View from Goodnow Mountain

A peak experience on a day in early June

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Diane Keaton: Let's Just Say It Wasn't Pretty

I listened to Keaton's book of personal essays/memoir, Let's Just Say It Wasn't Pretty, on my travels to Boston and back home again. It was an audiobook I picked up at the library on my way to the Hub, and it was not what I expected. Diane Keaton has had a fascinating life, she is a not a cookie-cutter movie star or celebrity, and she is uniquely herself. That's a given.

In this book she focuses on the question, "What is beauty?," and how that question has resonated through many parts of her life. First, she discusses her physical self as an entity in the competitive world of Hollywood, and then she focuses on beauty in respect to her search for her "dream home," which, as she describes it, has led her to move at least once every two years into another home and then renovate it only to resell the home (at a profit) before moving onto the next house to renovate. I found this interesting, and would have liked to know more about her process, her fascination with architecture, and the details of some of her renovations, but instead, she defends this way of life against those who have criticized her for it. This was unnecessary. Most of her fans and readers would not have thought to criticize her for this way of life. It's interesting, but this need to defend herself from Hollywood gossip and from other aspects of her life was not what I enjoyed at all. 

In fact, because I had no other audiobook for the trip and for parts of the trip there was no decent radio, I felt at times like a captive audience. So I listened closely. I do truly feel that I understand her ideas and beliefs, but personally, I can't relate to them myself. I accepted her portrayal and found it intriguing that she worried so much about aging, hair loss, and all the other bodily changes, but I'm just six years younger than she was when she actually wrote the book, and I can't relate to the deep conflict she feels, not at all, not to any of her concerns. Please Note!! I'm not finding fault with Keaton's book--it's deeply personal to her, how could I find fault with that? But I couldn't connect with her ideas because I suppose I'm an entirely different person.

Beauty. Nature is beautiful to me. The Adirondack landscape is beautiful. I define beauty in terms of Nature primarily. But much, much more important to me as a life concept is just this one word: Meaning. I'm always searching for the meaning behind everything, the meaning that supports everything, the meaning that drives each person to his or her life's work or being, the meaning behind people's behavior, their ideas, their accomplishments. Meaning. This concept, I suppose, is extremely abstract, but there it is.

I found parts of the book depressing in its view of aging as a series of losses. Yes, I agree wholeheartedly that aging comes with losses, sometimes frightening ones or ones that seize upon us quickly and alarmingly. I get that. But at the time Keaton wrote this book, I believe she had not finished grieving the loss so that she can move fully forward into the next stage of her life. I felt the positives she stated were statements where she was "whistling in the dark" rather than ones she genuinely believed.

For me to accept aging, I need to believe that no matter what happens, there is something new and meaningful to grab on to. Something new to learn, something new to discover. Something!
And someday I'd love to read a biography of Keaton's life. Now that would be riveting!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Whither Summer? Warning: Not a Book Review

We've experienced four straight days of rainy or drizzly, cloudy, and very cool weather. As it turns out, I'm delighted that the weather has been so miserable because I've been slaving over a writing chore that has been extremely complex, terribly stressful, odious, and which has necessitated that a chain be attached from my ankle to my computer chair. So I'm tremendously grateful that the sun has stayed well-hidden and the rains came pouring down during this time. Beautiful sunny weather would have made me truly crazy while I slaved over this writing nightmare.

I had little time to read this week, but I'm so thankful to Wolf Hall for seeing me through the worst. I am nearly finished.

Tomorrow is a SUN day and I'm going to get out in it as much as I can. And Monday as well. Tennis, a hike, and a trip to the swimming pool! How wonderful! Then Tuesday morning I'm off to Massachusetts to visit my mom. The weather is supposed to be stellar while I'm there, so I think Mom and I will enjoy our gadabouts as we cruise all over our old family and ancestral territory.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Terrible Week but Accident by Chris Pavone Improved It!

This has been a terrible week for us, by all accounts, making us wish we could just stay in bed and pull the covers over our heads, and rainy to boot! But our books prevail upon us not to give up the ghost.

When I think I'm going to shriek, reading ten to twenty pages of Wolf Hall calms me. I'm very near the end now after all this time.

And I discovered that my library copy of Accident by Chris Pavone is quite a page-turner! Very different and fascinating. I read his first novel Expats and liked it very much. In Accident he draws on his years of experience as a book editor in New York. Oh, yes, it's scrumptious, if you have even the slightest interest or experience in book publishing. Pavone is a superb suspense writer. And all the twists and turns are so unexpected because they're so different from the twists in Expats. This guy is good!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Reading Ismailov's The Dead Lake in Translation

The Dead Lake is a contemporary Russian novel in translation (just 128 pages) by the Kyrgysztani (Central Asian) author, Hamid Ismailov, translated into English by Andrew Bromfield. Ismailov writes in both Russian and Uzbek (as in Uzbekistan), though he is now living in exile in Great Britain because of his supposedly "overly democratic" opinions. I first heard about The Dead Lake on Stu's Winston's Dad blog.

The Dead Lake takes place in a remote area of Kazahkstan, very close to the area that the novel's characters call "The Zone," which is the site where the Soviets test their above-ground and below-ground atomic bombs/nuclear weapons.

The Dead Lake, naturally, is an environmentally disastrous body of water. This is a coming-of-age novel, and Yerzhan, lad of the steppes of Central Asia, beloved by his extended family and a violin prodigy to boot, swims in this lake. And thereby goes the story.

Although I'm only halfway through, I'm affected by how different this novel is in form, structure, tone, and well, everything. An eye-opening read. I'll be wanting to read Ismailov's other novels.

Monday, August 11, 2014

"Don't Let it End" Madness and Sue Miller's The Arsonist

I'm in the midst of three books, two of which I will be very sad when I reach the final page. The third, Wolf Hall, I'm admiring and enjoying immensely, but I will be able to bid adieu to it without becoming undone. I read about 30-35 pages of Wolf Hall per day. Before I turn to it, I prepare a fully caffeinated cup of Darjeeling tea and totally comfy-size myself because I need fully devoted concentration so that I don't miss a single detail. It's a slow read this way, but well worth it.

So the books I'm getting sad about finishing are as follows:
I'm entranced by Sue Miller's recently published novel, The Arsonist. Miller writes about relationships so deeply, with so much nuance and layering that I'm amazed by her artistry. Of the previous books of hers that I've read, I'd say While You Were Gone (spell-binding!) and The Senator's Wife are among her best. I know many have acclaimed her best-selling debut novel, The Good Mother, published way back in the 1970s, which I never got around to reading because I was enjoying my free and single twenties at that time.

So, right at the moment, I can't think of another American novelist who writes about relationships as deeply and as nuanced (there goes that word again) as Miller. Regrettably, Lake Shore Limited was an exception to this statement.

In The Arsonist, Frankie comes home to her family's summer house in New Hampshire from her career as a humanitarian aid worker in East Africa to discover that her parents are facing a crisis: Frankie's father is rapidly descending into dementia. Frankie isn't on solid ground herself because she's discovered that after 15 years in Africa, she needs a less transient way of life. She is fairly certain that she will not be returning to her life in Africa when the summer is past. To add interest, Frankie gradually becomes involved with Bud, the new owner and editor of the small town's newspaper, an expatriate journalist from the whirlwind of Washington politics. In the midst of this fascinating collection of inter-familial and community relationships comes the spate of fires consuming the town's summer homes, night after night, and the certainty that an arsonist is in their midst. Yes, much of the novel's suspense resides in the escalating interpersonal dynamics, but the fires threaten to push aside communal and familial ties.
This is top-notch fiction--Okay! I'll say it--phenomenal women's fiction, and I say "women's fiction," only because many men tend to be less interested in the interpersonal dynamics of familial relationships.  Highly recommended!!!

2007 Winner of the Nero Wolf Award *and* 2007 Gumshoe Award: The other novel I can't bear to see come to an end! It's All Mortal Flesh by Julia Spencer-Fleming. Just loving it, as I love all of the books in her Millers Kill series. Too good to miss.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Waiting for Henning Mankell's An Event in Autumn (Aug 12 US release)

I haven't read any of Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallander novels in at least three years, I believe, but An Event in Autumn grabbed me because Wallander retreats to the countryside to get away from all his stressors to take a big time-out by residing in an old farmhouse with a marvelous garden, where he (naturally) discovers parts of a dead body, and off we go on another wonderful adventure.
I love characters who decide to "hermitize" for a while in the rural hinterlands because I so completely identify with that wish and have never wavered from this pursuit.

Just a week until publication in the slow-to-publish U.S.! I realize from my internet browsing that it will be a BBC production this fall somewhere. Have you read the book or seen the BBC production?

Monday, August 4, 2014

Wolf Hall and My Favorite Mystery Novelist Julia Spencer-Fleming

My recent reading history of Wolf Hall is on my mind. I read the first 50 pages in one day and stopped, primarily because I had too many other books I had to finish because of library due dates. It was a bit of a challenge plunging in to Wolf Hall again, but now I'm having no problem and am halfway through. (Picking up a bookmark quoting Sam Goldwyn helped me to resume reading: "I read part of it all the way through." No, I didn't want to leave Wolf Hall like that!)

I don't know about you, but I must have a completely quiet house for reading Wolf Hall. Total concentration helps immensely. It's an historical that is well worth whatever trouble it takes to read it carefully. I am thoroughly enjoying the immersion in Tudor England, even if, and this is a BIG IF, I have read far too many books about Anne Boleyn and King Henry VIII. Thomas Cromwell's protagonist viewpoint is indeed fascinating.

I've spent the summer focusing on really learning to play tennis, swimming, hiking when it's not horrendously humid, and reading. Yet I've let far too many business matters slide. Four weeks from today is Labor Day, the Monday of the week when the college resumes. Such an unwelcome interruption looms.

My fifth??? Julia Spencer-Fleming mystery All Mortal Flesh is in full tilt. I do wish more people would try her. I am so in tune with her characters and the fictional town of Millers Kill, New York. Splendid characterization and acutely-described settings--I couldn't ask for more in what I want from a mystery. Clare is a former Army helicopter pilot and currently an Episcopal priest. Her best friend and beloved is Russ Van Altyne, the chief of police in Millers Kill. In this one, Russ's wife Linda is found murdered in their home, just ten days after the couple has agreed to separate. Spencer-Fleming is my favorite mystery writer, I must say.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Updated: Once Again, The Lie by Helen Dunmore

I'm writing about The Lie once again this year because it was Caroline's July choice for her Literature and War Readalong at her blog Beauty is a Sleeping Cat. My previous thoughts are included in my April post regarding The Lie.  I must say that I didn't say much about it at that time.

A spoiler alert!!! 
I will say that I so appreciated Dunmore's empathy and her considerable sympathy for the war-damaged protagonist. I so understood his withdrawal from the thrum of village life and his withdrawal to the far outskirts of the local community. His care and solicitude for his elderly neighbor are a sign of his healing from the trench warfare's irreparable damage to his psyche. But when he reconnects with Felicia, the sister of his long-time buddy Frederick, who was killed in battle, the two wounded survivors appear to find a way around their awkwardness, the horrible war years past, and Frederick's death. They commence the beginnings of a new life and make plans for the future. Despite the threats coming from the village, they manage to plan an escape route. Why Dunmore didn't allow this plan to follow through, I'll never know. Yes, there were plenty of suicides of soldier survivors, but the hope building in these two damaged people's relationship seemed stronger. I mourn the author's decision in this one.

I will say that Caroline's review is exquisite, so don't miss it.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Chris Bohjalian's New Novel

Bohjalian's Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, released this summer, was a novel that might have been classified YA, though I can see why it was marketed to adult audiences. When I picked it up and dove into the first chapters, I realized that it's possible that Bohjalian might have been aiming for the YA market. Emily is 16, the only child of two alcoholic parents, living in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, very close to Lake Memphremagog, which is also the site of a nuclear power plant. The power plant, which dominates the region, is the reason Emily's family is in northern Vermont. Her father is a nuclear engineer and her mother the communications director of the plant.

After weeks of rain, and subsequent flooding, the plant morphs into meltdown mode quickly, in a matter of hours. Emily is evacuated with her fellow high school students to the south. When she can't contact her parents by cell, she panics and runs away to the northwest of Vermont, to its largest city, Burlington. Emily's life is soon fraught with her decision to survive on the street, back alleys, and hidden alcoves of the city. She takes on a new name, to hide the fact that she is the daughter of the man who is the main character blamed for the meltdown.

Despite Emily's life with people who are usually called "the dregs of society," she remains hopeful, helpful to friends when she can, and rescues and becomes the protector of a nine-year-old runaway.

Perhaps this novel is not among the best of Bohjalian's ouevre (partly due to his lack of certainty with Emily's voice), but I liked and became instantly attached to Emily in spite of this, particularly her refusal to let life kick her down and her eternal optimism and poetic vision, based on her deep connection to Emily Dickinson.

I heartily recommend Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands. I happen to be a fan of American novels that focus on life after nuclear meltdowns, and this is one is very worthwhile.