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For Book Butterflies Fine Mine
By: Esther M. Powell
Posted on: Fri, January 30 2009 - 8:09 pm

July 12, 2009

This is my second attempt to write about The Second Death of Goodluck Tinubu, the title of which reminded me of The Second Confession, one of my Rex Stout favorites.

Michael Stanley is two people, who, along with the author of the First Ladies' Detective Agency series, should be paid by the Tourism Board of Botswana for making their country seem so accessible and so... safe!

I know, it's ironic that murder mysteries should make anyplace seem safe.  But these mysteries have started breaking the dark continent of Africa into more human segments that educate us better than the news, perhaps, on the differences between the countries and the governments of that vast continent.

Especially for me, an ordinary citizen who would just as soon read some escape literature as anything edifying for whom mysteries are a relatively painless way of learning something about anything, these books are another entree to Africa to contrast with, say, the descriptions of Sir Richard Burton of his travels there in the 1800s.  Or the Isak Dineson experiences.

See what I mean?  My knowledge of the Dark Continent is comparable to that of the Dark Ages, and the dark accounts of the many who have lived and loved and lost there are put into some perspective by these authors who seemingly have mostly just lived there.

What do you know?  Cosy Africa doesn't have to be an oxymoron!

These mysteries are the first thing I have read that made Botswana, or any other part of Africa for that matter, feel like a place that comfort-loving safety-conscious I would consider visiting.  The pull of these books is second in my mind only to African batiks!

Kudos to all of you gentlemen!  You have obviously had fun writing these books.  We have fun reading them.  You are national treasures and I'm sure will help make your tourism industry boom!

... Now what was the name of that resort camp?  But wait - it is right across the border from Botswana in Zimbabwe, right?


Well, The Second Death of Goodluck Tinubu came out this year.  If it takes you too long to scrape together the money to visit, you might want to check the world news before you travel!


July 5, 2009

Good Lord.  It has been almost a month since I wrote in Book Butterflies.

Too much else to do in the summer, I guess, including vacation.  Yay!

I did read Havana Nocturne by T.J. English.  This is a fascinating book that makes you aware that there is no underworld, not really.  I'm beginning to think that any political history that talks only of publicly political figures is only half, or two-thirds, of the real story.

The author, who is also, I understand, a mystery writer (I'll have to pick up one of his whodunnits!) is obviously fascinated with Cuba before Castro (B.C., ha ha).  The money that flowed in because of Batista's nurturing of legal gambling made the flowering of Afro-Cuban music and dancing possible.

Immense wealth also went to Batista and his underlings and a whole raft of American mobsters, who were probably basically what we would call amoral. 

Havana Nocturne covers the rise of Castro and stops cold.  It begs a second volume that tells what happened after Castro took over.  The question that consumes me about Cuba is:  what about the common man, whom the revolution was supposedly on behalf of?

How did the people fare before vs. after the revolution?  Did the standard of living for the average person change for the better?

A lot of people died so that the "people" (in the person of Fidel Castro) could rule.  Did they die in vain?  Did their families (besides Castros and cohorts) have opportunities they would not have had under Batista?

While I was reading this book I was hoping for at least an epilogue that would summarize the upshot of Castro's revolution over the next decades.

Cuba has been so shrouded in mystery for us for so long, maybe nobody knows yet.

I hope T.J. English writes about it, but I'm afraid life in Cuba after the mob might just have been too grindingly boring to enthrall him or us.

This book, along with a couple unaccountable grammatical errors, has a real index!  It also has an eleven-page section called "Sources" which contains an extensive bibliography.  If T.J. English is sick of writing about Cuba, at least he has pointed out lots of ways for us to learn more!

In the meantime, I'm going to pay more attention to news about mob bosses.  They may have more fingers in our personal pies than I ever imagined!

June 10, 2009

Every Woman Has a Story:  True Tales compiled by Daryl Ott Underhill is a Large Print book I brought home because I thought it would appeal to my mother, and I fancied it would be interesting to me, too.

When my mother finished it, she said without further comment that she recommended it highly.

I don't.  I think it is banal and for the most part, not very interestingly written.  I'm kind of sorry to say that, because it is almost okay.  It's just not what I was hoping for.

It is ironic that I take this tack, because once years ago I sent off a paragraph about how I "felt" about an experience to an author interested in editing a book like this.  I never heard back from her and I didn't blame her.  I considered probably my description was far too rudimentary and negative.

In this book the shortest entry is probably a one-page poem.  The others are mostly two or three pages long.

What I object to here is the lack of challenge or interest or originality in the vocabulary and writing style and even, alas, thinking of these contributors.

It reminds me of those big fat books of poems that contributors pay to get their poetry into.  (I guess it says something about me that I even know about the existence of these publications, but I plead innocent to publishing this way.  Instead I publish here on my website!  Ha, ha.  I'm not claiming to be superior to self-publication, I just hope my writing is better than what I found in Every Woman Has a Story!)

Judge whether you want to read this book by that gauge, if you choose.  Or remember - my mom liked it!

June 9, 2009

I bought Plank Road Summer because one of its authors, Hilda Demuth (who wrote it with her sister Emily) performs in the Hoosier Recruits, a musical group which plays dance music for and sponsors the Valparaiso Old-time Dance Society.  At least three members of the Hoosier Recruits are on the board of VODS, so of course I was going to read Hilda's book, even if it was written for middle-schoolers!

It's a fun book as well as an historically-set slice of life from Wisconsin 1852.  I didn't know that a runaway would have to get all the way to Canada to - oops, I better not give too much away!

Did you even know that people used to build wooden roads?  I didn't.  We've all heard of boardwalks, but... toll roads?

Admittedly, I had a little trouble keeping my characters straight at the beginning, the same way I do if too many characters are introduced too soon for my powers of attention (read "feeble brain" if you want) in a mystery novel.

This book is a wonderful lesson in diplomacy, however, as well as a good tale.  I hope my trouble getting into it is not experienced by others, because this book is definitely worth getting into.

Hmmm.... how do we get the word out?  Kids!  Read this book!  Parents, what the hell, you read it too!  Maybe I'll read it again to refine my social skills and try to understand why Katie only registered two tolls on the weekly toll register - surely more people came along the plank road on even one morning!  Did she fall asleep on the job and get replaced?  Or was it her other activities - but no!  I'll stop talking about it.  I wouldn't want to ruin it for you!  I think it went the other way round, anyway!  What?  Oh, I dunno.  Read the book!  And then explain that register to me!

The Valparaiso Library book club is meeting today.  Maybe I'll show Plank Road Summer to our leader, Connie,who is also a children's librarian.  I'm sure Hilda has given the library a copy, but this is an autographed one!

June 7, 2009

I have read a No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency book before, and enjoyed it.  I picked up In the Company of Cheerful Ladies by Alexander McCall Smith because I thought my mom would like it.  I liked it, too.

Maybe I didn't pursue the series more avidly before because it was written by a white man about Botswana.  He indulges in women's assessments of male characters that, of course, have a male bias.  It is hard enough for a writer to adopt the point of the other sex.  How dare he try to write from the viewpoint of an African woman?

Well, writers dare to try to get into other people's minds all the time.  Some of us even dare to get into a pig's mind - anthropomorphised, of course.

I think Smith does a great job with these books!  They kind of remind me of the Arabian Nights in their compassion and variety.

Who am I to challenge the validity of his characters?  I'll let a female, middle-aged "traditionally-built" African citizen of Botswana do that, if she is so inclined.

I like In the Company of Cheerful Ladies a lot!

I'll read more!

But right now I have so many other authors piling up.... 

May 31, 2009

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan seems to have been an unfortunate thing to do.  It was really fraught with all kinds of consequences for Mamah.

This is the book for the next Valparaiso Library Book Club meeting (June 9th at noon.)  Maybe reading the book is an unfortunate thing to do.  It is quite a melodrama!

But I'm talking here about loving Frank Lloyd Wright.  What a character!

Reading this book is almost like reading pure novel.  It could be fiction, of the sort I seem to have read a lot more of as a child.  It reminds me more than anything else, fictionally, of Gone with the Wind.

That means nothing though, I warn you, because I read Gone with the Wind about 50 years ago.

GWtW made me moody and prone to tears for about three days, as I recall.  Loving Frank, though even more tragic, did not have such a soppy emotional effect on me.  Is it because I am fifty years older, or is it the sheer suddenness, shock and - but no, I don't want to ruin it for you!

I enjoyed the book, even though I felt rung through the mill by the characters, especially the title character - even at second (third? hundredth?) hand!

There's still plenty of time to read Loving Frank (it's a page-turner) and come to our discussion.  We have fun!

May 25, 2009

Fearless Fourteen by Janet Evanovich made me wonder, why oh why do authors start writing longer and longer books as they get more popular?

Do their publishers pressure them to write bigger books so the publishers can charge more?

Are the authors themselves, flushed with praise, inspired to write more and enjoy the process itself more?

While I was reading Fearless Fourteen, I got a little impatient.  "What is this?"  I was tempted to ask.  "Delusions of grandeur?"  Well, hardly.

But if Evanovich is figuring that what is fun in small doses is fun in larger ones, she is probably right.  I kept right on laughing through this longer book, and had more time to figure out why she is so lovable.

Colorful, yes.  But I'd already noticed that.  Outrageous, ditto.

I think what really endears us to Evanovich is the range of humanity she is willing to embrace, er, or at least accept!  Her characters do not evolve so much as find a comfortable place for themselves and the others in their lives.  And let's face it.  That is a large part of growing up, isn't it?

Well, sorry, I didn't make you laugh.  You'll have to go to Fearless Fourteen for that.  And there are lots of belly laughs in this one!

If it seems a little long, remember laughing is a good way to lose weight and tone your abs!

Just don't expect to knock this one off in one sitting.

(Oh, I take it back.  The edition I'm reading is Large Print.  Maybe it's not any longer than any of the others, really. Then how come it took me so long?  Is it possible that I am laughing longer at these characters and scenes Evanovich comes up with?  Sure!  Why haven't we seen movies made from these novels?  It is possible that the movie industry can't match the writing in these funny books for comedy?  It's possible!  There's a challenge for you!)

May 22, 2009

I really didn't get Death of a Dentist by M.C. Beaton because I am hostile to my dentist - honest!  If anything, I got it in Large Print form because my mom is hostile to dentists and I got it for her.  (I won't tell how I know she is hostile to dentists - she wouldn't like it.)  I'm a fan of Hamish McBeth from the BBC series, which stars the guy who stars in The Full Monty.

If you have a dentist phobia (I don't know the technical word for this) do not read this book!  You will never go to a dentist again and end up committing suicide because of the pain.

The miracle is not that this dentist was murdered, but that he wasn't murdered by his whole town!

I won't give away any more.  Fun summer reading - to be read at least six months before your next dental appointment.

May 18, 2009

The book club book that was on the Valparaiso Library Book Club's list for May was The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards.  Unfortunately I inadvertently scheduled myself to be out of town that day and missed the discussion.  Darn!  I heard it was a lively one!

I wasn't that enthusiastic about the subject but I got over that indifference in a hurry and enjoyed the book immensely.  It is basically about the power of secrets to cause trouble and get between members of a family (and other people, too.)

Aside from some not sterling behavior of the characters, I think it is in many ways an idealized story.

The protagonist made a decision which he never did reveal to any of the people directly concerned and the negative consequences of that decision are made apparent by the author.  But she didn't write a book about what would have happened if he hadn't made the decision he made.

That story would not have been altogether pretty, either. 

Well, that's life!

May 15, 2009

Kerplunk!  I landed in Patrick McManus's book of short stories and the only way I could get out of it was to laugh!  Not a difficult assignment at all.

This book may be all about a man's world of hunting and fishing, but it is still funny to a woman.  If McManus' theory that you can write such funny stories about out-of-doors trips because they are so prone to accidents and extreme discomforts is true, no wonder we don't have so many quilting bee comedies!

In fact, writing a funny story about a quilting bee might be a good assignment for one of his classes!

(I bet most of the boys' stories would be funny tales about what happened to them trying to run away from a quilting bee.)

Like camping?  Hunting?

Hate camping and hunting?

Doesn't matter.  Either way, if you like to laugh, you'll love this book!

(I think McManus' assertion that comedy is due to accident-proneness is just modesty.  My personal theory about talent for comedy is that it is predicated on a bone-deep ambivalence.  Maybe there is hope for me!  Maybe I'll write the quintessential comic quilting bee story!)

April 19, 2009

I first read The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler when I was very young, probably before I was twenty.  On rereading it, I'm not sure it will make it through this century.

The central part about the central figure's religious experiences is so alien to - but wait.  Maybe not.  There are still many many people who are still subject to the sway of the hypocrisy of some seemingly very Christian people.

There is one sermon included that even I, who have basically been a doubter since I read Jack London in junior high school, was almost spell-bound and sucked-back-in by!

I valiantly resisted, though.  Whew!

Things that did not concern me much on my first-time reading bother me greatly this time around.  Whatever happened to Ellen's first - but no - I wouldn't want to ruin it for you!  I'll just say that the lives of the children in this book - even the supposedly fortunate ones, are - well, no, I won't even say that.

I found myself much more critical of the point of view and values of the main two male characters (two different sides (or chronological ages) of Samuel Butler himself, I gather) than I did the last time I read it.

Ground-breaking stuff when it was first written, I am sure.  Down with Christianity!  Down with marriage!  Down with... well, I have to leave something for you to discover.  No wonder Butler wouldn't publish this work before his death!

Except for the religious slough in the middle which I couldn't believe I was ploughing through, very interesting stuff in here, and universally appealing.

Descriptions of oppression have something we can all relate to, alas.

Maybe this book will make it through the 21st century.  

April 10, 2009

After reading The Double Bind, I was at a used book sale and thought I saw another, older book with the same title. On closer inspection, I saw that the title was The Double Blind.  Oh well, now that made me curious, so I bought it.

A double blind is a kind of scientific experiment.  I admit it took me quite a while to get into this book, it seemed so old-fashioned.)  But on page 126 or so I did get into it, because the book made me aware of a vicious cycle that I hadn't thought about before.

After I read the book, I didn't write about it for a while because I knew the title must have a double meaning, and I wanted to figure out what it was.  Duh.  When it came to me, I thought it was pretty obvious.

Have I aroused your curiosity?  Well, that's okay.  It's not a bad book.  Just kind of dated and well, fifties-tepid in ways.  Author is John Rowan Wilson.

P.S. Next day.  I looked up John Rowan Wilson after I wrote the above, and didn't learn much except he's been involved with movies.  But I thought more about The Double Blind.  Even before I started writing, the word "protagonist" kept coming into  my mind.  That word always has confused me, so I looked it up again.

Maybe part of Wilson's Double Blind is not of his characters' creation in the book, but Wilson's creation of the story's effect on us.  Maybe The Double Blind should really be titled The Triple Double Blind Ha Ha the Joke's on You!

Well, anyway.  Maybe I was too dismissive of this book yesterday.  It has drama, but I don't know.  Maybe Martin was really the... but no, I wouldn't want to ruin it for you!

My only question now, is:  did I only think about the book more because I wrote about it?

Er, another question or two:  Is this what writing book reports was supposd to do for us in school?  Make us think about the books more?

If it was, did it succeed?

(I feel like a little kid on an Easter egg hunt - "Just let me keep looking - let me find just one more egg!")

April 5, 2009

My mom got a few books for her birthday, including The Deer on the Bicycle by Patrick McManus.  She gave it to me to read.  "It's funny!"

When I looked at it more closely and saw the subtitle, Excursions into the Writing of Humor, I thought, uh-oh.  I'm not so good at getting through books telling me how to write.  I don't know whether the instructions paralyze my reading, or whether I'm afraid they will paralyze my writing.  And although now and then I laugh a lot while I am writing on my website, I don't really delude myself that other people will find me funny.

For those with similar trepidation, fear not: this book is funny, and the instruction gentle enough that you can pretend that you didn't get any at all.

The title story isn't the one I thought was funniest.  Neither was the one the author got the most positive feedback about.

I think his funniest story is ... bite my tongue!  Don't want to ruin it for you!

It seemed like I laughed out loud for pages, though!

Plus the author has a great list of other funny writers in the back of the book.  Must reading for the humor-deprived, soft-abd among us!

Better than vitamins and sit-ups! 

April 4, 2009

I liked Chris Bohjalian's Double Bind so much I picked up The Law of Similars at the public library.  In this novel, which I found interesting enough to read fairly quickly, Bohjalian features homeopathy, that medical practice that entertains the theory that a substance in very small (technically chemically nonexistent) quantities will cure the same symptoms it would create in larger doses.

I and my family have benefited from homeopathic remedies, so I found the subject matter and Bohjalian's treatment of it fascinating.  Hard to relate to his protagonist's reaction to his treatment, but hey, sex... (oops, I don't want to ruin it for you!) 

The quote from Abraham Lincoln that precedes the text makes the book worth picking up all by itself!  Lincoln was sumkinda wordsmith, all right!  (Anybody know where that quote was from?)

This book doesn't have the magic of The Double Bind, but is still a good read.  Another other book of his, Midwives, is supposed to be really good too....

March 27, 2009

Free for All by Don Borchert is a free-for-all, all right.  If there were nerds (part of the subtitle) in the book I don't remember them (where has my memory gone, anyway?  I seem to have mislaid it!)  As a library memoir it beats anything I experienced in my much-shorter, much smaller-town library working tenure, and it makes really good reading.

His job is partly to deal with teen-agers, though, in an L.A. branch library!  Even in a small town I would find shushing anybody intimidating.

To get a full book out of his experiences, Borchert has to range far from the library occasionally, but that's okay.

Even with the name changes, though, I wonder if he still gets doughnuts from his fellow librarians, who are definitely part of the library zoo!

Fun, light reading that makes you realize that librarians in public libraries have to deal with much more than just books!

*  *  *

Yesterday I finished Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.  This is great reading!  He makes a real attempt to make one part or another of his work appeal to everyone.  When I started to read his section about airline accidents, at first I was kind of gritting my teeth:  Okay, here we go.  Brace yourself for boring guy-stuff.

Not at all!  In the end this section raised the hairs all over my upper body - and even thrillers usually don't do that to me!  You would not believe how complicated - but no, I don't want to ruin it for you.

Gladwell has become one of my favorite authors.  He can be trusted to challenge the conventional wisdom, answer your nagging almost subliminal questions of several years' standing, and increase your understanding and compassion.

What's the next topic going to be?  I am more excited by the prospect than I am by the prospect of the new novels flowing from the pens of my favorite mystery writers!

And that's saying a lot.

I don't know if the local library has Outliers or not, but it isn't getting my copy.  (I might even want to peruse the bibliography for further reading!  Unheard of!) 

March 17, 2009

Since I moved back to Valparaiso I met, on the shelves of the library, the bookman mysteries by John Dunning.  I just love it when mysteries intersect with an interest of mine!  I told an ex-reference librarian about them, and she liked them - all except one, she said.  I mentioned the Sign of the Book and she thought that was it.

Since I didn't remember a thing about it, I decided to reread it and I could see why an 80-something-year-old gentlewoman might not like it.  Perhaps it is rougher than the others (in language, characterization, and outlook), so if you start with this one, don't be discouraged.  These are great reads!

I did like this one, and since I noticed the punnish nature of the title, maybe I will remember it better after the second reading.  I enjoy the peek into a collector and book dealer's world Dunning provides and his protagonist and plots a good deal.  Every once in a while I pass by these books at the library and am disappointed we haven't got more.

(I just Googled a bibliography and I guess Dunning hasn't come out with any more Janeway mysteries yet.  Get cracking, Dunning!  He has written a few other novels, though.  I guess I'll check in the regular fiction section for his stuff.  Don't want to get too genre-addicted!) 

March 11, 2009

It almost isn't fair to write about Now and Then by Robert B. Parker when I haven't read it in a couple sittings, but about a much interrupted twenty.  It isn't really fair to write about it right after interrupting it to read the immensely interesting book I wrote about last.  After all, that book is a novel proper, not just a mystery story.  It is more dense and textured (words I've read in book reviews, I'm sure.)

Robert Parker's Spenser novels are intentionally spare.  I usually find them highly entertaining.  In reading this one I just didn't give it time to build up momentum, and let's face it:  I don't feel as much empathy for a hard-boiled detective as I do for a bike-riding obsessive young woman.

So I give this one high points for surviving my inattention at all.  Maybe it says something about it that I didn't read it obsessively, but probably not.

It would have been nice, though, if we had found out more details about the malefactor's transgressions that would make the FBI interested in him.  I mean, the personal is okay, but... well.  I guess that is just one of the differences between Spenser and some of those other more old-time detectives written by the likes of Raymond Chandler.

Is this a valid observation?  Tell me. 

March 9, 2009

This one is a sizzler!  For some reason I started out kind of slowly reading Chris Bohjalian's The Double Bind, but once I got into it, zowie!

Would this be called a psychological thriller?  Absorbing, involving, confusion-inducing, yes, for sure.  Maybe it is not a thriller exactly, but it is thrilling enough for me.

And who exactly is the victim of The Double Bind?  The reader, for one - but in a good way.

Reminds me a little of a short story by Tolstoy (or dang, was it Dostoevsky) in which the main character - but no, don't want to ruin this one for you by giving you too many clues!

This book just grabbed me on many levels.  Go for it!

March 2, 2009

Well, I did it again.  I picked a book because of its title.  What gardener could pass up a mystery called Bindweed?  And this time I'm glad I couldn't, even though the title....well.  Don't want to put you off.

Bindweed by Janis Harrison is a cosy, true, but it is also a source of information and some wonderful scientific speculation about genetic engineering with respect to - but no, I don't want to ruin it for you!

Suffice it to say that people who deal with fabrics might find this novel very fun and interesting.  Harrison may have perceived that there are many people who are interested in needlework and gardening.  It's certainly true of me!

Why do so many heroines of detective novels have to be such difficult characters, though?  This florist detective seems to have her back up about something all the time!

Oh well, maybe that is just a characteristic of the genre.  Maybe Harrison is just trying to keep this from being too cosy.

I'll definitely check out another mystery by this novelist for my escapist rainy-day reading.

February 26, 2009

While putting in my volunteer time at the Valparaiso Library Book Sale Room yesterday, I read a couple of little books.  One, an old (1917) set of Chinese poems (originally translated, as I recall by someone named Legge) made into English poetry by Helen Waddell is stunning.

If you ever need a reminder that the human experience is universal, read this book - Lyrics from the Chinese.  Some of them date from before 1000 B.C.  Some were written by women.  One is a classic lament by a woman that her sex and age prevent her from - but no, I wouldn't want to ruin it for you!

Another short book I picked up yesterday was Menopaws by Martha Sacks.  I was surprised to see that the text and illustrations were by two different people, because there was no text to speak of.  Partly serious, partly satirical, partly silly, the best part of it were the illustrations by Jack E. Davis.

This book, which I considered a cartoon book, had a bibliography!  Who ever heard of a cartoon book with a bibliography?  Am i being ignorant here?  Oh, well.  This book didn't make me laugh out loud but it was kind of fun.

February 23, 2009

About twenty years ago I read a mystery by Ngaio Marsh.  As I recall it was entertaining but I thought the characters really just too bizarre and overblown and colorful.

About ten years ago I read another one.  I thought it was really good!  I intended to read more, but ... busy busy....  A few weeks ago I picked up Spinsters in Jeopardy.  Since my mom and I were still living alone in the house (although widow and divorcee, respectively) the title had obvious appeal.  Oooo, scare myself like ghost stories!

Well, hardly, as it turns out.  Yes, it is an entertaining book, but not really very scary.  The way these spinsters got themselves into jeopardy has hardly ever been an appeal to me, in so far as they were in danger.  (No, I don't want to ruin it for you by telling you how!)

As for one of the other dangers:  well, I'm sorry but marijuana just doesn't scare me so much.  As a big bad addictive drug it just doesn't make it into the category of scary.  Not, say, like tobacco!  But hey, for the very young, easily fooled?  Some fun reading!  Definitely a cosy.

Oh, and I have to say that Marsh's characters do not seem so unrealistic to me anymore.  Alas and alack, (or goody, because they make life so much more interesting) the human race really does contain many such colorful specimens.  Eeeww!

February 20, 2009

The Freedom Writers Diary should really be called the Diaries because it is not a group diary but a series of single entries in the diaries of the students of one LA high school teacher of  English, Erin Gruwell.  In fact, Gruwell begins this saga as a student teacher!

The students' tales of their lives are shocking, absorbing, lively, eye-opening - all that stuff.  The teacher's entries at the beginning of each year are included also.  This is definitely inspirational reading.

The ex-teachers in our library book club were less enchanted.  They were wondering, if she was so inspirational and successful and if she loved her experience so much, why did she only do it for four years (or so)?

I say, maybe because she wasn't a saint.  She basically lived and breathed her teaching life with those classes for four years.  Another answer might be that she tried to teach others (future teachers - at the college level) how to succeed with such challenged kids, thus hopefully multiplying her success.

I won't ruin the book for you by telling how she managed to reach these kids and open up their lives.

It would be really interesting to get follow-up stories now - ten years later.  Let me know if such a book is out there!

February 4, 2009

Delia Webster and the Underground Railroad by Randolph Paul Runyon is real history, and fascinating.

There is enough of a historically pedantic rough patch at the beginning that I hesitate to recommend it to lovers of historical fiction only, but if you can get through that (or get in the habit of reading it) this book has all the drama and passion of a novel.

It tells the story not only of Delia Webster, but also of Calvin Fairbanks, her accomplice in the crime of stealing slaves from their "rightful" owners.  And no, I am not using quotes around the word crime because in those days it really was one.

They were accused of "seducing" slaves from their owners and both - but no, I don't want to ruin it for you!

Suffice it to say this is a fascinating slice of American history, and the perfect response to anyone who doesn't think that we have come a veeerrry long way in two hundred years!

(The actual historical episodes recounted will astonish you and educate you far beyond (I am willing to bet) what you had known about both the institution of slavery and the organization and running of prisons in the old days!)

And to think I just stumbled across this book in the biography section of our local library!

January 30, 2009

Zombies of the Gene Pool is one book I didn't pick for its title.  And I didn't pick it for its author, Sharyn McCrumb, either.  I had never heard of her.

It was one of three books my sister passed on to me, and I almost rejected it with wrinkled nose.  I thought it would be a candidate for a movie with slimy special effects.

She said, "It's a mystery."

So with that slender assurance, I read it.

It is a mystery, and although I suppose it would qualify as a cosy, it was so full of the sci-fi culture and fandom that it wasn't at all boring.

In fact, I am delighted to have a new "traditional" mystery writer to read, even though I don't think McCrumb is necessarily the cleverist plotter.  She is a lot of fun and I do like some of her characters' insights.

A former librarian tells me she has a series centered around some southern folk singers.  I'm looking forward to reading it!  (Especially tucked into a caftan with a steaming cup of cocoa on an eight degree F day!) 

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