In the High Peaks

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Admiring (and Loving) The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore

I've been eyeing my library copy of The Greatcoat, and have been looking forward to the morning I could devote my attention to it. Well, that morning arrived today, and I am gobbling it up, though trying hard now to slow myself down so I can enjoy the wonderful writing.

I'm more than halfway at the moment, but this is a read that you could finish in a single afternoon or long evening. I want to make it last a bit longer. Just so I can think about it.

I have so identified with Isabel's pull to visit the WWII airfield in the village in East Anglia where, in 1952, she and her newly married husband, an intensely busy young physician, have moved after their honeymoon. Isabel, a graduate of university, has been told by the wife of the older doctor in the practice that "bookish types" don't get on well in this village, so she is lonely, though she makes stabs at being a proper young doctor's wife. Yet it is clearly not working well for her. She is just the person to be sensitive to a ghost and to a past that echoes on, especially at the airfield that she visits. She feels the past strongly within what is a rather dim present; and hence, her vulnerability to past lives living on.

So this is a haunting, ghostly tale, that is NOT in the slightest "paranormal." This is a real ghost story of the kinds real people experience in real life.

I am so keenly enjoying it that I will soon try others of Dunmore's oeuvre. I once read the early chapters of The Siege several years ago, but, for some reason, did not finish it.

Do you have a Dunmore novel that you would recommend?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

7 Days Since My Last Post! What Am I Doing? Thinking?

We've had a number of days in the past week with lower temperatures and humidity. On those days, outdoors-starved Adirondackers, who have not moved awaye or moved here because of the outdoors, experience near-manic highs because the world is so beautiful.

You mean we can now hike, paddle, climb mountains, study plants and trees, and visit a lake? It's been weeks since we could do this without melting! My botanical friends and I go crazy, outdoors all day, trying to catch up to look for those rare orchids and other plants.

Last night the low temperature was 42 degrees. This is after weeks of low nighttime temps of 65-72 degrees! Everyone has been able to sleep again, feels rejuvenated, but there is no time for reading, except for the very few minutes at bedtime before exhaustion swamps me. Now how's that for a "I haven't been reading much" excuse?

Not doing any writing neither. Double negatives are well suited to these conditions.

I hope I get some reading time this coming weekend! Tomorrow, Friday, I'm on a hiking expedition to the south.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Crime and Mayhem in the Adirondacks

Suffocated by this horrendously hot and humid weather, I need a comfort read. I'm still enjoying The Art Forger to the hilt--don't miss it! But I've been longing to read a novel in one of my favorite crime series.

And what do I have waiting on my Nook, but the third novel in Julia Spencer-Fleming's Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne crime series, Out of the Deep I Cry, an Agatha winner. Gosh, I must've bought it months and months ago. I've only read the first two novels in this series, but I know Clare and Russ like they are my neighbors. I think that the characterizations of the two primary characters and their interpersonal chemistry are so superbly crafted that they are the elements that make this series. I like Clare and Russ so much--it's a joy to dig into another of their adventures. Clare, a former Army helicopter pilot turned Episcopal priest, and Russ, chief of the Millers Kill Police Dept. are not only a dynamic duo, but a love match well worth watching. In this novel, Russ is still married and loyal to his wife, though he loves Clare as she love him. They're extremely careful and hold themselves back to an irritating extent, but time will tell.

Spencer-Fleming declares that the series is set in the Adirondacks, but the abundance of farmers in the fictitious Millers Kill has had me scratching my head. I'm sure the author knows her setting, but I don't know it. It seems that it may be in the area of the Great Sacandaga Lake region. Yet all I know is, I live in the south-central Adirondacks and nobody farms successfully around here, although interestingly enough, they managed to in eras past. The soil is pitifully poor. Livestock raising is possible, but crops? A labor of blood, sweat, and tears, and lots of hard, grueling labor. I shudder to think.

Spencer-Fleming is an excellent writer, in my opinion, and a visit to her website is worth the effort! Lots of interviews with crime writers and other top-notch content.

Do you know if Julia Spencer-Fleming's series is available in the UK? Please check it out, especially her debut In the Bleak Midwinter, which I love so much I must read it again. I need it for my Christmas Books Collection.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Final Words on Hotel du Lac and The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro

Hotel du Lac was a peak reading experience for me, and thus far is my #1 book of the year. The writing was so original in every way--I so appreciated it. And Edith's "triumph" on the very last page. Sad, yes, but a victory that she remains true to herself and does not fall prey to a man shrouded in everyday lies and commonplace deception. Hotel du Lac is definitely a novel I will turn to again.

And talking about originality! I'm now reading a fascinating, innovative novel which is currently on the trade paperback bestseller lists. I own The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro in hardcover. Like others I've read this summer, it's a book that I'm enjoying reading very slowly and deliberately, so as not to miss a beat or a single nuance.

I am so in awe of the research Shapiro collected to make this book about a special artist (and forger) authentic. That sounds like a play on words! What I mean is, Shapiro has not only done her homework on this topic, she has embraced the competitive world of artists, dealers, and museum curators so well that the reader can be fully present, enthralled in the action.

It's interesting that Messud's novel is also about artists, yet Shapiro's novel allows the reader to experience firsthand what it is like to be an artist in today's art world. And this is a crucial difference. I want to point out that this is a crime thriller, all related to the actual theft of priceless paintings from the actual Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston back in 1990, though the novel is set in 2010 or so. I will reveal more as I read more. The photo is a December view of the inner courtyard of the museum--it's so much more beautiful than this, that I hesitated to include it. Do visit if you're in Boston and I promise you won't be disappointed!

I am so irate about the horrid heat and humidity we've been having. Not an Adirondacks summer, that's for sure. I guess I've been spoiled and I'm now getting my comeuppance

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Hotel du Lac and Anita Brookner

It's important to say that I'm only a chunk more than halfway through Hotel du Lac. I'm fascinated by it, particularly by Edith's immersion in the characters and lives of the people staying at the hotel on Lake Geneva. As a reader, I know she's been through a hard time, I feel quite intimately what's gone wrong with her paramour David, and I want to protect her. I'm worried about her, actually. I'm at the point where I hope Mr. Neville is not going to prove himself to be a disgraceful element. But I don't think so; not in the long run. I identify with  Edith wholeheartedly. How did Brookner accomplish that? I'm quite in awe of her literary powers at the moment. I wish the novel will go on and on; so, if I came to more than halfway so quickly, the reading most assuredly will not last.

That's my note for today. I hope you'll join us for the Anita Brookner Month of July. Please see my previous post for links!

Last evening I visited several college library databases and read several biographical and critical essays about Brookner. I was saddened when I read about her life. She's still alive, however! Born in 1928, which makes her the same generation as my mother. Surprising to realize that. Do investigate!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Algerian Fiction by Assia Djebar! and Anita Brookner Month--Join Up!

Thanks to the wealth of my libraries, I have both novels now at my side. I'm sure I can finish them in July.

I'm so excited to learn more about Assia Djebar and the importance of Children of the New World: A Novel of the Algerian War, which I'm reading for Caroline's (Beauty is a Sleeping Cat) July Literature and War Readalong, due on the 28th, I believe. My edition is a beautiful paperback from the library, if such things can be imagined. It's published by The Feminist Press in New York and is translated by Marjolijn de Jager. Clarisse Zimra, who teaches at Southern Illinois University, is the North African literary scholar who wrote the "Afterword."  I am so psyched to read a novel of the Algerian War written by a woman, and one that has been declared a feminist text and is taught in so many U.S. Comparative Literature classes. Can't wait to get to it. If you are at all tempted, please do join the readalong this month!

Thanks to JoAnn at Lakeside Musing, I've learned that July is Anita Brookner month, hosted by Heavenali  I don't know why I've never read a novel by Brookner. But that is due to change. I'm reading Hotel du Lac and today I actually dived in head first to Chapter 7, to be exact. I had no problem understanding what was going on, as this chapter delineates a major conflict for Edith as played out with the insufferable Mr. Neville. I was pulled in by the dialogue, the conflict, the philosophical rendering, and was reminded that it all was oddly reminiscent of the major conflict for Nora Eldridge in Messud's A Woman Upstairs! Can you imagine? I'm fascinated, though I'm wondering if I've gone crazy.

Monday, July 8, 2013

"Let's Play Library"

Playing "Library" was one of my pastimes over the weekend. The weather has been abysmal. Hot and disgustingly humid--even a walk at a slow pace leaves us dripping and soaked through. And it keeps raining from time to time. The long-range weather forecast is only reservedly hopeful for the future, as in maybe late this week. Fortunately air-conditioning makes indoor life tolerable.

So back to "Let's Play Library." On my older brother's vacations home from school, we would play this game in foul weather, or whenever we had a spare couple of hours. Doug had scads of books. Many of his books were at college with him, but he kept lots of bookshelves full at home as well. Yes, he was an English major. And after that, he got his masters in English and American Lit.

I raided his bookshelves constantly. That's where I found A.J. Cronin's novel The Citadel, about an idealistic young doctor braving the medical establishment (oh, I loved this book!), Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, George Orwell's 1984, The Red and the Black by Stendhal, lots of Dostoyevsky, The Stranger by Camus. I can see those shelves before me now.  I loved most of the books I read, and puzzled over parts of most of them, because I wasn't reading them as part of a class and I had no one to answer my questions. And because the Internet was decades away from being public, I just tried to figure the books out on my own, which was fine with me.

How to "Play Library:" Don't use us as models, but we would move books from shelf to shelf, from bookcase to bookcase, according to a never-endingly whimsical variety of semi-organization. Doug would talk about the books and then put aside the ones he thought I would like. We talked about the ones I had read in his absence. It was a literary mentorship, for certain. He was five and a half years older, and I took his words about literature as gospel. 

So foul weather upon me in 2013, I pruned and weeded and reshelved and literally gasped when I found book upon book that I must read, all of them nearly forgotten. How does that happen? So for that reason alone, I'm so glad I decided to play. I must confess I was just a tad lonely without a bookish companion to help me make decisions, but most of the time I was overwhelmed by the fact that I have too many reading interests. Yes, I'm a Reader LOST in her Wilderness of Books!

Do you Play Library too? Do tell!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Messud's Powers, The National Book Award, and Other Ramblings

Well, you may as well know that I write fiction (AS A HOBBY!) and that I read fiction partly from a HOBBY NOVELIST'S point of view, but, and this is a BIG BUT, Claire Messud's A Woman Upstairs should--yes, should--unequivocally be considered for the National Book Award this year.

BUT because too many male judges will read it and dismiss this brilliant tour de force as a "Women's Novel," it will most likely not be named a finalist, and, if by some bizarre chance it should be declared a finalist, it will never win the award. (I am a feminist cynic, aren't I? You bet!) And that will be because the most significant characters are women portrayed living their lives in women's traditional roles. Yes, I can go out on my tree limb overhanging a cold, dark lake and say with a certitude, which comes from reading contemporary American literature for many decades, and also because I have been steeped like a moist teabag in the thick of American intellectual culture, that this will be the end result. American culture is still so male-dominated.

Oh, well, I say to myself, I and the rest of the 51 percent can collectively shrug our shoulders and say, "Messud is too brilliant a writer for men to figure out anyway."

It's not a totally comfortable read, but if you have had dreams and an intellectual life, and you are a woman (or a man), read it!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Wilderness Explorations, Wimbledon, and Wishing for More Time to Read!

A superb wilderness exploration today with three people who know plants of all stripes inside and out! The dewpoint was in the low 70's (considered oppressive humidity by our meteorologist friends) and the heat was in the low 80s, but we managed to explore a wild area for four hours. I'm a dedicated wild plant student, but have so much to learn. My companions are so knowledgeable, I enjoy following along, snapping photos, and try to learn as much as I can. Rare wild orchids! Vividly colorful slime molds! Lots of fun. If you have any interest at all in the wild plants of the northern New York State region, visit one of our companions' nature blog at Saratoga Woods and Waterways. Gorgeous photographs!

Yes, Wimbledon is occupying our evenings and then some. Crack out the champagne. We want our Wimbledon picnic to be as close to the real thing as possible. Go, Andy Murray! Okay, I have a weak spot for Djokovic as well. On the women's side, the most enthusiastic players I've seen have been Marion Bartoli and Sabine Lisicki. We'll have to see. But if it's Independence Day, it's Wimbledon at our house.

Reading. No time today, but I'll be continuing my read of The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud before I fall asleep.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. Have you read this remarkable debut novel, published quite a few years ago now? I've read everything else by Patchett but this debut, so I'm going for it soon.

I need to post a definite list of the books I'm reading this summer. I don't want it to end. July-August live on!