In the High Peaks

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Winds of Skilak--A Memoir of Life on a Wild Alaskan Island

I simply *adored* this memoir of a young couple in the early 1980s who choose to homestead on a supposedly uninhabitable island, surrounded by the moodiest, most tempestuous lake you will ever meet in literature. This is an adventure memoir, and the thrills are sustained throughout. Because of the location, downwind from an enormous glacier, the island and lake are subject to the most horrific weather.

I hated turning to the last page. The memoir covers their first two and a half years on the island, and they lived there 15 years. I was so enthralled--the wilderness, the hardships, the challenges and the surmounting of obstacles, the wildlife, making a living from the land--all breathtaking.

The Kindle and Nook price are only $5.99, though the paperback is nearly $19. If you have an iPad, or an e-reader that does color, there are wonderful color photos scattered throughout the book.

The author Bonnie Rose Ward was 25 years old at the beginning of their adventure, and her husband Sam was 36. My only so-called "warning," and to me it wasn't a problem, is that she is a very traditional wife and he a very traditional husband. A love and faith in God is mentioned in nearly every chapter. But this is not a Christian memoir, to my mind. It's a fascinating view of life on the wild side.

This title has received multiple awards. Unfortunately I took a peek at some GoodReads reviews. Most were highly favorable, but two reviewers complained that Bonnie was "too weepy" to be a "wilderness woman." I was aghast. Obviously these reviewers have never ever been in true wilderness to know the challenges, emotional and physical.

I have been so inspired by this book. Fortunately, Ward is in the midst of writing her second book. Okay, I say, Godspeed!

Monday, March 28, 2016

A Book Trip to Indian Lake

The Town of Indian Lake Library, which is about 27 miles to the north from my home, has the best and the brightest book collection around with lots of the most interesting new books, both fiction and nonfiction. I admire the head librarian who really knows her stuff and obviously consults multiple book review publications before she orders books. Best of all, this small town has the good sense to be exceedingly generous to its library, quite unlike my town, if I must say. I found three of the new books I've purchased in the past month on their shelves. The year-round population of this town is only around 1300 people.

Crandall Library, which is in the city of Glens Falls 38 miles to our south, has an even broader collection, BUT it serves a community of nearly 100,000 people. So for new books, there are long waits and a very limited time period permitted (2 weeks) to read a new book. Indian Lake, on the other hand, is a very small community (except for the summer) and one doesn't have to wait or rush for anything. It's a beautiful wilderness drive as well. 

Today I picked up In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ward, a mystery that has been recommended by several bloggers. I found many wonderful books for Ken, who loves legal thrillers, and a book by a mystery writer whose detectives are a man and his dog. For instance today, I picked up Spencer Quinn's Paw and Order. Ken has already read the most recent title in the series, Scents and Sensibilities. He says they are a wonderful change of pace.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

March 2016 Reading Extravaganza

For many reasons, I've somehow managed to read like crazy this month--eight (and a half) novels so far--even though one was nearly 700 pages (Ha Jin's A Free Life) and a number of others have been over 300 pages. Believe me, I'm not boasting--I'm just amazed at my good fortune--that I had the time and the focus to hunker down and enjoy so many absolutely fascinating books. I will never forget this month.

Perhaps my favorite, or the one that had me turning the pages with a determined compulsion, was A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton. She and her family live in Glasgow now, so as to be near the university, it seems. After a career as a journalist, Copleton entered the writing program at Glasgow University, and sometime later this novel emerged, among a number of prizes for her short fiction. This novel is on the Longlist for the Bailey's Women's Fiction Prize, as I mentioned in a previous entry

Okay, the story in bare bones. In her early days, Copleton was a teacher of English in Nagasaki and Sapporo, Japan. It was there that she conceived the original plan for this novel, and I admit it's very difficult to give a nutshell commentary. Set in Nagasaki, the most central characters include a mother and grandmother (one person) and a former lover who, despite her determination that he should not, manages to insinuate himself into her life and the life of her entire family from the 1930s through the 1970s to the 1990s in the U.S. Imaginative, believable, epic, and my need to say, "Don't miss it!" This is a fine novel of how love can destroy and can resurrect. 4.9 stars for enjoyment and quality. If you are drawn to historical fiction, that will increase your understanding and perhaps your appreciation, but you don't need to be a devoted reader of the genre, because this book goes beyond genre.

I don't think there's space here to write anything about Ha Jin's 2008 novel A Free Life, which I appreciated immensely.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction 2016 Longlist

I discovered this year's Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction Longlist from Danielle at A Work in Progress (please see the blogroll). All of them sound interesting, and no doubt you have read a few.

I've borrowed two of the longlist titles from the library today, and I own a copy of Geraldine Brooks's The Secret Chord. I'm so happy to see that Brooks is on the list because I believe that she is one of the best authors writing in English today. As of tomorrow, I will be reading A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton, which deals with the generational repercussions of the American atomic destruction of Nagasaki over many years. Copleton lived in Japan, teaching English.

The other novel I've borrowed and hope to read soon is Girl at War by Sara Novic (NO-vich), by a Croatian writer who endured the War in Serbia/Croatia in the early 1990s. Although there have been a number of Serbian, Bosnian, and Croatian authors whose novels have been translated into English, very few have been openly recognized or even reviewed in English-speaking media. I can't really understand this, particularly because English, Australian, and American U.N. forces contributed to the "peace-keeping" effort in the Balkans. I don't know.

Have you read any on the list? Do you see any that interest you?

Monday, March 14, 2016

Reading Amsterdam by Ian McEwan

I'm currently in the midst of reading Amsterdam by Ian McEwan, the 1998 Booker Prize winner. The relationship of Clive the elite composer and Vernon, the big newspaper editor, intrigues me as it strains against and weathers several moral crises. The two men impart and half-hint at their moral crises to each other but neither man listens, appreciates, or fully comprehends what's going on with their friend OR with themselves as individuals. Both men, because of their all-exclusive attention to their careers, miss opportunities to act according to their own moralities. Very interesting indeed.

Amsterdam is a slim volume at 191 "short" pages, due to the diminution of some of McEwan's volumes. So the book is by no means much of a commitment of time for the reader, which is an interesting aspect of some of McEwan's most serious novels. Amsterdam is just as timely today as it was when it was published. The drama and fanfare of political expose and scandal brew at the heart of the novel, but actually they are merely the backdrop for McEwan's purpose.

I am enjoying this novel and must say that I'm a huge admirer of McEwan's novels and his boldness in confronting topics that writers of contemporary literature just won't touch and doesn't do.  I'm speaking frankly of On Chesil Beach. No one writes about the issue that confronts this sad couple. No one. And he did it very well.

I will confess, though, that I'm still furious with him about his treatment of the female protagonist in Atonement.

Have you read any of Ian McEwan's novels? I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Classics Club: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

While reflecting on my experience reading Go Set a Watchman, I decided that I want to steer clear of the controversial arguments that cropped up before and after its publication. How I could jump in! But I've realized during the week that's followed my finishing the novel, that I don't want to remember or focus on all of that noise.

I'm so glad that Go Set a Watchman was published. I'm so grateful. For me, whenever I've had a beloved author, one who stirred me to the marrow, one who provoked me to think and want to shout back, I've always wanted to read more of that writer's work. And as a reader of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, I thought for so many decades that I would never see another word from her.

Nonetheless, despite the publication of Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee remains to a large extent inscrutable, and that's fine with me. I'll take the glimpses that her first-written novel gave me and be content with that.

So what did I gain by reading this "long-hidden" novel? Most of all, I appreciated the insight she gave into what it was like for an intellectual woman to try to break free of the society she grew up in (which most of the world did not accept), the family she grew up in (that she felt smothered her true nature), and her youthful expectations for herself. What a vise to deal with. Recent biographies of Harper Lee have hinted at this multi-faceted struggle, but I thought this novel portrayed it so starkly that it is indelibly imprinted in my mind.

I really loved the Dr. Finch character and all of his ideologies--yes, even the parts we've learned we should look down on. I thought the character of Atticus became more remote, more idealized, and more inscrutable--an  enigma, which Lee tries to explain in this novel. I get what she's explaining, but I still don't understand the complexities of the Atticus she presented.

Anyway, I feel I can lay Harper Lee to rest in my mind. There is much that I still don't understand, but I see so much more than I did. And I can rest with that.

Monday, March 7, 2016

My Reading is Booming

I won't reveal the reason why--I have already strained credulity as to why this winter has been a time for retreating from the world and reading prolificly. Now, yes, once again, the two humans in our household were felled by a mutual frailty last week that demanded, most imperiously, that we resort to BOOKS rather than the exertions of WORK. Now, as I write this blog entry, I can step back and see the silver lining of this suffering by shared bronchittises, I really do.

Next I must write my Classics  Club review of Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee, a book I devoured last week. I fully appreciated the insights that this book gave me about its author, her background, her subsequent novel To Kill a Mockingbird, and about her life after In Cold Blood.

I treasured Girl through Glass by Sari Wilson, appreciated and enjoyed tremendously. 4.75 stars! I discussed this one a bit in a previous post. If the plot line intrigues you, don't miss it. An unusually well-crafted and mature debut novel, I must say.

Sarah at Crimepieces got me hooked on reading Wilkie Collins's The Haunted Hotel last week, which was an excellent change of pace and genre from my other reading. I must confess that I've never been able to get through Collins's classic novels The Moonstone or A Woman in White. My failing completely--Each time I've tried to read them, I simply cannot stay awake no matter how hard I try. I don't know what's wrong with me, really, but I think it's because I thrive on highly developed characterizations and complex inter-relationships to keep me going in a detective or mystery novel. Not Wilkie's fault. I'm so thrilled that I was able to make it all the way through this ghost novella. It has its gruesome moments, but they're more interesting than repulsive, and overall I think the story's well done and worth reading, especially if you want a shorter Wilkie Collins novel.

Next, my first Tessa Hadley novel. I chose to read The Past first, her novel most recently available in the U.S. I feel compelled to continue reading--I'm two-thirds of the way through now--but I do wonder how other readers have felt about this one. The incredibly difficult sibling relationships and Hadley's characterizations are disturbing. I will share my comments later. I'm compelled to keep turning the pages.

And last, I felt I needed something completely different. I recalled that in 2008 I'd started the Chinese-born American author Ha Jin's Free Life (incredibly ironic title about Chinese immigrants in the U.S. in the 1980s), had liked it, but before page 100, had had to return it to the library. No more! I'm loving it, it's on my Nook, and no returns will interrupt it.