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Archive for April, 2013

What a lazy weekend with Himself gone most of the time and Eldest off at a brewfest for three days. The calm before the storm as Youngest flies home this Thursday – I don’t know who will be more excited – me, the sheepdog (who likes all her ducks – or family members – in a row), or the cat who feels Youngest exists to serve. I have managed to spend some time this weekend reading. I was going to start Friday but took a detour to see Mud with Matthew McConaughey which was very good and highly recommended. I finished By a Slow River by Philippe Claudel (better known for Monsieur Linh and His Child). I really liked it and will look for more by this French author. And I am a good way through The Light of Amsterdam by David Park. This one isn’t thrilling me a great deal but I will finish it.

Here is what caught my interest:

Last week I mentioned Balzac’s Omelet: A Delicious Tour of French Food and Culture with Honore de Balzac by Anka Muhlstein. She has also written a book called Monsieur Proust’s Library also mentioned by Tom of A Common Reader.  This time Muhlstein explores books Proust read as well as books he places in his character’s hands. I have always had an antipathy to Proust. My mother, long ago, gave me a set of Remembrance of Things Past in hopes that I would read it and one year, for Mother’s Day, I did start. Just couldn’t do it. Perhaps this book is a way to get my foot into the door.

On the subject of writer’s lives – two of my friends have read and enjoyed Shakespeare’s Tremor and Orwell’s Cough: The Medical Lives of Famous Writers by John Ross. And it does sound quite fascinating. Dr, Ross is both a practicing Physician and an Assistant Professor at the Harvard School of Medicine. He looks at the lives of various authors (Shakespeare, Milton, the Brontes, Orwell, Joyce, Yeats, Melville, Hawthorne, among others) from a medical perspective. I can picture my grandmother really enjoying reading this book and I am thinking I should read it in her honor.

I saw more than one review of Mr. Churchill’s Secretary by Susan Elia MacNea, the first in a series of new mysteries featuring Maggie Hope – an extremely intelligent young British citizen raised by her lesbian aunt in America including this on by A Guy’s Moleskin Notebook. The only work Maggie can find is as a typist at 10 Downing Street replacing a murdered secretary in the days leading up to the war. Amazon says that this series will appeal to “fans of Jacqueline Winspear, Laurie R. King, and Anne Perry.” I like that the reader has to figure out Maggie’s past, deal with the murder, as well as all the complications of a nation heading into war with different political factions jockeying for position.

Caribou’s Mom listed a while stack of books she was considering for a read-a-thon, many of which look well worth the time to check them out. One of the stack that really caught my eye was a book of short stories by William Lychack entitled The Architect of Flowers. The thirteen stories speak of small actions in everyday lives. The Quivering Pen writes, “Lychack’s strength lies in his ability to render details in language so precise—at once familiar and fresh—that the stories demand multiple re-reads just to savor the gorgeous flavor of the words”.  Lychack, a Vermont author, also has a novel that sounds interesting called The Wasp Eater the story of a 10 year-old-boy desperately trying to reconcile his parents. Many of the reviews I read of Lychack’s work speak of his lyrical or poetical writing style – just the way I like them.

Happy Reading!

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This was one of those weeks I am glad has ended. I did finish Life Among Giants by Bill Roorbach – still not sure how I feel about it. But other than that there was not much to celebrate. In addition to all the turmoil and troubles in both Boston and Texas, some things have happened closer to home that took their tolls. A friend of Himself lost his 23 year old son suddenly due to an aneurism. This young man just starting his adult life is the same age as eldest and so it hit both of us really hard. And we are desperately missing youngest who luckily for us be home in less then two weeks. And the cancers surrounding us seem to have grown exponentially with two friends moving into the seriously dangerous category. Either there is something in the environment or Himself and I have finally reached the age where we will just have to face more of this awful disease. Meanwhile we have pouring rain today but the tulips Himself bought for me yesterday on our way home from the funeral are blooming on the kitchen counter and eldest has hung out on the couch with me keeping the cat company. “Hug your kids” and “cherish the moments” have become almost cliches in today’s world – however, they do seem to be appropriate responses after this week.

Here is what caught my interest this week:

Women seemed to be the focus of my interest this week starting with Mad, Bad, & Sad: A History of Women and the Mind Doctors by Lisa Appignanesi reviewed by Still Life with Books. The author covers the history of mental illness and women in the last two centuries utilizing the stories of women in both the literary and feminist  arenas.  She starts with the case of Mary Lamb (sister of Charles) and moves forward in time discussing the ever-evolving notions of the mind and how it works.

I really enjoyed The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett (the story of Queen Elizabeth II and her growing obsession with reading) so I was please to see a review of a similar book, Mrs. Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn on A Guy’s Moleskin Notebook. Kuhn allows his character of Queen Elizabeth to reflect on her life and the restrictions of being a royal. Seeking a bit of adventure and relief from her daily routine, the Queen slips out of Buckingham Place and boards a train for Scotland.

Lakeside Musing reviews Angela Thirkell’s second novel High Rising (1933). Thirkell wrote several novels and her second novel is set in the pre-war English countryside and Joann writes, “Reading High Rising reminded me of  Barbara Pym minus the clergy – a perfect comfort read!” A somewhat disheveled widow with several sons writes novels to support the family and does so with the help of a secretary, a selfless young woman caring for her mother. Enter in a gold-digger, a country doctor, an eight-year old boy obsessed with trains, and you have a plot that sounds like a great read.

Finally the Pulitzer Prizes were announced this week:

Fiction – The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson is set in North Korea. Johnson became interested in North Korea while looking at the effects of propaganda. Using the life of Jun Do, who was raised in an orphanage as the son of its master, Johnson paints a picture of a reclusive nation and the people who live there. Caribou’s Mom speaks of the book saying, “The Orphan Master’s Son is a dense and complex novel that deserves more than one reading.”

Non-Fiction – Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America by Gilbert King. This must be something to beat out Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo (which is generally raved about). King’s work chronicles a racial incident in a small Florida town in 1949 and Thurgood Marshall’s involvement in the case. The Legal Legacy blog writes, “This masterful and riveting non-fiction book is about some of the bravest men in the history of this country…This is a book that should be required reading. This horrifying, edge-of-your-seat tale really happened, and not that long ago. Its repercussions helped make the country what it is today. King, who unearthed FBI files that were under seal for sixty years, has done an outstanding job in telling this story which manages to be heart-breaking, inspiring, infuriating, and admirable all at once.”

Biography – The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss. The novelist Alexandre Dumas is well known for his novels such as The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers. What isn’t know is how he was inspired by his father’s life as a black slave, a sword-fighting member of French aristocracy and leader of armies. Devourer of Books writes, “If you have even the vaguest interest in Alexandre Dumas, the French Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte, or the history of slavery and race relations, The Black Count is a must-read. Highly recommended.'”

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The dog is curled up on the couch, the cat is complaining about the weather, Eldest is downstairs with friends, and himself is at a rocket launch. It would be a perfect Sunday if I just had a little more time to read. I spent a couple of days away from home this week going to Seattle for some shopping and a friend’s appointment. That all put me behind as well as eating into what little time I had to read. My book group did have a good discussion about the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society mainly focused on book publicity and what makes a best-seller a best-seller. And I did get a few more pages read in The Translation of the Bones and hope to finish it this week.

Here is what caught my interest this week:

One of the actors I remember from my youth is Dirk Bograde. While his films didn’t stick in my mind (aside from A Bridge too Far) he was someone always on the edges. What I didn’t know was that he was also an author, of both novels and memoir. Fleur Fisher reviews one of his early memoirs, Great Meadow: An Evocation. From 1927-1934 Bogarde lived in a remote cottage on the Sussex Downs with his sister and a nanny. The slim book offers the reader a look at a past time, before the world changed – a boy’s recollection filtered through an adult’s sensibilities.

I have mentioned before my affection for Honore de Balzac and Tom, of A Common Reader, reviews a wonderful book called Balzac’s Omelet: A Delicious Tour of French Food and Culture with Honore de Balzac by Anka Muhlstein. What could be better than a look at all that is wonderful about France through the eyes of one of my favorite authors.

My cat had a hard day today as there were murderers in the house. That meant he had to spend the afternoon hiding in my closet after spending a morning fussing at eldest and I about his dissatisfaction with the weather, the lack of attention he was getting, the amount of attention the dog was getting, etc. Needless to say I love speculating about how my cat sees the world. Lucky for me, Diane of Bibliophile by the Sea, highlights the first paragraphs of Chinese Whiskers by Pallavi Aiyar, the story of contemporary Beijing through the eyes two cats. The opening section definitely has me putting this book on the list.

On the subject of cats, my mom and I were recalling the story of our Siamese, Dewey, who became lost shortly after she moved. My mother and her dog would walk in every larger circles around the neighborhood calling and eventually found Dewey, who in true cat fashion, chastised them both for not being where the cat needed them to be. Diane (Bibliophile by the Sea), who must be in the midst of a cat-read-a-thon, gives me a book just published this month – Lost Cat: A True Story of Love, Desperation, and GPS Technology by Caroline Paul. This is a true story of Paul’s lost and found cat. Wondering about where the cat has been Caroline and her partner Wendy MacNaughton (the illustrator of the book) attach at tiny GPS unit to the cat’s collar and do a little investigating.

Finally, Leeswammes, on her anniversary post, reminds me of her list of Dystopia Fiction for Adults and for those of you who regularly reread Jane Austin (including myself and other members of my family) an article for you in Slate Magazine

Happy Reading!

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graves From Three Graves Full by Jamie Mason

Just as Jason Getty is getting somewhat used to the fact there is a dead body buried on his property, a body he is responsible for – the police find two other bodies; bodies that Jason is definitely not responsible for. Not a traditional mystery  by any means – with bodies appearing everywhere, an author’s wicked sense of humor, a woman wanting to see things for herself, and a meek man with chaos raining in his yard (not to mention a wonderful dog) – this debut was a fun read.

There is very little peace for a man with a body buried in his backyard. Jason Getty had grown accustomed to the strangling night terrors, the randomly prickling palms, the bright,aching surges of adrenaline at the sight of Mrs. Truesdell’s dog trotting across the lawn with some unidentifiable thing clamped in its jaws. It had been seventeen months since he’d sweated over the narrow trench he’s carved at the back border of his property; since he’d rolled the body out of the real world and into his dreams.

Strangely though, it wasn’t recalling the muffled crunch of bone that plagued him, nor the memory of the cleaning afterward, hours of it, all the while marveling that his heart could pound that hard for that long. No, it was the first shovelful of dark dirt spraying across the white sheet at the bottom of the grave that came to him every time he closed his eyes to sleep. Was it deep enough? He didn’t know – he wasn’t a gravedigger. Ten again, in his mind he wasn’t a murderer either, but facts are facts.

No disaster can stay shiny and new forever. No worry has ever been invented that the mind can’t bully down into mere background noise. For the first few days and weeks, Jason thought of nothing else. Every night, sometimes twice a night (and one fretful night, the first time it rained, it was six times), he slipped through the shadows to the margin of evergreen and poplar that marked the end of his acreage to check and recheck the integrity of his secret. To his eyes, the irregular rectangle of disturbed earth might as well have been bordered in neon. It was a gaudy exhibit to the barbaric instinct that lay curled at the core of every tamed human brain. Evolution has brought us out of the trees, then culture had neutered the beast, but even a eunuch can get angry. (pages 1-2)

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All Men Are Liars

liarsFrankly, I’m the last person you should be asking about Alejandro Bevilacqua. What can I tell you, my dear Terradillos, about someone I haven’t seen in thirty years? I mean, I hardly knew him, or if I did, then it was only very vaguely. to be honest, I didn;t want to know him any better. Or rather: I did know him well – I admit that now – but only in a distracted sort of way – reluctantly, as it were. Our relationship (for want of a better word) had an element of courteous formality to it, as well as that conventional nostalgia shared among expatriates. I don;t know if you understand. Fate threw us together, so to speak, and if you asked me now, hand on heart, if we were friends, I would have to confess that we had nothing in common, apart from the words Republica Argentina stamped in gold letters on our passports. (pages 1-2)

One of the first reading bloggers I found was Tom of a Common Reader and his review of All Men are Liars by Alberto Manguel was one of the first of many that caught my attention. It is always nice to come across someone who has similar reading interests to your own. The thing about to-be-read lists is that they are fluid. They are added to as you come across new books and deleted from as you read or as your tastes change. All Men are Liars has always remained fairly close to the top of my alphabetized list but I haven’t come across it until now when it appeared on the New Book Shelf at the library. I snatched it up and savored every word.

Manguel is Argentinian by birth but raised in Israel (his father was an ambassador). He spent time in Brazil but most of his adult life has been spent in Europe or Canada. Mainly known for his edition anthologies and his non-fiction work about reading and its role and importance in our lives, Manguel also has a deft hand at fiction and All Men are Liars is certainly no exception.

Alejandro Bevilacqua is an Argentinian exile living in 1970’s Madrid surrounded by other expatriates, all of whom are involved in literature in some way or another. When Bevilacqua’s girlfriend finds a manuscript in his possession titled In Praise of Lying, she is taken with its narrative power and has it published as a surprise. Soon afterward, Bevilacqua is found dead, his death ruled as a suicide. Several years later, a journalist named Terradillos is seeking to find out what happened.

The book consists of four narratives and an “epilogue” written by the journalist. The first  section is an interview of a fellow Argentinian expatriate writer named Alberto Manguel who tells of what he knows of Bevilacqua, his early life, his first love, his arrest and torture. Manguel’s account sounds very plausible and it is easy for the reader to accept what he is saying. Except for brief mentions of lying, plausibility, and implausibility which may give you slight pause and then you read the other three accounts. Each person has their own perspective, their own encounters with Bevilacqua. So each account, differs in both small and large details and the reader is left to determine for themselves what happened to Bevilacqua and the story behind In Praise of Lying.

Beyond the narrative puzzle, the author weaves an evocative picture of Argentina – its land and its people, the streets of Buenos Aries, the terror and poignancy of its troubled time. The author also weaves in and out of the narrative, the power of writing and reading, once again showing the world how much Manguel understands the connection between the written world and the people who read.

I did not take any notes when I read this book – I was too into it and wanted to savor the reading in total concentration. And while I did check this book out of the library, I plan on buying my own copy. It is a book I will want to reread again, one I want in my library.

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The strawberries are all transplanted and the five raised garden beds have been made and placed in the garden. They just need to fill with dirt but I was hit by a small bout of illness and yucky weather so that task remains for next week. I did rearrange all my cupboards in the kitchen all of which will thoroughly confuse everyone but it was extremely soul satisfying.

I finished Three Graves Full by Jamie Mason, and All Men are Liars by Alberto Manguel (loved it) and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Shaffer and Barrows (a re-read for book group). I also tried to read The Lighthouse by Alison Moore and found it very difficult to get into. I have to return it to the library tomorrow and I am wondering if it is worth checking it out again at some point and trying to finish it. Any opinions? If it gets better or is worth reading, I am willing to try but as of now I am on the fence for this one.

Here is what caught my interest this week:

Leanne Shapton is a Canadian artist and graphic novelist, a genre that I am not particularly interested in. However, The Book Snob reviewed her memoir Swimming Studies which seems to go beyond a simple memoir – rather it is, as described by Book Snob, “series of essays, interspersed with artwork and photography, are on an eclectic mix of topics and move from childhood memories to her modern-day existence as a late thirty something artist living in New York. All are connected by her obsession with swimming and the hold it continues to have on her thought processes and interests.” I was so interested in Shapton after reading the review, that I looked her up and I also want to read her book Important Artifacts and Personal Property From the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion and Jewelry. This book is in the form of an auction catalog and the reader has to discern the couple’s relationship and subsequent break-up through the photographs and captions of their various belongings. Shapton seems so interesting and different in her approach to the written word that both of these works are going on the list.

Danielle of A Work in Progress brings another memoir to my attention, Paula Fox’s Borrowed Finery. Fox, born in 1923, is perhaps better known for her children’s work (she won a Newbery Medal for The Slave Dancer) but she also wrote adult fiction. She was rejected by her mother and shuttled between relatives and friends. The title “refers to the lack of permanency in her life growing up.” Danielle points out that this isn’t a “misery” memoir, rather it is an examination of a life without roots. What I find really interesting is that Paula, who gave up her daughter for adoption, is (according to Wikipedia), the grandmother of Courtney Love.

Beauty is a Sleeping Cat reviews a book by Timothy Findley, a Canadian author described on the back of the book as Canada’s greatest living writer. Her copy of the book, The Wars, was written in 2001 and Findley died in 2002. He is another author I have never heard of and he has a wide range of work including drama. memoir, short story and ten novels. The Wars, about a young Canadian officer in World War I, is not readily available in the United States but Findley’s later novel, Pilgrim is available. Pilgrim attempts to kill himself but is unsuccessful. He is brought to Carl Jung’s clinic in Switzerland. Pilgrim is an immortal and tells his story to Jung who sees the story as a delusion. Having grown up hearing about Jung and his theory of the Collective Unconsciousness, I can’t wait to get my hands on this book.

I just heard that Elizabeth Jane Howard is going to come out with a fifth book in her Cazalet Chronicles taking the family up through the 50’s. Since I will have to wait awhile for it to be published in the United States, I may have to find another family chronicle to read and Kevin from Canada reviews British author Gerald Woodword’s second novel in his trilogy about the Jones family. I’ll Go to Bed at Noon was short-listed for the 2004 Man Booker Prize, however Kevin does recommend that a reader begin with the first book, August which was short-listed for the Whitbread Award (and also reviewed by Kevin).  August covers 15 years of the life in the Jones family as the camp each August in the same farmer’s field. The Jones may seem ordinary, he is a teacher and she is a stay-at-home mom, but there are depths to the members of this family and changes as life goes on.

Finally, Guy Savage reminds me of two books on my to-be-read list by George Gissing, New Grub Street (1891) and The Odd Women (1893). Both written in the late Victorian era and at this time there were more women in England than men so when marriages occurred, there were a number of leftover women – some by choice and others by circumstance. New Grub Street is set in the same literary circles Gissing also inhabited and once again explores relationships in a world with changing mores and roles. I was pleased to see that both books are free on electronic readers.

Happy reading.

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