In the High Peaks

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Phyllis Whitney is Saving My Sanity

I am embarrassed to write that blog heading. It's hard to admit that occasionally, under extreme circumstances, I slink off to bed with a Phyllis Whitney book tucked under my arm.

The one I'm reading now, Hunter's Green, was published in 1968. I picked it up at a library book sale, and it's so well done!

Phyllis Whitney, who died at the age of 104 in February 2008, was a master of the romantic suspense genre, which reached its height in the late 1960s. Mary Stewart's romantic suspense novels of the same era are often compared with Whitney's, and they are similar, except that Whitney was American and Stewart is English.

Mind you, Whitney is not a literary writer, and never pretended to be. But she knows plot, pacing, and how to create atmosphere better than the best genre authors and better than many literary fiction authors.

Whitney's plots usually focus on a young, vulnerable female protagonist. These women are never naive because of a flaw in intelligence, experience, or character--they're vulnerable because of their youth and because of the tragedies and misfortunes that have befallen them. They tend to be much stronger than Victoria Holt's heroines.

Okay, so I'm using Hunter's Green as pablum for a beleagured soul. I think everyone has these "secret" sources of comfort that they reach to in times of stress.

Would you be willing to share your "comfort authors?"

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Terrible Bind

Yes, I'm caught in it, and am busy from dawn til too late to mention. Things will be much, much easier starting Sunday, August 8th.

I hate to say I won't post until then. And I might be able to squeeze a decent post in to the mad schedule. So I'll try really hard really soon.

Hope your summer reading is full of pleasure and discovery!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Bear with Me!

Please bear with me as I struggle to juggle too many jobs. As a friend told me told me today, "That's an Adirondacker's life!"

I have time to post tomorrow for the Blog Hopper Hop? I've got the name of the weekly weekend event all mixed up, I think!

Be back soon!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Up to My Ears in Adirondack Authors!

Last Tuesday I was flagged down while exiting Trapper's Tavern in North Creek. The owner of an exquisite store in town, The Hudson River Trading Company, asked me if I had time to work on a project for her, contacting Adirondack authors for a huge book-signing gala she's planning for Saturday, August 7th. Books? Authors? How could I say no?

Ever since that evening I've been on the phone with authors. Short notice, yes. But even so, I think we'll end up with around 15 writers and all of their books. We're going to have music. And a cookbook author is bringing some food! That would be Annette Nielsen, author of North Country Comfort and North Country Bounty.

If there's one novel set in the Adirondack wilderness that you, my readers, would certainly relish, it's Cold River by William Judson. I'm 99% positive he's deceased now--the book was first published in the mid-70s--but what a true-to-life adventure tale about two teenagers' hair-raising scrabble for survival in deep wilderness back in the 1920s! I must say, I adored it. Both Ken and I read it before we moved to the mountains. I wonder if our reaction to it would be more moderate if we read it today? It's a brief read, and reads as well and sells as well as it did decades ago. It's available as a Signet paperback for only $6.99through Amazon.

So we can't get poor William Judson to come sign his book. A shame, really. I would have loved to have met him.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Which Book Do I Want to Get My Hands On?

It's Book Blogger Hop Weekend again, hosted by Crazy for Books. The Hop is a lifesaver. I want to escape! It's peculiar to live in a place that hordes of people escape to, especially when you can't escape yourself. The Adirondacks. The summer home of vacationers. I'm glad they like it, but it's too hot and humid for me this summer. I haven't minded having plenty of work.

To answer this week's question about the book I most want to read right now, I can answer without hesitation. It's The Island by Elin Hilderbrand, a book that first appeared in bookstores 10 days ago. I must read it this summer!

I want to go to a place, with this book under my arm, where no one can reach me, no one can bother me, no one will see me, where I can just let the waves of Nantucket Island swell around me.

Actually, The Island is about a tiny island named Tuckernuck off the coast of Nantucket Island. I know nothing about it. I never knew it existed. I want to be there. Alone with the characters.

I'm beginning to realize that I may have to BUY the book to read it this summer. Libraries can fail me when a book is in high demand. So I'll buy it, if necessary.

Twenty Minutes Later: This week's Blog Hopper Topic is a great incentive to head out to the bookstore and buy the coveted book!!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Ghosts of War--The Iraq War by a 19-Year-Old GI

Perhaps I've never mentioned that I've been fascinated by soldiers' personal narratives (diaries, journals, and other accounts) for decades. All the way back to 1972 when I took a course in World War I Literature as a college freshman. The readings transformed me, but the professor's daily three-hour lectures nearly killed me. (A brief 3-week course during a winter session, but 21 days is still 3 weeks.) He acted like the students had nothing to say--during the Vietnam War, no less? I managed to survive with my fascination intact, but it was only the writers who saved me.

These days I'm trying to survey as many soldiers' narratives as I can because I'm interested in eventually producing a global anthology of soldiers' writings covering all historical eras.

I have written and published a book about war before.

But today I'm not going there. I'm talking about Ghosts of War: The True Story of a 19-Year-Old GI by Ryan Smithson, published by HarperCollins in 2009. Smithson lives in upstate New York with his wife these days. Not far away from where I live at all (relatively speaking).

The prose is spare, whittled down to bare bones. Sentences of seven words or less. Powerful. I held the book in my hands the first time and immediately wondered, who edited this book? Who helped Smithson write it? It's published by HarperCollins, after all. And I know for damn sure that when they have an inexperienced writer, they edit the newbee's stuff to pieces. So what's the story BEHIND the writing and editing of this book? That's what I need to know. I'll find out, one way or another. I always do.

In any case, there are some excellent passages for my first-year college students, who will be 17, 18, and 19 years old. But, as I said, that's not why I grabbed onto this book. Can't wait to read it.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Tuesday Evening Thoughts

I'm grateful for my eight Followers, and I can't wait to learn more about the Follower program. I vow to post a true book blog entry tomorrow. For this evening, this post is all I've got.

I am aggrieved (sp.?) that I have but a few minutes to post an entry. A crazy day, but yesterday was much, much crazier. A truly Manic Monday. But in early September, my life changes.

Today I escaped to SUNY (State University of New York) Adirondack, where I'll be teaching writing to first-year students this fall (September-Christmas). I'm extremely excited about it and, as a lifetime writer, I feel a tremendous sense of mission. I'm sure you don't want to hear about all the books about the teaching of writing that I picked up!

In a few minutes Ken and I will have a relaxing dinner with warm, comforting friends at Trapper's Tavern and I'll have an opportunity to reflect on what's most important. Rick is a Richard Russo fan (as is Ken, my husband) and Anne is a 100% Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Mystery afficiando. I always enjoy her take on books and movies because she always sees the mystical bend of things. I seem to only see what's in front of my face.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Thank you, Book Blogger Hoppers

I want to say a hearty thank you to everyone who participated in the Book Blogger Hop this weekend. After a Friday all-day meeting, I awoke Saturday morning facing a gut-wrenching crisis of conscience related to my wilderness preservation work. It was a tremendous relief to take a long break and visit a number of fascinating, new (to me) "Blogs of Substance."

I felt as though all of you book bloggers are my good friends who help me survive in the midst of this crazy world we live in today.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Holy Hell! More Authors!

Yes, at times I am driven to expletives, especially when I'm triple-tasking and not fulfilling my assignments properly.

As part of the Book Blogger Hop (see my previous post for the link), I was supposed to name my favorite authors--plural. Okay, indeed, I've had a trying week, but so has nearly everyone else. I can handle this simple task and get it right.

Paul Auster (see my previous post)

T.C. Boyle: Drop City is one of my favorite tomes of all time. No one else, not one single author has captured the mid-late 1960s the way Boyle has in that book. Also, don't miss Talk, Talk if you value the preservation of your identity. A truly, scary tale that has me hiding my personal information from everyone. No one gets my Social Security number anymore or my birthdate or anything else!

Charlotte Bronte: Jane Eyre is probably my all-time favorite classic. I've read it three times, all at different ages, and it has something for every decade you're alive. I also loved Villette!

Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. The Nobel Prize Winner's classic. I am as equally passionate about this novel as I am about David Lean's 1965 film masterpiece of the same name. For heaven's sake, you must see the film and read the book! Pasternak turned me on to all of Russian literature, Russian history, Russian art, and the Russian language.

P.D. James is my favorite crime writer. I've posted about her books recently.

Laura Ingalls Wilder. When this children's writer is mentioned, her daughter Rose Wilder Lane must be uttered in the same breath. Wilder Lane edited her mother's Little House books. They are incomparable American classics.

Madeleine L'Engle--my other favorite children's and young adult author of Meet the Austins, Wrinkle in Time, and many, many more. L'Engle was so acutely attuned to the sensitivities of pre-adolescents and adolescents.

I could go on and on and on with my favorite authors. But I'll stop here. Oh, don't forget Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden and The Little Princess. How I still adore those books.

The Saturday Afternoon Blog Hop

I'm in desperate need of a diversion this weekend, so this afternoon I'm venturing forth on Crazy for Book's Book Blogger Hop. If you scroll down to view the Book Blogger Hop sign-up, you'll see that I'm the only blogger who listed my blog description INCORRECTLY. My apologies to everyone. To answer the question posed, I can say I blog primarily about Fiction, Memoir/Biography, and History. I think.

I have many authors whose work I treasure, but if I were to name my all-time favorite, it's Paul Auster. Please check out my Auster posts of June 9th and June 25th if you're interested in knowing more about his fiction. For a wonderful review of Invisible, Auster's most recent book, please visit Katrina's blog, Pining for the West.

Friday, July 9, 2010

I Ran into Bill McKibben!

Wonder of wonders, I ran into my hero at the Grand Union grocery store in North Creek, 12 miles from my home, which is the closest place for us to buy foodstuffs. I was pawing through the ice cream case when a man, deftly wielding a grocery cart, sped around the corner. He had sunglasses on and a t-shirt, which was the dead giveaway to the celebrity's identity. Bill McKibben, back in Johnsburg! (He now lives with his wife, the author Sue Halpern, across Lake Champlain near Middlebury, Vermont.)

As I've said before in this blog, McKibben's book Wandering Home: A Long Walk across America's Most Hopeful Landscape: Vermont's Champlain Valley and New York's Adirondacks was the final impetus that pushed Ken and me to move from Boston to the Adirondack wilderness, the last remaining wilderness in the East, which is protected by the New York State constitution, protected more fully than any wild land in the United States. McKibben was a leading wilderness preservationist at the time.

Alas, I have to put that verb in the past tense because McKibben is now totally focused on the organization he created,, which is focused on curbing carbon emissions in the hopes of stalling out-of-control climate change. I have absolutely no quarrels with that--he sees his mission and it's now a global one.

At the grocery store, on this, my second time meeting him, I was so tongue-tied, I couldn't say much, though he quite clearly remembered me. I told him I loved his "latest book," momentarily forgetting the title, something that could only happen to someone of my vintage, but we exchanged a few co-activist pleasantries (I told him about my wilderness preservation work) and then we moved on. A very nice man, who is NOT full of himself. Very nice, indeed.

The title of his latest book is Eaarth:Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. I read it earlier this year when it first came out. And I urge others to read it. We need people like McKibben to remind us, over and over again, that the planet we live on now is not the one we think we live on, but a vastly changed planet. Let's change the course we're on before it's too late!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

News Flash: Is Book Swim the Netflix of Books?

Before I dive into the primary topic of this post, I'd like to say that I made an error yesterday. I'm on page 300 of Julie Orringer's The Invisible Bridge, not page 200. The 92-degree heat and the glass of merlot I was drinking yesterday must have addled my brain.

Book Swim! Have you heard about this new subscription program that allows its members to rent books, including bestsellers and top current titles, for a fixed monthly fee?

First of all, I must say that like many of my friends living here in wildermania, Ken and I love Netflix. Love may be too mild a word for the rapture we experience. We treasure it so much that we carry the most expensive subscription--something like $18+/month.

So the idea of Book Swim tantalizes. Just think: Instead of the online haggling with our regional library system to wait in line for new books, I could get three recently published books at a time for a monthly fee of $23.95. No due dates. Keep them as long as you want, though of course you will continue to pay the monthly fee.

But wait a minute. Three books. Would that work out to be three books per month? Or, if I were a fast reader, could it work out to six books per month? I don't know. Book Swim has a number of other subscription levels. Five books at a time. Seven books at a time. And so on.

Please visit the website and give your opinion about what you think about the Book Swim program. I think it would be ideal for someone with a big job, a big income, and a minimum of time to go roaming from library to bookstore to get their books.

One complication I envision is that lots of the books I want to read are not available through Book Swim. Back titles, obscure books--it couldn't possibly supply all my reading needs.

It's too bad there's not a free trial available. I imagine the company might go broke if they tried it, especially because they're just getting started. But doesn't the minimum subscription of $23.95sound like a great deal of money? That's nearly $300/year, which I consider a huge investment in books that you rent and never own.

Please weigh in with your comments.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Arcadia Falls & The Invisible Bridge

A few days ago, Danielle of the incomparable book blog A Work In Progress (see the link to the right) asked for my opinion about Arcadia Falls by Carol Goodman. It's a gothic, for sure, set in an arts-oriented boarding school in a beautifully rendered setting in upstate New York (an area south of where I live).

I found the writing to be lyrical, quite lovely, in fact. But the plot and the characterization disappointed me, which was exactly the criticism I had about Lake of the Dead Languages, Goodman's first novel. If you adore gothics, don't miss Arcadia Falls. That would be my advice. But if you are lukewarm toward them, I would not recommend that you seek this one out.

Danielle, what was your opinion of the Goodman novel you read? I'd be very interested to know what you thought.

Oh, The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer! I'm in awe of this historical novel, set in Europe from 1937 through the latter part of World War II. At 600 pages, a sprawling book indeed. And I'm so in awe of Orringer's writing.

What I appreciate most are the intricate, colorful details she weaves into each scene. I explained to a friend that at times I feel I'm involved in the events or that I'm engrossed in an amazing film made just for me. I can see exactly what's happening and can feel the emotions of the characters. Excellent characterization, by the way, and though I'm only on page 200 (I know I can't utter a judgment on the plot), I will say the plot is engaging me thoroughly.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Anya Seton--Am I Ripe for the Gothic Challenge?

Although I've got five Chunksters under my belt for the Chunkster Challenge and am reading a sixth--The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer (scroll down)--I'm faring far worse with The Gothic Challenge. I've read only one Gothic, Arcadia Falls by Carol Goodman.

I considered withdrawing from The Gothic Challenge, mostly because I've been thinking that I'm wasting my time with these novels, especially because I don't enjoy them nearly as much as I did in my youth. Even so, they have an indescribable allure.

I chanced upon a blogger discussing Dragonwyck by the incomparable mid-twentieth-century American author Anya Seton. As a high-school student, my mother the librarian got me hooked on Katherine, a historical novel about Katherine Swynford, the wife of John of Gaunt, of the House of Lancaster (an English royal of the 14th century--actually I believe their children were Lancastrian, though I'm not at all sure John of Gaunt was considered so during his lifetime).

I believe I also read Seton's Green Darkness , though I have only the vaguest memories of it.

Dragonwyck beckons, and it's a true Gothic published in 1941, at the height of Daphne DuMaurier's "Gothic" fame.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

How about This Book Cover?

I laughed uproariously at this book cover, largely because summertime is the time of year that we are "entertained" by black bears. I know the cover is a portrait of a grizzly bear, a dreadfully dangerous species that doesn't live in the East, but still, the cover sends everyone here into a tizzy of wild, somewhat hysterical chuckling.

Most of our black bear visitations are either mothers with a couple of cubs in tow or juveniles (bears from 2-? years that have not attained maturity). They all make the rounds, especially from dusk until dawn. As long as we're impossibly neat with our trash, and keep it locked up in the garage, they don't cause any problems.

Anyway, the book cover led me to investigate the author Sloane Crosley. I have ordered from the library her first book I Was Told There'd Be Cake. I don't usually read humorous essays, but in this case I'm making an exception, because her first book is about her initiation into life on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, a part of the city I love.