In the High Peaks

Monday, January 31, 2011

Blizzard A' Brewin'

The big, big storm is supposed to strike during the day Wednesday, but tomorrow, Tuesday, will see six inches fall during the day, separate from the 2++ feet expected on Wednesday.

This weekend Ken and I thought that a mere six inches of snow would be nice to rejuvenate our snowshoe trail system (be careful what you wish for!), but I do hope all the snow predicted does not pan out. Yikes!

Books: While I'm reading The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson, I want to start reading The Weekend by Bernhard Schlink.

But you Larsson fans, do check out a fascinating article from The Guardian, dated February 2010. Google this search string: "Stieg Larsson fourth book." The first result should be the Guardian article. (I'm sorry, but The Guardian won't let me link you to it directly.) The issues in the case of the fourth book are still brewing!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Book Orders!

Yes, I've gone a bit wild ordering books lately, mostly books that I haven't been able to borrow from the library. I've ordered Elizabeth Bowen's The Heat of the Day, published in 1949, a novel set in England during World War II, particularly during the Blitz. I have never seen the Masterpiece Theatre adaptation of the novel. Have you?

I've also ordered Flights of Love: Stories by Bernhard Schlink, published in 2002, several years after The Reader appeared in the U.S.

And I finally bit the bullet and ordered the audiobook Life by Keith Richards, acclaimed Rolling Stones guitarist. The hardcover sits at 596 pages, so the unabridged audiobook should keep my brain enchanted for many long commutes to work. The importance of this occupation for my psyche cannot be underestimated. When I'm done, I'll donate it to a library that does not own an audio copy.

I much, much prefer memoirs for my commutes. For me, novels require so much more concentration, and because I'm driving in snowy weather almost all of the time, I need my wits about me!

It has been a fascinating birdwatching January. We've been visited by a bird that spends its summers in the high Canadian Arctic. 60+ common redpolls have crowded our feeders in the last few days, crowding out the other birds. This is the first time in my life I've had redpolls, so our birdwatching life has been exciting!

Back to Books: I'm so enjoying The Girl Who Played with Fire. When I read the series the second time, and indeed I will, I'm going to make sure I have an excellent map of Stockholm as well as one of Sweden, so I can keep track of all the comings and goings. They're important to the plot, and as it stands now, I have to ignore the places, for the most part, because I don't have a clue about any of them.

Monday, January 24, 2011

My Winter Is a Season of Audiobooks

Well, early this morning it was nearly thirty degrees below zero Fahrenheit. I don't know what the Centigrade equivalent is, but it was the coldest night since we've lived in the Adirondacks.

Believe it or not, a phone call Saturday night established the fact that I am, once again, teaching two courses. One on Mondays and Wednesdays, the other on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which means a 74-mile round-trip commute four days a week! This crazy schedule will not likely happen again, as I gain seniority, but for this winter and spring, life will be crazy!

Audiobooks: They are in such demand at the library that I never know what I will find. I will learn, however, the best ways to get the precise audiobooks I want.

Currently I'm listening to The Great Hurricane of 1938, a book that details the Category 4 Hurricane that devastated the shorelines of Long Island, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, as well as inland central Connecticut and Massachusetts. My mother, father, and other relatives frequently recounted their survival tales relating to this historic storm, so it has been intriguing to "hear" about all the details from a historian's point of view and compare notes with all the family stories that have been passed down. A tremendous loss of life and property accompanied this hurricane.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The "Spring" semester starts Monday. Unfortunately, I am teaching only one class as enrollment is way down this semester and new adjuncts are left without classes to teach. I'm sad about it, but there's nothing to be done. I've volunteered to teach the Summer I (May-June) and Summer II (July-August) sessions.

This leaves me with extra time this winter and early spring. More time for everything else in my life, including reading.

No one in the world needs to hear that I'm loving The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson. How boring for visitors to my blog! To read about how I'm loving a global bestseller. It's a chunkster to boot.

But, with extra time in the offing, I've rekindled my interest in German novels. I have Bernhard Schlink's new book The Weekend from the library.

It has been a dream, perhaps more like a fantasy, to read German lit in German. So many novels are never translated, and I do long to read many of them. So is it back to my German language studies? Why, oh why, is it so hard to develop and sustain a reading knowledge of a foreign language? Have you ever tried?

One needs to persist, keep reading, keep studying, and never let up, particularly considering the age 55+ brain! This is the crux of the problem. Real life intervenes. The need to work, the need to relax and have fun--all impinge on consistent language study.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Elizabeth Bowen's "The Demon Lover"

On Saturday, after several decades, I reread Elizabeth Bowen's classic short story "The Demon Lover," from my volume The Collected Short Stories of Elizabeth Bowen.

The sum total of what I remembered about the story is precisely what hit me most forcefully on my second reading--the interior of the shuttered, abandoned Kensington home of a family of five during the Blitz. Mrs. Drover, the 44-year-old wife and mother of the family, comes in to London from the family's country home to gather some household items on a steamy late August afternoon.

Although this is a "ghost story," what strikes me is that I remember nothing about Mrs. Drover's encounter with the ghost! What I recall is Bowen's meticulous, sensory description of the miraculously intact house, which is no longer a home, and which is surrounded by houses that have suffered bomb damage.

I can't fathom Bowen's title for the story--it just doesn't fit. If you have read the story before, I heartily recommend a second reading. It is a classic of the genre, although if I do say so, the encounter with the ghost is a bit "over the top."

Friday, January 14, 2011

I'm in a Book Quandary

Yes, I "dismissed" The Cookbook Collector. I was 125 pages in, but it had to go. It did not seem to have a theme--a Point. It was going nowhere, although perhaps, by page 350, it might have, before ending at page 400, but I lost all patience with it and couldn't continue.

So I'm on to finishing Great House by Nicole Krauss, and I think to begin The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson. I loved The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo ,so much so that I've been afraid to start the second book in the trilogy.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Home Again

I've been home three hours and have not adjusted yet. You mean I have to cook a dinner? You mean I have to teach in about ten days?

It was lovely to visit Lake Placid Lodge--so lovely. I meant it when I told Keith Mandernach, the Front Office Manager, that the lodge is the very best place I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. Aside from the not-to-be-rivalled beauty of the place, the entire staff was so genuine in their keen desire to make our stay pleasurable and memorable. And chief among the staff, of course, is Maggie, who was very down in the mouth this morning as we prepared to leave.

I was overwhelmed to come back to our everyday life. But books are always a consolation.

Which brings me to the thought I had upon awakening today. We both opened our eyes about the same time, and I said, "There's more to characterization in a novel than making up quirky characters!" Ken did a doubletake and reached for his glasses so he could get a good look at me. I told him I was referring to The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman, 100 pages of which I read yesterday and most of it last night. In typical, no-nonsense fashion, he said, "You don't have to keep reading it if you don't want to." This from the man who religiously finishes each book whether he's enjoying it or not.

I looked at the book in question this morning and noticed I'm about to turn to Part Three, which looks as if it might take an intriguing turn. Maybe things are looking up.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Snowbound with Books in Lake Placid

To say we're snowbound is a bit of an exaggeration, but we awoke to loads of snow on the ground and snowflakes flying furiously in every direction. We ventured forth this morning, with micro-cleats and ski poles, but due to the high winds and cold (12 degrees), we made our walk on the roads a relatively short one.

Maggie, Lake Placid Lodge's resident golden retriever, snowshoed with us along the lake yesterday but didn't come with us today. She knew better. It's amazing how closely she has stayed to us. She has spent hours and hours with us in our room while we read and use our laptops, and she follows us to our table whenever we eat. Her owner, John, the general manager, says it's unusual for her to do this. Might Maggie sense our loss? We certainly have showered her with special attention. It's been good for us to practice forming an attachment to another dog. Right now she's asleep by my side.

Yes, Katrina, they better check our car before we leave tomorrow to make sure Maggie isn't hidden in the back seat!

I've got only eighty pages to go in Great House by Nicole Krauss and, I must admit, I've found it a hard read--so many difficult issues, so much melancholia. I realize the book has been listed as one of the best books of 2010,but, although the writing is fluid, cerebral, and intriguing, the links among the various stories are tenuous and obscure, from my point of view. Perhaps my evaluation will change in the final 80 pages, and if it does, I will report it.

I visited Vintage Reads this afternoon, a new book blog to me. I noted, with longing, her discussions of books by Elizabeth Bowen. I have an entire collection of Bowen's short stories. I recall one, in particular, a ghost story set in London during the Blitz. I must read that story again, and I don't know the title, so I'll have a search ahead of me.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Reading and Walking

Reading and walking have been my major accomplishments this past weekend. I finished Homecoming and have read 100 pages of Great House by Nicole Krauss.

Secrets, hidden trauma, truth vs. reality and their relationship to lies: these are the themes in both books, and both are World War II & Holocaust related. Who knew? Homecoming is not as well crafted as Great House, however. And, do you know, Homecoming's climax came in the Adirondack Mountains? I had a good laugh over that. Yet the book was deeply disturbing, and I suppose the same could be said for Great House. Krauss, however, has more of a command over the chaos than Schlink, but, do you know, that can sometimes be more devastating?

I don't regret reading either book, but I think I'm in the mood for something a bit more cheerful. I'd like to read a book that would make me laugh. But I don't have any on tap right now, and don't have a clue where to find one.

I have Allegra Goodman's The Cookbook Collector from the library. What I know about it is limited: it's about the diversionary (is that a word?) paths of two sisters. One on the East Coast, the other on the West. It looks interesting and is another book I will not return until I am finished.

Ken and I are lining up our Lake Placid reads. I'm going with The Cookbook Collector, of course, and Great House. No surprises there. Ken is bringing Chris Bohjalian's Secrets of Eden and Dennis LeHane's latest, Moonlight Mile, at least I believe that's the title. LeHane hales from Boston, so he's always on our lists, and he's racked up a number of high honors to boot.

Friday, January 7, 2011

New Meanderings

I'm not going to complain about our snow drought. The frigid temperatures have frozen the trails and, therefore, make for easy hiking. So, I'm not complaining, mind you, but... if you have friends in high places, please send us some more snow. We are fond of deep drifts here.

I'm halfway through Homecoming by the German writer Bernhard Schlink, though a strange tale it is, indeed. A novel set in Germany of the postwar era that is odder than odd. At this point, I'm not sure what to make of it, but I hope to "generalize" on it eventually. The novel reminds me of Paul Austers', but with none of the flare and pizazz. I turn the pages, rub my brow, and ask, "Just where is Schlink going?"

I must confess that I also have returned to Great House by Nicole Krauss. This is the third time I have had it from the library, and each time I've had to return it after two weeks because another borrower wanted it. Not this time!! I am going to finish this book, no matter what fines I accrue! This is a novel that revolves around a very special writing desk, while exploring many themes relating to loss, with a capital L. I'm about 50 pages in.

Next week Ken and I will be granted lots of reading time. Ken was so intrigued by my extravagant descriptions of Lake Placid Lodge that he wants a two-night stay! That will be lovely. We'll visit his favorite restaurant one evening, in the heart of Lake Placid Village, which has an enormous selection of beers on tap and in bottle, and which serves fish and chips as well as excellent shrimp dishes. I'm looking forward to the snowshoeing by the lake, the visit to the exquisite independent bookstore, and to the food at the Lodge, not to mention the fireplace in our room and our view of Lake Placid. I understand we are to have two bathrooms, not by request, but by happenstance. Can you imagine? Perhaps I will invite Ken to soak in "my" deep-soaking tub with me. Heavens!

And we DO hope Maggie, the resident golden retriever, will be available for walkies! The lodge staff know of our loss and will do what they can to make sure she is available. Maggie and I got on famously at my last visit and she accompanied me on a two-hour trail hike. The staff was surprised she didn't ditch me and come home after an hour, but Maggie seemed to enjoy my dog songs and Christmas carols, because she eagerly accompanied me the whole way.

Monday, January 3, 2011

News! Got My Teeth into Book!

I'm in the early pages of the German writer Bernhard Schlink's Homecoming, which was his second novel published in English, I believe. I'm sure I've mentioned that I'm interested in contemporary German lit. But, as far as Schlink is concerned, his most popular novel, The Reader, turned my thumbs way down. Of course, I may have overreacted. I read it when it was first published, years and years before the movie came out.

I was viciously disappointed in it because the plot was too obvious. I knew immediately that the lover of the young, teenaged protagonist was a former Nazi worker in a concentration camp. I don't think I read more than 20 pages and I knew. And I remember tossing the book across the bedroom in rage at Schlink. I was so mad! He could've been more nuanced about it, but, for me, a life-long student of the Holocaust, he made the whole plotline evident before I even got to know the characters! Grrr.... I immediately threw it into Ken's pile, and my husband, not being the historian, loved it! At least the money was not wasted, I concluded.

Ken and I watched the movie this past year, years later, and I think Kate Winslet was wonderful, as was the teenaged narrator. I've simmered down quite a bit. I've even allowed the possibility to cross my mind that I may pick up The Reader again. But, for now I'm mystified by Homecoming. I'm reading Chapter 11and am so involved. Good!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Getting My Reading Feet under Me

That's my task for the moment. I am in a terrible, indecisive quandary about what to read next. I am not at a loss for books--I have scads of delicious reads left unread. What I am is miserably unmotivated. Please let this be a temporary state! I have been enjoying magazines--The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, National Geographic Traveler, American Artist, and American Art Review.

I don't know about you, but, frankly, I was disappointed by the year 2010 in new books. I meant to devote an entire post to this topic last month, but I believe it's a bit too late to complain about that now--no crying over spilt milk, as my mother would say. By the way, at the age of 87, Mom is reading a nearly 1200-page tome, The Queen Mother, a bio published in 2009. She finds she can only read so many pages a day due to the small type, but she's enjoying it thoroughly. I couldn't find it for her in large print, but she says she's managing and is determined to read it. That's Mom: If she's determined to do something, no one can stop her.

Onward! Forge my way ahead! Pick up any book and start reading on any page, in any place. Just read, you fool!

OK. I may start reading A Tale of Two Cities, downloaded for free onto my Kindle. This is Ken's favorite of Dickens', with David Copperfield being a close runner-up. I loved both David Copperfield and Great Expectations.

I'd like to start taking a bite out of Brian Fagan's Cro-Magnon: How the Ice Age Gave Birth to the First Modern Humans, published by Bloomsbury in 2010. I love Brian Fagan's nonfiction: the history, archaeology, climatology, and anthropology all mixed together. These are quirky interests of mine, which I enjoy indulging. I do find, however, that I tend to read Fagan while reading other works of fiction. His nonfiction can be dense, though I love it nonetheless.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Welcoming in the New Year

Oh, oh!--How I give thanks to everyone who commiserated with me over the loss of our dear Sophie. Those thoughts have strengthened me; thank you, all!

Last night Ken and I watched the Swedish film Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, which I'd been resisting watching. I ADORED the book and didn't want movie images to compete with the imaginative world in my head. But, I will say, the movie was very good; yet, all the same, after the fact, I don't ever want to see another movie of Stieg Larsson's books. They are too special to mess up with inferior film versions!

It was a long film, and when it drew to a close, it was 11:40 pm and time to turn to a channel that would feature the "ball" dropping in Times Square, New York. So we turned to NBC. Fine. We had our sparkly half-bottle of Asti Spumante poured into our fluted glasses, all ready to go. And! And! The ball started to fall. But some crazy network peon turned the camera to the crowd, and NBC never showed the ball dropping! We were truly appalled; we never could remember such a screw-up happening before. We survived the loss, however, and turned to The Tennis Channel and watched Federer and Naftal beat each other up on the courts, all taped from mid-December 2010 in London.

BOOKS!!! I know, BOOKS! I finished The Body in the Sleigh this morning and don't know where I'm headed next. I don't want a heavy, intellectual read. Not yet. I need light fluff until I recover more fully from Sophie's absence.