In the High Peaks

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Cutting for Stone

I've become very interested in my latest read, Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. I'm surprised I'm 220 pages into the 600-page chunkster, especially since the novel is set in Ethiopia, and I'm not drawn to novels set in Africa, for the most part.

It's definitely unusual and a bit quirky, but after 200 pages, I'm definitely hooked! It's the story of twins born to an Indian nun who was a missionary nurse in an Addis Ababa hospital in Ethiopia. I've always liked novels with a strong medical background, and after visiting the author's website, I'm more interested than ever. This is his debut novel, though he has published several acclaimed memoirs prior to this. But Verghese is a full-time practitioner of medicine, now at Stanford University in California, though he was raised in Ethiopia.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Wilder Life (The Laura Ingalls Kind)

When I left the college for the last time this semester, I drove straight to Crandall Library to get a large fix of books. On hold for me was a book I ordered: The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie by Wendy McClure.

I have been a Laura Ingalls Wilder devotee since I was ten years old and have enjoyed the series even more as an adult. I think the writing is exquisite--simple, yes, yet full of clear images and events that linger long after reading.

The book that hooked me at age 10? The Long Winter, in which the Ingalls family struggles to survive the starvation brought on by the historic winter of (oh, help! my research betrays me!). Well, it was sometime in the early 1880s in Dakota Territory. (Pardon to those who have read this before.)

It wasn't until I was an adult and did extensive research that I discovered how close the Ingallses and their neighbors in the town of De Smet (now South Dakota) came to death by starvation, and how Laura and her family surely would have died had they stayed on their homestead on the plains that winter. Others certainly did. Fortunately, Pa and Ma had the foresight and good sense to take the financial risk of renting rooms in town for the duration.

In The Wilder Life, Wendy McClure reveals her life-long fascination for all things "Little House" and chronicles her adventures to satisfy her obsession, including pilgrimages to the cabin and homestead sites and lots of information to illuminate the history behind the book.

I admire the massive research she undertook for the book, ferreting out all kinds of information that answer questions most inquiring, intellectual adult minds have about issues and problems in the Little House series.

The only thing I don't like about this book (and I really, really, really don't like this) is that McClure often does not tell exactly where she got her information--I'm talking a lack of bibliography here. Footnotes would not have hurt either. The Wilder Life, I realize, is conversational in tone and is meant to entertain, but it suffers for lack of a complete bibliography. People want to know! Why wouldn't McClure reveal all her sources? She does include a "Selected Bibliography" at the conclusion of the book, but right off the bat, I noticed at least one good scholarly source about the Little House series that did not make the list. I'm sure she consulted it.

The Little House book I need to read and add to my collection: Little House on the Prairie, when the Ingalls family moves to Indian Territory in Kansas. Please do see Katrina's May 17 post about the book (blogger of Pining for the West).

Monday, May 16, 2011

Nothing but rain here. It's been raining since Saturday and is not expected to stop anytime soon. How dreary it is! The dirt roads are impossibly wet and the trails are underwater, shutting down any ideas of taking a walk. Time to dig in and stay away from the wilds. It's bad for the trails to venture out in thick mud. We don't do it. We work out on the elliptical and the treadmill instead. We look out the windows a lot.

So? I finished final papers and posted all my grades, finishing just after noon today. Yes, it is truly summer vacation now. I'd like to teach a class this summer, but enrollment hasn't merited my involvement, so I'm left to entertain myself.

Do you recall that I mentioned Bernard Schlink's The Weekend earlier this year, or was it late in 2010 that I discussed it? In any event, I never had the chance to read beyond Chapter Two. I am reading it now, am halfway through, and now realize how crucial it is to be a member of German society to understand the issues the novel raises.

I have felt so at sea while reading it. The book looks back upon the former members of a radical leftist terrorist movement which was active from the very late 1960s until nearly 1990 and unification. Characters in The Weekend are former members of the Red Army Faction (no, nothing to do with the Soviet Union), which was a pivotal German radical group during this period.

I know nothing about the Red Army Faction or its impact on German politics and society. This lack, I feel, prevents me from fully appreciating the novel, and I am angry that it was published here without any historical notes or preface or introduction or anything.

I am now in the midst of researching what I can find about the Red Army Faction and the murders they perpetrated on German industrialists and power brokers. I want to understand more so that I can fully appreciate what Schlink is saying in the novel.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Books & Birds

Every morning in May, when I wake up, I'm terribly torn. The smart thing to do would be to go outdoors first thing and hike and see all the migrating neo-tropical birds, especially my favorites, the warblers from Central America and northern South America. They come north, NORTH, to breed and to quickly raise their broods before returning to the sub-tropics (Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, etc.) in August. (A few leave as early as late July.)

So why can't I tear myself away from a cup of tea and a good book for at least an hour or two? Sheer laziness and a love of coziness on the couch! I get outdoors, all right, but I need my book fix first.

I finished A Cold Day for Murder by Dana Stabenow yesterday and today read half of The Writing Circle: A Novel by Corinne Demas, a story depicting the intertwining lives of a writing group. Every member of the group has published in his or her field, which piqued my interest, because I was a member of such a group when I lived in Boston. The book's a page-turner, because the focus keeps shifting among the group's members who are a colorful lot. It's not a great novel, but it's entertaining.

Demas is a professor at the distinguished Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts and has received two National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowships and a Mellon Fellowship. Not for this novel, I hope! She is a poet and has written many children's books and a memoir in addition to this adult novel.

I shouldn't pass judgment halfway through a book. I like it and I'll continue reading it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Kate Shugak & Alaska

My vacation has been extended by two days, so this morning I got up and had time to read non-stop for three hours. Not every book will hold my attention for such a length of time, but Dana Stabenow's first mystery in the Kate Shugak series, A Cold Day for Murder, had me enthralled.

Two weeks ago I was at the library and picked up the most recently published book in the series for Ken, knowing how he loves novels set in Alaska. He was mesmerized by it, finished it quickly, and urged me to get more of Stabenow's books for him.

I knew nothing of Dana Stabenow or Kate Shugak when I picked up the book for Ken, so yesterday I did a bit of research and discovered that Stabenow's first book in the Kate Shugak series is available for download via Kindle or Nook for just 99 cents. Good move on Stabenow's part, to make her first book available at such a low price! (She wanted to offer it for free, but you know Amazon and Barnes & Noble.)

I downloaded A Cold Day for Murder without hesitation last night, and I think I'm hooked on the series. At least I'm loving this first novel, which won an Edgar Award for best debut mystery in a series. (It was published in the early 1990s.) I read 175 pages today, a great deal for me on a sunny day in spring at the peak of bird migration. I hope I wake up early tomorrow, too, and while the house is quiet, I'll tiptoe around while I fix my cup of strong darjeeling tea, settle myself on the couch, and take wing to Alaska.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

My four-day, no-work-of-any-kind weekend has been a relief! I had an adventure today--I went horseback riding for a one-hour woodsy trail ride at the Circle B Ranch, about 13 miles from home. It's the best riding establishment in the Adirondacks, according to my horsey friends. My mount was a sturdy black horse named Riley. He was unflappable, even when a tall tree of small dimensions decided to keel over right behind us, making the sound of a loud BOOM! It startled the hell out of me and the horse behind us, but Riley stopped for a second, then marched resolutely on. I was assigned Riley because I haven't been riding since I was about 20--that's more than three decades ago! I think the owners knew what they were doing when they assigned Riley to me. Thank you!

I'm two-thirds of the way through 22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson, a British writer, and I heartily recommend it. I realize now that I don't have the time at the moment to describe its plot or finer points, but the novel has been judged as one of the best debut novels of 2011. I would agree with that assessment.

For an interview with Hodgkinson, I endorse this interview on the Penguin website--it's quite in depth.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

A Four-Day TOTAL Vacation

Starting tonight, I don't have any schoolwork to do until next Tuesday, May 10. A NO-WORK 4-Day Weekend! Incroyable! Celebrate!

Reading, first.
I believe I may begin my sojourn by reading the Swedish author's Leif GW Persson's Between Summer's Longing and Winter's End: The Story of a Crime. The title makes me laugh, because right now, here in the North Country, I feel as though we're still sitting between winter's end and summer's longing! The trees don't dare put out leaves, it's been so cold. Tonight there will be a drop to 29 degrees again followed by a warm-up and sunshine to 58 degrees, which will be the warmest temp all week! We have had not a drop of sunshine since last Sunday. Even so, our daffodils finally made an appearance, though they're kissing the earth from all the rain that's fallen. Sad, really.

Oh, dear, dear readers! I've just read a horrible review of Persson's crime novel in The New York Times. Oh, horrors. I can't venture forth with that review in my mind.

What shall I read? It appears I may have to go scanning my TBR stacks.

That might be fun, actually. Please stay tuned until tomorrow when I should have my next read sorted out!