In the High Peaks

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

A Dystopian Novel? Now? And Other Books and Pastimes

Yes, I know--How crazy is it to pick up a dystopian novel based on the premise of a world-decimating influenza from the Republic of Georgia? Very crazy, I'll admit, but read on. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel was so highly acclaimed after its publication in 2014. It was a finalist for the National Book Award and the Pen/Faulkner Book Award. Station Eleven was also the winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Book Award and the Toronto Book Award. The novel received accolades from dozens and dozens of the best book reviewers around the world.

I bought it back in 2014 for my Nook, but never read it, yet can you believe I turned to it today, while waiting for another book to arrive?
Part of the premise of Station Eleven is little bit of a turn-off for me. The novel focuses partially on a group of troubadors, who wander from the shores of Lake Michigan to the shores of Lake Huron, (and I'm assuming Lake Ontario) to sing rock ballads and perform the plays of Shakespeare.
The world has been decimated by the "Georgian Flu," and after 20 years, life has been stripped down to its barest elements. No gasoline, no petroleum oil fuel, no electricity, no Internet, and the like. I read 50 pages this afternoon and am not yet convinced it's a great book, but I have 280 pages more to go. So it's too early to tell. 
In these times, I can't say I would recommend it to anyone, but I have a perverse trend of mind. And guess what? It's a treat because this post-apocalyptic novel reveals to me that our situation could be so much WORSE!  ha.

Okay, I promised you other books and pastimes.
Last winter I read Winter in Paradise, a wonderfully atmospheric, fun novel by Elin Hilderbrand, set on the island of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Although St. John and its better-known, larger partner island St. Thomas was decimated by two hurricanes several years ago, Hilderbrand chose her setting there to be years just prior to the hurricanes, before so many businesses were destroyed and were not able to be re-built.

Her second novel in the series, What Happens in Paradise, was published last October 2019, but I have only just purchased it for my Nook. And I'll tell you, I so enjoyed the first novel that I'll thoroughly enjoy immersing myself in the main family drama and in the lives of all of the other characters who were introduced in Winter in Paradise. Looking forward, and Note! These are both COMFORT reads. Highly recommended by yours truly.

Other pastimes: I've been having so much fun telephoning my cousins, a couple each day. What a treat! We get into family history a lot.  The latest debate: What was the severe illness that our grandmother suffered that had her sleeping on the open-air porch at the family farm during the winter of 1922? I had the facts on that one, passed down by my grandmother's sister (my great-aunt Ruth), and all three of my grandmother's daughters, including my mother. It was tuberculosis. And, my grandmother was not alone in this, but when she became pregnant with my mother in 1923, she finally, finally made a full recovery from TB. It's now known that this sometimes happens because of the vast hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy. (My grandfather's first wife died of tuberculosis after only one year of marriage. It is likely that he was a carrier and infected my grandmother, as can happen.)

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Friday Insane Bookshelf Traveling Links and How I'm Managing to Survive So Far

For lots of fun, which we all need right now, do take a moment to visit the bloggers and blogs who are unearthing and discovering  books and bookshelves in their homes each Friday (or thereabouts) for the meme "Bookshelf Traveling for Insane Times."
At my house so far, I've just been scratching the surface of my groaning and overburdened bookshelves, with many more Fridays of discovery and sharing to come. I'm finding books that I've neglected for so long that I've felt like I've been cracking open long-forgotten treasure chests.
1. Cath at readwarbler
2. Tracy at Bitter Tea and Mystery
3. Katrina at Pining for the West
4. Margaret at Books Please
And I must apologize to Margaret: I've been struggling with WordPress Saturday and today, and for some reason it's blocking me from replying to Margaret's post, which fascinates because we share a love for several authors, including Peter May. I'm going to have to call WordPress tomorrow to find out what is going on. Most strange. I'll visit soon, Margaret! Thanks to everyone for participating!

And if in these trying and absolutely insane and ridiculous times, you think you'd love to dust off the books on one of your bookshelves, (or that book pile lurking under your bed, coffee table, or desk), you can find out how to participate each Friday or weekend by visiting my initial posts about "Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times."

I don't want to belabor my survival rituals, but I just want to share that I'm doing so much better since I have stopped spending loads of time watching the news on television. I sometimes watch Governor Andrew Cuomo's daily briefings, which the New York Times has called "must-see television." Many, many New Yorkers are grateful that he is so in command right now, and is willing to tell the president exactly where the feds are falling short.

I get the news each morning by reading The New York Times on my Samsung tablet. That's enough. Psychically, for me, watching television news is very different from reading the news with no sound. I can be informed about the tragic and troubling new developments in New York State, especially downstate, but I'm not inundated with it, or overwhelmed by it.

After my cup of coffee and Samsung press briefing, I immediately launch into my household chores, which I've been doing more of. I walk the dog, I do laundry, I clean, I do dishes, I de-clutter, and when it is two o'clock, I take a deep breath and with pleasure, I retreat to my safe, cozy reading space to read, or listen to audio and knit. My safe, cozy place is so important to me now. I love my sacred space.
This structuring of my time is working for me. My anxiety has reduced, (temporarily).
Ken is preferring to watch more tv news, but that is what he has always been interested in doing.

In the evenings we watch TV--right now we've been enjoying binge-watching Grace & Frankie, starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, and Martin Sheehan and Sam Waterston. You know, the first time I watched it about three years ago, I didn't like it at all!
So what changed??? I wonder. I now love it!  I love the characters. It makes me laugh and I feel good. Maybe I needed to get three years older to appreciate it. Do you think? I do think that's it, especially because the foursome are all (supposedly) in their 70s.  No, I'm not in my 70s, but I'm closer than I was three years ago!

Friday, March 27, 2020

It's Friday: Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times Week 2

Correction: An error in my previous post. An epistolary novel,  is one that is composed of letters or correspondence among people, NOT a diary or  journals as I stated yesterday. So the David Downing novel that Ken has just finished reading followed the course of the narrator's journal or diary. I'm slipping!
Friday's Bookshelf is in a room that I call my studio. It's a room where I do art stuff (painting or dabbling in watercolors, pastels, oil pastels, colored pencils, and acrylics), sewing. It's also a place where I store supplies, books, and magazines for and about art, artists, and artwork, knitting, fabric art, sewing, and quilting.
Yet I have one large bookcase in the studio that is totally out of sync with the rest of the room. Four of the five shelves hold classic novels.

And one shelf is devoted to nonfiction about Russia, and both fiction and nonfiction about the Soviet Union. I would really like to get going reading the TBRs on this shelf. For example, I still haven't read the 300-year-history of the Romanov dynasty, published in 2016, entitled simply The Romanovs by the historian Simon Montefiore. The book was widely acclaimed by historians and general readers, and it has a 4.06 rating on Goodreads. Sitting by its side on the shelf is a book I read in 2014, The Romanov Sisters, which was spell-binding and incredibly sad, and which I wrote about here.

I'm so glad I examined this bookshelf today, because it's reminded me how much I have been wanting to read the work of Svetlana Alexievich, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2015. Alexievich is a journalist from Belarus. Her most well-known book in the West may be Voices from Chernobyl. I don't own that one, though I read it, and it was remarkable.
The book that's on my shelf is Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets: An Oral History, which was published originally in 2013, but was not translated into English and published until 2016. It chronicles the experiences of men and women from the time of the death of Stalin (1953), through the days of the fall of Soviet rule in 1991, through the days adjusting to the new regime through 2012. Many reviews and blurbs state that the book includes the people's views of life after communism, but that is not entirely accurate. The voices include many, many stories about life under Communism as well.  The book has a 4.4 rating on Goodreads, and the vast majority of reviewers gave the book 5 stars.

My last book is a novel by Ludmila Ulitskaya, The Big Green Tent, published in 2015 in the U.S., although in 2010 in Russia.  Please follow the link. I'm afraid I've run out of steam for the moment! This novel also has a high score on Goodreads. I wish I could add more info tonight.

So what was the inspiration to tackle this particular bookshelf this week?
As I think I noted in a post earlier this month, I borrowed and then purchased a book about Svetlana, the daughter of Josef Stalin. I'm still waiting for it to arrive.  THEN: I got caught up in a huge desire to read the eminent American historian Anne Applebaum's award-winning book Gulag, which relates the history of the Soviet camps from Lenin's day forwards through 1953, which was the year Stalin died and these prison//labor camps were dismantled. Actually, Applebaum does much more than relate the history. She relates the history through the scores of memoirs she has read by survivors, the interviews she conducted--this book was a monumental feat. I'm sure you will hear more. Because according to experts, the facts Applebaum uncovered in Soviet and Russian archives were not know in the West until her publication. Awesome stuff.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

A Northern Minnesota Wilderness Crime Series

NOTE: Now I know where I received the inspiration to read Iron Lake by William Kent Krueger! My mind  is slipping exponentially in these times. I was inspired by Tracy of "Bitter Tea and Mystery."  (See the "Blogs of Substance" sidebar.) Thank you, Tracy! I am loving this book.

I've started reading the first in a crime series by William Kent Krueger about the ex-sheriff Cork (Corcoran) O'Connor in the fictional northern Minnesota community of Aurora, which lies close to the actual, real-life Iron Lake in the Lake Superior National Forest. The first book is, naturally, entitled Iron Lake. I was drawn to "test-drive" this series because of its location. It's not far from Lake Superior, but it is certainly not really close either, so the attraction was wilderness initially, and as I began to read, I thrilled to the type of community that abounds in true wilderness,  though I must admit that Aurora and Iron Lake have wilderness types who are so much worse than I know of where I live. 

Cork O'Connor is half Ojibwe, and an Ojibwe reservation lies within the lands of Iron Lake. Yes, Ojibwe is a broad tribal classification, and because the name of the tribe that inhabits the reservation is very, very difficult to spell, please forgive me for naming the larger group of Native Americans to which they belong. Tension abounds between the Native American and white residents of the area, yet there are many other cross-currents that demand attention in this compelling novel.
I imagine that some of you may be well acquainted with this series. Cork O'Connor is a wonderfully complex character.  And, in fact, the edition of Iron Lake that I'm reading is its 20th anniversary edition.
Krueger has written loads of books and has received numerous awards. I'm certainly thrilling to this one.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Amazon Belly Flops Again--Want a Book, Go Elsewhere

On March 17th, Amazon made its first announcement that it would, for the unforseeable future, prioritize its sales of household supplies, grocery items, pharmacy items, etc. Amazon also stated that the company was planning to add 100,000 workers to its forces to cope with the huge demand for household supplies.  (I don't know, but that's what Amazon said it planned to do--no time frame was indicated in its reports to the press.) All to get that toilet paper out there! As Governor Andrew Cuomo said  about hoarding on Saturday in his daily public press briefing, "Do you really need 100 rolls of toilet paper?"

So where are books and readers in Amazon's grand emergency plan? Where are children and families needing books, games, and other forms of educational materials and entertainment during this time of isolation?
Ebooks on Kindle devices will continue to be sold and delivered immediately.
Print books will NOT be prioritized by Amazon.
If you want a hard-copy paperback or hardcover book, you will not receive your book until April 22nd if you order today, Sunday, March 22nd. And, note this: The small type printed under this information states that if you do not receive your book by this date, Amazon will be willing to refund you, as a credit to future purchases. In other words, you may not get your book by April 22nd, yet Amazon will have had your money for one month.

For many book publishers, this is disastrous. Most of the books sold in this country are sold on Amazon. The big five publishers (who have only very recently become the big 4 publishers after the sale of Simon & Schuster) have contracts with Amazon, so their losses will not be as colossal as they will for all the other publishers, the independent publishers, of which there are thousands. These indies do not have the contracts, yet they rely on Amazon for most of their sales.

I would imagine that Amazon's decision is pure music to Barnes and Noble, the second-largest bookseller in the country. Barnes & Noble has been in dire financial straits for years now, but if you order a hardcover or paperback with them tonight, it will arrive Friday, March 27th.  March 27 vs. April 22, that's a no-brainer.

And, of course, for those of you who have local bookstores near you, by all means order your books from them. That process will deliver the books you want to read. My nearest independent is 60 miles from my home, so even though I visit very occasionally, it's not an option for the most part.

So what is Amazon doing? I don't think it's a stretch to believe that they're seeing this pandemic as a  huge opportunity. It's not far-fetched to think that they're trying to overwhelm Walmart, Target, and the big supermarket chains. Recruiting 100,000 new workers?

It's very, very hard to remember that Amazon started as an online bookseller, pure and simple. That was back in the mid-late 1990s.
Information gathered from Publishers Weekly magazine,, and other press outlets.

Friday, March 20, 2020

It's Friday--Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times Has Arrived

Please note: I composed this post between 5:15  and 6:30 EDT, and for the last half of that time Blogger was giving me fits. More info has been added and I will add more on Saturday. Maybe lots of people are blogging!!

Yet another topsy-turvy day in New York State. Every day brings new restrictions, but I'm in full agreement that they're necessary, though I feel badly for anyone who must suffer one way or another as a result.
Our local businesses struggle in the best of times, largely because we don't have tourism 12 months of the year.  We've just entered one of our leanest times (from the end of skiing until June). So last night we got take-out from our favorite restaurant that normally only serves in house. And that take-out includes alcoholic beverages! Restaurants are temporarily permitted to sell all alcohol on a take-out basis, including spirits. Never thought I'd see the day, but Governor Cuomo is trying to do everything possible to mitigate the losses the restaurants and pubs will suffer. So in addition to our meals, we ordered carry-out draught beer and I decided to get some Amaretto DiSaronno,  just because I could. We'll keep patronizing our favorites because we would hate to lose them.

Now for the MEME.
I have 3 separate one-foot-high stacks of books that prevent me from opening the bottom drawer of a tall bureau in my bedroom. This bottom drawer holds summer clothing, so I'm good for now.
Today at the bottom of one stack I uncovered The Overstory by Richard Powers. Because this novel depicts the inter-connected experiences of nine Americans with trees (and forests), I was immediately interested in it, though I haven't read it yet. Since we moved to the Adirondacks, I have become a tree nut. A bona fide tree-hugger, in fact. And I study trees, observe them endlessly, especially the trees in the forests I roam.
The Overstory was published in 2018, and was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize in that year (the link is to a BBC interview). And in the spring of 2019, it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.  Reviews from readers are mixed. Outdoor people, environmentalists, and forest nuts like me are wild for it, while others don't like it at all. I hope to read it this spring. Evidently, Powers was inspired to write it after his encounters with redwoods in California.

Another surprise in the stacks was Arthur Conan Doyle: His Life in Letters. I found this lovely hardcover edition at a library book sale and paid just a dollar. I haven't read it, and as I paged through it today and read the introduction, it seems that many of the letters were written to his mother throughout his life. Evidently Mary Foley Doyle was full of stories herself, a creative person, who encouraged Doyle throughout his literary career until her death. ACD often noted that her gift for story-telling was passed on to him, that some of her stories made his hair stand on end, and that she was influential to his work always.

My final discovery for this evening is Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder, which was so carefully produced by the Kansas Historical Society. Blogger has been having fits for the past ten minutes. I'm going to close, and I'll add more info tomorrow. To all a good night!

Thursday, March 19, 2020

The New Friday Meme: A Bit More Info

If you missed my Wednesday night post announcing my new Friday meme concept, you can scroll down to read all about it or follow this link. It will help you understand the silliness that follows. I've designed the meme to be very open-ended, so that bloggers and readers can participate and follow their fancy.

Yes, we are missing a name for the Friday Meme at Reader in the Wilderness. The names that have popped to mind have made me laugh at my absurdity. I will share them, but please, if a good name pops into your brain, do let me know. In general I think most bloggers who sponsor memes have been very clever naming them, and I wonder why I'm having so much trouble.

OKAY. The first two names I came up with made me laugh hysterically.  "Shelves for Sanity." OR  "Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times."   (Actually, I kind of like the latter.)
I then listed all the concepts involved in the meme.
1. Home.
2. Books in the home.
3. Touring books in the home.
4. Books organized or not organized on shelves, in bookcases, in stacks, or heaped in a helter-skelter fashion on any surface, including the floor, the top of the piano, etc.
5. Talking about books and reading experiences from the past, present, or future.
6. Two more dimwitted names: "Adventures Touring My Book Shelves."  Or "Bookshelf Adventures."
7. Which brings me back to what I think is my favorite "Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times." Does it need a tweak? Any suggestions? I would welcome them.

Oh, gosh, and I need to find a photo. That's next!

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

A Friday Meme for These Challenging Times--Do Weigh In!

Here in New York State, as is true throughout most of the Northeast, we are pretty much on lockdown as I mentioned in Monday's blog post. No libraries for five weeks. No nothin'! But, we are lucky, because we have literally TONS of books that we have always meant to have read but haven't yet. Virtual books crowding every room in the house and ebooks.

I'd like to suggest a Friday Meme, for those of you who may be interested. So far my idea for a Friday meme is in its rough stages. I don't have a name for it yet. (I hope I will by tomorrow, Thursday.) But my idea is as follows:
This meme involves books that are currently in your house or apartment or the abode where you reside. The books do not have to belong to you necessarily. Please give me your thoughts about the following:

1. For each Friday post in the coming weeks while we endure the impossible, select a book shelf, or maybe two shelves, or a bookcase, or maybe a pile of books standing high upon the floor of your bedroom or living room. Or select any other random selection of books. Please don't be hemmed in by spatial constraints or parameters. Do it your way by all means!

2. From that shelf or bookshelves, choose a number of books that you would like to share with us whether you have read them or not. Some of them you may have read long ago and would like to revisit in memory or revisit the experience and time and place of reading the book. If you wish you could share a bit about what you liked or disliked or whatever else you would like to say.
Or select books you hope to read in the future and tell us about a few of them, as many as you like. And do this however you like. Jumble it up however you like.

3. If you'd like and if you're able to, share a photo of either the books, the shelf, the shelves, or whatever you'd like, but this is just a suggestion.

4. Feel free to ruminate and ramble in your discussions, because this is strictly for FUN, and I hope to have a lot of fun when I participate. Do delve into the shelves of your significant others, if that sounds like fun.

5. If you can't do it on a Friday, please feel free to participate on Saturday, Sunday, or Thursday.

Please let me know if this sort of meme interests you.

Monday, March 16, 2020

A Great Time for Books

Well, at least I can say it's a great time for getting lost in books. All of our social activities have shut down. No restaurant meals or pubs open anywhere in New York State--take-out only. I'm sure you're facing similar encumbrances, and do tell. No libraries, no YMCA and pickle ball for Ken. The only things open are grocery stores, gas stations, medical facilities, and... I think that's it. 

So we're about to set up a new, hopefully sustaining, hopefully temporary lifestyle during this difficult time. We'll engage in outdoor work (always too much of that), reading, jigsaw puzzles (which we rarely have time for), card games, and PBS programs via PBS Passport, then Netflix, and Amazon Prime. We're very lucky and we'll be fine. I do feel for parents who have children at home now for five weeks. We don't have any children in our neighborhood, but I do wish them all well.

After hiking with Sandy all over hither and yon all of this morning, she and I settled down in the afternoon to read. I've got just a hundred pages to go with The Dutch House by Ann Patchett, which I'm enjoying thoroughly. I finished Bleaker House by Nell Stevens, the memoir of her time in the Falkland Islands in winter, which I'm so glad to have read. 

And I've been enraptured by 44 Charles Street by Danielle Steel, which I'm now halfway through. I'm still trying to figure out Steel's winning combination of elements. While there are plenty of dramatic features and conflicts, there is also plenty of cozy fantasy. The titles I've been most drawn to have often involved a fascinating house with lots of history. And her scenes permit the reader to imagine being within the scenes with the characters.
I'm going to be very sorry when 44 Charles Street ends. Francesca's home is a good-sized brownstone in Manhattan, and she, a woman in her mid-30s, owns an  art gallery. She used to own it with her partner of five years, who decides to leave her, the gallery, and who returns to being a Wall Street lawyer before their break-up. And because Francesca loves the house, which she can no longer afford on her own by any stretch, she acquires  three roommates--a young 23-year-old teacher of autistic children, an architect and single dad with a 7-year-old son, and a 59-year-old famed cookbook author and widow from Vermont. They start out as mere tenants and landlord, and become, through fascinating trials and tribulations, a family of sorts. The time speeds by while I listen.

I know I promised you some book-binge purchasing, but I haven't done it yet. More to come?? Do weigh in and let us know how you're faring.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Svetlana Alliluyeva, Stalin's Daughter and Book-Buying Binges

Actually, I am planning a smattering of binge purchases in the near future.
Independent bookstores have reminded consumers that they will be the hardest hit purveyors of books during the current crisis. Makes sense. As a  result, I will order some books from my favorite independent bookseller in Lake Placid, New York. Tourism is down everywhere, and Lake Placid is deeply influenced by that market. And they are a wonderful store, with an incredibly knowledgeable staff. I hate to think of them taking a hit. I think I'll give them a call tomorrow. If you're able, do give your local bookseller a call or a visit.

When I received an email from the New York Public Library that they are closing tonight for the indefinite future(!), I imagined hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers all clamoring to borrow their ebooks online, and since that is one important source of the books I read, I immediately went online and ransacked the list of books I've been dying to read and managed to borrow two of them. So far I've borrowed Red Daughter by John Burnham Schwartz (2019), which is a novel about Stalin's daughter, Svetlana Alliluyeva. Then I discovered on Wikipedia, that a comprehensive, authoritative biography of Alliluyeva was published in 2015. So I have just returned from the NYPL website where I borrowed Stalin's Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva, by Rosemary Sullivan, which is over 700 pages. Whew!  I think I'll be happier overall with the biography, because from what I've read, the novel is largely fictionalized. I'll return that tomorrow. As some of us slightly older folks may remember, Alliluyeva defected to the U.S. in 1967, in the deep, dark winter of the Cold War. How well I remember the stir that caused!

I spent three hours this afternoon reading Bleaker House, which I've mentioned  in my previous post, and then  listening to 44 Charles Street by none other than Danielle Steel, which I'm enjoying immensely, while knitting. This is not a recent Steel title. I've had it in my queue on Audible since the beginning of time. And I will repeat that 1) when I'm knitting, a carefully chosen Steel novel is an excellent novel, because information tends to repeat, and 2) they most often portray fiercely independent female protagonists and tell a story that combines a struggle to succeed, with some romance, but the romance never supersedes the woman's desire to succeed. I think some readers have under-rated her, truly. I'm careful about the titles I select, but she is very far from being a fluff romance author.

***While I was writing this post, during the actual time it took to write it, our wonderful Hyde Collection Museum and my beloved Crandall Public Library has closed its doors for the forseeable future  with no end date. This hit Ken and me hard, very hard. Things are closing down. I do expect it will be for the better good, but it's difficult for all of us on the planet  regardless.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Current Fun and Inspiring Reads

I'm glad to say that I'm reading much, much more than during my long dry spell, and am enjoying myself thoroughly.
I'm having to walk Sandy 4 plus miles on the days that the roads are not pure mud. I must get up very, very  early, choke down some coffee and half and half, and lunge forth with my canine companion before the sun rises too high and and the mud seeps. Steep uphills followed by steep downhills, and up and down we go. I have a good-sized breakfast when we return, then we stretch and stretch, and then read and read for hours and hours. Not much else is getting done.
Okay, the reading life.

I am halfway through a wonderful travel memoir written by a young English woman, a writer, who spent six weeks in the Falkland Islands in winter. (Half of June, July, and early August). Bleaker House: Chasing My Novel to the End of the World by Nell Stevens relates the story of a twentyish woman who completes an MFA program in Boston, and who then is awarded a 3-month travel fellowship at the end of her studies. She decides to travel to the most remote location she can think of because she is convinced that this is what her wayward soul needs above all else to focus on writing and completing  a novel.
If you've been curious about the Falkland Islands, if you wonder what  it would be like to live alone, I mean ALONE, on one  of the islands in the Falkland archipelago, then this is your book. It is at times humorous, at other times mildly serious, and at all times very entertaining, as well as being  informative about this location. I'm halfway through, and I'm  loving it. How will Nell survive??

The novel I'm glued to at the moment is The Dutch House by Ann Patchett. I've been deeply affected by this novel, and think it is superb. I'm gripped by it, though I hesitate to say too much about it because  I am just over a third of the way through. But so much has happened. I highly recommend thus far. For more info, follow the link. I feel most closely aligned to what The Guardian has to say about it.

Monday, March 9, 2020

WHO Decides Who Gets to Be Published? Part One

My mind has been unsettled in 2020 for many reasons. And when I speak,  I hope that readers will realize that I express my viewpoint only, and that although I try to be mindful of all the facts, that some might not be in my hand. I totally welcome your viewpoints and hope you will express them.

I have had severe misgivings about some of the public opinion regarding the publication of American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. But I will say for now, that as a writer and as a person who has tried and tried to write fiction, it has been hard for me to hear from some critics that only people with "authentic voices" can and should write novels like American Dirt, and certainly not a white writer like Cummins. A white writer should not write a novel about a Mexican woman and her child and their descent into hell as they struggle to escape drug cartel violence and migrate to the U.S.
This book was an Oprah pick before all the voices erupted, and I have to applaud Oprah for sticking by her choice of this novel. Cummins researched her novel for five years. Does this make her an "authentic voice?" No, of course not. But here's the hitch: There is not currently an authentic voice writing fiction about the Mexican migrant experience at this time. Does this woman who spent five years researching her fiction deserve to be silenced? I certainly hope not!
There is so much more to say about this topic. But my greatest concern is that in the future only those who have the "authentic voice" will be able to write about any group of people--a dangerous precedent.
We might end by saying, "Exactly what is fiction? And who should write it?" I have so much more to say about this topic, but naturally I need to do research first.

Part One:
Sorry to be putting Part One last. But I am saddened that Hachette Publishing (one of the big 5 publishing conglomerates) decided late last week NOT to publish a work they had acquired quite some time ago. This is, of course, Woody Allen's memoir Apropos of Nothing, which was scheduled to be released on April 7th.   You know? Yikes--I'm supposed to be cooking dinner right this minute, so I must postpone this discussion until tomorrow. How perfectly wretched. I am sorry.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Reading Going Well & A World War II Authentic Memoir

Despite my mud misery, I am very happy to say that my reading has improved, that is, my reading stickability. I'm reading now several hours per day, day by day. Really, it's pure escape, but it feels so good.  I am on the verge of finishing both the thriller discussed in my last post and Falling by Elizabeth Jane Howard. Should finish up with both tomorrow, I expect. Then onward!

I feel emboldened. Do I dare start Barchester Towers? Or maybe Agents in the Field by John Le Carre?

About three or maybe four posts ago, I bemoaned the lack of historical accuracy in Kate Quinn's The Huntress, which is fiction, yes. But I still assert that authors of historical fiction owe it to their readers to research thoroughly and get their work vetted by experts.
And yes, let's not forget the many memoirs written by men and women who experienced World War II firsthand, for their immediacy and authenticity.

A newly published,  authentic work set during World War II is the memoir, A Bookshop in Berlin: The Rediscovered Memoir of One Woman's Harrowing Escape from the Nazis (Dec. 2019) by Francoise Frenkel (not the author's title).  Frenkel wrote this memoir of her life covering her experiences  from the 1920s through WWII, which she recorded immediately after she escaped to Switzerland from France, before the war had ended. And her memoir was published in Switzerland in September 1945, in a small printing. Her husband, who shared ownership of the bookstore with her in Berlin, had successfully escaped to France with her, but later was sent to Auschwitz, where he was killed. Historical research tells us this much. Yet, surprisingly, in the memoir, Francoise makes no mention of her husband whatsoever. Yet her escape, and her continued, escapes from the Nazis after her husband was deported, makes this an important testament. 

Monday, March 2, 2020

MUD Season and So Grateful--A Page-Turner Thriller

MUD Season has settled in super-early and full-time this week, and there's no end in sight because early springtime temps will make everything a mess, and we have so much snow to melt. Walking Sandy on our muddy dirt road? Yes, but a bath everyday is not possible, so we try the damp toweling method.
I love winter, and I'm sad that this one is ending prematurely. I am trying hard not to feel cheated, or to be defeated by the mud.

I've been so grateful that a thriller has grabbed me tight and won't let me go during this depressing weather. It is Kimberly McReight's Where They Found Her. I'm more than halfway now, and I've been impressed at how McReight  has so well brought to life the inner emotional worlds of her main characters. This is precisely what makes me turn the pages. A young married woman, a journalist with a husband and young child, is assigned to investigate a story of a dead infant found abandoned in a small town northwest of NYC. The presenting situation is that Molly experienced a stillborn birth just over a year ago. Loads of additional complications and complicated characters. Very, very well done, and you know I rarely say this about a thriller. This is the best thriller I've read since January 2018. Most disappoint, it's true. Kimberly McReight has received accolades and a number of awards for her books. Check out her website.