In the High Peaks

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

84 Charing Cross Road, Booksellers, and My Next Thriller

I'll confess; I have never read the book or the play 84 Charing Cross Road. Last evening Ken and I watched for the second time the film starring Ann Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins (and let's not forget Judi Dench), which was produced in 1987, and which we loved the first time in the 1990s in our Massachusetts home.

Did you know that Mel Brooks produced this film? I certainly didn't until this evening, when I went scouring the Web for info. Brooks seems like the least likely person to gravitate toward producing this sort of movie, BUT he was a New Yorker and Jewish, like Helene Hanff, though neither were at all religious, and both were incredibly irreverent and feisty, so I can imagine them meeting and getting along splendidly. (Of course I don't know this.)

How I would love to have a relationship with an English or Scottish bookseller--that's my thought for tonight. Oh, sigh!
And to realize how transformed the purchasing of used, rare, and antiquated books has become! Now you go to Abe Books and proceed. However, I am certain there are book collectors with very, very deep pockets who have personal relationships with booksellers far afield from their homes. Well, I know they do. I occasionally read the magazine Fine Books and Collections. But that kind of collecting is only for the very, very rich today, as so many things are.

We have  lost so much, yet Helene Hanff was never able to have a blog and thereby an international group of fellow readers who shared the books she enjoyed most. Wouldn't she have loved that? Would that have compensated her for the lack of a special bookseller? I think so, in a way. But why can't we have both, in the best of all possible worlds?  She only had her favorite London bookseller to share her thoughts with, and a few English friends in NYC.

I started reading The Annotated Frankenstein today. And I must have a thriller, a downright page turner if I am ever to morph back into being a voracious reader again. So, after a lengthy search, I am starting The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine.

Monday, July 30, 2018

The Annotated Frankenstein Arrived Today and Other Notes

The Annotated Frankenstein that I now hold in my arms is a 2012 publication. It was edited by Susan J. Wolfson and Ronald Levao and was published by Harvard University Press. It is an oversized book with the text of the novel and lavish annotations in the wide margins of each page.

My reason for ordering, other than the high acclaim the book received after publication, was that although I had devoured and studied Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley when I was 21, just 43 years ago in 1975, I always wanted to know more about Mary Shelley's life and the story of her writing this book. What motivated her to write this particular novel and not another, for example?

So that is my mission. I have a recent paperback version, though I'll admit I still own my first literally crumbling Penguin paperback, with its minuscule print.  As a Gothic fanatic, I know I'll enjoy Frankenstein the second time around, but I will be interested to see the thoughts and ideas I form now, after decades of a reading life.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Whatever Happened to Hilary Mantel?

I still can't read. Three concerned doctors on Monday told me that they concluded it's just a psoriasis lesion on the inside of my eyelid (and outside, of course) that's scratching my eye and causing the pain and blurriness. Hail! Hail! So ointments, etc. should eventually get me tied up with printed books again. Hoping!

In the meantime, I was doing the grand tour of my many bookshelves (so much fun on a brutally humid day), only to find myself with a big question. I thought that Hilary Mantel, author of Wolf Hall and Bringing Up the Bodies was writing a trilogy about Thomas Cromwell. Bringing Up the Bodies, which was excellent, was published in 2012. So I'm asking and wondering if any of you know if you've heard anything about the third and last book in the series? I don't want to seem impatient, but I haven't heard a thing. I'm wondering if Mantel is taking a breather and writing other books? Being in the U.S. makes it harder to figure out what might be happening.
I do hope Mantel's health is not the issue.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Bookish Problems and Travel Plans for September

I spent Monday through Thursday morning in the Boston area, and I want to emphasize that the purpose of the trip was NOT for pleasure, although I did manage to have time for a wonderful reunion dinner with my brother, and on another evening, a serendipitous rendezvous with disconnected strangers stranded in an excellent pub due to torrential downpours and flash flooding.

I've luxuriated in being home again, but I've had sudden, terribly blurred vision that has made reading a book so extremely difficult that I've had to engage in other activities. How annoying to a summer reader! So I need to charge into audiobooks in a big way and also see the doctor on Monday, which is always a big waste of time. Bah humbug! I'm sure my vision will sort itself out all on its own, given some peace and quiet.

I was reading Summer Before the End of the War by Helen Simonson, and was enjoying it. I'll pick it up again soon, I'm sure.

September travel plans: I'm dying to reunite with the ocean. I want to have salt water waves roll over my toes. I want to smell brine and seaweed. I must get up close and personal with the Maine and Cape Cod shorelines. We're trying to figure it all out now. A little late, perhaps?? Maybe, but I hope we can  wrangle something together.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

UK Books and Wimbledon

I don't need to calculate any statistics to know that I read more UK fiction past and present than from any other country, including the US. I've visited the UK a total of only three times, and each time was a wonderful, eye-opening experience. If I could, I would visit every year, no question, and so would Ken.

Wimbledon--the highlight of the tennis year is here. And it seems that every tennis player in the world that is willing to spend the time and the pain to conquer the sport on grass, is determined to win.
We watched a match today, the likes of which, we have seen only a very few times in our careers as tennis fans--watching Roger Federer (Swiss) combat Kevin Anderson (South African) in the quarter-finals. A superlative,  top-ten match is one in which both players are playing their absolute best game, are neck-in-neck the whole way, and are battling, no-holds-barred tennis, going for it all. This doesn't happen that often, actually. And it happened today. Wow.

They went straight out for five sets and beyond, and then the last set had to be extended, punishing the players with overtime. Anderson, well-deservedly, conquered Federer in the end. Federer is the top champion of the modern era, but even he, who will turn 37 in early August, knows all too well that exhaustively long matches are getting to be beyond him now.  He knows he must win all the early sets to win and move on, rather than be ensnared by extended games, and extended matches.
Federer was at match point in the third set, but lost that single defining moment. The consequence of that  last moment led to the match going on for 3 more hours. Can you imagine?

I've been so quixotic in my reading. Oh, gosh, that MOOD thing that has been driving my reading. I never know what I'll be reading from one moment to the next. I am finally in the mood and very much want to read The Summer before the War by Helen Simonton, which is yet another English book, published in 2016. The war in question is WWI. I can't wait to get going on it. I will pick it up at the library tomorrow. I thought of reading it two summers ago, but I had read so many WWI novels and books during that centennial, that I held off on this one, and am now glad I'm in the mood for it.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

A Beautiful Sunday, and Time to Sneak in a Book or Two

Ken and I spent the late morning walking at Garnet Lake. It's just four miles from us, and such a beautiful lake, surrounded by mountains.  I hope I can post a photo soon.

I finished May Sarton's Recovering: A Journal, with dozens of pages I want to photocopy. It always amazes me how Sarton's honest rendering of her struggles with herself seem to reflect mine. And her unbridled joy at the everyday wonders of birds, flowers, the ocean, the weather, the people in her travels and her appreciation of them are so full of a vibrant enjoyment of life. Must read another soon. Pearls of wisdom abound, though she would be the first to declare she has no advice or wisdom to share.

Continued The End of the Affair--complex, fascinating, deep. I give it 5 stars. And please reflect on JoAnn's comment, that Audible's audio of the book, narrated by Colin Firth, is an excellent way to absorb this novel. I discovered that Colin Firth's narration of this book won first place at the Audies in 2011? 2012? In one of those years.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Books Update: GG Curiosity and Now Meg Wolitzer

Graham Greene's writing has me amazed. Such a complex writer portraying all sorts of ambiguities with themes that are also complex and very well executed.

I'm astounded by Greene's The End of the Affair, the intricacies of character and ideas, and I end up wondering why I haven't been reading him much before now. He has written well over a dozen of novels, as well as other novels that he calls "entertainments." Most of these are spy novels, one could say. I have one in the house that I borrowed from our library system. It is The Ministry of Fear: An Entertainment, which was originally published in 1943, when fascism was still in its heyday. (As if it isn't now, for pete's sake, the blogger says, and she doesn't mean "pete." Believe me the blogger is dealing with HIM and his ilk.)

I am so curious about Greene, based on the online biographies I've scanned, that I want to read an excellent, highly-regarded biography of him. Evidently there is a 3-volume biography, and all I have to say to that is that he did have an extraordinarily rich life--many occupations, global travels (plural), many love affairs,  and yes that conversion to Catholicism, although as one writer has commented, Greene was a "Catholic agnostic." I think I get the gist of that, having been raised in the Catholic faith though I haven't practiced since I was 19.

So, in other book news, I've just started Meg Wolitzer's The Female Persuasion, which I didn't expect to be quite the manifesto it is appearing to be. (Link is to a BookPage interview.) I'm all for it, but it is hard to read and be reminded of the all-too-real and all-too-reminscent examples of WMD--white male domination over the course of a very long life. It's hard to be reminded of all the dozens and dozens of personal experiences of being put down as an intelligent woman, of being denied opportunities,  not to mention what was way back then the unspeakable experiences of being man-handled and  assaulted for no reason at all, other than for just being alive and being very good at a job. We've all experienced it, right, in one form or another? I'm not going to pretend it didn't happen, I'm not going to pretend that it didn't affect my world view or the shaping of my entire being, OR, MOST IMPORTANTLY,  the way that I read.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Graham Greene and New Memoir, Old in Art School

I finished Time and Chance, the medieval historical by Sharon Kay Penman early this morning. During the last 30 pages, I was in awe of the writing and the care Penman took to end the novel so carefully, so "lovingly."
By "lovingly," I mean that the ending was so polished, and, in it, she handled the most important personal relationships so tenderly, so carefully, that I was in awe of her talent in rendering it so.  High marks!!

This afternoon I decided to begin Graham Greene's The End of the Affair, published in 1951 (The link leads to a long Wikipedia biography, starting with a summary of his life and work, followed by in-depth sections about his books, his writings, and his early life).

The End of the Affair begins in London, in very late December, between Christmas and New Year's, in 1945. I deliberately chose it because it is set in the same early post-war period as Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark, which I read and enjoyed within the last couple of months.

So, in a sense, The End of the Affair was contemporary English fiction for its time period, as if someone writing today had set their novel in 2012. Not long ago at all!  I've read several chapters and realize I am in the hands of an unreliable narrator. What fun. Actually, Greene has a marvelous sense of humor, among all the serious subjects he handles. More to come about Greene and the novel.

And late this afternoon, as the heat rose to 90 degrees, I turned the AC up and heaved my body onto the treadmill in the living room with a wallop. It sounds as difficult as it was, but I was determined to get my body moving somehow. Once I got going, it was not bad at all, especially because I had a new audiobook: Tah dah!
I  am in  love with Old in Art School already (The link leads to a Bookpage interview with Painter.) It is the new memoir by Nell Irvin Painter, an impeccably distinguished  historian and acclaimed writer, who, at the age of 64, decided to leave her chair at Princeton University to pursue a new undertaking. Her goal was to get a Bachelor's in Fine Arts, followed by a Masters of Fine Arts, and become a professional artist.

I am very well acquainted with Nell's academic work. She is and was an intensely dedicated historian of U.S. History, in particular, African-American women's history. When I was working in this field, particularly when writing my history of American women during the Civil War, I read all her works: books, articles, attended conferences where she lectured. She is a very, very strong, determined, impassioned individual.
So you can imagine that I really, really perked up when I discovered that Nell Irvin Painter wrote a memoir about her life as an artist. Especially because of my affinity to art. I couldn't picture her pursuing collegiate degrees in studio art, because making art is a universe away from what she accomplished in her academic career.

I listened to the first 40 pages this afternoon. Nell is the narrator, and the writing is exquisite. I MUST purchase the hardcover. She has so many, incredibly important things to say to women in their 60s (50s? 70s?) who want something more, who want to do more, to experience something beyond what they did in their earlier lives.

At a conference, I remember Nell discussing how she approaches her professional writing. She writes the first draft, then revises, she writes the second draft, and does the revision, then the third draft, and the fourth draft, and on and on! That's how this book reads and breathes. That's why I need to see this book in print. The writing is that amazing!

Best quote: A young fellow student, fresh out of high school, asked her, "Well, how old are you?"

Monday, July 2, 2018

Force of Nature by Jane Harper, Author of The Dry

As I'm sure you are able to see, I'm struggling to restore my "Blogs of Substance" blogroll. I'm laughing now, because I tried to add Katrina's "Pining for the West" blog, and it appears five times in a row! Just laughing...  I'll keep working on it!

Next up:
I really need to read Jane Harper's highly acclaimed debut novel The Dry. I really need to because I feel I could better assess Force of Nature, her second novel, to better advantage.

Jane Harper, who lives in Melbourne, Australia, writes thrillers, with psychological suspense via the viewpoint of her (fictional) member of the Federal Police in Australia, Aaron Falk.

The premise is this: A group of women and a separate group of men enter the fictional wilderness area called the  Giralang Ranges, a "bushland" area, supposedly  a half day's drive west of Melbourne, to undertake a wilderness retreat, hiking and camping, at the behest of their employer, a corporate entity, the name of which I now forget. (Note: There is an actual suburb named Giralang, it's the wilderness area that's fictional.)

This excursion is intended to foster cohesion among fellow employees of differing strata and pay grades by having them return to nature and to rely on their fellow hikers and employees in a way that will strengthen the individuals and the bonds among everyone involved. The men do fine; but with the women, five go in, but only 4 return. One woman vanishes in the middle of the night.

Review: Spoiler Alert!!
I have many bones to pick with this novel, this thriller.
I mentioned one of them--the setting--in a previous entry, when I believed that the Giralang Ranges must be a real wilderness area in New South Wales. The fact that the location is fictional has nothing to do with my dissatisfaction. I'm assuming that there are other "bushland" wilderness areas open to the public for hiking that are similar to the fictional setting, somewhere in NSW.

Next, the thriller has a very long sagging middle, when the women are trudging along, having squabbles, but not much of "thriller" caliber occurs. This goes on for most of the book. The main force of all the action and relevations occurs in the last 60 pages, and it drags out. I found this tedious.

Moving on, I'm sure my background as a state-licensed hiking guide influenced my view of the authenticity of the novel.
First of all, in this novel, there is an executive "wilderness retreats" company that sponsors wilderness experiences for corporates. 
Next, no responsible organization would send untrained individuals out into the wilderness without a trained guide and without prior training in wilderness navigation. Compass reading in conjunction with map reading, GPS technology, etc. And no one would forbid cell phones, as this company did, in the mistaken notion that phones would detract from groups forming cohesion.

So, even though this book was published in 2018, no one had GPS navigation (GPS is never mentioned in this novel, and it is not a historical), no one had a cell phone (absurd!), and no participant was recently trained in navigation technology without a GPS. (Two women had training from high school and now they were in their 40s! This, evidently, was considered acceptable by the company.)

Every single thing that happens on this wilderness trek is based on what never would have happened had proper, ordinary precautions been put in place. The executive wilderness company would have been sued and put out of business by the corporation sending its employees out there, in the event that anything negative happened.  Absolutely impossible behavior by all groups and persons involved.

In the acknowledgements, Harper thanked the Australian version of the National Park Service for their help, etc., which made it resoundingly clear to me that Harper never went out into the "bushland" herself. She would have recounted her adventure and the people guiding her if she had.

So, my conclusion is: Research Lacking and A Sagging Middle.

I still very much want to read The Dry, because of its acclaim.

Force of Nature Finished--Review in a Few Hours

Now on with Time and Chance. I have 60 pages to go, and because the print is dense in this huge hardcover, I probably won't finish today. And, frankly, I will be sorry to see it go. I will sorely miss the royal medieval world that Penman creates. Of course, eventually I will read Penman's Book 3 in the series, The Devil's Brood.

It's only about a couple of degrees hotter than yesterday, and at 3: 45 pm, it seems that we won't be hitting the temperature predicted for my GPS location, which was 94 degrees. We stand at about 91 degrees for a high today and brutal humidity.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Blogger Disappeared My Entire Blog Roll--Back Soon!!

This unfortunate event occurred at 6:30 pm, when I deleted one, just one, very inactive blog from my Blog Roll.  This one change caused the entire Blog Roll to vanish.

I will fix asap, but probably not until early tomorrow morning, July 2nd.

I apologize for Blogger's problems, which have been well noted by other users recently.

I have re-loaded a handful of blogs of substance. Please read on to other entries from  today. My apologies!! I will try to fix.

As I added 5-6 of the missing blogs, Blogger's huge problems were evident.

Sunday Reading in a Cool, Dark Room

We didn't have a single day last year that hit 90 degrees. We have not hit our forecasted high of 92. Tomorrow is supposed to be the hottest day for us in the Adirondacks, when the NWS says our location will be 94 degrees with a heat index of 99 degrees. That's nothing compared to places south of here and to the southwest.

I'm galloping through Force of Nature by Jane Harper, which I mentioned in a recent entry. Reads very quickly. And I like reading a book set in the Australian "bushland" of New South Wales. I must try to find photos of the Giralang Ranges via Google, just so I can picture the story better. Harper is vague when it comes to this spring setting--she mentions "lots of trees," "hills," and "gushing river and creeks," but since the characters are battling what nature has to throw at them, I believe it would have been much more interesting to have named and described the trees, foliage, plants, rock formations, and so on.

I'm nearly finished with Time and Chance by Sharon Kay Penman. To imagine all the risks that Henry took, in every aspect of his kingship. It leaves me breathless.

I've read 30 pages in Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past by David Reich. This is such a fascinating, provocative book. I will explain this later, but this field, actually the entire field of genetics, is changing now so quickly that by the time a book is published, it is out of date. So says David Reich about his just-published book. This is an **essential** read for any person who has any interest at all in anthropology, archaeology, genetics, genealogy, and human biology.

Oh! By the way, I have finally added the links to the books I recently purchased at Barnes and Noble, which is the subject of yesterday's post.