By: Esther M. Powell
Posted on: Fri, July 31 2009 - 1:24 pm
March 22, 2010
Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron with Bret Witter is part biography, part autobiography. It is the April reading for the Valparaiso Public Library Book Club and one librarian told us that one book a year (that is one out of twelve, a sizeable percentage!) is going to be about libraries.
The Dewey Readmore Books story is interesting, full of human (and feline) interest. I was not above getting dewy-eyed (ha, ha) myself when the kitty-cat died. (Oh, come on, I haven't spoiled the ending. You knew he must!)
I'm glad I read it, but am full of trepidation about next year's library read. What will they come up with next? Oh well, life must have some excitement! Some thrill.
March 19, 2010
Enjoyed Zia Summer by Rudolfo Anaya. It was more like Bless Me Ultima than I anticipated. Not a dismal gray urban detective story,it is more lush and sensual than one has any right to expect from the ascetic New Mexico environment. A real trip down memory lane for me, a former resident of Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Makes me want to go back to New Mexico, and I have every intention of doing so. Actually, I already have by reading this book. Take a Southwestern vacation via the Sonny Bono series!
March 12, 2010
Catch up time. I read another Sharyn McCrumb which was more serious, haunted by the Vietnam War: If Ever I Return, Pretty Peggy-O. It kept up its momentum and interest, but wasn't as wildly delightful as the other two I have read.
Best Enemies by Jane Heller, though called a novel, reminded me of the short stories I used to read in women's magazines like Ladies Home Journal. Or some such. Okay for a short read in a doctor's office and mildly amusing, but this genre, which could as well as "romance" be called "a comedy of lies", just doesn't make it as a complete book. So why did I finish it? Why do I sometimes say "yes" to a piece of supermarket cake?
March 6, 2010
I read Lauren Henderson's mysteries a few years back and loved them. Funny and smart. Then the library stopped getting them, I thought. I stopped wearing a path into the carpet checking for a new one.
But lo and behold, Henderson is now writing romantic comedy and Don't Even Think About it is wonderful!
From the behavior of the main man to that of the artist who gets "rewarded for bad behavior" Henderson speaks the I-wish-it-were-funnier truth. She makes us laugh anyway and thus able to identify with her characters as well as carry the burdens of our own experience.
Readers of romance - stop with the soppy stories and the heroines who get their way in the end. Pick up the authentic romantic truth with Lauren Henderson! Someone might just get her way - it might be you - with a real good read.
March 3, 2010
Bless me, Ultima kept popping through my head a good deal a few months ago, so when I saw it in the Large Print section at the library I checked it out for my mother and myself. After all, I figured, it is supposed to be a classic (modern, but still a classic.)
My mom said she thought it was the best book I had brought home to her.
I read it and enjoyed it, but I really wish I had read it when it first presented itself to my gaze when I was shelving at the Santa Fe Public Library in the early eighties. I found it difficult to enter into all this little boy's religious dilemmas.
It does grab the reader and you do care about the characters. From his descriptions I tried to figure out what part of New Mexico Rudolfo Anaya was writing about, and didn't succeed precisely.
No wonder. In spite of 30 years in New Mexico I never spent much time around Santa Rosa. Maybe if I had read the book thirty years ago I would have. My associations with New Mexico do not hold nearly as much water! (ha, ha.)
Anyway - a great book which serves as a glancing introduction to the spiritual influences of which no New Mexican can stay completely ignorant.
A lively, spirited family story set in vivid color! (But caution - also a violent story. I explain a lot of Antonio's angst to post-traumatic stress syndrome. Really. I hope Anaya's childhood did not feature so many - well, I don't want to ruin it for you!)
Bless Me, Ultima was just the beginning. Anaya has a bunch more books, fiction and nonfiction that I'm going to keep an eye out for - including four mystery novels!
March 1, 2010
The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo is a little bit of a challenge and a big serving of good old fashioned mystery entertainment. The characters are fascinating and convincing at the same time.
Well, almost convincing. I find it hard to believe that a man - oops, I don't want to ruin it for you!
For the first time in quite a while I just wanted to keep reading and reading and reading. Forget the chores! Forget bedtime! Just get to the bottom of this mystery!
I recommend it highly. Read it quick before Spring comes and you really ought to be outside enjoying the balmy instead of lounging around and reading the most interesting book you've read for a while.
In the midst of this book about Sweden and a foreign culture, it is fun to have the name of an American product or author pop out at you occasionally.
Stieg Larsson is a master - or I guess I should say he was. A pity, indeed.
February 25, 2010
Sharyn McCrumb's If I'd Killed Him When I Met Him is a good, laugh-out-loud read-it-to-your-friends way to counteract the snows of February.
Honestly, for audible chuckles and outright ha-ha's she and Janet Evanovich rival each other. I am so happy that there are so many books by McCrumb I have not yet read. Next winter I'll try to have a whole stack of them on hand to stave off the blue-with-cold cold weather blues.
And if you think half-way through, as I did, that you have it pretty well figured out, keep reading. There will be several surprises in store, and a couple of not altogether cosy endings.
February 22, 2010
Finally finished the Thomas Friedman book the other day (see below.)
It is an eerie read in 2010. Although he doesn't guarantee that our role in globalization is secure, he mostly believes in it. Now we have, by his standards in The Lexus and the Olive Tree, failed at wearing the "golden straitjacket."
It was hard for me to finish this book, lively as it is, because it is so dated.
I look forward to reading a more recent economics book by Friedman - preferably (if it exists) one published after our bail-out of big business last fall.
February 9, 2010
I'm halfway (almost) through The Lexus and the Olive Tree by Thomas Friedman and decided that if I am going to finish it I will have to consider it as background for a newer, post market-crash catch-up in economics.
I picked up his book because he has written a more recent one and I didn't realize how old this one is (1999.)
It is interesting in the extreme, don't get me wrong. And I'm learning alot. But there is no doubt that when I read his most recently lionized work I'll learn much more about where we are today. By we I mean both the United States and the world.
Thomas Friedman, in this work, thinks that communism lost and capitalism won and is successful.
Well. I wonder what he's saying now.
I still think I'll try to continue reading this book as economic history before picking up an even newer book that I won't even begin to understand before I have the background.
February 5, 2010
Finger Lickin' Fifteen: Now there's an F-laden title for you! I guess it's a homeopathic cure for February. Read now! If you like Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series, you'll like this one. She's just as spunky and messy and unforgiveably clueless as ever (but only about letting her prey get dressed - she solves a mystery in this one. Or maybe not - don't want to ruin it for you.) I laughed out loud several times. That means a lot in February!
January 22, 2010
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz:
Wao indeed! Brilliant - incandescent! The best novel I have read in a long time. So alive it is hard to believe it is really fiction. Well, in fact of course I know not all of it can be. Not the way science fiction and fantasy can be - references to which are rich here. Thank God I at least read Tolkien forty years ago so at least some of the references meant something to me.
You science fiction buffs will find it wonderful, all right. But so did I, and I haven't read enough to really get gut-punched (or even imaginarily visually stimulated) by some of the references.
Hard going sometimes. Shocking to discover what has been going on in the southern waters so close to us. People think from reading and imagining that they know what someone else is going through. Not so. Reality is something else again.
Still. This is one of the best novels that Valparaiso Public Library has selected for its book club list, and there is still plenty of time to read it before the next meeting Feb.9th at noon. I'm taking the copy I just finished back today.
Get the book! Read it! Grow your heart!
January 15, 2010
Enjoyed Broken Dishes by Earlene Fowler more than I expect to enjoy cosies anymore. It was giddy, sure, and silly, but I liked it, in spite of grammatical errors I'm more likely to attribute to the typesetter than (I hope) the author. (Am I behind the times, here? Are they usually the same person, these days?)
I don't know how many more cosies I'll be reading. They seem to make my mom paranoid and negative, and that is who I'm getting them out of the library - in Large Print - for. (This book includes quilters, so I don't know why this edition has a barn raising version of log cabin quilt on the cover instead of a version of Broken Dishes but I'm probably nit-picking.)
In the future, I won't be able to use my mom as my excuse for reading this escape literature. We'll see if I can resist the likes of Earlene Fowler. If you need a sweet treat (I almost wrote teat, ha ha!) of the mystery variety, though, you could do a lot worse than Fowler.
January 10, 2010
Wesley the Owl sounds like a pretty innocuous book. I just stumbled upon it in the large print section of the local library.
I loved it! A fascinating, sweet story and the author, Stacy O'Brien, spent twenty devoted years of her life earning the right to tell it.
I can't exactly say she was my heroine because I could never do what she did, but her and Wesley's story is like nothing else I have ever read. It does prove, though, that humans aren't the only immensibly adaptable species.
Rich in comic relief as well as owl-lore.
January 7, 2010
Conventional wisdom, beware! Malcolm Gladwell has a new book out, What the Dog Saw, and he is be happy to disabuse us of many of our socially formed ideas about reality.
No wonder he is my favorite non-fiction writer these days!
His work allows you to feel better about yourself while inspiring you to do better with what you have.
Gladwell doesn't just give you techniques to work on yourself. He gives you new and refreshing takes on reality itself.
When Gladwell challenges assumptions he doesn't make an ass of anyone except people who grab onto an idea and won't consider the possibility of letting go even in the face of evidence to the contrary.
I happily bought this book new, but if you want to dip your toe into Gladwell waters first, he has a website - www.gladwell.com which contains some of his other New Yorker articles. I just read one this morning that wasn't included in What the Dog Saw. Another winner!
In one way or another, Gladwell is bound to change your view of the world.
He gladdens mine!
January 5, 2010
My mom has started reading again, so I got a couple of large print books. One of them is Fudge Cupcake Murder which I got for obvious comfort reasons.
I may actually try this recipe just to be sinful and to counteract my healthier New Year's Resolutions, which I have obviously not resolutely refused to make!
Cosy, cosy, cosy, but fun and good for escapist purposes. In a way, it is a double mystery. It was even kind of hard to put down towards the end. Like trying to stop eating a really rich brownie! (Can this recipe really compete with the yummiest of brownies? We shall see.)
Anyway, good clean murderous fun even though the heroine cannot choose between romantic sweets. I would feel more comfortable with this if she were more like Stephanie Plum - everything is out front for the New Jersey gal.
Oh well. Joanne Fluke is writing about Minnesota. What can I expect from the frigid, repressed Midwest? (Mea culpa, mea culpa for that bratty crack!)
But hey, why am I taking this cosy so seriously? Probably best read around Halloween!
December 31, 2009
The Valparaiso Public Library Book Club book for January is American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld. This book is fascinating. I wish the author had decided to make a completely fictional work with some of the same kinds of concerns as any powerful man's wife might have. If someone did with my life what she has done to Laura Bush I would be spitting nails.
What is true? What is fair? How can any of it be fair or true?
In a way, I feel that I would be irresponsible now not to read a real biography of Laura Bush. But I won't, because Laura Bush is not someone whose biography I would want to read.
What a quandry! I have read historical fiction in the past and not been so bothered.
What is different now?
That was a rhetorical question. This author has gone too far. Way, way too far.
I almost put stopped reading it, which is saying a lot coming from me. I rarely put a book down.
Do I recommend it? Only if you would be willing to have someone else take your life and pretend they are inside your brain and your heart.
Curtis Sittenfeld, write your own life just like this! No, but wait - that would be okay - it is your life! But oh, that is right, there are other people to consider. Oh well, who cares, who needs friends and acquaintances anyway?
And if what you have written is mostly made up, why confuse us so?
I can hear you and your friends laughing cynically at my comments. What a pathetic person, you snort. So gullible! So easily confused! So simple-minded!
Well, everyone has different values. But I don't like this book. And I don't recommend it to anyone who doesn't want his/her perceptions of a real living, breathing, person dictated or shaded by a fictional work.
In fact, for the last two days I have kind of had a sick headache. I finished the book, started writing this and voila! It is gone!
(I'm a Democrat, by the way, if any new reader is curious.)
P.S. In a weird kind of way, a profoundly cynical work.
December 18, 2009
Finished a second book by Dick and Felix Francis and enjoyed it tremendously. Still horse-related like the other Francis novels, but this time the protagonist for good is a chef! I loved it! It also touches the long-hair music scene, which I can also relate to.
A book of mysterious and technical interest!
The one big flaw in the hero was an almost fatal mistake that I don't think I would have made - but hey, I'm paranoid and proud of it, while he is a macho manly strong type.
Besides, his mistake furthers the plot, I guess.
Anyway, I don't know what the Dead Heat is, unless it refers to the talents of the two authors. I hope I hope I hope it does because I want these two to keep on running!
December 14, 2009
Stumbled across more Dick Francis books. Yay! My sister says they have deteriorated in recent years, but not being one of the literati, I wouldn't know. (Are there fewer twists and turns in the plots than there used to be? That could be.)
At any rate, I liked Under Orders and am really glad that Francis is not too lazily resting on his laurels.
What else need I say? It's a mystery. It's not a cosy. It has horse-racing in it! And bestest - you'll be glad your life is more boring than Sid Halley's.
December 11, 2009
We read Caleb Carr's The Alienist for our December meeting of the Brown Baggers at the Valparaiso Public Library. No, it is not about somebody from outer space or, as I thought, an angry existentialist.
It is a historical novel set in New York City at the end of the nineteenth century. A little slow going because it is written in a style evocative of the era, but I enjoyed the book, even though it is about the investigation of a - but no, I don't want to ruin it for you.
Teddy Roosevelt is the Commissioner of Police in New York City! Forensics and psychology of the time are featured! Get the book! Read all about it!
I just hope we don't read any more books on this particular subject for the book club. (I try to avoid reading them at home any more.)
November 18, 2009
Haven't read Dick Francis for a long time because his output was slowing and I thought he'd had it with churning out fabulous mystery books.
Well, I guess not! With his son, Felix Francis, he has written Silks which combines and contrasts the two worlds of horseracing and law.
There was a paragraph or two which just didn't quite sound like the old Dick Francis, and the ending is really an evolution, but so has the world changed since he started writing, I guess. Who but a lawyer could do such a thing with such a conscious knowledge of the moral considerations and legal ramifications?
Enough said to arouse your curiosity, I hope. I don't think the lovers of Dick Francis will mind the presence of his son Felix at all.
In fact, there is another book out by the two of them. I haven't read it yet, but I'm hoping if he hasn't already, that Felix will someday bring his knowledge of physics into the horse-related mystery mix!
November 8, 2009
The Echo from Dealey Plaza is a pretty faint one, but devastating for one of its victims, Abraham Bolden.
The first black Secret Service agent to serve at the White House, he was not secret about the failings of his fellow agents in their protection of President Kennedy.
Admittedly not a well-read conspiracy theorist, I had heard none of this story before. Not one little iota. Just goes to show you how much can be hidden from the public for how long.
Abraham Bolden tells his own story, and although the reader gets a little bogged down in the details of the false case his own co-workers built against him, it is hard to say how he could have spared us them. He needs the detail to build his case.
A good book to read for anyone who is interested in the Kennedy assassination, its causes and its aftermath.
Are we careless of our Presidents? Evidently so. No wonder an ordinary citizen (although that is perhaps damning Bolden with faint praise) can be manhandled by the Secret Service and our justice system so brazenly and unconscionably.
I had not heard of this book before the Valparaiso Library book club scheduled it for discussion this coming Tuesday. Another good selection!
October 11, 2009
Our next Valparaiso Public Library book club meeting is Tuesday at noon. Our reading this time is Animal Farm by George Orwell.
What a wonderful idea, to reread this book! Most of us read it when we were young. Too young, in my case, to relate much of it to real events in the real world.
Now, does it ever resonate with tragedy and grief!
And even more, unfortunately, with truth.
It is much truer than I ever realized the first time I read it.
Very timely, too. The tea-baggers with their tactics disruptive of political meetings could have been inspired by Orwell's sheep.
The "spontaneous demonstrations" of Orwell's Animal Farm are so much like the "grass roots" demonstrations against public option health care legislation that it is positively eerie.
On the other hand, I think it makes the youthful reader wiser in self-protection. Maybe reading Animal Farm helped protect me from voluntary servitude to cult leaders and watchful of where resources are allocated, at least under my nose.
Maybe reading Animal Farm kept me from joining a commune, where I suspected I might end up being one of the hardest working (and therefore feeling used and abused!)
So have your children read Animal Farm!
Protect them from the likes of Charles Manson and other false-tongued oppressors! We cannot, perhaps, defend them from the oppressions of the larger society as well as we might; but at least we can help them recognize their existence.
Oh, and while you are at it, why not read Animal Farm again yourself?
Your jaw will drop.
October 8, 2009
Murder in C Major may be a cosy, but it made me a little paranoid. For one thing, the first person to die plays my instrument, which is of course coincidental - no, on second thought it is not, because the - well, golly gee, zip my mouth - I was about ready to give away something!
The reason this tale made me paranoid is because it was just a little too much my past life. Maybe the author might have known me - but no. It's all just a coincidence, I'm sure.
I think I might have liked my solution to the murder better than the one in the novel, (the how part, not the who part.) (Hmm, maybe I'll have to make a little nano-story out of that one!)
Enough of the personal. Or maybe the personal really influenced me, because this is the first cosy mystery lately I have really resented putting down, so anxious have I been to discover the truly lowly person who could kill a player of my instrument! How dare they!
Or maybe Sara Hoskinson Frommer just did a really good job at writing it and making you care.
Reed it and C ha, ha!
Is that a clarinet on the cover of this LP edition I read, by the way? Another little mystery to me, though it ought not to be.
October 3, 2009 (corrected Oct. 4, 2009 - sorry)
The Unsavvy Traveler are tales from trips taken all around the world by no fewer than twenty-eight women - twenty-nine if you count the writer of the introduction, Pam Houston.
The book has three editors: Rosemary Caperton, Anne Matthews, and Lucy Ocenas. Kudos to everyone involved!
These are the kinds of tales to read if you are feeling claustrophobic about your life. Instead of closed-in, you will feel cosy. Instead of bored, you will be entertained. Instead of stuck in a life-threatening situation that lasts days or weeks, you are immersed in a short story. Your purgatory in experiencing one of these adventures second-hand won't even last as long as a novella.
What better reading for the wintertime, when it isn't always so practical to travel anyway?
Oh, and you will laugh. Not constantly, but certainly more than these poor women did while they were undergoing their unfun though funny-in-retrospect adventures away from home!
Whether their trips were taken because of heedless youth or disregard for their own physical safety or sheer restlessness, there were still good and sometimes beautiful moments.
How not to travel! The un-travel guide.
September 30, 2009
The Burglar in the Library puts me in mind of John Dunning's murder series about rare books and booksellers. I wish he would write more.
But his are serious. Lawrence Block's comedy combines old English tea-murders (did I just make up that expression?) with the likes of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. Great fun, these works are worth reading just for the cultural in-jokes.
This is one you won't really want to put down. Unless you are serious-minded, of course, in which case don't waste the book's time. It could be in the hands of someone much more appreciative!
September 29, 2009
Hallowed Bones by Carolyn Haines is kind of eerie to read, it was so obviously written pre-Katrina (or immediately post-Katrina New Orleans in wild reminiscence.)
Very colorful, with an orange and black ball, orange flames and black evil.
I would have preferred it darker, but I'm picking up these cosies with my eyes open. The cover doesn't exactly deceive you in this case (I read the Bantam paperback edition.)
One more book in my series of frivolous mysteries and I'll try to buckle down to some more serious reading.
But don't count on it!
September 25, 2009
I forgot to say about Deadly Yarn the amateur gets away with unbelievable liberties with evidence in her investigation. Very fanciful!
Lawrence Block's hero also gets by with an incredible amount of investigative shenanigans in Burglars Can't Be Choosers, but in this case you aren't really expected to buy into any of it. Too far-fetched, with the complicity of the police instead of what seems like, in the former novel, sheer naive careless incompetence.
The corrupt world of Bernie Rhondenbarr is, seemingly, just a bunch of high-spirited fun which does no one harm.
I hope it is just fiction, but of course it's all a matter of degree.... This is very funny and naughty. Of course I'll read more!
September 20, 2009
Everyday Irrationality by Robyn M. Dawes is beyond me. I wouldn't mind admitting that so much except the title and the subtitle, How Pseudo-Scientists, Lunatics, and the Rest of Us Systematically Fail to Think Rationally, gave me the illusion that the average layman could follow it.
How irrational of me!
The author loses me when he uses equations the meanings of the symbols of which are just unclear to me. Then, in a few pages, he makes a verbal explanation for those of us who have trouble with the symbols. Well, why not give the verbal explanation before we have thrown the book down in frustration and disgust?
I pursued - until he talked about all Democrats being horse thieves not being true, as opposed to all horse thieves probably being Democrats (true, evidently!)
(My response: presumably not all Republicans foreclose on the above horse ranch and take the whole thing, horses and all! But anyone who does that is probably Republican!)
At that juncture I threw the book down in disgust a second time.
Still, maybe he was trying to be humorous. Trying.
I picked it up again and started the next chapter. I'm glad I did, actually, because I did learn some useful stuff while reading the latter half of the book.
But I swear one paragraph started by saying the opposite of what it meant! There was an inappropriate "not" which changed everything and made it incomprehensible. I read it several times, and this was still true. Did Dawes make an enemy of the typesetter?
Personally, I just think the whole thing was written with less than average clarity. Dawes often assumes that we know the meanings and parameters of phrases and ideas that I sure did not! Hey, maybe I'm just not psychologically sophisticated enough to read this book. But then why give it a title that might appeal to one of the rational masses?
Maybe the study of psychology is just always like this, but I don't think so!
Brave it if you wish, but I bought it second-hand, and it sure doesn't look to me as if anyone else finished this volume either!
To be crystal clear: I did not read it all. I couldn't. I wouldn't.
P.S. Sept. 22: True confession - I just read this and corrected and amplified my very incomplete and scattered comments. I confess to not proofreading the article soon enough. Obfuscation must be catching.
I'd like also to add that the last time I (tried to) read this book I was reminded of the movie Smart People, in which the protagonist gets a supposedly really good high-level work published under the catchy title, You Can't Read. Hmm, both that movie professor and this author teach at Carnegie Mellon.
Somebody bought this book (oops, it looks like the public library did.) It should have been titled, perhaps, You Can't Read and You Can't Think, Either!
Too, true, evidently! And you, Dawes, can't teach!
Ha, ha, ha, ha!
September 20, 2009
Not quite cosy enough not to need some warm knitting, A Deadly Yarn by Maggie Sefton is not going to shock anyone. There were a few deadly grammatical and spelling bloopers, but hey, blame the editor or typesetters, I guess.
I have to tell you, I have trouble relating to the monetary problems of one who owns a cottage, a ranch with livestock and has a job to boot!
This book was pretty much fun, but I was just waiting (and hoping for) an unexpected shock or twist as the final pages approached, and at risk of spoiling it for you, I will report I didn't get it.
On the whole, I feel more inspired to buy some new-fangled yarn and knit a scarf than to read another of Sefton's mysteries just now! (Maybe that's the whole point - stimulus to the yarn industry!)
September 10, 2009
Kind of odd to see Portland Noir, a book of short stories set in Portland, appear on the shelves of Valparaiso, Indiana!
Brand new book, brand new authors - at least to me. There is a picture of each in the back with a little blurb about each of them reminiscent of what you see in theatre program notes.
That's appropriate because most of these clever, well-written stories are high drama.
And dark. Some of them very, very dark. A perfect anecdote to all the cozies I've been reading lately.
In fact, such a perfect anecdote that I think I'll pick up another cozy....
Aaaah! I'm on a rollercoaster of addiction between literary uppers and downers!
What will save me?
September 2, 2009
This sort of cosy - Murder Can Kill Your Social Life by Selma Eichler, is funny and improbable.
Her fat and sassy P.I. Desiree Shapiro is an amusing oddball.
What better escape reading than that? So what if there are some loose ends? I bet Shapiro explains them in some later book in this series celebrating the reluctant tracker-down of murders (which are, in her opinion, too scary and dangerous.) This is only the first. Goody!
Heavens, is it almost Labor Day? I have only five days left to read escape literature before school starts.
(Heh, heh, school has already started and I don't have to (get to?) go anyway. But old habits die hard!
August 30, 2009
Somehow I'm not up for serious reading these days. Maybe it is that our non-summer (which I am not complaining about, believe me!) is coming to an end and I am feeling the weight of impending real winter. Maybe it is just that someone has given me half a dozen cosies to read before they go to the book sale room - which is like being given a box of dark chocolates!
Anyway, Shakespeare's Trollop is only a cosy if you think wild women deserve to die. Sexually, wild, that is. And only wild by small town standards.
Otherwise, Charlaine Harris has written a classic cosy, in spite of the traumatic past of the amateur detective here.
I enjoyed it though, in a desultory, patronizing summer-reading sort of way.
Which is really hypocritical to say. I read it, after all!
I almost agree with the character in the House TV episode who believes that nonfiction is a waste of time, except for something to laugh at. On the contrary, though, I believe that there is a good deal of fiction that is really insightful and worthwhile. That woman in House is just fictional herself, for goodness sake! (Does that mean she thinks she herself is only to laugh at? Maybe so, ha, ha, ha!)
Well. So Shakespeare's Trollop is a cosy. (A Lily Bard mystery, by the way.)
I can't help it! I'm having a summertime relapse!
I'm addicted! I can't help it.... sob sob sob....it's not my fault!
August 24, 2009
Well, after all this sunny but dark nonfiction I picked up a book by one of my favorite authors I haven't read nearly enough of, Larry McMurtry.
This book, Loop Group, is not fat even in Large Print edition, so it is a perfect summer read even if you like to spend most of your time outdoors.
Not saccharine sweet (in fact it contains more deaths than your average murder mystery) it is still life affirming, very funny (a fact which really doesn't deserve being buried in the middle of a sentence (especially one burdened with tons of parenthetical remarks, ha ha (HA!))) but is also a piece of kinda reverse nostalgia for anyone who has crossed the great Southwest in July.
The protagonist of this novel is a usually well-adjusted woman who is suffering from a depression and that is all I'm going to say. Wouldn't want to ruin it for you by explaining that she has lived in the same h - no, I wouldn't want to ruin it for you!
(Ha, ha, I didn't ruin it for you anyway. That was a red herring hint!)
C'mon, read the book! It's really short - and you'll laugh!
P.S. You'll never forget the aunt in - whoops, I almost did it again!
P.P.S. I just love the way McMurtry gives a nod and a glance to the likes of Thomas Mann and somebody else I forget who and probably lots of other references that pass me by. But of course maybe that stuff is just a coincidence.
Still - it all resonates. I bet it's intentional.
August 23, 2009
Who woulda thunk a book about 9/ll would be a page-turner?
It is next month's selection for our Valparaiso Public Library's Brown Bag Book Club (which turns out to be a silly name because most of the people there don't take their lunch. I don't know why few others don't eat. I know why I don't - it interferes too much with talking! And it is embarrassing spitting crumbs in front of everyone.)
I wasn't enthusiastic about reading Touching History because I didn't read the subtitle carefully enough and thought it would be very heavy, sad, rubble-detailed reading.
Horrible, sad in spots, true.
But mostly it is about what happened in the skies over the U.S.A that day and it is really surprising and fascinating. (Probably I'm over-using that word these days, but what can I say. It's absorbing but with an element of surprise and horror too.)
The Foreword written by Ben Sliney, FAA National Operations Manager (one of the real unknown heroes of the day), begins with a description of how physically beautiful September 11, 2001 was. A perfect day for flying.
Lynn Spencer, a pilot herself, proceeds to tell us how that day went for the pilots, air traffic controllers, and everybody else whose business was to make decisions that affected what was happening in the skies.
To this day, if I had not read this book I would not have a clue.
I can't help wondering if many of the air traffic controllers were capable of continuing their jobs after 9/ll, or whether they have suffered too much from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.
There were lots of heroes that day. Lynn Spencer sings their story.
August 19, 2009
Literary Nashville, edited by Patrick Allen, starts out with a bang with an excerpt from a narrative by David Crockett (yeah, that one) and Thomas Chilton that will knock your socks off. (Hint: when Davey "killed him a bar when he was only three" that was just the beginning!)
This excerpt is followed by a bunch of short stories, many of which are chapters from or stories told in novels. It is a tribute to the storytelling skills of the region that these authors provide so many tales that stand alone lifted from their context.
Some of the authors' names are familiar to just about anyone - Langston Hughes, Robert Penn Warren - but most were unknown to me.
Although I may go to the library armed with a reading list of the novels these excerpts are taken from, I don't have high hopes they will be easily accessible here in Northern Indiana.
The chosen works, spanning a century or two of Tennessee life and showcasing viewpoints of men, women, young, old, black and white, evoke about every emotion possible.
Not only are the authors good writers, but they are a very spirited lot! Some of them lived in Nashville, others merely alighted for a special occasion, but I promise this collection will have something of interest for everyone, even hunters and musicians!
Oh, there is some poetry in there too. I confess to not understanding much of it.
August 13, 2009
Michael Connelly's The Closers is about a detective who has been rehired by the LAPD, and the his first case after his return.
It is a good non-cosy with a lot of interesting elements and consideration of the consequences of murder in the decades after the actual crime.
I have noticed more and more that the detail that is supposed to draw me into the reality of a book sometimes drives me away. Maybe some authers do so much of it that it becomes artificial and off-putting. That happened to me a couple of times while I was reading this one.
But still - good solid reading, if you need escape from reading about the real world.
Murders as escapist reading - who woulda thunk it? But there it is. I've confessed to it before and I will again.
Right now. In no time I finished the book Crewel Yule by "Monica Ferris" (one of the pen names of Mary Kuhfeld, judging by the copyright possessor.)
Cosy in extremis, (ha ha is that a pun or just bad Latin, or maybe even a triple entendre?) this book celebrates the prescription of death rather than therapy for a particularly nasty piece of literary stitchery - over and over again.
A quick read and definitely escapist. Designed for needleworkers, whose too refined and boring occupation (pipe down, I've been one! (although not an embroiderer)) requires the hope of a little escapist fiction promising excitement and the fantasy of seizing an opportunity for murdering an enemy!
August 11, 2009
The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan is definitely about the United States of America! Well, even by our standards the title may be something of a misnomer. After all, I think having troops burn your crops and kill your family and rape you might be worse.
But at least it wouldn't last as long (except internally) as this ordeal of malaise of land and body, this unimaginable horror of dustbowl existence in the 1930's.
I remember hearing about it but did not realize how bad it was.
When I read about Black Sunday, which sent a storm of dust that stretched all the way to New York and Boston, I asked my mom, who would have been 15 at the time, if she remembered it.
She said no.
She was in Southwestern Ohio at the time. Maybe the effects there were much less than those farther north. Or maybe she just can't remember. Neither my father nor my mother spoke much about the past.
When the author talks about 22-year-old Woody - but no, I don't want to ruin one of the really cool anecdotes from the book!
Read The Worst Hard Time!
It may be misnamed, but not by much. And maybe it helps us realize that much of our bad fortune is created by ourselves, and good fortune is just plain old luck!
(Even the subtitle is kind of a misnomer. Read the book and scan the notes to find out how!)
August 5, 2009
More about The Family by Jeff Sharlet. This is one I probably should have written about several times as I was reading it.
When I began, I kind of sighed about where Sharlet began - the eighteenth century! But I'm glad he did - it gave us the necessary background to put the present doings of the fundamentalists in context.
Since I hold myself out as the Queen of Introspection, of course I approve of this work by Sharlet, which is a veritable dredging of the American psyche in its involvement in the world.
One of the major points Sharlet makes in his book is that a secular reading of history is hindered by its lack of understanding of the sway of religious belief underlying what we have done as individuals and as a "nation."
We folks who have been driven to cast aside the greater part of the belief systems we were reared with still have our numinous if not religious moments.
How much more so did even our relatively enlightened leaders of the Revolution? They had their moments of religious relapse, not to mention their pretences and social skills when it came to dealing with a faith-ridden American populace!
Can't understand what the hell I am talking about?
Read The Family! Then you either will understand what I have just said, or you won't care, because you will have made your own sense of what Sharlet has reported!
One member of Congress has called Sharlet a nut.
I don't think so. For one thing, look at all the research he and his team did. (To get an inkling of that, you have to read the book. Heh, heh, sneaky, aren't I?)
For another thing, when I was reading about the approach, influence, and power web of the Family as reported by Sharlet, some of their values and rhetoric kind of rang a bell with me. It reminded of some of what Conrad Hilton calls his personal philosophy in his autobiography, and I bet myself that Sharlet just might give him a mention in connection with the Family.
Sure enough, Hilton appears in these pages. This is no accident, I am sure.
Read The Family! You might be surprised at the names that pop up!
Read The Family! You might be convinced, like I am, that we cannot just move on from our history and misdeeds, much as I respect President Obama and what he is trying to accomplish.
Some misdeeds are just too bad and horrible and destructive. Their consequences are dire and permanent. Now that I know that many of our less than ideal actions have a sinister coherence and even an ideology behind them, I am much less confident of our future as a nation than I used to be.
Don't know what the hell I am talking about?
Well, maybe you shouldn't read The Family. Maybe you don't want to know what I'm talking about.
Keep your innocence.
August 3, 2009
Want to read a thriller? Throw away Stephen King! Want to be terrified? Toss out the gruesome fiction!
I think The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power by Jeff Sharlet is the scariest thing I have ever read!
You can tell how important I think this book is by the fact that I have actually included the subtitle! Unheard of!
Well, enough of exclamation marks. This is more the kind of book that gets an increasing emotional reaction as you read it. Think the Illuminati is scary? I haven't heard enough detail to be scared by it. Besides, is it real? I never believed it.
This guy Jeff Sharlet is, unfortunately, all too believable.
He has spent literally years studying Christian Fundamentalism in the U.S. He has credibility (this book started as an article in Harpers Magazine and he has recently appeared several times on the Rachel Maddow show.
His researches into the archives of The Family are all the more convincing because he throws up his hands and says he can't tell us much more detail about the last decade because The Family, an already secretive organization, closed its archives ten years before the writing of this book.
Think the U.S. involvement in foreign affairs is inexplicable? Read The Family! (Okay, okay, that will be the last EM.)
Think Bush's description of the Muslim Near-East as the home of the "axis of evil" is accurate?
Read The Family.
Think our government and the U.S. of A. are always the good guys?
Read The Family.
In fact, no matter what you think, read The Family. You are bound to learn something about our country and our leadership that you never knew before.
And it won't be pretty.
I would like to say I will never pick up fiction again, but I started to read Michael Connelly's The Closers before I picked up this book, so... of course I have to finish it. After all, it is not bad.
But, oh, Lord, it isn't The Family. The truth that is stranger and scarier than fiction.
Oh, yes, I meant to say also that the I Ching describes the best, ideal leader as being very low-key - almost non-existent in the minds of the people. (I think I have mentioned this in other articles.) But I never got the feeling that his very existence or identity should be kept secret!
July 31, 2009
I haven't written in here for quite a while. I have been reading several books and finished none.
Karl Lutze's book ...a lot on my mind, Lord is one. In the Introduction by Walt Wangerin, Jr. we are told how to read the prayers in this book. So of course, from a lifetime of experience in failing to get much satisfaction from doing things as I was "supposed to," I picked up the book early one morning when I couldn't sleep and read it halfway through.
Karl Lutze is a fine man. I have met him. He did truly a beautiful thing once for my mother.
When his first wife died, my mother wrote him a poem. When my father died, Pastor Lutze visited and brought the poem with him to give back to her for her consolation. This was many years later! I thought that was a gesture of amazing thoughtfulness.
As to his book, what can I say? It is a book of prayers which display his Christian values - values helpful to all of us.
But I have come so far from his belief system that about all I can say about his words is that, as the Quakers say, they don't speak to my condition.
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