In the High Peaks

Monday, June 28, 2010

I should be cooking dinner, a meal my husband sneered at when I revealed the evening's menu several hours ago. Ouch. I happen to love a mushroom frittata, but he doesn't. Ken was an only child, you see, and to that I attribute his fussiness about many foods. I grew up in a family where the rule was, "Eat it or starve!" Fortunately for him, Ken's sweet and very kind in dozens of other ways or the cook would go out on strike. Maybe I can coax him to a meal at the Black Mountain. That might sweeten his mood.

Okay, readers! I'm fully engaged in Julie Orringer's The Invisible Bridge and I won't return it to the library until I've read all of its 600+ pages! (Please refer to my previous post for more info.) I will likely accrue a fine, but it will be worth it. Orringer describes every scene in intricate detail so that the reader is there, fully participating. And she's a master at pacing and plot. I love that. And right now, in the first 100 pages, the setting is Paris, so what's not to like?

The Independence Day Weekend is approaching, and lots of cool weather is coming(isn't that marvelous?), so maybe I can spend my early mornings reading and walk Sophie in the late morning. I'm so excited about the cool, dry weather coming that I have lots of outdoor projects planned. Some gardening, some hiking, some butterfly and dragonfly investigations.

Back to Books: I am trying to understand all the hoopla about The Hunger Games series (Young Adults). I checked our library system catalog and the books are out everywhere, including the original title published in 2008! What is the vast appeal of this series? I'll reserve The Hunger Games from my library, and though it may take awhile to arrive, I'll see what the fuss is about. If you have a clue, please add your comments.

And, what are you reading this final week in the beautiful month of June? Please tell all!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

To Chunkster or Not to Chunkster?

Another silly blog post heading, I know, but not as ludicrous as you might think. By Chunkster, I'm referring to books that can qualify for The Chunkster Reading Challenge, a 2010 event sponsored by caribousmom. To be a Chunkster, a book must be at least 450 pages long.

Today I faced a moment of decision at the library. Would I take home The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer? (Don't pass up a visit to for an edge-of-your-seat interview with Orringer about her familial inspiration for this book.) I nearly bought it when I went on my book-buying birthday spree, but to be honest, I set it aside because the cover and spine of the one book available had a bad ding. I must confess that I want the books I buy to be PERFECT! I'm quirky that way.

The Invisible Bridge is an epic set in World War II Europe and it appears Orringer did painstaking research. I'm a devotee of historical research, so it came home with me and I have just two weeks to read another 600-page book!

So Chunksterism is the subject of this post. I want the opinion of all of my readers, but I must tell you I prefer NOT to read enormous books because of the huge time commitment involved. How will I know the time spent on just one book will be worth it?

I love short, pithy novels, but they're fairly uncommon. What drives me to take a book into my reading nook is dependent entirely on what the book is about and the recommendations of others.

I'd love to know your opinions about Chunksters and how you feel about the length of the books you read.

What Chunksters have you read this year?

Friday, June 25, 2010

A Hearty Happy Hour Post

Titles can be teasers, and this is indeed one. I do have a glass of red wine by my elbow, though. A fairly beautiful day today--I spent the morning walking, some of it with our dog and some of it with Ken in our woods. The bugs were not too bad, which surprised me!

I spent the afternoon online, beginning to prepare for the classes I will teach this fall. It's fun to plan, but I can't seem to switch the planning and searching button to the "off" position.

Big News! Paul Auster has a novel (nearly 400 pages) to be published this coming November entitled Sunset Park. It seems strange, because Invisible (which I highly recommend) was published not that long ago.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Your Opinion: The Best American Short Stories

Do you ever read any of "The Best" annuals? Perched on a kitchen counter by my elbow is The Best American Short Stories of 2009, edited by Alice Sebold, author of the bestseller The Lovely Bones and one of the best memoirs I have ever read, Lucky.

Don't let another year pass without reading Lucky! And don't let the warnings of violence make you turn away--it is a brilliant memoir of a college woman's rape on campus. That may sound like an oxymoron, but considering the statistics that the majority of women have been a victim of some sort of sexual assault during their lifetimes, this book may resonate and help heal you. It helped me.

Back to "The Best:" I'm impressed that almost all of the stories in the 2009 short stories volume were first published in small, independent, barely surviving literary magazines and most of the writers are "unknown." That's terrific. Not infrequently, the short stories' annual is a compilation of universally known authors whose stories were published in the "big" magazines of the preceding year: The New Yorker, Harper's, etc.

When Salman Rushdie was editor in 2008, half of his choices were written by older established writers. Sure, they're great, but I had already read the stories! Alice Munro, T.C. Boyle, Tobias Wolff, Nicole Krauss--all excellent practitioners of the craft, yes, but I'm so glad that for once Alice Sebold took some risks with her choices.

What short stories have you enjoyed? And what authors?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Book Recommendations for Nancy!

My friend Nancy has been begging me for book recommendations. She's just returned from a trip to France, England, and Scotland, and later this week she and her husband will return for the summer to the sailboat that was their only home for many, many years. The boat is docked on a pier in Long Island, New York. (Readers, I've added the state for my international readers.)

Nancy zoomed through Stieg Larsson's Milennium Trilogy. I've read only The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The reason why I've read no further may surprise you. I loved it so much, I don't want to read the second book, because then I'll read the third book, and the series will come to an end! I'll get used to the idea of Larsson's death eventually, but right now I can't bear the thought of finsihing that third book.

Nancy is an artist; a painter, to be more specific. So I recommended a novel I adored, Spending by Mary Gordon. Gordon is a serious writer of fiction, but this book, despite its serious themes, was such a pleasurable romp! The main character is an artist living in New York City. She is recently divorced and spends the summer and part of the fall in Wellfleet on Cape Cod. This book is so delicious. Imagine a bowl of rich vanilla ice cream, covered with your favorite toppings, sitting right in front of your face. With each page, you spoon that syrupy, creamy goodness into your mouth. That's how the read was for me. I have since bought it at a book sale and must read it again.

I finished Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes yesterday. I was satisfied with the ending, and very happy to return to the world of 2010 in the Adirondack Mountains. No, I won't be recommending it to Nancy--her tastes do not run to Vietnam combat novels, I'm afraid, though I do wish that women would rise up and read it.

Early this morning I started reading an Elin Hilderbrand novel I borrowed from the library, The Castaways, and as Hilderbrand always manages to do, she hooked me in the first 20 pages. Hilderbrand's novels are definitely "beach reads," but they hold my interest every single minute. Imagine dreams of idyllic Nantucket Island. I remember our almost-mystical vacation there two years after we were married, and the schoolgirl trips with the Girl Scouts, and another with my mother, brother, and cousins. I hope to return one day. (But it takes lots and lots of cash nowadays!) With Hilderbrand's novels I'm there, remembering.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

P.D. James is Tops in my Crime Book

I was inconsolable the day P.D. James announced that she had published her last novel. Of course, the woman was 88 at the time, which amazed me, and I considered myself selfish to wish that she would write more. I cheer myself up by remembering that I still have a number left to read. I have Death in Holy Orders on the shelf, and I'm eager to read Talking Detective Fiction. (Follow the link for the National Public Radio interview with James about this, her latest book.)

During all the years I've tried to find the time and the discipline to finish writing a novel, I'm reminded how she wrote for two hours daily (5-7am) before her demanding job in the Police and Criminal Law Department in the British government. She must have had the power of incredible focus to do it.

Are you a P.D. James admirer? Please tell us your favorite(s)!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Oh, No!

Today is my day to post an entry, but I'm sorry to say that I've been consumed all day with my job searching. Fortunately, I've been hired to teach a business writing class in my neck of the woods--that will be in September and October. That was my news today!

Tomorrow I have my big interview for another college-level teaching assignment, and I'm so keen on getting that job. You know the feeling, you want the job so much, it drives you crazy!

What short stories would be on the top of my list to teach to freshman college students? "The Things They Carried" by Tim O'Brien and a famous short story by Joyce Carol Oates (I've got to round up the story title by tomorrow morning! What's wrong with me that I've forgotten the title? Unexcusable!)

I'm so sorry to cop out on today's post. Bear with me, please, I can't wait to write a new blog post!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

When I journeyed to Crandall Library last week, I was crestfallen to discover that the usual rows upon rows of "New Fiction" were pitifully picked over, so much so that I was hard pressed to find anything worth borrowing. Then I remembered the library's big fundraiser booksale was the next day. That explained it. The hordes of bookloving volunteers had scoured the shelves clean while preparing for the sale. Wasted trip. Drat.

Although maybe not. I stumbled on a book I'd borrowed over last Christmas season that I did not have time to read. I couldn't renew it, so I made a mental note to borrow it for next Christmas. But I have it now. And it tempts me beyond all measure. Eight White Nights by Andre Aciman, who received the highest accolades for his debut novel, Call Me by Your Name. (Aciman published several nonfiction books before his first novel--he's a Proust scholar, by the way.)

The Eight White Nights occur between Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve. As the book blurb states, "A man in his late twenties attends a large Christmas party in Manhattan, where a woman introduces herself with three words: 'I am Clara.' Over the following seven days they meet every evening at the same cinema. Overwhelmed yet cautious, he treads softly and won't hazard a move. The tenion builds gradually, marked by ambivalence, hope, and distrust...they move closer together and further apart, culiminating in a final scene on New Year's Eve charged with magic and the promise of renewal."

Sounds enticing, n'est-ce pas?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Yup! I'm Still in Vietnam

Caution! Caution! This blog has been written while under the influence of all the characters in Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War by Karl Marlantes. Remember, this is a combat zone, and my language today is NOT my usual. If you are apt to be offended by strong language from the Vietnam era, then please return later this weekend, when I'll be remembering who I am. I hope.

Matterhorn has taken over my life. I find myself thinking about it, reading pieces of dialogue to Ken, and telling him a joke or two. Yet, as you would expect, it's a deadly serious book. Now that I'm on page 324 out of 566, I'm "hip" with the jargon, the gallows humor, and the misery that comes out in bursts of violence and buffoonery, and I'm going to miss this world when I've hit the last page.

This reaction is not one I could have predicted. I can see one of the "grunts" swearing at me. "Are you f--ing crazy? You're going to miss reading about the ugliest jungle on the face of the planet, the pus oozing out of our jungle rot, the splibs (blacks) wanting to frag (murder) the chuck (white) officers all the time, the patrols when anyone's next step may kill us all, and the stupid pointlessness of every damn f--ing thing?"

Yes, I'm going to miss it because for once there are no heroes. Some guys are good sometimes and then there are a lot of really, really stupid-assed people. Am I misspelling heroes?

I can't believe that there's a Vietnam novel out there that's more real than this one. Great interview with Karl Marlantes here.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Heck, I'm Just a Paul Auster Fan

When people ask me who my favorite author is, I usually name Paul Auster. His work, no matter what it is, has never failed to amaze me. I can't say I've loved every book he's written, but I've adored a good number, and every single one has startled me to the point where I either jump up from or fall off the couch. Now I'm talking mentally startling, not vampires, not predators, nothing like that. Paul Auster is much more The Twilight Zone than Stephen King.

Paul Auster was born in northern New Jersey on February 3, 1947. My beloved but now deceased older brother was born in 1947. Two of my favorite cousins were born in that year. And, last, but not least, and certainly not least, my husband was born in 1947. An extraordinary vintage, to be sure.

Paul Auster does not have an authorized website, which is really sad, because that leaves stupid, inaccurate Wikipedia and individual nobodies to fill in the blanks of his work and life. I must write to Henry Holt, Auster's publisher, and urge them to correct this. An authoritative Paul Auster website would be grand!

My favorite Paul Auster novel is Oracle Night, which is an ingenious story within a story within a story. When I bought it over five years ago in paperback, I read it once, then reread it, rereading sections over and over again. It's one gigantic puzzle. And FUN!

I must tell you that Paul Auster is considered an author of "literary fiction," but his novels are fun to figure out and he has a droll sense of humor, so if that label is off-putting, don't let it put you off, if you get my drift, which is a hackneyed, dated phrase that anyone born in 1947 would not hesitate to use. No, I wasn't born in '47; I just love people who were. They are all definitely my seniors. I was born in another decade entirely.

Auster's latest? Invisible. I give it the highest ratings.

Monday, June 7, 2010

A Barbara Kingsolver Meeting

Every other Monday, our "Novel Revisers" group meets. We're hangers-on from the annual NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), when our members attempt to write a 50,000-word novel in the 30 days of November. This coming November will be our fourth year together. At this point, we have a number of people, myself included, who spend November revising novels we've written in previous Novembers. And just three of us--Kate, Sheila, and I--try to work on revising our novels all year long, thinking that maybe, someday, we'll actually be able to declare them finished.

So today we met and got into a deep discussion about Barbara Kingsolver's novels. We talked about her flair for characterization, which is stirring Kate. I was so excited to see her so excited, because I realized the impact that Kingsolver's influence could have on Kate's novel. Kate was talking about Prodigal Summer, which is my favorite of Kingsolver's novels, and the favorite of many of my friends here, because it's set in the wilds and the farm country of Appalachia.

Kate is about to turn to The Lacuna, Kingsolver's 2009 novel, which has been short-listed for the Orange Prize. I haven't read it yet. So what's wrong with me? Too many books! I can't get it from the library now because Kate's reading group has borrowed lots of library copies. I know Ken will love it, so when we go to the bookstore tomorrow, we'll just have to buy it.

My second-favorite Kingsolver novel? Oh, for sure, The Poisonwood Bible! Like The Lacuna, which is set in Mexico, I was not drawn to Poisonwood Bible's Congo setting at first. But on the strongest recommendations of friends, I read it and was mesmerized. It's a spell-binding piece of literature that draws the reader in to the universe Kingsolver creates. And it's unforgettable. And I loved the multiple viewpoints! So artfully done!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Curing a Mood with Book Blogs

Just thought I'd update my post of earlier today to say that no, I did not read any book today, but I did spend several hours pouring over a vast variety of book blogs. So diverting--so fun! Consequently, I've listed a few more blogs that I think are the best for my "Blogs of Substance" list.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Challenge of Reading Matterhorn

Since the night before last, I've been reading Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War by Karl Marlantes. Even though I've only read 139 pages of this 566-page chunkster (not counting the 20+ page glossary), I'm finding that I have lots to say about it already.

The book fully delivers on its promise to put the reader in the middle of an infantry company of Marines in South Vietnam, not far from the DMZ (de-militarized zone, which artificially separated South from North Vietnam). It's monsoon season in a steamy, impenetrable jungle. As I read, I can see the men lying on plastic-covered mud in their tiny "hooches." I can see a platoon go forth on patrol, using machetes to cut their way through bamboo 12-feet tall. I feel the fear they sense with their crunching footsteps announcing their presence to the "gooks," the North Vietnamese Army.

Marlantes has the most trouble with characterization, perhaps because there are dozens of characters. This little city of young men--most of them introduced in the first two chapters--makes for hard reading, but is well worth the trouble. It's apparent that Marlantes has worked hard to forge distinct characters, but it's not his strong suit.

Marlantes creates a political and cultural society from this group of men with all its racial, social class, and military rank & hierarchy tensions. This aspect of the novel is fascinating. It steers clear of the Band of Brothers romanticism of men in combat. Having viewed that award-winning HBO production this past winter, I can say that I (and most people) prefer to think of men in combat as a band of brothers, but I don't believe this whole-hearted camaraderie is reality. It's not a black-and-white issue, of course, one or the other. What I'm trying to say is that the relationships among men within a platoon or any military unit are very complicated. Camaraderie and care for one's mates are part of it, that's true, but TV and movies like to simplify those relationships, and Matterhorn does not try to do that.

I hope to write another post about Matterhorn after I've turned the last page. I believe it's an important book.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

At Least It Seems Like a Coincidence!

After all this blogging about Harper Lee and Truman Capote (see my post of May 31st below), I was driving home today and the radio show "On Point," which is carried by my local National Public Radio station, spent an hour discussing Harper Lee and the 50th anniversary of the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird! You can listen to it here.

I came home and dashed to the computer to find out if a 50th anniversary edition of the book has been published, and sure enough, Harper (the publisher, this time, not the person, though believe it or not, that's my surname, too) has done it, a hardcover, with a replica of the original 1960 dustjacket. Well, of course, I'm going to go out and buy it, especially since it's my birthday tomorrow. (Believe me, that's not the only book I'm planning on buying!) More on that at a later date.

It's an extraordinary coincidence to me, because I became all wrapped up in Harper Lee and Capote weeks ago when I ran into the movie Infamous at the library. (And please allow me to correct my earlier post--the movie Capote came out in 2005 and Infamous in 2006.)