By: Esther M. Powell
Posted on: Mon, August 01 2011 - 11:34 pm
March 30, 2012
It was with delight that I stumbled across Faces in the Pool by Jonathan Gash at the public library. I hadn't seen a new mystery by Gash for years.
You won't find a humbler amateur "detective" than Lovejoy, who instead of sticking his nose into other people's business to solve crimes finds himself sucked into the criminal activity of others due to his business - and his talent as a "divvy."
Deplorable and loveable in his cluelessness, he still figures everything out before we do (usually) which is a good thing because his life (usually) depends on it.
Maybe these are cosies, but I kind of think not because as in this one, too many innocent people - oops! I almost said too much.
If you like crafts and antiques, I'll bet you like these books.
Another book I finished lately was a Thomas Hardy book I ordered through my Kindle. Instead of an occasional initial "h" instead of "l" it was very readable. Originally entitled The Mellstock Quire, it has also been published under the title Under the Greenwood. Another youthful work of his, I guess, and lovely in its way. His introduction, in which he writes about the musicians who played in church before they were supplanted by organists, was the most moving part of the book for me. But, hey, I have been a musician and am the daughter of one.
One of the wonderful things about reading books from this century is the different attitude to life so many people had. The young hero, for instance, appears in the beginning after going on a run on a cold night "to warm his feet."
How many people these days, young or old, think of that response to cold feet?
March 23, 2012
I read Wodehouse many years ago and was moderately shocked and hugely amused. Never forgot it.
The other day I picked up P.G. Wodehouse's The Plot That Thickened at the library.
What a romp! This one isn't shocking, just funny.
Why haven't I picked up one of his scores of books more often?
They are better than chocolate chip cookies on a rainy day!
March 20, 2012
Matt Whyman lies more than a character in a sit-com - at least, his comic narrator persona does.
(And if not, he still lies - no, I take that back. This book (Oink)is not classified a biography.)
No, the boldfaced italic word is not an expletive. It is a title, the subtitle of which is My Life With Mini-Pigs.
If you want a cosy way to learn more about the care and culture of pigs, this is definitely the way to go. This poor man, who is pig-peed and catty and dogged as well as hen-pecked, goes through trials and tribulations while putting a brave face on it all in a way most of us could not if all we had was a pet photograph.
I guess the biggest thing I learned in an emotional way is why I shouldn't have a mini-pig, but hell, I knew that anyway.
Fascinating to hear about the species itself from someone who doesn't just write fables about it like yours truly.
Of course, that is one thing that drew me to the book. Piglet needed inspiration, and now I know a bunch more stuff that she can get up to, if she is so inclined!
I don't know if mini-pigs are still all the rage (this book was published in 2011, and the fad may have already faded by then) but before you make a major investment, read Whyman's book! Then if anyone suggests that you get a mini-pig, say, "Why, man?"
If this book doesn't answer that question, nothing will!
March 15, 2012
Just finished Sue Grafton's V is for Vengeance, and although it was longer than most of her works and studded with seemingly unrelated characters and scenarios at the beginning, it was possible to remember everything well enough to bring it all together when Grafton does (me) if not before hand (probably you.)
Here is a scrappy heroine for you, and if you haven't read her alphabet novels as they have come out, maybe you better start with A. I guarantee you A is not for Apple!
I've been a little worried about whether she was going to bother to go to Z, and I am reassured by a bio about her in Wikipedia that she has plans to finish the alphabetical series.
Wow! Her novels are so much blood and fun! I'm glad we have more to look forward to.
And for those who want to just begin, I saw a paperback of A is for Alibi just yesterday at the supermarket. The library may no longer have it on the shelf - avid readers have leafed them to shreds, perhaps!
March 7, 2012
Who says coinkydinks don't happen?
Well, actually, these two mentions of "irreducible complexity" weren't inked at the same time - I just read them at the same time.
Jane Haddam's mystery Living Witness has two contingents of rabid characters, some fundamentalist Christians and some nonbelievers acting as - oops! Don't want to ruin it for you!
Anyway, some of them use the expression "irreducible complexity" as a creationist argument.
Michael S. Gazzaniga also talks about the subject in his nonfiction book, Who's in Charge?
Gazzaniga, however, is anything but rabid. He is actually, quite relaxed and charming. There are some sections in which my understanding increased with a second reading, but on the whole accessible and entertaining are good words to describe his writing.
"Required reading" I would use as two words to describe this book.
Tired of the tussle between the ideas of free will and determinism and the consequent moral and legal dilemmas this conflict involves?
Read Gazzaniga! The truth will set you free!
Gee, maybe Bill Mahrer isn't the Second Coming after all!
Maybe it's Michael Gazzaniga, and I don't even know how to pronounce his name!
Gazzaniga ranges in this book from ancient philosophers to optical illusions to brain structure to legal philosophy and the legal system.
I defy you to not learn something if you read this book!
Jane Haddam's mystery? Oh yeah, I got so excited about M.G. that I almost forgot.
Living Witness is the best mystery I've read in recent memory. Besides, reading Haddam actually introduces you to concepts like "irreducible complexity!"
While on the subject of mysteries, Jeanne M. Dam's book Holy Terror in the Hebrides is a no-go. So silly. And her idea of the physical condition of a sixty-something! Positively ancient, while her heroine's mental workings are like those of a 13-year-old. If I had any sense at all, I would have put it down. But then I wouldn't have had the right to whine about it!
February 28, 2012
The residents of the village portrayed in Olive Kitteredge should read the I Ching.
There is a hexagram that says, essentially: you are sitting there with your hands folded looking depressed. This behavior should not be persevered in.
Many of these people in this book are so damned helpless!
I'm not saying they can really escape all the external circumstances of their lives, but just sitting around feeling sorry for yourself is not a good thing.
(I myself walk around town complaining wildly, also not a good thing, admittedly, but at least I am getting some exercise!)
Still, Elizabeth Strout's stories are arresting and entertaining. Olive Kitteredge, in her quiet way, has a much more exciting life than most ordinary citizens, which presses the boundaries of my disbelief - kind of like the gardeners and seamstresses that stumble across dead bodies everywhere they turn.
At least she's a complex critter, which makes her interesting, if not always sympathetic.
* * *
I tried The Recycled Citizen by Charlotte Macleod because the cover said, "'Hilarious,' - Publishers Weekly".
"Mildly amusing," say I. Maybe if I had been able to understand all the foreign-language sops to snob appeal I might have been tickled into hilarity, but I doubt it.
Too cosy by several yards of fleece, it also doesn't even make a nod to the forensics that were surely in use even back in 1988.
In the future I will give Macleod a pass.
February 21, 2012
Having read an article in The Week about the ramifications of Internet gossip, when I ran across the Joseph Epstein book it came from, I checked it out.
The first parts of Epstein's book do not deal with the Internet, but his great flow of words and witty style do not hide that this is a man who is definitely deeply ambivalent about gossip.
One of his problems with it is that, "make no mistake," it implies judgment. But later he writes that sometimes it might be information simply passed on to help one person help understand another.
In my opinion, gossip is a word that covers more activity than the word "love."
Epstein's overly sympathetic treatment of the female student who, "pressed for time" asked another student to write a paper for her, is dumbfounding. I never, in all my school career, ever asked another person to write my paper. One time, realizing my ideas had changed in midstream, I had to turn in the paper unaltered to make the deadline. I got a C instead of my usual A. What a pity! Now I realize I could have pled "pressed for time" as an excuse for cheating.
The behavior of the young man who outed her was revolting, too.
Honestly! Why are we even wasting energy on all this crappy behavior? Oh, maybe because the rest of us are tired of picking up other people's dog-poop, literally and figuratively!
I agree it is an awful thing when a person's reputation gets unjustly tarnished or ruined, but that happened way before the Internet was ever invented.
My solution to the problem is, most of the time people just take gossip too seriously. As Epstein remarks, it isn't going away anytime soon.
Epstein is one of those most unfortunate beings (for the rest of us), a sexist that doesn't know he is one. Read the book at least through page 171 and see if you don't agree!
One highly confused old man!
Oh, I almost forgot. There is some really good dirt in Gossip about a lot of people. Stuff I never heard on the Internet! Here it is in good old-fashioned print!
February 13, 2012
The other day I realized that I never wrote about Desperate Remedies by Thomas Hardy. Is that because I don't really think when I am reading my Kindle that I am reading real books?
This is an early novel, and really is quite young. The twists and turns might be unbelievable if England weren't such a small country - well, come to think of it, they are unbelievable anyway.
I don't remember Hardy throwing in so many foreign language quotes (presumably so the readers who could read them could feel superior) in his more mature works. They are a real flaw in this one.
Interesting to find out though, that the phrase "cliff-hanger" was first used to describe Hardy's work - some of which, like Charles Dickens', first appeared in magazine serial form.
I like Hardy. He really conveys the country life of England with descriptive virtuosity.
Barbara Graham's Murder by Music isn't. I was hoping for some interesting exotic property of sound, but of course with a subtitle The Wedding Quilt I should have known better.
A quilter's cosy.
February 8, 2012
Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith will probably be my last foray into the subject of Mormonism for a while. This read is combo history, real-life crime (one of the most horrifying I have ever read an account of (admittedly, I prefer my murder fictional) social analysis, religion - in other words, worlds within worlds.
He quotes Anthony Storr (Feet of Clay - sounds like another good read) as describing gurus and prophets and charismatic religious figures as being narcissistic - an idea I have been gradually moving toward in the last few years myself.
Krakauer prefaces most of his chapters with quotes from various sources, actually, and Bertrand Russell was a name that stood out to me as familiar but whom I have never read. Too bad we haven't read more of these level heads with regards to religion, or too bad we haven't had the guts to heed them!
One of Krakauer's interviewees, an endearing science teacher, is philosophical about his involvement with and early training by Mormons. He comments that the Mormons are probably as happy as any people, also remarking that there is probably no more pedophilia (to be specific) in fundamentalist Mormon communities than other communities.
Here I think the science teacher is kidding himself. One of my very first steps towards feeling guiltless while washing my hands of religion was made when I read that being very religious was part of the psychological profile of pedophiles.
Krakauer grew up among Mormons in Corvallis, OR, and evidently had a good experience of them. (I myself, only in Corvallis for three years, had no clue that the Mormons were particularly well represented in the population.) He does warn in stentorian tones, though, against those who think they are speaking and acting for God. These are very scary people.
I find the truths Krakauer has put forth in this book to be terrifying. That in this day and age there are people in this country who - well, never mind - this is a book everyone should read for himself. It is so engrossing it won't take long to read. Getting over it so quickly might be another matter!
But we need to know about this stuff in the same way we need to know about secret sweat shops in New York and slavery in the U.S. today. It will help us know our America. Brrr.
February 3, 2012
The next Valparaiso Public Library book club book is American Uprising: The Untold Story of America's Largest Slave Revolt by Daniel Rasmussen.
An amazing book verging on literary journalism, I learned something about the Mississippi River in the first paragraph. The learning - about New Orleans, slave uprisings and their subsequent coverups just keeps on in this fast-paced easily-read scholarly work.
If I ever heard anything about this revolt in school I don't remember it.
This book started out as Rasmussen's senior's thesis at Harvard University, but the list of people who read it, contributed thought to it, and helped make it ready for publishing is another learning experience for those who don't read acknowledgement pages in nonfiction books. It takes a village to raise a child? It takes a city to publish a book!
Here is another book which should be required reading for all Americans who are under some patriotic delusion that we have always been fair, aboveboard, respectful of the law, and virtuous in our dealings with the world.
Quite the contrary - and the story of American expansion tangential to this tale of the woes of the Louisiana revolutionaries exhibits our national failings sans brushing up.
Wow. I'm looking forward to Daniel's master's thesis!
January 14, 2012
I just read another real estate sleuth mystery by Nancy Lynn Jarvis. Beginning this book was like hitting the highway after winding roads for its ease of reading, and I enjoyed that.
But Backyard Bones, while entertaining, was too easy to solve and predict partly because of the author's literary devices.
Good for slugging down quickly and neatly on the beach or after a heavier read like a biography of Brigham Young (see below). That guy makes a simple murder seem relatively feckless and harmless! Gee, murder mysteries really are light reading!
January 12, 2012
Brigham Young by Morris Robert Werner, begins with a professed attempt at objectivity, including a psychological speculation that Joseph Smith's unadmitted desires for more than one woman led him to have a "revelation" about the will of God desiring Mormons to practice polygamy.
As the pages unleaf (heh), though, he seems more and more seduced by Joseph Smith's successor as church leader, Brigham Young.
This book was published in 1925, so you can forgive the author's sexism (I can't!) but let me give one obvious example of why I shouldn't have to prove it: there are several pictures of Brigham Young in the company of his male cohorts here (all identified), and very few of his wives. There is one page with twenty likeness on it, titled only "Some of Brigham Young's Wives." Not one of these women is identified with her photo!
This is a book well worth reading, but I had trouble getting through it, especially towards the end where it seems more like an apology for Brigham Young's behavior and the author calls him "great."
He may have accomplished a good deal, but how worthwhile were his deeds? Personally, I find the man and his autocracy even as described in this book despicable.
You will have to read it to believe it, though. Don't take my word for it!
I'm sick of Young, but interested enough in the whole subject of the Mormon theocracy in America that I am going to pick up a more contemporary account than Werner's. In fact I crave it.
Brigham Young must have been a charmer to win so many people around to his exclusive point of view.
It was amusing to read Mark Twain's comment that the Book of Mormon was "chloroform in print" because in my youth I tried to read it and didn't get very far at all. Never made a second attempt.
In all seriousness Werner quotes some things that the great world explorer Richard Burton said about the Mormons and Brigham Young, which I am certain were meant sardonically!
Definitely a meaty biography.
I am more cynical about the motives and true beliefs of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young than Werner, but maybe I am just incapable of believing in the double-think credible to this author.
(I have also read Ann Eliza Young's autobiography, which Werner calls "spiteful", and sorry, I believe the woman!)
January 4, 2012
Wife No. 19, by Ann Eliza Young is a partial biography of one of Brigham Young's fifty odd "wives" - the one who got away. It is also a partial biography of Brigham Young himself. Our library system has given this work (published by Cosimo) a number that reflects its nature as an expose of Mormon polygamy. Her experiences mostly predate the church's official repudiation of polygamy, but this edition of her work, originally published in 1908, maintained that the practice still continued in spite of its illegality.
I tried to find a Library of Congress card number and classification on the back of the title page but there was none. The reason I am kind of curious about it is that I could swear that a few months ago I checked out a different edition of this book at our library and it was in with the biographies.
This looks like a fat book, but I tore through it pretty quickly because it is such a soap opera. Too bad for the real-life characters that had to live it. (I'm not putting myself above them - I've been told my own life was like a soap opera. I guess I'm talking more about her style. High-flown Victorian melodrama.)
The parts of this book I did not bother to read were the detailed descriptions at the beginning of each chapter about what the chapter would contain. They are probably here and there worth a laugh, but I was too impatient (both with the repetition and the loss of the surprise element) to bother with them.
This author is very sarcastic and often funny, but she is obviously on a mission against the practice of polygamy. I wish more monogamous marriages were as ideal as her she description them! Oh, well. I admit, even before I picked up her story, I had been persuaded of the evils of the harem.
A fascinating book.
December 25, 2011
Got a freebie on Kindle, downloaded by volunteers - Honore Balzac's An Historical Mystery.
This was a difficult read for me because I know too little about France's social structure and the history of Napoleon. For me it was difficult to put the characters into a pattern of political and social allegiance that I could understand.
It still was quite an exciting tale, more pathetic because I believe it really was supposed to be based on real events.
There were times, in Balzac's explication of action or setting, that I sighed. This really should be a film! What is just too laborious to put into words could be easily shown on the screen.
Hard as it was to get through, I'm glad I made the effort. There were only 2 or 3 typos that I noticed that forced rereading to get the meaning.
Thanks, volunteers! In spite of my praise, though, I only recommend this for the student of France, or the very courageous reader.
December 21, 2011
There is a double reason the cover of the edition of The 19th Wife I read depicts a braid. At least. Maybe more.
This is a complicated book, and it is so easy to confuse the facts and fictions of the "historical" parts that I'm now beginning an autobiography of Ann Eliza Young to help me sort it all out. (The author, David Ebershoff, says in an interview at the back of the book that some readers sit with their Google browsers on while reading it.)
I found no difficulty in trying to read it quickly. It is highly entertaining and the people in different centuries are very easy to differentiate in spite of the complications of the story lines.
Plus, for those who like mysteries, there is more than one in this book! One for every century. And for anyone who thinks the motive for writing this book might be anti-Mormon, from my bare beginning of Young's account it is evident that Ebershoff just might be going very easy on the Latter Day Saints. (Clue - why did people of Missouri take so against the Mormons that they - but no, I don't want to ruin it for you!)
Some of the details of the lifestyle of these folks will shock and amaze you not only with their prurience, but also with their prudery!
The contemporary tale concerns a group called the "Firsts" which spun off from the Latter Day Saints after 1890, when the LDS abolished polygamy from the Mormon Church.
Is fiction any stranger than truth? Read this one and make up your own mind.
December 12, 2011
Polished off three short "mystery" novels in relatively short order. The first was Charlotte MacLeod's The Palace Guard. I had read one of MacLeod's novels years ago, found her offensively judgmental, and haven't read her since until now, when half a dozen of her mysteries fell into my lap.
This one is cozy without being warm. Or maybe it is just unconvincing without being quite madcap to make up for it. I admit to chuckling once or twice.
I'll probably give the others away unread except for The Recycled Citizen, which promises (on the cover) to be hilarious. We'll see. I'm not a fast enough reader to make MacLeod worth the time to me, I fear.
Still in the need for escape, I picked up a couple of very skinny books in the new mystery section at the library. The first, Orchestrated Murder by Rick Blechta, one of a "Rapid Read" series, I read Molto Allegro but Con Poco Brio. It was only okay.
The last of this trio, Murder in Mount Holly, copyrighted in 1969 by Paul Theroux, is really the only one worth murdering time for. Very lively and funny. My partner commented it was nice to hear me laughing again while I read, so I read some of it to him and got him laughing, too. One caveat and minor detail: this book isn't really a mystery at all.
December 5, 2011
One of the problems with my eclectic whatever grabs my interest reading is that I read stuff long after it was really hot stuff.
On the other hand, I wish I had read Trading Up about two or four decades before it was published! Not that it would have made any difference in my own career, since I didn't seem to want one, but a difference in my understanding? Ah, yes!
Be that as it may, in ways this book is outdated. Of course Michael J. Silverstein and Neil Fiske (with John Butman and the five pages of people they acknowledge for their help) are insightful and knowledgeable and the book is pretty readable. In fact, at times I felt I was reading an advertisement.
But of course by their very own judgment it is now obsolete. The stock market has crashed, and by now new ideas and approaches must of necessity hold sway.
Still, the basic principles still hold for most of us, I bet. People may be poorer now, but they will still hold on to the luxuries they hold most dear.
Those luxuries now being, of course, necessities.
November 30, 2011
In a way, Jesse Stone has never been one of my favorite Robert B. Parker protagonists. His constant moaning over Jen is too much of a reminder of my own past constant moanings over love objects. On the other hand, his fidelity is somewhat endearing.
With this novel, Jesse seems more "over" Jen, thank God. (I especially didn't like Jen's phone calls in the movies - so dismally depressing, even more depressing than Stone's drinking!)
Killing the Blues is a big improvement in the love department. Kind of.
Jesse is making improvements in his mental health. Is this because of Michael Brandman, who wrote this volume (how much I don't know - all of it, with Parker's prior approval?
At any rate, Brandman does a pretty good job of pulling off what Rex Stout called, "The next lower thing to necrophilia." I enjoyed this book. His dialogue and characterization are pretty convincing.
(And frankly, emotional health notwithstanding, I think Jesse deserves every ounce of guilt he manages to wring out of this - ooops! Don't want to ruin it for you!)
November 21, 2011
Finally finished Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by Charles Mackay, and I am sorry to say I have another required reading book for you.
Sorry only because it is soooo long, because it is fascinating. The part about the Alchemists may be skipped if you aren't interested in the subject and Mackay does go on and on about specific alchemists both knaves and fools.
But aren't you at least a little curious about how they fooled people and were fooled themselves? Same goes for the magnetisers.
The parts about financial follies, the Christian Crusades, the witch mania, duels and ordeals, however, are definitely required reading.
Think witch burnings were rare? Think duels were an uncommon solution to disputes? Think all the sponsors and participants in the Crusades were inspired by religious fervor?
Any student of history should read this, and anyone who is tempted to believe AT ALL in, well, almost anything "occult" or even religious (although Mackay might have been a Christian, I don't know) should read this.
And, being an old book, it has an index. AN INDEX! A REAL index! How I do miss the good old days when books had useful indices.
This book is better than a collection of fairy tales and just about as fantastic.
(I see on Amazon that at least one edition is partial, so beware. The fat paperback I read had over 700 pages, not counting the index. This is a tome.)
November 17, 2011
More escapism was needed (having gotten bogged down in the chapter about Witch Mania in Charles Mackay's wonderful but wonderfully horrifying book.) Bogged is the perfect word to counteract the burnings that happened commonly during the centuries of belief in witches. I needed something moist and muddy to counteract these reports.
Well, out of the frying pan into the fire, er, oh well.
Death Notice provides some wet sloppy parts, but you might need some escape reading from your escape reading with this one.
Can't really call it a cosy because these murders are grim and gruesome and the victims are - oops, I was about to spill the beans.
Suffice it to say this one starts so slow and cosy I almost put it down but portions of it are real page-turners -more suspenseful than anything I have read for a while. And I did learn a little about - oops!
I read this because a fellow book club member brought it and Todd Ritter's second book in to talk to us about it. I try to be open to suggestions. Now I have to read the second one.
Anything, really, to escape the witch hunts.
October 31, 2011
I had to check out Orion You Came and You Took All My Marbles - I just had to because Charles McKay's book is too long and arcane (though well worth reading!!) to read at just any time of day or night.
It took me a while to get into it. In fact, I almost put it down. Kira Henehan's oblique treatment of the action and the odd word-obsession and -play of her narrating protagonist (or should I say anti-protagonist, ha, ha) turned me off a little as being precious. Odd, that, since I indulge in so much word-play of my own in my Rumilluminations.
But I persevered. I have never been one to give up the pursuit of knowledge and/or entertainment for the mere reason that I don't know what the hell is going on.
And I was rewarded! Lo, around about page 122 I fell in love with her (the character and the writer) and it (the novel) and just went with the flow. I had to learn to do that when I was young in the sixties. Or at least I was told I had to learn to do it.
At any rate, this is a book you probably shouldn't bother with if you never do anything just for fun.
But no - I take that back. Read it! It's mind-expanding!
As for Orion, don't expect to find any resonance with that name between the covers, except maybe the dedication???
October 20, 2011 Valparaiso, IN
Books like The Sibling Effect by Jeffrey Kluger make me think I should read more contemporary stuff instead of sloughing through arcane old fashioned stuff like The Alchemists part of Charles Mackay's Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.
But the latter is history, and that is important, too, if only as an inoculation against future folly. (If I had read it in my youth and been convinced, I might have wasted less time on occult "studies" which even then I would have put in quotation marks.)
Right now I am bogged down in The Magnetizers and do not know if my reading will survive the suffocation.
The Sibling Effect is amazing. There is so much interesting information in it, yet the author is careful to qualify it more than those ancient ones qualified their talk about turning lead into gold! (Of course, many of them were downright con men.)
Now of course I am damning Jeffrey Kluger by association, perhaps, and that is ridiculous. I love that so many people have studied siblings so much since I was very young. Reading this book might have changed my life if I had read it then! But maybe not. How inevitable are its predictions about birth order and the complicated relationships of families?
At any rate, I am only halfway through the Mackay at page 306, and you can get all the way through a modern analysis like Kluger's in fewer pages than that, thank goodness.
And learn a lot of real information about things like the biological bases of homosexuality! That alone makes this book well worth reading. Take that, homophobes! Join the reality world!
Why, oh why, do I not spend more time in the 21st century? Anybody got some good ideas about what I should read next? Nonfiction, please!
October 3, 2011 Valparaiso, IN
Every once in a while I pick up one of Jane Langton's Homer Kelly mysteries and this one is a doozy! I never saw so much evil done with so few consequences for anyone! Well, not so - but I am referring to the cosy mystery genre.
It is of special interest to me because it centers around organs and organ music. I could have learned more about organs by reading it if I had bothered to look up the way all the variously-named stops sound, but I sure learned a lot about the difficulties professional organists face.
Some very memorable characters here in Divine Inspiration.
One of them really rings a bell and makes me wonder if I did read this book back in 1993 when it first came out.
If I did and forgot it, it has to be because that was a personally rough year, and I had to block out the memory of the awful incompetence and happenings therein!
September 25, 2011
I guess Kurt Vonnegut's book Slaughterhouse Five couldn't have been on my high school list of books to read before college because it didn't come out until 1969.
I guess I didn't read it, even though I heard its name, because the title sounded so bloody.
I can't believe I didn't read it, so important does it seem to me now that I have read it, because in very late sixty-nine or the early seventies I did read and love God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater.
I know I didn't read it, because I am very sure I never read before about why the Children's Crusade was started. How did that little fact of history never get told us in Sunday School?
So now I want to revise the list for people entering college soon or anyone who has never read Slaughterhouse Five.
Read it. It is not about gruesome murders or existentialism.
I cannot believe I didn't read it when I should have. Where were the people who should have forced me to read it, even if I was an anti-war pacifist type? I'm really pretty suggestible when it comes to reading material.
At the same time I checked out Slaughterhouse Five I picked up a book by Jerome Klinkowitz entitled Slaughterhouse Five: Reforming the Novel and the World.
Well, I didn't know Kurt Vonnegut's work was also so transformational in the literary world, so there's another reason to read it.
I coincidentally had picked up the book by McKay that informed Vonnegut about the Children's Crusade, so now I'm reading it. When I write about it I'll give you the full title.
Well. No wonder Vonnegut looks so depressed in the photos I have seen. Well, Slaughterhouse Five is probably existential.
This is definitely required reading.
September 21, 2011
Read another short book, The Spectator Bird, by Wallace Stegner. He is becoming one of my favorites. He does not stint in dramatic descriptions. Ernest Hemingway he ain't!
This one is largely set in Denmark with references to Hamlet which make me realize that young prince was not entirely fictional. I am so naive!
Anyway, this one contains a little mystery as well as a little romance, but it is making me a little sick of snobbery. Oh well, I can't pretend that is new!
It begins with an old man whining about his ills, and at first I reacted, "Oh, no, is this a memoir, and is the whole book going to be like this?" Well, Stegner has a voice in this, of course, but rest easy. The whole book is not like that, or about him. Ostensibly.
Well, at least not about the author's physical ills. Nostalgia is something else. How much of the story is fiction I cannot say, but it is entertaining.
Of course, Stegner has set it up to be so very well, considering the dullness that we readers at first feel threatening!
September 12, 2011
All you out there who read Benjamin Franklin's autobiography (especially if you read one of the volumes out there which is only about his youth) come have your eyes opened!
I don't know whether it is the devaluing of the dollar or just plain pendulum motion of popularity, but writers for the last decade or so (maybe more!) have been taking stock of Franklin in a whole new world light.
Actually, I really am even more impressed with Franklin after reading The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin than I was before. Gordon S. Wood may have succeeded in making me realize how little Benjamin Franklin spent his life in America, but I don't think that takes away from his achievements - nor does Wood want to.
Not only will you learn more about the Revolution if you read this book (especially about what happened abroad preceding and during the war) but if you are still young, you will see that maybe you should not practice all that Poor Richard preaches!
September 3, 2011
Schooltime is here, so I'm feeling in the mood to be a little more serious-minded, but I had another fling at escapism with Sarah Paretsky's Body Work. (Hmm, that kind of sounds funny. I'm not talking about a memoir about plastic surgery!)
Paretsky is a great mystery author to read because she manages to pull so much of what is actually happening in the world at large into her pages.
V.I. Warshawski goes beyond the limits of disbelief in what she can discover in a small amount of time, but who can begrudge her her sleuthing success? She is so noble, courageous and self-sacrificing!
An example to us all. Just don't expect laidback timid me to follow it! Reading about her adventures is definitely the best way to go - especially before Labor Day!
September 1, 2011
Because I had read Ladies of Liberty, I thought I should read its predecessor, Founding Mothers, by Cokie Roberts.
It was just as fascinating. I was especially awed by Eliza Pinckney, who must have had one of the most non-sexist fathers of the century! A biography of her alone would be quite amazing reading.
By the end of the book, though, I was getting a little fed up with these women. They were wonderful, but still they were very privileged. Just another group of rich women playing with the lives of others, I am tempted to think.
Nevertheless, they and their menfolk started us off on the path we have taken since. I wonder at what point in our history we actually had - not the perfect democracy, we've never pretended to that - but the most near to perfect republic?
As we attain greater and greater equality between people of all races, religions, and sexual orientation, the financial inequality of our people also goes up and up.
At any rate, great job, Cokie Roberts! This is a real eye-opener!
August 20, 2011
If you want an easy-to-read page-turner for reading on a weekend trip, pick up Shamini Flint's A Bali Conspiracy Most Foul.
If you live in a tourist destination and dislike outsiders, you should enjoy this book.
If you like exotic locales, Bali fits the bill.
If you like local color clashing cultures, pick up this book.
You won't be supporting its weight for too long, even though some of its contents and characters are quite heavy.
August 19, 2011
Read a new author today, Karin Fossum, with one of the Detective Sejer series set in Norway. Bad Intentions seems like a misnomer to me, but nobody would title this book Good Intentions.
I found it slow starting and aggravating in its characters, but it develops interestingly and deals with some larger social issues than personal character flaws. Oh, hell, if I say any more, I'll ruin it for you. Not at the top of my must-read list - why do any of these people do any of the stuff they do? Sheer laziness as motivating non-passion?
August 16, 2011
Years ago I read A Heart-Breaking Work of Staggering Genius by David Eggers because my daughter had heard it was really good. Quite frankly, I was revolted. His arrogance and ego and crappy treatment of his younger brother and everyone else pissed me off.
At the most objective, I felt like screaming at him, "Get help!" I thought I would never again read anything by him.
His general assholedom was only reinforced by reports that he helped an actor fake his own disappearance (maybe even his idea? I don't recall.)
Now the Valparaiso Public Library Book Club has chosen Zeitoum for our September book, and at first I didn't even recognize the author's name.
Then I saw that he had written Staggering Genius (should have been called Staggering Ego) and thought, uh-oh.
Has David Eggers redeemed himself with Keitoum, the story of a man from Syria and his family during Hurrican Katrina? Had he already redeemed himself with other works?
Keitoum purports to be nonfiction and is catalogued as such. It seems to be written objectively - at least it isn't about David Eggers!
It is a page-turner and of social interest. The author has devoted his profits to a bevy of charitable institutions and worthy causes (some of which, I suspect, he administers - just a suspicion!)
But can I believe Keitoum? Does this person really exist?
I guess I can swallow most of this tale. It is a great and also horrific story. It is probably true. But... I sure wish this book had someone else's name on the title page, and I'm not talking about the name Keitoum.
August 13, 2011
Ill Wind by Nevada Barr is a helluva good yarn. The heroine, Anna Pigeon, is a weird combination of no/much compassion which is perhaps intended to make her real. There is a great fight scene. This author is good at physical descriptions of nature and human goings-on.
August 7, 2011
Foul Matter starts out by inducing horror. What? What? But keep going. Martha Grimes will take you on a scathingly humorous drive.
Just shut up, get in, and keep your head. You may be in danger of laughing it off.
I'm trying to figure out why none of Martha Grimes' work has worked its way onto a screen large or small. Is she too pure to allow it? Or is too much of the action internal to the characters?
I would love to see a really creative ensemble take a stab at her pub-named Jury mysteries, or if this Foul Matter is a one-off, how about this one?
Oops! This summer I read Pittsburgh Noir edited by Kathleen George. This my favorite of the Noir short story series I've read so far. The stories were so varied, told from the points of view of so many different kinds of people, that Pittsburgh comes across as a fascinating place.
As I recall the writing is consistently high quality and the presence of the rivers of the city is really palpably, darkly felt.
August 6, 2011
Wow! What the part of Deborah Cadbury's The Chocolate Wars I read before did for history the part I finished up the other day did for economics.
I have read in the newspaper about corporate dealings with each other, but there were aspects of it that always mystified me (not that there still aren't, but I had one big foggy question answered for me by this book - no, of course I'm not going to tell you what that question is! You may have heard rumors, but you may not know, and who am I to ruin the ending for you?)
Read this book! Let it melt in your mouth or chew away - either way you will have a rich treat!
August 1, 2011
I'm only halfway through, but trying to read The Chocolate Wars by Deborah Cadbury without swooning with delight is as hard as taking only one bite of the best chocolate you ever tasted.
In the old days, I have read, people tried to teach women (they were being sexist, not I) botany by creating a language of flowers.
How about studying history by walking into a candy shop?
Every time I read a nonfiction book that is so lively and replete with fascinating detail, I marvel.
Who would have guessed: that the creation of a good cup of cocoa created so many hours, let alone the development of the chocolate bar?
That the major chocolatiers of England for decades were folks who valued simplicity?
How Lindt made his breakthrough chocolate discovery?
I never thought I would eschew luxury by chewing chocolate!
What does chocolate have to do with social causes? What does the cocoa bean have to do with slavery?
This is one book I can comment upon without worrying about finishing it. It is easily as hard to put down as my usual escape reading. Oh, were all nonfiction written like this!
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