In the High Peaks

Friday, November 29, 2013

Christmas Open House: Dec. 1-31. An Important Introduction

This event is for speakers and readers of all languages! Please share books and stories that are native to any language you speak.

My collection of Christmas books, both for adults and for children, is not enormous. But it is huge for me, because many colorful volumes are filled with dozens and dozens of Christmas tales. Over many years (40 years--(gasp!) from the time I was a young college student), I have carefully selected books that are: 1) magical to me from prior readings, 2) new or used titles I've stumbled across that are rich with excellent writing, characterizations, well-researched information (nonfiction titles), and, those resplendent with  imagination and originality. Christmas prose and poetry that is simply Magic, of course!

I want to share some of my favorite stories with you, and I want to tell you about new stories I've discovered this December 2013.

But I can't wait to have YOU tell me about the following:
  • Christmas stories that have been special to you from childhood or in adulthood
  • Christmas stories that are in your native tongue that may or may not have been translated into English! What a treat it would be to learn about these books!
  • Any other prose or poem that is December-related, not necessarily Christmas.
  • Christmas novels of all varieties that you're reading this year and have loved in past years
  • **Novels and stories set in December or at New Year's.
  • Children's books, out of print or in print, it doesn't matter. Same for adult titles.
Sunday, December 1--Tuesday, December 31--At any time this month that you have the time, when you feel like celebrating, discuss any titles and your thoughts about them, as indicated in the previous list. We'll all be so interested in all you have to say.

Saturday, December 14-Friday, December 20: If you wish, this is the week to share your thoughts about any Christmas "chapter" or sequence in any novel of your choice that covers a much broader span of time than just Christmas. For example, the Christmas chapters in Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.

Saturday, December 21: I'm participating in Beauty is a Sleeping Cat's The Christmas Carol Readalong. Would you care to participate? Please click on the Dickens Month icon to the right.

Sunday, December 22-Tuesday, December 24: Please share your favorite all-time Christmas films, and please DO include all those that are difficult to obtain and perhaps unattainable (sigh).

Monday, November 25, 2013

Demian by Hermann Hesse--German Literature Month

How I loved this book! It has the same spirit and energy, and introspection and philosophizing, as I remember in Hesse's Steppenwolf. It reminded me also of James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, which I've read twice, both times before age 22.

Demian is a vibrant, invigorating, and a read that is ultra-challenging to a reader's innermost self. It was a bit like rubbing snow all over one's flesh. It's very brief, yet one cannot sit back with a book that demands so much of the reader and say, "Interesting," or "I liked it," or "Very entertaining." I believe the novel challenges the reader to confront him- or herself, just as Emil Sinclair painstakingly does--with all the painful internal and external soul-searching. This book is the ultimate choice for anyone enduring the psychic pain of an identity quest, regardless of age.

This novel is the story of a boy's and later, a young man's search for his moral compass, his universe, and himself, which makes the reading riveting. I especially liked Emil's enigmatic and mystical relationship with Max Demian and with his mother, Eva, both of whom "bear the mark of Cain on their foreheads," as does Emil Sinclair. The climax's segue into the long-prophesized calamity of the European continent, World War I, pushes the book outward from the internal sphere inhabiting the characters.

Hesse wrote the book in 1917, in the midst of World War I, and, most importantly, a year after he suffered a series of profound personal losses.

I would enjoy reading a biography of Hesse as well as literary criticism of Demian. Hesse, born in 1877, experienced psychoanalysis with a Jungian analyst in Switzerland. I'm not sure of exactly when this occurred, but it fell within the era that Demian was written.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Christmas and December Titles: Please Add Your Suggestions!

Every reader and blogger is invited to my Christmas Open House, which will begin on December 1st and end on December 31st. If you'd like to participate, you may leave a comment on this post or leave a comment by clicking on the Christmas Open House Icon.

Today I've been researching books that are either set in the darkest month of the year or that have Christmas as a theme or setting.

I'm trying to amass as many titles as I can for our all-out December Reading Blast!

Please share your favorite titles so that we can all suggest books to each other and borrow from libraries and order from bookstores!

I will add the titles you suggest to my next post.

Here are some of the books I haven't read that I'd like to read in December. (Have you read one or more of them?)

A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks  (3-star reviews, mostly)

A Wedding in December by Anita Shreve (3-4 star reviews, mostly)

A Christmas Blizzard by Garrison Keillor (high marks)

The Tenth of December--a short story in the collection of the same title by George Saunders.

A Christmas Hope by Anne  Perry (2013). This one is getting 5-star reviews. As you are probably aware, her Christmas mysteries are set during the Victorian era. This one's synopsis got me very interested.

What I Have Read So Far:
Starry Night  (2013) by Debbie Macomber.  My first Macomber read! Gulp. This is a book that I reserved for "bedtime," when my mind is extremely dull and limited. Reading a book like this late at night enables me to remember the limited number of details about characters and plot. Late at night is my witless time of day. Yet the lack of consistency in the characterization of the male lead disturbed me. But, what me, worry? At 11pm at night? No way.

Now reading another Christmas cozy mystery, before bed only!: Murder of a Stacked Librarian: A Scumble River Mystery by Denise Swanson (2013). Mildly entertaining as only a cozy can be. A comfort late at night for the exhausted and witless reader. Here, here!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

My JFK Most Notables and German Literature Month

Yes, being a Boston girl (before moving to the ADKs in 2005), from an Irish Catholic family on my father's side, and having been enthralled with JFK since his 1960 campaign when I was a mere seven years old, I have been collecting quality JFK books for all of my life.

To my mind, the most authoritative sources on JFK's public and political and presidential life:

Robert Dallek   An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963
Richard Reeves. President Kennedy: Profile of Power
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. A Thousand Days.
David Talbot. Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years

Quality books regarding all the conspiracy theories:
Reclaiming History: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy by Vincent Bugliosi (1648 pages)
An exhaustive (sigh!) examination of every speck of evidence, every conspiracy theory, etc.

I would add this year's publication of Philip Shenon's A Cruel and Shocking Act to this quality conspiracy list, absolutely. An incredible work of investigative journalism, although Shenon is not an historian.

German Literature Month:
I'm finishing Demian by Herman Hesse tomorrow morning. A 5-star reading experience! My review will be up on Sunday or Monday.

And, I can't believe it! I'm reading a fifth German literature title to finish the month. I'm ecstatic! I'm reading Gudrun Pausewang, a renowned German children's and YA author. I've started to read the YA novel The Traitor, published in the U.S. in 2011. I've downloaded it onto my Nook--its main storyline is about a young German (Sudentanland) girl who protects a wounded Russian soldier. I have much more to say about it!!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Mesmerized by Alissa Walser--German Literature Month

Alissa Walser is the first German novelist I've read during this year's German Literature Month. Anna Kim and Wolf Haas, the authors of my two previous German-language novels in translation are both Austrian.

I gravitated toward Mesmerized because it's set in 18th-century Vienna, at about the same time as my previous read of the Canadian Eve Stachniack's novel about late-18th century Russia, The Winter Palace, which depicted the early years of the Saxon Princess Catherine in St. Petersburg, before her reign as Empress.

First off, I must say that until I ordered Mesmerized, I knew about Franz Anton Mesmer but had no idea his most significant legacy was a result of his work during the late-18th century. Because he realized the integral connection between body and mind before others, I always assumed he lived in the early-19th century. But that late-18th century--the time of the Enlightenment--was truly a time for revolutionary ideas and "thinking outside the box."

I liked the novel and most enjoyed being immediately ensconced into the Mesmer household, which was not only a place of daily treatments for patients, but also a rooming house for many of Mesmer's clients. The depiction of Maria Theresia Paradis's world as a blind and tormented young woman was exquisite and highly original, and was the best part of the book for me.

The ending was problematic from my point of view. From the time Mesmer enters Paris until the end of the book, I lose him as the character that was developed in the main body of the novel, and despite a rereading of the closing Paris chapters, I still was not able to find anything that connected me to him in the earlier chapters of the book. So much to me felt as though it was left mysterious, and, if I may use a word that may not make sense, too ethereal--not concrete, definitely vague.

I agree with Caroline's observation of the staccato sentence structure. For some reason, I was not distracted by this element at all, which surprises me! Perhaps, as Caroline of Beauty is a Sleeping Cat suggested, the English translator managed to smooth this out somehow--I don't know. But I do know what Caroline means when a seemingly disjointed style does not work. I have encountered that a number of times and have just had to toss the book. Style is extremely important to whether one can get into a book or not.

All in all, I would recommend this book, particularly to those who love historical fiction.

German Literature Month Alert: I am going to try to read a 4th book, a Gents' book. I believe I mentioned I wanted to read Demian by Herman Hesse. I've got to next to me right now.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy

I'm aware that I'm always saying that I was lucky to get this, lucky to grab that, as far as books are concerned. But I really and truly lucked out, when in the month of the 50th anniversary of the death of JFK, I was able to get a hold of the 8 hours of CD audio interviews of Jacqueline Kennedy sharing her memories with Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., the historian and colleague of President Kennedy, who wrote A Thousand Days, not long after President Kennedy's death.

In March 1964 he sat with Jacqueline Kennedy in her Georgetown townhouse, a mere three and a half months after the assassination. Schlesinger, a man Jacqueline trusted implicitly, probed her memory for details of her life with John F. Kennedy since their marriage in 1953. He also asked her to describe in depth her role as First Lady, including the story of her restoration of the White House.

When Schlesinger wrote the first drafts of A Thousand Days, he incorporated this material, of course, but when Jacqueline saw the book in a nearly finalized draft, she freaked. By this time, she had been unrelentingly harassed and hounded by the press, who never strayed from the sidewalk outside of her home. Driven frantic to preserve some vestiges of her privacy, she demanded that Schlesinger omit all references to her relationship with the president, including her views on all issues dealing with her husband's political and family life.

Schlesinger reluctantly complied and omitted every reference.

Jacqueline insisted that the taped interviews be vaulted until 2013, fifty years after her husband's death. Jacqueline died in 1994. Caroline Kennedy, as the sole legatee after John Jr's' death, decided that the tapes should be available to the public in time for the 50th anniversary of her father's death. So, by 2011, these conversations were made available in book form and in audio CD, with a long, illuminating foreword by Caroline Kennedy and an introduction by Michael Beschloss, the well-known presidential historian.

 I'm halfway through the 4th of  8 tapes now, and I'm delighted to hear Jacqueline's personal views and insights of her husband and the politicians and political world surrounding him. She hid a great deal, but the depth of her love for her husband is evident.

If you have any interest, I urge you to listen to the inteviews, because they provide a unique viewpoint and perspective that has NEVER been presented in histories thus far.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Austrian Crime Novel! Brenner and God by Wolf Haas

A heartfelt thank you to Melville House for publishing Annie Janusch's English translation of Brenner and God by the Austrian crime novelist Wolf Haas.

I found Haas's hero, the ex-detective and mildly dysfunctional Simon Brenner to be a touchingly droll and endearing hero, as inept a chauffeur and baby-watcher as he is. My only disappointment was that there were not more scenes of Brenner conversing with the baby as he drove her for hours on end on the Autobahn. Brenner's relationship with the tyke was such a great hook!

Fortunately all the criminals and evil-doers were absurdly and enchantingly stupid, or Brenner would not have had a chance to come out on top. But... If you like rooting for the underdog and for charmingly not-too-bright detectives, AND if you have an absurdist sense of humor, Wolf Haas is without a doubt an author you should read.

The only other book that's available in English translation is The Bone Man, also through Melville House. I'm very tempted to read it!

I should add that Haas is very highly regarded in Austria and has won crime fiction prizes for his novels. Also! Three of his Brenner novels have been made into films. Wouldn't it be nice if they became available in these parts?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

German Literature Month Chez Moi

Just an update to let you know the books I'm burrowing into and the ones I've read for German Literature Month. Of course, you already know, from a recent post, that I read Anna Kim's Anatomy of a Night for Lizzy's Readalong. In October I enjoyed the mystery Brenner and God by the German writer Wolf Haas, which I'll be posting about this week, which is Week Two--Gents' Week.

My UK paperback copy of Mesmerized by Alissa Walser arrived last week and I'm very pleased with the quality of the binding and the covers. I dipped into it before bed the night it arrived and had to force myself to put it aside or I wouldn't sleep, so I'm finding the story compelling from the start. The link will take you to my previous announcement post about this title.

I'd like to do a Gents' title for the fourth week of November, but at this moment, I'm not sure if I will, and if I manage it, what I'll read.  If I could squeeze it in, I'd love to read Demian by Herman Hesse.

Yet I so want to dip back into my rather vast collection of John F. Kennedy titles. (I wrote three separate children's books about him, for the school library trade.) I'll post about this incredible experience in a future post, and I'll include the titles I think are the most worthy and interesting and fun, in that order.

I was forever wild about Steppenwolf when I read it in college, not as an assignment, but because it intrigued me. I identified with the protagonist intensely, so intensely as only a young person at that age can. Hesse was extremely popular among college students during the Vietnam War era and immediately after. I read Steppenwolf while recuperating in the college infirmary, once I'd recovered enough from illness to enjoy reading. (For those of you who've read previous posts about my college adventures, this occurred at the college where I landed after I transferred, a school I loved.)

As I recall, I was there three full days, and on the fourth morning, the doctor, a kind man, very kindly kicked me out. Sigh. I loved that respite, the snowflakes falling gently out my window, the absolute quiet, and the motherly nurses. At the time, my parents were in the midst of a horrific divorce, and it was so nice to be swept away from their intrusive, upsetting phone calls.

Isn't it fascinating how certain books, songs, and movies can call up such a broad sweep of memories?

My paperback copy of Demian is quite newish, very clean, totally intact, unmarked. I was lucky to pick it up for 50 cents at a recent book sale.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Mourning the Deaths of Favorite Authors

This afternoon I had to break the news to Ken that one of his favorite authors died, at the young age of 71. Yes, Michael Palmer, author of medical political thrillers and a regular on the bestseller lists, who was a doctor himself, died yesterday. Ken thought so highly of him.

And just a couple of months ago, another of Ken's cherished political thriller writers, Vince Flynn died, and this poor man was only 47. And, early this year, Elmore Leonard, another of his favorites passed away! (He was 87.)Last year, Ken mourned the loss of Boston's famous mystery writer, Robert Parker.

The links are to New York Times obituaries, which are considered the best among U.S. newspapers. If you find these links take you nowhere, would you drop a comment? They work for me, but I don't know about others. Michael Palmer's struggles are especially interesting to me.

I've never experienced the like of this. My favorite authors seem to get very old and then retire from writing. I've not experienced the stunning loss of an author in the midst of his or her life's work in recent years. Although, as I've stated before, I do worry about Paul Auster, who's about 67 and does not take care of himself.

So how do you manage the pain resulting from the loss of a brilliant writer? Please share!

I'm going to cope with Ken's losses for him. Because I'm his personal librarian, I'm going to seek out all the books of each writer that he hasn't read. Sigh.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Anatomy of a Night by Anna Kim and German Literature Month

Anna Kim is a South-Korean born Austrian who has won many prizes for her fiction.

Her Anatomy of a Night was a stellar read for me from the point of view of imagery. Her view of the fictional east Greenland coastal village of Amaraq could not have been more artistically depicted. I saw it, smelled it, felt it through to my every pore. I heard the silence, the cracking of ice, the lone barking of a sled dog. In my view, the setting was the most important character in the book.

I must confess I had difficulty keeping track of many of the characters--and weren't there a lot! I know Kim spent time in an east Greenland coastal town and it shows.

In some ways, I'm confounded by all the suicides. We don't really get to know any one character particularly well. They all come from life situations that are painful, sad, and depressing. And certainly the Danish policies over many, many decades has caused such a disruption in Inuit culture so as to cause these disconnected, empty lives deprived of meaning.

But I'm still not certain exactly what Kim most wanted her readers to carry away after reading the novel. I'm not at all sure of her purpose, her intent. I feel this must be my lack somehow.

As much as I was uplifted by the landscape imagery, I was downcast by the constant, unremitting acts of suicide. Without relief. But my emotions about this were not so intense that I could not appreciate the artistic aspects.

I am now very curious about the history of Greenland and would like to read much more about that.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Your First Invitation to My December Open House

If you would like to sign up, please leave a comment. Thank you!

Well, now that you know you're all invited, you're no doubt wondering what exactly is this December Open House at Reader in the Wilderness? (I'm announcing the event early so that you can be brainstorming, thinking, planning!)

Do you enjoy reading books with a holiday theme in December? Or, are you enchanted by novels and stories that are merely set in the month of December, during the darkest time of the year?

If so, would you be willing to share at least one of your all-time favorites with us?

This is going to be a month-long party! That's right: This event begins on December 1 and ends on December 31. (Just in case you have a book or story with a special New Year's focus.)

All it takes to participate is at least one blog post discussing your thoughts, personal experiences with, or whatever else you want to say on a book or story that's posted on your blog and that's focused on one or more of the following:
  • A favorite Christmas or Hanukkah novel or short story that you are especially fond of
  • A novel or short story that's set in the month of December or at New Year's
  • A favorite children's Christmas or Hanukkah novel or picture book
  • A special December or December-holiday chapter in a novel
  • A special nonfiction book that's December-holiday related
What's the point of all this? To share and learn more about this special genre of literature and to enhance our appreciation of this special time of year.

All books and stories, all nonfiction and fiction are welcome. Don't forget cookbooks, 19th century literature, and works in translation. And remember those children's books and stories. High-brow, low-brow, every title is welcome!

I need a button for this. I've never done a button. Research needed there. Stay tuned.

I'll investigate Mr. Linky, but I'm pretty clueless at the moment. I'll present more information on how to communicate your blog entry in a few weeks.

Friday, November 1, 2013

A Cruel and Shocking Act: First Book in This Week's Stampede

How positively delightful when new books flood over the dam!

On Monday, I had the pleasure of listening to National Public Radio's Fresh Air program. Teri Gross's interview with Philip Shenon, renowned New York Times journalist and author of the just-published A Cruel and Shocking Act: The Secret History of the Kennedy Assassination, published by Henry Holt no less, was the highlight of the day--and I'm so glad I caught it. I immediately ordered the book from Barnes and Noble, and it arrived at my door in 36 hours, which must be a new record for me way out here in the mountains of northern New York.

Shenon, has a stellar resume and a lifetime of journalistic achievements both in Washington and abroad, including his on-site reporting in several war zones. His most recent coup was his highly- regarded study of the 9/11 Commission entitled The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Commission. 

In A Cruel and Shocking Act, which I've already started to mine, Shenon taps the stories of the many cream-of-the-crop young lawyers from all over the U.S. who were the junior investigators for the Warren Commission, which was headed by Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren after President John F. Kennedy's assassination. Its role was to investigate exactly what happened, who was involved, and why.

But, as Shenon illustrates in his book and in the interview on Fresh Air, the evidence that many former junior staffers uncovered was never investigated further. These lawyers and staff are now very old, several have already passed on. Shenon collected their stories, which was followed by his copious research in the National Archives  and other pertinent federal depositories. In September 1964, just 10 months after the assassination, Earl Warren and other top leaders at the time chose not to pursue leads and stories that, by their nature, demanded investigation.

According to previous reports I've read, Chief Justice Earl Warren was desperately concerned for the country in the months following the assassination. It was his belief that continuing controversy would cause people to panic and would weaken people's faith in the government at a vulnerable time.

The evidence that Earl Warren ordered his junior staffers not to pursue evidence makes today's historians positively crazy, yet it does make for fascinating reading. I could go on, but dinner is percolating.

More on other new books tomorrow!