10 Following




love the premise and the trees

The Overstory - Richard Powers

I love the premise and everything he wrote about trees. I found myself skipping around to read the tree parts. You could argue that it's all about trees, which it is, but the entirety did not consistently hold my interest. In my opinion, that's because the characters needed pruning. It's just too long. He's a great writer but could have used an editor on this one.

there's delight in every sentence

A Long Way From Home - Peter Carey

It's been a long time since I've found such delight in a story's every sentence.


The telling is all fine wordsmithing and sharp phrase-turning and frank soul-searching, neither sentimental nor cynical nor pretentious, and thoroughly engaging.The story is also satisfying and among the best I've read, and it's not the only Peter Carey work to earn that status with me.


It's told in first person, primarily by two narrators, each nearing 30 and introduced as neighbors in small-town Bacchus Marsh. The woman, Irene Bobs, is married to car aficionado and would-be Ford dealer Titch Bobs, and they're raising two children. The man, Willie Bachhuber, is a school teacher and quiz-show whiz, who left his wife and child over a misunderstanding about the child's parentage. The latter leads to much of the story's depths and surprises, and takes the reader into the thick of Australia's troubled racial landscape. The narrators wind up in a car called a Holden (Ford's Aussie competitor) in Australia's 1954 Redex Trial, a cross-continent auto race over much grueling outback.


Irene is my favorite narrator, but I've grown very fond of both voices. Irene, who considers herself little more than a pretty decent mum, turns out to be a bad-ass driver. Willie is her spot-on though occasionally delirious navigator. Their personal journeys progress apace with the race, eventually along separate but criss-crossing paths, never stereotypically and always with great heart.


Here's a taste of the telling, from Irene's perspective:


"The smell of a rally car, the stink, the whiff, the woo, you will never find the recipe for this pong in the Women's Weekly but ingredients include petrol, rubber, pollen, dust, orange peel, wrecked banana, armpit, socks, man's body. I drove into the night on the ratshit regulator. My headlights waxed and waned depending on the engine revs. Beneath us was bulldust, two feet thick. It was always smooth and soft-looking but the Holden banged and thudded like an aluminium dinghy hitting rock. It is a miracle our suspension didn't melt. Sometimes I saw the shock absorbers of a car in front, white hot, glowing like X-rays. Cattle loomed from the blackness and if I had rolled or hit a roo, if I killed us all, what then?"


What then, indeed. It is well worth the read to find out.

great behind-the-scenes take on the air war

The Bombing Officer - Jerome Doolittle

Glad to find this behind-the-scenes take on the air war in Laos via fiction. It's a page-turner and full of insights as well, as intelligent as it is engaging. I was reminded of Simon Toyne and hope to see more like this from Doolittle.

the art of living and dying

Leaving Tinkertown (Literature and Medicine Series) - Tanya Ward Goodman

An intimate celebration of an exuberant life tragically taken by a relentless disease. A daughter's honest and loving tribute to a devoted but difficult father. An inspiration to anyone negotiating the complex dynamics of a vibrant family while navigating the downward spiral of death, Alzheimer's being the culprit in this case. I lost my father to Alzheimer's, and my mother-in-law is now suffering it, which makes me appreciate Tanya's take on things all the more. It's deeply compassionate without waxing sentimental and painfully frank without becoming cynical. It's also more than an account of managing the illness, the illness being so demanding and exhausting that managing it is enough to make you lose sight of everything else, but Tanya doesn't. Her focus is comparably keen when considering her father's fascinating and sometimes maddening life as a graphic and improvisational artist on the circus circuit and elsewhere. His wayward and visionary inclinations resulted in Tinkertown, a riotous roadside attraction he meticulously crafted upon a raw desert landscape and called home. Gumption, humor and irreverence are givens, and Tanya makes the most of them. Just getting to know her and her extended Tinkertown family is reason enough to enjoy the read. 


The Heart Goes Last: A Novel (Positron) - Margaret Atwood

I rank Margaret Atwood among the best contemporary novelists but this was a disappointment. The premise is promising, but I've seen enough summaries to know how the story goes and nothing about it intrigues. I have read her for the joy of the language/voice alone, but not even that kept me engaged, and a few chapters was all I could take. Oh well. Nobody gets it right every time, or maybe it's just me.  

crime find

Rubbernecker - Belinda Bauer

Bauer is new to me, and a welcome find. Nothing beats a good crime story now and then, and I look forward to reading more of hers. This one features an unlikely and amateur detective (my favorite kind) in an odd circumstance told via the shifting perspectives of British narrators, who kept me reading almost nonstop for two days. 

needs an editor

American Elsewhere - Robert Jackson Bennett

Kept me interested enough to finish, which is why it gets three stars, but mostly I read it like an editor (as in persistently noting how it could be better), and I wonder if he had one. Ultimately the storytelling seemed sloppy and the story too outlandish, but given sufficient editing it could be really good. 

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War - Max Brooks

So much better than the movie! And did I miss something? The book zombies are not super fast or strong, nor can I recall the vaccine scenario being in the book or understand why the movie went with that when there are much more interesting scenarios.

A fun read, and I can imagine it making a great series. Loved the details and the realism, though I did wonder where/how they were amassing enough live bodies to keep fighting the undead. I've read criticism of the narrative voices, that they weren't distinct enough, but I think Brooks did an exceptionally good job with the narration.

The Goldfinch - Donna Tartt

A remarkable story in so many ways. More than once I have heard it called Dickensian, and the lush detail and distinctive characters merit comparison, but I feel about this like I do about David Copperfield -- it would be a better story if it were about 200 pages shorter. I don't categorically object to 700+ pages, but few books are their best at that length, at least that's been my experience.

Nevertheless Tartt is brilliant, and I love what she's done with the Fabritius painting, the characters and circumstances she crafts from it, and the exploration of ideas, and the meaning that is made in the process, and her way with words. About halfway through I realized I could tell which character was speaking without attribution, the voices are that distinct, as is her talent, and damn she's gorgeous too . . .

-- Who knows what Fabritius intended? There's not enough of his work left to even make a guess. The bird looks out at us. It's not idealized or humanized. It's very much a bird. Watchful, resigned. There's no moral or story. There's no resolution. There's only a double abyss: between painter and imprisoned bird; between the record he left of the bird and our experience of it, centuries later . . . And as much as I'd like to believe there's a truth beyond illusion, I've come to believe that there's no truth beyond illusion. Because, between 'reality' on one hand, and the point where the mind strikes reality, there's a middle zone, a rainbow edge where beauty comes into being, where two very different surfaces mingle and blur to provide what life does not: and this is the space where all art exists, and all magic. And, I would argue as well, all love. (pp.766/770) --

best October story ever

This is the best October story ever.

I re-read it almost every October, this 1963 paperback edition, which I've had since I first read the book in sixth grade, which would have been . . . 1969. It's a story I will never outgrow, and I love it as much now as I did then.

If anyone ever wants to spend the thousand-plus dollars it costs to acquire a hardcover first/first (first edition/first printing) and give it to me, feel free, it will be treasured.

But the words are the same in any edition, so do yourself a favor this October and find one and enjoy.

Traveling Sprinkler - Nicholson Baker

I've started calling Nicholson Baker the Seinfeld of contemporary literature, because what does he write about? Nothing. And everything. Via the routine happenings and daily detours of life (that should at best be mildly interesting) he somehow engages and endears. The main difference between Baker and Seinfeld being that Seinfeld is funnier and Baker's lead characters -- Paul Chowder, in this case -- are much more likeable, loveable even.

I admit yawning through the first chapter or so of this latest Chowder installment, but thereafter I was hooked, along for the ride wherever it might lead, though if asked what the book was about could say little more than: Chowder wants to compose music and get back together with his ex-girlfriend Roz. Oh, and there's the dog, and some poetry, and Planet Fitness, and Quaker meetings, and Tyrconnell, and cigars, and more cigars, and that traveling sprinkler . . .

Why did I read this? Because. Just because. And as it turned out, that is reason enough.


The Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi: A History - Michael    Newton
"In spring 1866, six young Confederate veterans met secretly in Pulaski, Tennessee. Their purpose was to found a "hilarious social club," to "have fun, make mischief, and play pranks on the public." They called themselves ku klux, a corruption of the Greek kuklas, and added clan, spelled with a k for uniformity . . . Not that the cause of white supremacy was overlooked, by any means. The Klan was racist from day one, playing its "pranks" exclusively on blacks."

I read this as part of my ongoing investigation of family history and genealogy, and it was no fun. Interesting, yes. Important, yes. But the subject is so sickening and maddening that I finished it feeling awful, despite this being a scholarly account. There's no sensationalism in the presentation, but sensationalism would be redundant. The subject is inherently sensational in the most perverse and ludicrous ways imaginable, and if the Klan were just some fringe element that blipped on the American radar in passing, perhaps we could consign it to the footnotes of history. That is where you tend to find it, but unfortunately more substantial coverage is due.

The Klan's political and social dominance has been sporadic and mostly covert but at times overwhelming, and for time periods extending way beyond a blip. And it was and is not confined to the South; the Indiana and Kansas Klans rank among the most vocal and active, and as of 2007, 450 million virtual members in 18 states had signed in to "be a man, join the Klan" via a simulation game called NationStates.

It is rightly called a terrorist organization, and yet in the most perverse and ludicrous way it is a logical outcome of the insidious and pervasive racism that for decades allowed and encouraged slavery and segregation. And think about this for a minute or two: Byron De La Beckwith admitted -- bragged about -- killing Medgar Evers in 1963 but was not convicted until 1994. The Klan has again and again and astonishingly gotten away with murder.

I am only 55, but throughout my childhood and as recently as 1975 -- which was the last time I visited family in Mississippi -- I can confirm that Jim Crow was alive and well, and 1975 is 110 years after the Civil War ended.

My father left home in 1934 at age 17 in part to get away from his father, who was a devout Klan member and possibly a leader. I didn't find my grandfather's name in this book but knowing he was a participant is very disturbing. He died in 1955 so I never knew him, and my father mostly refused to talk about him (I didn't find out my grandfather was in the Klan until after my father died in 2005), but Dad explained to me how joining the military had cured him of his own racism, as in seeing black men serving their country in World War II, only to have their civil rights denied back home (which was Medgar Evers' case in the extreme).

Dad shared this in 1975 while showing me the plantation his family had sharecropped. From there we went to lunch at the local diner, and proceeded to walk out without finishing or paying for our meal when the owner stood at the entrance and told a black man he'd have to sit on the stoop out back to eat. The diner was full of apparently decent middle-class white folk, and I will never forget how they stared at us like what was our damn problem, or how proud I was of my dad, or that the owner just said good riddance, didn't want our money.

So, yeah, I could go on, but this isn't the time or place. Suffice it to say that Michael Newton has written a very interesting and important and overdue read. Ridicule is a fitting response to the Klan, but it's not enough. We need to understand and confront what it says about who we are and how we have evolved as Americans.

And I recommend this as a companion read:

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1913: The Year Before the Storm - Florian Illies

Such an endearingly irreverent yet empathic account, and what a year! I just love this book and hope you do too. The following random excerpts should give you the gist.

(February) And so the capital of the modern age anno 1913 is Vienna. Its star players are Sigmund Freud, Arthur Schnitzler, Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt, Adolf Loos, Karl Kraus, Otto Wagner, Hugo von Hoffmannsthal, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Georg Trakl, Arnold Schonberg, and Oskar Kokoschka, to name but a few. Here the battles raged: about the unconscious, about dreams, the new music, the new way of seeing, the new architecture, the new logic, the new morality.

(March) As he (Klimt)stands in silence at his canvas, half a dozen naked women or girls are walking about, stretching, lazing around, waiting until he summons them with a little wave of his hand. He wears nothing under his apron, so that he can take it off quickly when desire overwhelms him and the pose of one of his models becomes too seductive for the man inside the painter. But he's home with Mum on the dot for dinnertime.

(May) Adolf Hitler, the painter who failed to get into the art academy, has no contact with the artistic avant-garde of the city. We don't know whether he saw the exhibitions of degenerate art by Picasso or Egon Schiele or Franz Marc, which caused such a furore in Munich in 1913. The artists of his generation who had made a career for themselves were alien to the art-school reject throughout his life, and he eyed them with suspicion, envy and hatred.

(June) The Worst Marriage Proposal In the World: On June 8, in Prague, Franz Kafka has finally begun to ask for Felice's hand in marriage . . . . "Now bear in mind, Felice, that in the face of this uncertainty it is hard to say the words, and it must sound peculiar. It's simply too soon to say it. But afterwards it will be too late, and then there won't be any time for discussing such things as you mentioned in your last letter. But there isn't any time to hesitate for too long, at least that's how I feel about it, and so that's why I'm asking: in view of the above premise, which is sadly ineradicable, do you want to consider whether you want to become my wife?"

(August) On 3 August an artist suffocates inside a pile of sand at Berlin Jungfernheide. His art form consisted of being buried alive for up to five minutes. Today, however, the director of the artists' group was immersed in conversation and forgot to start the excavation until ten minutes had passed.

(September) On Odd Fellows' Day Louis Armstrong, who has just turned thirteen, makes his first public appearance as a jazz musician, with the band from the institution whose name, Municipal Boys' Home, Colored Dept. Brass Band, is emblazoned on its big drum. Armstrong stands proudly beside the drum in the band photograph from that year, next to his first teacher, Peter Davis, who handed him the instrument in January.

(November) Rilke sits in Paris, thinking distractedly about summer and autumn in Germany. As he traveled uneasily back and forth between all his wives and uber-mothers, between Clara, still his wife, his ex-lovers Sidonie and Lou, his summer love Ellen Delp, his mother, his helpless admirers Cassirer, von Nostitz and von Thurn and Taxis. Keep everything open, don't go down any one path, wherever it may lead: this is what Rainier Maria Rilke is thinking on 1 November. As an attitude to life it's disastrous. As poetry it's a revelation.

(December) Meanwhile, Josef Stalin is freezing in his Siberian exile.
Night Film - Marisha Pessl

Interesting concept, it kept me turning pages, I like the graphics, and I mostly like the ending, especially that she didn't cop-out and leave it up to the reader to imagine whatever about everything. I hesitate to give only 3 stars considering how readily I read. I give 3 stars to books I consider worth finishing but don't much or at all enjoy, and more often than not I did enjoy reading this. But a couple of things bothered me enough that I'm not going with 4 stars.

For example: Various characters spend a lot of time explaining their takes on things, which is ok because this is that kind of book -- a procedural, a mystery following the narrator's investigation. What bugged me was how much alike all the characters started to sound -- how they explained things and spoke, etc.

Another example: The sketchy handling of a couple of Big Events, such as when Scott, the narrator, peers into that crumbling, pitch black, possibly endless tunnel beneath The Peak, likely haunted or rigged by who knows what demonic mojo, and he proceeds to head in with no more than a book of matches. NO. NO ONE would do that EVER for ANY reason short of having to rescue one's own child known to be in said tunnel, and I'm not the sort who can say "oh well, it's just a story," when events take such a preposterous turn.

I loved the rummaging through The Peak soundstages, but even so, that whole "Peak experience" in general fell short, and to simply write off such a Big Event with a, "oh that, well, that was the fans, the fans took over long ago. . ." and something about hallucinogenic plants maybe making him imagine it all . . . NO.

So, an ambivalent 3 stars, because whether it's a worthwhile read or not, I enjoyed it enough to not put it down.

The Cold Dish  - Craig Johnson Craig Johnson is a master of the genre and a damn fine storyteller, as has been noted in many reviews and nicely summed up in the blurbs on the back of this book. I love everything about the story and Walt Longmire, with the minor exception of preferring Robert Taylor's look to that of the strictly literary Walt. Cold Dish is the first installment in a series I look forward to enjoying in full on the page and the screen, though the t.v. series would be better if it devoted an entire season to each book. The show condenses too much, slighting the details, the characters, and the humor.

Instead of attempting to reiterate what's already been so well said, I'll now suggest that you read any of several excellent GR reviews of this and other Longmire titles.

Here are a couple of Cold Dish:
Escape Hotel Stories Retreat and Refuge in Nature - Francisca Matteoli Luxury book publisher Assouline (and, yes, it is tempting to oopsidently change that l to n) produces pure pleasure via its Bespoke Book Bindery, where "the exquisite artistry of traditional binding" includes volumes "custom tailored to individual requests, from personalized monogramming and embossing to custom colors, covers, and casing using naturally tanned leather and handmade endpapers from artisans in Paris, Florence, and New York."

I bought this off the rack, or more precisely off a sale table, and was instantly infatuated, starting with the unmistakably lush and increasingly rare scent of a finely bound book. This one pairs literary and artsy personae and lore with inevitably pretentious but truly exceptional and allegedly ecofriendly places. Offer to take me to any one of them and I'll be there. (You'll find a couple of the many photos in my status updates.)

The list of pairings is as follows:

Paws Up, Montana/Jim Harrison
Longitude 131, Yulara, Australia/Bruce Chatwin
Beniya Mukayu, Ishikawa, Japan/Akira Kurosawa
Le Bruit de L'eau, Bay of Somme, France/Georges Seurat
Banyan Tree Ringha, Shangri-La, Tibet/Alexandra David-Neel
Sorrel River Ranch, Utah/Jeremiah Johnson
Ventana Inn, California/Henry Miller
Kasbah du Toubkal, Morocco/Jacques Majorell
Sanctuary/Arizona/Max Ernst
Kings Pacific Lodge, British Columbia/Malcolm Lowery
Fabriken Furillen, Sweden/Ingmar Bergman
Casa do Dean, Brazil/Jorge Amado
Posada de Mike Rapu, Rapa Nui/Pierre Loti
Treverra Farm Cottage, Cornwall/Virginia Woolf
Cottars Safari Camp, Kenya/Karen Blixen
Sanctuary Lodge, Machu Picchu/Che Guevara
Soneva Gili, Maldives/Jacques Cousteau
La Coquillade, Gargas, France/Nicolas de Stael
Borgo Santo Pietro, Tuscany/Edith Wharton
Fuchun Resort, Hangzhou Zhejiang/Fanfan Li
Encantado Resort, New Mexico/Georgia O'Keeffe
Chateau de la Bourdaisiere, Montlouis-sure-Loire/Alexander Calder
The Hideout, Wyoming/Dances With Wolves
Ridgewood Wilderness Lodge, Alaska/Jack London