By: Esther Powell
Posted on: Mon, August 01 2016 - 2:57 pm
September 12, 2017
I picked this one mostly for the title: The Music of Chance by Paul Auster. What was this, a car ad? Too cheaply intricate for its own good; ultimately a disappointment. I learned nothing.
The Last Painting of Sara de Vos, on the other hand, is a wonderful tale worth telling twice. Read it, and worlds within our world open up to you. Thank author Dominic Smith for that. I look forward to reading it again someday. That really means something. I rarely read a book twice.
I've read John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee mystery novels as fast as I have been able to lay my hands on them this summer. That has meant creating a lot of work for the local library getting them from elsewhere. I recommend them highly for people nostalgic for the good old-fashioned detectives, unconventional as their hero is. Some of the writing in these books is stunning. I mean stunningly good. I'm sorry their creator is gone.
June 6, 2017
What? What? I still haven't written about The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt?
Well, of all the novels I have read in the last ten years, this has to be one of my favorites. It's the first time in years that a book has transported me to an imaginary realm as enthralling as this, with all the wonder of childhood reading.
The weaver of this magic carpet, amazingly enough, sets her tale mostly in the U.S.
If you only read one fiction book this year and haven't read one yet, make it this one. It is stellar.
May 25, 2017
The other day I met a fascinating woman who had been on a cross-country tour with her husband, a wagon and their beloved mule, Della. I picked up on that right away because walking or bike riding long distances has always appealed to me.
Turns out her then husband has written a book about their experiences on the road, which it is clear were enriched mightily by the presence of his wife! It makes for vivid reading, but you know, I think I might pass on the opportunity to spend days squelching in wet clothes down a busy highway on a cold day. Great armchair reading, especially on a rainy day!
Check out Footloose in America by Bud Kenny and Patricia Kenny, who is not on the title page but breathes life into every page of their tale.
April 25, 2017
Whew! It has taken me forever to get back to writing about an author of the book-of-short stories-that-amounts-to-a-novel genre.
Now there's a novel genre for you.
Anyway, Anthony Marra is the author of this book of short stories which ranges around Russia including Siberia (I don't know what the old USSR is comprised of! I'm geologically challenged)and Chechnya.
I would have sworn that the author of The Tsar of Love and Techno would have been from these regions he writes about, so vivid are his evocations, but surprisingly he is an American. He did live there for a while, though, and it shows.
This so far is my favorite of these hybrid books I've mentioned last month and today, maybe because the setting is the most foreign to my experience. Maybe also because the conditions under which these people live are so difficult that they arouse a good deal of compassion. It's hard for an American to imagine this kind of stuff happening here. I hope and wish.
Anyway - a good read! It's fun to make the connections from one story to the other. I'm sure I didn't catch them all.
Definitely worth another perusal someday.
March 23, 2017
I've been exposed to two new spectacular reads along with two new (to me) authors this last week or so.
The Madonnas of Echo Park was the first I chose to read, perhaps because of the whimsicality of the title, perhaps because it is set in the U.S. And it is excellent - full of life and color and personality.
Brandon Skyhorse, come to think of it, seems to be using a technique common to a few of today's writers - that of writing short stories which, when presented together, have almost the cohesion of a traditional novel. (Gee, wasn't that almost the effect of James Joyce's Ulysses? I'm beginning to confuse myself.)
I'm almost tempted to read Skyhorse's book again because some of the tangential connections of his characters may have been so subtle that I missed them the first time around. Those little flourishes are charming.
Louise Erdrich did this in Love Medicine which maybe I neglected to write about. It is called a novel, even though some of the stories were first published in magazines. Forgive me if I already wrote about this book and repeat myself, but the acceptance of some of the physical violence towards women in these stories shocked me. Of course, they are set firmly in the last century, but even so, times were supposed to be changing.
These works both, however, are hard-edged American West. Their delineation of the culture (I should say cultures) we live in seems very well defined. In the case of Skyhorse the colors are bright and rainbow and glowing. Erdrich uses the browns and turquoise of nature and the red of blood.
The other author new to me that I intended to write about uses the same series-of-stories-that-ends-up-almost-a-novel technique only in his case the volume is called a book of short stories. And I definitely will write about him. Just not tonight.
March 13, 2017
Djibouti by Elmore Leonard is hard but awesome. He's a reliable good read, but the foreign setting and plot involving Somali pirates have special interest.
F*ck you, authors of F*ck Love. Anyone who paid any attention to your shopping list of advice (were it so succinct!) would probably end up single for life. One page (about names) was so ridiculous I began to suspect the whole book was a spoof. Well, maybe it was, in which case I wish I hadn't wasted any time reading it at all. It wasn't that funny. Actually, I wish I hadn't wasted time on it anyway. Boo! Boo!
On second thought, the Bennetts deserve our pity. They have either forgotten or never come to the bitter realization that they are members of the human race.
I picked up two biographies on display for National Women's Month which I am enjoying quite a bit. One, torchily entitled Temptress was by Paul Spicer whose mother was a friend of the subject. Looked like a good read, and it was! Might as well have been lurid fiction, it was such a page-turner. I normally try to avoid reviews before I write my own humble responses, but this time I did stumble across some and found some of them rather harsh. What do they expect from a book called Temptress, for pity's sake? This subject's paramours were mostly womanizers, not victims. Er, well, that's not exactly true but I am not going to tell you why. Why deprive yourself of some weird March weather snowy-day fun? Or summer beach reading? Go slumming with the upper classes!
The other biography, of Emma Jung, I am only halfway through. It's another fascinating read and her character could not be more different than that of Alice de Janze (for whatever reasons.) Labyrinths is not merely about Emma, it is also about Carl Jung and "the early years of psychoanalysis" to quote the subtitle. Catrine Clay has written quite a lively account of the Jungs, their family and another famous psychoanalyst, Sigmund Freud.
My experience with these two books makes me want to read more about remarkable women. We learn so much history as well as amazing stories about real people, and quite frankly I can relate more empathetically with them than with their often ambition-driven male counterparts and partners.
March 1, 2017
For our next book the book club has chosen Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress - a very quick and interesting read! China after the Revolution had been shrouded in mystery for so long (for me, at least) it was good to have this lifting of the veil of experiences of a few young people at the time.
Dai Sijie tells his story in a classical way, and the reader longs to hear more about the fates of his characters. By extension, of course, we want to hear more of others' stories. Keep an eye out for this slim volume!
February 26, 2017
To celebrate Black History Month I picked out a book from the library's display - one that looked manageable and interesting.
In Search of the Promised Land: A Slave Family in the Old South was both, probably more interesting than it would have been were the sub-title completely accurate. This family was composed of slaves, the free and the quasi-free (you could not believe how complicated the legalities of this issue could get! Not black and white by any means.)
The family was chock-full of remarkable people - not an average family by any standard. The book is just as full of jaw-dropping stories. The geographical range of action will surprise you.
Pick up this small volume by John Hope Franklin and Loren Schweninger! You will be delighted that you did.
For some reason my Zola novels which had disappeared for a while from my Kindle returned to me so I was able to finish
La Reve (The Dream) which I started months ago.
Emily Zola has got to be the epitome of romantic writers while at the same time delivering hard truths about the world and incredible paintings of the society he lived in. I am really angry that the would-be book banners cast aspersions on him. Or was he just out of style for a long while?
He will make you swoon and then make you impatient because he is so over the top. I got a Kindle edition with multiple novels for two dollars! Now that is over the top. Incredible value.
February 1, 2017
Oh! I have been so bad!
I have not written about Think Like a Freak by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, the same authors who wrote Freakanomics. To tell the truth, I don't remember much about it,but presumably I have internalized a lot about it. I f I need to review it I have it in my Kindle. It's basically about not getting locked into preconceived notions about what is possible, with examples of successful outside-the-box stories. They actually also called their approach thinking like a kid, I believe.
A wonderful book ostensibly about gemstones but really more about history has been written by that scientist and gemstone buff Aja Raden, is entitled Stoned. I purchased both these books through Book Bub. Admittedly, her book has made me wonder a little about her politics, but that doesn't mean it's not worthwhile. Riches, on the other hand, might not be. What a pile of trouble they seem to bring!
I have not written about Truevine by I believe Beth Macy who has painstakingly researched the story of two albino black (in this case not an oxymoron) brothers taken and used by the circus leading to an almost a fairytale existence (and remember that can be very very bad as well as good!) In telling their story the author of necessity illuminates an incredible wedge of the Jim Crow years of the South that many northerners had no clue about. The kind of stuff that the Civil War was supposed to have abolished.
Nor did I write about The Perfect Horse, a distillation of the chaos that overtook the equine world in Europe during World War II. Author Elizabeth Letts tells a complicated story with unfamiliar names and is kind enough to provide us with the cast of major characters in the beginning of the book. Anyone who loves horses should appreciate this narrative. By the way, Americans had a large part to play in the events described here.
Still Alice, a book club book which has also been made into an excellent movie, is a novel which has the ring of truth. Not emotionally easy reading for anyone, but especially not for those of us approaching and surviving into our seventies. A book club member whose father has been living with Alzheimer's for years could relate very well to the situations described in this labor of love by someone who has worked with patients with dementia, Lisa Genova.
December 26, 2016
Messy by Tim Harford maintains what I have always suspected - that too much order is detrimental to creativity. I've mostly preferred my Nature wild and my shrubs unpruned. Harford puts forth a good argument for the beneficial effects of a little inefficiency not to mention chaos.
I, of course, loved this book. Especially wonderful is his assertion that homogeneous groups might be more comfy, but diverse groups are better at problem-solving. Hear that? Diversity may be less enjoyable and make you more uncomfortable, but diverse groups are wiser!
I'm tempted to call this book required reading, but it is so much fun I can't imagine needing to!
December 12, 2016
Yesterday I finished The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. Loaded with snobbery, judgmental protagonists and snideness, this book offers a lot of offence. In spite of that and an unnecessary... well, I don't want to ruin it for you because I feel this book is worth reading in spite of the attributes that make it both obnoxious and memorable.
Part of its charm is that it highlights the obscure and the transient. Hard to believe that is so unusual, but it truly is.
Another book I read lately is Our Souls at Night. I didn't really appreciate it much. To me it lacked verve and interesting sentence structure and vocabulary. A small-town tale told as if there could have been no escaping a situation that seemed eminently inescapable to me. I had no patience for it and the pathos escapes me. Oops, I just remembered we are discussing this book during our next book club meeting. Oh, well. At least we are going to have a potluck dinner too. Author - Kent Haruf.
Amy Tan's The Bonesetter's Daughter, on the other hand is wonderful as are the other books I have read by her. Her description of ink-making and hand-writing (in this case, of course, calligraphy) make me realise yet again how much life has changed. Did you k ow ink used to be made with many different - but no, I don't want to ruin this one for you either.
I have also been reading Pulitzer Prize-winning books in a cheap edition on my Kindle. One play by Eugene O'NEILL a couple of autobiographies and a biography so far. These have been really of historical interest, but how these men can write about their whole lives barely mentioning their wives (in one case maybe once) - well, forgive me if I can barely mention them. Henry Adams, son of ambassador Charles Adams was one - very interesting historically, really. Another was Edward W. Bok, who was very enterprising, and became editor of The Ladies' Home Journal. Fascinating reading -how he rose in the world. His name escapes me at the moment, but even I can see how much he affected my grandparents' generation by remembering my own childhood. His career did not end there by any means, either.
August 1, 2016
I haven't written about what I've read for months, I guess. Maybe I got lazy or discouraged that the last For Book Butterflies was getting too weighty.
Maybe this time I got inspired by the Giant Swallowtail I saw on a walk lately. Maybe the big butterfly reminded me that larvae do transform and butterflies do more than eat.
Anyway, I will try to write about what I read.
One of my favorite reads of the late spring and summer was Straight Man.
Richard Russo has delivered my favorite novel of his that I have read so far, although it sounds as if Everbody's Fool is going to be great. I can hardly wait!
I love the way serious and dedicated writers seem to lighten up with fame or more years and allow themselves to be amused and amusing. It's delectable. Maybe it's the irresponsibility of middle age - I don't know - but I like it.
It is about a college prof but if you think that makes it predictable, think again.
Hmm.. let's see, what else? While on vacation I read Hope Jahren's Lab Girl.
Her work sounds so technically minute that much of what she does is probably not for the lay reader. She gives us the gist and then goes on to tell us some amazing stories about herself, her work and her chief experimental designer and lab partner Bill, who deserves mention with a last name but whose last name I don't remember. These were two of a dedicated kind who spent decades working together.
There's a lot of personal stuff in here, which is surprising coming from the descendant of Scandinavians who, according to this reporter, don't talk much. I guess it's easier to write it all down. (Me, I do both.)
Since federal funding for pure scientific research has dried up so badly I hope Hope Jahrens makes a pile of money with this book. She asks interesting questions.
Hell no, I won't give examples. They are about plants. Read the book yourself!
It's summertime and someone put the first Walter Longmire novel by Craig Johnson into my hands. I love this series! I am now on number eight, having read them in order except for the interjection of a book of wonderful short stories by the same author. Don't worry if you've already seen the TV series. That didn't ruin the reading for me - there's just too much here.
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