In the High Peaks

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Coming Up: Titles I'm Banking On

What I'm reading now: Broken Harbor by Tana French, a book that is on many of the "Best of 2012" lists. I'm progressing slowly because I have so many other things I'm supposed to do this week. As of this morning I'm finally starting to make some progress with it. I have found the beginning to be slow going and the book is about 430 pages with a small font. It's a detective/mystery set on the east coast of Ireland, north of Dublin. I do like it, though I don't find Detective Kennedy all that original. The plot is intriguing, though.

Lots of snow has fallen in the past 24 hours to cover the 8 inches we already had. Very nice.

Christmas was very pleasant--a dinner with the friends I care about the most. Anne cooked a splendidly moist turkey with homemade stuffing, Evelyn brought her cranberry sauce made from the wild cranberries from a wilder Adirondack lake that she gathered by boat, roasted root vegetables from Noel's organic garden, mashed potatoes, salad, and many varieties of Anne's homemade Christmas cookies.

This week I'm guiding nature snowshoe hikes at Garnet Hill Lodge in North River. Lots of fun and a bit of extra money.

The final day of my semester break is Tuesday, January 22, and it feels today as though it is around the corner.

I will reveal more reading plans soon!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Christmas Reading and Winter Break Intentions

So far my Christmas-related reading has gone bust. Every title I try seems trite and stupid. Actually, my beleagured mind could benefit from a trite and stupid read at this point, because I am unutterably exhausted, but these books are not doing the trick! I'm in desperate need--if you have a title to suggest, please do!

I'm still reading bits at a time of Paul Auster's Winter Journal and am still enjoying it immensely.

I have once again misplaced my Kindle. Who knows where it is now? I have not a clue why this happens to the Kindle. It is a very slim tablet, it's true. My Nook is available, however.

I am rereading the following American children's book classics to be prepared for my students' final exam: The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell, The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare, Charlotte's Web by E.B. White, and The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes.

I highly recommend the first three titles for adults. I guarantee you will enjoy them and they're all quick, though deep reads. They all won the Newbery Medal and are absolutely outstanding American classics.

On my break from teaching, even though I'm going to be working guiding winter nature trips, I want to read the following books: Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver (one of my favorite American authors) and Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan, who is another favorite author of mine. I am so in tune with his sensibility that I'm never, never disappointed by anything he writes.

HOPES FOR 2013: I do want to make reading books a priority again.

I have classes through Dec. 13th. Then loads of papers and exams to grade. Oy!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

December Books: Please Help Me Compile a Grand List!

Do you have favorite books either set in the month of December or with a Christmas or New Year's theme? I'm encouraging all readers to think of a book or two or maybe nine that they consider their all time favorites set in early winter, during the winter solstice, at Christmas or New Year's, or in just plain old December.

My confession: I have been collecting books with these settings and themes for decades. Yet some of my favorites are not yet in my personal library.

This month I'll revisit as many as I have time for and hope that you'll add several of your own. Please do!

In the Bleak Midwinter, a crime novel, by Julia Spencer-Fleming, set in the so-called Adirondack foothills. First-rate and her series debut.

Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher.  True confession time: This is the only book of Pilcher's I've read and I loved every delicious minute, though I'm embarrassed to say so. A superb December comfort read! I listened to the audiobook, read by Lynn Redgrave, which is a masterpiece of audio narration.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Final Words about Bernhard Schlink

Last evening, Saturday, I began my wrap-up commentary about Bernhard Schlink's writings. I was not able to finish. This morning I have finished my comments, the entire body of which you will see in the previous entry. Those who only received the first set of ramblings may now see that I was headed...somewhere, at least.

As most of you know, I don't review books in the standard sense or in any other sense, really. What I do, as my Reader in the Wilderness subtitle suggests, is give my personal reflections on the books I read and on the authors I admire.

Thank you to everyone who participated in Bernhard Schlink Week!!!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Being German, Writing Fiction, and the Holocaust

Yes, it's November 17, and supposedly the final day of Bernhard Schlink Week. Please feel free to comment after November 17 or post links for me to add post hoc.

I would like to quote from Schlink's nonfiction book Guilt about the Past, particularly the chapter I appreciate most, "Stories about the Past."

"As an author, I was often criticised for depicting Hanna, the woman protagonist of my novel The Reader, a former concentration camp guard who committed monstrous crimes, with a human face.

I understand the desire for a world where those who commit monstrous crimes are always monsters. We all have the deeply-rooted expectations that a person's acts and character, outer and inner appearance, behaviour in one context and behaviour in another context should conform...Our language reveals this when we talk about someone looking beautiful but being awful, looking warm but being cold, looking cultured but being amoral...The world is full of this tension.

Not seeing its [the world's] multifaceted nature is simplistic and misleading. Maybe I insist on this point so strongly because my generation experienced again and again that someone whom we loved and respected turned out to have done something horrible during the Third Reich.

I remember my English and gym teacher, a wonderful teacher to whom I owe my early love for the English language and also an early insight into the relativity of justice...During training we students saw the tattoo on his arm that all SS officers and solders had that indicated the person's blood group. But it was the fifties, and we still believed that the Waffen SS was just an elite troop and that only the Concentration Camp SS was bad. Even if we had known better, we wouldn't have suspected his involvement in crimes of the Gestapo...that only came out after his retirement."

Schlink's generation? I suppose that is mine as well, though in a different, or not so different, society. The cruel internment of Japanese Americans, the bitter anti-Semitism, the brutality of the McCarthy era in the early 1950s, the US Army's deliberate and institutionalized starvation of German civilians, mostly children, women, and elderly men, in collusion with the British and French armies, in the immediate aftermath of war, 1945-1947.

War dehumanizes.

In more recent years, for many Americans, there comes the discovery that the Catholic priest we knew so well and who was such a kind contributor to members of the church community turned out to be, in the courts, a perpetrator of sex acts against young altar boys.

What about the kind, well-educated, respected businessman who, when he drank too much, brutally beat his wife and children into senselessness?

And, scroll way back to the 19th century, to the immediate aftermath of the Civil War:
What about the Radical Republicans who sheltered and cared for fugitive slaves on their pre-war journeys to safety in Canada, then after the war legislated the starvation of women, children, and old men of the South, white and black?

I could go on and on, as could you.

These ambiguities and these people who commit both good and evil deeds--they are everywhere, as they have always been.

I will continue with Schlink:
"I remember the nights I worked in a factory as a student in the 1960s...My impressions of my fellow workers, who had all fought in the Second World War, were always as nice, decent, and helpful people. But in the hours between two and five am they sometimes talked about the war and where, when, how and in what capacity they had been involved. They didn't talk in detail, but it was very clear that some had been involved in evil things that they could neither forget nor repress..."

The finishing piece I was too tired and too harried by dinner prep to write last evening:
So what is my point, you may well be asking?

My point is that this duality, this good and evil, which so often travels together, can exist in each country, each society, each group, each religion, and, yes, I may go so far as to say, in each person. And believe me, this is no apology for a country that commits genocide and/or inflicts a catastrophic war on the world. Far from it!  And from my reading of Schlink--his speeches, his interviews, his entire ouevre--he would be the first to declare this fact, and indeed he has, many times. He makes no apology for German atrocities, even though his experiences have shown him how multi-faceted and how intricately complex the conflicting moral issues can be--in one family, in an individual, in one group.

So what about good people? Good people struggle against the darkness within themselves, their society, and their country. They are not silent when they see injustice. They are not too busy to act when they see it. But how many of us are entirely good?

I now believe that one of the chief reasons why I feel a special kinship or resonance with Schlink's work is that my life as an American, as a white person, as an historian, and as a person who grew up in a family where this duality was everpresent, has made me seek out a writer who dissects and then scrutinizes these complexities.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Schlink Link--A Key to Understanding

Please also check my earlier entry today, right below this one! Reviews from participants in Schlink Week!

For Schlink Week, I've been reading, among other things, his nonfiction book Guilt about the Past, which is an edited collection of the six lectures he gave at Oxford in 2007. I find the collection impossible to categorize: it's philosophy, history, and law, I suppose, interpreted through Schlink's very personal, distinctive lens. And to be more specific, it is a moral discourse on collective guilt vs. individual responsibility. 

The essay I found most compelling and pertinent to understanding Schlink's oeuvre is the final and briefest lecture, "Stories about the Past," in which Schlink addresses the moral dilemma and burden of writers who set their novels in a disturbing, traumatic, hideous (?) historical past. As an unpublished writer of historical fiction about traumatic national pasts, I agree with some points, but vehemently disagree with others. Nevertheless, my disagreements with Schlink's philosophy about writing about the historical past do not extend to his novels. I get them. I get them, I believe, because since childhood, I've been weighed down with survivor's guilt.

Let me pass this along: Yesterday I managed to connect to an online version of the book through, which allowed me to access this final chapter, through ebrary, but alas, only two pages of it. Google phrase: Guilt about the Past Schlink online. Then click on "ebrary." They will allow you to see two pages of that final chapter.

Of course, two pages is just a tease. I will try to quote from it tomorrow.

Schlink Week: Readers' Reviews Abound

Forgive me for having a tongue-tied morning, or finger-tied in the blogging sense. Words are absent from my head this morning!

Yet I do want to direct readers to a number of new book reviews and commentary concerning Bernhard Schlink.

Katrina of Pining for the West has reviewed and offered thought-provoking commentary on The Homecoming. I can't wait to respond to it.

Caroline of Beauty is a Sleeping Cat has reviewed The Weekend.

And Lizzy of Lizzy's Literary Life has reviewed the new short story collection, Summer Lies.

I'm returning later today to reply to all comments! Hopefully my cerebral matter will have improved its functioning by then.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Summer Lies & Other Schlink Tales

Thank you, Stu Allen, of Winston's Dad, for your review of Summer Lies, Bernhard Schlink's 2012 collection of short stories. Of all the bloggers I know, Stu's reviews reach to every corner of the globe, including countries that are not yet recognized for their literature and that have not cultivated and supported their writers. I'm thinking of Montenegro and other Balkan countries, tiny African nations, and remote South American societies.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Bernhard Schlink Week Begins Sunday: November 11-17

Tonight I'm jumping in to Bernhard Schlink Week, which begins right here at Reader in the Wilderness starting on Sunday, November 11 (tomorrow), right through Saturday, November 17.

There is still time for everyone to contribute their reviews, comments, thoughts, and whatever you want to say about Schlink and his oeuvre.

I truly hope you will feel completely free to participate, whether you are currently reading or have read one or more of Schlink's novels or volumes of short stories in the past. If you haven't read a Schlink work recently, it makes no difference, you may comment as much as you like. I'm hoping that readers will PLUNGE in with their innermost thoughts about Schlink, whatever they may be.

When I read several of the stories in Summer Lies, Schlink's most recently published collection of short stories, I noticed a lighter tone and a distinct change in setting. Although Schlink does not reveal the locations, several stories seemed to me to be set in the Northeast (U.S.). Schlink has stated that he splits his time now between Germany and New York City. Yet a journalist recently reported that he was speaking with Schlink at "his home" in "The Berkshires" in Massachusetts. The beautiful Berkshires are located in western Massachusetts and are a sought-after second-home and vacation spot for New Yorkers (although not for Bostonians who prefer the Atlantic coastline, New Hampshire, and Vermont for their getaways). I'm not certain, of course, but it seems to me that Schlink is currently spending the majority of his time in the U.S.  Why have I bothered you with this trivia? I have one question: Why is he spending so much time here? To achieve psychic distance?

Katrina of "Pining for the West", months ago, forwarded to me an article published in The Guardian, "Bernhard Schlink: Being German is a Huge Burden" , an in-depth look at some of the themes and moral forces fuelingn Schlink's literature.

More to come!!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane: A Day for Books & Winter Journal?

Today I took over another professor's classes--a way to make a little extra money. So, was I delighted when a custodian burst into the classroom this afternoon to announce that the college will be closed tomorrow. Wow! Tuesday is the most challenging day of the week, and I've got it off.

Oh, no. The high winds from Hurricane Sandy have made the power blitz off for a moment. I'll have to keep this short because I know we'll lose power in these high winds.

First, superlatives are in order for Paul Auster's Winter Journal, which is a memoir, of sorts. Not a linear narrative, but thoughts and memories and reflections during Auster's 65th year. I'm loving it--reading passages over and over again. How is it that with some special writers one feels such a kinship? It happens to me with Auster, over and over and over again.

He confesses to an obsessive habit with cigars and copious wine consumption. His wife worries that he drinks and smokes too much, wishing that he would live forever, he says. He's had no negative effects from these habits, other than middle-of-the-night coughing fits. So, his wife worries? I worry. I didn't know about this. Naturally I hope my favorite author has a dozen more books in him. I'll have to keep my fingers crossed and hope his genetic heritage is like the comedian George Burns, who smoked cigars for seven decades and lived to be over 100.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Bernhard Schlink Week, November 11-17

Bernhard Schlink Week is my very first blog event! In mid-November, I am inviting EVERYONE to drop in and participate, even if the last time you read a Schlink novel was a year or more ago.

Schlink's novels and short stories:

  • Summer Lies (short stories) 2012
  • The Weekend 2010
  • Homecoming 2007
  • The Reader 1997
  • Flights of Love (short stories) 2001

  • Then there are his crime novels, none of which I've read. Have you tried one?
    • Self's Murder 2005
    • Self's Deception 2007
    • Self's Punishment (with Walter Popp) 2009
    • Gordian's Knot  2010  (Vintage pub. date) 
    And the brief nonfiction title, a long thought-provoking essay:
    • Guilt about the Past, first published in Australia in 2009, and in Canada in 2010
    Would you please let me know if there are titles I'm missing that have been published in Europe?

    Thursday, September 27, 2012

    Crazy Weekend: Landscape's Ablaze with Color!

    This is THE WEEKEND coming up. Our "color" is going to peak this weekend. Peak from my point of view, that is. Although next weekend many trees will be colorful, the most sparkling bright crimsons, deep reds, and flame oranges will be gone. What will make this weekend dramatic, is that the trees that tend to turn a duller shade of gold or yellow have not "turned" yet, so contrasting with the brilliant flames, we will have the cooling greens. Glorious! I literally go crazy with wonder.

    So, I have many goals this weekend, not all of which can be realized. I want to post again about the Bernhard Schlink Week coming November 11-17.  I'd like to post a "button," but I have to figure out how to do that on Blogger. In other words, I want the picture button to reside in the far right-hand column. And I want to post about Caroline's and Lizzy's German Literature Month in November.

    Stay tuned. I am coming back this weekend!

    Saturday, September 22, 2012

    Antonio Tabucchi! 1943-2012. And Pereira Declares.

    Perhaps I should have known that the Italian author Antonio Tabucchi died this past March at the age of 68. Perhaps someone or Caroline mentioned it. But, for whatever mental lapse that is the cause, learning of Tabucchi's passing was a shock for me today. He was only 68. Just think of the books this prolific writer still had inside him. I mourn him.

    I loved reading Pereira Declares, as I mentioned in a previous post. I'll be frank; I don't think this was a political novel at all, despite its setting in Salazarist Portugal--1938. Pereira was Every Man, as far as it goes. He had literary passions, he loved his omelettes aux fines herbes despite his serious cardiac condition, he was lonely without his deceased wife and spoke to her framed photograph throughout the day, and yes, he had detached himself from the thrum of real life and the real world, whatever they are. And I think Tabucchi is emphasizing that point. Real life, so what? What difference does it make to a man whether he's involved in real life? And what is that anyway?

    So when the young rebel Monteiro Rossi insinuates himself into Pereira's life, Pereira opens the door, despite his protests that he wants nothing to do with Rossi and whatever the young man is doing. That declaration is a smokescreen. Deep down, without Pereira being fully conscious of it, he's longing for meaningful human contact. As time passes, it becomes clear that Pereira is desperate for it, desperate enough to put himself in harm's way without a second thought. And when it comes to that, he rises to the occasion, swinging with both fists.

    I'm not going to belabor the summary of a plot, because Pereira Declares is a character study, and an enjoyable one at that. I won't label it fascinating or intense. It was to my mind a quiet character study, and I loved that.

    Saturday, September 15, 2012

    Where to Turn? Schlink, Thrillers, & More

    This is the first weekend that I've had a chance to draw deep, calming breaths. I went for a two-hour fast-tempo hike today, with the temperature at a strikingly low 60 degrees following a week of temps in the eighties, yes, again. This seasonable fall weather of lower temperatures won't last, it seems, thanks to global warming. We'll be back in the high 70s by Thursday next week.

    Reading: After finishing Pereira Declares by Antonio Tabucchi for Caroline's Tabucchi Week, starting Monday the 17th, I'll be starting Peace by Richard Bausch for Caroline's Literature and War Readalong on September 30th.

    Now I need something completely different. How about a quick, easy thriller? I have so many novels to draw from in the house at the moment. It's staggering for me to see how many I've purchased this year that I haven't read yet. Yet I've chosen Sisters by Rosamund Lupton, her thriller that was published last summer in 2011, to read on my Nook. Quick, fast, and compelling, I've heard, so here goes.

    What are you reading this weekend?

    Saturday, September 8, 2012

    Do you know about Coursera?

    Just in case you haven't heard about Coursera, I thought I'd give you a few links to see if you'd be interested in taking a university course, offered by some of the top universities in the U.S., for FREE.

    Because my greatest dream has been to be a university student in a Ph.D. program in one of my favorite areas of knowledge, I immediately latched onto Coursera. I can't afford a Ph.D., but Coursera has possibilities for the insatiable learner in all of us.

    This fall I'm taking "Modern and Contemporary American Poetry"  offered by the University of Pennsylvania. I'd tell you more, but we had a WILD and woolly storm this afternoon and have lost electric power. I'm operating on battery at the moment so must be quick.

    In any case, many courses are available in many subjects. Hundreds of thousands of people have signed up, but that doesn't mean anything, as many courses are still open.

    When you get to the Coursera homepage, click on "Categories." You don't need to set up an account to browse the site. If you're like me, you'll next click on "Humanities and Social Sciences."

    Better linking tomorrow, if I've got real POWER.

    Friday, September 7, 2012

    Please Post! What Are You Reading This Weekend?

    Hey! It's the weekend, and hopefully, a few of us have a little bit of extra time to pick up a book that's for our own enrichment.

    Life is so short! How that point is abundantly made each day, each week.

    So, I'm reading and browsing through a number of reads: Pereira Declared (of course) by Antonio Tabucchi, and I'd like a lighter read.

    You know, I have  in my very hands The Nightmare by Lars Kepler, the Swedish husband/wife team, authors of the incomparable The Hypnotist.  Ken's devouring Jo Nesbo's The Devil's Star at the moment. He's racing through it. I haven't read this title, but I've read Nesbo's The Snowman and The Leopard, the former being my fave of the two. But I have so many books on board, it's hard to choose. I'm also feeling drawn toward working on art and sewing, so I'm all up in the air. This blog needs an Autumnal Photo, absolutely. A June photo has got to go!

    I've lost sleep due to the Democratic National Convention this week. Michelle Obama was on fire, John Kerry's speech was my favorite (if only he'd been able to speak like this when he was running for prez!), and Bill Clinton was the liberal comfort food. Obama's was lacking, but that's ALWAYS the case for the presidential candidates. Their "handlers" won't let them say anything. It's so sad.

    Thursday, September 6, 2012

    Antonio Tabucchi!

    I don't like being busy with work to the extreme, as in in extremis. Help.

    But I have managed to dig in to Italian writer Antonio Tabucchi's Pereira Declared, set in Lisbon in 1938. I am at one with Pereira; I even think there is a part of me that is in my core Pereira. So immersed in his cultural interests that he has scarcely noticed the political. It's his character that makes his interaction with Fascism in Portugal so believable. Incredible writing! I'm so glad I'm reading it, so glad that Caroline is hosting the Antonio Tabucchi Reading Week, starting September 17 through the 23rd, I believe. I've named the week incorrectly. Damn. But I am so tired tonight, working long hours, sleeping much less.

    The seasons are changing here, although today it was 83 degrees at the college, 40 miles to the south. I got home, an hour to the north, and with the elevation, it was 72 degrees. Thank goodness! I was sweltering in the classroom this afternoon. The leaves on the maples are just beginning to turn...Fall in the Adirondacks is such a short season, I want to savor every day.

    Saturday, September 1, 2012

    Aharon Appelfeld's A Story of a Life

    When I first picked up Appelfeld's narrative, I thought, "Oh, another Holocaust memoir." But was I in for a surprise.

    Appelfeld was just seven or a bit older when his father, mother, and he had to flee their comfortable home in Romania, at the very beginning of the war in Europe. The little boy had been secure in his parents', his servants', and his grandparents' love, but suddenly that world is snatched away and nothing is ever again as it was.

    A Story of a Life is not a linear narrative, which is one of its strengths. Appelfeld loosely strings patches of intensely detailed memories, some from the days before his world changed and some after. Some of what might be supposed to be the most significant memories are no more than the remembrance of a scream heard from afar--his mother's, signalling her murder.

    Although Appelfeld doesn't say, it seems that he and his parents were taken from their homes to a Jewish ghetto in another city in Romania, and from there, it's not spelled out, but he and his father are walking to Ukraine to a "camp." More shadowy reminiscences, and then, Appelfeld escapes from the camp and is on his own, roaming the forests. Alone.

    It is this aloneness that Appelfeld conveys with such startling clarity. There he is, a young child,  in deep woodlands, hallucinating visions of his mother and hanging on to the certainty that they will come to him. He scrounges berries, but what else? The time period is not clear, but it is months. With winter, he must find shelter, and after an undetermined length of time a woman takes him on as hired help. She is a prostitute, the means to his survival, but cares nothing for him. Eventually, he escapes her threats to kill him and somehow, he lands in Italy, in an "orphanage," where he is prey to Italian smugglers and evil-doers who exploit children for whatever ends.

    As he reenters society, he has no language and rarely speaks a word. Years later, after the end of the war, he journeys to Palestine, but his isolation seems to intensify, perhaps as he becomes more aware of the communication abilities of his peers. This introspection that marks him also isolates him, and he tells the painful story of his first years in Palestine, on a kibbutz and later, in the military.

    His years of apprenticeship as a writer are a struggle, but he does not give up, and the reader sees him becoming part of a tight writing community.

    If I had time, I would like to quote a number of amazing paragraphs from the book--so filled with meaning.

    Appelfeld as a child and teen reminded me so much of the boy in North to Freedom by Anne Holm, who, I believe, is a Danish writer. I believe it was published in the UK as I Am David. It was made into a film, and I have seen it, but I have read and reread the book--it is one of my favorites--and it's haunting.

    Friday, August 31, 2012

    Coming Tomorrow: My Thoughts about Appelfeld's A Story of a Life

    My brain is only half with me today, so tomorrow I'll be posting just a few of the bundles of impressions I've had while reading Aharon Appelfeld's A Story of a Life. Please visit Caroline at Beauty is a Sleeping Cat for her review and for links to others', all part of Caroline's Literature and War Readalong. I don't want to rush my post; the book was immeasurably meaningful to me, and I want to share my views with others.

    Ken has been mesmerized by the Swedish writers, who publish their thrillers using the pseudonym Lars Kepler. Ken's reading The Hypnotist, published in the U.S. last summer, which was when I was glued to our forest-green couch. These days I call to the bedroom, "Ken, it's nearly 11:30 (am)! Don't you think you should get up?" I hear groans and pleas to leave him alone because he can't put the book down. I don't think he's sleeping much either by the looks of the bags under his eyes.

    I'm on the library list for Kepler's latest, The Nightmare. The reviews are stellar. Can't wait.  

    Monday, August 27, 2012

    Bernhard Schlink Week, Nov. 11-17, 2012

    Please let me know how the Bernhard Schlink Week fits into your reading schedules.

    Am I overlapping with other important reading weeks? Holidays in countries I'm not aware of? Are you getting married, having a baby, or becoming a grandfather that week? Please let me know.
    I would like to choose a week that will work for people who are tempted to participate.

    I've chosen this particular week because there's just a hint of a bit of a lull in both my colleges' calendars during this week. Mid-terms are long over, research projects are underway, but nothing HUGE enters the picture during this week.

    These dates also allow me plenty of preparation time as well, giving me time to seek out fascinating Schlink links during the next two months. I'll start working on it now so that you can "tune in" on any day of that week for some good "Schlinky" information.

    To get you started, the following fiction titles are easily available in the U.S., and I imagine in Europe and the UK as well. There are more, and I want to list everything in print, including his nonfiction, though not tonight.
    • Summer Lies (short stories) 2012
    • The Weekend      2010
    • Homecoming     2007
    • The Reader   1997
    • Flights of Love (short stories)   2001
    Then there are his crime novels, none of which I've ever tried. Maxine, have you sampled any?
    • Self's Murder  2005
    • Self's Deception   2007
    • Self's Punishment (with Walter Popp)  2009
    I've read The Reader, The Homecoming, Flights of Love, and The Weekend. I plan to reread The Homecoming because I read it on the Kindle, and it's funny how it's hard for me to recall details in the e-book format. Others, too.

    Monday, August 20, 2012

    Pat Barker, David R. Godine, and Appelfeld

    In my bookish meanderings today, I discovered the English author Pat Barker, who hails originally from North Yorkshire, I believe. I am going to my local library tomorrow to grab a copy of Regeneration, the first novel in her "Regeneration Trilogy," a historical about Siegfried Sassoon and his psychiatrist, who tries to "convince" Sassoon to return to the front. It was nominated for the Man Booker Prize in 1991. Ghost Road, the third novel in the trilogy, won the Booker in 1995.

    When I looked up Barker, and learned that her themes concern "trauma, memory, survival, and recovery," I realized her books are right up my alley. In fact, the synopsis of each title interests me.

    I have ordered Aahron Appelfeld's Badenheim 1939, published by David Godine (pronounced go-DEEN) in Boston, probably the independent publisher I most admire. Someone, somewhere should write the history of Godine and his publishing firm. His list has always fascinated me. I have always wished that I could interview Godine, that I could be his literary friend, and other absurd fantasies. And it is he who published Aahron Appelfeld for the first time in the U.S.! (More about Appelfeld near the end of this post.)

    And guess what? I found Godine's company blog today as well.

    I will add that part of Godine's allure may be due to the fact that he lived (lives?) in a town adjoining Boston to the south, where for three years in the mid-90s, I had a dream job working part-time in the largest children's bookstore in New England. The owner knew Godine well, and one day, a day or two before Christmas, he bustled in and bought armloads of books and related merchandise. A co-worker nudged me. "That's David Godine." I turned and gawked from a distance, wishing I had the fortitude and the space to introduce myself. But because the store was crammed with holiday shoppers needing help, I realized immediately what an idiotic idea that was.

    More about the Appelfeld, the Israeli writer. I am so in awe of and deeply moved by The Story of a Life, because as one critic put it, "his reminiscences of the Holocaust are so restrained." To state it more precisely, from my point of view, Applefeld's bits of memory are so clearly composed, so understated, so purely written from the point of view of language, that I latch onto his memory and declare, "I get it. I'm so at one with the text." It has been eons since I have felt this kind of sympathy with an author.

    Remember, Caroline is hosting her Literature and War Readalong with Aahron Appelfeld's A Story of a Life translated from the Hebrew. It is so far my #1 read of the year. There's still time to pick up a copy. It's a quick read and only 160 pages or so. I hope some of you can join in the discussion at Beauty is a Sleeping Cat on August 31st.

    Saturday, August 18, 2012

    Book Blogs and Les Libres for Sanity's Sake!

    On this most incredible of cool and beautiful pre-autumnal days, I spent all my time hashing and mashing a syllabus for the first online course I'm about to teach at a new (to me) college. I'm still teaching the same course load at my regular college; this will be an additional course that I hope will give me some experience in the world of "distance education."

    Please notice in my "Blogs of Substance" list to the left that I've added a new blog. While I was taking a brief break from my arduous, nerve-wracking ordeal today, I visited many book blogs, including "His Futile Preoccupations," a thought-provoking and amusing book blog that I believe many of you will find interesting. I notice Caroline of Beauty is a Sleeping Cat is already well acquainted with Guy.

    Is this book-blogging world a small one, do you think? It's incredibly diverse, I know that. I've been trying to figure out where Guy hails from, and I'm going out on a limb to say perhaps somewhere in far western Canada. Ridiculous of me to guess. I'll let you know. I think a blogger's origins do matter as far as individual perspectives are concerned. Wherever Guy lives, he mentions being an ex-pat, and I assumed from the context that he meant he was a British ex-pat. But I'm probably wrong! Oh, no, here I go again. 

    Gosh, during my mania-driven, full-frontal attack to get back into classroom mode after my semester-long, broken-leg hiatus, I need to seek out more blogs, especially during these late August weeks while many bloggers are on vacation. After several hours of slogging away, I have a desperate need for literate diversion! And, gosh again, I'm being terribly verbose today. Syllabus-writing does that to me.

    As far as les libres are concerned, I'm going to be hosting a Bernhard Schlink Week. All details have yet to be determined, but it will take place this fall, in October, I believe, but perhaps in early November. And I will be posting all details in the next few weeks.

    I'm treasuring every sentence of A Story of a Life by the Israeli writer Aahron Appelfeld. I urge you to read it, especially if Holocaust memoirs have turned you off in the past. This memoir is a unique experience! 

    Thursday, August 16, 2012

    A Forthcoming Lit in Translation Readalong? Please Weigh In with Your Thoughts

    I'm keen on hosting a readalong, but I'm barely in the preliminary stages of thinking about planning one. I think I know what I'd find interesting, but I'm not sure anyone else would find it so. You can see my tentative phrasing.

    It would be fun to host a Heinrich Boll readalong, particularly one concentrating on his short stories. But I'm not sure anyone would be interested.

    I must confess I bitterly disliked Bernhard Schlink's The Reader when it was first published in the U.S. I read 60 pages, saw exactly where he was going, and I was at that time extremely angry because I felt the subject matter manipulated the reader, due to the nature of the politics of memory in the early 1990s.

    But time sometimes reverses opinions, and I now have an esteemed respect for Schlink and his entire oeuvre. I now know a great deal more about him and have read many of his writings about politics, legal issues, morality, and justice, and I've learned that he is a very different person from the one I dismissed decades ago.

    So I think about hosting a Bernhard Schlink week, in which I would encourage people to sample his work. And I would encourage readers who found The Reader to be over the top, to not give up on Schlink and try another title. Another volume of his short stories has been very recently published in the U.S. Summer Lies, I believe is the title.

    And because my supreme scholarly interest is German literature from 1946--present (although quite far flung from the academic courses I do teach, I'd be curious to hold a Gunter Grass week or a W.G. Sebald week or a week devoted to a woman writer of the period. I can see the women writers in my mind, but, due to the fact that I have consumed a glass of wine, I can't think of their names! I find this terrible. To not remember the names of the women!

    Just my initial meanderings on the topic!

    Please also weigh in on the book you're enjoying during the final weeks of summer!

    Wednesday, August 15, 2012

    Books I'm A-Waiting: Paul Auster, No Less

    I can't wait for the late August publication date of Paul Auster's Winter Journal. Auster is now 65: Might the title suggest that he feels he's entering the winter of his life? I hope not, mostly because I don't want to feel that way when I'm 65!  At the time I pre-ordered the book, there was no information available about it, so my mind ran wild with the title. So, this evening, I decided it was high time to revisit the new book news.

    Oh, dear, I do mind it when Amazon and other websites misstate Auster's age. Auster may have been 64 when he wrote Winter Journal, but in early February, 2012, Auster (born in 1947) turned 65.  I apologize for making such a big deal about this, but many important people in my life were born in 1947, including my Ken, my older brother, Stephen King, one of my favorite cousins, lots and lots of Vietnam vets, and many writers I admire. The error, which appears to have spread like a virus all over the web, can become so universal that it almost becomes FACT. 

    And, yes, from what I have read from early reviews, Auster is referring to the later stages of life. The book is nonfiction, and I'm more than ready for it.

    Saturday, August 11, 2012

    Caroline's Antonio Tabucchi Week and the New Literature and War Readalong

    As you know, I was captivated by Caroline's Literature and War Readalong last month and am participating this month. Luckily I was able to find the title scheduled to be discussed on August 31st, The Story of a Life by Aharon Appelfeld, who has lived in Israel since after World War II. Yes, he's a Holocaust survivor. He burrows deep into sensory memory for his description of his youngest years in this memoir, reminding me a bit of Marcel Proust. I'm enjoying it, mostly because it is so different from other Holocaust memoirs, of which I've read a large number.

    And, the week of September 17-23, Caroline is hosting an Antonio Tabucchi Week, which will gather reflections from readers who have read any number of  Tabucchi's oeuvre. I have never read or heard of this author and have read so very few novels by Italian writers, that I've ordered Pereira Declares, a novel set in Portugal during the Fascist 1930s. Why Portugal? Tabucchi adores Portugal, and is a professor of Portuguese literature. I know zilch about Portugal, other than a movie about the children of Fatima, and the fact that it has a long border on the ocean.

    Caroline is having so much fun with these events that I think I might consider hosting one, if I'm able to get my readership back into fighting order.

    Thursday, August 9, 2012

    The Adirondacks and Julia Spencer-Fleming Novels

    Oh, golly gee. Suddenly it's time for me to be super-focused and get my syllabi polished and finalized, and all I want to do is hike and "play" with my friends.

    I've started reading Julia Spencer-Fleming's third novel in her mystery series, the first of which is one of my favorite mysteries, In the Bleak Midwinter. Don't miss it! I enjoyed her second but I didn't think it was stellar. So now I've started the third, Out of the Deep I Cry. I hope Clare and Russ have a few more romantic sparks flying in this novel, because they really backpedaled their quasi-relationship in the second.

    For all who enjoy Spencer-Fleming's mysteries, I want you to know that I have high praise for her writing, characterization, and plotting, but I am indeed puzzled that her books are touted as being set in the Adirondacks. That means, the Adirondack State Park, all 6 million acres of it, a combination of public and private land. Spencer-Fleming lives in Maine and formerly lived in Ithaca, New York, a four-hour drive from the Adirondacks. Although I'm sure she must be well acquainted with the Adirondacks to set her series here, the landscapes of her books do not resemble this region in too many ways to enumerate them all here.

    I have always felt that her books are set in Washington County, most of which neighbors the Adirondack Park. Spencer-Fleming's series is set amidst many farms, creeks, and hills, but here in the actual Adirondacks we do not have many farms, not at all. The soil quality in general is so poor; it's great for raising horses, sheep, llamas, alpaca, and chickens, but one can't make a profit on a crop without huge expenditures on soil improvement. One notable exception to this would be the Adirondack lands bordering the western shores of Lake Champlain. But these towns have extremely small populations and virtually no Episcopal churches, so you can see why I'm scratching my head.

    When I think of the Adirondacks, I think of wilderness. And a super-exciting, brief novel that gives you a sample of the area's chills and thrills would be Cold River by William Judson. I read it right before moving here, and I snuggled in my bed in Boston and shivered and shivered. Too good to miss!

    Friday, August 3, 2012

    Book Sale Treasures & Other Finds

    Last weekend was our town's book sale. I worked on it for only three days this year, instead of my usual six, but my time was long enough to see most of what was available. I was very pleased to pick up a copy of Seamus Heaney's prize-winning translation of Beowulf. I love it, because on the left-hand page is the Old English, and on the right the modern English translation. So very cool.

    A local couple, owners of a large library of gorgeous art and photography books, are moving to Vermont (Are they crazy or what? We considered moving to Vermont from Boston years ago, but there are too many people and nowhere near enough wild lands.), so we were lucky to have on sale many of the books they chose not to move to their new home. I bought an incredible collection of Margaret Bourke-White's photographs, many of them from the 1930s and 1940s in Europe--Hitler Youth, Soviet laborers, and many other rare photos from this courageous, pioneering American photographer. And I bought several art technique books, including one on acrylic painting, which is my newest challenge in art media. I do love painting with acrylics, using them as one would oil paints.

    I bought The Great Forest of the Adirondacks, a regional treasure by probably the best-known and most admired nonfiction author of Adirondack natural history, Barbara McMartin. For our sale, we never have enough Adirondacks books because people hang onto them and pass them on to their children and grandchildren. The few we have, we price them highly and they go quickly.

     At the tale end of the book sale, right before we load all the unsold books to go to the pulper, I salvage as many books as I can for next year's sale as well as grabbing some more for myself, at a very low cost. This year I think my favorite of these was Getting Your First Horse by Judith Dutson,  a substantial guide to everything novices need to know to ensure they purchase a healthy horse appropriate to their needs. I teased Ken with the book by flashing the cover in his face. (Well, not quite that bad, but you get the idea.) When we first moved here, it was understood that I would buy one or two horses. We have a "pole barn," which could easily, though not super cheaply, be transformed into the perfect horse barn. But the impracticality of the plan soon became apparent. Horses are a tremendous amount of work and extremely expensive to maintain. Yes, I have always, always loved horses. But I have enough friends who own horses to remind me of the disadvantages whenever I become weak with horse-envy.


    Monday, July 30, 2012

    Black Rain by Masuji Ibuse--Literature and War Readalong 2012

    I am extremely grateful to Caroline of Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and her Literature and War Readalong for steering me toward Black Rain, an exquisite Japanese novel about the bombing of Hiroshima and the horrifying days and months that followed. Fortunately I was able to download it onto my Nook, because my entire library system (30+ libraries) did not have a single copy.

    First off, I think I should say that for decades I have been intensely interested in the effect of war on civilians. My book Women during the Civil War (2004), included dozens of my essays dealing with the effect of the Civil War on women and children. I mention it because I have studied the effect of war on civilians in many, many wars. Yet I find it interesting to note that I have devoted the most extensive study to the effect of war on civilians during the Second World War. It has been a life study, actually, starting at about age 11, though I have never written about it. I should, because there is not an issue that I feel more strongly about.

    As an American, my study of the effects of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on Japanese civilians, who were predominantly women, children, and elderly men, as are all civilians in war, has been horrifying to me. What is even more horrifying are the extremes that our political leaders will resort to to achieve their wartime goals. 

    I think the most horrific aspect of Black Rain is the details that relate to the immediate effects of the atomic blast on people and animals, as well as the long-term effects of radiation. I remember reading John Hersey's classic Hiroshima when I was twelve and in the seventh grade, a school assignment. I was rivetted by the account, about what my country had done to the Japanese people, but I wanted more graphic details, curiously enough. I could tell that Hersey was doing his best, but I knew he was holding back. So many Americans believed and still believe, I'm sorry to say, that the atomic bombings saved millions of American lives. My mother told me long, long ago that in August, 1945, like so many millions of American soldiers, my father had been shipped out to wait to board ships and planes for the invasion of Japan. He had his orders. But the bombings turned those orders to dust--or to ash, and the boats turned around to head home.

    To me, because of my prior readings, Black Rain was not so much horrifying as it was exquisitely painful in its poignancy. How often I have read diaries and first-hand narrative accounts of civilians who have struggled on, who have overcome trauma, excruciating pain, and devastating injuries and yet have never lost sight of their humanity--to continue to take care of their loved ones, their neighbors, and their communities--even when they have no resources to draw upon. Shigematsu in Black Rain was such a person. I agree with Caroline about the poignancy of his observations of nature and his reactions to the effects of the bombing were fascinating and terribly sad.

    This is the inevitable legacy of war. The fact is, there are always far more civilians who suffer than soldiers. And I have enormous sympathy for the latter as well, who, for the most part, have no choice about their futures.

    Thursday, July 19, 2012

    Reading A Little From Lots of Books

    After Gone Girl, I've started S.J. Bolton's Dead Scared. Have you read any of her novels? I'm still in the beginning chapters, but I like the premise of the crime and the setting--Cambridge University. At least I can picture the action because I have visited the area twice in my life, once at age 19 and again at 32, on our honeymoon whirlwind tour of Ireland and Britain.

    Do you at times feel overwhelmed by the volume of books being published all over the globe each season? I do, I do, I do! I feel it especially because I like to read nonfiction as well as fiction, and the buzz about the (supposedly) new acclaimed books amounts to a roar!

    Last night I picked up Jane Fonda's memoir, which I bought at least six years ago. I wanted to read the chapter about the classic film On Golden Pond, in which she starred with Katherine Hepburn and her father, Henry Fonda. Jane produced the film, and did everything in her power to bring the cast together despite the heart disease assailing her father and the limitations of Hepburn. But what is most illuminating are her discussions about her relationship with her father and with Hepburn. Tom Hayden, the legendary radical activist, was her husband at the time, and he was ensconced in a "camp" nearby with legions of his colleagues, much to the disdain of Hepburn, and, I suppose, her father.

    On Golden Pond is a movie I revisited while I was "down and out for the count" this year. Thank goodness for the television in my bedroom during that time. I was so moved by it this time, as I reminisced about the relationship of my Aunt Ruth and Uncle Will, twelve years' my parents' senior. This film was their story, and I'm so glad they were alive to see it and declared it "their film" for all of the younger members of the family.

    But I also know, from seeing Jane Fonda interviewed about this film, that the daughter character she played was as close as can be to her real-life relationship with her father.  Distant, suffering from a lack of will on both sides to improve things, a long-standing stand-off, if you will. The movie broke some of the ice for them, but not all of it. I can't imagine how Henry managed to maintain such a stolid distance and silence about Jane's considerable theatrical accomplishments. But, like many men of his generation, he found it nearly impossible to express his feelings of love toward his family.

    It was Henry Fonda's last film and won all kinds of awards, including the Oscar for Best Picture, I believe.

    Now I'm searching for biographies of Woody Guthrie, who is experiencing a vast revival at the moment (very popular among folkies in Edinburgh, by the way!), undoubtedly a result of the Occupy Movement and The 99 Percent vs. The Richest One Percent Movement. I'm hoping to pick up Joe Klein's, supposedly definitive 1980 Guthrie biography tomorrow, but I really want to read Ramblin' Man. It's just harder to get. And Joe Klein, the Newsweek journalist? No one will ever forget that he penned Primary Colors as "Anonymous." Yet, according to reviews over a long period of time, he did a thorough, scholarly-type bio of Guthrie. So I'll check it out.  More later!

    Monday, July 2, 2012

    What Do You Read When There's No Time to Read?

    Yes, I'm going a bit batty. This summer I've had so little time to read. Recovering physical fitness has had to take a priority, as has getting my financial and actual house in order, but I'm happy to report that at least I'm regaining strength and agility sooner than I thought possible.

    So the squeeze to read:
    I've been suckered in by Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I downloaded it onto the Nook. Unfortunately, these psychological thrillers have proved addictive lately.

    Late this afternoon I've searched for a good interview with Flynn to post here. I'd settle for decent, but even that's been hard to find. How about not too bad?

    Monday, June 25, 2012

    Clea Koff's Freezing

    I've been waiting to read this procedural for a few months. Freezing is the first book in a new series featuring two women who are forensic anthropologists. I think I may have discovered this book on Petrona, but I'm not sure. In addition to review excerpts, Clea Koff's website includes a chapter from Freezing as well as an entertaining description of her favorite mysteries. I'm fascinated by the science of forensics, so I hope to learn more about it, particularly because Clea Koff is a forensic anthropologist.

    Sunday, June 24, 2012

    What's Happened to Me? Preparing to Teach Women's Studies

    Yes, I'll be teaching "Introduction to Women's Studies" next semester, in addition to my classes in Children's Literature. The Women's Studies course will be the first class I've taught online, which, I understand from my colleagues, is a great deal of work, especially the first time around.

    As I prepare to teach this course, I've been reading a great deal in the area of U.S. women's history, and about the status of modern women from the point of view of economics, American culture, politics, and sociology. I can tell you that my studies have deeply affected me.

    I realize and have long been aware that as a woman who has experienced a great deal in four decades of adulthood and who has seen much, much more, that to maintain my sanity, I have had to do what the vast majority of women do, which is to ignore, look the other way, sweep under the rug, and turn the other cheek when it comes to dealing with all the ways this society so boldly discriminates against women and girls, is so blindly prejudiced against women, in the ways it refuses to protect women and girls from violence, and in all the ways it so determinedly stacks the deck against women and girls, most especially against women and girls who live in poverty. Have I used enough cliches this evening? The run-on sentences are marvelous as well. Guess I'll have to work on that later, gator.

    Whew! Here are Some Books: In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution by Susan Brownmiller, Flat Broke with Children: Women in the Age of Welfare Reform by Sharon Hays, Nickel and Dimed:On Not Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich (a spellbinding, must-read, first-person study about women in poverty--the author went undercover, hardscrabble-style, and lived as a woman with zero money--don't miss this--it will change your life!), The Vagina Monologues (fun and enlightening) by Eve Ensler, Appetites: Why Women Want by Carol Knapp. 

    Just today I was half listening to the tv news Ken was watching, which was discussing the appalling statistics of women who have been and are being raped, sexually assaulted, and sexually harrassed in the US military. Military brass have been completely ineffectual in controlling this problem.

    And have you happened to catch an episode or two of the 26-year-old Lena Dunham's extraordinary HBO series Girls? (Also available on iTunes.) Thank you, Lena, for saying it exactly like it is for millions of young women. And thank you, HBO, for being bold enough to broadcast a program, written and produced by a very young woman, that runs counter to the way Hollywood and mainstream US Television Culture mistakenly portray American women. I salute you!  Bravo and Brava!

    Friday, June 22, 2012

    Wicked Heat and Mary Gordon

    The sudden, scorching heat surprised me by how fiercely it took my body by storm. I have been a dishrag. I tromped downstairs in the mornings at 8am to find the thermometer at 82 degrees on Wednesday and Thursday. Since we've lived here, it's never been so hot so early in the morning.

    I'm at the tail end of Rosamund Lupton's Afterwards, and it has been a pure pleasure all the way through. I know I'm going to be looking for her first novel, Sisters, very soon.

    To help me through the withdrawal symptoms and panic I experience when I near the conclusion of books I've loved, I've started reading The Love of My Youth: A Novel, published in 2011 by Mary Gordon, now available in paperback. Where was I last year when this novel first appeared? I had no clue, or I would have read it sooner. Miranda and Alex, both in their late fifties, meet again in Rome, where in their early twenties they were passionately in love. Gordon's writing is exquisite, and if you've ever wondered what it would be like to reconnect with a man or a woman that you were so in love with in young adulthood, then I urge you to read this novel.

    Mary Gordon is an accomplished American writer and the winner of numerous awards. Her works published by Random House are the titles most widely available, but she has other, equally fine, books published at other houses. If a book about late-middle-aged people seems too old for you, please do try her novel Spending, one of my favorite novels. It's a delicious, literary romp! 

    Monday, June 11, 2012

    The Struggle to Read & Rosamund Lupton

    An "Out of Sync" Life is how it is with me these days. I so want to read more than a bit, but sitting on the couch or anywhere else reminds me too much of the 3 months I was off my feet. So I immediately seek to "do" something, anything at all, aside from an activity that has me sitting in one place. I will say that, as a result, the house is starting to look better than it has in months and months, though much more must be done, before I can rise above my region-wide reputation that I clean house only once every five years.

    This summer feels completely different from my 2011 "Summer of the Book," when it was hard to get me to do much else other than read and hike a bit. I stretched my reading horizons far beyond what I had ever experienced. (I'm incredibly nostalgic about last summer.)

    Susan, our town librarian, knows all about my reading plight, so she saved a book for me that she declared was one I wouldn't be able to put down. It's Rosamund Lupton's Afterwards, published in the US in the first week of June. Susan read it in nothing flat, and then gave it to me--thank you, Susan! You may recall that Lupton is the UK author of last summer's Sister, which got rave reviews. Did you read it or hear about it, by any chance?

    I must admit I find Afterwards an intensely compelling and highly original read. It's a book that's difficult to categorize, but it definitely lands in the psychological thriller department, though I don't know when I've identified with a female protagonist in a thriller more powerfully. I may never have been a mother, but no book has made me feel more like one than Afterwards has.

    Sunday, June 3, 2012

    On to Asa Larsson & Pad Thai

    My next read is Asa Larsson's Until Thy Wrath Be Past, a Nook title I purchased last October when Maxine of Petrona (oh, how I enjoy her blog!) gave it an excellent review; in fact, it was one of her favorite titles of 2011. And for some reason, I'm only just getting to it now. But after loving Expats, I'm primed for digging my teeth into more crime thrillers set in Europe.
    French Open time: A happy 26th birthday to Rafa, who did not have to play today. (We share the special day, but I cringe to think I'm more than twice his age.) Still! I'm determined to learn how to play tennis this summer. I played a bit in high school, but that was ancient history. I'm sorry to say I can't hope to draw on skills acquired when I was 16. So, is there a book in this? You bet. I'm vowing to read Arthur Ashe's biography Days of Grace this summer. Of all 20th-century American tennis champions, he is the most revered and respected here, because of the way he gently and forcefully brought media attention to the victims of the AIDS epidemic and worked toward breaking down barriers of fear and prejudice about the disease, which, sadly, he acquired via a blood transfusion.

    Pad Thai? I'm dying to make this dish and I'm terrified. I understand from most people that the first attempt is rarely a winner. I have all the ingredients, however, and it's a cool evening (58 degrees). So why not give it a whirl? What's the worst thing that could happen? A kitchen catastrophe, I suppose.

    Postscript: Thanks to my new cookbook, Quick and Easy Thai (Chronicle Books) by Nancie McDermott, I managed to concoct a Pad Thai that was deliciously edible, though I'm looking forward to doing a lot of tweaking of the recipe in future weeks. Do check out this cookbook--I really like it!

    Thursday, May 31, 2012

    Book Trip to Northshire!

    Our Sasha had a bit of expected doggie surgery on Tuesday, so Ken and I found ourselves with time on our hands and no need to hurry home to care for our beloved pooch. So at the last minute we forged forth on a birthday trip for me to Manchester, Vermont, to visit New England's best bookstore, Northshire Bookshop. (To be honest, my birthday is not until June 3, but I'm ready to celebrate any time.)

    It's a lovely drive to Manchester, through eastern New York's and western Vermont's beautiful farm country--the landscape so different from our mountainous forests in the Adirondacks. It was a hot humid day, nearly 90 degrees.

    At Northshire, I wandered from floor to impeccably organized floor, finding dozens and dozens of books that interested me. It surprised me that I was so clear about the ones I wanted to purchase. My most expensive choice was Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia, 5th edition, published in 2008. In 1971, my older brother Doug bought me the second edition, published in 1967, which I used and adored all through my college years. I have a recently-acquired-library-book-sale-used paperback version of the third edition, which I'm not that fond of, BUT I have extraordinarily high praise for the beautiful hardcover 5th edition I found at Northshire. More than ever before, the fifth edition has a huge emphasis on World Literature and global authors. Perfect for my interests. It was expensive but well worth it as a reference that will be used more than any other in my library.

    I will mention one other book I bought that I have already started reading--it's a history of the American forests--and for some reason the title is escaping me at the moment. I think it's American Canopy, with a subtitle I can't recall.

    I'm reading the final pages of Expats by Chris Pavone. I have loved it and highly recommend it!

    Sunday, May 27, 2012

    The Expats by Chris Pavone

    Memorial Day Weekend and summer marches in. It's fitting that today I took my first genuine woods walk since I broke my tibeal plateau in February. I've been walking on our dirt road and on paved surfaces for the past two weeks (with hiking poles), but nothing beats the atmosphere and excitement of exploring in the deep woods. The physical therapists have discouraged me from going off-road yet, but I found that the soft ground, as uneven as it may be, was much kinder to my knee than hard surfaces.

    Maybe because my forest-yearnings have finally been satisfied, I was able to settle down and read today, for over an hour, without feeling that reading is too passive an act for me to tolerate, a deplorable attitude that has plagued me for the past two months.

    Yesterday I tossed aside a novel that was taking me nowhere, and I tore into The Expats, a debut novel by Chris Pavone, a New Yorker in his late thirties. I've read over one hundred pages, and for the first time in two months I'm luxuriating in the sensation that I can't wait to get back to my forest green couch to read some more. Hooray!

    I suppose some readers might try to pigeonhole The Expats as a spy thriller. I rarely read spy novels and long ago gave up trying to enjoy the genre. I must say that the story is about a woman, a wife, and a mother who jettisons her career in Washington to accompany her husband to his new job in Luxembourg. (Pavone and his wife recently spent more than a year in Luxembourg, and his knowledge of the duchy, and of Paris, and other western European locales adds a great deal to the setting details and action as well as to the sense of isolation, loneliness, and homesickness that confront the characters living abroad for the first time.)

    But what I am truly loving about Expats is that Kate and her husband Dexter know very, very little about each other's lives, especially their work lives. They have known each other only as weekend partners, and when that starts to fall away, anything and everything starts to happen. Suspicions, secrets compounded on more secrets, and Kate, a woman with a past, with too much time on her hands, living as a stranger in a foreign land where nothing is as it seems, creates havoc where everything spirals out of control. (Yes, this is a hackneyed description, but I'm out of practice, you know?)

    Last but not least: How well does Pavone characterize Kate? Decades of reading has led me to believe that it is incredibly difficult for a male novelist to fully develop a female point-of-view protagonist or leading character so that women readers recognize her as one of them. And I don't know what would prompt a novelist to select a member of the opposite gender for a debut novel. (I'm discussing this only because I dabble at trying to write novels as a hobby, and when writing a novel, there is so much to think about, I cannot imagine adding the stress of trying to make a believable male point-of-view lead character.) And, please note, I'm not saying that men cannot write women, or that women cannot write men. Still, Pavone succeeds well enough that his portrayal of Kate is believable, haunting, and not jarring in any way.  [Please feel free to weigh in with your comments on this topic.]

    Friday, May 11, 2012

    Prague Winter

    The title Prague Winter conjures up enchanting images--a beautiful city that I've always wanted to visit combined with the most sensual season. Add a most admirable, distinguished former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright as its author, who is also a graduate of my alma mater, and I'm engulfed by a book yearning that must be satisfied immediately.

    But wait! Not so fast that I want to read this memoir on a Nook or a Kindle. There are photographs, after all. There's the need to browse the book and randomly leaf through the pages, pausing to read a passage here and there, a desire to dive deep into the experience.

    And, according to reviewers, Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948 is a book to be savored. (Review from the Los Angeles Times).

    I'm not sure when Albright revealed the following mystery about her past, but I remember puzzling over it when she made it public. I believed her story, but I found it hard to understand that for so many decades she didn't know. And how did her parents manage to keep hidden their ancestries, their personal histories, their identities? But, in central Europe in the late 1930s and 1940s, when it really mattered what you were...Albright's parents decided not to reveal, not ever, that they (and she) were Jewish.

    This era in history never ceases to fascinate me. I wish I had a few more links, but I must publish. Dinner awaits.

    Sunday, May 6, 2012

    Odds and Ends and Thanks!

    At long last I spent time today writing long overdue responses to readers and well-wishers of the past six weeks. Thank you all! (Do take a peek.)

    In yesterday's entry, I meant to link to a provocative, in-depth review of The Red Book by Deborah Kogan, but I couldn't seem to tap out the huge URL into the form window. So here it is today, taken straight from The Daily Beast.

    And today I discovered Radio Litopia, a UK station about books, writers, and publishing. I discovered it first on iTunes, but I must say I found the website offered me a rewarding visit. Do check it out! Do any of you living in the UK listen to it?

    Saturday, May 5, 2012

    The Red Book and Other Tales

    As I mentioned yesterday, I confess I'm reading the new bestseller The Red Book by Deborah Copaken Kogan, about four Harvard women 20 years after their 1989 graduation. If the premise sounds all too familiar, that's because this plotline has been done over and over again. Yet this one has an irresistable lure for me because I lived near Harvard Square for three years when I was fresh out of college. I also dated my share of Harvard men while a college student (only because my college choir had many concerts and rehearsals with the Harvard Glee Club), so I'm curious to see where Kagan takes this one.

    I'm equally interested in Kagan's memoir Shutterbabe, about her exotic and hair-raising adventures as a footloose freelance photographer from 1989 into the 1990s in war-torn Afghanistan, and Zimbabwe to Russia, and Haiti. If you're interested, check out these fascinating interviews, a brazenly negative, anti-feminist one from Salon and another from The Digital Journalist.

    Friday, May 4, 2012

    Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the E-Book Dilemma

    For how long have readers been forced to consult their social consciences when deciding from whom to purchase a book? For me, the dilemma seems to have dated from the early 1990s when the big bookstore corporations gained enough ground to compete with the smaller independent bookstores. Now that the latter have all but vanished, a new conundrum emerged for e-book buyers.

    "Boycott Amazon!" has been the hue and cry for the past several months. Amazon's supposed "dirty tricks" in attaching artificially super-low prices on Kindle book bestsellers aroused many book consumers to paint Amazon's top ebook competitor Barnes and Noble as a corporation to be pitied, because it couldn't compete with Amazon in this market. Barnes and Noble colluded with these dissenting consumers, vocally embracing Amazon boycotters.

    Then, early this week came the announcement that Barnes and Noble has entered into a partnership with Microsoft, a corporation that has less need of our pity than both Rupert Murdoch and Donald Trump combined. The Barnes and Microsoft partnership is supposed "to usher in a new era in the publication and distribution of e-books. Of that I have no doubt.

    So tonight, after days and days of deliberation,  I decided I couldn't wait a minute longer to buy The Red Book by Deborah Copaken Kogan. I bought it from Amazon for my Kindle for $7.99 as opposed to my Nook for $13.99, and I refuse to feel guilty.

    I believe most people hate to feel manipulated by corporations, and like many of us, I unwittingly allowed myself to be manipulated.

    Please weigh in with any thoughts that come to mind!

    Thursday, May 3, 2012

    Paul Auster: Hand to Mouth

    By hook or by crook, I will publish a post today.

    I mentioned that I would tell you about the contents of several of the exciting book packages that arrived for me during February and March. One purchase I'm very proud to add to my Paul Auster collection is a hardcover edition of Hand to Mouth: A Chronicle of Early Failure, the memoir he published in 1997 about his years as a young, starving writer in New York City. (I searched and searched online for the original dustjacket photo of Auster as a young man and found it on this ARC.) ''My marriage ended in divorce, my work as a writer foundered, and I was overwhelmed by money problems... [a] constant, grinding, almost suffocating lack of money that poisoned my soul and kept me in a state of never-ending panic.'' At times Auster took extraordinary steps to pull a few cents together--he raised worms in his basement (!) and did a stint as a merchant marine, to name just a couple of the many eye-popping options.

    Another title I purchased (this time on the Nook) is Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. I started reading it, all gung ho, when I was confronted head-on with my own sense of an ending. I put the book aside at that point but have plans to return to it soon.

    Also waiting is Alan Hollinghurst's The Stranger's Child. I haven't read his 2004 Booker-Prize-winning novel, but this latest book sounded very interesting to me.

    Saturday, April 28, 2012

    The Official Reading PUSH!

    It's hard to explain, but I was incapable of concentrating on a book for quite a number of weeks. My brain was mush. I still don't feel my brain is normal, which is probably good for me! I'm now capable, I suppose--at least I have more energy than I did--but I need to find just the right book to get me back on the reading track.

    I have some great titles on board. A beautiful hardcover edition of Pamuk's Snow arrived. I was stunned by its perfection. Every minute reading it will be a sensual pleasure. But my brain is not up to its complexities. Gosh! I have loads of new books. Too many! I promise I will write a post about these riches.

    My next book, however, is a Dell paperback that has been on my shelves for about four years. I bought it for two dollars at The Lyrical Ballad, a delightful used bookstore in Saratoga Springs. It's a book for young adults by Madeleine L'Engle, one of my favorite authors, entitled And Both Were Young. L'Engle first published it in the early 1960s. But as she explains in the preface to this 1983 revision, she has replaced subject matter that had to be deleted from the original: information about the impact of Phillipa's mother's death on the young teenaged Philippa and her father, and the sexual attraction between Phillipa and her boyfriend, Paul. Death and sex were not topics considered appropriate for young people in the early 1960s.

    The setting of And Both Were Young  is at a Swiss boarding school. L'Engle attended boarding schools throughout much of her childhood, including one in Switzerland when she was a teen. I'm eager to finally read this title I've neglected.

    Friday, March 23, 2012

    Hospital Reading: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

    I'm home now, but I spent the last four days in the hospital because the blood clot in my leg "shattered" and traveled straight to both my lungs. Isn't this saga becoming absurd? Fortunately, I made it through okay. Whew!

    After the first horrible day, I was glad I had the Nook with me. I had been waiting for Cheryl Strayed's  Wild to be published, a memoir of hiking solo on the Pacific Crest Trail, and on Wednesday I was thrilled to download it. Strayed tackled the trail decades ago during a difficult period in her life when she was in her early twenties. I'm enjoying it, particularly the details of her confrontation with and defiance of the elements that threatened to either stop her or kill her. Yet anyone looking for details about the natural world or an intense experience with the flora and fauna may be disappointed. Strayed writes about nature, but not as a naturalist or a person intimate with or fascinated by the natural world. Wild is a bit more of an Eat, Pray, Love sort of memoir, though interesting nonetheless.

    I've had the pleasure of receiving a number of packages of books in the past week or so. I hope to post an entry about them tomorrow.

    Sunday, March 18, 2012

    Desert Wives and the Human & Economic Costs of Polygamy

    Thanks to Maxine of Petrona, I learned of Betty Webb's crime thriller Desert Wives and read it in a couple of days. But Desert Wives is no ordinary thriller. Although it is fiction, it is also a carefully researched expose of polygamous compounds in the deserts of southernmost Utah and northern Arizona. At the end of the book, Webb reveals her research and quotes a number of news articles from newspapers in the western US.

    Somehow or other, I watched HBO's Big Love for years thinking that the depiction of polygamy, both in the city and in a polygamous compound, was pure fiction and insulting to Mormons (I still think the latter.) I told Ken this as soon as I finished Webb's novel. He turned to me and said, aghast, "You did?" He then proceeded to tell me all he'd learned (he's more of a news hound than I am) of polygamous compounds, their abuse of women and young girls, their unchecked welfare fraud, their stockpiling of weapons, and worst, to our minds, the complicity of Utah and Arizona elected officials. What I don't understand is why anti-polygamy Mormons haven't succeeded in pressuring their representatives to do more about the problem. I'm sure they've tried.

    Of course, polygamy does not define Mormonism or Mormons, but it is interesting that the governor of Utah and other state officials do not crack down on the enormous public costs perpetrated by this large group of male polygamists.

    In contrast, a decade ago I researched Mormonism in the 19th century for a book I was writing. At that time, many polygamous men were away from their homesteads most of the time. They were on missions, spreading the faith and establishing new colonies. Their wives stayed home, farmed, raised livestock, raised their children, and lived independently a great deal of the time.

    Thursday, March 15, 2012

    Tobias Wolff & In Pharaoh's Army: In the Works

    I was all set to write about Tobias Wolff yesterday, but due to the discovery of blood clots in my broken leg, I had to go to the hospital emergency room. Never fear, the clots and I are home again, ensconced on my green couch, trying to see the humor in this situation. Nearly all book bloggers, I've noticed, never say anything about their health or lack of it, but this winter it has been impossible to keep blog-mum about these events. After all, they have had a profound impact on my reading life--for the better, in that single respect.

    I'm three-quarters of the way through Wolff's memoir of his Vietnam military experience, In Pharaoh's Army: Memories of the Lost War, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. It was published in 1994, five years after his bestselling memoir, This Boy's Life. In Pharaoh's Army is loosely organized in a series of unconnected narratives, each one replete with Wolff's eye-opening descriptions, characterization, sense of the absurd, and an acute sense of the vulnerabilities of his late adolescent self mired in an incomprehensible world.

    If you have never read Wolff, I urge you to try him. His most polished art form is the short story, of which he is a master. There are many collections of his stories available. Follow the link to lots of articles and New York Times book reviews of his work. Also, an NPR interview.

    Tuesday, March 13, 2012

    The Heat of the Day & Classic Movies

    I've enjoyed some of Elizabeth Bowen's short stories so much that I've been keen on reading the novel that many consider to be her best, The Heat of the Day. Although Stella, the main character, flashes back to the Blitz and September 1940, the action takes place two years later, when London was not under bombardment.

    I very much appreciated Bowen's exquisite rendering of setting throughout the novel. Mood and intricately detailed atmospheric elements enhance the suspense of the storyline, particularly the dark nights of the blackout.

    The Heat of the Day would be a rich novel for group discussion. Stella is one of the most inscrutable characters I've ever encountered in fiction. What are her motivations for the things she does? With each of her significant actions, I found myself continuously trying to puzzle her out, and I must conclude that I don't understand her, perhaps because I've never met anyone even remotely like her. (?) I'd be fascinated to hear what other readers make of her. Bowen, the artist of nuanced characterization that she is, did not help me out, of course. Harrison makes a fascinating scoundrel, but I found his and Stella's conversations, sometimes many pages long, left me asking, "Whatever are they going on about?" Roderick, Stella's son, is the only character who is straightforward and without guile, which comes as a relief in this novel where no person can be known for sure and most are sinister, each in their own way.

    One of the very few advantages of having broken my leg has been the opportunity to catch up on a few classic movies I've missed over the years. This morning I saw the incomparable My Dinner with Andre, which was, to use a dreadfully outdated term, mind-blowing. Equally excellent were Al Pacino's bravura performance in Scent of a Woman and, to a lesser degree, Robert DeNiro's in Taxi Driver. I watched again, after twenty plus years, Out of Africa with Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. Amazing!

    Monday, March 12, 2012

    SS Monday: John Updike & Woody Allen

    I'm continuing Short Story Monday, courtesy of John Munford of The Bookmine Set.

    This morning I read a number of stories from the collection Wonderful Town: New York Stories from the New Yorker, edited by David Remnick, my least favorite editor of The New Yorker. Why least favorite? Remnick has the unshakeable conviction that women do not or cannot write pieces of narrative journalism worthy of The New Yorker.  When Tina Brown was editor, she saw The New Yorker boost its readership massively, and yes, she published the work of many women journalists. Needless to say, I can't wait for Remnick to move on.

    I've read two New Yorker short stories by Woody Allen, both published in the 1970s, in the days when Allen was still experimenting with various prose forms. Both are full of one-liner laughs, but the stories themselves do not hang together--the elements flap in the wind. No real characterization, no plot, yet full of ideas challenging societal norms.

    Warning: I am incapable of offering objective views about John Updike's work. I am much too close to view his literary merit.
    Today I read "Snowing in Greenwich Village," by John Updike, which was published in 1956. I cannot deny that he's an exquisite prose stylist, based on all the stories I've read over the years. But I'm always left feeling hollow after reading his work. I wish I could finish a story knowing that I was taking something, anything with me. For me, and this is deeply personal, I wish his themes would rise above what I perceive as banality. I expect something more from him--some big idea, some grand concept or meaning.

    And now we arrive at the crux of the problem. If there were ever a writer who encapsulated my parents' generation, and here I'm speaking of the least noteworthy aspects of their postwar lives in the 1950s and 1960s, it is John Updike. His characters, their situations, and their values exhibit the worst that my parents' generation had to offer--a singular lack of depth and meaning. And here it may seem that I'm castigating my parents' generation and John Updike, the chronicler, which is not true. I completely understand why they were the way they were after all they'd lived through. And I see why people of my generation are not capable of judging them. But I must say that Updike exposes their frailties, their foibles, their myths in a way that is very difficult for me to read.