Bolinas Reads: April 2024

A monthly interview with Bolinas Library readers.


Fran McDormand and her husband, Joel, and son, Pedro have had a home in Bolinas for twenty years. When not on the road for work, they enjoy the solitude and privacy that all in the Bolinas community hold dear. Fran has been working as an actor and producer of theatre, screen, and film for 40 years and has been honored by her peers in all. She mentioned that her time spent in Bolinas and the relationships she's made here have been influential in her work and the development of projects. Over these twenty years in Bolinas, she has been involved with the Bolinas Community Land Trust, opens a new window championing affordable housing, and with friends’ projects for the Bolinas Stinson School, opens a new window and the Bolinas Community Center., opens a new window

What are you reading now?

Absolution, opens a new window by Alice McDermott, a story of Vietnamese women married to GIs during the war. There is a very well-written section describing a woman preparing to go out for the evening with her husband and the multiple layers of clothing and makeup necessary to present herself properly in public. One of the reaffirming things about aging as a female in Bolinas is that I have not been beholden to those restrictions, and I have helped bring that possibility to a broader public audience through my choices of roles and the way I dress and comport myself in social situations.
Eve: How the Female Body Drove 200 Years of Human Evolution, opens a new window by Cat Bohannon, a fantastic book that puts into perspective the development of a matriarchal society without just dumping on patriarchy.

What’s in your pile of books?  

Varieties of Exile, opens a new window by Mavis Gallant
Short Stories by V.S. Pritchard

How does your work influence your reading?

I have never read books with the idea of them being anything other than a literary artifact. But sometimes one becomes lodged somewhere in my imagination as moving pictures and characters that should come to life for others beyond my own imagination. I felt that way about Olive Kitteridge, opens a new window, Elizabeth Strout’s novel made of thirteen short stories. I have often thought that books that have not been fully realized are often better material for film adaptation than the ones that have been. That is NOT the case with Strout’s novels. We got lucky!
Books I have optioned and/or adapted for film as a producer:
Every Secret Thing, opens a new window, Laura Lippman
Olive Kitteridge, opens a new window, Elizabeth Strout
Awakening Land, opens a new window, Conrad Richter
The Tragedy of Macbeth, opens a new window, William Shakespeare
Women Talking, opens a new window, Miriam Toews
The Alien, opens a new window, F.F. Montresor

Do you read one book at a time or several?

Usually one at a time, but lately I have been going back and forth from nonfiction to short stories.

What’s the best book you’ve read this year? How do you find your books?

Mostly friends recommend them. Sometimes I read the New York Times Book review, opens a new window. Two books recommended by Bolinas friends come to mind. One of my all-time favorites was Kristin Lavransdatter, opens a new window, by Sigrid Undset that my dear friend Leslie Creed gave me. We exchanged books all the time. It is a great female protagonist-driven Scandinavian saga. And Straight Dope, opens a new window by Tommy Swerdlow, given to me by Hanford Woods.

I also enjoy spending hours and hours in the sun on Liz Grace’s deck arguing about the best book ever.

Do you like to read paper or eBooks?

Paper, paper, paper. The heft, the feel, the smell, the luxury of them! Nothing compares. Although, Joel and I drive across country a lot and back and forth to LA and listen together in the car. We listened to Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, opens a new window last year. It is read by a really amazing reader named Lee Horsley, opens a new window. It is an underrated novel, in my opinion.

Are you a browser in the library or do you know in advance what you are looking for?  

Usually I know because I take friends’ recommendations and then search.

Do you have a favorite genre?

Fiction has always been my first choice, but as I get older, nonfiction is like a classroom and I enjoy that.

Any genres that you never read?

Joel reads biographies of despots and tyrants: Stalin, opens a new window, Lenin, opens a new window, Hitler, opens a new window, and nuclear physicists when we are on holiday. This is not the way I spend my holiday.

Have your preferences changed throughout the years?

I once loved sci-fi novels. Now we live in a sci-fi novel.

What was your reading experience as a child?

The summer I was between 2nd and 3rd grade, our local library in Chattanooga, Tennessee challenged young readers to finish ten books. If you succeeded, your Polaroid portrait would be mounted on the community board with the list of the ten books. I achieved the goal and was thrilled. I read avidly ever after. When a very wise 8th grade English teacher in Monessen, PA suggested that we perform scenes from Macbeth, opens a new window after school for our parents, I was introduced to the “social” aspect of literature; the theatre. From that point forward, I only wanted to be on the stage.

What books might we be surprised to find on your shelves?

Hunters, opens a new window by James Slater, perhaps because it is such a thoroughly masculine perspective? The Foxfire Books, opens a new window, although anyone who really knows me understands my loving those. I don’t keep these on a shelf but I have been a dedicated Vogue magazine reader for 35 years.

Is there a famous author that you ever wanted to meet?  Maybe back in time?

There are three authors named Elizabeth: Bowen, opens a new window, Jenkins, opens a new window and Taylor, opens a new window. They are not well known and I only discovered them recently. I love their voices. Especially The Tortoise and the Har, opens a new windowe by Jenkins. I think tea with those three would be an interesting afternoon. Leonora Carrington, opens a new window would crash the proceedings and cause a stir.

What’s the last great book that you read and recommended to a friend?

Norwood , opens a new windowby Charles Porter and the short story Parker’s Back, opens a new window by Flannery O’Connor. They are crazy funny. Say Nothing , opens a new windowby Patrick Radden Keefe. I always pass along Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows, opens a new window, a meditation on aesthetics that is perfect.

What do you plan to read next?  Do you plan?

Every day I plan to read more than I actually achieve. I blame it on the iPad.

Are there any books you like to re-read?

I always think I will return to all of Dickens again but haven’t yet. I love it when you get into a writer's work and syntax so much that you start thinking that way. When reading Dickens,, opens a new window I start thinking in long, elaborate, beautiful sentences. Otherwise, I am not really a re-reader, unless I have forgotten that I already read something and begin again!

Are there any books or authors you think you should have read and still may someday?

James Joyce, opens a new window and Moby Dick, opens a new window. I might have regretted it at some point but not anymore.

What are some of your favorites from the past?

Books I have really dug:

Friends and Relations, opens a new window, Elizabeth Bowen
Tortoise and the Hare, opens a new window, Elizabeth Jenkins
Angel, opens a new window, Elizabeth Taylor
The Hearing Trumpet, opens a new window, Leonora Carrington
Stories I Might Regret Telling You,, opens a new window Martha Wainwright
Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret, opens a new window, Craig Brown
The Rise and Fall of the British Nanny, opens a new window, Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy

Other favorites that I have not mentioned yet are:

Makioka Sisters, opens a new window, Junichiro Tanizake: one of the best novels ever written, extraordinary.
The Great Fire, opens a new window, Shirley Hazzard
Norwood, opens a new window, Charles Portis
In the Heart of the Sea, opens a new window, Nathaniel Philbrick
Serenade, opens a new window, James M. Cain: A great first line: I was in Tupinamba, having a bizcocho and coffee, when this girl came in.
Varieties of Exile, opens a new window, Mavis Gallant
Say Nothing, opens a new window, Patrick Radden Keefe
The Fatal Shore, opens a new window, Robert Hughes

Do you have a collection of books at home? If so, where do you keep them and do you re-read?

We have books all around us everywhere and floor to ceiling. I miss the Bolinas Book Exchange, opens a new window desperately because we could always responsibly recycle our shelves and exchange them with others.

When and where do you like to read?

In bed at night and on a rainy day on our window seat looking out at Mt. Tam in between chapters. Bliss.

Describe your ideal reading experience.
When I don’t move for a couple of hours and get up and my bum has gone to sleep without me knowing.

Why read?
Why breathe!