In the High Peaks

Friday, December 31, 2010

Please Bear with Me: No New Year Plans Yet!

We had a wonderful Christmas, but the last few days have been dark indeed. Our beloved eight-and-a-half-year-old golden retriever Sophie died very, very suddenly on Wednesday at around 6pm. She became suddenly, extremely ill. Although she seemed fine at 1:30pm; by 2pm, she felt unwell but seemed to be resting comfortably for the afternoon. Then, just after 5pm, her status became critical. We rushed her to the vet, but she had already died by the time we arrived. The vet told us that a tumor on her liver or spleen had suddenly burst, causing her to bleed out very quickly. What a shock! Our friend Wendy, who is a vet, told us that in this situation, there was nothing that could have been done to save her.

So Ken and I have been sticking together very closely. We didn't go out at all yesterday, but today we hiked all our trails, crying and laughing, remembering Sophie's antics and quirky habits. Enough said.

Books????? I finished Open by Andre Agassi. What a revelation that memoir was--a remarkable book.

Lately I have been reading art books in the morning, then painting. Real literature doesn't seem to be part of my life in the present, though I'm sure I'll be back on track soon.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Sojourn at Lake Placid Lodge

How lovely of the snow to hold off until I turned into the driveway of Lake Placid Lodge! I was welcomed with a glass of a new, not-yet-on-the-market rose (accent on the e) French champagne. I noticed a subtly sweet and mellow flavor that had all the zing! of champagne. I did not refuse a second helping.

It's 6:10 pm EST and I'm sitting in front of a roaring fire in my room, Tamarack, named for a deciduous evergreen that thrives in the Adirondacks. I know, "deciduous evergreen" is an oxymoron, but trust me, the tamarack is a conifer that sheds its leaves late, late in the fall. It is a beautiful tree and no tree comes close to its exotic beauty or appearance.

After my tour, not long after I first arrived, I went for a hike on the "Jackrabbit Trail," about two miles' worth of wooded trail that skirts Lake Placid near a beautiful waterfall.

I then had a bit of lunch in a pub overlooking the lake before retiring to Tamarack to start a fire. (The photo does not do the room justice!) I've been basking in the fire's warmth and glow ever since. Someone, please slow down the clock!! I don't want this day and night to end!

Am I reading? Who could? I confess I read an interview with Johnny Depp in Vanity Fair, one of a dozen current magazines on hand in Tamarack. Am I the only one who thinks Depp looks SCARY, though tantalizingly so. Believe me, I am not a fan of his, but the article was interesting.

I wish I could read a book; heaven knows, I have enough here with me, but I'm mesmerized by the beauty of this incredible room, all decked out in the traditional rustic Adirondack style. I did write a page in my journal. Maybe I'll do better in the reading and writing departments after some supper. I do NOT want to go to sleep tonight! I want the fire and the magic to glow on and on.

This is a MAGIC place. I will return here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Five Weeks and Five Days

That's how long I'm away from the classroom, from tomorrow until the first day of classes on January 24th.

I still have lots of work to do of all kinds, but I will have a delicious break. I am going away to Lake Placid Lodge for 27 hours of delicious pampering. Yes, I'm doing this all by myself, although a full pack of books will accompany me. Ken is a very grumpy traveler and is happiest at home, so I'm thankful he doesn't mind if I take this mini-retreat to Lake Placid Lodge. The "village" of Lake Placid is a major destination in the heart of an important valley within the High Peaks of the Adirondacks. It's a two-hour drive for us in winter.

My room will have a full fireplace (continuously burning), a lake and mountain view, a king-size bed, a table to write on, and much more. What do I plan to do?

Every Christmas season I enter a state of reflection. I reflect on the past year, my life present and past, my relationships, my goals. And I think about what it means to be alive, what is good, what I need, what I'm missing. I think about whom I've been neglecting and how to improve my relationships. So I will be writing, a lot.

Believe me, I enjoy doing this very, very much. I enjoy entering a state of total calm so I can think deeply. It may sound selfish, but thinking about my life and how to keep it in balance helps me be a better, stronger person and gives me the peace I need to be more caring of the people closest to me.

Books: Too many to count! And, because I'll be writing, who knows how much time I'll devote to reading? But I will bring a full bag and both my e-book readers. My laptop will accompany me, of course, and I'll have full internet access.

It's conceivable (though not entirely likely) that I'll devote 100% of my time to reading and save the reflecting for Christmas Eve day at home or the day after Christmas, who knows? Boxing Day, St. George's Day--just wish we celebrated something on the day after Christmas. In these parts, December 26 is just a huge let-down after the hubbub of Christmas.

One book on the "Maybe List." Note, I haven't read Russian Winter or Sunset Park as I thought I would this month. Not yet. But there's still time! Do any of you know Chris Bohjalian? His new book The Secrets of Eden is in my book bag from the library today. I've loved many of his books, though he deals with many difficult topics. He lives not far from here, in Vermont.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

So Out of the Literary Whirl!

During our last month of classes, my 12 students in Writing/Reading Workshop, a developmental class for students needing extra time and attention paid to their reading and writing skills, created their own blogs. Some students have put a great deal of work and thought into their blogs, and these are really terrific. I find that some students are writing about their personal dilemmas and their difficult lives in a way they never have before, despite the amount of personal writing we do in this developmental class. (By the way, this is NOT the class with plagiarism issues.)

How I wish I could help some of them! But I'm just their English teacher, whose job it is to help them express in writing what they want and need to say. It's been a fascinating semester. Our final classes are this week, and on Wednesday, it will be farewell to them, and a happy Christmas to all, I hope. I will miss this blogging class, particularly, and will never forget them.

What about my READING???? Really, now, will it ever come off the back burner?

NEWS: I am reading The Body in the Sleigh by Katherine Hall Page (see below), and am finding it wonderfully relaxing. It's set on an island in Maine, and because I've spent considerable weeks on a Maine island, all because Ken grew up spending his summers at his aunt's cottage on Peaks Island in Casco Bay, I'm finding it particularly reminiscent of my island experiences.

BUT THEN: I downloaded The Christmas Visitor by Anne Perry onto my Nookcolor. This Christmas novella, set in the 19th century, had particularly good reviews a number of years ago, so I'm going for it.

How I wish I could gobble up books by the wagon-load! But I can't right now. And, good news, I'm rehired for the next semester, starting January 24th.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Breathing Life into My Literary Lungs

I really must fully engage with the literary life. I feel so much more alive when I'm reading a great deal and involved in literature. I've been so overwhelmed, I haven't been able to nourish this part of my being. No job, no project, no worldly effort is worth giving up books.

I'm torn because I have so many books I want to read all at once. First I need some comfort (see my previous post below). So why not start with Katherine Hall Page's The Body in the Sleigh, a Christmas title from 2009? I happen to know Katherine; we served on the board of our alma mater's library for years, until I moved to the Adirondacks. Katherine has had quite a following for her mystery series. Given my trials of late, I think I could use something fun.

Another Week, Another Post? Plagiarism Has Slowed Me Down

My reading life has come close to a stand-still, though this morning I finished a memoir I've been reading. I've had so little time to read.

I'm looking forward to another way of life, when I have mental space and time to read.

My time has been devoted to tracking down all the malfeasances in my students' research papers. It's so easy to plagiarize these days; so easy to cut and paste off websites and online database articles. No wonder colleges and universities are at their wit's end about it. But the trouble doesn't stop with plagiarism. I've got students playing all kinds of games with sources. I have spent days tracking down all the foul play. I'm more than disappointed, particularly considering how much time I spent teaching them how to do a paper the "right way." Some of them have been quite ingenious in their criminal activities. If only they put this mental energy into doing the work, imagine what they could accomplish...

Saturday, November 27, 2010


A massive swirling of flurries furled down on us most of the day, exciting me beyond measure. I walked farther than I have in quite a long while, though I tried to be very careful of my obnoxious, misbehaving foot. I am so tired of being inactive that I'm busting out! The wind was bitterly cold today, which I love.

What a wonderful little vacation! What a relief from the pressure of constantly having to plan lessons and projects! I had time to really dig in and paint on three different days, my first painting binge in what seems like eons. It satisfied me, made me want to do more and more, and I look forward to *more* painting after December 15, the last day of classes. I had to quit my bookstore-chainstore job. The day I returned home at 10:15 pm after leaving the house at 6:20 am did the trick. I wasn't expecting to have to do shifts after teaching, but that's what they expected. And so I said goodbye, with some regret, but the rest after the 15th will be a splendid break for the Christmas season.

I actually broke down and bought a Nookcolor and I love it. I've said for some time that whoever provides a decent color e-book reader at a reasonable price will make a fortune. I have much more I want to say about Nookcolor, and now that I no longer work at Barnes and Noble, I can. Stay tuned. No, I did not get a discount on it. No one gets a discount on the Nookcolor.

If you like audiobooks, the reader of Open by Andre Agassi is a marvel. And it is a superlative memoir. I know an audiobook is great when I hate for my commute to end, when I slow my speed way down so the trip doesn't have to end.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

I Think I've Got It! Final Books for 2010!

Please take a glance at my post earlier this evening or late afternoon. I just ordered Sunset Park by Paul Auster (please check out the wonderful interview!) and Russian Winter by Diana Kalotay in hardcover. Sunset Park is offered at 45% off the cover price! Looking forward! They won't arrive until Monday, I'm sure, though Barnes & Noble ships more quickly than Amazon.

So! Until then I'm reading The Hunger Games and a new memoir Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain by Portia De Rossi. I read acclaimed memoirs written by those who have suffered from anorexia, because I battled the disorder in my youth, from ages 17-21, with occasional relapses until age 40. For whatever reasons, none of the symptoms have troubled me since that time, not in the slightest. A baffling disease, to be sure.

But when I read memoirs of anorexia, I come away with the impression that I understand myself and who I was better than I did before.

Still Stuck on Which Books To End the Year

"Let's face it," I've been telling myself, "life has been a bit of a jumble lately." I started my holiday retail job mid-month and a week later realized what a ridiculous mistake I'd made. I quit, though with deep regrets. I think the day I rose at 5am and returned home at 10:20 pm made me realize I was out of my depth. Just stick to the teaching, which I love, and make a league of it!

I slept 12 hours last night and am recovering from double duty. So, onward! I spent time painting today, which was a way of reclaiming my inner self.

Books to read: I'm frustrated because I'd like to read some top-notch 2010 books to end the year but can't seem to settle down to any.

I have the second book in the Stieg Larsson trilogy, which I've been avoiding because I don't want the series to end.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

What to Read before New Year's?

Ideally, I'd like to read a few more 2010 titles before January 1st rings in. I have so much fun reading the various "Best Books of 2010" lists. The New York Times list is my favorite. But I love the Publishers Weekly list as well. And, after browsing those, I hop around collecting the "best of" from wherever I find them, saving them all in one huge computer file. I've been doing this for years. One caveat: I have to wait for all this fun. Amazon has their list up, but no other U.S. source does, not that I've found.

As a result, I'm up in the air about what to read next. I'm going to finish The Hunger Games, and from there, I'm not sure.

What do you plan to read in the next five weeks and a half?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Frazzled Musings

Frazzled, perhaps, though I'm trying desperately to be relaxed. It's Friday night and I don't have to work tomorrow! Tomorrow morning I want to read without interruption for at least an hour before I have to attend to husband and dog.

My heart is calling out for nature and wild places. Due to my silly, misbehaving foot, it's been a month since I've been able to go walkabout, so my soul is feeling malnourished.

Readerly doings: I have been so moved by the memoirs I've listened to on my long commutes. Today I finished I Am the Central Park Jogger by Trisha Meilli, and was moved, uplifted, and comforted by her triumphant story of recovery from a massive brain injury caused by a horrifically brutal, heavily publicized attack in New York City back in 1989. She read her story herself, and I found it tremendously applicable to the challenges I've had to overcome in the past, though mine were nothing like hers. The memoir is just a good book, plain and simple.

On my way home today I started listening to Open by the American tennis star, and I was blown away by how incredibly good it is. I'm not into tennis!!! That's what's so wonderful about many memoirs. They're about overcoming obstacles, confronting personal challenges, following your heart, making mistakes, and listening to what's deep inside. Can't wait to travel to work again! Agassi's challenge? He despises playing tennis but can't bear to stop competition.

Okay. My reading of regular books has suffered from working two jobs. I'm still reading The Kennedy Detail and Gail Caldwell's magnificent memoir Let's Take the Long Way Home (see my previous entries).

I've just started reading the best-selling The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. What a compelling read! I must admit a have a fond spot for post-apocalyptic novels, and this one captivated me immediately. Yes, it's a teen title, but, as many books categorized as Young Adult, they're readable by any age group.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

I Am So Out of It--How to Focus on My Reading Life?

In a positive light, I finished listening to The Beatles by Bob Spitz, a splendid history. I have to confess that I could only find the abridged 9-CD version. I would have gladly listened to the 15-CD unabridged audiobook but couldn't get a hold of it. Still, the abridged made for very fine listening. Made the miles speed by.

Ken and I are listening to Nora Ephron's brand new book of essays, I Remember Nothing. I've been a fan of Ephron from way back, though I could not relate to the title essay in her previous book, I Feel Bad about My Neck. In I Remember Nothing, Ephron reminisces about her early days in journalism, the "wonderful" '60s and '70s when women had to kill to get a byline. It makes for great listening on my PC laptop via Audible had a terrific promotion for Amazonians, so we signed on.

Ken is now halfway through Let It Bleed and is loving it. His eyes lit up when I told him that Ian Rankin has an entire series of books based on John Rebus's adventures.

That's my book news for the moment. Life is intense this week.

The pressure is on because I am trying to show I want to be rehired, which will be a trick, considering that introductory English courses have lower enrollment in the second semester of the year. I'm being observed tomorrow, teaching my sleepy 8:30 class. I wish I did not suffer from extreme performance anxiety.

I'm hoping to post more interesting book news soon!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

I Want to Read This Gem SLOWLY

Gail Caldwell's Let's Take the Long Way Home is a gentle, strong, rivers-run-deep sort of lovely torture. I call it torture because the book is less than 200 pages long, and I'm cherishing every word, every image, every snippet of conversation, but it's passing me by much too quickly.

I must own this book! I think I'm gushing over the top with it because the book describes life-altering events set in familiar, beautiful Boston landscapes, but also because I'm an unreformed dog lover, as are Gail and Caroline, and because I'm a bit of a lover of solitude and what I call "hermitude," as Gail describes herself to be. Excuse the tortured writing in this paragraph.

Gail Caldwell is a gifted writer, no question about it.

This weekend I also downloaded onto my Kindle The Kennedy Detail:JFK's Secret Service Agents Break Their Silence by Gerald Blaine. Paid too much for it but couldn't resist my attraction to all things Kennedy. The addiction can be explained. I was at such an impressionable age when he was assassinated, I'm half Boston Irish, my parents and grandparents thought he was divine, literally. The charisma never wore off. Yeah, I know ALL the sordid details, and that's part of the magnetism, too. I'm enjoying it, revelling in the stories. The hard parts come later in the book.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Wanted: Time to Read

Hear ye! I have finished Let It Bleed by Ian Rankin. I ended up in complete admiration of the plot, though two-thirds of the way through I was wondering where Rebus's all-out pursuit of the corporate scandals was going.

Now I wait for Katrina, Scottish blogger of Pining for the West, who I hope will fill us in on the real-world background that must have motivated Rankin's plot. Corporate corruption--the robbing of state coffers--all in the name of providing jobs to thousands while stuffing the pockets of a few powerful men. Isn't that the way everywhere in the world?

I have two books from BookSwim that I am dying to read. The first is the highly acclaimed memoir by Boston's Gail Caldwell about her friendship with Caroline Knapp, another brilliant writer, author of the memoir Drinking: A Love Story. Let's Take the Long Way Home is short and unrelentingly pithy, about the love and tight bonds between two sympatico women friends, who weather the ups and downs in each other's lives, and who push each other to reach beyond their individual boundaries. The story is also about Gail's loss and grief: Caroline succumbed to cancer in mid-life.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Just Checking in, but Nothing Significant

Oh, I do hope I find a way to make the time for a decent blog post tomorrow! It is Tuesday, however, and I'll be preparing for my Wednesday classes, but still. Reading, and blogging, are important!

Tomorrow I hope to list a few of the memoirs my group of 18-year-olds are reading. I just finished listening to How Starbucks Saved My Life, a memoir by Michael Gates Gill. This is a book I listened to on my long commute to and from school. Although I dislike books that are repetitive (which this book surely was), I find this unfortunate characteristic acceptable in an audiobook. I can still drive conscientiously and not lose track of where the author is going.

Not too long ago, I applied for a job as a barista at Starbucks. My application did not go far, just as my application four years ago did not. I suspect age discrimination might have been a factor, so, for this reason, I was fascinated to read about a much older, 64-year-old former Madison Avenue advertising executive taking the plunge. His story revealed how his job changed his outlook, his personal life, and about Starbucks's whole gestalt; i.e. its modus operandi, if you will. Why it functions the way it does, from the very bottom to the top. In this memoir, the top was the manager of the store where Gill worked as well as her immediate management.

As an advertising exec who worked in a cut-throat, highly competitive and MEAN business (think AMC's television show Mad Men), it was revealing how his life as a barista was anything but that. Interesting.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

I've Returned--I Hope for Good!

I sustained a wee bit of an injury that has made life difficult enough so that I have not had the energy to blog. Posting mid-term grades consumed my time as well. Although I may not have been blogging, I was reading.

I have extensor tendonitis in my left foot, which seems to have happened while hiking. I did indeed fall that Tuesday morning but thought nothing of it. I picked myself up immediately and felt perfectly fine. I didn't feel any pain until evening. Strange! But I've been hobbling ever since, for the past 11 days. I start physical therapy next week, thank goodness, but you know how tendonitis is; recovery progresses very slowly.

I am nearing the end of Let It Bleed by Ian Rankin. How about you, Katrina? Rankin has me wanting to make a trip to Edinburgh. Indridason had me wanting to visit Reykjavik. Maybe I can combine a trip to both cities? I better save my pennies! I'd love to see how Edinburgh has changed since I last visited 38 years ago. The October issue of National Geographic Traveler has an article about Edinburgh. I want to visit Castle Rock! My subscription is digital. The photographs are so much more alive in a digital format, I have been amazed! I'm truly there in those photos! My subscription is through Zinio.

In other news, I just found out today that I have landed a part-time "holiday" job at a major bookstore, which, I was told at my interview, may lead to a permanent part-time position. How I wish! I love working in bookstores. I have loved every bookstore job I've ever had.

And The Small Room discussion. Tomorrow, October 31st. I must head over to the site that's hosting it and remind myself how to go about it all. I'll post again tomorrow when I get it straight.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

10 Weeks Left in 2010--Which Books Will You Read?

Perhaps because I'm so in tune with the fall semester, the number of weeks remaining in this calendar year weigh heavily on my mind. I am hell-bent on engaging in the May Sarton discussion of The Small Room at the end of this month, and I'm eager to do a virtual Edinburgh tour with Ian Rankin by reading Let It Bleed with Katrina and whomever else would like to join us.

So, what else? I'm determined to read The Great House by Nicole Krauss, which has received unanimous rave reviews. But I must have that back to the library on November 1st.

My students are reading memoirs for our Memoir Project, which will culminate in their writing a very brief memoir of their own, of a single event, or a series of events in their lives. I simply must find a memoir to read to be in communion with them.

Are you putting a list together of the books you'd like to finish by New Year's, or does the calendar have zero impact on your reading speed? Please weigh in on your final 2010 reads!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Let it Bleed by Ian Rankin is a Go!

All right! As unappetizing as my library copy of Let It Bleed is (scroll down), I started reading it on Tuesday morning and got so hooked! I had to work most of the day, so I couldn't let myself go, but I'm eagerly awaiting several days when I can immerse myself for an hour or more at a time. Ian Rankin's police detective Rebus is wonderful. I'm all set for the ride, Katrina. Does anyone want to join us for an Edinburgh journey? Rankin's website has a map of the city, and I think I'll refer to it to aid my virtual travel to Scotland.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Ian Rankin & Edinburgh!

I'm closing in on the last 60 pages of The Small Room by May Sarton. I'm loving it; in fact, amazed by it, perhaps because I'm especially in tune with the "crisis in academe" theme.

After teaching today, I drove to Crandall Library and picked up a copy of Let it Bleed by Ian Rankin, one of the "John Rebus mysteries," published in the US in 1996. Katrina of Pining for the West will be reading and discussing it with me. Because she is a true Scot and lives close to Edinburgh, I'm hoping she'll be able to clue me in on the "Scottish dimension", explaining things, perhaps, that I have no clue about. All (most?) of Rankin's "John Rebus mysteries" are set in and around Edinburgh. I have only visited the city once, when I was nineteen, and was immediately entranced.

But I have a problem with the copy of Let It Bleed that I've borrowed. It's obvious that thousands of people have read it. The binding is, miraculously, intact, to its credit, but the jaundiced pages (you're cheap, Simon & Schuster!), the coffee and chocolate stains (I hope that's all they are), and the wrinkles from bathwater or beach-bathing or cooking spaghetti are all together too much! I don't mind a well-read book, but this copy I may choose to abandon back to the Crandall morgue.

A few minutes ago I thought I might buy a copy, but I'm not. No Kindle copy is available, so I'm going to wade through the water-laden pages of the library copy. Much ado about nothing, I suppose, but the aesthetics of reading are very important to me and they have been offended.

Friday, October 15, 2010

A Confession

My third post today--must be a personal record!

I confess I made a book-related purchase that was quite impulsive. Ken was partially responsible because he always condones gadget-related purchases. The creature arrived at the post office today.

I bought the new second-generation Kindle. It cost $139, as I bought the Wi-Fi Kindle, so I can download books from home, instead of via a cellphone "Whispernet" network. Because of our mountains, cellphone reception is a lost cause here in the Adirondacks.

Stay tuned!

Saying "Sayonara" to a Book

Book Blogger Hop at Crazy for Books this weekend. I have time this weekend because of our abominable weather. Two inches of snow tonight and howling winds after a day of a blustery, icy rain.

I have a problem "ditching" a book if I've managed to read over half of it. And the more I've read, the harder it is to stop reading. Yet if I start reading a title, and at pages 50-70 I can see it's going nowhere I want to go, I can easily set it aside and move on without remorse. But once a considerable time investment is made, I have trouble letting go, even though I've been known to make the sacrifice at late stages.

I'm facing this problem with Blackout by Connie Willis right now (scroll down for more info). I have only 120pages left of a nearly 500-page book, but I'm convinced nothing is going to happen that's going to make those final pages worth the trouble, so I tell myself I intend to get to the ending, but time passes and nothing happens and the book goes back to the library. But I still may finish it yet!

Last Day for a Free Month at BookSwim!

Just thought I'd let my readers know that today, October 15, is the last day to sign up for a free month at BookSwim. Scroll down to read about the beginning of my experimental foray into this new book rental subscription plan. I've just found out that my books should be arriving early next week.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Consumed by Great Reads

I finished Jar City by Arnaldur Indridason early this morning, and I can say I truly enjoyed it. I think mysteries and police procedurals are marvelous escape engines for the times when I'm under stress. I'm looking forward to reading more by Indridason and by other contemporary Icelandic writers. But my next detective novel will be one by the Scottish writer Ian Rankin--I've decided that much, thanks to Katrina of Pining for the West! The Rankin book will be for my personal Scottish Literary Challenge.

After finishing Jar City, I plunged into The Small Room by May Sarton. (Scroll down for more info about Sarton and The Small Room discussion coming up at the end of the month.) I read nearly 50 pages and am in a state of rapture. As you know, I love Sarton's writing, and this story is hitting so close to home! A new Ph.D. is launching her teaching career in a small New England woman's college, where there is much tension beneath the congenial surface. In addition to this link to my work life, the book was published in 1961 and evokes the dawn of the '60s in ways I didn't think were possible. (I'll wax on about this at a later date, when we discuss the book at the end of this month.) So far, I'm smitten beyond fathoming. This hysteria can often be a bad sign; inevitable disappointment may be around the corner, but I don't think so.

Oh! And the W.W. Norton paperback book cover! It is a beauty. I'm so glad I decided to buy rather than borrow.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Book Swim & A Nor'easter Blows In!

Oh, dear. It's much too early for this, though it has happened that we've been clobbered by a nor'easter in mid-October. I pray that the storm will be all rain, but it will be very cold, and snow will be mixed in, according to all reports. The snow will be heavy at times, they say, but as long as the temperature stays in the high 30s, we'll be all right. The storm will sweep in tomorrow afternoon and last into Saturday. My grandfather, a Massachusetts farmer born in 1883, always said, "No blue skies 'til three days after a nor'easter." And that's about right.

Book Swim!!!! I've been waiting for them to come up with "a free- month introductory subscription plan" and that has paid off. I signed up for six bestsellers, and they're supposed to be sending me three books. But a slight caveat. I signed up Sunday afternoon and they're still saying on Wednesday evening that they're "shipping soon." Not the best service for a company that charges $23 a month to loan three books!

The concept of Book Swim is great. But the cost is too high unless impeccable service can be delivered. I selected books that are in very high demand, BUT that's all Book Swim has in its inventory. I chose Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (tops on the bestseller lists), Ken Follett's first in a new trilogy about the 20th century, and Bob Woodward's Obama's Wars, about the White House's handling of the war in Afghanistan. I chose several others that are not in as high demand, and Book Swim has chosen not to send those, which indicates that they probably have very few copies of books that are not at the top of the bestseller lists.

Still, I love experiments that involve books, so here I go! I'll keep you updated.

Monday, October 11, 2010

More Info on the Forthcoming May Sarton Read

As seems to happen often these days, I did not post everything I should have about the upcoming May Sarton read of The Small Room. (Scroll down for more information about this title and about May Sarton.) I discovered that this event is coming from the blog, A Work in Progress. My copy has arrived from Amazon, and the book appears to be a very quick read, pages in the low 200's, wide leading between the lines, nominal cost. There's still time to join us!

You'll notice that the A Work in Progress post listed above links to the blog? Slaves of Golconda. Follow her link to this site if you like. I'm not overly optimistic about their participation, because they haven't made a blog entry since August 15th. However, we can discuss The Small Room here and at A Work in Progress at the end of the month!

Any takers?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Beauty Abounds! And a Word about Blackout and Michael Dirda

What a gorgeous day today! The deepest of blue skies illuminated by gold, red, yellow, and orange foliage! The glories of autumn that are so short-lived here. Tonight we're expected to plunge down to 22degrees--a very hard freeze--and, without hesitation, the rest of the trees will turn quickly and fade away, all in a couple of days. As much as I love living here, I regret the brevity of the beauties of autumn. I walked more than six miles, luxuriating in the colors...and I did so deliberately, not caring that I'm behind with my schoolwork.

So! Blackout by Connie Willis. I'm halfway through and rather bored. Then I discovered a review by THE Michael Dirda of The Washington Post, who so obviously loved this book. He felt Blackout immersed him in the events of the Blitz, Dunkirk, and the V-1 bomb attacks as no other book had, but I feel I'm covering old territory that offers nothing new.

When I was twelve, I read Silence Over Dunkerque by John Tunis, published in the 1960s by a wonderful writer for the 12-14 year-old age group. I managed to pick up a copy recently at a used book sale and I loved it all over again.

Within the same span of time (being my early teenage years), I was mesmerized and transfixed by the classic American movie Mrs. Miniver (1942), starring Greer Garson, and which was very, very loosely based on the novel by the British writer, Jan Struther. I believe the movie and the Tunis novel gave me an understanding of the British evacuation that Connie Willis cannot surpass.

If you have never seen Mrs. Miniver, you must, because it is an unsurpassed film of the World War II era. It really is, and I believe my friends in the UK will love it, too, if, of course, they haven't seen it already.

If Michael Dirda says I must keep reading, I must.

Friday, October 8, 2010

May Sarton for Late October

I just ripped open the little Amazon box that arrived today, and inside I found my read for the second half of October, The Small House by May Sarton. I'm so delighted that a discussion of this book will be brewing at the end of the month.

I've been intrigued by May Sarton ever since I read Journal of a Solitude in the late '80s. Oh, how I cherish that book! I read it at a time of great chaos and pain in my personal life, and the book stirred and calmed me. It reconnected me to the rhythms of the earth and to the daily rituals that keep us connected to life.

Sarton was a poet, a novelist, an essayist, an intellectual, an academic. She taught for several years at Wellesley College when I was a nine-year-old in Natick, the town to the west of Wellesley. This was a time of enormous chaos in Sarton's personal life. She was in love with Wellesley's president, and according to Sarton, the president resoundingly rejected their brief relationship and denied that one had ever existed. No open lesbian relationships in early 1960s Boston! Nor could a hint of one be permitted. Sarton left Wellesley shortly afterward.

Most people who knew Sarton have acknowledged what she openly confessed: She was a difficult person who had intense, stormy relationships with the people she loved. Yet her art! Please discover May Sarton and a Journal of a Solitude, or perhaps, the book that followed, The House by the Sea.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Arnaldur Indridason--Well Worth Reading

I mentioned in my previous post that I'm reading Jar City by Arnaldur Indridason, the Icelandic crime writer. Although I'm not an expert on police procedurals, I must say I'm finding this detective novel a captivating read and well-worth the trouble. For an interview with Indridason, follow the link.

Yes, I'm still reading Blackout by Connie Willis and I won't give it up, although I'm finding sections of it to be tedious. I know many of her other novels have received high marks, so I'm not turned off, but I do wish the action would move along a bit more quickly.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Icelandic Mystery!

I'm enjoying Blackout (scroll down) by Connie Willis very much, despite its tendency toward repetitive meanderings. It's a heavy-weight at 490+ pages and could have been edited, but Ballantine published it, and this publisher is not known for spending more than a minuscule amount on editing. But I don't mind. Blackout has a lot going for it, and ESCAPE is the key ingredient in the recipe. (I'm also uncomfortable with Willis's versions of Cockney speech--is this dialogue-manipulation necessary?) But the story intrigues me, so I'm willing to overlook that, though I do wonder what my friends in the British Isles might think of it.

Now--Iceland, a country I dearly wish I had visited when I had the chance. I have picked up Arnaldur Indridason's Jar City, a police procedural set in Reykjavik. As Norse mystery writers go, some say Indridason can't hold a candle to Henning Mankell, but so what? It's set in Iceland, not Sweden, and the first few chapters drew me right in because for those in the know, Icelandic writers and Icelandic literature are nothing like the Swedish.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Black Out by Connie Willis--Another Chunkster!

I am keeping my head above water work-wise, but everything else has drowned. The house is a shambles, but that did not stop me from finishing Cold Earth and starting my latest find, Blackout by Connie Willis, an American sci-fi/historical novelist. (Readers, if you know Willis and I've described her genre incorrectly, please set me straight!) If you follow the "Connie Willis" link, please scroll down below the stupid ads that have been placed in the middle of the article.

I'm so glad I've "discovered" Connie Willis, and I'm sad to say that my befuddled brain does not remember from which blog I found her. I had the chance to begin the book this morning and, although, I'm only on Chapter 3, I'm finding it extremely pleasurable.

First of all, I love novels that focus on World War II in Europe, and I'm especially interested in novels set in wartime Britain. The concept of time travel is fun, especially when it's done from a scientific, intellectual perspective. I don't care at all for books that treat time travel from a fantastical perspective.

Willis is interesting, and I look forward to blogging more about this novel. I was so disappointed I couldn't continue reading it today. Maybe Thursday morning I can really dive in!

Friday, September 17, 2010

A New Book That Tantalizes and Surprises

Maybe this book is grabbing me because I'm fascinated by archaeology, the Viking history in Greenland, and pandemics, but Cold Earth by Sarah Moss has my attention. I'm curious why it's been published by an independent press because it's such a winner.

Jane Smiley commented, "Moss is such a master at evoking suspense...that readers will be tempted to turn to the end of the book to relieve anxieties. Try to control yourself."

It's Friday night, I'm exhausted, and I'm going to leave you with just that smidgin of information. Please do check out the link and see if you can resist a search for Cold Earth.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Checking Out Ana Menendez

This past weekend, including Friday, I've been reading The Last War by Ana Menedez, a Cuban-American writer. To be specific about her heritage, her parents were Cuban emigres who settled in Los Angeles. The Last War is her third novel, set primarily in Istanbul, which she depicts beautifully. I am fascinated by the title of her debut novel:In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd. Her second novel, Loving Che, is her most highly acclaimed piece of fiction (about the Cuban revolutionary, Che Guevara.

In any case, The Last War has nothing not do with Cuba. The narrator is an American photographer, a Latina, married to a wunderkind American journalist. Together, they have covered wars all over the Middle East and in Sri Lanka for the past decade. Yet she doesn't follow Brando to Baghdad during the Iraq War. Something holds her back, and she remains in Istanbul, living a solitary life. Then comes the news, from an anonymous source, that her husband has a lover, and therein lies the tale. I'm two-thirds of the way through, and I must say that there is something that keeps this novel from being complete. Still, I keep reading, waiting to see what will happen and if the narrator will make her stand. She must do so or this novel is pure dust.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes

I said yesterday that I'd post an entry today, but we all need to have low expectations. I'm still incredibly unsettled. But I'm working on it.

After teaching yesterday, I made my way to Crandall Library, my favorite library, in the city of Glens Falls not far from my college. On the "Returns" shelf, I found Volume II of a 3-volume set I want in my home, in the near future, on a permanent basis.

I covet The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, published in 2005 and 2007 by W.W. Norton. Norton is a top-notch publisher of literary gems, so I know the set and the annotations will be excellent. The price is on the back of the dustjacket--$75.00. Is that for just one volume of the set? Hmmm... I will check that out as I set out to acquire both volumes. Anyway, I want to curl up with The Return of Sherlock Holmes and forget everything.

Just checked Amazon. The price for Volume II is $29.16. Buying one volume at a time seems a wise plan.

It's funny, at our local library book sale this summer, the 1967 annotated editions of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and a few other choice Holmes titles came up for sale. I marked them way up, and they sold! But, glancing through them, they seemed so outdated to me, the illustrations tawdry, and not anything I'd want to spend money on. So I'm very, very keen on acquiring this 2005 set!

Any Doyle fanciers out there? Hey, this volume could also count as part of my Scottish Literature Challenge!

Katrina, I'm wondering what your Arthur Conan Doyle collection is like...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Bit Here, More Tomorrow!

Ohmigosh. I survived my first days at school this week, but the exertion preempted everything else in my life for three days.

To all my readers, my classes are on Mondays and Wednesdays. I don't think I'll be posting anything BIG on these days of the week.

Yet, today is a Wednesday, and here I am. I have much to share that's book-worthy, but I'm exhausted. (You see, the first few days my anxiety wore me out.) But I can't wait to blog about an incredible book I found yesterday at the library, and some others beside.

Looking forward to tomorrow's post!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

A Quiz about a Particular Reading Habit

As you can see, my autumn header photo needs considerable work! I'm in progress...

Before I wander to the main point of this post, I will say I am so much happier and productive when temperatures are in the low 60s rather than the high 80s. We endured nearly seven full days of 87 degrees F and high humidity. I know many of you have experienced far worse, so feel free to complain here about terrible weather in your neighborhood!

The main point, the primary question of this post? I'd like your input. How many books do you have going right now? That's right, if you're willing, please count them right now, and, if you wish, name the titles.

What prompts you to read multiple books at one time? What motivates you to jump around amongst a number of titles? Please delve deep into the reasons for your behavior.

I'm asking you, my readers, the preceding questions because I hop around between and amongst books, depending on my mood. Sometimes I jump around and around, back and forth, then I fall hard for a book and I won't stray, not for a moment, until I've finished it. I'm experiencing this phenomenon now with Still Missing by Chevy Stevens. It's so compelling that the book demands to be read in one sitting. Of course, real life intervenes and I can't comply, but I plunge back in whenever I have some free moments.

So why do I jump around?

The most pressing reason is because there are so many books I'm yearning to read. How can I sit still reading just one book while so many demand my attention? I must confess I like to be surrounded by piles of books, and, no, I don't read them all, all at once. But usually I have at least two books going, and sometimes three. Oftentimes one of the books is nonfiction and the other fiction. Or, one's a slower-read or a classic, while the other is a gobble-it-up page-turner. So right now I'm hopping between Still Missing and Dragonwyck by Anya Seton. (Scroll down to my previous blog posts for more information about these titles.)

Friday, September 3, 2010

Blogger Hop: Are Book Covers Important to You?

If you'd like to join this weekend's Blogger Hop, please visit Crazy for Books and sign up. I especially enjoy participating when there's a question I'm dying to answer.

Book covers are extremely important to me. I gaze at the dustjacket or cover art repeatedly; indeed, every single time I pick up the book to read it, when I finish a chapter, when I put it down, when I walk by it, or have to move it from one spot to the next. When I have a leisure moment, I actually scrutinize the book cover, studying small details and always looking for something I haven't noticed before. And I can't stand scratches, tears, or dings in the covers of my books. I am extremely careful with them.

At one time, I was terribly disturbed when the cover art had no relationship to the book or when the art indicated the artist had no clue about what the book was about. But I don't find this issue coming up for me as much anymore, with one glaring exception. Is it the types of books I'm reading now, or are publishers making more of an effort to have relevant cover art?

The cover of the new Dr. Zhivago translation is a HUGE disappointment. First of all, who is the primary character of this book? What was his life all about? What's the main theme and premise of this masterpiece? Yes, Lara is a central character, but she was not the sole center of Yuri's life. Is the cover artist trying to make the point that in the book Lara is a brunette and not blonde like Julie Christie in the film? (Just kidding.)

Do you have a favorite book cover or two that you'd like to share? Or covers that nearly ruined a book for you? Leave the title(s), or better yet, give us the URLs in your comment.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Saved from Bureaucratic Mayhem by a Book

Of course, The Book did not prevent me from suffering the fallout of two different sets of bureaucratic mayhem that fell from the sky yesterday. Oh, no. I suffered mightily and tangled with it again today. But last evening, in spite of my wrangling, I managed to sloppily smoosh a supper together, after which I pleaded that I needed to retire to bed immediately with The Book.

I was so nerved up that I read Dragonwyck for several hours without feeling a bit sleepy! Extraordinary! But the process did allow me to gain some temporary distance from the idiocy. Thank you, dear book.

Library Loot: I will mention only one of the two titles that came in for me today. The novel I'll mention tonight is Still Missing by Chevy Stevens, a debut novel published this year by St. Martins Press. Please note, however, the copyright is in the name of Rene Unischewski. Hmmm. Chevy Stevens is a pen name, perhaps? (I wish I could do accent marks with Blogger, as in Rene!) I like the name Rene Unischewski much better, don't you? Lots of character...

In Still Missing, Annie O'Sullivan has been abducted and spent a year held captive in a cabin. Although the blurb does not reveal her getaway, she did escape, because a large part of the book is composed of Annie's monologues about her experience to a therapist.

If you follow my blog, you have probably discerned by now that I enjoy books that have therapists prominently featured. Some of my best friends are therapists. An intriguing, demanding profession.

Still Missing looks to be a lighter read than Dragonwyck and, naturally, I'm tempted to start it tonight.

My Next Post: How many books do you have going at one time? I can't wait to find out from my readers, but I think we'll have to wait until Friday, because I am expected to do the Thursday Evening Farmer's Market and Arts Walk in North Creek tomorrow late afternoon and evening. Frankly, I think it's too hot!!! We were in the high 80s again today, and we will be tomorrow, and is it ever humid! Picture a devout reader wilting. I don't keep well in this weather.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Wow! Dragonwyck by Anya Seton

The reading plan I ironed out yesterday seems to be working, but all my thanks go to Dragonwyck! I've only read 45 pages today, but I'm rivetted. The contrast between Miranda's rustic farm background and Nicholas Van Ryn's ultra-upper-class existence is so well done!

Seton published Dragonwyck in 1944. What an escapist treasure for the beleagured American WWII homefront, a time and place so far removed from today's world; yet here I am today and I don't feel I'm reading a book that's 66 years old at all!

I **love** this paragraph, taken from the "Author's Note" preceding the book:

"There was, on the Hudson, a way of life such as this, and there was a house not unlike Dragonwyck. All Gothic magnificence and eerie manifestations were not at that time inevitably confined to English castles or Southern plantations!"

Question: What Gothic novels were set on Southern U.S. plantations? If you know, please leave a comment. I don't have a clue at the moment.

I'm also entranced by the fine paperback edition I bought via Amazon. With permission from Houghton Mifflin (the original publisher), the independent Chicago Review Press reissued the book in 2005, with an afterword by Phillipa Gregory.

But wait 'til I tell you! The paperback cover is glossy and sturdy, with a beautiful period-piece illustration. I love to stroke my fingers across it. At least this cover won't curl up in humid weather! It's far too fine for that, and it wasn't expensive. Don't you love a book that's a delight to pick up? After reading, I put it down as if it were made of the finest lace.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Please Follow My Vow

Oh! How I would love to lose myself in an international mystery or thriller, a travel memoir to exotic terrain, an historical novel set in the Middle Ages, or,...or,... even leave my office to tour with The Hunger Games trilogy.

But I can't right now. It is impossible.

Is it really? Do I have to work every minute?

Yesterday I managed to traipse through our forest, way out back where the earth is damp even in dry summers, searching for a particularly delectable mushroom. I had success, dear readers. I came home with a basket full of orange Lactaria mushrooms, to be sauteed in garlic and butter and lime, to accompany our dinner of barbecued chicken. Fun!

I know this. My brain needs release. To lie fallow. To rest and recuperate from trying to write syllabi that refuse to be completed, from preparing assignments for classes that--ach, please, shut up, Judith!

I'm nearing the end of All Souls (scroll down) and am dying to read something else. I want to submerge my nose in a page-turner that will grasp me in its talons! (What an image!)

My solemn vow: I will wake up tomorrow morning and read 30 minutes of the page-turner. That will be followed by two hours of work. Then 20 minutes of reading, followed by two more hours of work. Then 30 minutes of reading. And so on! What a plan! I'm feeling my heart surge.

I'm going to read the classic Dragonwyck by Anya Seton. I bought it about a month ago. It counts for the Gothic Challenge, and it's set in New York State's Hudson Valley. Away I go!

Friday, August 27, 2010


I'm in the midst of rounding up published journals and diaries for my Reading and Writing Workshop class. This class will include students who need lots and lots of reading and writing practice. They will be keeping a journal throughout the semester and will also, hopefully, start a blog on a subject of intense, personal interest.

I've now scanned the entire contents of The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition by Anne Frank and I've studied the college journal of Sylvia Plath in The Unabriged Journals of Sylvia Plath. Oh, I was not prepared for the Unabridged after reading the (abridged) Journals of Sylvia Plath. So much more depth, what an incredible talent, so hard to take that she took her life in her early 30s.

I've also ferreted out lots of journals written by members of the male persuasion. The great explorers Lewis and Clark, male homesteaders west on the Oregon Trail in the 1840s, war journals; but I must say, isn't it interesting that most men do not keep diaries? Presidents have, of course. And soldiers have. I will have to balance the women diarists with soldiers and presidents!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

What I Was Hoping For

Just now, I got off the phone with a dear friend from California who spends all of May and August 15-October 10 in her Adirondack cabin at the foot of Eleventh Mountain. This happened as I was about to post a blog entry. We spoke well over a half-hour and now I need to cook dinner.

Do stay tuned, as tomorrow I hope to post about "Journals in Print and out of Print."

So much to do, I wish I were living in a cabin all by my onesomes. That way I could work through dinner, eat when I want, how I want, what I want and not have to succumb to the needs of the other occupants of this household. Poor Ken.

Just a little pre-occupied these days.

Til tomorrow!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

More & More Rain Leads to More & More Books

The rain started just after midnight and has fallen steadily, at times heavily, ever since. We've had about four inches so far, perhaps more. I have not ventured far from the house. This is the first substantial rain we have had in months and months. Not since winter have we had such a sizable amount of precipitation, and do we ever need it!

This morning I read War by the esteemed New York Times journalist Sebastian Junger, author of one of the best-selling books of the past 15 years, The Perfect Storm. War is the result of Junger's year in Afghanistan, as an "embedded journalist" following a U.S. Army platoon holding a remote outpost in the incredibly mountainous region of Afghanistan that borders Pakistan. If there's a place more hellish than any post in the Vietnam War, the Korengal Valley is it.

I spent several hours digesting about 45 pages, and I think I'm done with the book now. I get it. The U.S. and all the other countries involved in fighting the Afghan insurgents are deluded if they think they can win in this unparalleled, impossible topography against a people that were born and brought up in its midst! But, actually, the book is really the story of one platoon of soldiers fighting in that region.

Onward! I finally got a hold of All Souls by Christine Schutt, as I mentioned I intended to do in a previous post. I'm halfway through now, and although I was ready to chuck it out after 50 pages, I'm glad now that I didn't.

Schutt is telling the story of the senior year of a group of girls at an elite private school in New York City, especially as that year relates to the tragic illness of one of the students. The structure of the novel is unique, in my experience, framed in short, vivid vignettes following one upon the next, all from different viewpoints. Confused and crazed it made me for the first 50 pages, but now I'm hanging on and I'm going to pull on to the end. I guess I've decided it's worth it. Isn't it funny how these decisions about the reading of books are made!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Blogs I Follow

Actually, the Book Blogger Hop (hosted by Crazy for Books) question this week is: How many blogs do you follow? A complicated question for several reasons.

On my browser's "Favorites" lists, I have links to about 100 book blogs. When I visited each one the first time, I knew I wanted more of it. But I can't visit them all daily, nor can I read them all weekly. I regularly follow about 25 book blogs, tuning in about 3 times a week, and another 12-15 I read weekly. The rest I visit when I have that glorious chunk of time and I'm in surfer mode. Rainy Saturdays and Sundays are a perfect time.

I have links to book blogs whose writers have become famous, but I rarely visit them anymore. Years ago I loved these blogs when they were new and full of pizazz. Many bloggers in this category have lost the personal touch, are burned out, and should move on. Many do not allow comments anymore. Not much fun.

Even if you're not doing the hop this week, please weigh in. What are your book blogging habits?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Have You Heard about A.D. Scott?

A.D. Scott's debut novel, A Small Death in the Great Glen, is set in the Highlands of Scotland. I chanced upon a brief review on the Book Page website and discovered it has been published in the U.S. this August by Atria, a Simon & Schuster imprint. This mystery, set in the early- to mid-1950s, has received excellent reviews, and I'd like to include it as part of my 2010 Contemporary Scottish Writers Challenge. Please note, friends, this is a personal challenge that is likely to continue long after this coming New Year's Eve.

Now who is A.D. Scott you might well ask. I found it interesting that although she was born, brought up, and spent much of her adult life in Scotland, she now lives in Vietnam and in a town north of Sydney, Australia. Well, I'd love to hear that story! But so far not much is available that I've been able to locate, aside from what's on the Simon & Schuster website.

Monday, August 16, 2010

What Place Leisure Reading Come September?

As if I don't have enough things to be concerned about, I am worried that I seem to be unable to read anything other than literature, articles, and just general stuff for my fall classes.

I'd like to be able to relax at least a small part of each day and read for my own self. There must be a way to do it, but I haven't yet found it. I think I'm having this difficulty because it's my first year teaching after 25 years away. I'm sure that's it. And I do love the reading I'm doing as preparation.

BUT, I want to be able to read a book for my own pleasure or knowledge, aside from my teaching life.

If you, readers, have any suggestions on how I can relax enough to just plain read, please let me know.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Authenticity and Memoir

I know the fates are against me completing this blog entry this evening. Ken is late for dinner returning from the Indian Lake region, and it's raining, so who knows when he'll pull in to the driveway. Could be any minute.

I began an investigation of the big bestseller from 2008 and 2009, A Long Way Gone. Many, many Australian reporters contested the authenticity of the memoir by Ishmael Beah, the boy soldier in Sierra Leone who later immigrated to the U.S.

The Australians don't say that he completely fabricated, but they adjure that the facts show he was only a boy soldier for about two months, not two years. To make a personal judgement one way or the other, one would have to pour over the reporters' articles and conduct additional research.

The publisher, Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, and Beah's agent deny all of the Australians' accusations. Whatever the reality, the book is an excellent case study in what I call the "Challenges to Authenticity Syndrome," an affliction which a number of memoirists have suffered. Of course there was the James Frey A Million Little Pieces fiasco, but despite the fact that he admitted fabricating, the book continued to sell very well.

What's your take on the authenticity issue in memoirs?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Back on the Blog Hopper Circuit!

The wonderful blog Crazy for Books has me back for a weekend of blog hopping. It's supposed to be in the mid-to-high 80s this weekend and I'm not one for hiking and bushwhacking in that weather! Oh, how I miss bushwhacking! I know lots of you in hotter climes will laugh at me because you endure temps that are much hotter. I do feel badly for you, truly.

So--This Week's Blog Hopper Question: How many books are in my "To Be Read" Pile?

Why, scads and scads, and piles and piles, of course! I don't think I'll count them all, but I will indulge myself, with wine glass in hand (please make it a mellow merlot), to peruse the shelves and piles of books unread.

Will I read a book out of my TBR pile this weekend? Highly unlikely, because I went to two libraries today and brought home more than a dozen books! But, and this is a big but, readers. I'm trying to read, or at least scan, as many memoirs written by young people as I can for my first-year college students who have signed up for my "Reading and Writing Workshop" course. These are students who need a year of intense work in reading and writing to be brought up to what is considered "college level."

I'm having fun preparing for this particular course, because the challenge is huge.

Anyway, we're going to begin reading and writing journals and diaries. Then we're going to move on to reading memoir. And writing about the memoirs we read. That's the beginning of the course. I brought home some genocide memoirs, written by survivors in Rwanda and Darfur, in particular--because I know these memoirs the least.

I found A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah, who now lives in the U.S. I have heard hints of problems with authenticity, and I will study these comments and complaints. Isn't authenticity always an issue with memoir? Another title is The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur. by Daoud Hari. Have not heard a single rumor of authenticity problems there.

My students will choose to read one book from a long list. Living up here in the mountains, it's easy to be removed from the world. But, at 18, they have all become citizens of that world. When I have my complete memoir list, I'll share it with you, and perhaps you'll suggest a book or two to for me to add to the list.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Eee Gads! These 15 Writers!

If you scroll down, you'll find my post of Publisher's Weekly "15 Most Under-Rated Authors" list. I finally had the time to seek information about each writer today. Yikes!

Nearly all of them were born in the 1960s. That's fine. I love the work of many authors born in that decade.

Yet when I located the descriptions of their novels and short stories, I shivered. None of them are mainstream writers. No problem there, but what I mean is only a few are mainstream literary fiction authors. The rest write literary horror, focus on S&M relationships and withdrawal from the world and universe, as well as being just overwhelmingly weird! There's a cop-out description, if ever I've written one.

Once again, in my defense, I'll say that I like the work of many young writers. But this group fills a house of horrors.

Yes, I'm exaggerating. You know I'm prone to that.

I will say that I am interested in the novels of Christine Schutt, particularly All Souls, which I have ordered through inter-library loan.

Anthony Doerr and Mary Gaitskill are the two other writers I'm interested in. But the rest!

Please don't take my word for this analysis. Select a writer or two and seek them out online. Read the descriptions of their books. Is Publisher's Weekly off the balance beam? Or am I? I'd be happy to hear what you have to say! Feel free to let loose with your opinions!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Wednesday's Child is Full of Woe

Yeah, yeah, I was born on a Wednesday. Both of my brothers were born on Friday, so they lorded their Friday birthdates over me. Remember, "Friday's child is loving and giving!" Huh!

But today I'm full of woe because I wanted to wax on about the 15 Most Underrated Writers and give a few of them their due. We've just been invited out this evening, so this post will have to wait for Thursday. "Thursday's child is full of grace."

Does anyone know who wrote that nonsense?

Til tomorrow!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

15 Most Under-Rated Authors

Publisher's Weekly just published its list of the fifteen most under-rated authors. What do you think of the authors on the list? I'm embarrassed to say that I believe I know only the work of Mary Gaitskill and Anthony Doerr. Let's check the rest out!

Donald Antrim
Jo Ann Beard
Anthony Doerr
Deborah Eisenberg
Stephen Elliott
Steve Erickson
Brian Evenson
Percival Everett
Mary Gaitskill
Tessa Hadley
Kelly Link
Sam Lipsyte
Lydia Millet
Christine Schutt
Matthew Sharpe

I worked all day trying to get my head around the classes I'm going to be teaching. Several English composition textbook publishers have sent me books to review for possible course adoption.

Let me be honest. Some of them terrified me, a person who has been a professional writer for decades! If I were a first-year college student, and someone made me buy a 1000+ page book about college writing, that book would extinguish any modicum of interest I may have had in writing.

Writing needs to be simplified, not made more complicated, especially for students who are not the ablest and for whom writing is a difficult activity! Writing needs to be perceived as an activity that's within everyone's grasp.

I'm hoping to encourage at least some of my students to start a blog that's focused on an area of keen personal interest. I'll let you know how that turns out.

Classes start September 8th.

Monday, August 9, 2010

August 8th & Siri Hustvedt

If you tuned in earlier this evening, you'll be glad to know my computer glitches have been fixed.

Sunday, August 8th, my first day of freedom, was lovely. A long, long morning hike in beautiful weather with one of my best friends, then an afternoon spent at my desk gathering my thoughts for the fall semester.

I read half of The Good Psychologist by Noam Shpancer (scroll down to a previous post), and I'm finding it not only thought-provoking, but provocative as well on many levels. I'm looking forward to describing it in more detail and to interviewing Shpancer by e-mail during the coming week.

I'm overwhelmed by the vast number of books I'm longing to read, now that reading is finally physically and mentally possible. I'm interested in Siri Hustvedt's memoir, The Shaking Woman, published in March 2010, which describes her struggle to deal with an incapacitating anxiety disorder. She's an acclaimed novelist (The Sorrows of an American and What I Loved), and her husband is my favorite author, Paul Auster.

Wouldn't you love to see the Auster/Hustvedt house/condo/loft? They live in Brooklyn, and what I imagine is a five-story townhouse, full of rooms packed floor to ceiling with books. I imagine lots of nooks and crannies, each with a table perfect for writing. If you google "Auster Hustvedt home," a wonderful Telegram article from 2003 turns up and a revealing New York Times article, but the papers won't let me link to them here.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Music While Reading & Julia Glass's New Novel

Blog Hoppers! I fear you will be disappointed. I don't listen to music when I'm reading.

I luxuriate in the stillness of our mountain world. On our 3-mile road, there are only five year-round residences. I think if I lived in New York City I would certainly listen to music; partly to drown out noise, but also to create a sense of calm. I would probably listen to classical piano music--Chopin, for example.

But here on my forest green couch, I like reading while listening to the sound of Sophie's breathing (Soph is our golden retriever) and the rustle and whoosh of the wind. That's the best music of all.

But when I'm blasting away on the treadmill, I need fast, very fast, ROCK to keep me hopping!

I have a book announcement to make.
To be published in September, a new novel by Julia Glass, the National Book Award Winner of Three Junes, which happens to be the only book of hers I haven't read.

Her new title is The Widower's Tale. As is the case with her other books, there are multiple characters carrying many different storylines--all interwoven, intersecting, and interesting! I highly recommend her work. Do give her a try! I especially loved The Whole World Over.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

On August 8th, I Turn to Reading!

As many of you know already, I'm salivating over the prospect of finally!! integrating reading back into my life once more. I think Sunday, August 8th, should be a day of celebration. I have no plans that day other than a hike with Cindy. The weather is expected to be spectacular. So after a beautiful hike and lively gabfest, it's off to bookland I go.

I'm twenty-five pages into The Island by Elin Hilderbrand and am hooked. But I want more than that! I want to touch the words of the best writers--I want to surround myself with piles of books--the biblio-equivalent of shoving twenty kinds of cookies into my mouth all at once. A gross image, indeed, until I remember that the cookies are books. To be truthful, though, I think I'd prefer cakes to cookies.

For the past few weeks I've been delving into Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife by the esteemed American woman of letters, Francine Prose. (Scroll to the far right to read a fascinating interview and a Prose editorial about her book. In her book, Prose underscores what many scholars of Anne Frank's diary have known for years, that the book was a deliberate work of art. That Anne Frank wrote it, edited it endlessly, revision after revision. She self-consiously was creating a work of art that she hoped would be read after World War II was over.

What I found most fascinating about Prose's book is her recounting of how The Diary of Anne Frank has been taught in schools, and the story of what happened when she read it with a class of Bard College students. Young people's responses are fresh, strong, uncomprehending of the world situtation, and full of admiration for Anne's hopefulness about the future of humankind.

An Urgent Recommendation: If you have not read The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank as an adult, you have not lived. Not yet. (I realize that's a judgmental, bossy statement, and I apologize.) I strongly encourage you to be sure to read the complete "Definitive Edition." As most people are aware, Anne's father Otto Frank strictly edited the book during the first three or more decades of its publication, striking out passages that involved Anne's awareness of her developing body and sexuality, her relationship with her mother, and much, much more. As an editor, he was too close to the book, which is an understatement.