Thursday, June 16, 2016

Mid-June Reading and Ron Rash

Reading, eating, and breathing--in that order. The bare essentials of life, and without them my life feels out of control and downright crazy. (Work implodes.) So my highest priority has to be to hoist myself up onto the book train again.

I finished Touch Not the Cat by Mary Stewart, enjoyed it tremendously, and will write a brief blog post about it sometime in the next few days.

And what am I taking breaks to read at the moment? I fell into reading Fiercombe Manor by Kate Riordan, another gothic novel. The original UK title was The Girl in the Photograph. When I looked Riordan up on the Web, I discovered she's written a number of other books that sound as though they'd be perfect for my future contemporary gothic forays.

My next Classics Club read is O Pioneers! by Willa Cather. I'm looking forward to quieting my brain just enough so I can dig into this wonderful novel about settlers on the Great Plains. I know I've mentioned that I'd soon be reading this two months ago, but my rabbit-hole was cavernous.

I've been waiting and wanting to read a novel by the American and Appalachian writer Ron Rash for some time. (The link provides access to an interview with Rash.)  Most of his novels are set in wilderness or near wilderness and have themes related to the land and the wilds and rural America. I'm going to read Serena first, for which Rash won the PEN/Faulkner Award about 5 or 6 years ago. Serena is now or recently has been made into a motion picture. Rash's Above the Waterfall appeared this year, but I'm putting that one on hold, even though its story line is compelling. Rash is considered to be one of the country's best writers and poets. And he was born in that great vintage year 1953...

Sunday, June 5, 2016

June Reading: The Loney and Touch Not the Cat

The month of May was abysmal as far as my number of books read is concerned. (It  was superlative for hours spent in wilderness watching spring unfold.) I read The Lewis Man by Peter May, and L is for Lawless by Sue Grafton.  The Lewis Man was absolutely superb, but this particular Letter "L" Grafton book was pure tedium. I think I read one other dud in this series, but can't remember which one. I know, based on experience, that M is for Malice is certain to be much better, because that's how it went with the book following the only other clunker.
So what about this month of June? I have loads and loads of work this month and tomorrow morning I'm leaving for a week to research in southeastern New York State. Fortunately I've already dug into the extraordinarily fascinating book, The Loney, by Andrew Michael Hurley. It's a story of a retreat or pilgrimage for a devout group of orthodox, or fundamentalist, Roman Catholics in the far north of England, making their way to the bleak shores of Lancashire to a holy site during Easter Week. The time period is the 1970s. I read a review that said it had gothic undertones, and I went for it based on that. I never thought such a  story would grip me, but it's so artfully crafted, I'm amazed and I can't imagine what Hurley has up his sleeve.
I can't wait to read Touch Not the Cat by one of my favorite authors, Mary Stewart. Have you read this one? I bought it at a book sale about six years ago, and it's been lying untouched on my bookshelves ever since. No longer! Katrina of Pining for the West and I are reading it on and around June 15th. I'm bringing it on my research trip this coming week, so I can start reading. It sounds truly gothicish or gothicky. Neither are true adjectives, but perhaps some of you gothic-afflicted people will know what I mean.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Something Happened on My Way through May

Yes, indeed.  I fell in love with spring in the Adirondacks all over again.
You see, May last year, I scrambled to finish grading papers and exams for my final semester at the college. The very next day my 4-month-long, grueling professional genealogy course began--and I had not a free moment until Labor Day in early September.

So this year I have found that I am literally going wild with excitement observing all the spring wildflowers again, I'm fascinated taking stock of the state of my forest in different habitats, and also am thrilled to construct new, interesting trails to take advantage of the beauty on our land. Of course I still have to work, so I limit these activities on weekdays to 90 minutes. And weekends, I allow myself much more time still. So it's probably no surprise that I'm not reading as much as I was in March--a stellar reading month--11 books without a single dud.

So, it's no wonder that right now I'm enjoying the forest ecologist Bernd Heinrich's The Trees in My Forest. He writes about his personal studies on his 100+ acres in northwestern Maine, and his land is very similar to our land in the Adirondack Mountains of northern New York. He is probably the best-known and most widely read nature writer in the Northeastern U.S.

I'm still reading L is for Lawless by Sue Grafton, but am eager to finish it so I can strike out and claim some new bookish terrain.

Unfortunately, it's going to be very, very hot this weekend--high 80s!! And still our air conditioner men have not arrived. You will never hear me complain about our winter cold, but the heat does wilt me. The cure: Take a cold shower. Dig deep into a mesmerizing book in a darkened room. Don't come out, unless there's an invitation to an air-conditioned venue.

I will get out very, very early to enjoy nature before the heat hits in earnest.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Travails Along the Bookish Road--With Hope

I realize that I'm fortunate to have a started a new business and to be very busy with work. This is a good thing. I'm very glad I'm no longer working as an adjunct professor earning a pittance, though I miss the students terribly. But actually, I suppose I'm mildly bewailing the fact that I haven had time to read all week. I so cherish the luxury of reading that having my sole time arrive just as I'm falling to sleep feels like a cheat.

So! In reference to my previous post, I had to retire Wilde Lake by Laura Lippmann. I read up to page 100 (it's 355 pages), but I didn't feel it lived up to its starred billing as heralded by Publishers Weekly. I'm sorry to report I found it boring. I'm most assuredly not complaining because I have read so many top-notch, thrilling books this year. Wilde Lake simply wasn't the book for me, and I do hope others will enjoy it.

So! You guessed it. To help me over this hump, I am reading L is for Lawless by Sue Grafton. Oh, what a comfort to be back in the so very un-beautiful Saint Teresa, California, stalking around with Kinsey Milhone, with all her hang-ups and feistiness. It's a balm for my overtaxed mental state.

But I'm looking forward to the following books:
  • The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks (I have read the first two chapters. Beautiful prose that one needs to read slowly to grasp its full merit.
  • Dr. Zhivago, by Boris Pasternak, the new translation, published in 2014. It's my hope to read it this summer. But if work is too frantic, I won't force myself to try to do it.
  • The Lake House by Kate Morton.  I adore Kate Morton's books and this most recent one, I'm sure, will be a pleasure.
  • O Pioneers! by Willa Cather will be my next Classics Read.
Yikes! I just found out the newish British gothic thriller The Loney is waiting for me at the library! Something for the weekend.


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Early May Reading--Peter May's The Lewis Man

I returned home from a 10-day business trip in far western New York State last Thursday night. Since then I've been scrambling to write up a report of my findings from that research trip. It pains me that my reading life has had to take a back seat for the time being. Ouch...!

Peter May's second volume in his Lewis Trilogy, The Lewis Man, was fully engrossing. Although not the 10-star tour de force of Volume 1, The Black House, I loved this novel just as much, because more of the main characters' lives and personalities were revealed. These books are thriller/mysteries, written by the Scottish author Peter May, set in the Outer Hebrides islands. Portraying setting and atmosphere is among his secret arsenal of skills. And, of course you know, I'll delay reading the last book in the trilogy because I don't want to let go of these characters.

Right now I've tried to get immersed in Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman, which received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. I like it very much, but the problem is, I don't have a minute to read it until just before falling asleep, and that does not work very well. I'm hoping to devote lots of time to it this coming weekend.

Am I praying for a rainy weekend??? Well, maybe not, but I wouldn't find one a total loss.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

MacInnes, Sarton, and Classics at Olde Books in Buffalo

When I trooped out Saturday morning to visit Olde Books, about a mile from my hotel near Buffalo Harbor, I had no idea what I would find. Googling online revealed nothing about this used bookstore. But, although the shop appeared inauspicious, I ended up buying six paperbacks, three of which are on my Classics Club list.

I came across a really very old paperback of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie in excellent condition--what a find! So intact, as well. Pages as fine and white as can be--a mystery how well preserved it is. Had to snap that up. And a low price to boot.

My second Classics Club book find was Tom Jones by Henry Fielding in a mass-market paperback edition. Very old, discolored, but what's crucial is it is solidly intact and unmarked. I paid two dollars for that. I'm thinking I should read that one soon before I need to use a magnifying glass to read it. Such a long book, which I knew fully when I put it on my list. Have any of you read it?

My last classic is Beryl Markham's West with the Night, a paperback in stellar condition. It's not on my Classics Club List at the moment, but I recall thinking a few months ago that it should be.

I walked in hoping I would find a paperback by Helen MacInnes, and sure enough, success! What a surprise! I paid a $1.65 for The Snare of the Hunter. I don't believe I've read this one--the title rings no bells. I recall enjoying reading her books in the mid-late 1970s, and this title is completely unfamiliar. I'd love to find more.

And May Sarton--And yes, even though I've never read her novels, and have never read her poetry,  how I love her journals! They are treasures depicting life lived in the moment, in each day. In the past I've read and I also own Journal of a Solitude, and I borrowed The House by the Sea (about her move to Maine to a house on the coast). Both are wonderful. Sarton is very in tune with nature and even more so a garden lover and gardener. Both books are wonderful, though I must admit that Journal of a Solitude will always be very special to me. So the title of the one I purchased yesterday is At Seventy. Still gardening at seventy and hopes to garden into her eighties. The journal before At Seventy and after The House by the Sea is Recovering. In her 60s, Sarton suffered a bout of cancer. I haven't read this one, but I think I'd like to. It's one of her most popular.



Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Reading in Buffalo

I have a new laptop. This news is conveyed rather sadly, because the entry I was just about to post has disappeared for good. I don't know what key I hit, but it's gone now. I cannot at this time reconstruct it, but I want you to know that I am enjoying a historical novel, Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross.  It was originally published in 1996, but came out in a second edition in 2009. I highly recommend it, though I must caution I've read just 167 pages out of about 400 pages.

Yes, I'm travelling, doing research in Buffalo, in far western New York. I will have to write about what a wonderful 9th-century historical Pope Joan is. New computer, new hazards. More later.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

There's Nothing Like a Good Gothic

About three or four years ago, I chanced upon the gothic fiction of a writer from Minnesota. Wendy Webb lives in Duluth, on Lake Superior. Each of her three published novels is set on the shores of the Great Lakes. My first, The Fate of Mercy Alban, was perfection. When I started reading it at the time, I didn't realize what an insatiable hunger had been breeding inside me for gothic fiction. The craving had been denied too long. So I devoured it, and, perhaps because of my appetite, I found it perfect.

Right now I'm nearing the end of Wendy Webb's debut novel, The Tale of Halcyon Crane. Once again, I'm entranced. Yes, there's the bit about ghosts from previous generations that appear to be creating havoc. Or, are the other-worldly events simply the antics of unhappy villagers who are angry that Hallie had the audacity to return to Grand Manitou Island, where only a few people want her?

I like gothics as long as the so-called "paranormal" does not get out of control. And in this novel it's not, or perhaps I'm just willing to suspend disbelief. In any event, I don't want this book to end!

Fortunately for me, I haven't yet read The Vanishing, the third novel, published in 2014. And, from Wendy Webb's blog, it seems that in October 2015, she was hard at work finishing her fourth gothic.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Obsessed by Original Sin by P.D. James

I am so deeply, wondrously engrossed in the Adam Dalgliesh novel Original Sin by P.D. James. This one was published in 1995, and, as some critics noted at the time, James was at the height of her powers in this grand mystery. This novel is so fine a work of literature that I find I must read slowly, deliberately, and must reread at times to make sure I've caught all the slightest of nuances. What a mind James had at the age of 75 when this book was published! That is what staggers me--the intricate complexities, the turns, the twists.

I've been putting off reading this for a really stupid reason. I don't want to ever come to the end of the novels she's written. At this rate, however, I had better hurry up while my mind is still sharp enough to appreciate her devilry.

I think I love P.D. James the most for her exquisite handling of atmosphere and setting. Every setting is described in intricate detail. I love that. Notice that there really are six exclamation points after that last statement, although you may not be able to see them.

I haven't read her novels in at least two years, maybe three, so I'm going to move forward now. Yes, I'd better, while my brain is not too far gone!

Oh, and if you're contemplating reading
it, consider skipping that glass of wine before delving into her mysteries, or read her only in the mornings with coffee. Even 3 ounces of wine muddles her acutely drawn mysteries.