In the High Peaks

Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Great Week in Books for a Person Who's Feeling Much Less Than Great

The ups and downs of life, I've discovered, are keenly connected to our appetite for books. I'm plagued by the worst bout of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue since I was in my early 40s. My first onset attacks were the worst, at 25 and 31 years of age. So because I've been so free of the mess for so many years, I was tremendously surprised when my body started unraveling in a big way in mid-September.

But, what's so interesting is I've become much more interested in books, book blogs, book review magazines, book reviews in newspapers and on radio--all in the drive to escape and to populate my brain with a world that pain and sadness can't touch. And it helps. You all help.

I had a spectacular week in books this week. A book I can't wait to sink my jaw into arrived two days early on my doorstep, with a dog biscuit on top. Carson, our UPS driver, never forgets our Sasha. Two books I was waiting for zoomed in for me at the library. And I found one that I can't wait to share with you. The first part of the title is Novel Cures. It's an extremely funny take on bibliotherapy. Ken and I laughed uproariously last night when I shared bits with him. Fun, escape, distraction, and, more important, an entrance to our deepest intellectual selves, which, from my experience, don't feel pain.

This post was inspired by LitLove's honest rendering of her life at the moment. I have been holding back, but my dedication to reading and books WILL BE STRONGER for sharing what's been driving me deeper into books.

Much More Tomorrow with updates on all those great books coming in this week.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

All the Books that Swept across My Threshold Today

I can't believe I started this post last Thursday and am only finally finishing and publishing it today.

Just an ordinary Thursday, though it is United Nations Day (Oct. 24).

At the college library this noontime, I experienced the magical opportunity of being one of the first to view a clutch of new titles that hit the "New Books" shelf late yesterday afternoon. Very, very lucky.

I grabbed a new biography, Jack London: An American Life, by Earle Labor, foremost among London scholars. I've mentioned that I'm an annual reader of London's famous short story, "To Build a Fire." From living in wilderness I comprehend how easy it is to succumb to the forces of nature, yet nature is our life's breath. As of today, I'm determined to read London's White Fang. I've foolishly protected myself from this novel for my entire life. Today it occurred to me that there's no need. I'll just sweep past the pages in which the brutalization of an animal occurs. Earle Labor documents, in detail for the first time, the extent to which London was devastated by the loss of his animals and the abuse of others'.

I also grasped a new release, The Best American Short Stories of 2013, edited (and selected) by Elizabeth Strout, Pulitzer-Prize-winning author of Olive Kitteridge. I never manage to read all the stories in the annual collection, and I'll admit I'm partial to the stories penned by relatively unknown writers.

When I noticed that a story by Canadian Anne Munro's is included this year, I did a little investigating. I didn't realize until this week that The Best American Short Stories, published by Houghton Mifflin, selects their stories from all those published in American and Canadian literary magazines and journals, yet the front cover and the back cover blurb of the paperback do not specify this fact. (The information is disclosed within the first few pages.) I think this is unfortunate. Would you call it an opportunity lost? Does Houghton Mifflin think the collection won't sell as well if the title were The Best American and Canadian Short Stories?

Then, at the post office, I picked up the two Mary Stewart novels I ordered! They're beautiful editions, but The Ivy Tree, despite being a trade paperback, has tiny print and mini-spacing between lines. I've decided to try to ignore it because I'm that happy to have the book in the house at last. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Reading The Butterfly Sister and the History of Predatory Professorial Relations with Students

Madness in women's literature and among women authors, and the disappearance of a beautiful young woman that mystifies her classmate "from down the hall" at a women's college on Lake Michigan in Wisconsin. The curious classmate has a past that haunts her as much as her passion to find out what really happened to her dorm mate. Several ghosts, descriptions of an other-worldly trip to glorious New Orleans in the days pre-Katrina, and predatory college professors make for a combustible mix that so far has had me turning the pages like lightning. But, but, I say! I've got papers to grade! Oh, dear.

Readers, before you rush off, I will admit I'm only halfway through, but this debut novel by Amy Gail Hansen so far has had me by the tail.

And now for a bit of U.S. cultural history:
Read on only if you want to be amused or informed by this topic. And please add to the discussion!
Let's talk about predatory professors and how they've been regarded over the years: Since the early 1990s, intimate professorial-student relationships have been absolutely verboten, and if they occur, they have had to be hidden by all parties concerned, or the professor will find himself without a job.

Yet when I was attending a highly esteemed co-ed college in Vermont during my freshman year in the early 1970s (I transferred out after that year, by the way), my English professor slept in the dorm with my roommate, who was--yes, she was--blonde, voluptuous, beautiful. And where was I? On weekends I usually slept in a friend's room because of the variety of male company that filled my so-called dorm room. One of her boyfriends allowed his flea-ridden dog to sleep on my bed. Dozens of flea bites later, I was near the end of my rope. The final straw came when my English prof slept in the dorm with another blond, beautiful young woman--this one was my classmate from high school. Geez. And yes, they were both pitifully poor students. How did they ever get into this college that accepted only one in fourteen female applicants?

Of all the profs who dallied with women students at this most prestigious college in Vermont, he was definitely the most blatant, and I've been told that administrators looked the other way because his wife had died a tragic death during the previous year. The funny thing is, my cousin Wendy attended this college 15 years after I, in the late 1980s. Because she was an English major, I naturally warned her about him. She told me he was still visiting women in the dorms.

In the early 1990s, an immense scandal occurred that became a cover story for Boston magazine, a publication which was a much bigger deal in the '90s than it is today. Another English prof at this very same respected Vermont college had had numerous relationships with many male students, many of them to their detriment. This event, in particular, and its repercussions, blew the lid off of predatory professorial relationships with students. It really did. This enormous scandal forced all colleges in the region to reexamine the nature of professorial-student relationships and to set new standards and restrictions. My reaction? I was elated, of course.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Another 18th Century Historical and a Rash of Mary Stewart Purchases!

This morning, after too much research, I finally ordered the historical novel Mesmerized by German author, translator, and painter Alissa Walser for my second novel by a women author for German Literature Month. Set in eighteenth-century Vienna, during Mozart's era, the historical figure Franz Anton Mesmer begins to explore the vibrant connection between mind and body as a means to cure patients, particularly those whom other doctors have abandoned as hopeless.

I discovered the book through the New Books in German website. Mesmerized was translated into English and published in the UK in early 2012. It is supposedly going to be published in the U.S. as well, but not this week. And I need the book now, so I can finish it by the third week in November. Thankfully, I was able to order it from The Book Depository via Amazon, and it was a very inexpensive purchase.

And I am announcing that I'm placing a long, long overdue order of two Mary Stewart titles. Yahoo!  The Ivy Tree, which I've never read, and Nine Coaches Waiting, which I besottedly adored reading so many years ago. These titles have been re-issued as trade paperbacks, the slightly larger paperback size, which I prefer.

Bit of a problem, though. I so want to read Airs Above the Ground, but this title is only available in a mass-market paperback edition. Both Ken and I now have trouble reading mass-market paperbacks. It's the eyes thing! Tiny type and no space between the lines. I'll hold off for now.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Which German Books Get Published in the U.S.?

Two books by men, two books by women--a wonderful idea to balance this November's German Literature Month! To participate, please visit Lizzy's and Caroline's websites. You'll find the links to Lizzy's Literary Life and Caroline's Beauty is a Sleeping Cat in my "Blogs of Substance" list.

And a note to my readers who want to join in, the authors do not need to be ethnically German--the authors' works need to have written and published their works originally in German.. The authors may be nationally or ethnically Swiss, Turkish, Austrian, Czech, Hungarian, I could go on but you get the idea.

The reason I wish I could read German: I really don't like publishers' marketing departments deciding which books in German will be published and translated into English for American readers. I want to choose the German titles I want translated, not marketers' skewed ideas of what will sell.

Now this may seem an unreasonable desire for a person who hasn't managed, after all these decades, to learn to read German, but there it is. If I, if we non-German-literate English language people want to read works by writers of German lit, we have to read what they decide we will buy. Phooey on that, I say.

Now that I've said that, I must congratulate the serious efforts of German Book groups, based in New York City and elsewhere, to influence U.S. publishers, and I want to thank the many independent and university publishers who, as is said in the trade, "take a chance" on these titles.

To go a step further, American publishers love to publish and promote German titles that depict 20th-century historical Germans in morally compromised situations. I'm thinking of dozens of German titles translated into English, but for now I'll mention The Blindness of the Heart by the German writer Julia Franck, which won the German Book Prize in 2007 and was a finalist for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. [And for goodness sake, will someone tell me the reasoning behind this English title for the book? Think of the negative connotations. The German title was Die Mittagsfrau. What an English corruption of the original title!] 

So what is my point, exactly? I wish the time would come when we can publish novels about Germany and central Europe that reflect their contemporary society and history. Of course, all societies and cultures are forever affected by their histories, but to play with a tongue-in-cheek metaphor, does every  U.S. novel about Germany have to have a swastika on the cover?

Monday, October 14, 2013

A Book to Sweep Me Away from Back Pain

Well, let's face it, from time to time we need a book of the sort that provides extreme distraction from pain of one sort or another. It's amazing how just the right book can do that.

I do stretches, exercises, walk, and hike, but nevertheless I've been knocked down by back pain. I finished Brenner and God and realized I need a saga, a book that will engage all of my senses and my imagination.

So I picked up The Winter Palace: A Novel of Catherine the Great by the Polish-born Canadian writer Eva Stachniak, which I still have out from the library. Yes, I've mentioned this title in a previous post--perhaps in August. But only now have I become completely engaged in it. I love it!! Just what I need right now. I hate being off my feet so much, but this book is keeping my thoughts afloat.

Ken asked me, "Is your back injury a political comment, or what?" Enough said.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

German Lit Month: For November 7: Anna Kim's thriller Anatomy of a Night

I'm so fortunate that South-Korean born Anna Kim's novel Anatomy of a Night was available for only $6.49 on the Nook, because it wasn't available in any of my network libraries. I'm excited to read it-- a plague of sorts is afoot in Greenland. I don't want to give anything away. It was the Ladies' Choice for German Literature Month, chosen by participants. But if you have time and interest, please participate! For details, please visit Lizzy's blog in my "Blogs of Substance" list. Anna Kim is a contemporary Austrian novelist who has won the European Prize for Fiction.

I have a personal announcement, which will have a huge impact on my reading in the first five months of 2014. I'm taking a semester off to deal with pressing matters at home and in my family. Great news for my reading life because those winter early morning hours will be devoted to reading. Ah, yes, I'll be seated on my green couch cozy by the gas stove/fireplace.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Planning and Reading Now--November is German Literary Month. Come on Board!

One of my big challenges for this first weekend of October has been to prepare for German Literature Month in November, hosted by Caroline and Lizzy. Please visit their blogs! You'll find the links in my "Blogs of Substance" list.

Yesterday in the late afternoon I was desperate to begin reading a mystery or thriller by a German novelist. I discovered Wolf Haas and downloaded Brenner and God, a mystery novel, onto my Nook.

Pure enjoyment! Original, imaginative, super-funny, and a book I was needing, though I didn't know it. It's relatively short as well. A superb! beginning to all the German novels I hope to read in the coming weeks.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

A Hundred Summers and The Hurricane of '38

I succumbed to the rave customer reviews for A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams, a story about [a] doubly triangulated romance(s) that ends with the winds howling like the end of the world and a Bang! Although I found the beginning chapters a bit predictable and slower-going, from mid-point in the novel until the end, I thought the pacing was excellent, the surprises many, and the last 50-80 pages stellar!

Setting: An exposed coastal setting in Rhode Island; May--September 1938. Yes, for those of you who have family history in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, you've heard about the incredible devastation of "The Hurricane of '38." Family stories abound for me, even though my family weren't present on the southern New England coasts at the time. It was devastating inland as well.

So, if you like a romantic novel with a few sophisticated complexities that elevate it above the Harlequin, and if you like the time period with a historic storm thrown in, this is the book for you. Very inexpensive as an e-book, though it was published this year.

Spoiler Alert! 
I've just got to add a family story that relates to the book AND the current American emphasis on post-hurricane rebuilding on the East Coast and the Gulf Coast in the U.S.

My nana, my father's mother, grew up in the seaport city of New Bedford, Massachusetts, very close to Rhode Island, and a coastal region badly devastated by the hurricane. She did not live there at that time, however. In 1938, the year of the hurricane, she and my grandfather, my father, and my aunt lived in a suburb of Boston, so Nana and the rest of my father's family did not experience the worst brunt of the storm, even if suburban Boston did lose millions of trees.

However, immediately to the west of New Bedford, was the once-bustling summer community of coastal Westport, Massachusetts; in particular, the cottage community that surrounded what is today called Horseneck Beach. In my youth, my family and I would drive to Horseneck for a day of fun in the surf and sun. I always marveled at how incredibly flat the entire region was. There were hills until a point two miles or so from the shore. Only one building stood at that time.

I asked Nana about this, because I knew she and her parents frequented the summer community for a day at the beach. But Nana told me that when she was young in the early 1900s up until the Hurricane of '38, there were dozens and dozens of cottages, little restaurants, a club, and other shops for tourists there. It wasn't the flat wasteland of sand dunes that I knew, but a place with trees, lawns, landscaping, little hills, yet the Hurricane completely leveled the land and swept everything out to sea.
And here's the thing that stunned me then and amazes me now--No one rebuilt. No landowners rebuilt their cottages. I find this incredibly interesting, considering all the ambitious rebuilding that has taken place in coastal New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy. Even after Hurricane Katrina. I'm not talking about New Orleans here, but the vulnerable, extremely flat, Gulf region that's at sea level or below.