In the High Peaks

Monday, December 26, 2011

Garnet Hill Lodge Week

My leisure plans are on hold while I fulfill a dream and help the new owners of Garnet Hill Lodge launch their resort.

A year ago, Garnet Hill Lodge, a beautiful cross-country skiing and mountain summertime resort, fell into terrible times--so terrible that I feared the lodge might remain vacant for many years. BUT! Wonderful news in early December! One of Ken's clients, who is a neighbor across the Kibby Creek wilderness behind us, won Garnet Hill at auction and, thank goodness, Garnet Hill moves forward!

I'm so happy that Don Preuniger and his partner Mindy Piper are the new owners. With the two of them at the helm, and Pat Connor by their side, they are all set to resurrect the wondrous beauty of Garnet Hill in North River, New York.

I'm beyond psyched. But a fly in the ointment. Only a few inches of snow at Christmas on the ground at the moment. Help! Please send snow!

On the 23rd of December, the day after I picked up my final exams, I sat on the couch and brainstormed how I could help them with the lack of snow situation. I phoned and offered them lots of guided nature excursions for their guests.

Yeah, I'm a naturalist nut, so I'm overwhelmingly busy this week until New Year's, guiding their guests in the wilderness. Cool!

But, all this discussion is to tell you I'm not reading this week.

Hopefully, after New Year's Day. Happy holidays to all!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Five Weeks and Two Days

Prepare the reading couch! My winter break is here. Naturally I'll have final exams to grade, but I'll wait until after Christmas for that. I'm hoping for snow and cold and more snow.

Right now I have a passionate ambition to be a recluse. I hope to indulge this desire for several days. Lovely!

I need lots and lots of time to sit and write and reflect. Late December is perfect for this activity. Dark afternoons, dark mornings, candlelight, a fire, warm dog by my feet, yum.

Books: I've been reading The Winter of the Lions by Jan Costin Wagner, a German crime novelist. This title is, I think, the third book in the series featuring Kimmo Joentaa, a Finnish police detective. Part of the problem I seem to be having with the book is that there aren't enough setting details so that I can fully picture the action. As a reader, I seem to need much, much more in the way of setting, so it's been slow going for me. I'd like to try another Wagner crime novel because his books are supposed to be so "atmospheric." I won't make a judgement on this author until I read another book.

At this moment I don't have any idea what I'd like to read next, although I am anxious to read Ian Frazier's book about traveling in Siberia.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

P.D. James? A New Book?

I'm mystified!

P.D. James has published a new book! I must admit I was flabberghasted when I heard the news and heard her interviewed on National Public Radio. Wow! James had said, after the publication of The Private Patient, that that was her final book.

Now I need to figure out all over again exactly how old she is. Her late eighties, to be sure. I will verify this fact eventually.

But I'm not sure I'm wowed over her choice of subject. She's continuing the lives of the Darcys from Pride and Prejudice, has given them two healthy boys, and boom(!), a murder is committed.

Well, of course I'll read it, but I have my reservations. How many "sequels" to Pride and Prejudice have there been? And I haven't been inspired to read any of them.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Guess What's New? I'm Reading!

Hope is in the air! First of all, I received a wonderful email, very early in the morning of a cold, dreary day. A college to the north of us has told me they're interested in me teaching a couple of courses in the Fall 2012 semester. That will help with our 2012 financial shortfall.

Secondly, I downloaded an inexpensive murder mystery onto my Nook, Deadmistress by Carole Schmurak,and am finally reading. Not just any old kind of reading, but loving reading. Blissful sigh! (Can you hear that in your neck of the planet?)

Deadmistress is no work of art, but it's a marvelous potboiler about the death of a headmistress at an exclusive boarding school. Such fun. Fun dialogue. No setting, really. But enough stuff to keep me happy turning the pages. All of this, thanks to Maxine of Petrona!

Two weeks of classes left, but, you know, I already feel more relaxed, like a hyperactive clock with batteries that are slowly running D-O-W-N.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Travels in Siberia

I heard Ian Frazier discuss his latest book Travels in Siberia on "Fresh Air" on National Public Radio last week. I was overwhelmingly enthralled, particularly with the descriptions of his haunted encounters at the former sites of the gulags. So I purchased the book on my Nook.

Detour! Detour! Rant Coming!

Our health care plan is increasing our rates exponentially during the next year, so I've been scratching my head, trying to figure out how to add MORE PAYING WORK to my already overly busy schedule. I am at my wit's end with this country, honestly, and I never thought I'd say that at this stage of life. We are comparatively much better off, supposedly, than so many people, yet we struggle! I truly worry about people who don't have any nest egg to stave off the worst of the additional health care costs! I know many, many of my students do not have any health care whatsoever, though they work up to 40 hours per week. I know they struggle with their finances, and their families can't help them because they're struggling, too. It is much, much worse than you hear on the news.

So it's no wonder, I suppose, that I am completely in sympathy with the Occupy Movement. The people involved ARE having an impact! The Republicans are shaking in their boots, and the rich are carrying buttons and signs saying, "Tax ME--I'm the One Percent!"

I was confronted with a woman at work who had the chutzpah to complain to me that the Occupy Movement not only did not have a focused agenda and list of demands, but homeless people were involved (as if this de-ligitimized the movement!). No, I did not bother to remind this stupid woman that of course the homeless had joined the Occupy Movement, but I did say that the movement doesn't need a focused agenda because they're having a huge impact already railing against the rich who pay no taxes. The movement changed the course of electoral campaigns in three states in November, they've raised awareness all over the country, and people are becoming increasingly fed up with politicians who salivate copiously when they see rich people emptying their pockets for them.

I'm so angry, I don't care who knows it anymore.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

German Literature Month!

This semester, more than ever, I have lost my way with books. I read a bit before I fall asleep, and I'm embarrassed to write the title of the Icelandic novel I'm STILL reading. It's undeniable: I've lost my way--for the time being.

I have, within my house, The Silent Angel: A Novel by German author Heinrich Boll, originally published in Germany in 1951. I hope to read it over the Thanksgiving break. My workload will be lightening, starting November 18 until November 29.

Getting a college literature course off the ground is no mean feat, especially when the teacher was given less than two weeks to prepare before the semester commenced.

I miss all of you and your blogs! How I wish I could make my life different than it is at the moment!

Books can save you, if you let them. I need to remember this!

Monday, October 31, 2011

My Soft Spot for Veterinarians: Reading The Call by Yannick Murphy

Oh, indeed, I do love veterinarians! I have never met a vet I didn't like. And I have known many--and some of them very well.

In the office where they see their "patients," they are gentle, professional, and able to handle any difficulty that human or animal can throw at them. I have found them to be remarkably patient people. Of course, of all the creatures they sometimes feel like throttling, let the humans stand up first!

Before I wax on about all the ways I love our vet, let me tell you about the novel I'm going to read next, by golly! Yes, I need to say "by golly!" because I need the extra impetus to do it. The Call by Yannick Murphy is about a veterinarian and his family who are in crisis. I, for one, don't need to know much more than that, because this novel has received a *starred* review from Publisher's Weekly, Booklist, and Kirkus.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Winter Reading? It's Snowin' Outside, Baby

Thanks so much to everyone who left a message for me over the past week! My tooth is better but needs a cheery little root canal, which is one of the highlights waiting for me in the month of November. Just remember, books make every PAIN better.

It's so hard to make life slow down. I feel the greatest peace when I'm outside walking the trails. I needed ski poles today, to keep from slipping in the 2-3 inches of sloppy snow that fell yesterday.

Yes, I'm still working my way through Operation Napoleon by Arnaldur Indridason, but after reporting to you about the nonfiction expose Area 51, I'm extremely disappointed that the Icelandic Indridason has got one of Area 51's most ridiculous pseudo-revelations as a major plot point. [Oh, jaded elder child of the Cold War that I am, I can't consider any of the latter book's supposed "discoveries" to be anything but delusional.]

But, do you know, I'm so exhausted that I'll plow through Operation Napoleon regardless. It's on my Kindle, I paid for it, I'll read it. But characterization is non-existent, and I recommend that you steer clear of it. It's true, however that I'm only 25% of the way through, so take my comments lightly at this point.

Friday, October 21, 2011

October Weekend & Operation Napoleon

Here I am, Friday evening, and I'm sinking. Yes, a tooth gone crazy with pain, and that's where I am.

I've been reading Arnaldur Indridason's new novel Operation Napoleon, which leaps from the time of World War II to the days of 1999. Yes, indeed, as many have pointed out, this novel is quite a departure from his detective novels set in Reykjavik. I'm into this novel, but not wholly, thoroughly committed yet, largely because I simply haven't had the time to sink my teeth into it.

I am so dispirited that I haven't been able to continue my reading as I did all summer. ALAS!! So sad! How I wish those free days were upon me again! I'm so nostalgic about them. And I'm ever so frustrated that I haven't been able to keep up my posts on this blog. Please know that it's not a permanent condition.

Today I did not go to bed, but tomorrow, that's where I'm headed. I am not a hero when it comes to extreme pain. I want to read. Let's hope I can become lost in a book that will let me forget THE TOOTH #12!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Arnaldur Indridason, Elizabeth Haynes, & UFOs

I vowed to write a proper book post because our internet is finally back, and here I am to declare that at least someone in our household is currently entranced by a book. Ken is reading the Icelandic author Arnaldur Indridason's third work of crime fiction, Silence of the Grave, published around 2002. We both enjoyed his first novel, Jar City, which I found to be strangely reminiscent of Ian Rankin's novels.

I'm still reading, a swallow at a time, Into the Darkest Corner by English writer Elizabeth Haynes. I'm not sure what it is about this novel--it's exceptionally well done--but for some obnoxious reason I have nightmares if I read too much of it in a single day. I'm nearing the end now, still taking sipping bits. How annoying that it's disturbing my sleep! I can usually read just about anything without any problems. I'm determined to finish it and no nightmare will stop me. For the purpose of generating some conversation on this blog, do you recall a book that gave you nightmares? Was there a book you had to stop reading because of nightmares?

The only movie that disturbed my daily functioning was Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, which I saw for the first time while a freshman in college. I took sponge baths to avoid the dormitory showers for several weeks.

But, to be level-headed, here, the content of Into the Darkest Corner is not the least bit more difficult than many of the crime novels I read this summer, but I believe the way the first person point of view is handled is what makes me vulnerable to the novel.

During this time of book difficulty, I have dabbled in a little genealogy, which has been so fascinating, but frustrating as well. Enough said.

Then there is the controversial book Area 51: An Uncensored History of America's Top Secret Military Base by the Los Angeles Times investigative journalist Annie Jacobsen. What she uncovered are the most BIZARRE revelations I have ever heard or read. Please stay tuned because I would like to reveal the MOST UNBELIEVABLE, SUPPOSEDLY TRUE STUFF you have ever heard. We're talking UFOs here. We're talking Soviet/Nazi experiments turned into UFOs. Yeah, I know this sounds crazy, but one of the most reputable publishers in US publishing is behind it. What can I say?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

How Novel! New Books Post

Our internet is fading in and out, and our telephone service has not been right since Tropical Storm Irene. Since I may fade out at any moment, I'm announcing my intention to post a real blog entry this weekend. But I must fade now, because the repair people are servicing our line as I write this, so please stay tuned if you're able.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Autumnal Wishes

First of all, I am terribly embarrassed to confess that I have been unable to read any book whatsoever for several weeks. I have been totally incapable of concentration. I have tried everything I can think of, but nothing has helped. No book appeals to me, I'm so sorry to say. Is there a Book God I should be praying to?

This is a temporary situation, of course, but I feel enormous discomfort about it. The world has been spinning a wee bit too quickly for me and my mind is a jumble.

I am determined to participate in Beauty is a Sleeping Cat's German Literature Month in November. I'm going to read a 1950 novel by Heinrich Boll for November 26. I will get there, and it's not a long novel.

The autumn colors are glorious now, and unfortunately, it's been so dreadfully HOT! Much too hot to manage miles and miles of hiking as my friends and I would like to do. Temperatures were near 80 degrees today and humid. This is highly unusual for late September in the Adirondacks.

I do hope that you, my reading comrades, are happily ensconced in your unique reading bungalows, curled up with a book! Do report on your reading adventures

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Fall Books 2011?????

Have you happened to browse through the lists of new books for Fall 2011? I just studied Amazon and the Barnes & Noble websites, and I am appalled. I did not see a single new book that interested me. I have never been so turned off by new offerings. I keep hoping that perhaps books to be published later this fall will appear and make me feel more faith and trust in book publishing, but so far, I want to GAG. Sorry for the all caps, there. I cannot hold back the extremity of my reaction.

Fortunately plenty of older books are demanding to be read! That encourages me quite a bit after the depressing journey I just took through the websites.

Please surrender your opinions about Fall Books 2011. I'm all ears!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Teacher's Reading Challenge

Making my tiny footsteps to get back into the reading game.

I read Leningrad this morning for about 45 minutes, which is a triumph for me, given all that's been going on.

And now I have selected a crime fiction read, thanks to Maxine at Petrona. For a minimal price, I purchased Into the Darkest Corner by English writer Elizabeth Haynes on the Kindle. Many, many reviewers have stated that it's an "I can't put it down" read, which is exactly what I need to get back on the horse of reading fiction. Haynes, who lives in Kent, wrote this debut novel as part of NaNoWriMo, the global phenomenon known as National Novel Writing Month. I, too, have participated in this event, three times over, and know the power of group encouragement, synergy, and a 30-day deadline to get the bare bones of a plot fleshed out from start to finish. Once that is done, writers can go back and add, edit, and revise. If I weren't teaching, I would be participating once again for certain.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I also need to read a banned, censored, or "challenged" book. I have finally! chosen Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden, which created a huge sensation in 1982 when it was first published. It was the very first book written for teenagers about a girlfriends' relationship that turns into a love relationship. Very sensitively done, too. The censoring sort of people went wild with it. "If my daughter reads this, she'll become a lesbian!" and all that rot.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Banned Book Week: September 24--October 1 and Robert Cormier

My Children's Lit class is doing a Banned Books Week project. We're getting started a bit early, so everyone has time to locate and borrow their chosen banned book from the library and finish reading it in plenty of time.

I'm not sure what I'm going to end up reading, but I would like to read another novel by Robert Cormier, whose book The Chocolate War has been read in high school classrooms all over the country since its explosive publication in 1974. In that year, The New York Times and Newsweek magazine named it "one of the best books of the year," for adults, mind you, not teens. And every one of Cormier's subsequent novels continued to smack up against the censor's teeth, making him the most censored novelist for young people from 1974-2000. No matter, many teachers and schools ignored the cries of terrified parents and school administrators and continued and still continue teaching his books.

Communities have listed many reasons for banning his books over the years, but if I may cut to the chase, experts acknowledge that the real reasons, though frequently unstate, were largely political in nature. Cormier's prose is exquisite, his dialogue pitch-perfect, but his novels are dark and shine a bright light on the underbelly of society, government, and, most of all, of human nature. He is known as a master of psychological suspense, but he never pits one lone human against another lone human. Society always looms large--that's why The Chocolate War is so frequently compared to The Lord of the Flies.

It's absolutely true that parents and school administrators freak out about young people's books that deal with anarchy and rebellion of the young.

Robert Cormier resided in the town where I lived (Leominster, Massachusetts) when I taught elementary school from 1975-1985. During that time and later, I heard him speak many, many times and was always captivated. He was so humble, so unpretentious, and full of anecdotes about the forces in society that pushed him to write each book. He died in 2000 at the age of 75, a great loss to teen readers and those who love freedom from tyranny.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Scottish Crime Fiction: Gordon Ferris, Anyone?

I'm delighted to discover that Scotland's Gordon Ferris's The Hanging Shed, the first book to introduce his new detective Brodie, has been quite a Kindle bestseller since Christmas 2010. I find it wonderful (and amazing) that certain titles are becoming e-book bestsellers without ever gaining a huge following in hardcover or paper. It's a fascinating phenomenon, and a global one. Perhaps folks in the UK can pick up Ferris's books no problem, but here in the US, forget it, unless you have the Amazon Kindle. The Hanging Shed has received the highest accolades from European Crime Fiction afficiandos (click on the link for a review), and I hope to read it very soon, via my Kindle, of course. Only nine dollars! I have to ask Katrina, of Pining for the West, do you know Gordon Ferris's work?

The Hanging Shed is set in Glasgow, 1946. Fantastic for my postwar fetish!

The first week of school has wreaked TOTAL HAVOC with my personal reading. School work from early morning til dinner. May this phase pass soon!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Whither My Direction in Books?

From May until mid-August, I read dozens and dozens of books and enjoyed the freedom of following my fancy, like a guest at a gourmand's banquet, while also pursuing my interest in German literature in translation.

So, with the fall teaching semester beginning this week, what plans do I have for my reading? I have oodles of books on tap, in every genre, to suit every mood, stacked next to my reading couch.

From September through December, I plan to be in the midst of reading one book of history at all times. I love history, spent a decade writing and publishing my own works of history, so perhaps I feel I have distanced myself too much from this genre.

Yet, concomitant with my history reading, I also intend to be in the midst of reading a work of fiction at all times. I hope I continue my exploration of European crime fiction because I have enjoyed these novels immensely all summer long. Still, I don't expect that all my fiction reads will be ECF.

On the days I am not teaching, I plan to read for a minimum of one hour each morning. On the days I am teaching, I will read for 30 minutes before dinner. (This is a bare minimum--I hope to spend more time reading than this.)

So I'll wish myself luck with this plan and see how it goes.

I also plan to post a blog entry at least three times per week.

What's Up Next!
My current history read is Leningrad:The Epic Siege of World War II, 1941-1944 by Anna Reid, a British historian, who is also the author of The Shaman's Coat: A Native History of Siberia and Borderland: A Journey through the History of the Ukraine. Leningrad has already received high accolades, for incorporating recently published scholarship and a new examination of Soviet archives. Reid does not intend to surpass Harrison Salisbury's 900 Days, but her examination and analysis supersedes all that Salisbury had access to back in the 1970s. The Siege of Leningrad was an epic human cataclysm in which thousands of people managed to survive despite all the odds stacked against them.

My Fiction Read: Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear. I imagine many of you have read it. Did you like it? Did you go on to read additional titles in the series? I'm hoping this will be a relaxing, get-away-from-it-all read.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Rafa Saw Me Through

First off, I am wholly and truly OKAY, through and through.

I'm sure you all know by now that I am a diehard tennis fan. I truly don't have a favorite player, or, to be more precise, I have many, many favorite male and female players. I also have a very, very few whom I dislike intensely, but you won't find their names here.

That's because what I'm trying to say is that the new biography Rafa made my pre-hospital and hospital experience easy. Yeah, it's a recently published celebrity bio, with lots of tennis strategy and stories of his family and favorite matches. Perfect for a tennis fan who loves Rafa, which I do, but then again I also love Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Mardy Fish, Gael Monfils, and so on and so on. I'm inspired by many women players as well. I admire these champions' physical endurance, their guts, their inspiration, and their ability to turn a very bad day into a great day.

Thank you for indulging me in the previous discussion.

Now, on to the future of my books and reading. I was so stunned to pick up a new hardcover history I purchased from Amazon at the post office morning, because it was not expected to be published until the end of September. (I had pre-ordered it.) Voila! Leningrad: The Epic Siege of World War II, 1941-1944 by Anna Reid is here and ready to be read.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Crisis Time Reading

You know, I don't like my header today. That's not unusual for me. But I'm dealing with a health scare at the moment. You know, by the time we've all reached 40, 45, or even younger, we've all had at least one drop into our laps. And if not concerning ourselves, then with a very close family member.

So I ask you all who read this blog, when you're distracted, nervous, and perhaps frightened out of your skull, what do you read or have you read successfully? Which books, and what type of book blots out the world for you? If you're able, please mention specific genres or titles that have worked for you in similar situations, if you're willing.

In the past, I recall reading Tina Brown's bio of Princess Diana during one of my husband's health crises. Sure made the hours in hospital fly!

Yes, a juicy, gossipy book holds my attention when bad things are happening because I lack concentration in medical settings. I wish it were not the case, but there it is.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Tropical Storm Irene: Today we were battered all day by rain, somewhere in the vicinity of eight inches. This amount is not so extraordinary overall, but when it falls during a period of about 8 hours, it is impossible for the ground to absorb. The winds were gusting into the 50s, though that often happens during blizzards and nor'easters. It's mainly the trees that we worry about. When the ground is saturated, wind tends to knock them over. Some of the roads in our area are closed to flash flooding, I've heard. We have no electricity as we expected. Yet for some reason, our Frontier internet is up! I'll take advantage of that for as long as I can.

BOOKS! I was terribly distracted today, but I devoured quite a number of children's picture books. That was fun. I planned more of my Children's Lit course, too.

Today I read The Storm of War, as discussed below. And I downloaded Rules of Civility by Amor Towles onto my Nook--a book everyone is talking about enthusiastically.

Yesterday I finished Call Me Princess by the Danish crime writer Sara Blaedel. All the time I was reading, I never wanted to give it up, but I think that there are a great many more deserving crime fiction reads around. I hear Icelandic author Yrsa Sigurdardottir has a new crime novel available. There are so many excellent crime writers! And not enough time to read them, mostly because I enjoy reading lots of non-crime fiction and nonfiction.

It's a problem of too many books, really.

Pardon a dumb post. The excessive water vapor in the air has flooded my cerebrum.

Friday, August 26, 2011

In Malice, Quite Close and Hurricane Irene

Just published in early August,In Malice, Quite Close by Brandi Lynn Ryder arrived for me at Crandall this afternoon. I had to go to the college library today and then to Crandall to stock up on loads of children's picture books, as part of my preparation for the Children's Literature class I'm teaching, starting Thursday, September 8th. I've been putting in some long hours this week preparing.

But back to the subject of this post! Back to In Malice, Quite Close. This novel was a 2009 finalist for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. It also earned high praise from Publisher's Weekly, which called it a "superbly crafted mystery....Lucid prose, snappy dialogue, and sharp characterization", etc.

Set in San Francisco and the Pacific coast of Washington State, this novel is immersed in the art world, particularly the world of art dealers, Impressionist art, and art auctions. I have been swept off my feet by the reviews that have been published by Kirkus Reviews, PW, and Bookpage, and the book has only been out three weeks.

So that will be my Hurricane Irene read. We're already worrying about the people up and down the East Coast, especially New York City. In the southern Adirondacks, we'll be getting inches upon inches of rain, but the forest, wetlands, and rivers can absorb it. The City can't. I'm worried about our friends on Long Island as well. On Sunday, I'll be tuned to the news while reading like crazy, since all our outdoor activities have been cancelled. Did you hear that, Sasha?

Up here we're lucky because we always have to be ready for a long-time loss of electric power. Like most people here, we have a gasoline generator to keep our well running, to make sure our refrigerator and freezer is running, and to give us a bit of light. We have a propane gas stove and oven, which is a godsend. No matter what happens, we can cook a meal. So actually, we're much better off in an emergency than when we lived in the Boston area.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Books Arriving for Labor Day & September

Everyone I know is loving our cooler late August weather, a sure harbinger of autumn and a time to be savored in the Adirondacks. Even though I'm busy, I'm pleading with myself to appreciate the rare beauty of late summer and fall. Reminder: Balance work, reading for pleasure, and the outdoors.

So what's coming in on the reading front? Based on Danielle's (Work in Progress blog) glowing review, and dozens of others I've read, I realize I simply must read the new novel Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. I will probably download this onto my Nook.

Next. I'm waiting for Saturday's mail, when The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War by Andrew Roberts is due to arrive. Roberts has received the highest accolades for his comprehensive, consolidated 600-page history. What I flipped over was the extensive bibliography. Oh, a comprehensive biblio is as precious to me as the book itself. I'm so glad that at least a few publishers today allow their historians to publish bibliographies. The practice seems to be going out of style (i.e. publishers being too damn cheap). I borrowed this from the library, and I must return it because others are waiting, but I'll be rewarded with my own copy in two days. Shangri-la!

Another nonfiction book will be arriving--a work of historical epidemiology, one of my arcane special interests. It looks to be wonderful, and I heard an interview by the author on National Public Radio: Vermont Edition. I'll post about this one to come.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Children's Literature Class Spiralling into My Orbit

I found out at seven last night that I'm going to be teaching a class in Children's & YA Literature at the college in two weeks. GASP! This is a class I hoped to teach one day, based on my educational and Children's Lit background, BUT! The class begins two weeks from tomorrow. I have not taught it at the college level before. I would have liked a bit more prep time, lots more, if the truth be told. I could have worked on it off and on all summer, but no. If I've learned anything about this college, everything is done at the last minute. After all, I have been called up on the Sunday night before a semester begins to teach an additional class on a Tuesday morning that I had no foreknowledge of. Keeps me on my toes, I guess!

So today I did not read for pleasure at all, not even a children's lit book. Too busy patching together a course.

Tomorrow I'll balance my time better than today. And I'll make some time for my own reading.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Suckered into Another Scandinavian Mystery

I loathe my blog header today. First of all, a person is never "suckered into" a book. To be honest, I made a deliberate, face-forward choice to read the book in question and to continue reading it, and it's clear I won't stop reading until it's finished.

And I detest, I hate, I find loathsome the misnomer "Scandinavian mystery."

Why? Because I have discovered that each "Scandinavian nation" has its own literary identity, which flows through each author's work. Norwegian writers are very different from Swedish writers are very different from Danish writers, and all the way around. National identities do count, though it's true, a writer's personal identity always counts more, naturally. And Icelandic writers! Suffice it to say, they would have fits if anyone were to consider them "Scandinavian."

So what book is causing this agitated blog post? It's Call Me Princess by the Danish crime novelist Sara Blaedel. I believe Amazon has listed the book amongst its "Best of August" titles. This is Blaedel's first novel to be published in the US (Pegasus).

Before it appears that I am discrediting the novel, I must say that 1) I am turning the pages rapidly, 2) I am more than halfway through, and 3) I am intent on finishing it.

But! There are holes in the crime fiction elements that I could shove my fist through. It's not tight, as far as the police procedurals are concerned, and this aspect has me biting my lip at times. My conclusion: This book needed much more time in the editorial process. It has a good story line, good plot potential, but a few points needed resolution. The character development is fairly weak and the setting elements are minimal, but that's not unusual when it comes to detective fiction.

So, as you can see, I may have lost respect for myself by continuing to read it. Still, it is entertaining, and though it's 352 pages, it's going surprisingly quickly. The truth may be that I am becoming addicted to "Scandinavian" crime novels.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Petrona: Truly a Blog of Substance

If you love, like, or find yourself occasionally drifting into the world of reading crime fiction, you will find Petrona an incredible resource. I should have added it to my "Blogs of Substance" list long ago. (To locate my list, scroll down below my "Books Read in 2011" list. (I wish now I had inverted the two lists so the blogs would appear first.)

I especially appreciated Petrona's lengthy discussion and bibliography of Swedish crime fiction, posted very recently. So comprehensive!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Late Summer, Per Petterson, and Margaret Drabble

Let's see if today's post survives better than yesterday's. So far, so good.

Another big hiking morning, one of many this week. Hiking companions seem to be popping up everywhere as the sun becomes less intense and the temperatures more reasonable. I still find it hot, but it's comforting to know that so many of my friends are finding the weather more tolerable.

Per Petterson!! If anyone had told me that I would love a novel by a male writer about the relationship between a man and his mother, I would have said, "Dead wrong!" But I picked up I Curse the River of Time, started reading, and haven't had a wish to read anything else since, and I'm nearly done.

Very well crafted, nuanced relationships. Five stars for that aspect, in my opinion. I identified completely with the main character, a man 37 years old, who finds that his mother, a woman in her early 60s, is in poor health. The book is all about Life and Time. Twenty years ago, ten years ago, when I was a small child, today, back and forth and all over the place in a lifetime of memories, and all of it is done beautifully. Puzzling over time, the worlds of the past that exist no longer, so well done in that respect.

Another unstoppable read: A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman: Complete Short Stories by Margaret Drabble (2011) is a small volume, yet each story has grabbed me from the first page. Such interesting male-female situations and relationships; characters with unique, strong voices; with plenty of irony mixed in. The stories date from the beginning of Drabble's career in the early 1960s to 2000. Highly recommended! For an article about Drabble and a book excerpt, click on the book link. It's from National Public Radio.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Late Summer & Per Petterson

So sorry to say, but I am furious that Blogger dumped an entire blog post for this Friday, August 19, that was fully SAVED. I cannot now put the effort into reconstructing it. Obviously it would be much better, much smarter, if I composed my posts in MS Word, then cut and pasted it. Alas.

I am enjoying Norwegian writer's Per Petterson's I Curse the River of Time. I never read his international bestseller, Out Stealing Horses, but I'm glad I'm reading him now.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Demise of Bookselling (Your Opinions are Important!)

I am loath to broach these subjects, but because they've been dominating the conversations of my local book-loving friends, I thought I'd add a little fuel to the fire.

Our local debate has been prompted by the imminent departure of an indepenent bookseller in Glens Falls, the nearest "city" to my wilderness region (still 40 miles away). The owners have cited the poor economy and, especially, the unprecedented rise of e-book sales this past year, to their necessity to close their doors. I do sympathize. I hate to hear of booksellers going out of business.

But when this bookstore opened five years ago, I realized that its chances of survival were oh so slim. How did I know? Because, as a former bookseller in Boston, I had participated in and witnessed the loss of many beloved independent bookstores to the chain bookstores from 1995-2005. This Glens Falls bookstore had to compete with a Barnes and Noble store 15 minutes away from its doors. Their store was TINY, and had inadequate parking in a diminished, neglected downtown setting, where people don't shop anymore. It's a wonder they lasted five years before collapsing.

Please Consider: Many libraries (not all, mind you) and most brick-and-mortar chain bookstores are reporting that their circulation and sales are plummetting due to the rise of the e-book. Amazon recently claimed that the sale of Kindle e-books now surpasses their paperback sales.

So what is my position on all of these changes? And please share yours! As a book consumer for 40 years, I must say that book lovers must stop feeling guilty. The market forces driving all the changes in book publishing are bigger than any one of us. We cannot simultaneously hold onto the old world of bookselling while purchasing hard-copy books online and downloading our e-books. No way!

For myself, I desperately need and I over-abundantly use the resources of libraries. Viva Libraries! Please use them! For my personal purchases, and to satisfy my arcane and eclectic tastes, there is not a brick-and-mortar bookstore in the USA that can feed my needs and interests. I rely on the Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites to send me both hard-copy and e-books.

What are your thoughts? Is your library experiencing a decrease in circulation these days? Please ask your librarian and report your views on The State of Book Buying!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Joseph Heller, More Re: Catch 22, and My Dad

Joseph Heller's Catch-22 was published in the U.S. in 1961, but did not do well in hardcover, selling only 40,000 copies. In 1962, however, it was published as a Dell paperback and became an instant bestseller.

In 1962, I remember my father read Catch-22 eagerly, but without a word in response to it. He urged my mother to read it, but after 50 pages or so, she couldn't stand it, declaring, "This book is completely crazy! It makes no sense at all!." I vividly remember her vehement comments. I don't recall Dad saying anything about her reaction. Personally, I think he loved the book.

Like Joseph Heller, my dad was born in 1923, but three months before Heller. And Dad died three months before him as well, in September, 1999, of heart problems (like Heller.) And even more like Heller, Dad was in the Army Air Corps (later in the war to be named the Army Air Force). Dad was a navigator and Heller was a bombadier.

But unlike Heller, Dad never saw combat, solely because he excelled as a baseball pitcher. Every "group" or squadron in the US had a baseball team on each air base. My father was a star pitcher and was not shipped out because the generals vied amongst each other to have the best baseball team. Month after month, he watched crewmen on his baseball team come and go, but he remained in the US, playing for the troops, as a morale booster, for most of the war. (Of course, he had to train and practice being a navigator on B-25s as well.)

Dad wasn't sent packing until late July 1945, when he was assigned to a base in Georgia to prepare to be shipped out for the Invasion of Japan. But the "shipping out" never took place because of the surrender of Japan in mid-August. Yes, he was very lucky, indeed.

He never mentioned a word of this to any of the three of us kids when we were children and adolescents. He told me about it when I was in my late twenties, so I'm sure he had experienced some guilt about being untouched by war, or it would have been common family knowledge much sooner. But by his late fifties, I think he had accepted his past and was ready to share it. And as my dear Uncle Connie pointed out to me just a few years ago, "He only did what he was ordered to do, like everyone else."

In any case, and because of all these historical family facts, I feel compelled to read Catch-22, the one American WWII anti-war novel I haven't read. (I loved Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, and heartilyh recommend it.) Ben Shephard, British author of War Nerves: Soldiers and Psychiatrists in the Twentieth Century criticized American troops for experiencing a greater number of "malingering" and psychiatric casualties than British troops. Well, of course, they did, silly! For many Americans emerging from the insular 1930s Great Depression era, what was Europe to them? What was Germany? Where was Germany? Who was Hitler? Who cared? Just as Heller makes all too plain in Catch-22.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Throw All Your Books in the Air and Start Over

After pondering my recent, out-of-the-blue, inexplicable disinterest(?!) in reading, I now realize that what I really want to do is to take all my books back to the library and START OVER. And again, inexplicably, what that means is that I want to travel down new reading avenues and take departures from the books I've been immersed in all summer.

I'm so glad I've figured that out. I'm turning partly toward the reading of history, but I need new fiction ideas as well. I'm going to experiment and see where my fancies take me. Should be fun!

But I won't be able to get to the library this week, because the weather is turning spectacular--that pre-autumn beauty the mountains show off in late August. And that means hiking, and plenty of it.

Until then, I will finish this post with the fact that 2011 marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of the American World War II anti-war novel Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. I'm appalled that I've never read it. Ken says he's read it twice. I guess he won't be up for reading it thrice with me. He's got his nose buried in Ian Rankin's Black and Blue, which is supposed to be one of the better novels in the series.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Murky Waters & The Kennedys

I simply have not been able to put a blog post together this week. My brother and I have been writing each other everyday these LONG emails back and forth about my poor mother, who's having a very hard time right now. I'm hauling my way down to the Boston area Saturday morning to have a really good visit with her. And I'll return Sunday. Oh, the August traffic! Save me! Fortunately, I have an audiobook from the library that received a 2011 Audie Award. The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte by Syrie James. I'll listen to that on my long drive. It should last the 5-hour drive down and the 5 back no problem.

So what's on my reading plate at the moment?
I'm delving into lots of history these days. I'm more than halfway through The War of Nerves by Ben Shephard, as I've already discussed. Yes, it's a tome, but worthwhile.

As a result of book weeding this month, I stumbled across a fascinating book that I forgot to read, Brothers: The Hidden History of The Kennedy Years by the journalist David Talbot (2007). What an unfortunate title, because it disguises the fact that this book is actually a history of Robert F. Kennedy's private search to find out who really killed his brother. Whew.

The vast majority of Americans still believe (and will probably always believe) that a conspiracy killed the President, even though all government agencies deny the claim, saying that the assassination was the work of a lone gunman. Yet, nothing that any government agency has ever said has changed the overwhelming belief in a conspiracy theory. There are many reasons for this, not alone that the autopsy was hopelessly bungled by no doubt well-meaning but hysterical hospital staff, followed by the take-over of generals and military hospital staff.

Robert, unfortunately, refused to cooperate with the Warren Commission, the original, offical investigation into the death of JFK, not only because Robert didn't trust the FBI, CIA, the Secret Service, and President Lyndon B. Johnson, but because he knew that his activities as Attorney General to choke the Mafia and organized crime, to prosecute the flagrantly corrupt Jimmy Hoffa and Union Teamsters, and to corral Cuban anti-Castro exiles had earned both him and JFK more people that wanted them dead than anyone on the face of the planet.

There is so much to be said here. And frankly, nearly fifty years later, there are very few people who care who really killed JFK. An interesting investigation into RFK's private hell.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Do People Still Read Margaret Drabble?

I no sooner finished the following paragraph, my original post, when I found a recent article about Margaret Drabble in The Daily Telegraph. Answered a few of my questions! I'm glad she has a recently published volume of short stories available. I'll look for that.

So, do people still read Margaret Drabble?
I'm asking because I don't recall a single blog post about Margaret Drabble, among all the blogs I frequent, for at least two years or so. When I was in my twenties, from 1974-1983, Drabble was a very popular literary read for college-educated, young, "liberated" American women. I remember distinctly reading Realms of Gold, published here in 1975. I know for sure that I read one other title, but I'm sorry to say I did not keep a list of my reading at that time, and I don't recall which one I read, but I think it was The Summer Birdcage.

What are your thoughts and memories? And, do you hear of people still reading Drabble?

Friday, August 5, 2011

William and Alexandra Styron

William Styron, though he wrote few novels, is considered one of the great American novelists of the twentieth century. Sophie's Choice is considered his masterpiece, though in recent decades he is better known for A Darkness Visible, his memoir about his battle with severe, unremitting depression.

Alexandra Styron published her memoir of her childhood and teen years growing up with her father, his friends, and his celebrity in 2011. William and his wife knew everyone who was anyone during the 1960s and 1970s.

Alexandra's acclaimed Reading My Father is on tap for me, borrowed from the library, and therefore needing to be read asap. Looks fascinating!

Yes, I'm still reading The Snowman by Jo Nesbo and War of Nerves by Ben Shephard, and like them both very much.

I do hope you'll be able to follow the "William Styron" link and Alexandra Styron's memoir link. I don't think Styron is widely read outside of the U.S., and Sophie's Choice is an international masterpiece. Did you see the wonderful film of the novel, with bravura performances by Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline as the doomed lovers? Sensational film!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Reading, Bushwhacking, and Book Weeding

As I discussed in Monday's post, I'm in the middle of two BIG books, War of Nerves by Ben Shephard and The Snowman by Jo Nesbo. But neither one is a work of German translation, so shouldn't I be reading one of those, too? I have one on tap, but I'm not sure I can read three books at once.

A big hiking/bushwhacking day. Sasha and I were out for three and a half hours exploring all over. For part of the time a friend and her yellow Labrador joined us. It was so sad to go to the wetlands and find all the yellow warblers gone. They are here only from May 3 until July 30 or so. Such a short time to breed and raise a family and then head south to Central America--Honduras and the Dominincan Republic, I think. Here's a photo to link to, so you can understand why I miss this cutest of birds. Warblers sing so beautifully--I'll miss their songs.

Sasha and I are happy because the biting insects are decreasing, making it easier to hang out in the woods and by the big creeks.

Book Weeding: I need to put some solid, committed, unrelenting effort into bookweeding. I must pack up some books I no longer need to make way for all the P.D. James hardcovers I picked up, as well as the other wonderful books I purchased this summer. I'm finally tossing the Plant Biology textbook I used at college back in the early 1970s! The science has changed totally. Why should I hang on to that? I know, I love plants and I don't have anything to replace it with. But I've tossed it. How much further can I go? When I was a kid and when the family was preparing for a move to another house, my mother told me to go to my bedroom closet and, "Be Ruthless!" That still makes me smile.

Monday, August 1, 2011

August--The Last Month to Overindulge

August is the final month of my vacation and the last chance to read voraciously, as if nothing else matters. I consumed twelve books in July—a new all-time record for me. All of this goes to show the extremes that a very lazy person can take rest & relaxation. I have luxuriated in every reading minute this summer.

Today was a Crandall Library book day. I returned an enormous bag of books and brought home loads more. I won’t reveal all the books I gathered just yet, but I will say that I came home and immediately started reading the British writer Ben Shephard’s history, A War of Nerves: Soldiers and Psychiatrists in the Twentieth Century (2000). I enjoy medical histories, and this is a juicy long one at nearly 500 pages. I decided I’d look it up after reading Elizabeth Speller’s The Return of Captain John Emmett, a post-World-War-I mystery set in 1921, which I strongly recommend. I'm also reading another of Ben Shephard's histories; his most recent title, The Long Road Home: The Aftermath of World War II (2010)) about the millions of refugees all across the European continent desperately searching for a home.

At the library book sale last Friday night and Saturday, I bought A Very Long Engagement, by the French author Sebastien Japrisot, another World War I novel. And today I picked up the first Maisie Dobbs mystery, entitled Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear, which deals with matters left unsettled after World War I.

And as any one of you could have predicted, I went way overboard at the book sale. I couldn’t let four P.D. James hardcovers in excellent condition go to the dump, could I, even though I have already read three of the four? I know I’ll want to read them all again because I adored each one! But where on earth do I put them? Obviously I need to do lots more book weeding. Oh, the pain of it!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

About Laughing Hysterically

Today I finished reading Alice in Bed, the debut novel of the popular American novelist Cathleen Schine, which was published in 1983. (Her most recent novel is The Three Weissmans of Westport (2010).) I have always wanted to read Alice in Bed, because Alice, the college-age heroine, tells the tale of her nearly year-long hospitalization for a debilitating, dangerous ailment that temporarily cripples her. Yes, I know, it doesn't sound like a funny book, but I was doubled over laughing through portions of the book.

Warning! Before you run out to find this book, I must say the reason why I was guffawing my way onto the floor is because I, too, as a young person, was confined to a hospital bed for an extended period of time. I tried reading passages aloud to Ken, but he just didn't get the humor, and I was laughing so hard I didn't care he didn't get it. Ken was absolutely right when he looked at me askance, and said, "I think you have to know the context to get the humor."

Exactly! If you have ever been helplessly ill in a hospital as a young adult, or as an older adult, you may find this novel excruciatingly funny. I think. Or maybe I'm just weird. Maybe Schine and I are sympatico because we were born the same year. (No, I won't identify the year, silly!) I'm feeling a bit sensitive about my age today.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper

The Saga of the Reading of a Classic American Novel:
Last night Ken and I settled down with Sasha to watch the 1992 movie The Last of the Mohicans, starring Daniel Day-Lewis. After about 20 minutes, I jumped up from the couch and announced that I could not watch another minute because I had to read the book first before viewing. I immediately abandoned both Ken and dog to dash upstairs and download it onto my Nook. And I began to read. Yes, I made apologies to both husband and dog.

I've never read anything by Cooper, who, although not the first American to publish a novel, is recognized as being the author of the first bestselling or first truly popular American novel. The Last of the Mohicans was published in 1826 and is Cooper's most popular novel. Some scholars have agreed that many of its novelistic elements derive from Sir Walter Scott's novels, particularly Waverly. Like Waverly, Cooper's novel is categorized as a historical romance.

In any event, the plot of The Last of the Mohicans could not be more American. The novel is set in 1757 during the French and Indian War in upstate New York, particularly the region surrounding Fort Edward, Glens Falls, Fort William Henry, and Lake George, all of which were primarily wilderness at that time. Glens Falls had a settlement and there was a small hamlet on Lake George, in addition to Fort William Henry. In this conflict, the French recruited and allied themselves with Native American tribes against the power of the British regulars and American colonists.

As far as I've read so far, Alice and Cora Munro are being escorted to Fort William Henry to join their father, a commanding officer. Every step of their journey is filled with the deathly threat from members of tribes belonging to the Iroquois Nation. Fortunately, the sisters and their male escorts have the guidance of Hawkeye, a "forester," scout, veteran of the wilderness, and speaker of Indian languages to protect and lead them. It's thrilling stuff, even if Cooper's prose can be a challenge at times for the modern reader.

Why I'm Gung-Ho On This Novel: Cooper describes the upstate New York wilderness exquisitely. Secondly, I discovered when I started watching the movie that all these events took place in my backyard, two hundred and fifty years ago. Well, an hour's drive south of my backyard.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Comedy in a Minor Key by Hans Keilson

A dark, but charming tale set during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands is at the heart of Comedy in a Minor Key: A Novel by German writer Hans Keilson. This slim volume, a very quick read at 136 pages, was first published in Germany in 1949 and was only recently translated and published in the US by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. Hats off to FS&G for rescuing this little gem from obscurity and bringing it to light in 2011! (UK friends, is it available to you, I'm wondering?) I loved it--the book had its hair-raising moments but a happy, satisfying ending rounded it off beautifully.

Keilson, who died at the age of 101 in early June this year, didn't care as much about his literary legacy as his work as a psychiatrist of war-traumatized children. He always believed his masterwork was the book he wrote about his experiences as a psychiatrist treating these children.

Keilson himself was in hiding in the Netherlands during World War II, so the novel comes from personal experience.

The New York Times obituary published in early June, was rivetting reading. What an amazing life! (Because the obit is over 30 days old, I can't provide a link. But getting to the article is a snap--just Google "Hans Keilson New York Times."

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Yeah, a Fun Rant, and More Book Sale Finds

Please skip down about four or five paragraphs if you prefer to skip the extreme frustration of an American citizen who has never seen a political situation as stupid as the one this country faces now. Thank you.

American politics are in a shambles for the moment, though the American People have spoken loudly and clearly, in the vast majority, for balance and compromise. The stock market keeps tumbling, our investments decrease in value. Gee whiz! Thanks so much, Congress, for helping our economy go down the tubes!

But why on earth would our politicians listen to the American people? After all, who are we but mere cogs in the machinery? We pay our taxes to the hilt, send our sons and daughters to fight in wars we don't want without cease or interruption, and, yes, we expect our Medicare and Social Security benefits, which we have fully paid for for decades and decades, you Congressional lunatics! You want to take the benefits away? Then give us our money back!

John Boehner, Speaker of the House, is not in control of his party (Republican) at the moment, which is turning the political mill into a quagmire.

I am "madder than a wet hen," as my farm-raised mother always says. Now tell me, what is so bad about compromise, you silly people who refuse to give an inch?

Did you call your member of Congress today?

Sigh. Breathe in. Breathe out.

Book Sale Finds:

I have not found many titles that I long for this year. This is partly due to book sorting exhaustion. But, even so, when our town librarian realized I wanted a copy of Barbara Kingsolver's most recent novel, The Lacuna, she set a nice hardcover edition aside for me. How nice of her! It's funny: On Sunday Ken and I were talking about books, and we discussed how we've both wanted to read The Lacuna and haven't had a chance to. We're both huge fans of Kingsolver. Ken says he has loved everything he's ever read by her, and he's even read The Bean Trees, one of her early books, which I haven't. We both LOVED The Poisonwood Bible--what an incredible experience it is to read that extraordinary creation. And we both loved The Prodigal Summer, set in the southern Appalachian mountains. I adored it and would love to read it again. These books are WORKS OF ART.

Today I also grabbed a paperback edition of Saturday by Ian McEwan, another of my favorite writers. I've always been sorry I haven't read this one, because it interested me.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Wonderful Library Sale Find

One of the perks of working day in and day out on our library's book sale, is the opportunity to obtain and pay for a few books in advance of the sale.

When I unloaded the pristine first edition, first printing copy of Tony Judt's Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945, published by Penguin in 2005, I was close to hyperventilating, so anxious was I to obtain it. This is the widely acknowledged, quintessential book on the subject, and as many applauding reviewers have claimed, it's unlikely that this title will be surpassed in the near future. It was named one of the New York Times Ten Best Books of the Year for 2005. It is an 847-page tour de force, with nary a negative review to its name. Judt was educated at King's College, Cambridge, but he has made his name teaching and writing at New York University, at the Erich Marie Remarque Center of European History.

In other news, after the booksale work in the mornings, I've come home to read The Return of Captain John Emmett by Elizabeth Speller. I've enjoyed it immensely, but at 435 pages, it has not been a quick read by any means, particularly because there are many details to keep track of in this very well-researched and well-written post-World War I mystery set in England. I should be finishing this book tomorrow. I give it a very high rating.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Library Book Sale Week

Our town's annual library book sale preparation is in full swing. It takes us a full week of working every morning 9am-12 noon to get everything ready for Friday Night's Book Preview Party (it's an extravaganza) and Saturday Book Sale.

I told everyone in late March that I would be unable to be the director of the book sale this year, after having done it the past two years, but no one in all this time has agreed to take it over. So when I showed up this morning as a "worker," everyone refused to accept the fact that I'm not in charge. So here we go again.

But, actually, I think I may have hit on a happy medium. I keep telling people I'm not in charge, so I don't have to attend dozens of meetings, I don't have to be stressed out about every detail, yet I can oversee the organization of the sale, answer zillions of questions, and provide guidance to the volunteers.

The scariest time for me will come at the end of the book sale, on Saturday afternoon. As the sale draws to a close, we practically give the books away and force them on people. That's wonderful! And then--the horror, which I only learned about today. This year, for the first time, we have to send the remaining books to the TOWN DUMP. Every year before this one, we've had a "Book Angel" who comes and takes the books to a place where the paper pulp is recycled. Unfortunately, our former angel is no longer in the business, and because we're in such a rural location, there aren't other options. Oh, how upset it makes me to send books away to the dump as trash!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Farewell, Anne LaBastille

The writer Anne LaBastille died in early July and I didn't know anything about it until yesterday. Hers was a passing I would have liked to have known about on the day it happened. She was an ardent wilderness preservationist, an international conservationist and environmentalist, and a prolific writer. She was only 75 and, as I learned yesterday, had Alzheimer's disease.

I read her most well-known book, Woodswoman, shortly after Ken and I moved to the Adirondack wilderness, back in 2006. (We arrived in December 2005.) At that time I was deep, deep in the heady throes of my love affair with this wild land. I'm very nostalgic about that time in my life and, consequently, about Woodswoman.

In that incomparable book, LaBastille recounts her wilderness journey, to build a cabin and be self-sufficient living on an Adirondack lake; far, far from any village, town, or other dwellings. Woodswoman is the story of this adventure and it fed my soul, largely because she did something that was the stuff of my fantasies, but which I knew full well I could never do. No roads (she travelled by boat). No electricity. No plumbing (of course). I didn't realize until I read LaBastille's obituary that she had a Ph.D. from Cornell University in wildlife biology, which she was awarded in 1969. That field was a man's world back then.

LaBastille made enormous contributions to world wildlife and conservation causes, as well as a monumental contribution to the preservation of the Adirondack State Park, all 6 million acres of it.

The New York Times published an extraordinary obituary.
Go in peace, Anne. Others are carrying your flame.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Thumbs Up for Bibliotherapy

Literary Blog Hop
This week's Literary Blog Hop topic (sponsored by The Blue Bookcase) involves bibliotherapy. Do you believe that books can be a viable sort of therapy?

I believe to the depths of my soul that books can be and are therapeutic; that is, they can improve a person's sense of well-bringing, can ease the pain of minor ailments, can distract a sufferer from the pain arising from more serious, chronic problems, and can lift a person's mood.

I think that books can be a therapeutic adjunct to psychotherapy, when one reads books or poetry with a licensed, skilled psychotherapist. I don't believe that the reading of books by themselves can cure mental illnesses. Books, however, can alleviate the pain that comes from any disorder, however.

I have received enormous psychological support from the reading of memoirs, particularly from those in which the memoirist describes his or her experiences enduring and recovering from a life crisis. Memoirs of grief and recovery from illnesses or other dire circumstances are excellent examples of the types of memoirs I'm thinking of. I receive strength from the experiences of memoirists conquering or coming to terms with their own life situations. The best memoir in this category that I have ever read was Lucky by Alice Sebold. It's a transcendent work of literature of the memoir genre, and yes, it helped me.

For stress-induced ailments and to combat stress in general, I have been helped by books. When I'm totally stressed out, I turn to simple, some might say "formulaic" novels, such as those written by Phyllis Whitney or a mystery from a series I've found soothing. Just as long as I don't have to think too hard. Based on my reading in 2011, the next time I'm stress out, I'll read more novels in the Kate Shugak series of Alaskan mysteries by Dana Stabenow and more from Julia Spencer-Fleming.

Is literary fiction more therapeutic than other, more popular genres?
I believe that each life-long reader knows the genres and the books that "work" for them. For those that haven't used books as remedies, I would suggest that they experiment and discover the genres and authors until they find what's helpful.

One universal caveat: Most people are soothed by the books that were their all-time favorites as children. Rediscovering these books can be a potent salve to any injury or illness.

What are your thoughts? I'd love to read them!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Discussing Bibliotherapy: Coming This Weekend

Literary Blog Hop
I'm participating in the Literary Blog Hop this weekend, sponsored by The Blue Bookcase, because I was keen on this week's topic:
Discuss Bibliotherapy. Do you believe literature can be a viable form of therapy? Is literary writing more or less therapeutic than pop lit or nonfiction?

My forthcoming post is wandering around inside my brain at the moment and will be posted this weekend.

About Not Reading The Tiger's Wife

Sometimes I'm either disappointed in myself or mad at myself for rejecting a book that's been universally acknowledged as having outstanding literary merit.

Tea Obreht (accent on the e in Tea) has received a groundswell of critical acclaim for her first novel, The Tiger's Wife, and I predict it will land on most of the "Best of 2011" book lists. So why am I refusing to continue with it?

I regret to say that the lack of a specific setting has driven me batty. The novel is set "in a Balkan country;" the names of all the cities, towns, and places are invented; and the talk of an unidentified "border" that can't be crossed and "taking the ferry" across a nameless body of water are problems for this reason: The novel deals with war and political issues from the recent and mid-twentieth century "Balkan" past. In other words, if the book were domestic fiction or a crime thriller, I could deal better with being unrooted in time and place. At least I think I could.

Maybe at some other time, after people I know have read it and found it worthwhile, I'll try it again. I'll leave you with a fascinating article about Obreht's past.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Quandary: To Read or Not to Read?

I believe I mentioned that last Saturday I picked up 7 books on hold for me at Crandall Library. Four of them were "New and popular books," which means other library patrons may be eagerly awaiting them. I know The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler is in demand (see yesterday's post), so I've made sure I'm more than halfway through the 500-page book already. It's hard to put down!

But what to do about this book: The Return of Captain John Emmett by English writer Elizabeth Speller? It's supposed to be a "gripping" mystery set in post-World War I England, and because Speller has written nonfiction history, and because she has been lauded for her research with this title, I'm game to try it. But then the push and pull comes. Should I be reading other books on my list? I have The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht, which has been abundantly acclaimed. Obreht, at the tender age of 26, has received loads of accolades for everything she's ever written. And The Tiger's Wife is due in 12 days. I have books for my German Postwar Literary Challenge on tap too.

Are you possibly in the midst of such a quandary this July? Please do share your book miseries!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Will the Real Lars Kepler Please Stand Up!

Before I write about Lars Kepler, I want to say I thoroughly enjoyed The House of Stairs, by Barbara Vine (Ruth Rendell), which I finished early this morning. Now I want to read the first two award-winning Barbara Vine psychological mysteries. [It's hard to call them "psychological thrillers" today, in 2011, because they lack the extreme, cutting-edge, nature of this genre as it stands now. And I must say this lack takes absolutely nothing away from its quality. The House of Stairs,, published in 1988 emphasizes deep characterization and the introspection of the first-person narrator. These aspects are acutely developed and are what make this novel a page-turner. Bloody grotesqueries are not needed because the eccentric, inexplicable actions of the characters make the book a profound "what the hell is going on?" kind of book.

Somewhere, somewhere I read several favorable reviews of The Hypnotist by the Swedish writer(s) Lars Kepler. I ordered the book from the library weeks upon weeks ago and it finally arrived for me yesterday. At 500 pages, I started reading immediately because it's on the bestseller list (in the top 20) and I have only 14 days with it. I'm only 150 pages in, so I can't give an evaluation except to say I'm entranced and it's keeping me reading. So, what I'm actually bringing to light is an issue: On the back dustcover flap is a photo of a middle-ageish man and woman and a brief sentence: "Lars Kepler is the pen name of a literary couple who live in Sweden." (!) I must say, I expect much more from the back flap of a hardcover jacket.

I fault the publisher, but I don't think it's Farrar, Straus, and Giroux's doing. As it turns out, the writers are a married couple, Alexandra and Alexander Ahndoril, both of whom have written and published literary fiction prior to The Hypnotist. I'm just guessing, but maybe the Ahndorils and/or their literary agent thought that if the thriller flopped, the failure would not negatively impact their reputation or the sales of their established literary writings if their names were not revealed.

Of course the book is a huge success, so their names have been flounted. They are "the successors to Stieg Larsson's fame," newspapers claim. Poor Stieg Larsson. How many successors have there been to claim his fortune?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Ruth Rendell--Barbara Vine: My New Find

Yesterday I picked up Barbara Vine's (aka British crime writer Ruth Rendell's) The House of Stairs, a psychological thriller published in 1988, the third title Rendell published using the pseudonym Barbara Vine. I'm already more than halfway through the 280-page book. It's thoroughly entertaining and smart--I realized early on I'd better keep my wits about me to follow the intricate plot and the dozens of characters. But what a picturesque world Rendell creates in the Notting Hill of the late 60s and 70s and 80s! (For an in-depth interview with Rendell, Google search "Ruth Rendell interview." The Times article comes up first, at least for me.

I've never read a word by Ruth Rendell before and knew nothing of her until this summer. Discovering new mystery writers has been an ongoing challenge this summer, and I'm happy to have found the Barbara Vine books. I'm not sure if her Wexford books, written under her own name, would interest me, but I'd be curious to hear what other people have to say about her writing.

A glorious summer morning for hiking and bushwhacking, like yesterday. Plenty warm but not too hot, not too humid. Sasha is learning how to bushwhack (hiking through the woods, through brush and fallen debris without benefit of a trail). She's learning what to do when an obstacle is blocking her path. I coax her. "Sasha, you have to go over it or around it--that's bushwhacking. I'm not carrying you through the woods." She's catching on and loves all the smells in the forest.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck and I'm Ready for The Edge of the Cloud

I'm two-thirds of the way through Visitation by the German writer Jenny Erpenbeck (born in East Berlin in 1967 into a literary family). A slim volume at 150 pages, Visitation is the story of the various inhabitants of a beautiful property and house on the shores of a Brandenburg-region lake from the late 1800s until the late 20th century. Erpenbeck is an impeccable writer of highly original prose--she is in full possession of her craft and enormously creative. In Visitation, the reader is kept far, far out of reach of the characters' inner worlds. Their tragedies and histories are fully stated but kept at an unreachable distance, creating a haunting, spellbinding effect. I can't say it's been an entertaining read, but it's been thought-provoking and worth discovering.

Such a sad, heart-rending, and bittersweet undercurrent in Flambards by K.M. Peyton. I was sorry to see it end and urge others to read it (see my previous post). Because my library system does not have a single copy of the next volume in the Flambards saga, The Edge of the Cloud, I have ordered it through the used book section of Amazon for a small price. I have to find out what happens next!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Reading the Magazine "World Literature Today" and Flambards

Today was terribly hot, in the high 80s. So I had to settle for a preponderance of indoor sports.

I spent three hours of bliss studying contemporary and modern German literary criticism online. I'm extremely fortunate to be able to do this because of my academic affiliation and the incredible academic databases I have access to through the college where I teach. I won't bore you with all I read today, except to say that fireworks were frequently blasting in my skull as I began to make sense of what's going on culturally and socially in the books I'm reading for my German Postwar Literary Challenge.

If you like to read global literature, you may be interested in the magazine World Literature Today, which is published by a dedicated international staff at the University of Oklahoma.

How I've suffered along with Christina through my reading of Flambards by K.M. Peyton! (Follow the link to her fascinating website! I had no idea it would be so heart-rending. It's an excellent book, but for some dumb reason I didn't think that all the warts of the Edwardian era would be so exposed. I had been hoping that the orphan Christina would find a happy family at Flambards. Nothing doing! But my ridiculous preconceptions aside, it is a top-notch read that has kept me on the edge of my seat. Of course Sweetbriar had to be saved! But oh, the sorry consequences. Mind, I'm not done, but in forty pages I will be. Perhaps I'll have more to say tomorrow.