Friday, June 5, 2020

Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times #12

I've been terribly delayed in adding that Jack Deighton, the blogger at "A Son of the Rock," is a sci-fi author and a huge collector of science fiction and fantasy, who participated in our Bookshelf Travelling last week. I'm terribly sorry to have delayed in adding his post to our weekly mix. The photos of his shelves are so crystal-clear for browsing.

Yesterday I turned again to the shelves in our two identical oak bookcases in the living room. As I mentioned before, lots of old books by favorite authors from decades ago rest here.

This week I reminisced about how much Ken loved the work of James Clavell, especially his series of four enormous books that are sometimes called his "Asian Saga:" Tai-Pan, ShogunNoble House, and Gai-Jin that were published from the mid-1960s through the early 1990s. I never read them, but I heard from friends (and Ken, of course) that Clavell's books would keep a reader up all night. Did you read any of these? Ken has always told me I would like them. They're in excellent condition after all these years. Why not?

Until today, I did not know that Clavell, although he became an American citizen sometime in the 1960s, was actually born in Sydney, Australia in 1921.
Early in WWII he was captured by the Japanese and spent the war in Changi, a prison camp in Singapore, in which only one out of fifteen prisoners survived. He lived in England after the war for  a time, writing screenplays primarily.

His prisoner-of-war experiences formed the basis for his first novel, King Rat, which later became a film.  
Most surprising of all was my discovery that Clavell wrote, produced, and directed the enormously popular film of 1967, To Sir, with Love, starring Sidney Poitier. My friends and I saw this one numerous times.
Unfortunately, at the height of his fame as a novelist, Clavell died in 1994, age 73. I was working part-time in a bookstore at the time and we all mourned his passing.

Several years ago I was dying to read a novel by M.M. Kaye. I had never read one, and several bloggers were excitedly reading her books, and I wanted to join in. I knew I had a hardcover copy of Death in Kashmir on the living room bookshelves. (This is the first novel published of the "Death In" series.)  But do you know I searched and searched, and even though I knew what the cover looked like (black with lavender lettering), I failed to find it. Yet today--there it was sitting there. How did I miss it? So it seems that now I must read it. I have no clue whether it's a good one, it was one I picked up at a library book sale, so maybe FINALLY, I'll give it.  a go. What are your thoughts about M.M. Kaye?  Do you know her children's book The Ordinary Princess?
Re: The Link Above: A bio with a very long list of her published books. She certainly lived a long life: 1908-2004.

My final book is one I didn't even know I had.  It's The Reserve by Russell Banks, and I'm sure I picked it up because it's a novel set in the Adirondacks in the late 1930s. Its setting is a remote, isolated enclave on a large lake. From what I can tell, I believe the lake in question is likely in the northernmost Saranac Lakes region, quite a ways from where I live. In those days, and in earlier times, very wealthy New York families owned huge stretches of forest and lakes that were very private preserves, and often, interestingly enough, only accessible by boat.  The novel also takes place, but only a bit, really, "over the skies of Spain and in Fascist Germany." It's a mystery of sorts, but Banks is not a mystery author, and he is a big "theme" writer, so I think there is lots else going on.

A lot of Goodreads readers weren't keen on The Reserve, but it may be in part because his novel Cloudsplitter was extremely powerful and a blockbuster, and quite a contrast to The Reserve. Cloudsplitter is an explosive novel about the militant abolitionist John Brown, who was hanged right before the Civil War for attacking the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry, Virginia (now is part of West Virginia). He raided the arsenal to get weapons to ignite a slave insurrection. 
In earlier times, Brown and his family farmed for a number of years in a cabin very near what is now the village of Lake Placid in the Adirondacks. (It's an historic site now.) Like lots of people, the Browns were trying to farm in the Adks, because the land was so cheap, but the climate and the poor soil doomed what had started as a farming boom. The Adirondack population in those days was much greater than it is today. In the southwestern part of my town, which covers a huge area, there was an entire farming community mid-19th century. It had a one-room schoolhouse, stores, church, loads of farms, and now it is wilderness, with stone foundations and stone walls to mark where the town once stood. Abandoned. 

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Bookshelf Travelling Week #11--Great Cookbooks

My favorite cookbooks reside on a shelf on top of one of our kitchen counters. They're there to help me find inspiration and to help me cope with desperation when I'm flummoxed about HOW to cook something.

I started cooking for real when I was nine years old. I was constantly needing to bring baked goods to Girl Scouts, to bake sales, and for visits with friends. So my mother taught me how to make the most incredible butterscotch brownies, a recipe from Woman's Day that I use to this day. Once Mom set me loose in the kitchen, there was no going back. I started cooking dinners for family in high school, baking bread for the family by junior year, and international menus during my vacations from college. I just loved cooking at that time in my life.

In 2007 I purchased Mastering the Art of French Cooking (2 vols.) by Julia Child, et al., not long after I read the incomparable memoir Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell, first published in 2005. This book was laugh-out-loud hilarious, and it was amazingly inspirational. Julie writes about her exploits with pizzazz, and she is irreverent and flawed and totally loveable. The film was a disaster because the character who played Julie was a perfect little priss with none of the verve of the real Julie Powell.

At the time I purchased the Julia Child cookbooks, we were friends with another Julia Child devotee, who cooked us great French meals. He was a wonderful chef. (Now lives in ski country in Utah). Then I decided I would treat everyone to Coq au Vin a la Julia. I tried it out once on Ken, and it was a mixed success that was excellent preparation to serve it to a dinner party of 6. It was February. While I spent the requisite 3.5 hours making Coq au Vin, the rest of the party went out back into the forest and up the ledges on a long snowshoeing trek.  Note: This is not something I would ever do today. I would not sacrifice a snowshoe trek to be home slaving to make French cuisine.
But the Coq au Vin, to my surprise, turned out better than I could have anticipated, and I think in large part, it had to have been due only to my careful selection of wine for the Vin (Robert Mondavi Woodbridge Cabernet--California), and to the Adirondack addition of a scant tablespoon of ADK maple syrup. (Many folks here attest to the magical powers of a wee bit of maple syrup to recipes. Amen!)

Another special cookbook is my copy of Maida Heatter's Book of Great Chocolate Desserts. My aunt Ruth gave this to me at my bridal shower (it was on my list), and I have made many incredibly, insanely delicious desserts using this cookbook. It is still in print, but there are many, many used copies available. The most incredible tasting brownies ever, yes. And the best chocolate fudge sauce. And so many more wonderful recipes.

I have the 1974 edition of The Joy of Cooking, purchased when I was just starting out on my own as a singleton. And I own the two BIG revisions since that edition. The latest was published in 2019 bythe originals Irma S Rombauer, her daughter Marion Rombauer Becker, and Marion's sons Ethan Becker and John Becker and Megan Scott, John's wife. It is so incredibly well done. Loads of vegetarian recipes for those interested, loads of international recipes, and a huge section discussing all the ways to cook each variety of vegetable, each cut of meat, etc. I value and highly recommend  these volumes--they are incomparable kitchen resource books and reference books, and each weighs in with pages in the low 1000s.

I also own The Gourmet Cookbook by Ruth Reichl, which is a a huge compendium of recipes from Gourmet Magazine over the years. It is loads of fun for a browse. And I do get ideas from it.


Saturday, May 30, 2020

Bookshelf Travelling Delayed--Big Storms, No Internet

It's Saturday evening here, and we've just got back our internet, which we lost Friday mid-afternoon. The worst storms went just south of here--a super cold front. We did not experience the high wind damage at all, fortunately. I hope to get my post up very soon.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Heat Wave Rising This Week and a Mad Plunge into Books!

How can it be? Bitter cold and snow on Saturday, May 9th and Mother's Day, followed by a week of very cool temps and cold nights. Then a resplendent warming with everything blooming all at once, and, in the past 3 days, we very suddenly, almost overnight, now have total shade from deciduous trees, and tomorrow a damned heat wave, with temps in the high 80s F. until this coming Saturday.

I always like to plan in advance how I'll survive a heat wave. As lots of you know, I'm a winter thriver. So I need plans.
And I'll survive by reading first and foremost, of course.

I mentioned this winter that I vowed I'd stack in a thriller for the next heat wave--I didn't think it would be in May, but the thriller I vowed I'd read I have now borrowed from the New York Public Library as an ebook. It's Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman, published in June 2018.  I read Steadman's Dear Mr. Nobody in February this year, just after it was published. I thought it was a very good thriller, though maybe not stellar, but still very good.
Other bloggers and readers have indicated that Something in the Water is an even more intense thriller than Dear Mr. Nobody.
SO! In heat waves and high humidity, I go for thrillers and TOTAL DIVERSION wherever I can find them.  And I must say that during this pandemic, I have been tremendously lucky (and blessed) to have had access to so many great e-books via The New York Public Library.

This is a very brief post. I have read some great books in the month of May.  Madeleine L'Engle's And Both Were Young was a book that spoke directly to my heart. I hated for it to end. It is a treasure, mostly because it is not merely a coming of age story. It encompasses how grief and loss affected so many people directly after WWII. Of course, Phillipa's loss of her mother was due to an automobile accident, but the grief of others in her midst were war-related traumas. It is a resplendent book. Joy and grief, intertwined, all set in the mountains of Switzerland.

And last but not least, I'm going to try to tackle The Mysteries of Udolfo by Ann Radcliffe this summer,  starting June 1st.  It's one of the original Gothic classics,  so as a Gothic fan, I really feel I should mine its  depths. I'm  reading this with Cleo of Classical Carousel.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Bookshelf Traveling in Insane Times #10

First of all, I'd like to mention that we have two additional bloggers joining us.  Do visit Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings, who has a wide selection of science fiction books. Great photos of his bookshelves as well. Wish I could make mine come out that well.
Last week Richard of Tip the Wink joined us as well.
And just one more mention of Staircase Wit, who joined us about two weeks ago.

Today I'm visiting all of my mass-market paperbacks. You know, the smaller than 5" by 7" size that all paperbacks used to be.

Earlier this week I started reading And Both Were Young by Madeleine L'Engle, at the suggestion of Staircase Wit. (It's excellent, by the way.) I had the paperback on the top shelf of a very long (wide) bookcase in my office, which is stuffed with mass-market paperbacks. The newer, trade paperbacks are too tall to fit on this shelf, so I actually have two rows of mass-market paperbacks, a long shelf of them in the back of the shelf, and a long row in the front. From time to time, I switch those in the back with the ones in the front.

Lots of the paperbacks are children's books, some mystery, some romantic suspense, and a few classics. One of my favorites is Lois Lowry's YA Newbery Award Winner, The Giver, which is science fiction, sometimes labelled dystopian fiction. It is one of the best of the Newbery winners, to my mind, and adults love to discuss it as much as young people.

Another of my favorites of all time is Jill Paton Walsh's Fireweed, about two young teens, a boy and a girl, who are thrown together when they become separated from their families during the time of the Blitz in London, and who find a way to support each other and become family to each other during their time of homelessness. Each of them is psychically wounded, for different reasons. Every time I reread this incredible book I am struck full force by its power. Maybe it's just me, because I once led a book group for "Adults Who Love to Read YA," and when we agreed to read this one, a number of people couldn't relate to it.

I have a couple of books by Robert Cormier, a Massachusetts author who became very popular in the U.S. in the 1970s through the 1990s as a YA author. As he explained many times at conferences and in interviews, he didn't think of himself as writer for young adults. He didn't target his ideas and plots and characters for that age group. He always felt he was writing for adults. His most widely read book is The Chocolate War, and was the one most widely taught in schools. I think one of his most brilliant books is I Am the Cheese, which took me several tries before I could read it through because it would scare me so. I will tell you right off. I am rarely frightened by a book. And, no, this title is not horror, not at all. Its premise deals with the subject of mind control, but there's an unreliable narrator, which messes with the reader's head.  Very, very compelling!! Very, very short. After the First Death is an extraordinarily prescient book about domestic terrorism versus the individual, written decades before people used that term.

As I've mentioned before, when I was a young teen, I enjoyed some of the books by the Scottish writer A.J. Cronin. (Writer for adults). I so loved the film The Green Years that after I'd seen it for the third time, my mother told me it was originally a book. I bought a copy and devoured it. It gave me answers to some of the questions I had viewing the film. Within a month, I also read The Citadel, which I loved equally as I discovered how gripping adult fiction could be. Cronin's portrayal of the dire circumstances of the Welsh villagers he treated in the 1930s before the UK's National Health  program is sharply depicted. I fell in love with the main character, who tried desperately to do all he could for his patients. Fascinating characters.  Photo of Cronin below.

During the same year, I had a similar experience after viewing David Lean's film Dr. Zhivago. That film was a life-changer in so many ways. Two months later, I bought a mass-market paperback copy and spent a good part of the summer reading it. I read it on hot summer afternoons lying on the beach at the lake near my home, and the copy sits on this shelf today, with the wavy pages caused by all the water I dripped onto it after each swimming interlude. I have two other copies of Dr. Zhivago, but this one I kept for the memory. I loved how the book added so much more information about all the characters that was not included in the film.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times #9: NATURE!

Note:  This Post Is Not Complete--I Will Add Tomorrow.
At home we've been madly dashing about to accomplish all manner of outdoor tasks before the black fly swarms start devouring us. In the midst of this over-exuberance, I overdid a bit, and that's why I am so impossibly late with my post this week.

I need to announce two things:
We  have a new blogger (or two) joining our Bookshelf Adventure Travel. Contributing for the past two weeks is Staircase Wit (also listed in the sidebar). Welcome! 

This Week: Nature Writing
I have just recently recovered from my phobia of ticks. As you may know, ticks in the northeastern U.S. cause a multiple of dreadful diseases. Multiple (at least five) horrible diseases, and not only Lyme Disease.
So, I follow the tick-preventative protocol and have just recently ventured forth after avoiding the woods for a couple of years. In my total bliss of interacting with nature once again, I've found I'm drawn close to my many bookshelves replete with nature books. I own lots of birding books as most birders do, because each birding book offers a unique view and perspective and features for identifying birds.
I own lots of wildflower identification books, and plant identification books, and loads of tree identification books, including one entitled Bark, that is about identifying trees solely from their bark. (Really useful in the winter.)
Of course, the nonfiction nature books relating to identification pertain solely to the Northeastern U.S., and are not of much interest to people residing in other areas of the country and the world. I own books with titles like The Eastern Forest, Eastern Butterflies, Dragonflies, etc.

However, I'm also interested in writing that depicts adventures in nature, memoirs about the same, whether in North America or Europe. There are not enough of these around to match my appetite for them. I loved Cheryl Strayed's Wild, about her trial by fire hiking the grueling, epic, entire Pacific Crest Trail solo. This is, I think, great adventure reading no matter where you live on the planet. There's Bill Bryson's book about hiking the Appalachian Trail, and the recent book Epic Solitude by Katherine Keith, set mostly in Alaska, though she, too, like Strayed, writes about her experiences hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Keith reveals her experiences living within the Arctic Circle in Alaska, participating in the Iditarod and in other premiere  dog-sled races in northern Canada and Alaska.

Then there are memoirs/books of people's encounters with nature that date back to an earlier era.
Hal Borland is one of my favorite nature writers from the 1950s and 1960s. I own several of his books.

Friday, May 15, 2020

My Post Is Late--But Today a Great Nantucket Crime Novel

Having difficulty posting on Blogger tonight, for some reason. Better now. I think.
Finally some warm, spring-like weather. I've done a great deal of hiking around the past few days and am behind schedule. Big food shop today, and I will ask you while I'm at it, are you experiencing difficult food shortages? It's so hard to shop these days.

My Friday Bookshelf Traveling post is delayed a day this week, but I thought I'd tell you about a Nantucket Island crime novel/murder mystery I'm reading, which is very satisfying. I'm more than halfway through Death in the Off-Season by Francine Mathews. It's the first in a series of five books. The first four titles were published in the mid-1990s.

After this, Mathews wrote a series a mystery novels about Jane Austen under the name of Stephanie Barron. Of these, I read one, Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas, which I enjoyed a great deal.
Then Mathews' publisher urged her to return to the Nantucket Island series. She agreed, but realized  she would need to revise the first four novels before she could do a fifth. Which she has done.
So the version of Death in the Off-Season I'm reading is the revised 2016 version. And I urge you to try that. 
The young, untried female detective, Merry Folger, is a fascinating character. And the Nantucket Island atmosphere and setting is so spot-on, it makes me ache to return for a lengthy visit, and in the off-season, to boot! Fabulous reading. Yes, I'm just 60 percent in, but I think you'll enjoy the visit to another world.

Monday, May 11, 2020

New Reads: Travels to Nantucket Island and Back in Time

I hope to make this a quick post, which is so hard for me to do.
After I walk the dog for two hours everyday, I retreat to my reading. I can't wait for the total escape. To be honest, I can't deal with the real world, aside from the 30 minutes I spend reading The New York Times very early in the am. After the Sandy trek, NY Governor Andrew Cuomo is often on the TV, giving his daily briefing. He has been such a source of comfort, showing what true leadership in a terrible crisis is all about. Kudos!

I just finished a novel that really HIT THE SPOT! It swept me away to Nantucket Island off the south coast  of Massachusetts, an island I have visited three times, the most memorable of which was our September sojourn two years after we married. Loved the trip.
The  novel is Nancy Thayer's Heat Wave. Hard to pinpoint the genre, but I would call this one "women's  fiction." Like Elin Hilderbrand, Nancy Thayer has spent years living on Nantucket, though both women are not natives. Their novels are different as well. I hate to say too, too much about Heat Wave for fear of giving away the plot points that make it such a satisfying, fulfilling read. 
Carly is the mother of two girls and is in her early thirties when her husband Gus, a lawyer, dies of  a heart attack at his law office. With this huge loss, comes enormous changes for Carly and her children.
I simply loved this book. So much to say about grief, friendships, love, family love, grit and  determination, and all set within the incredible 12-months of the year on Nantucket Island, winter horrors and summer bliss. It was so good, partly because it was just what I needed right now, and partly because  it was one of Thayer's better efforts, in my estimation.  Note: I read Thayer's 2019 Let It Snow last December, and it was okay, but just mediocre. Not memorable at all. Yet, in contrast, I will not forget a bit of Heat Wave. It's impossible to forget.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Fri. Bookshelf Traveling in Insane Times #8: Part I

Early this afternoon, after a long walk with Sandy, I gravitated toward the two statuesque oak bookcases in the living room. Both are very difficult to access at this point, because the books I've culled for library book sales have ended up in boxes and piles in front of these bookcases. Now this sounds messy, and it is, but the book clutter on the floor doesn't bother anyone (except for me today) because they're behind our couches and sitting area, out of sight. Only the top four shelves are visible from the living area and they lend a comforting air to our evening space.

And then I wonder: When on earth will we be able to safely congregate elbow-to-elbow and cheek-to-jowl at these library book sales once again? Maybe these money-makers for libraries will have to be totally re-configured. But I do fervently hope they don't disappear.

Ken's huge James Michener collection takes up an entire shelf. James Michener has been and will always be Ken's favorite author. Every Christmas, birthday, and Father's Day, I tried to contribute another title to his collection, and he read them all, and lots of them twice.
My Kennedy Family collection, as I mentioned last week, the subject of a future post or two, has its dedicated extensive shelf, and another shelf houses treasured classics from my childhood.
But there's so much more.

The eminent American historian Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century is now gathering dust. Published in 1978, I bought it in a paperback edition in 1979. Yet I never read it, despite my fascination with the subject.  And, as I leaf through it tonight, I can recall that it was entirely due to its unfortunate formatting. Its tiniest, most minuscule type is bad enough, but with next to no leading between the lines, it made for an impossible read. My reading eyesight in my thirties was impeccable because being near-sighted I had an aptitude for conquering tiny print. But I don't know how anyone could have conquered that edition.
It was a stupendous work, a best-selling history, winner of prizes, and I now wonder if I could somehow or other find a readable copy? Will investigate!

For some reason or other it took me so long to write just this little bit, so I will add more tomorrow!