In the High Peaks

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Christmas Reads for Your December Escape

December brings my energy to its lowest ebb of the year. But I love December! I love the long, dark nights and the dim light that creeps in by mid-afternoon. I thrill to the sun that borders the horizon. I only want to read and reflect, though there is much more that I must do.

Light reads are so comforting during this time. This is when I indulge in Christmas novels and stories. As you can see from my "Books Read in 2014" list, I have enjoyed Anne Perry's 2014 annual Christmas mystery novel, A New York Christmas. It was a quick read, fun, and yes--go for it--frivolous. I thought it was more interesting than last year's Christmas offering. I didn't know until last month that Anne Perry spends most of the year living in Scotland, though she was not born a Scot.

I then devoured Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas by Stephanie Barron, one in a series of Jane Austen mysteries. Generally speaking, I don't like to read contemporary novelists' fictionalized accounts of long-ago authors, but I did enjoy this one. The first five chapters were stellar, but I thought the middle sagged. But, notice, this fact did not stop me from finishing and enjoying.

I must confess I felt sad when I came to the last page of Sleigh Bells in the Snow by Sarah Morgan. A young woman wunderkind in the New York advertising biz travels to the Snow Crystal Resort in what seems to be northern Vermont. There she hopes to escape her horrid Christmas history and sink her teeth into getting a sinking winter and summer resort back on its feet. Although she's successfully protected herself from relationships for years, she surrenders to Jackson O'Neil, the grandson attempting to save the resort. This is HOT contemporary romance. Note! Just one hot pepper. Morgan's incredible talent lies squarely in the niche of creating incredibly moving, loving, sexual scenes. I admit I succumbed, but only because it was plain old HOT contemporary romance, minus the extreme graphics of SUPER-HOT romance. I heartily recommend this novel for the author's skill in crafting such scenes. Very, very well done. Also, I loved the warm extended family that made up the O'Neil clan. Yes, certain themes were overly repetitive. But just scan and flip the pages.

Right now I'm halfway through Daisy Goodwin's The Fortune Hunter, her second novel, which is set in England during the mid-late 1870s. Goodwin is an English author, and is extremely popular in the US. Her first novel was The American Heiress, which I haven't read yet. But I must say that the pages fly by for me in The Fortune Hunter.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Only One Day Left in German Literature Month!

Our weather swiftly nose-dived into deep winter around the 15th of November. And how busy we were all of a sudden: prepping the car and truck, clearing snowshoe trails of debris left from early November's rain and windstorms, prepping the snowblower, searching for and hastily unpacking and washing all winter clothing and gear--not to mention the taxing physical adjustment from moist, warm temps to extremely cold temperatures. Unusual cold for November, truly! And our oil burner is not working up to snuff and needs replacement.

Don't get me wrong; I adore winter. But my muscles go haywire when the temperature changes are abrupt and deep.

I'm saying all of this as a moan and groan that my participation in German Literature Month fell far short of my hopes. Less time to read, and in a busy teaching month, that's a significant, and a to-be-mourned over lack.

I'm still trying to finish a book that's due for comments by tomorrow: Flight without End by Joseph Roth. I still have 90 pages to go--sigh! But I'm enjoying it immensely. I need to conduct more research into Roth's life and check into his other novels. This novel is extremely interesting, and I've also found the protagonist's involvement with the civil wars in Russia following the Russian Revolution fascinating.

I have also not finished Julia Franck's West, much to my horrified dismay. The novel is deeply compelling, but I just haven't had the time to devote serious attention to it past the first three chapters. My loss! But I'll be catching up with everything left unfinished in the next month or two.

On Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving Day, we received a foot of snow on top of the few inches we've already accumulated. Time to get out in the snow before climate change or a warm-up ruins it. So Saturday's photo of cross-country skiing with friends at Garnet Hill is here. I'm the big one on the right of the photo.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Young Light by Ralf Rothmann & Julia Franck's West

We abruptly have been submerged into the deep freeze, though it's been colder than normal all November. We are due next week for a very brief warm-up, but it's been super-deep winter around here. I love winter, but my body's muscles go through hell in the transition from warmish fall to frigid temperatures, and hence, my inability to post frequently.

I very much appreciated reading Young Light by the German writer Ralf Rothmann, born in 1953. It's the story of Julian, age 12, whose family resides in the most prominent coal-mining region of West Germany in the 1960s. Rather than a standard novel, the book is more a fascinating, episodic collection of Julian's experiences, in which he plays a constantly ambiguous role between childhood and adolescence. His father is a miner, and is exceedingly uncommunicative with his son. His mother shows no affection for him and literally takes off with his younger sister without a backward glance for most of the summer, so that Julian is left to figure out many puzzling events and feelings for himself. His family is very poor, it seems to me, as evidenced by the constantly empty larder. Julian is very lucky, it seems, when there's a bit of sausage in the house to eat. He is clearly on his own and his father is functioning minimally. Still, there is much to delight in--Rothmann's vividly descriptive scenes bring alive this mining village and its people, unlike any other I've read about before.

The Book Depository was very, very late in sending me my copy of West by Julia Franck. I ordered on October 31st, and I didn't receive it until Tuesday, November 18th, much, much longer than they promised it. I will complain to them about the false advertising.

In any case, I'll admit I was completely shocked by the abhorrent treatment Ms. Senff receives in the first section of the book! In the 1980s the Stasi were that horrific? I'm only confessing my total ignorance here, forgive me, but the Secret Police have nothing on her and they force her to remove all her clothing after an initial interrogation after she attempts to legally leave East Berlin for West Berlin. Surrounded by men, they each fire questions at her while her young children are held in another area. I have read books about this period in East Germany, I've seen films that are set in the 1980s in East Germany, but nothing prepared me for that. Of course, Ms. Senff is Jewish... What the???  

It is my downcast mood, which I suffer from at the darkest times of the year, which makes the reading of this novel all the harder. But it is extraordinarily well done, I think. I just hope I can stay with it!

Monday, November 10, 2014

German Lit and Henning Mankell An Event in Autumn

I finished Christine Nöstlinger's children's book Fly Away Home days ago, and then I immediately started in on my second German Literature Month read, Rolf Rathmann's, Young Light, a YA novel set during the 1960s. The only problem with the Rathmann novel is that I wish I knew in which part of Germany the novel is set. Because several characters have access to music by the Beatles, I would assume that I can narrow the setting down to West Germany.

I truly enjoyed Fly Away Home and the uproariously topsy-turvy world of Vienna and environs at war's end and immediately post-war. Although many in Germany and in other parts of the former  Reich experienced extreme brutality by the invading Russians, it seems that Nöstlinger and her family were spared that. Although the Russians in their midst appeared grossly foreign to Nöstlinger and her parents, the Russians were, for all that, harmless and worked to coexist harmoniously with the vanquished Austrians.

In fact, the author, a child of eight, and her family became very fond of some of the Russians occupying their adopted abode and immediate neighborhood. The author's father, a German army deserter by the final weeks of the war, drank with the Russians each evening into the night. Christine, the author, developed a powerful bond with the Russian cook from Leningrad, a gentle, kindly man, and the two swapped whoppers day by day, by the hour. The book is full of stories that detail the harsh privations the Austrians experienced, but it is equally full of the spirit and gumption of the survivors to overcome anything that threatened their existence. An excellent book, really, and not one I'll soon forget.

Henning Mankell's An Event in Autumn is (or was) a story (some might deem it a novella) written for and published for a Dutch audience as a sort of bonus for other book purchases. In the Kurt Wallendar canon, the story takes place immediately before the final Wallendar novel, The Troubled Man, which I realize I now must read. An Event in Autumn is a spare, simple novel of what happens when Wallendar visits Martinson's family's cottage in the country with the intent to perhaps purchase it. Wallendar naturally finds skeletal remains in the garden, and off it goes. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I must warn readers that it is nowhere near as complex as other Wallendar novels, though it is an enjoyable novella nonetheless. I actually found I appreciated the lack of complexity! That's my mind these days. It's a quick, quick read, so do pick it up if you have the inclination.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

German Literature Month Blast-Off

First: My apologies to everyone who has left comments in the past 2+ weeks and has not had a response. I've replied now, but my October 30 post shows where my head's been at, and I wish it could have been with you!

Yesterday I tucked in to my first German Literature Month novel. (Yes, a day early, but I was desperate to begin.) Christine Nöstlinger is a highly acclaimed Austrian children's novelist, winner of many prizes, and the author of a multitude of books for children. Many, many of her most beloved works have not been translated into English, but Fly Away Home, the novelized version of her experiences as a child at the end of World War II in the city of Vienna, and later, in the Vienna suburbs, was published in an English translation in 1975, in Britain and the U.S.

Although I'm only 40 pages into the novel, I'm so taken with her honesty and lack of self-censorship--she portrays children as they really, truly are, complete with the full scope of their tumultuous feelings, intense curiosities, passions, and inexplicable (to adults) idiosyncrasies. I prize her writing for that! And the novel has made me realize how valuable to history are the memories and recollections of children in any given period. Their observations are so acute as to what is happening around them, even when they don't have the knowledge to decipher what their observations mean. I will write much more about this book when I finish.

Next: I am eager to read Julia Franck's latest novel, West. Lizzy has written about it on her blog, and I must order it immediately from The Book Depository or it will not arrive in time for GLM IV because the English translation is a UK title. By the way, the English translation was released on October 30, 2014.

Because of Thomas at (see my blogroll), I have in my hands a YA novel by Ralf Rothmann, Young Light. Since I ordered it, I discovered that Rothmann has written many other novels that also sound like must-reads. As soon as I finish Fly Away Home, I'll be devouring Young Light.

At the end of the month, I am participating in Caroline's GLM IV Joseph Roth readalong. I have in my hands Flight without End, a novel of post-World War I Germany. Because it's only 135 pages, I may very well have time to squeeze in another German novel this month. I do hope so, and will let you know.

I wish every GLM IV participant an enlightening and inspiring month of reading! Best wishes!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Catching Up & Reading Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë

To skip the personal info, drop down to paragraph 4.

Last evening I returned home from a ten-day trip to Boston. My mother was diagnosed with cancer two weeks ago, and my brother and I zoomed in to visit lots of doctors, hear lots of opinions, do some of our own research, and, finally, with my mother's input, come up with a plan. A "big surgery" was a possibility, but all of our research and my mom's wishes ran counter to surgery as an option.

On December 7, Mom will be 91. She has had an extraordinarily healthy and productive life, and we all wish for that to continue, without interruption, for as long as it's possible. As she herself said, "A huge surgery? What would be the point of that?"

The miracle in all of this is that my brother and I, who have always been at thunderous loggerheads, found ourselves having not a moment of controversy or ill will between us. We were in immediate, mutual agreement about what we wished for our mother. We spent time together and healed some wounds, and the miracle is, we didn't have to work at it. It all seemed to drop down on us out of nowhere, perhaps because deep down we both knew we needed it to move forward. And in our togetherness, we were able to fully support our mother. It seemed like magic to me and I'm grateful.

I was not able to read at all for a number of days, but when I latched onto Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë several days ago, I've been reading and enjoying it ever since. I'm two-thirds of the way through as of this evening. I'm reading it on the Kindle, and I must admit I was originally drawn to it because it's a relatively short novel.

I heartily agree with critics who say that Agnes Grey is reminiscent of Austen's novels in its depiction of English village society and romance among the gentry. I find Anne Bronte's acute and sometimes satirical characterizations highly entertaining. And, as a governess herself of some years, Anne knew fully the strait-jacketed role she had to play between the offspring she was supposed to instruct and the parents in the homes where she was employed.  Highly recommended!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Books for German Literature Month

Actually, two of my books have arrived. I'm still planning the rest of my reading for November, the dullest month of the year in the Adirondacks. Rain, constantly gray skies, cold, and waiting for snow!

I'm glad to say I have Flight without End by Joseph Roth for Caroline of Beauty is a Sleeping Cat's Joseph Roth Week, November 24-30. It's a short novel, first published in Germany in 1927, and first published in the U.S. in 2003. It's a post-World War I novel set in Germany in the early 1920s. I'm looking forward to it!

The other novel I bought is a YA novel recommended by Thomas of (Lazy after work tonight. See my blogroll, please.) It's Young Light by Ralf Rothmann. Eager to read and review it!

I need to study Lizzy of Lizzy's Literary Life's (see my Blogroll) most recent German novel recommendations for more ideas. I'd like at least two more novels.

Please forgive the abbreviated post!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A Must Post but Pardon! Way Behind

I've fallen terribly behind with my blog writing as sometimes happens in the autumn months. Our prime foliage has passed, leading to a slump in my mood, something that only a bright snowfall can lift! And for that we need to wait for weeks. Just give me some light! Time for candles and the gas fire, and books.

I still fully intend to blog about my enjoyment and enthralled appreciation of The Haunting of Hill House, the 1959 classic by Shirley Jackson. I was supposed to do this on October 1st, and what day is it now? Please don't remind me.

I still haven't written about why A Burnable Book by Bruce Holsinger is one of my favorite books of 2014. This post is long overdue! If you are leaning toward reading this book, you will not make a mistake by moving forward to read it.

And books in my house as of today: I went to Crandall Library and The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher was on hold for me. Wunderbar! I feel so lucky to have the short story and others in the collection to read this weekend.

Another read for my R.I.P. IX: I'm devouring Tana French's The Secret Place. Very, very worthwhile so far. French has a firm, masterful touch on dialogue and exquisite pacing--and her characterizations show the mark of a dedicated stylist. It's a long book, but I don't mind a bit, yet it might be a while before I complete it as it is a true chunkster.

One very lucky book arrived at my door today! For two years, I have waited for the moment to acquire a copy of The Atlas of the Great Irish Famine, published in 2012 by New York University Press. I received this massive, colorful tome at a major discount from a used book sale at the New England Historical Genealogical Society. I paid $40 for a $70 book and it is "Like New." Lucky. I have browsed all through it while cooking dinner tonight and I'm very excited.

So I hope to post more substantial stuff very, very soon!

Friday, September 26, 2014

A Mini-Post of What's to Come

Late September is peak foliage and we're having unbelievably beautiful Indian Summer weather at the same time. That means no work gets done anywhere and everyone gets out to enjoy the show.

So this is just a post to say that I'm planning on blogging about the incomparable medieval historical/thriller A Burnable Book by Bruce Holsinger. The novel is set in 1385, in Chaucer's day. I want to emphasize that Holsinger is not only an incredible storyteller but also an academic who has spent his career specializing in medieval studies. Actually, he is an expert on the history of vellum--the animal skins (parchment) that was used as paper in the 14th Century. I loved this novel so--Holsinger knows the medieval streets of London, Southwark, and Westminster inside out. I personally loved A Burnable Book more than Wolf Hall, though I would never claim that Holsinger's is the better book. Mantel's work is impeccable, of course, and, as I've stated previously, I do suffer from Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII fatigue! So, readers, do take this into account.

I am looking forward to giving more information about the Russian Literature Month in January. But gosh, that might have to wait for foul weather, which is sure to arrive sometime next week.

And I need to say that I'm participating in Caroline's and Lizzy's German Literary Month in November. Won't you join us? I have found my participation to be extremely rewarding.

More to come...

Friday, September 19, 2014

Announcing a Russian Literature Month in January 2015

To start the New Year off with a whazoo, I'd like to announce that I'm hosting a Russian Literature Month in January 2015.

This year, the event is open to books originally written and published in Russian no matter what region the authors hail from. In other words, if a writer's ethnic group is Uzbekistani but he or she writes novels in Russian, these works may be included in the Russian Literature Month Readalong.

Contemporary Russian literature and classic works are both included. Even medieval Russian sagas may be included.

I hope to read a number of novels for January, but for now, do you think you might be interested?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

My Russian Haul and Where to Put Them

What a dizzying week in books! The college library has purged quite a number of Russian novels from its stacks, most likely because Russian language and literature is no longer taught at the college and shelf space is at a premium as well.

Now my haul is such that I'm contemplating a bookcase devoted to Russian literature and history, a bookcase I don't own at the moment. I'm also trying to remedy the neglect of my time-worn Russian novels and poetry as well, which are stacked in a rather dusty area. So I guess I hope to breathe new life into this Russian haul, though I'll admit, none are pristine copies.

I've taken possession of the published Notebooks for two of Dostoyevsky's novels, including The Possessed, a Dostoyevsky novel I've never read, though I inhaled Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Kamarazov as an 18-year-old, and I still own those books. I found a beautiful volume of Yevtushenko's poetry, and a well-worn copy of Solzhenitsyn's First Circle. I like that the purged college library is so worn--so many people read it, that I'd like to join them. I've got Stendahl's And Quiet Flows the Don (French, not Russian, I know, but still illuminating about a period in Russian history.) A volume of Pushkin's prose,  a history of Soviet fiction, a history of 19th-century Russian literature, and Dostoyevsky's Notebooks for A Raw Youth. All of this to add to my recent translation of Dr. Zhivago and Pasternak's poetry, and Oblomov and on and on! 

Do you by any chance share a passion for Russian literature? Do you read contemporary Russian writers? Please comment if you are willing!

Monday, September 15, 2014

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril IX: My Reads New and Classic

This year 2014 marks the ninth year that Carl V. Anderson's of Stainless Steel Droppings has hosted his annual blogger "gathering." Even though it's September 14, the grand event runs from  September 1st to October 31st, so if you'd like to join in, there's still plenty of time to participate. This is my first year and I have three books ready to go. 

What I'm reading for R.I.P. IX:
1. First of all, I borrowed The Secret Place by Tana French from the library. It took me all week to reach page 44 due to the usual time constraints. I then realized how desperate I am to finish it, but it's due at the library in a mere 10 days with no renewal possible. And with 458 or so pages with small print, I made the only sensible decision. Instead of reading under pressure, I ordered the recently-released (in the U.S.) hardcover. It's the kind of mystery/thriller I like, one that I can really sink my teeth into, with the kind of deep characterization and plotting that demand intense concentration. Naturally, I want to read it at my own pace. And, yes, now I can annotate, annotate! I read Broken Harbor earlier this year and liked it very much, yet if my gut feelings gleaned from the first 44 pages are worth anything, I think The Secret Place may be extra special.

2. I'm participating in the Estrella Society's readalong of The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. The 1959 classic is due to be discussed on Wednesday, October 1st. I just ordered the new Penguin paperback bearing a lusciously creepy cover. I've never read this novel and am extremely eager to dig in. I'd better read it first, and best of all, it's only 258 pages.

3. The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle readalong for October is coming up at the blog Simpler Pastimes. I'm so glad Volume 3 of The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes: The Novels arrived yesterday. I'm all set for some fun!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Hound of the Baskervilles--Annotated

Tonight the temperature will fall to 37 degrees, though we'll warm to the low 70s by early afternoon tomorrow. Our summer was cooler than normal and I appreciated that! Still it was quite warm with daily temps in the low 80s and high 70s, often with plenty of humidity. I must admit I'm so thankful that we were spared days in the 90s, which left me free of day-long confinement to air conditioning. A lucky and welcome summer. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Our big news is that we took up tennis and after a number of lessons are having lots of fun.

But back to real life. I'm now on a schedule--teaching Tuesdays and Thursdays, with time to read five days a week! I've committed a bit of book purchasing recently. Because I'm reading The Hounds of the Baskervilles for an October readalong, I finally purchased the third volume in a three-volume set: The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, which was published by W.W. Norton in 2005. The third volume contains the four novels and some short stories that were never compiled into a volume. Unfortunately, the entire set is now out of print. The only volume available new these days is Volume 3, in a slip-cased edition. My other two volumes are not in slipcases, so I do have a mismatched set, but I'm so thankful that I was able to get it at all despite the increase in price. But they are well worth it! I love the annotations--extremely well-done by Leslie Klinger.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Diane Keaton: Let's Just Say It Wasn't Pretty

I listened to Keaton's book of personal essays/memoir, Let's Just Say It Wasn't Pretty, on my travels to Boston and back home again. It was an audiobook I picked up at the library on my way to the Hub, and it was not what I expected. Diane Keaton has had a fascinating life, she is a not a cookie-cutter movie star or celebrity, and she is uniquely herself. That's a given.

In this book she focuses on the question, "What is beauty?," and how that question has resonated through many parts of her life. First, she discusses her physical self as an entity in the competitive world of Hollywood, and then she focuses on beauty in respect to her search for her "dream home," which, as she describes it, has led her to move at least once every two years into another home and then renovate it only to resell the home (at a profit) before moving onto the next house to renovate. I found this interesting, and would have liked to know more about her process, her fascination with architecture, and the details of some of her renovations, but instead, she defends this way of life against those who have criticized her for it. This was unnecessary. Most of her fans and readers would not have thought to criticize her for this way of life. It's interesting, but this need to defend herself from Hollywood gossip and from other aspects of her life was not what I enjoyed at all. 

In fact, because I had no other audiobook for the trip and for parts of the trip there was no decent radio, I felt at times like a captive audience. So I listened closely. I do truly feel that I understand her ideas and beliefs, but personally, I can't relate to them myself. I accepted her portrayal and found it intriguing that she worried so much about aging, hair loss, and all the other bodily changes, but I'm just six years younger than she was when she actually wrote the book, and I can't relate to the deep conflict she feels, not at all, not to any of her concerns. Please Note!! I'm not finding fault with Keaton's book--it's deeply personal to her, how could I find fault with that? But I couldn't connect with her ideas because I suppose I'm an entirely different person.

Beauty. Nature is beautiful to me. The Adirondack landscape is beautiful. I define beauty in terms of Nature primarily. But much, much more important to me as a life concept is just this one word: Meaning. I'm always searching for the meaning behind everything, the meaning that supports everything, the meaning that drives each person to his or her life's work or being, the meaning behind people's behavior, their ideas, their accomplishments. Meaning. This concept, I suppose, is extremely abstract, but there it is.

I found parts of the book depressing in its view of aging as a series of losses. Yes, I agree wholeheartedly that aging comes with losses, sometimes frightening ones or ones that seize upon us quickly and alarmingly. I get that. But at the time Keaton wrote this book, I believe she had not finished grieving the loss so that she can move fully forward into the next stage of her life. I felt the positives she stated were statements where she was "whistling in the dark" rather than ones she genuinely believed.

For me to accept aging, I need to believe that no matter what happens, there is something new and meaningful to grab on to. Something new to learn, something new to discover. Something!
And someday I'd love to read a biography of Keaton's life. Now that would be riveting!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Whither Summer? Warning: Not a Book Review

We've experienced four straight days of rainy or drizzly, cloudy, and very cool weather. As it turns out, I'm delighted that the weather has been so miserable because I've been slaving over a writing chore that has been extremely complex, terribly stressful, odious, and which has necessitated that a chain be attached from my ankle to my computer chair. So I'm tremendously grateful that the sun has stayed well-hidden and the rains came pouring down during this time. Beautiful sunny weather would have made me truly crazy while I slaved over this writing nightmare.

I had little time to read this week, but I'm so thankful to Wolf Hall for seeing me through the worst. I am nearly finished.

Tomorrow is a SUN day and I'm going to get out in it as much as I can. And Monday as well. Tennis, a hike, and a trip to the swimming pool! How wonderful! Then Tuesday morning I'm off to Massachusetts to visit my mom. The weather is supposed to be stellar while I'm there, so I think Mom and I will enjoy our gadabouts as we cruise all over our old family and ancestral territory.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Terrible Week but Accident by Chris Pavone Improved It!

This has been a terrible week for us, by all accounts, making us wish we could just stay in bed and pull the covers over our heads, and rainy to boot! But our books prevail upon us not to give up the ghost.

When I think I'm going to shriek, reading ten to twenty pages of Wolf Hall calms me. I'm very near the end now after all this time.

And I discovered that my library copy of Accident by Chris Pavone is quite a page-turner! Very different and fascinating. I read his first novel Expats and liked it very much. In Accident he draws on his years of experience as a book editor in New York. Oh, yes, it's scrumptious, if you have even the slightest interest or experience in book publishing. Pavone is a superb suspense writer. And all the twists and turns are so unexpected because they're so different from the twists in Expats. This guy is good!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Reading Ismailov's The Dead Lake in Translation

The Dead Lake is a contemporary Russian novel in translation (just 128 pages) by the Kyrgysztani (Central Asian) author, Hamid Ismailov, translated into English by Andrew Bromfield. Ismailov writes in both Russian and Uzbek (as in Uzbekistan), though he is now living in exile in Great Britain because of his supposedly "overly democratic" opinions. I first heard about The Dead Lake on Stu's Winston's Dad blog.

The Dead Lake takes place in a remote area of Kazahkstan, very close to the area that the novel's characters call "The Zone," which is the site where the Soviets test their above-ground and below-ground atomic bombs/nuclear weapons.

The Dead Lake, naturally, is an environmentally disastrous body of water. This is a coming-of-age novel, and Yerzhan, lad of the steppes of Central Asia, beloved by his extended family and a violin prodigy to boot, swims in this lake. And thereby goes the story.

Although I'm only halfway through, I'm affected by how different this novel is in form, structure, tone, and well, everything. An eye-opening read. I'll be wanting to read Ismailov's other novels.

Monday, August 11, 2014

"Don't Let it End" Madness and Sue Miller's The Arsonist

I'm in the midst of three books, two of which I will be very sad when I reach the final page. The third, Wolf Hall, I'm admiring and enjoying immensely, but I will be able to bid adieu to it without becoming undone. I read about 30-35 pages of Wolf Hall per day. Before I turn to it, I prepare a fully caffeinated cup of Darjeeling tea and totally comfy-size myself because I need fully devoted concentration so that I don't miss a single detail. It's a slow read this way, but well worth it.

So the books I'm getting sad about finishing are as follows:
I'm entranced by Sue Miller's recently published novel, The Arsonist. Miller writes about relationships so deeply, with so much nuance and layering that I'm amazed by her artistry. Of the previous books of hers that I've read, I'd say While You Were Gone (spell-binding!) and The Senator's Wife are among her best. I know many have acclaimed her best-selling debut novel, The Good Mother, published way back in the 1970s, which I never got around to reading because I was enjoying my free and single twenties at that time.

So, right at the moment, I can't think of another American novelist who writes about relationships as deeply and as nuanced (there goes that word again) as Miller. Regrettably, Lake Shore Limited was an exception to this statement.

In The Arsonist, Frankie comes home to her family's summer house in New Hampshire from her career as a humanitarian aid worker in East Africa to discover that her parents are facing a crisis: Frankie's father is rapidly descending into dementia. Frankie isn't on solid ground herself because she's discovered that after 15 years in Africa, she needs a less transient way of life. She is fairly certain that she will not be returning to her life in Africa when the summer is past. To add interest, Frankie gradually becomes involved with Bud, the new owner and editor of the small town's newspaper, an expatriate journalist from the whirlwind of Washington politics. In the midst of this fascinating collection of inter-familial and community relationships comes the spate of fires consuming the town's summer homes, night after night, and the certainty that an arsonist is in their midst. Yes, much of the novel's suspense resides in the escalating interpersonal dynamics, but the fires threaten to push aside communal and familial ties.
This is top-notch fiction--Okay! I'll say it--phenomenal women's fiction, and I say "women's fiction," only because many men tend to be less interested in the interpersonal dynamics of familial relationships.  Highly recommended!!!

2007 Winner of the Nero Wolf Award *and* 2007 Gumshoe Award: The other novel I can't bear to see come to an end! It's All Mortal Flesh by Julia Spencer-Fleming. Just loving it, as I love all of the books in her Millers Kill series. Too good to miss.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Waiting for Henning Mankell's An Event in Autumn (Aug 12 US release)

I haven't read any of Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallander novels in at least three years, I believe, but An Event in Autumn grabbed me because Wallander retreats to the countryside to get away from all his stressors to take a big time-out by residing in an old farmhouse with a marvelous garden, where he (naturally) discovers parts of a dead body, and off we go on another wonderful adventure.
I love characters who decide to "hermitize" for a while in the rural hinterlands because I so completely identify with that wish and have never wavered from this pursuit.

Just a week until publication in the slow-to-publish U.S.! I realize from my internet browsing that it will be a BBC production this fall somewhere. Have you read the book or seen the BBC production?

Monday, August 4, 2014

Wolf Hall and My Favorite Mystery Novelist Julia Spencer-Fleming

My recent reading history of Wolf Hall is on my mind. I read the first 50 pages in one day and stopped, primarily because I had too many other books I had to finish because of library due dates. It was a bit of a challenge plunging in to Wolf Hall again, but now I'm having no problem and am halfway through. (Picking up a bookmark quoting Sam Goldwyn helped me to resume reading: "I read part of it all the way through." No, I didn't want to leave Wolf Hall like that!)

I don't know about you, but I must have a completely quiet house for reading Wolf Hall. Total concentration helps immensely. It's an historical that is well worth whatever trouble it takes to read it carefully. I am thoroughly enjoying the immersion in Tudor England, even if, and this is a BIG IF, I have read far too many books about Anne Boleyn and King Henry VIII. Thomas Cromwell's protagonist viewpoint is indeed fascinating.

I've spent the summer focusing on really learning to play tennis, swimming, hiking when it's not horrendously humid, and reading. Yet I've let far too many business matters slide. Four weeks from today is Labor Day, the Monday of the week when the college resumes. Such an unwelcome interruption looms.

My fifth??? Julia Spencer-Fleming mystery All Mortal Flesh is in full tilt. I do wish more people would try her. I am so in tune with her characters and the fictional town of Millers Kill, New York. Splendid characterization and acutely-described settings--I couldn't ask for more in what I want from a mystery. Clare is a former Army helicopter pilot and currently an Episcopal priest. Her best friend and beloved is Russ Van Altyne, the chief of police in Millers Kill. In this one, Russ's wife Linda is found murdered in their home, just ten days after the couple has agreed to separate. Spencer-Fleming is my favorite mystery writer, I must say.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Updated: Once Again, The Lie by Helen Dunmore

I'm writing about The Lie once again this year because it was Caroline's July choice for her Literature and War Readalong at her blog Beauty is a Sleeping Cat. My previous thoughts are included in my April post regarding The Lie.  I must say that I didn't say much about it at that time.

A spoiler alert!!! 
I will say that I so appreciated Dunmore's empathy and her considerable sympathy for the war-damaged protagonist. I so understood his withdrawal from the thrum of village life and his withdrawal to the far outskirts of the local community. His care and solicitude for his elderly neighbor are a sign of his healing from the trench warfare's irreparable damage to his psyche. But when he reconnects with Felicia, the sister of his long-time buddy Frederick, who was killed in battle, the two wounded survivors appear to find a way around their awkwardness, the horrible war years past, and Frederick's death. They commence the beginnings of a new life and make plans for the future. Despite the threats coming from the village, they manage to plan an escape route. Why Dunmore didn't allow this plan to follow through, I'll never know. Yes, there were plenty of suicides of soldier survivors, but the hope building in these two damaged people's relationship seemed stronger. I mourn the author's decision in this one.

I will say that Caroline's review is exquisite, so don't miss it.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Chris Bohjalian's New Novel

Bohjalian's Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, released this summer, was a novel that might have been classified YA, though I can see why it was marketed to adult audiences. When I picked it up and dove into the first chapters, I realized that it's possible that Bohjalian might have been aiming for the YA market. Emily is 16, the only child of two alcoholic parents, living in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, very close to Lake Memphremagog, which is also the site of a nuclear power plant. The power plant, which dominates the region, is the reason Emily's family is in northern Vermont. Her father is a nuclear engineer and her mother the communications director of the plant.

After weeks of rain, and subsequent flooding, the plant morphs into meltdown mode quickly, in a matter of hours. Emily is evacuated with her fellow high school students to the south. When she can't contact her parents by cell, she panics and runs away to the northwest of Vermont, to its largest city, Burlington. Emily's life is soon fraught with her decision to survive on the street, back alleys, and hidden alcoves of the city. She takes on a new name, to hide the fact that she is the daughter of the man who is the main character blamed for the meltdown.

Despite Emily's life with people who are usually called "the dregs of society," she remains hopeful, helpful to friends when she can, and rescues and becomes the protector of a nine-year-old runaway.

Perhaps this novel is not among the best of Bohjalian's ouevre (partly due to his lack of certainty with Emily's voice), but I liked and became instantly attached to Emily in spite of this, particularly her refusal to let life kick her down and her eternal optimism and poetic vision, based on her deep connection to Emily Dickinson.

I heartily recommend Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands. I happen to be a fan of American novels that focus on life after nuclear meltdowns, and this is one is very worthwhile. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Bittersweet: An Unbeatable Summer Escape

Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore is a heart-stopping novel of gothic suspense, filled with romance, horrific family secrets, and inscrutable characters who commit the darkest crimes imaginable in the present and the past.

When Midwesterner Mabel Dagmar’s famously wealthy college roommate Ginevra Winslow beckons Mabel to spend the summer at Winloch, the Winslow Family’s vacation paradise on the Vermont shores of Lake Champlain, Mabel is stunned but thrilled. She didn’t know that Ginevra even liked her, let alone would consider spending the summer with a scholarship student whose parents own a laundry in Wisconsin.

When the two young women arrive at Winloch, Ginevra immediately sets them both to work scrubbing and fixing up Bittersweet, one of many family cottages at Winloch, which Ginevra hopes will be hers. Mabel is no fool—she now sees at least one reason Ginevra invited her to Winloch. But Mabel doesn’t care. If there’s a price for a summer at Winloch, she’s more than willing to pay it.

While Ginevra is off pursuing a pair of romantic entanglements, Mabel is left to wander the estate. She meets Indo, Ginevra’s eccentric aunt. One afternoon together is all it takes for Indo and Mabel to bond, and for Indo to trust her niece’s friend with an investigation into a family secret that threatens Indo’s future. Mabel, a researcher and detective by nature, is eager to search in an attic for the folder Indo says will provide the crucial proof she needs.

In the midst of her pursuit, Mabel is soon swept off her feet by the “black sheep” of Ginevra’s siblings, Galway, who refuses to sit back on his family’s wealth. He runs  a non-profit to aid immigrants in Boston. While assisting Mabel with her search in the attic, they find they have much in common and the couple fall in love on a star-filled night swimming in Lake Champlain.

At the center of the Winloch mystery is a Van Gogh painting hung in Ginevra’s parents’ house. When Indo claims that the painting is actually hers, Mabel becomes more deeply involved in uncovering the truth of the painting’s history and the Winslow Family’s relationship with it. She discovers that what appears on the surface to be an ordinary family of privilege is actually a group concealing a rat’s nest filled with the darkest unspoken secrets both in the present and the past.  Over the course of the summer, Mabel evolves from a bright, innocent college girl into a worldly-wise young woman of power and conviction who unflinchingly battles with the evil in her midst.

 If you’re a reader who’s attracted to elegantly depicted setting, including mood and atmosphere, then the author’s flawless creation of Winloch and the Lake Champlain landscape, complete with woodlands, fields, rocky shores, sandy beaches, and beautiful family compound will satisfy your vacation dreams. I know it did mine!


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Smothered by My Smorgasbord of Books

On Monday, I started reading one of my BIG summer reads, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. The weather was hot and ultra-humid with dewpoints in the low seventies. I know it could be worse, but all I'm capable of doing in such weather is reading. And I'll say I was fully absorbed in my reading of the first 50 pages, but I will say I needed to have my wits about me. (My brain becomes water-logged on hot, humid days.)

As mentioned in previous posts, I'm really enjoying Chris Bohjalian's Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands. (See a previous recent entry.)  And I also happen to be reading Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, a "summer vacation" novel that is about two college roommates, one from a very wealthy New England family and one from a working-class family in Oregon. Although the basics of the plot are hardly new, the two young women travel to Ginevra's family compound on the Vermont shores of Lake Champlain. Although I'm a third of the way through the novel, I was surprised to discover online tonight that this novel has gothic leanings. All the better, I guess. At least that element will help distinguish the plot from many other novels depicting poor girl-wealthy girl summers at the wealthy girl's estate. I'm reading this to write a review of it, and I am indeed enjoying it.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Alena by Rachel Pastan: A Departure from Rebecca

I purchased Alena by Rachel Pastan in late January or February primarily for its setting on a place beloved to me, Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Not all of Alena takes place there--there's the Midwestern art museum setting, New York City, and please don't forget Venice! But most of the action takes place in and around an extraordinary art museum on the dunes overlooking the ocean near Wellfleet and Truro.

And as I may have told you, and as you may have heard, Pastan models the broad outline of Alena on Daphne DuMaurier's Rebecca. The relationships among the main characters resemble those in Rebecca, but the young female narrator is nowhere near as naïve or as inexperienced as the one in Rebecca. And, to mark this novel as a departure, is the universe of contemporary art. Pastan's characters have a lot to say about it, and it is enough to hoist Alena off the Rebecca climbing wall.

I was dubious about reading a novel even remotely based on Rebecca, but I must emphasize that I enjoyed the ride. The so-called naïf is extremely observant and wise enough to detect what's happening around her. I liked her a great deal and sympathized with her. Bernard is her mentor, her Laurence Olivier character, but because he's a homosexual, their intimate friendship is based on a deep fondness and a mutual love of art, which is so refreshing. You may wish to read the Washington Post review.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Summer House with Swimming Pool: Thoughts and Questions

I would never discourage anyone from reading this book. Even though I thought The Dinner had more to say to me about  life (whatever that is), and although it was a cutting-edge allegory of Europe since World War II (yes, of course, I’m crazy!), Summer House with Swimming Pool is, all in all, for better or worse, impossible to forget and encompasses much, much more than what appears on the slippery surface of the “family” story he tells.

After all, what are we to make of Marc Schlosser, the physician-narrator? He is more than a little abnormal from page one. Most people who become family doctors, internists, or general practioners—whatever one calls them—have significant defenses built up to protect their psyches from being grossed out by every single incident that occurs with medical contact with the human body, whether in health, detritus, or decay. Not Marc Schlosser. He is creeped out by nearly everything about the serious business of medicine. I found him to be ghoulishly repulsive in this regard. And I thought that Koch intends us to be repulsed, and to imagine our naked selves unclad on Schlosser’s examining-room table. Horrid!

What is Schlosser seeking when he insinuates his entire family into Ralph's (the great actor and movie star mogul) Mediterranean rental commune? Is it to brush shoulders with Ralph’s fame? To see if he can find a way to imbibe Ralph’s incessant breaking of boundaries to recharge his (Schlossser’s) own life and thus compensate for the daily suppression of self he suffers in his medical practice? What??? I think Koch begs the reader to find an explanation for Schlosser’s lunacy, or at the least, his off-balance intentions.

The crux of the novel, as it impends on the climax, focuses on a murky mishap that involves or befalls Schlosser’s gorgeous 13-year-old daughter Julia. Did Ralph really rape Julia, as Schlosser is convinced? Or is Schlosser merely projecting his incestual predilictions onto Ralph? What do you think?
How are we to view Schlosser's grotesque assault on Ralph's body in Schlosser's examining room? Is this a mere novel of horror? I ask you.

And what are we to make of Schlosser’s neon flashback to the anti-homosexual lectures/rants of his medical school professor, which was for Schlosser, an indoctrination into what was, for him, the horrors of anal penetration?

In my review of The Dinner, I stated my convinction that it was, among other things, an allegory. I suspect that Summer House with Swimming Pool may be also—there’s just too much social commentary for it not to be, to my mind. So what’s my problem? I don’t have a clue what Koch is trying to say. Do you? Koch is definitely saying something in this novel. What are your views? Please share them openly!


Saturday, July 5, 2014

Too Many New Books to Read This Summer!

About Alena by Rachel Pastan, which I blogged about yesterday. After page 45, I put two or three thumbs up! What a novel to decompress the over-taxed brain. I guess I'd say I'm loving it. The Rebecca thing bothered me for only the first 40 pages; now I'm completely over it and am thrilled for the ride! Now onto other matters:

I have two full months before the fall semester begins. I'm determined to make the most of the time and do a great deal of reading in addition to all of my other activities. As I've mentioned before Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth, Mantel's Wolf Hall, and Orhan Pamuk's Snow will be consumed come hook or by crook. They are my priorities.

Yet, loads of new books are demanding my attention. You know how it goes. To rest my mind at the pool, I've ordered C is for Corpse by Sue Grafton. I do love Kinsey Milhone's gutsiness and her lackadaisical care for her personal appearance. If her hair gets washed, fine; if it doesn't, then that's okay, too. There are more pressing worries in this world.  I've ordered it for my Kindle, which I only tend to use in the summer, because I can read it in the sunshine unlike the Nook.

Then Chris Bohjalian has a new novel, Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands--a post-apocalyptic sort of novel about a teenage runaway trying desperately to survive after a nuclear disaster in Vermont, which is to be released next Tuesday, July 8. I'm almost sorry to say I have a predilection for post-apocalyptic fiction. Not everyone's taste, I'm sure, but I'm drawn to it like a moth to a flame. I've lived most of my life in the scary "downwind" perimeters of nuclear power plants and have always protested the use of nuclear power. Not to mention the fact that the Seabrook, New Hampshire and Vermont Yankee power plants are notorious for being old and having less than the best designs and engineering. Seabrook is offline now, though Vermont Yankee in the western part of the state is still! operating, forty-three years, long past its sell-by date, and is all too close to us here in northeastern New York.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Grasping Freedom with Rachel Pastan's Alena and The Vacationers

Because I am finally, at long last, done with final papers and projects and grading, as of tonight I feel the freedom of leisure approaching.

Yesterday, when I discovered that large sections of two out of twenty final papers had been plagiarized, I threw in the towel and immediately zoomed to my local swimming pool where I swam laps like a crazed beast until exhaustion took over. I then sat, dripping wet, and turned to the first few pages of Wolf Hall and immediately realized that the novel is much too complex for my frazzled brain to handle at this point. Frustrating!

This morning I felt the need for a leisurely hour of reading before I finished my course work, so I turned to Alena by Rachel Pastan, a novel I purchased for the Nook when it was first published earlier this year. It's had some excellent reviews, but I must warn you that it is a contemporary, re-structured version of Du Maurier's Rebecca. Ordinarily, a book that's a knock-off of a classic would not interest me in the slightest. But I chose this one because it takes off, literally, from Rebecca, with surprises of its own, and also because it's set on Cape Cod in Massachusetts, a place where I spent a great deal of time in my youth and young adulthood. My longing to spend time there may be what motivated me to purchase this book. Maybe this novel will rest my brain so I can turn to the more serious, challenging reading I have planned for July and August. So I hope!

Just a few minutes ago I also purchased The Vacationers by Emma Straub, which has received rave reviews. I'm looking forward to this novel as well. So here's my self-medicated prescription: Stick to non-taxing reading for my befuddled brain, and then, when it has healed, onto Wolf Hall! I can't wait to read it, which is why my mental incapacity is extremely frustrating at the moment.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

La Peur by Gabriel Chevallier--A World War I Novel

What struck me most about this novel narrated by a French infantryman of the intelligentsia is the utter isolation of his experience apart from his comrades. Yes, I know so far I'm not explaining myself well. Aside from a just a couple of comrades, Negre being one, the narrator experiences this universe of the absurd alone. We know his fellow infantrymen are near and that they share their bodily and psychic miseries, but the narrator doesn't draw us into these relationships or into these characters. The focus is solely on the narrator's personal relationship with Total War.

While reading this book, it seemed to me that the French infantryman was less well-provided for than his British counterpart, in terms of food, clothing, and other sustenance. I may be wrong in my interpretation, and I should study the facts. But the French war machine seemed less well-prepared to care for the men in extremis. I was shocked that in the Vosges mountain region that soldiers were expected to endure -25 to -35 degrees below zero. I'm assuming that's Fahrenheit? Was Celsius the norm in France in World War I? (If you know, I'd love the information. Obviously, I need to research that as well.) In any case, I know how extreme cold can fatigue the human body to a point where an individual ceases to care about anything, including his survival, very quickly. I was so surprised that it was that cold, and that they had to endure it without respite. When it is -25 below Fahrenheit here, everything stops.

I loved the narrator's rebellious, solitary nature and admired his sneering, scathing point of view of the military, the war machine, the governments involved, as his thinking evolved.

I feel Chevallier's voice is one of the very strongest in WWI literature. So why isn't he more popular? Yes, his work was censored during WWII, but it was available during the 1930s and after WWII. I wonder how popular it is in France, and in the rest of Europe.

The only copy of the novel that I could obtain was for my Nook. I found much text to highlight.

Friday, June 27, 2014

La Peur (Fear) by Gabriel Chevallier: Mention Today, To Be Completed 6/28

Many thanks to Caroline of Beauty is a Sleeping Cat for selecting Gabriel Chevallier's 1930 World War I novel, La Peur for the Literature and War Readalong for the month of June. I've been so excited to connect with a French novel about World War I, and I have nothing but positive things to say about it, but I'm not able to write my thoughts this evening. It's on my docket to write a post tomorrow, Saturday the 28th. My excuse: It was a glorious summer day today, and I spent it hiking early in the morning, then sketching and painting en plein air by a local lake, and then swimming in an outdoor pool. Lovely.

I'm also halfway through Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch at the moment. I don't want to say a thing about it until I'm finished. I've had some queasy feelings, I will say, but no point in discussing the novel until I've finished. Are you reading it, or do you plan to this summer?

More to come!

Friday, June 20, 2014

In My Mailbox: The Zhivago Affair

Since my birthday early in June, I haven't stopped indulging myself by buying books. It has to stop, of course, but there have been a number of titles that I have refused to wait for at the library. Sometimes these moods strike me and my bank account.

Recently published and in my mailbox today: The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle over a Forbidden Book by Peter Finn and Petra Couvee (Pantheon). When I read the review in BookPage, I knew I had to order the book immediately. You see, Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak has been a big part of my life since age 14. It just so happens that the David Lean film was my first introduction to Dr. Zhivago (and it is still my favorite film after all these years). I first saw it in March 1967 with my older brother, and I was astounded, awed, shocked, and swept away. A love affair with Russian literature and history ensued. I turned 15 that June and read Dr. Zhivago the novel while sunning myself at the beach every afternoon for many weeks that summer. I was determined to read every word. I loved it, though I haven't read it since. I'd like to, especially the new translation that was published two years ago.

There is another connection I have to the smuggling of the Dr. Zhivago manuscript out of Russia in 1956. I'm afraid that due to the late hour and empty stomachs, I must save this rare tidbit for another post. In any case, I'm so psyched that Finn and Couvee have written this book.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Summer 2014 Personal Book Challenge

I teach my last class on June 25. Then a few days to grade final exams. Then--Summer!

I have some do-or-die challenges for my summer, which formally begins on Friday, June 27.
  1. Paint en plein air, in the lands to the south, where millions of insects are not present to devour me. (Think: Saratoga Springs area.)
  2. Read the following three classics:
  • Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
  • Snow by Orhan Palmuk
  • Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain
Yes, I have many other books I plan to read, but these three require some presence of mind and not a mindless, vacation attitude, which has made me name them explicitly as challenges.

You know, I have so many books on tap, one can only hope for a blistering, hot summer when one has no choice but to be indoors. (NO! I didn't mean that! Let me take that back!)

Friday, June 13, 2014

Thankful for Summer House with Swimming Pool (ARC)

Thank you to Random House (Hogarth imprint) for sending me the Dutch author Herman Koch's blockbluster Summer House with Swimming Pool, which was released the first week of June in the U.S.

I have 35 pages to go with Casebook by Mona Simpson, and it is at this point at the end of good novels that I often find myself delving in to a new book, to help me tolerate the withdrawal symptoms which occur when I complete my previous read.

So all I can say is, "Oh no!" I have work I must complete for my class this weekend. Lots. I have read 30 pages of Summer House, and I am desperately intrigued so far, so much so that all weekend I'll have the novel nagging at me while I'm working and grading and commenting on student essays! Arrrgh!

The chiropractor says that it would be best if I didn't spend longer than 30 minutes reading at one time. (What a Readathon pooper!) Chiropractor's comment on condition of neck: "How did you drive yourself, how did you teach a 4-hour class, etc.? My meek answer, "I try my best to put the pain in a box." Really, what else can a teacher do in these circumstances when you simply have to work or else?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Thursday Will Be a Rainy Day Readathon!

Severe neck pain is controlling my reading behavior tomorrow even more than all the rain that's been forecast. I worked for 11 hours with neck pain today, complete with 125 miles of driving. That did kill me. But annihilation of this kind is very, very good, because tomorrow all I'll be able to do is READ. Isn't this fact worth all the pain of today? Well, almost...

I'm currently halfway through Casebook by Mona Simpson, a book I'm enjoying immensely, though I'm becoming extremely more and more nervous as 14-year-old Miles is hot on the scent of what is really going on with Mims, his mother. Yes, he and his friend Hector have been eavesdropping on nearly every phone conversation she's had in the last 3 years or so. They gather information that astounds, baffles, and stupefies Miles and Hector, Miles's best buddy. The tension keeps escalating. I'm so committed now that I couldn't stop even if I wanted to.

And NO! no! no! This is not a YA novel, not one bit! Actually, this fact makes me even more nervous, because most YA novels end on a somewhat hopeful note. So I am truly worried about Miles as he attempts to negoiatie many complex adult relationships. His viewpoint is intriguing--intensely so. Note! I'm just halfway through, but as of this point, I consider it a very worthwhile read.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

A Wee Postie about The Romanov Sisters (2014)

I'm fuming because our internet was down for several hours at a time earlier this evening, when I actually had the spare moments to write a decent post. Because dinner is overdue, I will postpone the longer post, though I will mention one long-awaited title that arrived at my post office today.

Published on my b.d., The Romanov Sisters :The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexamdra by Helen Rappaport (St. Martin's Press) arrived two days later (June 5). I know I'll be fascinated reading about the four sisters' lives during the years approaching World War I, during the war when the two oldest served as nurses, and the years after the Russian withdrawal from the war, and the time before the Romanov Family's executions (assassinations) during the Russian Revolution of 1917-1918.

The last time I read a book about the Romanov princesses, I was newly married. Yikes! That was about 27-28 years ago. So I've reasoned that because so much new material from the Russian/Soviet archives have come to light, it would be worthwhile to reinvestigate the young royals' lives, their incarceration, and deaths.

I have so many books available right now, all of which are demanding to be read immediately, that I must say I'm going a bit book-crazy. The intensive summer course I'm teaching insists that I spend most of my free time working. What a conflict! Just three more weeks. I need a personal Read-a-thon this weekend, BUT the weather is supposed to be spectacular. Just cannot resist great weather when I know horrid humidity and heat is going to be our summer fare in July and August.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Private Peaceful -- World War I Literature

I was extraordinarily moved by Michael Morpurgo's Private Peaceful. I was immeasurably affected by the entire novel, partly because a sizeable chunk of the 192 pages was about a tenant family living on a manorial estate in England during the years leading up to World War I. The novel, told from the point of view of the youngest brother within that family, comes charged with all the injustices and the benefits of growing up in the English countryside during the Edwardian era. The other sizeable chunk of the book focused on the older brother and the youngest fighting in the British army on the front lines in World War I Belgium and France.

I emphasize the first "chunk" of the book because it clearly lays out the hierarchical class structure that ruled the rural landscapes of many regions in England prior to World War I. The manorial "head" of the estate, in this case, was known as "The Colonel," and he ruled, absolutely, and often without fairness, over all the farmers and other tenants who supported his estate with their labor. It would not be exaggerating to say that The Colonel proves himself to be unjust, uncaring, and downright heartless and cruel in many of the dealings that erupt between him and his tenants.

Yet the Peaceful family: Charlie; Tommo the youngest; their oldest, mentally handicapped brother Big Joe,  their courageous mother Mrs. Peaceful, and their close neighbor and friend Molly all manage to secure a warm, vibrant, enriching family life on the estate, full of all the wondrous experiences that rural life provides, and all in spite of the overbearing presence of The Colonel.

When war comes, Tommo feels shamed into enlisting, although he is a mere 15? or 16-year-old. His older brother Charlie also enlists, of course, although his recent marriage to Molly, with a child on the way, makes him loathe to leave home.

Again, British hierarchical rule comes into play in the army, which makes the infantryman absolutely powerless. At first Charlie and Tommo are blessed with an upper-class lieutenant who is a true leader and knows how to get the most from his men without resorting to abuse and terror. When this officer is wounded and leaves the front, he is replaced with a loathsome sergeant who believes wholeheartedly that abuse of his men makes them stronger. Charlie protects his fellow soldiers by refusing to obey suicidal orders, and eventually the sergeant charges him with mutinous behavior because Charlie insisted on staying with the badly wounded Tommo until darkness provided more safety. Charlie, as he knew he would, suffered the direst penalty for common sense and loyalty to his comrades. He is court-martialed and sentenced to death by firing squad.

I do not feel I'm betraying a story spoiler because Morpurgo's purpose in writing this book was to highlight attention on the fact that   British soldiers were sentenced to death even though many of them suffered from "shell-shock," battle fatigue, and, in two cases, for falling asleep while on sentry duty. Shot by a firing squad of their own comrades. Heinous.

Morpurgo's "case" or point is that because of these statistics, these men should be pardoned and exonerated by the British military and the British government. At the time of the publication of Private Peaceful, 2003, this official step had not been taken, but, by gosh, isn't this the year to do it if it hasn't been done already? Please alert me if it has been done. I may not be aware.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

World War I: What Are You Reading?

Tomorrow I'll be posting my entry about Private Peaceful, which is only half done at the moment. It won't be finished tonight, so I'll post it tomorrow, which is the due date for Caroline's Literature and War Readalong. Please refer to the blog "Beauty is a Sleeping Cat" in the "Blogs of Substance" list to the right.

So World War I Reading: Have you read or are you planning to read the books I hope to read?
1. Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain.
2. Storm of Steel by Ernst Junger   (Do you know of anyone who is reading or who has read this German World War I Classic?)
I have the Penguin classic Storm of Steel from the library. Unfortunately the library system's only copy is in a dreadful state. I'm contemplating ordering a copy. What were your views of this book?

In January 1972 I purchased a wonderful volume of Wilfred Owen's poems, which I still proudly own. I was so hungry for it, as a 19-year-old living during the Vietnam War era. Owen wrote so courageously about living amidst constant death and annihilation, which made my 19-year-old self sit up and take notice. He was my favorite WWI writer of that time. Poetry about suffering spoke to me strongly. Have you read Wilfred Owen?

I read Sassoon at that time, e.e. cummings, Robert Graves, and many, many more, all because I took a 4-week winter intensive course in World War I literature at my college of the moment--this was my first year of college, the year before I attended the college that let me be me, the college that made all the difference. Unfortunately, in 1972, at the first college, the young professor believed he held the #1 cornerstone on suffering, so he lectured to us for 3 hours a day, five days a week, without ever letting a single one of us students say a single word. The hubris of it, really. And, if you can imagine, a bit later, he slept with my roommate in the dorm. Enough said about literary authority.

Because I came from a top-notch high school and had been enthusiastically encouraged to speak my mind, I rebelled by knitting a vest throughout these 3-hour monologues in the winter World War I Lit course. Professor was not too pleased, but he did not tell me to stop knitting. It was a pass/fail course, so I did not worry.

I learned nothing from this professor, but I gained a tremendous amount  of knowledge from the readings. I felt a unique kinship with Owen and the pain he painted so vividly in his poetry.

To this day, I continue to identify strongly with the suffering of soldiers. I feel I understand everything they say, and experience a strange kinship, though I've never been on an actual battlefield. How about you?

Friday, May 23, 2014

Teetering Pile of Books Threatening to Collapse

New books and exciting older books are tumbling across my path these days, and wouldn't you know, I started teaching an intensive summer Children's and YA lit course on Monday, which leaves me little time to read. My non-work-related or pure pleasure reading has taken a hit from late winter on. Yet the books haven't stopped coming.

The Train to Warsaw by Gwen Edelman is the book I feel I must read as soon as I've finished Private Peaceful. I have found a lot to savor in the sub-genre of Holocaust fiction focused on showing the repercussions, the sequelae, the legacy of being very young survivors over the course of a lifespan. The Train to Warsaw is about a man and a woman who escaped from Warsaw when they were very young. They were then separated and reunited, married, and lived a lifespan in London. Over 40 years later, they both return to Warsaw, where the husband, a writer, has been invited to speak. And off they go. At 190 pages, with not many words per page, and poetic words at that, I was immediately drawn to the book. I must finish it over this long weekend.

How I wish I could squeeze in a thorough read of the English historian Ian Mortimer's remarkable work, The Time Traveler's Guide to Elizabethan England. When my eye caught this title on the New Nonfiction library shelf, a book I wouldn't have glanced at a year ago suddenly riveted me. First off, the author is an authority on his subject. He has a BA, a PhD, and a DLitt degree from Exeter University as well as an MA in archive studies from university College London. His achievements go on from there. The credentials gave me confidence in the book. So the connection:
In the past 5 months, I have been researching my mother's family relentlessly, that is, in a genealogical sense. This quest has led me to pursue a new, intense interest in 17th-century colonial Massachusetts and New England history, apart from my family. Now bear with me--I know that statement promises that ultra-boring statements will follow.

As it turns out, though, except for one 1620 Mayflower ancestor, all of my mother's ancestors were Puritans who fled East Anglia for  Massachusetts during the Great Migration from 1629-1640, during the reign of Charles I. This group fled religious persecution, primarily. However, some of the emigrants were born in the late 1500s or had parents who were born at that time. From my studies, it's amazing to read how English culture, folklore, superstitions, old sayings, societal norms--everything was transplanted and remained important in the families and in the overall society and culture of English colonists of Massachusetts.

Well, red lights sparked for me because my mom's family farmed in the same area of Massachusetts for over 300 years. She grew up on a farm within 25 miles of all the farms where all of her ancestors back to the 17th century did. Her direct ancestors did not move on, though many of the sons of these prolific families did.  My mom's family held tight to many, many of their customs. They married each other. My mother's parents discovered that they were not only third cousins, they were fourth cousins, fifth cousins, and sixth cousins. So until I discovered these amazing facts, I did not realize that many of the old sayings and customs common to my mom's family came from East Anglia. This knowledge came from a superb history written by the renowned U.S. historian David Hackett Fisher entitled Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America. One-fourth of the book is devoted to the East Anglian origins of Puritan Massachusetts settlers. And, naturally, much of their way of living connects strongly with the ways of life prominent during the Elizabethan era.

My next phone conversation with Mom: Did you ever wonder where the compulsion for the four o'clock tea time came from?

I've just scratched the surface with my overwhelming pile of books. Maybe another post this weekend?

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Glenn Greenwald Links in Place Now--Scroll Down.

Please refer to Saturday's blog post for the three links I was not able to provide at the time of publication. They're there now! Enjoy.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Swamped with WWI, YA Lit, and Edward Snowden

Regarding the World War I 100th anniversary, I finally ordered and received a book I've been meaning to read for years. I know it's a title that many of you have read: Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain. It is on my "Must Read This Summer or Die" List. It would be lovely if I could start it sooner, but I'm reading lots for the Children's Literature summer course I'm teaching starting Monday and I'm in the middle of several other wonderful books.

I wish, I wish I could get my copy of Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo for Caroline's Month of May Literature and War Readalong. But it sits waiting for me at Crandall Library, in our nearest city, and I haven't been able to get there. Time is running out! I'm still hopeful--Ken must visit the city tomorrow. Maybe I can bribe him to go out of his way to pick it up? I hate to make him go out of his way to feed my reading habit, but I think he'd also like this book.

Okay. I'm also desperate to read Ernst Junger's Storm of Steel, the German World War I classic. It's waiting for me at Crandall Library, too.

Meanwhile, I'm zipping through the 21st-century YA classic, Looking for Alaska by John Green, which won the American Library Association's highest award for YA literature, the Michael Printz Award. It is also a huge cross-over adult bestseller. And it's been hugely censored and challenged for use in high-school English classrooms all over the US, despite the fact it is still, still, a YA bestselling classic in 2014, nine years after its publication in 2005.

And last on my list to talk about this week is the just published, soon-to-be  #1 nonfiction book, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency, and the U.S. Surveillance State by Glenn Greenwald (Greenwald's blog link), the former US constitutional lawyer and columnist for The Guardian (until October 2013), and the only journalist whom Edward Snowden entrusted with the tens of thousands of U.S. "secret" documents that he seized for the purpose of informing the public of the U.S. government's Homeland Security Office top-secret surveillance of U.S. and foreign agencies and citizens. I heard Greenwald interviewed on National Public Radio's Fresh Air program on Wednesday, and I was so intrigued, I drove to a bookstore and bought it. Now I just need TIME, that most precious commodity, to read it. Fascinating article in Rolling Stone
And for the New York Times review, here's the link.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Falling Dumbly and Blindly upon Jenna Blum's Those Who Save Us

It's extraordinary--today B&N sent me notice of a Nook discount on Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum. I was  fascinated by the snynopsis, dying to read it, and thought I had it in the house and had read it.  Hmmm...

After much investigation of my public blog and personal files, it turned out that I confused this title with Sarah's Key by Tatiana De Rosnay, a book I suffered through, though I was thrilled to read it. So I immediately raced upstairs, straight to the paperback Those Who Save Us, only to realize that I purchased it in Boston in 2005, months before moving to our present home in the Adirondacks. I realized as I flipped through the pages that I had never read it. The paperback is pristine, the book obviously never touched. And here I'd thought, in the dim, dark reaches of the back of my brain, that I had read it, though the IT was actually Sarah's Key, a book I definitely read in 2010 but must have borrowed from the library. How weird!

Needless to say, because I was so swept up this morning in the description of Those Who Save Us, I'm thrilled to have the novel right next to me this minute. How serendipitous! I will plunge in to Blum's novel immediately. After the Readathon, I am in need of a dramatic novel that will capture my imagination. Please follow the links if you're interested.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Dewey's Readathon: Discoveries and Reflections

This readathon first-timer found much to like about dedicating an entire day to reading for pure pleasure. This morning I awoke feeling well-rested, which is something I seldom experience. I enjoyed every minute of the day, including the minutes I was not reading. The relaxation I experienced was profound.

From the age of 17, I've had this cherished belief (more like an idée fixe) that I must exercise every single day without fail. I think I believe that daily exercise is essential to being as healthy as I can possibly be.

I must say that Dewey's Readathon came at a time when I've been reexamining what I need to be healthy and the role of various kinds of relaxation in enhancing good health, both physically and mentally.

I have discovered in the past six months or so that reading in a quiet, comfortable setting makes me deeply relaxed, similar to the effects of a 15-minute bout of meditation.

In any case, I'm not giving up daily exercise, but once a month or so, or whenever I really need and want to, I might treat my mind and body to a full day of reading as I did yesterday. It made me feel very, very good!

So thank you! to all the hard-working, self-sacrificing organizers of this event. I appreciate your efforts tremendously!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

How Long Will I Stay Up with Dewey?

Late this afternoon through 6:30 pm or so--I read and finished the ending of The Fate of Mercy Alban by Wendy Webb. So good--so scary! I was not prepared to be so scared through the last 35 pages. I'm seldom frightened by books, but this one did it to me. A top-notch gothic thriller, in my opinion. I'm looking forward to reading Webb's other books. One has been published very recently, and the other in 2006. I'd like to list the titles, but I'm really fading, fading...   Now I'm wondering what book would keep me awake until 11:15 pm or so. I'll do my best.
Thanks to Ken for coming up with the dinner solution and for walking the dog twice today. I feel like a sloth, but reading all day was definitely fun.

Whole Hog for Dewey! 10 Hours In: Dedication Develops

This afternoon I was in a pure reading trance, thanks to the Dewey Readathon. I visited a few participants' blogs and left encouraging messages, and then BAM! I read Only Brave Tomorrows by Winifred Bruce Luhrmann, published by Houghton Mifflin, Clarion Books, in 1989, an historical novel set during King Philip's War in 1675-1676 in central Massachusetts.

This Indian war decimated both Indian and English colonist populations, including women and children on both sides. In my history education, including my university and college American history retrospectives, this war and the other Indian wars fought in the 17th- and very early 18th-century in New England were never addressed, never mentioned, and not included in any college text or reading. Yet King Philip's War, in particular, killed many, many more English colonists, percentage-wise, than Americans killed in the Civil War, or the Revolutionary War, or World War II. For the myriad Native American tribes in New England, their tribes were even more heinously slaughtered.

Although Only Brave Tomorrows is no longer in print, I liked it very much: It very clearly depicts the life and struggles of colonists during this era, especially women; and, without histrionics, shows what it was like to live in a village on the frontier and to be the sole survivor of a massacre. Although all the characters are white colonists, I commend the book for showing that not all English colonists wanted to wipe out the native American tribes, and that not all Indians wanted to wipe out the colonists. The story has a great love story within it, and well-researched, interesting, and not overwhelming historical detail.

It is very, very difficult to find historical novels about King Philip's War for young people, no doubt reflecting Americans' confusion about our nation's overall treatment of Native Americans, from 1620 to the present.