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For Book Butterflies Heaven's Leaven
By: Esther M. Powell
Posted on: Wed, March 31 2010 - 4:54 pm



August 29, 2010

The Right Attitude to Rain isn't really a mystery.  Or at least, mostly not.  I think it has been miscatalogued here in Valpo.

I'm a big fan of Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, a little less so for this novel.  Or maybe I am a little too old for it.  Or maybe it needed to be better edited - the main character is made aware of a possible consequence of her behavior, then later thinks it had not occurred to her.

Yes, I think more and harsher editing, resulting in a tighter, more mature work.  Otherwise, it was fine.  Better than fine in some ways, and reading descriptions of Edinburgh, one of my ancestral homes, was enjoyable.

August 25, 2010

Camping didn't leave much time for reading, but I had a good time with Sharyn McCrumb's book, The Rosewood Casket.

Replete with biographical details of Daniel Boone's life, as given by a sympathetic character who portrays Daniel for schoolchildren, the book toggles back and forth between two centuries.

It was an eye-opener for me - reading about the patterns of land ownership in the Appalachians, both past and present, and it is not a pretty story.

Maybe the folks who say, "I want my America back!" ought to read up on what actually happened here long before they were born.  They might discover that "their America" has always been an illusion.

Or maybe, on the other hand, they are the children of Frank Whitescarver!  (Who he?  Read the book!)

Sure, it's got a lot of melodramatic family fare.  But it wakes you up at the same time.  Ideal summer vacation reading for those, like me, who have fiction addiction!

August 8, 2010

Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck reads more like a bunch of European folk tales than anything else.  Mischief, pranks and downright crime abound, but good humor always prevails in the telling.

Rarely have I read anything with more unique descriptive twists or less respect for property.

Well, that's useful these days!  This novel reminds us that life can be lived without supermalls.  Or could.  I would choose my personal entertainments with less reliance on wine, but hey, these are the stories of another crowd - Danny's paisano friends in the (imaginary, must be) small community of Tortilla Flat in Monterey, CA.

August 7, 2010

Tuesday we will discuss Gardens of Water by Alan Drew.  So many dislocations and traumas visit the people in this novel it is difficult to take any lessons from it.

But then, art isn't supposed to be didactic anyway, is it?  The author himself feels the most sympathy for the protagonist (he says in an interview in the back of the book.)  I have the most sympathy for the daughter.

I don't know what gives with the recent propensity of romantic titles for really sad - not to say horrible - stories (e.g.  A Thousand Burning Suns).  Don't be mislead by the title.

If you don't want to read a realism-based story about the mess that is the contemporary Middle East, don't read this one.

I do recommend it, though. 

August 5, 2010

Summertime is for plums.  Stephanie Plum, in particular.  Plum Spooky is one of Janet Evanovich's "in between numbers" novels.

I don't quite know what that means.  Does Diesel only appear "in between?"

Well, Diesel is a little rich, but his magical "powers" do make for some funny moments.

Great summer reading!  Stephanie gets wet and cold too often in this one for me to recommend it for winter reading.

July 28, 2010

Oh, for God's sake.

A blend of rant, rave, humor (oh, it wasn't supposed to be funny?  I'm sorry, I thought it was often very funny!), literature, philosophy, poetry and fiction, On Being Blue is preoccupied most with sex.

It does hover around the mystery of perception, and I cannot deny that it explores the quantity of subjectivity in objects as color, emotions as color, physics as color, color as color.

In fact, it is kind of fun.

But, omigod, talk about excesses!  Talk about crossing of blue taboos and traversing blue highways (which I believe were not mentioned) through blurry blue borders!

I pity the Library of Congress cataloguer who had to decide what the hell this book was about.

I bet by the end of that day, she was very, very blue.

The breath of William H. Gass is blue.  It is the color of the air and sky in the very, very, late evening and will freeze you on contact like dry ice so that it can turn into dragon breath's red and melt you to a puddle.

This is most certainly true.

July 26, 2010

The Lighthouse conveys a mood of place almost as consistent as mood in a short story.  I really wanted to visit that island as much as I would not want to live there.

My aging brain has much trouble keeping all the characters with similar names (especially those beginning with the same letters) straight - causing me almost as much trouble as as similar-looking characters in the movies.  Would it seem too terribly contrived to give all the characters names easily distinguishable from each other?  Of course, to some people Plunkett and Padgett seem vastly different, but give me a break!  There are twenty-six letters in the alphabet, and a random sampling of my acquaintances gives names with more variety than these!

Of course all this whining begs the question of how much time and thought go into choosing names for literary characters.  (Shakespeare obviously pondered this issue.) 

Also, there are lots of acronyms in the beginning that I also forgot the meanings of.  The detectives even called Adam Dalgliesh AD!

A great classic mystery nevertheless!  P.D. James has done it again.  I've read several of her books - I'll have to find more.

July 18, 2010

Well, I stand corrected.  Maybe.  Working in the Shadows is a pretty convincing book-long statement that most of us not-really-so-spoiled Americans couldn't/wouldn't do the job done by many immigrants.

The fact is only true desperation could make most of us do the jobs described here by Gabriel Thompson.  What surprises me, rather, is that even those from other poor countries would choose these jobs even over almost abject poverty.

It is really depressing to be reminded anew how bad it is out there.

This book gives a new slant on the "reality" of statistics.

It makes you look anew at the amount of money we spend on health care in this country.  I always in the past have attributed a lot of this to bad habits of our citizenry like over-eating, failing to exercise, smoking and drinking.

Now I realize that these horrible jobs take an enormous physical toll on those who do them.

Maybe signing up would-be American citizens to do this kind of job for only one year (or less - sounds horrible for even one month!) as a way to make legal entree to the country could be a partial solution to our immigration problem.

If there are twelve million illegals in the country right now as Gabriel Thompson reports, this problem is not going to go away.  We might as well try to work with immigrants instead of deporting them.  God knows they work among us already!

According to Thompson, immigrants have vitalized communities that were dying and of course, due to withholding taxes, they pay our federal government a great deal of money.

It's time we admitted that we need immigrants more than they need us.

This book is more, though, than the tale of immigrants.  It is the tale of how corporations and business people are willing to abuse their workers (to the point of death!) if they are allowed to.

Thompson's experiences are fascinating, and explain why a journalist needs to really subject himself to these worlds in order to be able to report on them.

I would put this on a must-read list!

July 8, 2010

Picked up Peter Cashwell's The Verb 'To Bird' at the Book Sale Room and have enjoyed it heartily.

Be sure to take the time to read the contents listed for each chapter - I didn't discover them until I was almost finished with the book, and they are amusing, too.

He makes the pleasant point that the most memorable bird sightings are the unexpected ones.  That really seems to be true for me, also.  In most areas of my life, which may explain my reluctance to plan overmuch.

In my case, the plans aren't ever the 'best-laid' and nothing ever seems to go quite right anyway.  (Hmmm... now seems like a good time for a jest about birds and eggs but I'll leave such jests to Peter Cashwell!)

I was rather shocked by his aggressively dismissive behavior towards an innocent fly-catcher but I decided he didn't really... well, you'll have to read the book to find out what he said he did!  Personally, I think he just made that part of his story up for a laugh.

I'm hesitant to say it would be a good read for someone who has never been bird-watching, because I have been looking out for the odd specimen ever since I saw a Ruby-crowned Kinglet out of a dorm window when I was in college.

But be careful if you don't want to get hooked on the birding habit!  This book just might intrigue you.

And look at what happened when Cashwell, innocently contemplating a Cardinal, started wondering just how the bird got that name.  Well, it makes for a great story.  A fable, even, if you count the moral!

And we're planning a trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan next month, and because I read this book, I know it is the only place (and only if it is the right time of year) we can find a...

Damn!  I can't remember what bird!  Oops, no index!

I guess I'll just have to read the book all over again.

Just as well.  The return trip will probably have that many more laughs.

P.S.  www.petercashwell.com will reveal the mystery bird to you.  But will I tell?  Hell, no!  Read the book!

July 3, 2010

I admit it:  Buzz Aldrin's book Magnificent Desolation:  The Long Journey Home from the Moon was a disappointment to me.

Normally I don't even bother to include the subtitles of the books I talk about, but in this case I think it is deceptive.  Sure, I get it - it is metaphorical.  And if I had read his first book I might have had a better idea about what to expect.

It is my fault I had false expectations, I guess.  If I hadn't just mindlessly put the book on reserve I would have noticed the call number 921 that means biography, or, in this case, autobiography.

But my advice is, unless you are intensely interested in Buzz Aldrin personally, don't bother to read it all.  Just read the first three chapters and the last four.  Those are the most interesting to those of us who are not particularly interested in alcoholism or names dropped.

It is not that I don't have compassion for those who have problems in their lives.  I do.

But spare me the tortured whining of the arrogant privileged.  I understand that they have trouble taking the help that many of us would practically leap off Niagara Falls for.  I just don't want them dragging me down with them for the time it takes me to read about their relapses.

I repeat:  It's my own fault that I didn't realize what I was getting in for.  But hey, it's a Valparaiso Library Book Club book.  I probably would have ploughed through it anyway.

My advice, though?  First three chapters, last four.  Or, in NASA parlance, FTCLF.

Ha, ha.

P.S. And how do Buzz's commercial plans relate to global warming?  He talks as if we could be more green using the Mars and the moon, but I don't see how. 

June 29, 2010

Wallace Stegner obviously paid more attention to his father's adventures than most of us, but I did pick up Big Rock Candy Mountain partly because I remember my father uttering those very words when I was a child.

Mysterious words!  They definitely capture your imagination and this book teaches you more about them.

Even without reading about Wallace Stegner you know he must have lived part of this life.  That fresh immediate knowledge of this family life had to have at least some of his own in it, and from what I have read, this is true.

Unfortunately what I have read about him on the internet since I finished this book a couple of days ago does not go into detail about his past.  I will look further. 

I was electrified, though, when I read that Wallace Stegner died as the result of injuries he recieved in a car accident in Santa Fe in 1993!  What road was he on?  How did it happen?  Etc. etc. - so far questions that don't have answers for me.

I was living in Santa Fe myself at the time.  I had already read Angle of Repose, picked up because of the title, and was really impressed with Stegner's writing.  I never got around to reading more of his work until now, partly, I am sure because it is so fraught.

I love the idea that I might have seen Stegner around town.

Big Rock Candy Mountain is about the adventures of a family that moves around the West, so if you are interested in the Old West (and/or severe family dysfunction!) you might want to pick it up.

Big Rock Candy Mountain is even more passionately felt than Angle of Repose, and that is saying a lot.  There were several times I just had to put it down because I was so worried about what might happen.  This is impressive writing! 

June 18, 2010

Robert B. Parker's latest Jesse Stone Novel, Split Image, features Sunny Randall, who, as I recall, has also made appearances in Parker's Spencer novels.

One thing I really like about Robert Parker's books is that his heroes and heroines use (and in one case is one) psychiatrists.  His characters look at themselves in a way that I believe most of us still can't even imagine doing, although many of the techniques and helpers have been around for almost a century now.  His heroes are given the chance for better lives because of their willingness to go through more than harrowing experiences of the physical sort.

Given that his books have millions of readers and I have but few, I am amazed that his word seems not to have gone out yet.

Hey, folks, Parker's books are entertaining, but there are messages in there, too.  Secret codes and detection tricks for me and you!

June 11, 2010

Judy, the fearless leader of our Valparaiso Public Library Book Sale Room, pointed out Nelson DeMille's Wild Fire to me as being his best book.

How could I resist the appeal of reading an author's best work - especially in a genre that I hadn't read before?  (As far as I knew.)

I tore through this book like, forgive me, wildfire.

Is fiction like this the inspiration or consequence of conspiracy theorists?

A great, scary tale that gives you some laughs to make up for the fear it instills.  After all, I don't know this author.  Is he really capable of even fictitiously ... well, I won't ruin it for you.

I do think that the protagonist's marriage is doomed, though.

Oops!  If you read the book, enter its reality and meet him, please don't tell him I said so!

June 8, 2010

Wow, the more I read the more I find out that conventional wisdom just isn't wisdom.

Sorry.  I hate that we all have to be disillusioned by reading, but hey!  We can all find lots of other ways to be disillusioned.

Sometimes, however, being disillusioned is a relief, because, what do you know - not all illusions are good!  (It could be argued that no illusions are good because they are not reality, but I'm not going to go there.  After all Bandler and Grinder - the Neuro Linguistic Programming people - have some interesting tales to tell about that!)

No, today I am talking about an eye-opening book about demographics.  It is titled The Coming Population Crash and Our Planet's Surprising Future.

Don't worry, the author, whose name is Fred Pearce, isn't going to ruin the future for you.

In fact one thing he does is talk about past predictions and how wrong they turned out to be.

Interesting, interesting stuff about the rise and fall of populations and the flow of immigration.

Maybe the next book Thomas Friedman writes will mention Fred Pearce!   

June 5, 2010

Who am I to think I have anything new to say about what some people consider the greatest American novel?

The only thing I have to add is that The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald stands up well under repeated scrutiny by me of all ages, and I project that the same will be true of you as well.

The Valparaiso Book Club is reading it for Tuesday, June 8, at noon at the Public Library.

From my youthful reading I remembered descriptions of incredible riches and romantic evenings, but also and above all the character of those who possess that kind of wealth, at least of Daisy and Tom, as described by Fitzgerald.

That's pretty good memorability for a long-ago novel about long-ago times.

Plus it is short!  A quick, hard-to-put-down read.  Much more intensely felt than most of the stuff I've read lately.

No excuse for not picking it up again.  And quick!  So you can come to the discussion.  We have a good time!   

June 3, 2010

A Long Line of Dead Men by Lawrence Block.  Intrigued me so I read it.  Turns out it intrigued me a long time ago, because I had already read it.  But did I remember the ancient poem with the last line of every stanza, "Timor mortis conturbat me?"

No.

Did I remember the mystery?  Or its solution?

No.

Well, I remembered whodunnit a while after I remembered Ialreadyreadit.  What did I remember?  The rather unusual romantic situation of the hero.

Somehow I had lumped this work among Robert Parker's stuff, which doesn't make any sense at all because Robert Parker's heroes do not get into this particular type of romantic situation.

Anyway, this tale is improbable but has its moments.

May 31, 2010

I saw The Prick of Noon by Peter deVries and snatched it up.  I read a couple of books by him years ago, and it turns out that those books, along with this one, are his last three published.

His work is so funny I don't know why his name still isn't on everyone's lips.  His friend James Thurber insisted on his going to work for the New Yorker, where he stayed for forty-four years, if that says anything to you about the quality of his writing.  It does to me!

You can pick this paperback up for a tra-la-la.  It is short and sweet!

May 26, 2010

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown is, like the last book I wrote about, (Thomas Friedman's Hot, Flat, and Crowded, which I forgot to say if I were the Mother of My Country I would make required reading for every citizen!) is a mixed bag.  I read it stop and start, interspersed with the Friedman.

I almost stalled at the very beginning of The Lost Symbol because it was so nasty.  I just wasn't sure I was in the mood to read about the kind of guy that would... but no, I don't want to ruin it for you!

Intermixed with all the sick humanity-hating stuff on the part of the novel's evil genius, though, is all sorts of cool information about the masons and the masonic symbolism that the public buildings of Washingtion, D.C. were literally built upon.

Sure, you could study up on the secret societies yourself and probably learn some of this stuff.  Maybe it is even in capitol brochures, although I doubt it.

At any rate, it almost makes up for the agony of reading the book.  Actually, I wish they would just make a movie out of it and get it over with.  There might be time in a movie to include all the cool stuff, like the fact that the painting on the ceiling of the Capitol Building is Washington being... but no.  I can't steal Dan Brown's thunder.  Call it up yourself!  Read the book!

May 23, 2010

I finally finished Thomas Friedman's Hot, Flat, and Crowded.

It is a hard read and an easy read:  hard because it is so scary and depressing, easy because it is so well-written and ultimately optimistic.

Whether he would still write this way after the oil spill, I don't know.

But Friedman's logic is basically this:  if we are hopeless about countering global warning, then our situation is truly hopeless.  If we are in denial about global warming, we are hopeless and truly doomed, unless we are willing to behave as if it could happen and take energetic steps to avoid it.  After all, what have we lost?  At the very least the world will be a cleaner, healthier place.  If we realize the seriousness of our predicament, of course, we are in a better position to create our optimum energy world.

I have said what I believe is his main thesis in one little probably boring paragraph, but this book is chock full of interesting anecdotes and facts.

For instance, do you know about the green military people?  I had never heard of them!

Are you convinced we need to do something about global warming and don't want to read the whole book?  Read the italicized pages in about the middle of the book, to see how green we can be!

Lastly, I apologize to Friedman for writing a "green is easy" kind of Rumillumination once or twice.  He says this is simply not so.  We need whole systems, not just well-meaning citizens.

Okay, Thomas Friedman, if I ever come into some money I will be sure to invest in some smart green technology! 

It is kind of like people who believe in God just in case.  But in this case it is the whole world being safe for the human race we are trying to save.

Let's start a new Green Religion, trying to make it as easy as possible on Mother Nature!  May clean heavens help us all!

May 4, 2010

The Boy in Striped Pajamas by John Boyne is an interesting take on the concentration camps during World War II.

It is a quick read, so nobody has an excuse for not getting through it for such an occasion as the Valparaiso Library Book Club, which is discussing this book next week (Tuesday, May 11 at noon, if I can persuade you to come.)

I'm glad I read it.  It brings up all sorts of questions, none of which I am going to voice now because why ruin the book for you?

I haven't read anything else by this author so I have no background from which to go with it.  Other than a couple of attempted-humorous rhetorical devices that were aggravating, the reading of it was easy.

Whether a young person without any historical knowledge would understand - but no, I don't want to give away what happens.  Anybody know a young person without knowledge of World War II who could read this book and come to our meeting to discuss it?  Be our Guinea Pig?  Anyone is welcome!

Just realized I forgot to mention I read Dick Francis' Smokescreen for the second time.  One thing about his books: even if you know you already read it you know you'll still love it the second time around.  The only thing that stuck with me from the first reading decades ago was a trick related to horseracing.  There was so much more in there worth reading and remembering!  Go for it!  Have fun!

April 25, 2010

Snore.

The Hedgehog, the Fox, and the Magister's Pox by Stephen Jay Gould is not my favorite of his works.

No blame.  I thought the book would interesting because it is about Mending the Gap Between Science and the Humanities.  That's its subtitle.

It had some interesting info that I enjoyed and I'm not unhappy that I read it.  I sure was unhappy while I was reading a lot of it, though.  It reminds me why I didn't go into philosophy.

To me this is not a popular work.  It is a scholarly work much of which is about what he perceives as the misuse of the word "consilience," which Gould has a confessed fondness for, by a scholar named Wilson that I never heard of before.  (The word itself was invented by a scientist and theologian named Whewell.)

Don't get me wrong.  I think Gould had worthy aims writing this book.  But I think he not only overestimates the popular reader's appetite for theory, but underestimates the number of enemies science has in literal followers of the Bible.

But hey, I like the imagery in the title.  I liked learning about how some of Galileo's troubles were brought about by his own undiplomatic attitudes.

And I love seeing science and the humanities valued equally.  But this book didn't convince me that it will help that cause.  Probably my own ignorance of the issues made it hard reading, but who not already convinced could get through it?

(Oh, and P.S.  In my humble opinion if we have an inner sense of right and wrong, it is because if we survive into adulthood it is because people treated us in generous ways - feeding us and curbing our outrageous behavior - stuff like that.

If we didn't get that kind of care, we didn't survive.  Not very good for the passing on of antisocial evolutionary traits.)

April 15, 2010

Don't really have much more to say about Murdering Ministers, in spite of my promises.  The same vivid descriptions that are very funny in comic spots make for strange tragedy in the more serious sections.  I kept wondering, am I supposed to be laughing at this, too?  I don't know what it was about Alan Beechey's style that made me feel this way.  Maybe I just didn't want to give up on the laughs.

Another cosy I just finished reading, The Christmas Cookie Murders by Leslie Meier, was just too much like my former life as a mother.  Didn't learn anything new about the world or anything in it, didn't think the housewife detective was all that perspicacious, and generally agreed with the character who said she would rather die than host a Cookie Exchange party.

It did cause me to consider, though, that one of the attributes of a cosy must be an environment that is comfortable for the reader.  In this case, the victim did not deserve to die, leaving one common attribute of a cosy unfulfilled, but it is amply made up for by the smothering all-too-familiar American middle-class world the novel dumped me into.

That plus the misleading cover of the Large Print edition I read, made me think I should not have indulged in sweets!

April 11, 2010

Finished Thomas Friedman's book, The World Is Flat this morning.  It is awesome.  If you can't face the idea of reading a whole nonfiction book about economy, just read the last chapter.  Or think of the book as a state-of-the-world report with emphasis on international relations in (and because of) business. 

Thomas Friedman has taught me so much so efficiently. I am so glad I read it.

While I was at the Valparaiso Library Book Sale Room I sold his next book to a young woman.  I was only partway through this one and hadn't even thought to look for his next in a used book room.  I was green with envy.  I said, "Oh, you've found Hot, Flat and Crowded!  I'm reading The World Is Flat now and love it!"

She smiled with obvious satisfaction and said she had read and loved it, too.

This book, of course, was published in 2005, before the most recent crash and bail-out fiasco.  I don't remember when the next one came out, but it was within the last two years.  I'm panting to hear what Friedman has to say next, especially if HFC was published last year!

I realize my enthusiasm sounds insincere when you see how long it took me to get through this book, but let's face it - when you are learning new stuff it takes longer to percolate.

So I have chores.  So I indulge in a pathetically small number of archaic computer games.  So I must have occasional escapist reading.  That doesn't mean I don't recognize a good way to spend time when I see it.

Admittedly, if I were really with it, I would have read this book five years ago.  Better late than never.

Let's put it this way:  if this were school reading, it would have been a blessed relief from the usual texts.

Yay, Thomas Friedman!

Here's some non-monetary feedback for you!

March 31, 2010

Reading another awesome Thomas Friedman book.  This one, The World Is Flat, was published in 2005, six years after The Lexus and the Olive Tree.

Reading this book by Friedman is still like reading economic history, but it is, embarrassingly enough, still full of surprises.  I knew that there were all sorts of changes happening in the world, but it is happening faster than I thought, and reading Friedman is certainly educational!

He makes a very convincing argument that outsourcing is not all bad, because the jobs that go elsewhere give many people more money to buy American products.  Of course, this is just a tiny part of The World Is Flat.  I'm only half-way through now.

One thing I have noticed over the decades is that there are lots of foreign-born people coming from overseas to do engineering and other scientific jobs.  I did not know that that was because Americans weren't going to school in those fields.  The sciences, according to Friedman, have been badly funded for years.

Honestly, it is almost enough to make you believe in mandatory public education for the whole population way past age sixteen!  Two weeks a year, maybe?  I wish!

Anyway, I'll write more about The World Is Flat when I have finished it.  But wait - he has written another book since!  I think it is called Hot, Flat, and Crowded.

If you don't need all this ancient five-year-old background for the state of our economy today, you want might to read that one.

April 1, 2010

For fun I'm reading Murdering Ministers which is even more fun than I expected.  Alan Beechey is laugh-out-loud funny.  Oh, I love the combination of irreverence and murder!

I had to mention it today because even though the action is set in December, there is commentary about April Fools' Day and practical jokes that I just happened to read today.  I would love to quote it to you, but I haven't asked for permission.

I guess you'll just have to read the book yourself!

More on this one later.

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