates to normalcy, how what seems like insanity to the world at large is perfectly normal to the people living it. For some reason, visiting my family reminded me of that idea. Mind you, unlike the Fox/Branch family, we don’t live in a former Catholic school and my mom hasn’t outsourced her life to a personal assistant in India yet, but you know what I mean.
That’s what this book did to me. The characters continue to rattle around in my brain months after I finished it. Where'd You Go Bernadette was the quickest I’ve read a book in years. Not because I had to, but because I wanted to.
Am I in? Do you have to ask?
July 31, 2012
I love that you said your mom hasn’t outsourced her life to a personal assistant in India .. yet! It’s so true. Families are fundamentally quirky in their own way, and that’s what I loved about Bernadette, her husband Elgie and their daughter, Bee. I felt like I knew them; like they could have been eccentric members of my own family. I would say the first half of the book had me laughing at the quirkiness. Who lives in an old abandoned Catholic school?! I could picture it so well: the overgrown blackberry bushes, the trailer in the backyard, the expansive halls. I loved the oddity of it.
I keep thinking of how I will describe this book to people when I hand it to them (and I will be handing it to everyone). I contemplated the things I would say:
“Maria Semple wrote for Mad About You and Arrested Development!"
“Antarctica is involved. Come on, it’s gotta be good!”
“Garth Stein blurbed for it! Didn’t you LOVE The Art of Racing in the Rain?!” (Side note: if you haven’t read this book, you must. Bernadette had the same heartfelt but unique delivery as Stein’s book. Please see following video of Semple and Stein discussing their books. Two of my favourites? I am in love.)
But nothing seems to describe it well enough. Nothing shows that I stayed up late giggling to myself, or wiping tears off my face near the end. Nothing shows just how much I saw bits of so many people I know in the characters. Or the way I recognized the love that exists in my own family in the connections between Bee, Bernadette and Elgie. So I have decided this instead: I will simply tell everyone I loved it.
Looking forward to hearing back from you soon. We need to start planning a blog post! How we are going to combine all of our adoration for this book into a post or two, I will never know!
Aug 2, 2012
I hear you on how to describe it to people. I’ve been back at the store for a couple of days now; I keep telling customers they have to come back for Bernadette when it comes out. Some tools from my arsenal:
“It’s a light comedy with a heart that also respects your intelligence.”
“Does to the technological culture of Seattle what the show Portlandia does for Portland.”
“When’s the last time you laughed out loud while learning about architecture, artificial intelligence and the climate of the South Pole?”
I think that’s an important aspect we should try to point out: that while some might be tempted to turn up their noses and file it away as a “girly book” because it examines the mother/daughter and mother/woman relationships, there are enough themes in the novel to make it appealing to men as well: Elgie’s work at Microsoft, his TED Talk, Bernadette’s…unique...perspective on everything from her fellow parents to four-way stops to Canadians; there’s a lot to love here.
But yes, right, blog post. I was sort of thinking, I know some people seem to be put off by the notion that the book’s epistolary nature, the collection of email correspondence Bee collects to piece together leading up to her mom’s disappearance. Semple herself seems to be aware this’ll be hurdle for some readers, judging by the book’s trailer [Have you seen it yet? It’s pretty funny].
So I was thinking, what if we made the blog post like an email correspondence? That way we can tell people how much we love this book, while giving them an idea of what they can expect by the novel’s structure.
Let me know what you think! If it works for you, we can get this ball rolling.
August 3, 2012
You, my friend, are a genius. If email correspondence is what we are looking for, I think we already have it finished. What shows better raw emotion than a censor-free email chain? Done and done. This blog is going to be awesome!