In the High Peaks

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!