Thursday, July 30, 2020

August Reading upon Us and a Warning

I'm happy to be launching into August for a reason I would rather not say though I will. August is my least favorite month of the year (Don't we all have a month that we wish were another, more favored month?). And I'm about to get through it. Happily, merrily, make the bestest of it, damn it! ;)

This August I'll be continuing to write my way through my Creative Nature Writing class (via the University of Cambridge Continuing Education. Cambridge, England, that is.), which ends the next to last week in August.  And to challenge myself, and hopefully pass the time, I've enrolled in another writing class entitled, "Two Essays, Four Weeks." This online course runs from August 5th through September 2nd, and is offered through Grub Street, a Boston-based writers' collaborative. I took an online class with Grub Street late last fall, and it was excellent, and encouraged me to write like a demon. I find these classes challenging, fun, and a great way to meet and spend time with other people from around the world who enjoy writing. These classes expand my worldview and also help me to more closely examine my own worldview.  Consequently, my posting will be less frequent in August, as has been the case for me since June, I'm sorry to say.

I've dug in to Sharon Kay Penman's Devil's Brood, and I'm 85 pages in, which has taken a bit of time. It has been wonderful that Penman has cleverly interwoven the events and  personages from the first two books with the beginning of this third book.  This book could easily have been and should have been 1,000 pages, but the publisher used a very small font, though, to be helpful, they used a decent amount of leading between the lines, which means it is legible for me. Still, it's dense! This week I haven't been able to gather the time to read it everyday. So I see this one going onward and forward through Labor Day, September 7th, which is fine with me.

While Devil's Brood is ongoing, I'll be reading one easier read at a time, as well as an audiobook, whenever I grab some time to knit in the late afternoons.
Right now my easier read is The Lost and Found Bookshop by Susan Wiggs (July 2020), and I'm finding it exceedingly mediocre. I read on thinking it will improve, but it is overly repetitive about grief for a parent, and that is troublesome because the author repeats the same feelings and facts over and over and over. I'm all for books describing grief about parents, lots of us have been through it, but grief is not static, it moves and changes as time goes along.

The warning: I updated to the new version of Blogger quite some time ago, but tonight, there was no way for me to write a new post. I clicked on "New Post," and when the page appeared, there was no way to do it whatsoever. The page to write a new post did not appear. After trying repeatedly, I reverted to the Old Blogger (only viable til August 24th), just so I could post.  If you are a Blogger user, would you try to see what happens when you hit the "New Post" tab?

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Buried in Books as I Haven't Been for Months!

Indeed, my bookish areas are swamped by piles of books. All the books I had on hold at my favorite Crandall Library for the past five months were "let loose", due to Covid-19, last week. I picked them up curbside in a large paper bag.
As sometimes happens, after what seemed like many, many months, only a few of the hoard still interest me.
I am nearly finished reading Uncanny Valley: A Memoir by Anna Wiener, which is a memoir by a young woman who worked in the Silicon Valley/San Francisco area, in the hopes of making much more money than she was making working at her job at a literary agency in NYC. Her tale of start-up computer companies (she worked in several) is revelatory, especially considering her work there was so recent. She does not harp on the misogyny in these companies, but it is crystal-clear. I entered a totally foreign universe when I read this memoir. I listened to the first half on Audible, but it was too slow. The second half as I read it in hardcover zooms by and is much more satisfactory. I sometimes mind how slow audio is from a reading perspective.

Next: As some of you may recall, I waited for one month for the Sarah Kay Penman novel, the third in the series, The Devil's Brood to arrive. I can't believe that it actually made it, after four weeks, and in excellent condition. I've started it, but with  Penman's novels, there are so many characters and so much going on, it takes about 50 pages to really settle in, and I'm only 20 pages in so far. Yet I'm fascinated! Nothing like England in the 12th century, I always say! Henry II and his Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine and their three sons, the devil's brood, for sure. Fireworks will ensue!! At 770 pages, with tiny print--it will be a work in progress, but one I'm happy to make. Fortunately, there is lots of leading between the lines of tiny print, which helps immensely.

The other book I'm reading now received a starred review from several publications. It's Susan Wiggs's The Lost and Found Bookshop. I was fortunate to borrow this very recently published book as an e-book from the New York Public Library. It's women's fiction, first of all, and it's the story of a woman business executive who abandons  her career to rescue her deceased  mother's bookshop and to take care of her grandfather who has dementia. Sounds grim, but it's not at all. The community she returns to offers lots of possibilities in every area of her life. I'm enjoying it!

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Warning: The Disastrous State of the Nation

Think very seriously whether you want to read this post. No books are mentioned. And no, I don't consider it a rant. It is a warning cry to all who would listen. Yes, gosh darn it,  I have had terrible difficulty posting regularly here. The state of our nation presently could not be more dismal, could not be more horrific. And people are sitting idly by. Well, perhaps if we were at war with a nation destined to crush us to dust, perhaps that would be worse.

I don't wonder that people in countries throughout the world HATE the U.S. 
There should have been a massive insurrection a long time ago to pressure the removal of our current pseudo-leader who is a sham, a charlatan, a puffed-up self-aggrandizer who is fatally paranoid, a fake, a conniver, and most of all a malevolent person who would do anything at all if it meant he would come out on top. He is, in fact, evil.

My apologies to any of his supporters who have stumbled onto my blog by mistake. It would be best if you left now.
But the stakes are too high now to remain silent. The president is operating a secret police force in several cities, where ununiformed federal officers are kidnapping protestors off the street. These officers wear no identification. They throw people into unmarked cars and take them away. Where???This has been happening in Portland, Oregon for one. This is real news. And little wonder, with this secret police crackdown, the  protests are becoming worse. We are now in the throes of a country exactly like Nazi Germany, like the Soviet Union, like the Russia of today. And it's all thanks to Mr. Fake Man who is a white supremacist and an anti-Semite, and his cronies. Oh, and don't forget the troops he has called out to battle protestors.  Troops armed with U.S. military weapons to shatter protestors. Oh, yes, you're right. Those weapons were intended to only be used by trained military in the event of war. The  police using them have not been trained in their use. And they were never developed with civilian uses in mind. WTF???
I am 67 years old. I remember the race riots of the 1960s. I remember the deaths at Kent State. But nothing then compares with what's happening now.

Okay, so where do BOOKS fit in to this picture? Well, they don't, not really.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Where Have I Been?

We seem to be having a trying summer weather-wise. We have been much, much hotter than normal here in the Northeast, and worst of all from a blogging perspective, we have had frequent violent thunderstorms that have knocked out power and internet on a regular basis. Of course we usually get thunderstorms this time of year, but never daily, and never with the loss of power every time it happens.
Satellite internet is beginning to seem very appealing to me. When I mention it to Ken, he astutely points out that a satellite would have to go out in our back field. Do you want to stomp through four feet of snow to wipe a storm's ice and snow off of it? Uhh, maybe not. Thanks for pointing that out.

Still reading, though I need to get a really good book very soon. I'm waiting for Sharon Kay Penman's The Devil's Brood to arrive. It has been held up, but I can't wait to dig into a Penman tome and be swept away to the 13th  century. The first two books in this series were so good.

My nature writing course, which I'm taking through the University of Cambridge Continuing Education, started this week, and it looks very promising. Despite the heat, Sandy and I have been managing to enjoy nature and the outdoors, though we must take short walks. We take multiple short walks, in fact. After each outing, we return to the house to cool off in air conditioning, then we head out again.

I need to write a blog entry about some of the special books I've read over the past few months. I am just so behind in responding to all of your blog posts. I hope to catch up soon, power permitting.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Bookshelf Travelers You May Have Missed. Have You Travelled and Been Missed? Do Tell!

Carl Anderson's Bookshelf Travelling  post this past week transported me deep, deep, deep into Middle Earth with J.R. Tolkien. I had no idea that Tolkien had written so many other books aside from The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Rings. Do visit Carl's shelves. I'm definitely inspired to pursue Tolkien. I think I'm going to explore lots of them. I had no clue there was so much more to enjoy!

And Jack Deighton, Katrina's husband, at The Son of the Rock has several bookshelves loaded with science fiction, but notably Jack's interests often reach well beyond sci-fi. Some historical fiction as well.
What's great is that both guys have beautifully photographed bookshelves. I'm suffering  from crippling envy, really, because I can't seem to get my shelves to photograph well at all. Maybe they could  be  persuaded to offer a tutorial!  Anyway, well worth a long visit!

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times #14

After a splendidly cool, marvelously exhilarating 6 days last weekend into early this past week, when I was outdoors all day working all day on our trails, studying plants, hiking all over, and enjoying myself to the hilt, we are now paying in spades with temps in the high 80s with  high humidity. A dead stop.  This is the only weather in the year that drives me to despair. And the National Weather Service has announced that the Northeast will have above normal heat all summer including the month of September.
Time for our household to get a grip! Sandy hates the heat, too! Sit-down strikes have occurred. We get her out very, very early in the am and manage to exercise her then, but other than that our over-active Golden has stated firmly, "Let's wait for deep fall, guys." A very, very long way off, Sandy.

I have a heap of newish books on a small table in my bedroom, and am turning now to Peter Swanson's Eight Perfect Murders (link to an interview in BookPage,) published earlier this spring, which has received starred reviews  from Publishers Weekly, and noted reviews  from The New York Times and others. This novel is "a homage to thriller classics." And it's the story of a bookseller in Boston who finds himself at the center of an FBI investigation because a very clever killer has started copying his list of fiction's most ingenious murders,  including Agatha Christie's A.B.C. Murders, Patricia Highsmith's Strangers on a Train, and Ira Levin's Deathtrap (remember the movie starring Michael Caine?) Sounds like fun to me! Oh, and don't forget Double Indemnity.

Loads of books on this table are new knitting books. Since late last fall I've been collecting books about color knitting, stranded knitting, Fair Isle knitting, and am determined that I will teach myself, via the books (and YouTube) how to get along with knitting multiple-colored yarn in a single knitted row. I was going gangbusters, full steam ahead with this in January and February, actually making a bit of progress, and when the Coronavirus garbage hit, all I wanted to do after my chores and dog hiking was to cuddle up in the afternoons with some pleasure reading.
Now I WANT TO GET BACK ON TRACK. Let's face it, as all of you knitters out there are well aware, stranded knitting is tricky to get under your belt. It's all a matter of PRACTICE. So many books I have now, and they are an inspiration. If you want titles, I will provide. I've become very, very fond of these books, all written by extremely competent crafters.

As an intro to my theme of next week's Bookshelf Travelling, when I will turn to books about books (of which I have many),  I'll briefly mention an astounding book, Avid Reader: A Life (2016) by Robert Gottlieb, who is now 89 years of age, but who was editor-in-chief of Simon & Schuster, Knopf, and The New Yorker. The following paragraph was lifted from the Wikipedia article about Gottlieb.

Gottlieb has edited novels by John Cheever, Doris Lessing, Chaim Potok, Charles Portis, Salman Rushdie, John Gardner, Len Deighton, John le Carré, Ray Bradbury, Elia Kazan, Margaret Drabble, Michael Crichton, Mordecai Richler and Toni Morrison, and non-fiction books by Bill Clinton, Janet Malcolm, Katharine Graham, Nora Ephron, Katharine Hepburn, Barbara Tuchman, Jessica Mitford, Robert Caro, Antonia Fraser, Lauren Bacall, Liv Ullmann, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Bruno Bettelheim, Carl Schorske, and many others.

An amazing fact about "Bob" Gottlieb's childhood, growing up in Manhattan in the 1930s and 1940s, is that everyone in his family, parents and children, all read books while at home, so much so that there was very, very little interpersonal communication. During meals, everyone read a book. Everyone. No one conversed. After meals everyone read books on their own. On weekends, everyone read individually and totally. Everyone self-absorbed in a book, separate from others in the family.
Well, it came as a complete shock to him as he became an older child and teenager, to discover that other families communicated with each other at length on a daily basis. That his family, indeed, was quite unique. He describes this wonderfully. How fascinating!

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times #13

One of the bookcases in my bedroom (the very tall oak one) is very well-organized by author, by theme, by genre. The other bookcase, an older painted pine bookcase, is home to loads of books but is a haphazard mish-mash, in some ways, especially the bottom shelf. Today's books are from that shelf. And I found numerous treasures there that I haven't read.

I've been meaning to read C.J. Sansom's Winter in Madrid for at least ten years now. I own a very fine hardcover copy that I picked up at a library book sale. I know lots of you have read Sansom in the past, though I never have.  This one is a standalone and it received high praise everywhere it was published (UK 2007,  US 2008 and elsewhere).  The book begins in September 1940, after the Spanish Civil War is over and as Hitler's Wehrmacht is sweeping its way across Europe.
According to one reviewer, Sansom compellingly mixes elements of several genres: thriller, romance, and historical fiction. The main character Harry Brett has suffered trauma from his experiences at Dunkirk, and is now "a reluctant spy" for the British Secret Service.
Many critics noted that the Madrid setting is as important as a character. That is enough to send me reading this book in the very near future. I'd love to travel to Madrid in Winter 1940. And as the heat returns to our neighborhood later this week, a wintry setting will be luscious. Madrid is at a much higher elevation than most of the major cities in Spain, and has a different climate as a result.

I also discovered that Sansom received his Ph.D. in history from the University of Birmingham (UK). I'm very interested to know that, and will look forward to this one and to others of his. Do you have any C.J. Sansom novels that you would recommend?

I've never read Kathleen Norris's The Virgin of Bennington, which is a memoir of the author's years spent studying at the experimental, artsy, so-called "bohemian" southern Vermont college in the late 1960s. It was there, where she totally did not fit in, that she was inspired to begin her career as a poet and writer. I've always wanted to read it, as another testament of the late 1960s, from a college student's point of view.

Yet it seems like a lifetime ago that I was immersed in Kathleen Norris's best-selling The Cloister Walk. Published in 1996, I was indeed living a completely different life than the one I lead now. It is astounding to think how totally different, so much so that I think it is no wonder that I don't recall much about The Cloister Walk, a memoir, other than  I found her retreat to a contemplative life fascinating and understandable. In this memoir, Norris, a married woman and a Protestant, spent months participating fully in a monastery in Minnesota.  Do any of you remember The Cloister Walk?

Unfortunately, I was going to write about The Letters of Edith Wharton by R.W.B. Lewis and Nancy Lewis (1988), and I was not impressed by the volume. I did a search and it appears that this is the only published edition of Wharton's letters, and part of what bothers me is that it was heavily selective. Evidently, numerous letters exist from her youth and young adulthood, but they are not available in any edition. What a shame! They are supposed to be enormously informative about her development as a writer. Fortunately Wharton did publish an autobiography in 1934, which helps somewhat. In any case, his volume was a huge disappointment to me. Wish I had better news to impart!

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Internet Down Since Saturday; Read American Dirt--A Must Read

We had a sharp cold front blast its way through Saturday late afternoon with higher wind gusts than forecast. I didn't think it was bad enough for us to lose power and internet, but we did. It's because we have more trees than anything else. And branches and trees love to topple on power lines. It is one of their favorite sports. 
The only reason I'm mentioning it is that we  have only had internet service returned yesterday, Tuesday. And I always feel badly because this situation makes me disappear from sight, and makes me unable to post comments on everyone's "Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times" posts.
At the time we lost power I was at the absolute climax of The Dry by Jane Harper, a novel I highly recommend to crime and mystery lovers. This one, and actually all of Harper's novels are set in Australia. Although Harper is from the UK, she moved to Melbourne, Australia, about 15-18 years ago. She was (is) a journalist, and The Dry was her debut novel, and has been very highly acclaimed. Do follow the link if you're interested in an interview with Jane Harper about The Dry.  I've been reading it as an ebook borrowed from the New York Public Library, but what I didn't know was that in order to read their ebooks, I need to have a live internet connection. So it was so painful to be at the jaw-breaking, cliff-hanging moment, and TO BE SET ADRIFT! FOR DAYS!  Oh, well. What can you do?
I immediately dug into American Dirt, the runaway bestseller by Jeanine Cummins. More than six months after publication, it's still in the top 5 of the fiction hardcover bestseller list. It's very fast-moving, but dense--nearly 400 pages, and I've been reading 100 pages a day, which is quite a lot, but it is so riveting, so compelling, that no other activity or task in the house or outdoors can compare.
Jeanine Cummins researched the background for this book for five years. It's the story of a family in Acapulco, upper-middle-class. Lydia owns her own bookstore. Her husband is a prominent journalist. But due to the cartel, Los Jardinistas, which has all but wiped out the tourist business and brought the city to its knees, Lydia finds that she alone must flee with her young son after the cartel slaughters her husband and her entire extended family. (No spoiler here. This occurs in the first few pages.) She must vanish. To save her life and her son's she must disappear herself. Completely. This novel traces her transformation from well-off Mexican citizen to Mexican migrant with no status, fleeing to the north, along with migrants from Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, to the United States, with a mere change of clothes and a bit of money. This path is fraught with a multitude of dangers that may end their journey and their lives at any moment.
I finished reading this novel today, Wednesday, and I must say that it is among the most memorable reading experiences of my life. This novel illuminates fathoms more about the migrant experience than you will ever pick up from the progressive news stations.
And most of all, what is so clear is that Mexico as a nation is disintegrating. And so goes Central America, even the supposedly stable Guatemala, and now Costa Rica. And where on Earth has the United States been, what has the U.S. been doing for decades, for decades upon decades, while this decay of governmental responsibility in Mexico and southward has been growing like a metastasized cancer? Then, too, where is our partner Canada? Has it, too, dropped out of North America? Where Mexico goes, I believe, is exactly where we will all go ultimately. A border wall hastens our fall. Much has been written about how the U.S. government and U.S. corporations sanction and do business with the Mexican cartels, as the only way to successfully "make money" to the south. We are in so, so deep.  
I urge every American and Canadian to read this novel. I think I can safely say that you will not regret spending your time on a single page. I believe American Dirt will appeal to readers in every country in the world that has an ongoing refugee and migrant crisis in progress.

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.