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 http://www.stainlesssteeldroppings.com/bookshelf-traveling-to-middle-earth 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. https://bookpage.com/interviews/20826-jane-harper-fiction#.XuFsoOd7k2w. 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. 

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!






Friday, May 1, 2020

Friday Bookshelf Traveling for Insane Times #7!

Guess what? In today (Friday's) New York Times, the "Books" section has an article, with links, "What Do Famous People's Bookshelves Reveal?" I was so excited to see it, and the links make the article, by the way.
Ways to get this article: Try the link, but if you don't get access, try this: The best way I know for non-subscribers to get an article is to google the title of the article in quotes and then The New York Times.
The lead of the article reads, "Bibliophiles do not approach bookshelves lightly. A stranger’s collection is to us a window to their soul. We peruse with judgment, sometimes admiration and occasionally repulsion (Ayn Rand?!)."

This week's bookshelf is from one of the craft room's bookcases. It's a hodgepodge of titles mostly, a number of which I haven't read.
One of these is Sara Donati's epic Into the Wilderness, the first in a series of five historical novels set in the early days of the U.S. It was first published in 1998, and is still in print. From the blurb on the back: "It is December 1792. Elizabeth Middleton leaves her comfortable English estate to join her family in a remote New York mountain village. It is a place unlike any she has ever experienced. And she meets a man unlike any she has ever encountered--a white man dressed like a Native American: Nathaniel Bonner, known to the Mohawk people as Between-Two-Lives. Determined to provide schooling for all the children of the village, Elizabeth soon finds herself locked in conflict with the local slave owners as well as her own family."

For a complete change of pace I took down Gaston Dorren's Lingo: Around Europe in Sixty Languages.  I have read parts of this book, but other books came calling. I keep meaning to come back because the polyglot in me has been nudging me to return to it. It was first published in the UK in 2014, and in the US in 2015. Dorren is a Dutch linguist, journalist, and polyglot, and this book, which he wrote in English, takes the reader on a tour of Europe telling fascinating stories about each language he meets along the way. It appealed to me especially because I wish I were a polyglot. If only I had the time to learn at least six new languages! I studied French more than any other language and can read it well, but speaking??? Very shaky and low confidence. I've also studied Russian and German but would be lost if I had to read a newspaper or converse. But I can pronounce correctly the names of all the Russian tennis players! Anyway, the appeal of languages draws me in. A fun book.

My next book is Alison Weir's Queens of the Conquest: England's Medieval Queens, Book One. I imagine if you live in the UK and know your history well, you are probably well-acquainted with Eleanor of Aquitaine, but there is also Matilda of Flanders, the wife of William the Conqueror, and Matilda of Scotland, Adeliza of Louvain, Empress Maud, and a few others. Why I haven't devoured this yet is a mystery.  This is precisely why I'm glad to be doing this bookshelf traveling. I'm becoming reacquainted with my library and have dozens and dozens of books I'd love to read.

My final book pulled from this bookshelf today is A Cruel and Shocking Act: The Secret History of the Kennedy Assassination by Philip Shenon (2013). The truly shocking fact is that before this book was published, loads and loads of facts about the investigation into President Kennedy's assassination were suppressed, only partially exposed, and hidden. In 1964, there were many, many young men and a few young women involved in the investigation who were staffers for the Warren Commission, and they uncovered evidence that never made it into the Commission's final report. These individuals enthusiastically told their stories to Shenon, in a last-ditch effort to reveal many truths before the former staffers ran out of time, literally. I read the first 100 pages (out of 550) and then dabbled in and out of the rest of the book. I must go back.

This book would be on my extensive Kennedy Family bookshelf in one of our oak living room bookcases, but there is no room there now. I hope to visit this overloaded shelf in a future Bookshelf Traveling episode at some point.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Outlandish Weather

I have so wanted to respond to everyone's post from last Friday and have not succeeded. We are coming out of a very unusual  bad weather turn, and I was feeling really out of sorts for a while. No illness, but a sheer lack of will.

We had 8 inches of wet snow on Sunday night, with very cold temps and gusty north winds before and after. Wild weather, and we're grateful we did not lose electricity, though a huge fir tree fell near our house and just barely missed the power lines. Sandy and I trooped through the woods on Monday, through all the snow, which was loads of fun for her, and watching her, I must admit I enjoyed it, but it was raining and the chill and damp went deep into my bones and I could not get warm afterwards. And out with my body heat went my mood, I'm very sorry to say. My body does mind going from 62 degrees on Friday to 30 degrees on Sunday.

I'm enjoying what I'm reading now and hope I can post tomorrow.
I'm listening to a wonderful audiobook while knitting, Epic of Solitude by Katherine Keith, about a young woman who seeks wilderness in very edgy places, the most notable of which is Alaska, where she eventually becomes deeply involved in sled-dog racing, including the Iditarod. There  is so much to this book--adventures galore.




Friday, April 24, 2020

Fri. Bookshelf Traveling for Insane Times #6

The top shelf of my favorite bedroom bookcase is home to three very large first-edition biographies, none of which I have really read from cover to cover. They are beautiful, pristine copies, and as I took them down and browsed through them, I realized I hope I will read one in the next few months, from cover to cover. But it will be a difficult choice.

Jane Goodall: The Woman Who Redefined Man by Dale Peterson, published in 2006, is the one I'm most likely to tackle first, and at 685 pages (very small type),  it will be a job to "tackle." But because I've always been drawn to her work over many decades, and because she has led such an extraordinary life, I think I will submit to it. (A 4.19 rating on Goodreads.)
 
Goodall turned 86 years this year (born April 3, 1934), so this book was published when she was a very young 72 years and still accomplishing a great deal. Goodall and Dale Peterson collaborated on a number of books previous to this one, so he is very much familiar with her life's work and who she is as a person.  I remember I bought it because it was so highly acclaimed when it was published.

The other biography I've been meaning to read for so very long is The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism by Megan Marshall (2005). Once again, I purchased this hardcover immediately after publication because it was so highly and universally regarded, and also because the Peabody Sisters lived in Massachusetts, growing up in Salem. They were friends and colleagues of their contemporaries Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. The most interesting thing about them was that in the 1830s and onward, they were the opposite of the ideal American woman, in that they were very highly educated, extraordinarily intellectual, did not keep their opinions to themselves, and inspired the men in their circle by igniting philosophical debates. They were very much a part of the Transcendentalist Movement. The  youngest sister Sophia married the author Nathaniel Hawthorne. The middle sister Mary married and inspired the most noteworthy American educational reformer of the 19th century, Horace Mann. And the oldest sister Elizabeth was fire-and-ice involved in all the philosophical discourse of the day. Her name is linked with many more reformers than I can list here. An extraordinary family of sisters, who are often referred to as "the American Brontës."  (A 4.12 rating on Goodreads.)

The third biography is another blockbuster. And a chunkster, at 830 pages, with another nearly 200 pages in notes.  It is Juliet Barker's The Brontës, published in 1994 in the UK and in 1995 in the US.
 I have the first American edition and have used it as a reference book many, many times, though I have not read it cover to cover. It, too, has been the most highly acclaimed work about The Brontë Family to date. But for a time it went out of print, which I have NEVER understood. Then it was revised and republished as The Brontës: The New Edition in the UK and in the US as The Brontës: Wild Genius on the Moors. For more information, please follow the link. (Another 4.19 rating on GoodReads.)

Friday, April 17, 2020

Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times #5: My New Books Stack

We'll be having at least two inches of snow tonight, so Ken is not out of the woods yet (re: my header photo.)

I have had a lot of fun purchasing quite a few books this year thus far, and I seem to show no sign of stopping. My stack of new books is perched on one side of the double bed in the loft, where I sometimes read, especially in the summer months. Because it sits up a flight of stairs from the living room, it's well air-conditioned. On frigid winter days, I also retreat to read here, because my bedroom reading spot is quite exposed to our coldest winds from the northwest.

I won't wax on about new books you know and have heard about, but I will mention that Hilary Mantel's The Mirror in the Light is waiting patiently for me to turn to it.

I won't be reading it in the next month because I'm dying to tackle one of my very new "old" books, Gulag by the American Russian scholar Anne Applebaum. This work of history made a huge splash when it first appeared in 2004, because Applebaum was one of the first scholars to produce a major work of Soviet history after the opening of archives in Russia following the demise of the Soviet Union.
Gulag was a Pulitzer Prize Winner, a National Book Award Finalist, and it received high acclaim from English and American Russian historians. In 1952, approximately 2.5 million Soviet citizens were shipped to the gulags in the hinterlands of the Soviet Union, many in Siberia, but loads of them in provinces elsewhere. And that was not an unusual year. In 1953, the year  of Stalin's death, more than this number were shipped to the gulags. In the mid-late 1930s about 1.5 million each year. And so on. With the ascendancy of Nikita Khrushchev in 1954-55, many imprisoned in the gulags started to be released and started to make their way home.

My next book in the stack is an exciting new novel, Greenwood, by Michael Christie, a Canadian author. I was stunned by the 4.4 Goodreads rating for this novel. (Were these reviews submitted by frustrated book marketers desperately disappointed by their inability to promote this book the way they'd like?) Just wondering. Most reviewers gave it a "5." This does not often happen when I search for info on Goodreads. This novel, set in the future of 2038, is set on an island off the coast of British Columbia, and revolves around the near-legendary existence of very old, old-growth trees there. Definitely check out the link for more info. Michael Christie won awards for his previous novel, published in 2015.

For all of us crime-novel devotees, I did some more research about the books by the Icelandic crime author Ragnar Jonasson. I know some of you have read Snowblind.  I really, really liked it, and have contemplated reading another in that series of books, but it is difficult, because they were translated and published in English out of the order in which they were published in Iceland. This is what has been reported that I've read. If I am wrong, or if you have updated info, I beg you, please do set me straight.
Because I'm desperate to return to Iceland with Jonasson, I landed and purchased The Darkness: A Thriller, which is the first novel in the Hulda series. It's set partly in Reykjavik and partly in the "Icelandic Highlands." Yrsa Sigurdardottir said, "The Darkness is a true masterpiece of a crime novel, introducing an original protagonist, a plot full of twists and turns, and an ending that leaves you gasping for air." Hulda is supposed to be retiring, but she is allowed one last cold case. Doesn't that tempt you?

One last teaser: Quite frankly, I have four books ongoing at the moment. After reading another 50 pages in Stalin's Daughter today (it's so good-reads like the best page-turner novel), I continued reading an ARC I happily received and am now so sucker-punched into it. omg.
I'm delighted by Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas, to be published on May 12th by William Morrow, a division of HarperCollins. It is deeply gothic, a coming of age novel but NOT YA, with many sci-fi genre elements to twist and turn it. Very cleverly written by a young writer in her 20s, who is a graduate of Yale, a resident of Brooklyn, and who works as an archivist at a modern art museum. I will be saying much more about this one... HELP! I think I should stay in bed all day tomorrow and finish it. That good.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

A Quick Book Catch-Up Before Friday's Bookshelf Travels

I'm definitely established in a daily routine. And so is Sandy. And  more recently Ken.
Those of you who have known  and  loved dogs surely know how dogs thrive on  routine.
I wake up, wash and get dressed,  take  the dog for an early am walk, then coffee for Ken, which starts his 90-minute book-reading escape.
I then grind my coffee beans and make my snobbish special coffee with cream, read the New York Times online, and have breakfast. I do the dreaded stretches I must do in order to walk the dog 4 miles up steep hills and down. And then out we go. It is NOT spring here, although the snow is gone.

Honestly, by the time all of this is done, it's early afternoon. I then have my happiest time of the day. From two to five pm I read. I am so grateful, and so thankful for these sacrosanct hours to retreat from the world and read. I wish for a longer escape than 3 hours.
I'm making great progress with Stalin's Daughter, the biography of Svetlana Alliuyeva. It's been an  utterly fascinating history, reaching from 1926, the year of Svetlana's birth, through all her years in the Soviet Union, and now, currently, I'm mesmerized by the intricacies  of  her defection to  the  West, and to the United States, in  1966-67. When have I read a history or biography where I totally lose track of all the pages I'm reading? I'm well over halfway through the 637 dense pages.

I'm also loving What Happens in Paradise by Elin Hilderbrand, the second novel after the first  in the series, Winter in Paradise. It is such a  relief to read, to retreat to the island of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands and be swallowed up by the many stories affecting the people in two families. I'm well over halfway through this one, too, and I think I'll finish it this weekend.

And I've been borrowing and buying books like MAD as well.
I just borrowed from the New York Public Library an ebook published in mid-March that's set in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1630.  Beheld by TaraShea Nesbit. I was very lucky to be able to borrow this one as it's a new book. It starts out thus:
"We thought ourselves a murderless colony. We created a place on a hill overlooking the sea, in the direction from which we came. For a while, God's favor seemed possible. But it pleased Him to have other plans...  I remember that day, in the year of our Lord sixteen hundred and thirty, that the first colonist was murdered."
For those of us celebrating the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower Landing in Plymouth, and the founding of Plymouth Colony, this novel has been highly acclaimed and most of all sounds like fun and is supposed to be illuminating about the lives of colonists. Did you know that at least three million Americans and people from around the world claim ancestry from a Mayflower passenger?  So it's not a big deal, really. My ancestor was not a Puritan. He was a "stranger"  and was  an indentured servant to Stephen Hopkins, who also was not a Puritan. They both survived the deadly illness and starvation that plagued the colony during its first winter and that killed off well over half of the settlers. My ancestor was named Edward Doty.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Friday's Bookshelf Travels: Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia and Burnett

We had snow falling off and on all day long. But it did not accumulate. Wild and wooly walking the dog through it, though!
Can you believe this is Week Four of Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times? I sure can't. I was finally able to buy a very small steak for the two of us, our first piece of beef in weeks. It's been hard up here. Because so many people who have vacation homes are now here, the grocery stores have not been able to meet the increased demand at a time that was not expected. Oh yeah, we expect it in July. But not now.
And I certainly don't mind people from NYC or New Jersey or Long Island or Pennsylvania who have fled their homes to come here, but I DO MIND the ones who travel back and forth, back and forth to their homes in the city and then back here again and again! People who live on my road. If you come, please stay put and don't travel for our sakes. We absolutely do not have the hospital resources that NYC has. As one local public health official put it, "You can come, but don't expect the hospital services you would get in the city. If you get sick, you will be straining our very, very limited health services. Amen!
That's quite enough of my rant for a Good Friday.
To the topic:
Another bookcase in my bedroom is seven feet tall and solid oak. While I'm getting dressed in the morning, I gaze at the books, allowing my eyes to focus on those I haven't thought about recently. I also think of those I have yet to read. I exchange the books here much more often than is the case with  my other bookcases.

On one of the middle shelves, the fifth hardcover edition of Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia sits. It's 1,200 pages, is reference-book size, and is "a completely revised and updated edition of the bestselling encyclopedia of classic and contemporary world literature." It was published in 2008 and is the most recent edition.
My older brother gave me the first edition for Christmas when I was 19 or so, although it was not a first printing. I fell in love with it immediately, and I still have it, with his inscription. About ten years ago, I picked up a paperback copy of the third edition at a library book sale for a dollar. And the fifth I bought at Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, Vermont, on a day trip to celebrate my birthday about ten years ago. If you ever, ever find yourself in southern Vermont, do honor your bookish self and make a beeline to this MECCA of bookstores. I assure you, it cannot possibly disappoint!
The individual entries in Benet's discuss authors of all genres of literature, important or classic titles of works, famed literary sites and their significance, important battles and historic events, religions, philosophies and schools of thought, literary movements, etc.
Here are some entries from a typical page:
 Charles Bukowski, a 20th-century American poet and novelist; Mikhail Bulgakov, the Russian playwright and novelist, who became famous after the Russian Revolution; Ed Bullins, American playwright, novelist, and poet; and Silvina Bullrich, one of Argentina's best-known novelists. There is even an entry for Mr. Bumble, the character in Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist, and an entry for Natty Bumppo, the central figure in James Fenimore Cooper's series of books known as The Leatherstocking Tales.
It seems that the 5th edition is out of print, although used copies are available. I wonder if there will ever be a 6th edition, because reference books of this type are tending to not be published any more. Sigh! Although  it's true that all of this information is available quickly on the internet, it is not possible to browse Wikipedia by the letter B or C or Q.  Much of the pleasure of this book is browsing. And finding new authors, new reading material, etc.


Yesterday, from the same bookshelf, I lovingly took down Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden and The Little Princess, both illustrated by the New England illustrator Tasha Tudor (1915-2008). These two editions of the older classics, were both published in the early 1960s. But the two I own today are not the ones I owned as a child. Those latter volumes went with me when I started teaching sixth grade, to place on the classroom bookshelves for students to borrow. After ten years, when I left teaching, they were in pretty bad shape.
So about thirteen years ago, I contacted a rare books seller in Saratoga Springs to help me find "Fine" replacements, with dustcovers intact. He had no problem with that, I didn't spend more than $30 per book, and the stories and especially the illustrations that meant so much to me as a 10- to 12-year old came home in all their glory to live with me again.







Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Interesting Developments in Books--Internet Archive Breaks Loose!

I'm imagining that some of you may know about the Internet Archive. This wonderful resource has for years made out-of-print books and books in the public domain available via its portal. I've been especially appreciative of its works of local history, county histories, town  histories, family genealogies, etc. 
However, in the past two weeks, due to the Coronavirus pandemic, they have started to digitize thousands and thousands of books, whether they are in the public domain or NOT. Loads and loads of books still held under copyright. Books that are fiction, nonfiction, and books that you may want to read.
I searched for Mary Stewart books, since we've just been talking about her. And for free, I was able to borrow Airs above the Ground, her suspense novel set in Austria. I have read it, but it was fun to see what this is all about.
Sorry to say, though--these digital images are created from print hardcover books. Not as legible by an means as the quality you expect from a regular ebook you purchase. Still readable, mostly, but there it is.
This development has publishers and authors all aflutter and damn mad, as you can imagine. 
But note, Internet Archive is not digitizing works that have been published within the past five years.
And it contends that this is an Emergency Measure, available only until June 30th, while there are no libraries in the U.S. that are open and while students are struggling to find resources for their coursework.  
I think Internet Archive is pressing the envelope, as loads of people, especially academics, are pushing and pushing for open access for all, and are, to make a point, stretching the limits of copyright infringement to make a point.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times: Treasures from the 60s and 70s

The top shelf of one of my bedroom bookcases is home to hardcover gothic suspense novels published in the 1960s and 1970s. Loads of women were writing gothics in those two decades. And then, suddenly, poof! Sometime in  the early 1980s it seemed none were being published. Historical romances hit the bookstore shelves to replace the gothics, and I was cut adrift, with no interest in a genre that was mostly romance with a smattering of highly questionable history. Although I searched at every bookstore I could find in Greater Boston, it was clear that contemporary gothics were gonesville. Romantic suspense novels were still in vogue, however.

I was initiated into the cult of the 1960s gothic fiction at my high school library and quite by chance.  It was a Friday afternoon in the autumn of 1968, and I was a sophomore looking for something fun to read for the weekend. I bumped into a classmate, who was one of the "popular" girls. I was in awe of her beauty, and she was not a mean popular girl, although I'd never exchanged words with her. 
I tried to figure out why on earth she was in the library, and on a Friday afternoon! She was alone. In fact, we were the only two students in the library, both of us rushing to snatch a book before catching our respective buses home. I was stunned when she actually spoke to me. “You have got to read this book.” And she pulled Mistress of Mellyn by Victoria Holt off the shelf, thrust it in my hands, and  dashed off with another title from the same shelf.

I had no idea that I would be completely swept off my feet by Saturday morning. The young, naïve
governess, the brooding manse, and the two enigmatic leading male characters, all set in Cornwall. Part of the formula for the gothic at this time was that there had to be two men. For the naïve reader, it was impossible to tell which one of the two was bad, evil, and dangerous, and which was trustworthy, good, and heroic. I had to have more.
That next Monday I returned to the library and picked up Bride of Pendorric. My next was Kirkland Revels. I did not mind a bit that the plot was basically identical to Mistress of Mellyn. I did not read Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier until after discovering the Holt gothics, and Jane Eyre came next, which occurred when my mother noticed my absorption in the Holt novels. 
 
As far as my personal collection of Holt novels goes, I originally owned a number in mass-market paperback. After moving to the Adirondacks, I found lots of the hardcover originals at library book sales and bought them. 

The Legend of the Seventh Virgin, to my mind, is the best Holt novel. It is more creative generally, strays from the "formula," and mixes Cornish history with the modern-day tale. It was the one I forced my mother to read,  and she loved it.
 
Of course, Victoria Holt was the pen name of the prolific English author, Eleanor Burford Hibbert (1906-1993). Hibbert used many pseudonyms for the various genres she wrote in. (Jean Plaidy, Phillipa Carr, and others.) Hibbert's biography on Wikipedia is fascinating, particularly when one considers all she accomplished. Do check out the section "Writing Discipline." 
I never cared for the Phillipa Carr novels or the Jean Plaidy, despite the fact that I have always loved historical fiction. It was the style of those series that just didn't grab me.

Also on the bookshelf are a number of Mary Stewart's novels of romantic suspense, and a few of Phyllis Whitney's. I did not discover Whitney until my 20s, when I found them a good escape from the stresses of my teaching job. The best Phyllis Whitney romantic suspense novel in my opinion is The Winter People. (It was very hard to find a description online that fits the novel I know. Click on "more" to get the full blurb.) I read that for the first time just 12 years ago. Superb drama, superb suspense. A close second is Snowfire, which I read more recently and which I highly recommend. Not all of Whitney's novels are as interesting as these two, and, yes they are formulaic with one huge exception.
Whitney was obsessively particular about physically, personally immersing herself in the locale for each novel before setting pen to paper. Her settings are richly atmospheric, which as many of you know, is key for me.

Starting in the 1980s, the Holt books became romantic suspense novels set in exotic locales. I did not like them as well as the gothics and read only a couple.

By the way, I love some of the gothicky fiction that's been published since 2010, when the genre seemed to be making a sort of comeback. What I find most interesting in many of these novels is how they combine elements from lots of other genres to create completely satisfying fiction for people who have gothic blood running in their veins. The finest example I can think of is a standalone gothic thriller by Elli Griffiths, The Stranger Diaries (2019). I gave it five stars when I read it last year.
 

 

Friday, April 3, 2020

It's Friday--Where is My Post for Bookshelf Travelling?

I spent a minimum of two hours composing a post for Friday's Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times. It's not finished yet. I am determined to get it up on Saturday, however. Until then, hang on.
And Amazon sent me a book in two days' time this week!!
Evidently they have hired that 100,000 workers and are able to fill orders quickly for Prime members. Who knew? Things may change again, of course, at any time.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

A Dystopian Novel? Now? And Other Books and Pastimes

Yes, I know--How crazy is it to pick up a dystopian novel based on the premise of a world-decimating influenza from the Republic of Georgia? Very crazy, I'll admit, but read on. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel was so highly acclaimed after its publication in 2014. It was a finalist for the National Book Award and the Pen/Faulkner Book Award. Station Eleven was also the winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Book Award and the Toronto Book Award. The novel received accolades from dozens and dozens of the best book reviewers around the world.

I bought it back in 2014 for my Nook, but never read it, yet can you believe I turned to it today, while waiting for another book to arrive?
Part of the premise of Station Eleven is little bit of a turn-off for me. The novel focuses partially on a group of troubadors, who wander from the shores of Lake Michigan to the shores of Lake Huron, (and I'm assuming Lake Ontario) to sing rock ballads and perform the plays of Shakespeare.
The world has been decimated by the "Georgian Flu," and after 20 years, life has been stripped down to its barest elements. No gasoline, no petroleum oil fuel, no electricity, no Internet, and the like. I read 50 pages this afternoon and am not yet convinced it's a great book, but I have 280 pages more to go. So it's too early to tell. 
In these times, I can't say I would recommend it to anyone, but I have a perverse trend of mind. And guess what? It's a treat because this post-apocalyptic novel reveals to me that our situation could be so much WORSE!  ha.

Okay, I promised you other books and pastimes.
Last winter I read Winter in Paradise, a wonderfully atmospheric, fun novel by Elin Hilderbrand, set on the island of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Although St. John and its better-known, larger partner island St. Thomas was decimated by two hurricanes several years ago, Hilderbrand chose her setting there to be years just prior to the hurricanes, before so many businesses were destroyed and were not able to be re-built.

Her second novel in the series, What Happens in Paradise, was published last October 2019, but I have only just purchased it for my Nook. And I'll tell you, I so enjoyed the first novel that I'll thoroughly enjoy immersing myself in the main family drama and in the lives of all of the other characters who were introduced in Winter in Paradise. Looking forward, and Note! These are both COMFORT reads. Highly recommended by yours truly.

Other pastimes: I've been having so much fun telephoning my cousins, a couple each day. What a treat! We get into family history a lot.  The latest debate: What was the severe illness that our grandmother suffered that had her sleeping on the open-air porch at the family farm during the winter of 1922? I had the facts on that one, passed down by my grandmother's sister (my great-aunt Ruth), and all three of my grandmother's daughters, including my mother. It was tuberculosis. And, my grandmother was not alone in this, but when she became pregnant with my mother in 1923, she finally, finally made a full recovery from TB. It's now known that this sometimes happens because of the vast hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy. (My grandfather's first wife died of tuberculosis after only one year of marriage. It is likely that he was a carrier and infected my grandmother, as can happen.)