In the High Peaks

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.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Christoph Hein

I have a severe case of writer's block because I'd like to write an entry about the German writer Christoph Hein's 2008 novel, Settlement, but I feel I'll make a mess of it. The German title is Landnahme, which, despite my imprecise German language knowledge, has a much broader connotation than the English word settlement. After reading the book, I'm not at all happy with the English title. But this is nothing new for me concerning English translations of German titles.

So why do I have writer's block? My problem stems from the fact that there is so much to say about this novel and its author, and I don't want to overwhelm my readers. But I'll just plunge in. Here goes...

Bernhard Haber, the central character of the novel, and his parents were forcibly relocated to an East German town from the far eastern province of Silesia, which, due to the Big Three's (Stalin, Churchill, Roosevelt) game of chess at the very end of the war in 1945, was ceded to Poland, to be under the domination of the Soviet Union. The German population in Silesia was forced to exit to the west, to East Germany, also under the control of the Soviets, and some to West Germany.

After World War II, all of Germany was inundated with German refugees from the (distant) East, and not only from Silesia. And like "foreigners," "strangers," and other supposedly despicable "Fluchtlinge," they were not welcomed anywhere they had to settle. This was the author Christoph Hein's personal history (he was born in 1944 in Silesia), and it was the story of the young Bernhard Haber and his family.

But Hein never allows Haber to tell his own story. Five native inhabitants, male and female, reveal Haber's life and the town residents' viewpoints.

This novel is compelling--I never tired of reading it, and I found it simultaneously puzzling and illuminating as I struggled to gain insight into the social dynamics of East Germany from the late 1940s through the 1980s. Extremely well-written!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

Today has been one of the nicest summer days I can ever remember. Temps in the low 70s; a very cool, brisk north wind; full sunshine that warms but doesn't overheat; all flies and bugs to a minimum. Summer would be my favorite season if everyday were like today. I explored, I wandered, I hiked up and down in my woods and neighboring hills and fields, and every new sight was a wonder.

I could have finished State of Wonder by Ann Patchett today, but stopped myself short of 60 pages. (Follow the previous link to an excellent review, a book excerpt, and an interview with Patchett.) I don't want it to end! Tomorrow, maybe tomorrow, my psyche can deal with the book's ending, but not today. I'm not ready to let go. It's been a stellar read. Patchett is a magician--her plot and sub-plots, settings, and characters are so deep, so pleasurable, so exciting. This is a top-ten book of the year, for certain. To all the foremost American book critics, I want to say, "I dare you to find fault with this book. I dare you! And if you do, you will be getting disagreeable mail from me.

But you're right: I absolutely do not gravitate toward books set in the Amazon. Equatorial rainforest locales do not turn me on. I avoid them. But like the exquisitely rendered The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, even a novel set in the depths of the Congo can be transcendent. And so it is with State of Wonder.

I cannot give this book a higher rating. Top-billing!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Blog Discovery!

I've added a wonderful blog to my "Blogs of Substance" list. Caroline, who lives in the German-speaking area of Switzerland, maintains an immensely thought-provoking book blog, "Beauty is a Sleeping Cat."

I am so glad to have learned about Caroline's blog. She writes about books in English, in German sometimes, and in French (I think). In any case, her blog posts are stimulating, intellectual, and well worth a look.

Today I continued reading State of Wonder by Ann Patchett and Settlement by Christoph Hein. They are both *sparkling* reads. And I will report on them.

Tomorrow Ken is hoping to install a new hard drive on this laptop, which means it will be wrested from my arms and I will be bereft and inconsolable if the "fix" goes on for too many hours.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Library & Postal Book Bag

A furious thunderstorm swashbuckled its way through yesterday at around 4pm, knocking out electric power for nearly 13 hours. According to reports I heard today, two humungous trees fell, knocking out two telephone poles and two transformers. Clearing the enormous trees out of the main roads was a terrible challenge for the road crews, evidently.

I've cut and pasted the blog post I wrote late yesterday just so it doesn't go to waste:

Wednesday, July 6
I’m writing this offline, on battery, in my kitchen, because this is what I do everyday at 4pm, and I don’t know what I’d do with myself if I’m not writing something before it’s time to prepare dinner.

Many new reads entered the living room today, although I purchased only one of them, In the Hold, a translated work by Vladimir Arsenijevic, which cost me exactly one cent and $4 shipping. It arrived in flawless condition, to my amazement.

A dental appointment early this morning gave me the excuse to travel to Crandall Library. I picked up 5 books that were on hold for me, and come to find out, most are slim volumes.

My Baggage Claim: Finally, I have Flambards, by the British author K.M. Peyton! I’m eagerly anticipating reading it. And thanks to advice from Scriptor Sennex of A Book Every Six Days, I now have The Warden by Anthony Trollope in the house. I’ve never read anything by Trollope but have wanted to give him a try for a long time. Sennex suggested I start with The Warden. I also have Cellist at Sarejevo, by a Canadian author, a novel for my German Postwar Literary Challenge--Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck, and one more that I can't reveal just yet. I was also lucky to find three adventure-mysteries for Ken. He’s a fast reader, and, believe me, it’s difficult for his personal librarian to keep up!

I hesitate to say much about the books waiting to be read because I’m in the middle of two exceptionally imaginative and well-written novels:State of Wonder by Ann Patchett and The Settlement by the German author Christoph Hein (for the GPLC).

But, sad to say, I’m not going to be getting anywhere with any book tonight if the skies remain dark. I’m blind without electricity.

Monday, July 4, 2011

In My Brother's Shadow by Uwe Timm

The German author Uwe Timm was born in 1940. He was a child born 16 years after his brother and 18 years after his sister, and was often called "The Afterthought" by everyone in his family. He has but one or two shadowy war-time memories of his older brother who, like Gunter Grass, was in an elite corps of the Waffen SS. (His father served in the Luftwaffe.) Timm's brother is on the Eastern Front in the Ukraine and Russia from the spring until the fall of 1943, when he is wounded in battle and suffers from the amputation of both his legs. A few weeks after informing his family of his fate, he dies in a field hospital. When his belongings are returned to his parents, a tiny diary is included with brief jottings of his experiences on the Eastern Front.

Yet the central focus of this little book of 147 pages is on Timm's memories and experiences of his father, and, as such, can be considered Vaterliteratur, writings of the second generation about the first generation, or the adult generation who lived during the Nazi regime. Vaterliteratur is actually an entire genre of German literature.

Lost by Hans-Ulrich Treichel can also be considered Vaterliteratur, in which the Nazi-era parents play a prominent role in conflict with the second-generation.

In both books, and in Gunter Grass's Peeling the Onion to a lesser extent, the fathers all cling desperately to the German ideals of duty, obedience, honor, and loyalty, ideals that preceded Nazism, but which fostered the Nazi Party's growth and strength. After "The Collapse," which is how the first generation referred to the Nazi defeat of 1945, the fathers are diminished in their own and in their sons' eyes. Their entire order and ways of viewing the world, has been destroyed and they are now nothing but dust in the rubble of ruins. They cannot provide for their families, they must struggle in an alien world to grasp at anything that might link them to survival, and they are left ultimately to age and die prematurely, years before their time.

In the second generation's sons' eyes, the fathers become nothing. There are filial attachments, yes, but the fathers' deeds and beliefs become abhorrent, are ultimately shunned, and are to be abandoned.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

It's July--Only 2 Months Left!

With the turning of the pages of the calendar, I realize my seemingly unlimited reading time will come to an end during the first week of September. The fact makes me frantic and grumpy. I have so many books that I'm dying to read that I haven't touched yet! I'd better prioritize immediately.

A trip to the Amazon with the widely touted State of Wonder by Ann Patchett is coming up--must get cracking on that. Go! Go! Go!

Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson
My Final Evaluation:
Excellent entertainment of the thriller genre. Provokes thought about the importance and transience of memory (the main character suffers from an unusual form of amnesia). It's book candy, but don't we all enjoy chewing on that now and then? (See previous post for more on this novel.)

Saturday, July 2, 2011

I'm a Slave to Setting

Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson is the thriller everyone seems to be reading this weekend. I've got forty pages to go, but I am not going to say a single word about it until I turn the last page. It's a PLOT book, a very well done plot book, but the setting is non-existent and the characterization is shallow. The latter is not an issue because of the situation of the main characters. But setting, come on! Every thriller--indeed, every novel requires a setting. This book does not have one, unless you call the hotel in the last 40 pages a setting, which I don't.

In Talking about Detective Fiction (see post for June 19), P.D. James devotes a chapter to the importance of setting, characterization, and plot. Guess what she discussed first? You're right, it's setting. As James related her beliefs about the crucial nature of setting, I felt like applauding after every paragraph I read. That's why I love her novels. Setting and atmosphere are vital elements, every bit as important as characterization and plot.

So, when I picked up another hot women's fiction-thriller that I ordered through inter-library loan last Wednesday, I was disappointed to scan the first ten pages and find virtually no setting whatsoever. Ditto was my result after leafing through the rest of the book! Because Sister: A Novel, the acclaimed debut novel by the British author Rosamund Lupton, does not have as compelling a first few pages as Before I Go to Sleep, I immediately placed Sister in the pile of "To Be Returned to the Library" books and haven't glanced at it since.