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.