By: Esther M. Powell
Posted on: Tue, March 18 2008 - 1:11 pm
May 22, 2008
I was at the library and a fiction title caught my eye. (Yes, seduced again by a title and a cover!) I opened up the book to read a paragraph and see if it was interesting. It was. Plus something on the cover called it "hard-boiled" so I felt safe that I wasn't taking home a smotherie.
This one is a lot of fun. Set in New York and focused on graffiti artists and the newspaper publishing world, it is fun, fun, serious fun! It deals with the have-nots and the have-snots (I'm not talking about you! Read the book! If the shoe doesn't fit, don't wear it!) and has a heroine that is not-always-so-endearingly emotionally vulnerable.
At our library this wasn't labelled a mystery, but it is one. That and so much more! Kudos!
(The only thing I just couldn't accept was when the heroine says she just might someday - but no! I don't want to ruin it for you!)
Read it for a summer escape to the city without the muggy smelly heat!
Oh, yeah! (It's a good thing when I proof-read!) A Little Trouble with the Facts by Nina Siegal!
May 19, 2008
Having enjoyed some of Garrison Keillor's talks on public radio, when his novel Lake Wobegone Summer 1956 crossed my path I was happy to pick it up.
It's really kind of a guy's novel, with all its baseball stuff, but the language is so colorful that you don't really care if you don't understand it!
And it is not fair to call it a guy's novel, for even though it is written by a male youngster (fourteen) there is enough stuff for girls to enjoy to keep them reading, too.
Best of all, it really does evoke what it was like to live in a small town in the Midwest fifty-sixty years ago.
For some reason I had just assumed that Keillor was a Lutheran, but his character anyway is a member of an even stricter church called the Sanctified Brethren (you find this out on page three - believe me it is not insignificant in small-town life!), so his family doesn't own a TV set. Too worldly.
This novel is bitter-sweet and funny. For some reason the poor kid felt like he had to lie a lot, but let's face it, all novelists do! Maybe why I don't write novels - I'm too reality-bound!
The book made me laugh out loud a few times, and, in spite of its pathos and regrets, didn't make me cry. Perfect.
May 14, 2008
Elizabeth George is one of my favorite mystery writers, although a couple of her later novels got a little too long-winded and psychologically tortuous for me.
But when I saw Payment in Blood on the library shelf and couldn't remember whether I had read it, I read it again. I recognized it in short order, but still didn't remember much (anything!) and it is a walk down Lynley/Helen 20/20 nostalgia lane, so I kept reading.
Wow, it is way more like a soap opera than I remembered! (I guess now that I'm older I have a little less appetite for that stuff (my own writings notwithstanding!)) but it's also a really great mystery! There are so many interesting twists and turns of the plot and emotions that it makes the ubiquitous 'smotheries' (I'm quoting me here) seem like a big vat of cream of wheat that you are drowning in.
Yet this book, which taught me (unconsciously it would seem!) a good deal about confronting relationships honestly would probably be considered a "cozy!" I don't know for sure, because I never really got a good grasp of exactly what a cozy is.
This book is anything but cozy, psychologically or socially. And it is a tricky read! Have fun!
May 12, 2008
I loved this book! The 20-Minute Gardener by Tom Christopher and Marty Asher!
It is humorous and lazy-seeming. It defines gardening as whatever you want to do! Chores (things you don't want to do) are, if possible, delegated to others. What fun! What an inspiration!
I had already decided to be a 1-hour gardener, if possible. I don't have a job, so I can afford to spend a little more time in the yard working. Since I don't mind mowing for a limited time (I rarely do the whole yard all at once) much of what Tom and Marty call "chores" I call gardening. (That is partly why I am living here gratis in my mother's home, to do garden "chores.")
As far as I am concerned, any outside job is preferable to any inside job! (Except for making quilts and writing, which are, of course, not "chores" but "fun!")
I'm not sure the book will be terribly helpful to people who live in a hot dry climate, except to liberate them from any illusions that even a much-worked-on, well-planned garden ala English cottage garden will have the same over-abundant look that it has in a wetter climate! (Although come to think of it, I did see a very wonderful garden in downtown Santa Fe, NM, that had the cottage garden look. It was probably only two 4x5 plots on the east side of a small house, though!)
The format of this book, which is patterned after a garden slug-fest (no, not the kind of slugs who die in the garden beerbash you design for them) between two very philosophically different gardeners, offers a variety of alternatives for accomplishing similar ends and a variety of projects, any of which can be reconciled with a 20-minute gardening life-style. (Some projects might take a few days to complete, though.)
If you don't already garden, pick up the book for a laugh and cast a new eye on your outdoor space! You might find that even a 5-minute garden can give you and your family hours worth of pleasure for eyes, ears, hands, mouth, nose!
One of my favorite quotes: "Let's keep virtue out of gardening books and in fiction, where it belongs."
(Oh, and it is short - 200 or so pages including lively illustrations by Steven D. Guarnaccia!)
May 5, 2008
Well, I kinda tried to read Hillary Clinton's book, It Takes a Village. At least, I checked it out of the library and read the first paragraph. It bored me.
Well, introductory material often bores me, so I opened the book in the middle and read some of it. I learned a thing or two, I'll admit. (Like you should talk to your baby. I didn't realize it had so much objective value. Of course I talked to my babies! I talk to tulips, narcissus, bunnies, birds and on occasion recalcitrant jar lids - why would I snub my babes?)
I read some other stuff in there. It was okay. I think I would have been more interested in it when I had kids at home, though. Now that they are clustered around age thirty these kid things have a little less personal urgency for me.
By all means, read it if you want! Just don't expect it to help you make an informed decision about whether to vote for Clinton. Its subject matter is a little too limited.
Ha, ha, - I'm going to be a brat here - Maybe I read just about as much of it as she wrote!
Just kidding... kinda... ha...
May 3, 2008
A nightmare of a book, is A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini. It deals with the life of a couple of very unfortunate women in the Afghanistan of recent history. The citizens of Kabul have been the victims of so many traumas (bombings, especially) that they are all at extreme risk for post traumatic stress disorder.
But that is not all that Hosseini deals with in this book. He deals with the possibility (probability?) for abuse in a culture (under the Taliban) which requires by law that the women living there dwell virtually under house arrest under the supervision of their husbands and male relatives, even in "peacetime."
Halfway through the book I realized that the title must have been meant as a cruel irony, but Hosseini takes that perception away at the end. Or tries to. With me he doesn't succeed.
I'm not saying it is not effectively written. It has love and beauty as well as ugliness and tragedy. For a while I was reading it in a theatre lobby waiting for movie-time and the real-life scene dropped away. It's a page-turner, and sometimes a tear-jerker.
Only - I feel like I might have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder just from reading it!
May 1, 2008
I must say I really enjoyed In a Dry Season by Peter Robinson. It is called a novel of suspense, and it does have an element of suspense, but people whose stomachs get tied up in unpleasant knots by thrillers need not fear.
This actually seemed to me like a good old-fashioned mystery to me. Sure, it had more than one story-teller, and it flipped back and forth between fifty year gaps (from World War II - torn England to modern times) but somehow it fed my nostalgic need for a good but not too cosy read.
Admittedly, there were times my attention flagged in the middle just a little! There were times I thought, Does this story really have to be 468 pages long?
And to tell the truth, it probably didn't.
But it has so many different elements and so many juxtapositions of fortuitous occurrence that I really think the length is justified. (Well, almost!)
I would be willing to pick up another Peter Robinson book - and I notice that if I get proactive about it I have a lot to look forward to! Sixteen titles preceded this one!
April 29, 2008
I have read two books since I last wrote here. The first was Italian Fever by Valerie Martin. Usually I am hot to write about something right away, and the fact that I haven't written about this book yet, at least a week after I finished reading it, speaks to my ambivalence.
Reading this book is a nice escapist interlude, I guess, but it opens with a gothic description of a man acting so stupidly I kept asking, why, why?
I never really got that question answered. The characters were pretty well incomprehensible to me. The "protagonist" (I'm tempted to call her a "reactionist") is a secretary, a writer in her own penniless right, who doesn't respect her boss, a man who has managed to support himself with his writing for years. How, then, can she manage to respect herself for dedicating her time to typing him up?
This kind of question about her values and reactions to people brings me up short repeatedly.
Yet I read and enjoyed the novel. Why? The magic of Tuscany? Why did I keep reading it? Why, why? Is it because I'm a sensation- (in Jungian terms) oriented individual who has trouble putting a book down once I have started it, or because it is a well-written book that is mesmerizing in its tale-telling?
Are the changes the not-very-perspicacious protagonist goes through a result of learning more about herself, or is it just because she had a Fever in Italy?
Read it - and you tell me!
It was kind of curious and interesting reading. Maybe that's why I finished it.
April 21, 2008
If I had more money, I think I would try to read brand-new books more. I wish I had read The Bonfire of the Vanities when it came out. (Even if I had had money then, though, who knows? I had a job and three children ten and under! I mostly read escape literature!)
Tom Wolfe was brilliant when he wrote The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, and of course this book is brilliant too. So cynical! I am deeply shocked by it (even if his description of the rampant racism and snobbery and reverse snobbery of New York City denisonry is exaggerated, it is horrid!) How much has Tom Wolfe left his reportorial self behind? How much of his descriptions of district attorneys and businessmen and policemen and ministers is "true?"
Well, it is fiction, so I'm not going to bother my pretty not-so-little aging head about it, I guess. But one thing I do believe is that the traders on Wall Street (the protagonist of the book is a bonds salesman) get huge profits by making huge deals that are only profitable in tiny increments in comparison to the whole amount. But even a tiny fraction of a billion dollars is a lot of dollars! I think I have a better understanding of what is actually going on - why those guys get so excited - from reading the book.
Obviously I still don't understand how it is done, but at least I get the idea of why it works so well for them, when it works. But the folly! The outrageous materialistic excess! I'll probably never get the opportunity to understand that! (Lucky, aren't I?)
The book itself? Oh, hell, I don't know. It is one of those stories where one wrong decision is the pivotal wrong decision that gets someone really in trouble. Of course, it is actually a whole series of wrong decisions and blunders that make for trouble, but if the character had only not heartlessly ignored his wife's innocent appeal to do something fatherly (a little enough thing!) and gone - but, you know me! I'm not going to ruin it for you by telling you the plot!
One of those rare books in which you don't really like any of the characters (understatement!) but is a great read that you'll enjoy anyway (in spite of the discomfort!)
A great book to read if you need consolation that you are not residing in the Big Apple!
April 19, 2008
Our town read "Our Town." Supposedly - for Valpo Reads a Book. I really didn't mind the selection too much. It was short, which I hoped would increase participation, and I didn't remember it too well.
But upon reading it again, I think it is a good selection in the way that you revisit a childhood home and your parents. It was part of my formative years and helps me see where I came from. (Is that where I got the idea I would rather elope or be married by a Justice of the Peace than have a wedding? Men don't like weddings, according to the play. Why drag someone into something he doesn't want?)
But oh, to revisit it in the form of discussions? That is very much our town! I went to a discussion yesterday attended by eight people, four of whom had not read the play! (One of the other four was the moderator.)
Oh, yes, it is all too much our town!
I really would like to see some statistics about how many of our population actually read it. And I can't help but think that if it is low, well no wonder.
It is interesting to note that Thornton Wilder did not spend his adult life in a small American town. He traveled all over the world. A lot of small-town American children have left small town life for good and with relief.
Sure, a small town where nothing much happens besides being born, getting married, and dying makes for a rich inner life. Creativity is often a product of such a dearth of stimulation. And for many the play was revolutionary when it was written in 1937. No scenery! The audience has to use its imagination. The idea that there may be no heaven and hell after death may really be progress for a small town. (Although the dead in this play are just waiting around - maybe those fates are just in the future, in which case how come the dead are so indifferent?)
No, I think the play was more than a little a nostalgic reaction to World War I on the part of Wilder. I don't want to diminish his work, but speaking strictly for myself, I hope never to revisit "Our Town"!
P.S. Don't you think the ending of the movie "American Beauty" owes a lot to "Our Town"?
Next Day Post Script: I forgot to mention - when I was growing up here, Valpo was a small town. Now it would be classified, I think, as a small city. It has opened up a lot and I think it has changed for the better!
April 12, 2008
The nasty rainy weather inspired me to curl up and read a mystery - Death of a Dude by Rex Stout.
Nero Wolfe, with his love of orchids and verbal precision, has always been one of my favorite detectives, but this, in spite of its Montana setting (I seem to be seeing and reading a lot about that state lately!) is not one of my favorites. I dislike it when Nero Wolfe leaves home almost as much as he does, and the plot is not really one of Rex Stout's best (if you can call it a plot at all! No, that really is too harsh!)
Nevertheless, it's the real thing. I fear the taking-over of Nero Wolfe by another writer who just doesn't give that mountainous character quite the right panache may have hurt Rex Stout's reputation. (Did I say before that Rex Stout said that taking over someone else's fictional character is the next thing below necrophilia? It's arrogant at the very least! Or maybe not arrogant enough! Maybe the would-be writer of Nero Wolfe mysteries could come up with an equally compelling and interesting character all his own which would for that very reason resonate with authenticity! Deep breath.)
And of course, an out-of-date mystery has to be really good to overcome the insurmountable obstacles of the day that would be easily resolved by more recent technology.
Still, good local color. I had no trouble believing that Stout had spent time in that Western environment, even though dude ranches have never been my milieu!
April 9, 2008
Wanted to write again about River-Horse by William Least Heat-Moon a few pages into the book from last time, where for a brief while he seems to be trying to intentionally make himself unlikeable. But I think that was pretty much the slog up the Missouri talking. After inspiring such a laugh out loud as he had given me the day before, I was inclined to forgive him!
So, finally, today I have finished reading his description of the voyage it took Heat-Moon four months to make. Five hundred for-the-most-part highly entertaining pages! You know when you have finished that, barring some of the great views, you have had the best of the voyage.
I have, what with the book club here in Valpo and my own stumblings-over, read a lot of water-voyage narratives lately. These books do appeal to me, not the least because I don't intend to be inspired by them to do likewise! I'm a land-lubber with a queasy stomach, although gentle boating isn't beyond me.
I'm sure the author heard the news about a young man rowing across the Atlantic Ocean recently with much interest, and I bet he congratulated himself on choosing a much more interesting adventure!
William Least Heat-Moon's incredible honesty is so refreshing! Is his frankness the reason he hides the names of all his companions (at least among the list of seven at the beginning of the book) - so he can grouse or lay blame to his heart's content? Or is it a deal that he has made with them to protect the innocent? I'm trying to remember reading an adventure like this (well, none quite like this!) whose participants' identities are lumped together like this "Pilotis" is, and I can't! Some of this "Pilotis", at least, is a very clever individuals! They anonymously contributed much interest and humor to the account.
No one who has read Kenneth Roberts' Northwest Passage can forget the romance of the search for an easy passage, even if she has forgotten all but the title (which I pretty much have! - another book that should be revisited, perhaps - or not. My present age might spoil it for me.)
The idea of trying to make the trip across the USA by river was a very clever one, and I learned much about the state of the Union that you will never hear in a Presidential address. That's River-Horse by William Least Heat-Moon, folks, read it!
Mystical; highly observant; cognizant of the degree to which ignorance allows us all to embark upon our various voyages as well as of the abundance of luck that carries all survivors to where we presently abide. He doesn't make the journey to the moon, he brings the moon to his journey.
Least, but hopefully not last!
April 5, 2008
I am a now two-thirds of the way through River-Horse by William Least Heat-Moon. I was looking forward to it with great enthusiasm and am enjoying it even more than I expected. I loved Blue Highways, but if it didn't sound so gushy I would say I adore this book. Well, that is too gushy. Ha, ha, it had occurred to me that the reason I like this book so well, besides Heat-Moon's wonderful writing spirit, sense of humor, and ear for entertaining quips, is that it is about travelling by river!
Half-way through he writes a wonderfully poetic description about the flooding on the Missouri that is not only almost breathtakingly beautiful, but something almost everyone who lives in a floodplain needs to know!
Obscure words, poetic words, coined words, river-of-consciousness words that evoke laughing-out-loud, words that Least-Moon states that he will never use in one of his books (I want to call them preteritory words - but that sounds so much like predatory!) - this is the most enjoyable book I have read in a long while!
Maybe even since before I read Blue Highways!
March 27, 2008
For some reason our local library book club in Valparaiso has given us a couple of "young adult" books to read lately. I could get paranoid about this, wondering if they are trying to give us a hint that they would rather have a younger crowd hanging around, but hey, if you can't hang out at the local library, where can you hang out?
Besides, paranoia is not allowed, huh?
Well, at any rate, besides being almost beyond any sort of belief (a sixteen-year-old goes alone to Montana to "prove up" on her deceased uncle's land claim, which involves laying an impossible amount of fence and farming forty acres of land) Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson is a pretty good read. The author's real-life great-grandmother, a single woman at the time, managed to do this, she says. She doesn't say how old Hattie was when she did it, and if Larson's grandmother was able to, how come... no, I won't ruin the tale for any young reader who might want to read it!
These inspired-by-real-people stories always make me wonder what the real history of the character was. How did Larson's real grandmother able to pull off the incredibly difficult feat which many men failed to accomplish?
Oh, well, maybe the author doesn't know herself. But have any of you, dear readers, ever tried to dig holes for trees or fence posts in any kind of ground?
There are amusing and affecting incidents in this book. I think it is pretty good reading for a teen. Or maybe a kid. Well, okay, I admit I enjoyed it!
But not as much as I enjoyed reading Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss!
My mom wanted to go to the movie, "Horton Hears a Who" so I tried to get the book out of the library also. Of course, probably because of the movie in the area, all the copies of that title were checked out. So I got this one.
It brought back great memories of reading this to my children. Dr. Seuss has the best verse form and rhythm for determination and bravado in the face of danger and hardship! And this this book was copyrighted before I was born! Hard to believe!
Still, after all this childish stuff it is with real joy and excitement that I am beginning River-Horse by William Least Heat-Moon!
March 25, 2008
I wanted to write about John Barth's Sabbatical: A Romance as soon as I finished it. I thought it was really a great book! But then I finished it, and I don't know, I lost faith in it somehow. I know Barth's character wanted something fantastic in their voyage and he put in a - well, I won't tell you - don't want to spoil it for you! And it was pretty fantastic. But that isn't why I lost faith in it, I don't think.
I think the female character just grievously disappointed me. Why did she feel she had to control everything just because she could? Sometimes the best things come to you when you relinquish some control. Anyway, she just disappointed me. You'll have to read it to see if she disappoints you! She should have disappointed her husband! I didn't believe in his manic attempt to convince her that.... No. I am saying too much. You'll have to read it yourself! It's a good one! I didn't lose faith in it as a worthy novel, just.... Well.
Let me know your thoughts on it!
March 21, 2008
Onward and upward (I hope!) with John Barth's Sabbatical: A Romance. My self-esteem goes downward with it (or would if I would let it, but I am now immune. We all have our pluses and minuses in the world of knowledge - but let me not rumilluminate!)
Not only is it very literary (it's all relative, as you will see, if you read this book! A Vietnamese poet reduced to being a cook in the family's restaurant exposes the main male character to the rules of his own art, the complexities of which make Fenwick, a mere writer of novels, feel "sheepish!") but it's sexy! (Or as Carmen, another character would say, it's pseudo-sexy!)
Have I set enough teasers here to make you want to read the book? I hope so - even one of my limited literary knowledge is enjoying it very much! There are all kinds of riches in it! Buried treasures, some of which you only catch a glimpse of!
So read it! Even if it is twenty-five years old!
March 19, 2008
Re John Barth's novel Sabbatical: A Romance: I like it. I really like John Barth's work ALOT. Always so interesting. Always so real but almost unreal-ly clever.
This one has a lot of stuff about dreams, which I am fascinated by. It almost makes me wonder if I already read the book twenty years ago, and forgot. It could be, it was written over twenty years ago. I just don't think I would have forgotten it. I love its suggestion (scoffed at by the main male character) that dreams have a typical form in five parts which can be compared to a symphony or Renaissance Drama. I love the idea that there is synergy between our internal (in specific, dream) world and the forms our art takes. Put that way, it seems obvious, doesn't it?
Lemme see. Stuff to interest both sexes. Mystery stuff. Spy stuff. Love stuff. Written more like Ulysses by James Joyce than anything I have read since but I don't mean musical forms. If those are there I wouldn't have noticed (except maybe a rondo form. I don't remember seeing anything in this novel quite like the arm thrust out the window holding (dropping?) the handkerchief in Ulysses, which even I noticed at my reading but didn't relate to rondo form.)
There is just a good deal of juxtaposition between thoughts and outer actions and conversation. Come to think of it, I don't remember too much conversation in Joyce (reflective of his real habits, I recall hearing in John Bellair's class at Shimer). It is very stream of consciousness-sailing-conversation.
The main two characters (a loving couple) are at this point in my reading, halfway through their voyage. (So he says, but I don't see how. If it goes as planned, it seems to me they are almost through! Metaphorical voyage, perhaps.)
Anyway, almost half the book remains. This one is worth at least two day's worth of comments!
March 18, 2008
Just started to write a bunch about John Barth's novel Sabbatical: A Romance. Was having a gay old time when my errant thumb did whatever it does occasionally that irretrievably loses my text.
I guess my thumb thinks I need to be able to say more better when I talk about this book so I will respect its humble opinion (it's always "right" ha ha) and write more about this book later.
Or should I say start writing about it later?
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