In the High Peaks

Saturday, April 27, 2013

In the Merry Month of May: Books to Come

Yes, just a few days until May. April has not been my best reading month, although it has been a good month for launching work on several writing projects. My reading has been usurped by these projects, so I find I'm not making headway with what I call my recreational fiction.

Some of you may be shocked to learn that I am still reading Midwinter Blood by the Swedish crime writer Mons Kallentoft.

Two weeks ago I borrowed two copies of Phantom by Jo Nesbo, in the hopes that Ken and I would read along together. I could not keep up, and he has zoomed through the book and is entering the final fifth of the novel. It was a terrific idea to read a book like this together, but, well, he has more time to read recreationally and I overestimated my abilities. Yes, you're right--bad excuse! By the way, he's loving the book. He loves the darkness, although he admits he can't read book after book of Nordic Noir. I think I can, but how will I know if other academic books are constantly claiming my time.

So, while I'm reading numerous books about the desperate end of the Civil War in the bludgeoned Confederacy, I'm not progressing with my other bookish interests.

In May, I have a break of exactly 2 weeks and 5 days before I teach a grueling course in the Summer I session.

So here's what I hope to accomplish:
1. Finish Midwinter Blood, of course!

2. Read and write a review for All That I Am by Anna Funder for Caroline's War and Literature Readalong  title for May. Funder is an Australian-born author who now lives in Brooklyn, New York. I'm looking forward to reading this World War II novel. Please join us!

3. I hope to listen to some audiobooks. I'm finishing up the Carole King memoir (fantastic!). I'll be sorry to say goodbye to such a memorable listening experience. I can't say enough good things about it.

4. But I can't claim too much for a mere 2 weeks and 5 days. I have high hopes for leisure reading, but I need to see how it goes!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Paul Auster and J. M. Coetzee in Bookish News

I was about to address the readers of this entry as "Auster fans." For such an esteemed American writer, fandom seems too commercial, too disrespectful of Paul Auster's stature in American letters. At least, that's my opinion. But, that said, if you are a devoted reader of Auster's work, have you heard about the volume of letters that he and J.M. Coetzee pulled together, entitled Here and Now: Letters 2008-2011, published by Viking Penguin this March, I believe?

Evidently the two literary comrades, living on opposite sides of the globe (the South African Coetzee now lives in Adelaide, Australia), decided to embark on an epistolary correspondence to see where it led, and with the possibility that they might pursue publication. The project seemed contrived to me at first, but then again, to a reader who has long lamented the loss of handwritten letters as documentary evidence, I was curious about what they might come up with. Anything and everything Auster does fascinates me, so I contemplated buying the book, but before I made the commitment, I found the book sitting on the "New Books Shelf" at the Lucy Scribner Library at Skidmore College, a place I frequent for my scholarly reading. So, last Friday afternoon I literally snatched it off the shelf with a little gasp, as if someone were about to grab it before I could claim it.

Auster's first letter to Coetzee is a reflection about friendship. Wouldn't you know I was so swamped this weekend I haven't had time to read it! Augghh!


Saturday, April 20, 2013

More Boston Talk (No Books)

Last evening, after a very long day of climactic events in Boston, I called my mom as I often have during this difficult week. And she asked me last night, "Did all of this make you at all homesick for Boston?"  "Oh, yes!" I answered emphatically, "And Ken, too!"

Mom and I discussed the fact that the surviving terrorist, 19 years old, was in my nephew's (her grandson's) class at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School, graduating in 2011. I haven't spoken to Liam--he lives with my brother in Cambridge, one of the areas in total lock down yesterday. They both must be exhausted. But, because I teach 19-year-olds, and because I've heard so many reports about the high regard the terrorist's friends and teachers held him in, I feel an enormous sense of tragedy.

I am touring around Boston in my dreams at night. And I was so surprised when Ken told me how he wished to be in Boston with his coworkers and friends this week. I was so surprised to hear him say this because Ken has never said anything about missing Boston. Quite the contrary, in fact. I haven't missed the city either--we've both been so content with the wonders of our wilderness. 

It's embarrassing to say this, but the only things we have missed before this week have been ludicrously trivial, such as fresh seafood, superb Chinese and Thai cuisine, Whole Foods supermarket, and just plain all-round excellent food, all of which we most assuredly do not have here in northern New York. We've made do with the inferior fare available at supermarkets, and because we have wealth in our environment, we haven't complained. How important is food anyway? Not at all, in the grand scheme of things.

I think we both need a brief trip back--to visit friends. Ken needs to see his buddies at The Boston Globe. I'd love to spend time with my mother, and then, in the evenings, visit our best great restaurants, of course. Oops! There goes the family budget! Perhaps we can in the next month.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Nordic Noir, The Book Depository, and Spring Photo Up

Last weekend I turned again to Sarah's Crime Pieces' review of Barry Forshaw's newest book, Nordic Noir: The Pocket Essential Guide to Scandinavian Crime Fiction, Film, and TV and decided to buy it. When I found it wouldn't be published in the U.S. until September (Who can wait that long?), I let my laptop spirit me over to The Book Depository's website and ordered it, with no shipping costs. So delighted was I that I would receive this 160-page reference in a couple of weeks rather than five months, I also ordered Forshaw's first book about Scandinavian crime novels, Death in a Cold Climate. Although this title has been published in the U.S., it was not available via our network's dozens upon dozens of libraries, though one can buy it from Amazon or Barnes and Noble for $28. Yet I was able to order it from The Book Depository for around $20, no shipping.

Now that makes me worry about the BD. All I can say is, the company can't be making any money from me, seeing as it ships books all the way from the Channel Islands, but I'm glad it has thus far included the U.S. within its "no shipping" scope. If you live in the U.S. and want a book recently published in the UK, do check them out. I have ordered a few other titles and have been very pleased that the books arrive in excellent condition. I will be ordering more from them soon. Life is too short to wait months and months for books to be published here, not to mention all the great ones that never will!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

What Happens When You Call Boston Home

While I blithely wrote yesterday's entry, I had no idea that a terrorist attack had occurred in the square of Boston that I have visited more than any other. On the way home from the college, I was listening to the Carole King memoir rather than the radio and Ken was working. When Ken and I turned on the television at 7pm, we were shocked and horrified to discover the loss of life and crippling injuries suffered by Marathon watchers closest to the explosions. We immediately emailed close friends who live within blocks of the site. I also emailed a young friend who habitually hangs out at the finish line with his friends. As far as we know, everyone we contacted is safe but terribly shaken. We feel so helpless to aid the people most affected by the attack.

As a number of regular readers know, I lived my entire life until 2005 in the immediate Boston area and Ken has ever since his college days. Ken was a software analyst for The Boston Globe newspaper for 20 years and spent more than a dozen Marathon Mondays with co-workers gathering running times from the athletic association that organizes the Boston Marathon. They all hovered over their computers in a building very close to one of the explosion sites, collecting data as the 20,000+ runners made it across the finish line. The Boston Globe prides itself on being able to publish running times in Tuesday's paper every year without fail.

As for me, I made a point of never being in Boston on Patriot's Day. Never. However, because one of the nation's four best research libraries and the oldest public library in the nation is right in the middle of Copley Square, I was a regular visitor, almost always for the purpose of conducting research for one of my books or articles. The Starbucks store across Boylston St. closest to where one of the blasts occurred is a place where I have consumed hundreds of cups of coffee over my years as a writer.

You may wonder why I'm going on about our connections to Copley Square. Home matters. Place matters. Ken and I thought we understood how New Yorkers felt after 9/11. We empathized as did millions of people all over the world. But when a terrorist attack strikes a place you have always thought of as home, as your city, the assault feels very different. I suppose I feel angrier at this attack than at others, but most of all, we feel ruthlessly violated and vulnerable.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Ohmigosh! Carole King: A Natural Woman--A Memoir Narrated by Carole Herself!

First of all, I must begin this entry by saying that Carole King's album Tapestry defined me when I came of age. It spoke for me. It encompassed my dreams and lamented my heartbreaks. I couldn't stop listening to it, and I literally wore out the vinyl. I couldn't help singing along with it either, as bad as that must have sounded. My whole being resonated with each song, each lyrical phrase. She was singing about my life! I don't believe there was an album that I inhaled more deeply than Tapestry, although I must confess to an undeniable, passionate love of Sgt. Pepper, which comes up as a strong second.

I was 18, 19, and 20 during my compulsive Carole King years:1971-1973. By 1974, I had moved on. Her new music no longer spoke to me as vibrantly, and that was that. But my abandonment of her music does not diminish the intensity of my unforgettable recollections of my love for the albums she produced during those years.

When King's memoir appeared last spring, a year ago, I wasn't tempted to seek it out. After all, I had listened ardently to Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon - and the Journey of a Generation by Sheila Weller, which was an absorbing, lengthy biography that details both the musical careers and personal lives of the three women whom I'd long admired.

I blindly assumed that there was nothing more for me to discover about Carole King. But then--Tah dah!! I came upon the audiobook of Carole King: A Natural Woman at the library and discovered that King had narrated the unabridged memoir. Immediately, I wanted to listen. And I've been compulsively spellbound on my commutes to work ever since. (No! No! Just five miles to go before I reach the college? Slow down!)  Now I get to be embraced by her life and hear Carole tell it in her own words, with her own emphases (she has an emphatic voice), and also hear her burst into song spontaneously throughout. What a joy!! Why didn't this audiobook win a zillion awards??

Well, obviously, I urge you to listen to this audiobook if you have any interest in King or her legacy to popular music. Beg, borrow, steal, or buy it even! It's that good.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Being Forced to Read is Good and Mons Kallentoft

Three weeks of classes and then exams. The end of the semester always keeps me on edge and jittery and making no progress with my reading.

Even though I know how reading calms me, even though I emphasize it as a priority in my daily life, when the big whirl comes, I sometimes can't stop myself long enough to sit down, read, and calm down.

But late this afternoon I literally forced myself to march to the green couch, light the fire, sip my freshly brewed cup of Darjeeling, and pick up what I believe is the first volume in the Swedish writer Mons Kallentoft's police thriller series, Midwinter Blood or Midvinterblod. (I prefer the latter title.) The novel was originally published in Sweden in 2007, then in 2011 in England as Midwinter Sacrifice with the translation by Neil Smith, and not until 2012 in the U.S.

[About lighting the fire: We had an ice storm yesterday and temps are in the 30s--the ground is covered with two inches of ice. I was hoping for some sun time, but we've had none for days.]

I've only read 60 pages at this point, so I'll only say that I appreciate that the writing is not overly complex. My brain can't unravel much complexity for the next four weeks. So I'm off and running with it. I immediately identified with Malin Fors, the 34-year-old superintendent who is a separated single mom with a 13-year-old daughter. She's troubled, very gutsy, and smart. I love the troubled part.

If you've read Kallentoft, what do you think of his work?

Monday, April 8, 2013

Dying to Read John Boyne

A few too many recently published books are in the house at the moment. Sometimes the dilemma of what to read next vexes me beyond comprehension, because I can never be sure which book will be recalled to the library next for another patron who is dying to read it. If only I had this crucial information, I would read books in the proper order and not have to return books I haven't had time to read.

One that I'm desperate to get to was just published in the U.S. in March, although it was published in the UK in 2009. Perhaps some of you know it: John Boyne's The House of Special Purpose,  a historical novel set in the final days of tsarist Russia.

Boyne's most well-known book is an international bestseller about the Holocaust. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is frequently read in schools here. The House of Special Purpose is supposed to be "part love story, part historical epic, part tragedy." Boyne, who lives in Dublin, has won many prizes for his work, and I can't wait to read him. Wish me luck in finishing this one before I accrue a library's fortune in fines.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Calling Atkinson Fans and More Books, of Course!

Alas! I'm very sorry to report that I had to bid farewell to Life after Life by Kate Atkinson. I was on page 122 (of 526 pages) and had to make the hard decision: I'm not enjoying this book. Flipping forward in the novel I found more of the same of what I was not enjoying and worse to boot, so it's sad, but I must say goodbye. I tried to appreciate it, I tried to read on, but every page, every chapter left me hollow. I'd love to hear from people who read this novel and liked it, so please do give your thoughts! I would welcome them.

Onward! I've started reading the recently published The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer, and I feel I'm on solid territory with this one. Phew! I feel terrible when I ditch a book, so I'm glad I've landed safely. I especially enjoyed an interview with Wolitzer in BookPage magazine about her writing and approach to this novel. Fascinating, actually. I know I've read Meg Wolitzer before, not to be confused with Hilma Wolitzer, of course, whose books I also like very much.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

An April Winter, Life after Life, and James Garner

So much going on in my book world and I have no time to blog about it.

Spring has not sprung yet, but I hear rumors that temperatures in the 50s will be our fare this coming week. Last evening before sundown a wintry squall of enormous snow clumps came whirling like hornets around a nest. Then a brisk day today--early this morning about 18 degrees. By noon the sun was warming and brilliant even though the air temperature did not rise above 40 degrees. I climbed to see Mount Marcy, the highest peak in New York State, totally covered with snow, as were all of its surrounding mountains. The day was beautiful, but the reflection off the snow was painfully blinding. I have to wear very large, dark glasses and a broad-brimmed hat when I venture forth on snowshoes in April.

Books: I'm lucky to be among the first in my area to read Life after Life by Kate Atkinson. Being the first has happened to me frequently with new library books this year and it's not the norm. Usually I order and have to wait and wait for  popular, recently released books, but this year, I've had so many dumped in my lap that I almost feel guilty. Are people really paying $14.99 for e-books of 2013 titles? I wonder what's going on? I'm baffled.

About Life after Life: I'm finding it a bit of a departure for Atkinson. It's long, at well over 500 pages, and I realize at the moment that I've had far too complex a day to describe its idiosyncrasies fully. I'm hanging in with all of it, but I do wish the action would progress. It's quite grim as well, and is written as though Atkinson is holding herself at an extreme distance from the characters and their tragedies. It's very different, but I WARN YOU, DO NOT listen to a person who has only read 150 pages of a 500+ page book!!! However, if you have views on the novel, I welcome your comments!

I also have borrowed The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer, which is not due to be released until Tuesday, but somehow or other one of my college libraries put it on the shelf anyway. I am very keen to read it, but it, too, is very long at 450+ pages with very small print in the hardcover edition.

And audiobooks! I've nearly finished listening to The Garner Files by James Garner, the popular American movie and television star, who is in his eighties now. It has had me laughing and quite absorbed to and from work. From the time I was four years old, I loved him in the television western, Maverick, then later in films. I recommend it highly for an audio read.

 I'm in awe of the way that audiobooks can alter my mood while driving. I can be in the foulest, most depressed state, as I was Friday morning, and I listened to a chapter in The Garner Files about golf, and he had me laughing hysterically for my 60-mile journey! I don't play golf, I don't watch it on tv, I don't even like the sport, but I was in stitches. So!

I have barely scratched the surface of my book life at the moment, but I hope to blog on in a few days at the latest.