In the High Peaks

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.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Onward with Versatility!

I'm so appreciative and grateful that Lisa at Bibliophiliac has decided to award me the Versatile Blogger's Award. Based on the past three weeks here, I scarcely deserve it, but I must say that Lisa's act of bestowing the award has given me the motivation to try harder to share the books that are so meaningful to my life.

I have several obligations to fulfill for receiving this award, and I'm afraid everyone will have to wait until tomorrow for me to begin satisfying those tasks. I think you and I will enjoy it. And by all means, please do visit Lisa's blog--it's one of the finest.

Tonight I want to say that Noam Shpancer has eagerly responded to my request for a brief interview here. (See yesterday's post.) That will be fun! It's so nice when authors reply promptly to these requests. So stay tuned!

Because I had a doctor's appointment way down south in Saratoga Springs today, I had the chance to stop at Crandall Library to pick up the books waiting for me. One is The Island by Elin Hilderbrand, which I've already posted about (and have been longing for!), and the other is a book I've not heard much about, entitled The Summer We Read Gatsby. The New York Times pooh-poohed it a bit, but, for some reason, that did not deter me from wanting to read it. The novel is by and please do click on her link to read the exquisite Danielle Ganek Publishers Weekly and Booklist reviews and others beside!

Did you know that we all are going to have to pay for access to The New York Times come November? It's a price I'll gladly pay, but it is the only newspaper I'm willing to pay for, unless you can think of another I should consider! Do tell!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Eagerly Awaiting...August Titles!

Please scroll down two paragraphs to get past my personal news!

The Library Book Sale was a huge success--we made more money than last year, and last year we'd set a new record, so we're really doing well. $3500 for a rural town of 2,200 is incredible. Our Friday night party was very festive, and we sold lots of our most expensive, best books!

After the sale, and after the seemingly endless clean-up, I came home to collapse and to beg Ken to take me to the Inn on Gore Mountain, a salve for the frazzled soul. The Inn is the quietest restaurant in North Creek, the waitress the most comforting and accomodating, and the cook! Everyone acknowledges that Susan Minucci is the best chef in North Creek. I consumed a very large, very special dinner without any trouble or assistance from Ken.

Enough personal news!

Yesterday I ordered a book from Amazon that I've been waiting and waiting for: The Good Psychologist by Noam Shpancer, set to be released today, August 3rd. It has received many excellent reviews, and I must confess, I love books that reveal the lives of people who strive to help the troubled and the confused. (Yes, it's available in the UK.) Shpancer is a psychologist, and I'm attracted to novels that are based on a professional's personal experiences. He was born and raised on an Israeli kibbutz and claims that his book reads much more beautifully in Hebrew. The Good Psychologist was first published in Israel, but Shpancer is equally comfortable with English, and he did the "translation," if that's what we can call it.

In June, librarians at Book Expo America commented, "Reading Noam Shpancer's debut novel, The Good Psychologist (Holt, August), "is like sitting through your own personal therapy session," said Robin Nesbitt. It's the story of what happens when the boundary between personal and professional begins to blur between a psychologist and his exotic dancer patient.