In the High Peaks

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.