In the High Peaks

Friday, June 5, 2020

Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times #12

I've been terribly delayed in adding that Jack Deighton, the blogger at "A Son of the Rock," is a sci-fi author and a huge collector of science fiction and fantasy, who participated in our Bookshelf Travelling last week. I'm terribly sorry to have delayed in adding his post to our weekly mix. The photos of his shelves are so crystal-clear for browsing.

Yesterday I turned again to the shelves in our two identical oak bookcases in the living room. As I mentioned before, lots of old books by favorite authors from decades ago rest here.

This week I reminisced about how much Ken loved the work of James Clavell, especially his series of four enormous books that are sometimes called his "Asian Saga:" Tai-Pan, ShogunNoble House, and Gai-Jin that were published from the mid-1960s through the early 1990s. I never read them, but I heard from friends (and Ken, of course) that Clavell's books would keep a reader up all night. Did you read any of these? Ken has always told me I would like them. They're in excellent condition after all these years. Why not?

Until today, I did not know that Clavell, although he became an American citizen sometime in the 1960s, was actually born in Sydney, Australia in 1921.
Early in WWII he was captured by the Japanese and spent the war in Changi, a prison camp in Singapore, in which only one out of fifteen prisoners survived. He lived in England after the war for  a time, writing screenplays primarily.

His prisoner-of-war experiences formed the basis for his first novel, King Rat, which later became a film.  
Most surprising of all was my discovery that Clavell wrote, produced, and directed the enormously popular film of 1967, To Sir, with Love, starring Sidney Poitier. My friends and I saw this one numerous times.
Unfortunately, at the height of his fame as a novelist, Clavell died in 1994, age 73. I was working part-time in a bookstore at the time and we all mourned his passing.

Several years ago I was dying to read a novel by M.M. Kaye. I had never read one, and several bloggers were excitedly reading her books, and I wanted to join in. I knew I had a hardcover copy of Death in Kashmir on the living room bookshelves. (This is the first novel published of the "Death In" series.)  But do you know I searched and searched, and even though I knew what the cover looked like (black with lavender lettering), I failed to find it. Yet today--there it was sitting there. How did I miss it? So it seems that now I must read it. I have no clue whether it's a good one, it was one I picked up at a library book sale, so maybe FINALLY, I'll give it.  a go. What are your thoughts about M.M. Kaye?  Do you know her children's book The Ordinary Princess?
Re: The Link Above: A bio with a very long list of her published books. She certainly lived a long life: 1908-2004.

My final book is one I didn't even know I had.  It's The Reserve by Russell Banks, and I'm sure I picked it up because it's a novel set in the Adirondacks in the late 1930s. Its setting is a remote, isolated enclave on a large lake. From what I can tell, I believe the lake in question is likely in the northernmost Saranac Lakes region, quite a ways from where I live. In those days, and in earlier times, very wealthy New York families owned huge stretches of forest and lakes that were very private preserves, and often, interestingly enough, only accessible by boat.  The novel also takes place, but only a bit, really, "over the skies of Spain and in Fascist Germany." It's a mystery of sorts, but Banks is not a mystery author, and he is a big "theme" writer, so I think there is lots else going on.

A lot of Goodreads readers weren't keen on The Reserve, but it may be in part because his novel Cloudsplitter was extremely powerful and a blockbuster, and quite a contrast to The Reserve. Cloudsplitter is an explosive novel about the militant abolitionist John Brown, who was hanged right before the Civil War for attacking the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry, Virginia (now is part of West Virginia). He raided the arsenal to get weapons to ignite a slave insurrection. 
In earlier times, Brown and his family farmed for a number of years in a cabin very near what is now the village of Lake Placid in the Adirondacks. (It's an historic site now.) Like lots of people, the Browns were trying to farm in the Adks, because the land was so cheap, but the climate and the poor soil doomed what had started as a farming boom. The Adirondack population in those days was much greater than it is today. In the southwestern part of my town, which covers a huge area, there was an entire farming community mid-19th century. It had a one-room schoolhouse, stores, church, loads of farms, and now it is wilderness, with stone foundations and stone walls to mark where the town once stood. Abandoned. 


  1. John Brown was such an interesting character. I read the biography Patriotic Treason by Evan Carton a few years ago. It would be curious to read the novel.

    I remember when Shogun was so popular. I guess it was related to the miniseries.

    1. Hi Brian,
      Hopefully this time my reply to you will succeed. I think you would really, really like Cloudsplitter. Even if you don't read it, do look it up.
      Shogun was a very popular novel for years before the miniseries. James Clavell wrote the screenplay for the miniseries as well. As you've noted, it was extremely popular. If only I could view it, because I missed it entirely!

  2. I am a big M.M. Kaye fan although the Death In series is hard to keep straight. That is sometimes the problem with a series in which the names are so similar. I just went to check my shelf and I don't seem to own any but I read them all, to the best of my recollection.

    However, I love The Far Pavilions (and the miniseries was fabulous) and Shadow of the Moon and Trade Wind (Boston heroine) and her three-volume autobiography, which begins with The Sun in the Morning is also excellent. I really enjoy historical fiction set in India and she is definitely the queen of the genre.

    I think I picked up Shogun once, although it might have been one of his other books. I remember it being a page turner and also full of bad language. I am guessing it must have been a long time ago because I would probably barely notice the language now (although I still notice that some language is gratuitous whether I am using it or an author is!).

    I am very excited because one of my libraries did curbside pickup today! It's not that I have nothing to read, mind you, but I am excited about something new.

    1. Lucky you, with curbside pickup from the library!!! We are supposedly getting it starting June 22nd. We'll see. And yes, for me, it's all those books on hold that are waiting for me that I'm waiting for.
      I absolutely must read The Far Pavilions! Thank you for that.

  3. My mother-in-law - a huge reader - was a big fan of James Clavell's books but I have to confess to never having read one. I do remember Richard Chamberlain starring in the TV series of Shogun however.

    As to M.M. Kaye I've read the first instalment of her (three part?) autobiography, based in India, but oddly none of her fiction whatsoever. I gather her mysteries are very good.

    1. Hi Cath,
      Oh, darn! I have loved Richard Chamberlain ever since the early 1960s when he starred in Dr. Kildare! I was addicted to the re-runs as well.
      Then, oh gosh, The Thornbirds with Chamberlain. Oh--that continued my addiction. Did you see that one?
      But I never saw him in Shogun. Oh, darn! Would love to now, but not available. Drat!
      Yes, I'd love to read some of Kaye's autobio, definitely.

  4. You have introduced me to three authors. I have heard of them elsewhere, especially Clavell, but did not know much about them. It is very surprising to hear that Clavell directed To Sir With Love.

    I am eager to hear more about the book by M.M. Kaye. I remember seeing that name sometime recently but not sure where.

    The Reserve does sound very interesting. If you read it I will be interested in what you think of it.

    1. Of the three authors, I am inclined to say that knowing your reading history and your tastes, that Clavell's Asian saga would satisfy you most. Only problem, of course, is the length. They are CHUNKSTERS. Ken is averse to super-long novels, but these he gobbled up. Clavell is often touted as having a genius instinct for compelling narrative.

  5. I have a vague idea that I knew that Clavell was Australian, possibly because of the mini series and when he died. It's somewhere in the dark recesses of my mind I'm sure.

    I loved Shadow of the Moon but I am not sure how it would stand up to reread anymore.

    1. Oh, Marg--how interesting. Which mini-series did you see? I guess Shogun was the big one. Was that the one you saw? Set in Japan.

  6. I haven't read any of Clavell's books either. I loved The Far Pavilions but haven't read any of M M Kaye's Death In ... series.

    And I'm so glad I'm not the only one who can't find a book on the shelves when I know I have a copy, only to find it later on just sitting there! Odd isn't it?

    1. Hi Margaret,
      It is crazy-making to know there's a book there, then determine it's not, and then zip!--it's there again.
      I'm so glad to hear that you loved The Far Pavilions. I'm going to investigate that one. Thanks.

  7. I mean to read more Russell Banks. I loved his Lost Memory of Skin.