Saturday, December 31, 2005

Favorite Books for 2005

It is New Year's Eve. My husband and I had a band for many years and always played on New Year's Eve. So now we don't even think about leaving the house on this night. We are about to watch "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", having had a lovely home cooked dinner.

So it seems that the blog has become my performance venue for the time being. My gig tonight is to present to you, dear readers, my favorite books for 2005. I only read 109 books this year which is down from last year and my lowest since 2001. I am not sure why because it sure seems like I read continuously, but I do know that I read a heap of books that were over 500 pages long.

I usually try to limit my list to a TOP 10, but I couldn't do it this year. In spite of reading less, I had more favorite books and I see that as some kind of a good sign. So here they are, in order of when I read them. I am not giving any summaries here. You can go and see for yourself if you are interested. They are all available at public libraries. Let me know if you've read any and what you thought. I would also love to read your top favorites list and encourage you to post it as a comment here so others can see it as well.

Happy New Year and Happy Reading!


1. Raintree County, Ross Lockridge, Jr
2. The Great Fire, Shirley Hazzard
3. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke
4. Spending, Mary Gordon
5. Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates
6. The Crimson Petal and the White, Michel Faber
7. The Diamond Age, Neal Stephenson
8. Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
9. The Dangerous Husband, Jane Shapiro
10. The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon
11. The Known World, Edward P Jones
12. Weetzie Bat, Francesca Lia Block
13. Absolute Friends, John le Carre
14. Heir to the Glimmering World, Cynthia Ozick
15. No Country For Old Men, Cormac McCarthy
16. The Song of Names, Norman Lebrecht
17. Gonzales & Daughter Trucking Co, Maria Amparo Escandon

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Guest Blogger

I am honored to have a guest blogger today: my son Noah, who has the day off and is visiting me. He has a gift, as you will see. Please enjoy this Christmas tale composed by Noah for his nieces and nephews, my grandchildren.

Merry Christmas from your Uncle Noah! It is the middle of the night here in LA and I just ran into Santa Claus. He was dropping off gifts near where I live and as I was walking home, I saw him stuck on a roof next to my apartment building. He had just delivered to the children in that building. His sleigh and reindeer were trying to take off but could not. The problem was simple: NO SNOW and way too hot!! So the reindeer were over-heated cause they were trying to pull the sleigh on rocks instead of snow. I did not know what to do. I called the North Pole and spoke to the Chief Elf. He told me there was nothing I could do. So I went back to my office and did a Google search: "Santa" "LA" "Stuck" "NO SNOW". Only 1,333,658,452,652 came up in 0.0000275 seconds. I searched all of them and only found one of them with the solution I needed. It was the 1,333,658,452,652nd of them.

It was a guy named Wilbur. Was born in Idaho, the northern part, where it gets real cold in the winter. He does heating and cooling out here in LA, but never has any heating business because it never really gets cold enough in LA to turn the heat on. So he told me I had to make the roof where Santa was stuck cold enough so it would snow on that roof. I asked him how the heck I was going to do that. He told me he had a cousin Jasper that lives in Idaho, the northest part, where it gets REALLY COLD!!! He owns an ice cutting business where they cut ice out of the frozen lakes and ship it down to Las Vegas.

He told me that for just a few dollars more per pound of ice and per extra mile driven, I could get Jasper to bring me the ice I needed to make smow for Santa to take off. I was so happy I had a solution. I called Jasper on his 800 hot-line: 1-800-JUST-ICE, ICE BABY!!! Jasper picked up and I told him my story and that his cousin Wilbur told me to call him. He was very happy to hear from me, as he was kinda worried and all. You know, manning a hot line every year for the last 25 years on Christmas eve night, he got used to seeing Santa come by every year to drop off the presents. But when he heard my story, he knew exactly what had happened to Santa.

Jasper told me he could get 50 tons of ice to my address right away. So I gave him my credit card and he ran it. Only $2.99 a pound for the ice. Good thing I have an Amex card! He gave me my receipt number and told me ice was on the way. Then he told me it would get there on the 27th of December as Monday was a holiday.

Now what does that mean for you, my nieces and nephew? It means your presents won't be arriving from Santa tonight. There has been a delay. The presents (and there are lots of them) won't leave LA until the 27th of December and won't arrive in Cincinnati until after the New Year. But don't be sad my loves. Just think of it this way: When Christmas is over and the New Year has arrived, there will be more cool gifts that you will be getting from the coolest Uncle in all of LA: UNCLE NOAH!!!


The creator sent a man with a message
It was simple: love one another, he said
We in our complexity began the fragmentation
Naming every different kind of love instead
We have young love, tough love
Love at first sight, love gone wrong
A mother's love, a secret love
The love of the poets, a sad love song
Now each year we send cards with messages
And I ponder what I want to say
We celebrate this special season once a year
We need to love one another everyday.

Saturday, December 24, 2005


Gonzales & Daughter Trucking Co, by Maria Amparo Escandon, Random House, Inc, 2005, 285 pp.

This was a reading group pick and an example of a book I might never have found otherwise. I really liked it! The subtitle is: A Road Novel with Literary License. Libertad Gonzales is the daughter of two truckers whose mother died at Libertad's birth and who was raised by her father while riding the Interstates in his 18 wheeler.

Now Libertad is serving time in a Mexican prison and consumed with guilt, but she is unable to reveal her crime to her fellow inmates at the Mexicali Penal Institution for Women. She comes across an old paperback and begins reading aloud, but what comes out is not the story in the book but her own story. The other women are largely illiterate, so Libertad forms The Library Club and "reads" to them everyday. Thus you learn her history and at the very end, her crime.

The prison, its inmates and staff reminded me of Pen Pals by Olivia Goldsmith. It is a complex scenario of graft, rehab and sorority. The trucker characters are larger than life and the author even provides a glossary of trucker lingo. The book itself touches on feminism, parenting, coming of age, teen issues and also has a dash of magical realism. Quite an accomplishment in a novel that keeps you turning the pages and reads like a bestseller. Highly recommended for teens, adults, men and women.

Blogging as a discipline

As usual, I have been absent from the blogosphere for many days. I make deals with myself that I will blog daily mainly because "they" say that one needs to post regularly in order to keep people coming to one's blog. Then the other day, I read on someone else's blog that it was a good way to get into the discipline of meeting deadlines and writing regularly. It all sounds good, but I am basically a slacker when it comes to discipline. Lord knows there are way too many things one must do daily in life: brush your teeth, get dressed, eat, clean up the kitchen, to mention just a few. Then there are weekly chores such as laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning the house. Finally there are the really annoying things like going to work at a certain time whether you feel like it or not, driving in freeway traffic, making the bank deposit, blah, blah, blah. So why would I want to make blogging and writing a regualrly scheduled duty when I do it for fun, for the joy of creating?

Well yesterday I was reading Ray Bradbury's Zen in the Art of Writing and he says that writing that 1000 words a day is the way you learn to write. Somewhere on a blog yesterday I read that Ray is credited with the opinion that a writer needs to write 1,ooo,ooo words before he or she gets any good at all. (At 1000 words a day, that is about three years.) I am sure it is all true. I go on marathons where I promise all the gods that I WILL WRITE 1000 WORDS A DAY. It does not ever last.

What I am trying to say is that if you are a visitor to my blog, I am so glad to have you. Please check back from time to time. I read two to three books a week (that is one thing that does not ever feel like discipline to me, but most always feels like a guilty pleasure), so I doubt that I will run out of books to blog about for a long time, if ever. Then there will be the occasional chapter from the book I am usually not writing. But if you want a daily dose, you won't find it here. Luckily there are countless blogs where you can get that, so I don't have to feel obligated to provide it.

While I am on the subject, I just have to mention that I am puzzled by lit bloggers who merely mention interesting articles that they read elsewhere or post other bloggers posts. Don't these people have anything to do? Do they find this fun? Do they actually ever read all the books they talk about? Well, I don't want to get too snarky here, but I do think that "literary" people ought to be reading more than anything else, unless they are writing their 1000 words everyday, in which case they could be excused from reading once in a while. I have a writer friend (who is a regular here at Keep The Wisdom and I thank her for that), who doesn't read anything while she is writing a book. She wants to be sure her ideas are her own. I respect that totally, although I can't imagine going without reading for long enough to write a whole book.

Those are my thoughts today, Christmas Eve day. Oh, one more. Currently I am reading My Name is Red, by Orhan Pamuk. I haven't been able to get up to speed on this book yet, because it takes place in Turkey in the sixteenth century and I have never read a book set in Turkey. I feel like a very unprepared tourist so far. But what has struck me as I read is that there are so very many ways to live a life. I live in the outskirts of Los Angeles, a town which tries to convince you that there is only one way to live. I was born and raised as a middle class American, a culture which has quite limited approved ways to live. In Pamuk's book we have a cast of characters who are artists who illustrate books; calligraphers, miniaturists, colorists, etc. They go through long years of apprenticeship, their lives are fraught with the vagaries of political and religious upheavals, they become bent and blind doing this type of work. But it is what they love, it is their passion. So it is with writers. Even the most disciplined and dedicated writers lead lives of financial uncertainty and social ineptitude for the most part. I was filled with admiration and gratitude to all the writers who keep on writing and putting together books for me to read. I wanted to give them a special holiday party where they could just come in any old clothes, without a shower if they wished and sit around feeling relaxed, not having to be brilliant for a few hours, just eat and drink and talk about whatever, but feel honored and adored for the wonderful creatures they are.

Sunday, December 04, 2005


A couple months ago, I completed reading through my lists of books for the decade 1940-1949; the first stage of MY BIG FAT READING PROJECT (see earlier posts in the archives.) The project consists of reading the top ten bestsellers of each year plus a selected list of other books, with the purpose of getting an understanding of each year as portrayed in books, as well as to see how the literature and events of these years influenced me, my life, my search for truth, enlightenment and understanding about life. I was born in 1947, but I started reading the books of 1940 to get a feel for the times I was born into.

I have already learned more than could have imagined from this reading. I have found out more than I ever knew I didn't know about World War II. I have discovered how earnest and wholesome many people were in the 1940s; that Christianity made for bestsellers back then; that war and the Industrial Revolution, communism and socialism were beginning to erode all those values and to create chaos. It has been a fascinating study made through fiction.

In 1940, my parents were in college, finishing their junior year and starting their senior year. Here is some background on my family:

My ancestors on both sides are all German. My father's great-great-grandfather was born in 1775 in the Duchy of Brunswick, part of the German kingdom called Hanover. His family were farmers and had lived there for centuries. There is possibly some Swedish blood in the family and we certainly have a proportion of blonde-haired, blue-eyed family members. This ancestor of my father was a soldier from the age of 16 and although he was illiterate, he could speak six languages, including German, Dutch, Low German, some English and a little Swedish. He settled in Osnabruck (still in Hanover) and married a tenant farmer's daughter. They had 5 children, three of whom lived. The youngest of these was my father's great-grandfather who was named Balthasar Henry, but was known as Willie.

Willie became a spinner of flax and a tailor, but the cotton that was being imported from America took over from flax and put Willie out of business. In 1837, he sailed with many other German emigrants from the North Sea and arrived in Baltimore, MD on July 4. From there he walked to Pittsburgh, PA in ten days. Although he had intended to go to Cincinnati, OH, he was tired of walking and stayed in Pittsburgh. About six years later, after establishing himself as a tailor and opening his own shop, he married. He was 32 and his new wife was 22. They had three sons and three daughters. The youngest son, born August 3, 1854 and named William was my father's grandfather. He also became a tailor.

William married a preacher's daughter and had nine children, the eighth of which was my grandfather, Ernest August, born in 1892 and a third generation American. He married the daughter of a grocery store owner. Two of his brothers married my grandmother's sisters. Ernest and my grandmother lived in her childhood home at first, a tradition that would continue when my parents married and lived in my father's childhood home until my first sister was about to be born. My dad's parents were church-going Lutherans and heavy drinkers. My grandmother did not learn to drive until around the time I was born and I recall her riding the brake down the many hills of Pittsburgh. My grandfather was an accountant and went to work everyday on the streetcar, as did my father when I was an infant and toddler.

This side of my family had several ministers, some alcoholics and some who went insane. Both of my grandparents were alcoholics and my father probably was too, though he got sober in his late 50s and remained so to the end of his life. My father was highly intelligent, deeply spiritual and totally committed to the family. He died of Alzheimer's leading to pneumonia at the age of 84, but could still sing all the old hymns and Christmas carols as well as harmonize to anyone else's singing.

Less is known about my mother's family. She is still living and in her words, her family never talked about anything. Her ancestors were also German but there is little information that anyone remembers about when they came to this country. Her grandfather Charles, married Mathilda, who came to the United States when she was eight years old. These great-grandparents of mine lived in Fraser, Michigan, near Detroit. My grandfather on this side of the family, also named Charles, was born March 16, 1887. He had two brothers and one sister. At some point the family moved to Port Hope, Michigan, a small town in the thumb district right on Lake Michigan. Grandpa married Emma, one of seven children from a farming family near Port Hope. His sister married Howard Smith, a banker and co-owner of the hardware store in Port Hope. My grandfather eventually took over that hardware store and ran it until the Depression in the 1930s. After their first child was born in 1915, he and my grandmother bought a house on M25, facing Lake Michigan. We visited that house every summer of my childhood.

Grandpa worked all his life but he was at heart a musician, liked to play drums in local bands and to have a good time. He was always frustrated at working jobs that did not use his musical talents. My grandmother was a fearful woman who was terrified of storms, never drove a car and hated the telephone. She was a prolific gardener and an excellent cook but not much fun to be around. She had four children but was often in poor health due to a bad back, though she lived to be 93. My mother was the second child and when she was three years old, was sent to live with Aunt Lydia and Uncle Howard. Grandma was done in by the birth of my mom's sister and Aunt Lydia had lost her only daughter at the age of eight. Mom thought she was going for a week, but she never went back home to live, only to visit on weekends. After the hardware store failed in the Depression, times were tight and my mother used to tell us how she only had two dresses for school. She wore one for a week and the other for the next week. This story was usually told when I would clamor for new clothes. She did not get along well with her aunt, who was a bitter and critical woman, but she loved Uncle Howard, who recovered financially and paid for her college education.

Although my mother was a year older than my father, she skipped one grade during school and my father skipped two, so they both arrived as freshmen at Valparaiso University in Indiana in 1937. This was and still is a Lutheran school and my father was sent there on his parent's money supplemented by a scholarship from a Lutheran insurance company. He wrote for the university paper, drank heavily with fraternity brothers and sang in the choir. My mother majored in music education, studied organ and also sang in the choir, which is where they met.

In 1940, they were not yet a couple. Though the war was raging in Europe, it did not have much effect on college life. Germany took Norway, Denmark, Holland and France that year and were being bombed by England, but the United States was not yet involved. In fact there was quite a lot a sentiment in this country against having anything to do with Europe's troubles. President Roosevelt however was all for getting involved and there was a lot of stirring up about how democracy and the American way of life was at risk. Actually it probably was at that point and still is. By the end of the year, Roosevelt had pushed through Congress lots of money for armaments, started a draft to build up the military, exchanged destroyers with England and got us a bunch of naval bases all around Europe and Africa. He also got re-elected for a third term.

In the literature I read for 1940, there is a preponderance of books about war and the message is clearly that war is not a solution. I was mildly surprised at first to find the writers of fiction to be almost unanimously against war. There is also a strong religious theme in many of these books. God is alive and well in America of 1940. (For the list of books I read, see my post of October 30, 2005.)

Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck, won the Pulitzer Prize. There were no Nobel prizes that year due to the war. In those days, those were the only big awards for literature.

In film, Gone With the Wind won Best Picture, Best Director (Victor Fleming) and Best Actress (Vivien Leigh). Goodbye Mr Chips, based on a book by James Hilton, won Best Actor (Robert Donat). Popular songs were: You Are My Sunshine, How High the Moon, When You Wish Upon A Star and Blueberry Hill.

Technological developments that year included the building of the cyclotron at the University of California, which allowed scientists to split atoms; the development of a form of penicillin practical for treating infection; the first combustion chamber for jet engines, the first electron microscope and the first successful helicopter flight. Whether they realized it or not, science was setting the stage for the most destructive war mankind had ever known.

What I see in the literature is a clinging to the old answers such as religion and family with the creeping in of decay, evil and breakdown. While the writers are not pro war, the readers want to be reassured that there is something to fight for and, as always, to be entertained. The people I came from were trying to get an education and better themselves, to rise above farming and blue collar professions, to keep the arts in their lives and to follow their religion. My father wanted to be a teacher and my mother a musician. They loved classical music and were both readers. For thinking men and women and for writers, it was a time of trying to come to terms with war, with struggles for freedom and equality and with finding a way to achieve the goals of mankind without mass killing.

When an individual wants power and is not himself in very good shape, he can go to the not-haves and rile them up and get them to fight for some better future life, because they have nothing to lose. Nor do they have the education or intelligence to see that they are being duped and merely used for the empowerment and enrichment of a few unscrupulous individuals. That has been going on for eons, but in the early 20th century the rise of communism and fascism was happening along with the beginnings of a new era of struggles for equality and independence amongst the downtrodden. I can see influences in the literature that could have led to my interest in the underdog, the unfortunate and the forgotten of the world. Of course, those ideas also came from my Christian upbringing, especially as taught to me by my parents, but I found that the poor, the immigrant, Blacks, Jews, women and basically all the oppressed were in the literature and minds of Americans in 1940.

The voices in these books are distinct even if they are from the same time. Richard Llewellyn is romantic, Christopher Morely ironic, Hemingway is earnest and even optimistic, Sholem Asch is dreary (of course he was also Polish), Kenneth Roberts is a bit stuffy and know-best and Steinbeck is downright spiritual. Yet all the books so far are about the plight of man and his dreams and how he adapts to change. The haves against the have-nots is a common theme as well as war. Also there are the able versus the not able, the trustworthy, hardworking types versus the riffraff, yet among the riffraff are those occasional creatures who are wily, adventurous and actually keep the others in tea and cakes or fight their battles for them.

The theme of change and what happens to those who can't deal with it is a major theme in my life, which I suppose began with the Industrial Revolution. As far as being American goes, I come from people who desired change, to whom the status quo was intolerable, who came to this country with hopes and dreams and who had the incredible work ethic necessary to make it in a new land and culture.

While reading a couple of the more frivolous books, I was thinking about how there was this terrible war going on in Europe, the Germans are just taking over countries and slaughtering people, while Americans are trying to pretend that it isn't happening and has nothing to do with them. They are buying and reading love stories while talking about how bad things are in Europe. It seemed incredible to me, but then I thought about how after 9/11, some award shows got cancelled and the Spider Man movie wasn't released because it had the Twin Towers in it and people were all upset and flying flags on their cars, but in just a few months they were mostly bored with it and the economy was going from bad to worse and really people were worried about money. The best sellers, such as The Nanny Diaries, which was a bunch of gossip about rich people, just kept selling.

I guess war is just unconfrontable. They sure have to do a lot of propaganda and PR and advertising to get people fired up enough to take an actual interest. At least that is what I have seen from reading history. A war is going on, maybe for years and years, but most people still go to work or farm or whatever and try to stay alive like they always do. If the war actually comes through where they live it is damn inconvenient, but life goes on. Babies get born and people have to eat and they always want some entertainment. Maybe there are scarcities and rationing but people make do and get by. Then when the war is over, the soldiers that didn't die come home and are shellshocked or hardened or Agent Oranged, but things go back to normal after a while and there is even usually some kind of economic boom.

When I was in college in the 60s and then after I dropped out and became a hippy, all I knew was that some guys went to Vietnam, some peoples' relatives got killed (no one I actually knew though) and we just protested and helped guys get out of the draft. Meanwhile we were learning macrobiotics and getting high and listening to our favorite music, while there were guys over there dying. I think we didn't feel we had to care about those guys because we knew you could get out of going if you even tried and we thought guys who went were stupid, straight Hawks and had no respect for them. To this day, I have never known personally anyone who fought in Vietnam. My ex-boyfriend enlisted, which we thought was the stupidest thing of all, because it meant you agreed with the war and believed all that hogwash about fighting communism.

It sounds really cold to me now and I wonder how I became such a cynic. I didn't really know much about history or what was really going on in Vietnam or how we got involved. I just knew that I thought war was wrong, that I was a pacifist and I just was not going to participate. I wonder how many people in the 40s felt that way until they got shamed into or excited into taking part in it. I bet there was heavy pressure to be "patriotic" and if you weren't something was weird about you, especially if you were German or Japanese. I wonder how my parents really felt about it.

My parents grew up with parents who had lived through World War I, either safely from here or who had friends and relatives who fought or who fought themselves. My parents were born just as that war ended and by the time they were young man and woman, there was another world war. And I was born just after that one was over. But really it wasn't talked about, it wasn't stressed. It was the space race and learning science to keep up with the Russians and Eisenhower and peace and prosperity; subdivisions and cars and money and getting ahead and cocktail parties. Mostly in my family it was church and giving money to the church and to unfortunate orphans and being good and staying away from disreputable people and being safe.

Maybe it worked. When I was in my 20s there was Vietnam and when I was in my 40s there was Desert Storm and now there is the "war on terror", but no more world wars, at least not yet. Maybe that atom bomb really did scare people enough. Now war is more localized and more covert and done with money and marketing and hostile takeovers. Still the poor get squeezed out and the rich stay rich and the middle class does all the work that isn't grunt work and on we go.

Doing the reading, it was at times extremely weird to be so much in another entire decade. The writers and readers of that time were somewhat obsessed with the coming war, the changes in society and how to make sense of it all, while in today's world we take all that for granted. The themes of independence, preserving a way of life that includes liberty and material plenty but at the same time the concern for the elements of society who are poor, suppressed, etc portray the beginnings of socialism and communism as almost acceptable instead of abhorrent ideas. It did not seem as polarized as it does today, but more like an awakening of consciousness to the whole world situation.

Patriotism and nationalism are concepts that have never done much for me. In fact, I feel a distaste for those ideas because they lead to war, to justifications of war and armaments and to an emphasis on the differences between segments of the human race. I suppose any country has its allies and enemies and has to figure out how to work harmoniously with the allies and how to defend itself against its enemies. But somehow between that decade when I was born and my young adult years, it got very muddled. By the time I went to college, I was against war, racism, imperialism, economic oppression. Of course, I don't think I was in the majority of American thought, but I am so curious to discover how I became so anti-establishment, so enamored of the hippy ideals of the brotherhood of man and so dedicated to ending war on this planet. As I continue this reading adventure, I plan to discover the answers to all that.

Saturday, December 03, 2005


Dreams From My Father, Barack Obama, Random House, Inc, 1995, 453 pp.

I read this for one of my reading groups. Being the non-political person that I am, I was completely unaware of who this person is, but my very political girlfriend filled me in. Obama is currently a US Senator from Illinois and a hot guy in the Democratic party these days. After reading his memoir, I am a supporter. He has a fine sense of integrity and understanding about people though I fear that the political process in this country would kill that off in even the strongest individual.

In the early 90s, Obama was studying law at Harvard and became the first Black man to be elected as President of the Harvard Law Review. The publicity engendered by this event brought him a publishing offer, so he wrote this story of his life up to that point. After winning the seat in the US Senate, the book was republished.

Obama's mother was a white woman from Kansas, whose family moved to Hawaii when she was a teenager. There at the University of Hawaii, she met an African student from Kenya. They married and had Barack in the early 60s. But the father left when Barack was only 2 years old to get his PhD at Harvard, because his scholarship money was not enough to support a wife and child. Before he could complete his degree, he was summoned back to Kenya by his government and the marriage dissolved due to time and distance.

So Barack was raised by his white mother and grandparents while his father took on the quality of a myth. When Barack was ten years old, his father came for a two week visit which only served to confuse Barack further. But he managed to complete highschool and college, by which time he had decided to live as a Black man.

After college, he went to Chicago to work as a community organizer in the ghettos of South Chicago and came face to face with the results of racism in a northern industrial city. Just before entering Harvard Law School, he finally traveled to Kenya and met his father's side of the family, finding at last the other half of his heritage.

It was a fascinating book, written in a novelist's style and hard to put down. It added much to my growing fund of knowledge about Blacks in this country, their African forebears, racism and the long slow climb of the Black race in America from slaves to full citizens of this country; a climb which is far from over.

I doubt that this country is ready to elect a Black President, but I am sure it will happen in my lifetime. If Obama can stay in politics and maintain the integrity he displays in his book, I would be glad to have him as President of the United States.


I haven't posted for about three weeks and my apologies to anyone who stopped by looking for something new. On November 20, I got a killer flu, which luckily didn't kill me. It just put me to bed for a few days. I managed to get well in time to travel to Michigan for Thanksgiving with my extended family. I also managed to gain back all the weight I lost when I was too sick to eat. Ah well.

Then I returned home and went back to work. I am a teacher and my class was in tatters from 3 days with a substitute, so that is my excuse for last week. Just too exhausted at the end of the day to do anything but flop onto the couch and read. But nothing keeps me from reading and I've got lots of books to blog about. I also have worked on the first installment or whatever (I can't decide what to call it) from the Big Fat Reading Project.

Just a few comments on that. I have all these notes I have kept while reading and all my summaries of the books plus other info, but when I try to put this together in some readable form, it seems to lose all its life and become dry and boring. So I am struggling with that. If any readers here are writers and have run into a similar problem, I would be so grateful to hear of your experiences and how you solved it. I hope to have something posted by the end of this weekend, but it may take until the Christmas break from school to get it done. Thanks for your patience.

One other item: I am currently reading The Wall, by John Hersey. It is catagorized as fiction but comes across as fact. I spent an hour searching the web today to get some info and came up with virtually nothing. Does anyone have background data on this book? I am about 190 pages into it and am finding it good, not gripping, but heavy going. It is about Jews being enclosed into a ghetto in Warsaw in 1939-1943. I understand that there is an uprising near the end but right now it is just disturbing to the point of depressing. The things that humans do to each other are just a bit much.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


Waiting, by Ha Jin, Random House, Inc, 1999, 308pp

I've had this book on my shelf for a while. It won an NBA and a PEN/Faulkner award, so I had high expectations which unfortunately were not met.

The story is set in 1960s-1980s China, which is post-revolutionary Red China. Lin Kong is a doctor in an army hospital. He is married to a woman he does not love. The marriage was arranged by his parents and his wife remains in the small village where Lin Kong was raised along with their daughter. Every summer for 20 years, he goes to the village during his annual leave from the hospital, which is in a nearby city, and tries to get a divorce from his wife. Every year she says she will permit the divorce but when they get to the court she changes her mind.

There is another woman, a nurse at the hospital, whom he wishes to marry. She waits throughout the 20 years. Morality is very strict under the Communist regime and they have no physical relationship. This situation goes on for a good two thirds of the book, so the reader is waiting as well and yes, that is as uneventful as it sounds. Neither Lin Kong nor his lover are particularly likeable characters and their affair is rather pedestrian.

Finally the divorce is granted, the frustrated lovers marry and then their troubles really begin.
They have a child, the new wife becomes clingy and neurotic and Lin Kong, after all these years, doesn't really have the knack of being a husband. He had moved the ex-wife to the city after the divorce which leads to an ironic ending that is actually quite good but geez, I waited 300 pages for that?

Sunday, November 13, 2005


Mirror Mirror, by Gregory Maguire, HarperCollins Publishers Inc, 2003, 276 pp

Maguire's most recent book, Son of a Witch, just came out, so he was being widely promoted. I somehow had not heard of him but was seduced by the promotion. He also writes children's books and it is all a unique twist on the fantasy genre.

In Mirror Mirror, he takes the tale of Snow White and sets it in Italy, 1502. Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia are pulling their shenanigans and are central to the story. There are dwarves as well. It is an odd mix of history, imagination, legend and something like metaphysics.

It is hard to describe, highly literary, and not an easy read. If it hadn't been for a few books I'd already read, such as Rule of Four, by Ian Caldwell & Dustin Thomason; Catalina, by Somerset Maugham; and especially Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger, all of which deal with that time period, I would have been quite lost. As it was, I could only marvel at his imagination and keep a dictionary close by.

I can't say that I loved the book, but it had a fascination. Though there was plenty of action at times, it seemed to move slowly. Perhaps I was under an enchantment as a reader. I'd like to hear about any of Maguire's books that anyone has read.

Saturday, November 12, 2005


The Song of Names, by Norman Lebrecht, Random House, Inc., 2002, 311 pp.

I picked this book out of a shelf of trade paperbacks at one of my favorite independent bookstores: Once Upon A Time, in Montrose, CA. I was solely attracted by the title. On the back cover the blurb says, "Martin Simmonds' father tells him, 'Never trust a musician when he speaks about love.' The advice comes too late." I was sold.

My husband actually read the book first and was completely charmed. (We are both musicians.) He would read to me from it in bed at night. Then it sat on my shelf of to-be-read contemporary fiction for months. Finally I got it selected as a pick for the reading group at the very store where I bought it and sat down to read it last weekend.

I was not disappointed. It has been a while since I enjoyed a book this much. Martin Simmonds is the son of a man who ran a music promotion company that catered to the middle-class as an audience. In 1940s England, that was unique and probably considered quite low-brow. But the man was a master of PR and with this skill would take young hopefuls in classical music and build them a career of minor fame.

Just before Hitler invaded Poland, David Rapoport, a nine year old violin prodigy is left by his father in the care of the Simmonds family. David is many things to the family. To the father, he is the great future star who will make the company well thought of. So David is groomed and coddled, brought to the best teachers, given an almost priceless violin. To nine year old Martin, David is a brother, a companion, an idol, but most of all someone to love in a fairly loveless family. They grow up together and David makes Martin come alive, gives him a personality and Martin feels loved.

The book begins 40 years after David disappeared on the night of his world debut. Martin is an old hypocondriac and a broken spirit. He now runs the family business which has devolved into a shoddy, outdated sheet music company. On a business trip to the English hinterlands, Martin hears a young violinist with a bit of David's signature technique in his playing. So begins the search for the lost David and the reader learns the back story.

It is a wonderful book, written in a smart modern tone but full of history. During the Battle of Britain, you feel you are there with two nine year old boys, doing the paper route and exploring the bomb sites. The world of a training musician, of the singleminded competitive attitude necessary, of the maneuvering by the manager/promoter is all created. And the inner life of a boy growing to manhood in a foreign country with no news of his Jewish family in war-torn Poland is portrayed with reality and sensitivity. But it is not a mawkish or heartwarming story. It is full of human folly and unlovely emotions. The moment when the meaning of the title is revealed was so heart-stopping for me that I had to put the book down for a while. But there is also humor, musical philosophy, religious ideas and a good dose of mystery.

The Song of Names won a Whitbread First Novel Award. Say what you will about awards, but if it hadn't won I may have never heard of or found the book.

Friday, November 11, 2005


Despite all my best intentions, I have not finished my writing on the reading I did for the decade of 1940-1949. I started a new job in September, teaching in a private school. I actually love the job, but it was supposed to be a 5 hours a day, 5 days a week gig but has turned out to be more like 7 hours a day while I learn my way around the school, the kids, the curriculum, etc.

So it is all I can do to keep up my reading. I try to read at least 100 pages a day but a good day is 200 pages. I have started reading books for 1950 and have finished one. Tonight I got about half way through a second. I am also in four reading groups which works out to approximately one book a week, but it is good, because it keeps me reading contemporary books and gives me people to talk to about books. As a wanna-be writer, I think it is healthy to listen to and observe how other readers besides myself react to books. I've been in these reading groups for about a year now and it has been quite revealing.

Although I read the entire LA Times and NY Times book reviews every week as well as Bookmark Magazine every month, although I read about 10 different literary blogs on a regular basis, there is really no comparison to listening to your everyday reader say how she felt about a book. I have met every kind of reader in these groups. There are people who only want to read a book that makes them feel good. There are other people who automatically dislike a book if it does not agree with their views on life, politics, religion, you name it. Some readers in these groups balk if they have to look up words in a dictionary while reading a book. Others freak out if a book is more than 300 pages long. But then there are readers who love learning about some thing, people, or place they didn't know about before. And readers who love history. And readers who just get rapturous over good writing.

Then there is the blog here. I don't know who reads it. Sometimes I get wonderful comments and other times I get emails from people who are too shy or afraid to post a comment. Other times I get those spam comments from people who are promoting their own blogs (and usually selling something). There is some kind of button you can push to keep those people from posting comments, but I am a strong believer in laissez-faire capitalism, so I just let it happen. For most of the time there are no comments at all. But if you are reading this and have ever entertained the idea of posting a comment, PLEASE DO SO. Even if you disagree violently with what I have said about a book, even it you read comic books or Nicholas Sparks, I am interested in what you have to say about reading, books, fiction and how these things affect your life.

This week, I went out and did some retail therapy, after months of being careful not to spend money. My biggest thrill was purchasing Jane Smiley's Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel.
I've read about three chapters and I am the most enthralled with her awareness that any novel is only as good as a reader thinks it is. That is so democratic, so merit based and just so sensible. So getting back to all those book reviews I read, I am afraid I don't have much use for critics who think their job is to criticize any book they read. I read the reviews to find out what has been published. I rarely agree with the reviews. And I write this blog simply to communicate what happened when I read a book, how it affected me and to hopefully stimulate a dialogue on any given book.

What are you reading? What books have you loved? How does reading affect your life?

Thursday, November 03, 2005


This is a list of books I read that were published in 1941, as part of My Big Fat Reading Project.


*1. The Keys of the Kingdom, by AJ Cronin. A common man becomes a priest, goes to China in the 1920s, does a lot of good and never really gets recognized for it.
2. Random Harvest, by James Hilton. A World War I amnesia victim finally finds out who he is and finds his lost love.
3. This Above All, by Eric Knight. World War II love story and commentary on war.
4. The Sun Is My Undoing, by Marguerite Steen. Huge, historical novel about a larger than life character, slave trade and abolition in 1840s England.
*5. For Whom The Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway. Holdover from the 1940 list. Spanish Civil War.
6. Oliver Wiswell, by Kenneth Roberts. Another holdover from 1940. Revolutionary War.
7. H M Pulham, Esquire, by John P Marquand. A Boston man, WWI veteran, has money. This is the story of the rest of his life, including having his son go off to WWII.
8. Mr and Mrs Cugat, by Isabel Scott Rorick. Also about well-to-do New England people and the quirks of their marriage.
9. Saratoga Trunk, by Edna Ferber. The lives of a Texas man and a Creole woman who become railroad barons.
*10. Windswept, by Mary Ellen Chase. Wonderful and beautiful story of a man, Maine and values.


1. Between Two Worlds, by Upton Sinclair. Second volume of the World's End series, following Lanny Budd up to the beginning of the Depression.
2. The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, by Vladimir Nabokov. Story of a writer.
3. A Curtain of Green, by Eudora Welty. Her first short story collection.
*4. Darkness at Noon, by Arthur Koestler. Great and heavy; Russian communist history as it is rarely told.
5. The Ill Made Knight, by T H White. Third book of the Once and Future King. Lancelot's story.
6. The Castle on the Hill, by Elizabeth Goudge. A plucky heroine survives WW II in England.
7. Wild is the River, Louis Bromfield. Post Civil War story set in New Orleans.
8. Without Signposts, Kathleen Wallace. What it was like for mothers with small children in England during WWII.
*9. The Scum of the Earth, by Arthur Koestler. A memoir about the prison camps to which liberal writers were sent during early WWII.
10. O Henry Prize Stories of 1941.
11. Caldecott Medal: Make Way For Ducklings, by Robert McCloskey. A family of ducklings in Boston.
12. Newbery Award: The Matchlock Gun, by Walter D Edmonds. A ten year old boy defends his mother and sister using an old gun, while his father is off fighting Indians in Colonial America.

* means a book I especially liked.


Guard of Honor, James Gould Cozzens, 1949, 631 pp.

With this book, I completed the novels for 1949. It won the Pulitzer Prize that year and took forever to read. I had never heard of it before and that may be because it is highly dated. It concerns only three days on a base of the American Army Air Force in Ocarana, Florida, during World War II. At that time, the Air Force was not yet a separate branch of the military and much of the might of air power was being developed as World War II was fought.

In the three days which the story covers, everything that could go wrong does. In addition, much of the trouble has racism at its root. There is a cast of at least 20 characters and about 10 main characters, so Cozzens uses the circumstances as a frame on which to do character studies of these numerous men and women. The women include WACS and officers' wives. He also throws in a sort of philosophy of war and army life.

So much goes wrong by the second day that I expected a big tragic ending. Instead, it all simmers down and gets approximately sorted out so that you understand that life will go on. Well, I suppose that could be a motto of war and army life.

Generally it was all "good" writing in a combination of English class and newspaper writing training. I found it much too wordy, somewhat pedantic and never fully gripping or exciting. The ending was unforgivable after 550 pages of build-up. I can surely see why we needed a Hemingway to come along.

Sunday, October 30, 2005



1. How Green Was My Valley, Richard Llewellyn. Historical, religious, sentimental. Family is very important as it is being pulled apart by the Industrial Revolution in coal mining Wales. M
*2. Kitty Foyle, Christopher Morely. Modern life, beginnings of feminism, class consciousness in Philadelphia of the 20s and 30s. M
3) Mrs Miniver, Jan Struther. War time in England (WWII) with a traditional view on women, very sentimental, made into an Oscar winning movie. M
*4) For Whom The Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway. Spanish Civil War, issues of freedom, democracy, communism.
5. The Nazarene, Sholem Asch. Life of Jesus and the relation of Christian and Jew.
6. Stars on the Sea, F van Wyck Mason. Revolutionary War and the forming of the first American Navy.
7. Oliver Wiswell, Kenneth Roberts. Revolutionary War again but from the Tory view. They don't teach that in school.
*8. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck. The Dust Bowl story; poverty, oppression of the worker, human greed vs human spirit. Pulitzer Prize M
9. Night in Bombay, Louis Bromfield. Leisure class men and women coming of age vs a man who wants to be of use.
10. The Family, Nina Fedorova. War in China, White Russian immigrants, family, honor, religion.

*1. The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene. Religion suppressed by political change in Mexico, questions of faith.
2. The Hamlet, William Faulkner. Good and evil, stupidity and cupidity in small town southern America.
*3. Native Son, Richard Wright. Racial suppression in Chicago, the Black experience.
*4. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers. Loneliness, social disturbance, Reds, discrimination, coming of age and search for love and connection.
*5. The Morning Is Near Us, Susan Glaspell. Family issues and the healing spirit of a woman and love, not sentimental but real.
*6. The Sword and the Stone, The Queen of Air and Darkness, TH White. The first two books of The Once and Future King, which is the Arthur legend. Dreams of peace and unity, history of the fatal flaw.
*7. World's End, Upton Sinclair. First of a 10 volume series which begins pre WWI. This book introduces Lanny Budd, the hero of the books and follow his young life. War, the truth about war, art and its purpose, coming of age.
8. Farewell My Lovely, Raymond Chandler. Crime in LA, severe societal dysfunction.
*9. The Bird in the Tree, Elizabeth Goudge. (One of my favorite writers.) Family, a strong woman, religion, the ravages of war on personal lives, art.
10. Sapphira and the Slave Girl, Willa Cather. Racial discrimination, the difficulty of women's' lives whether black or white.
11. My Name is Aram, William Saroyan. Immigrant life, rising above poverty and lack of opportunity.
12. Call It Courage, Armstrong Sperry. Polynesian boy has adventures on the sea and overcomes his fears. Newbery Award.
13. They Were Strong and Good, Robert Lawson. A family genealogy of people who built this country. Caldecott Award.

* means I especially liked the book.
M means it was made into a movie.


In 2002 I decided to write up the story of my life. I didn't know what I would do with it but at least I could leave it for my children and grandchildren and hopefully put down whatever wisdom I had gleaned. As I started on the project I was struck by how little I knew about the history of my family. In times gone by and in other cultures, the family history is told in stories and children learn it so that they can pass it on to their children. As I was growing up, there were no stories like this. It was as if it all started with our nuclear family. We visited our grandparents and cousins every summer, but no one ever talked about the past. The only thing I could figure is that my parents were only third generation Americans, my grandparents being born to German immigrants in the late 1800s and early 1900s. They were more interested in becoming Americans than in preserving the old country tales and traditions. When I was young I cared little about the past. Like most children, I was interested in the present and the future, because as a child one is not aware of having a past, but rather is striving to grow up and see what one's life will become. Now I am past the middle of my life and possibly have more past than future as far as this lifetime goes. Probably my children and grandchildren would find this history I am writing of little interest, but possibly when they reach my age they will have the same kinds of questions I now have.

One day I had the idea that I have probably been influenced all my life by the books and literature of the times I have lived through. I was read to by my parents regularly until I could read myself. I've always read lots and lots of books and in fact, in 1991 I started keeping a log of all the books I read, with a short write-up about each book. I wish I had started doing that earlier, especially during my teen years which I remember as a time of delighted and voracious reading. Anyway, I thought that it would be interesting to find out what were the main popular and important books of fiction throughout my lifetime.

I was searching the web about books and came across a college syllabus for a course in contemporary American literature, which had lists of the top 10 bestsellers for every year since about 1910. Luckily I downloaded the lists beginning with 1940, because that website no longer exists. I was born in 1947, so I began reading the books of 1940. I figured I could find out about the decade into which I was born. I began this reading project in June, 2002. This month I completed reading through the lists all the way up to 1949, so I have completed one decade of reading. For each year, I read the top 10 bestsellers, about 10 other novels by authors I was interested in, the prize winning books of the year (in the 40s there were only the Pulitzer, the Caldecott Medal (for illustrated children's books) and the Newbery Award (for young adult books.) I also read (if I could find them) the Best American and O'Henry Prize Short Story collections.

It has been a fascinating reading journey. I feel as though I was living in rather complete ignorance about the social, political, spiritual and philosophical forces at work in the world as I was growing up. I guess they try to teach you that stuff in school with history and social studies and all, but I found those subjects extremely boring and not much of it sunk in. But the moods and beliefs and stresses of the society around me did sink in. I have always been against war, against racism, against any sort of totalitarian oppression of peoples. One of my earliest memories is from 1950, when I was three years old. On the front page of the New York Times were pictures of people who were obviously suffering. I asked my Dad what it was about and he told me there was a war (the Korean War, of course) and those were pictures of the people who lived where the war was going on. I didn't know what war was, but I was against it from that day on.

This weekend I have been working on gathering the writings I've done since beginning the project. I wrote a summary for each year and now I am attempting to summarize the decade. I will post the decade summary when I get it in some readable form. But some of my reading acquaintances have expressed interest in the lists of books I read. I think the blog is the best place to put this information. Then it is recorded and can be looked up at any time by anyone who is interested.

So coming in the next post is the list for 1940. For each book, I have merely made a short note about the themes in the book. If I especially liked the book, I will put an asterisk. I found all of these books in my local libraries, but I am reading as fast as I can because I am afraid they will be taken off the shelves to make room for newer books. There is quite the controversy going on right now about the Google project to get books digitized. I think it is a great plan. What if all these old novels were lost? Keep the wisdom!

Thursday, October 27, 2005


Knight's Gambit, by William Faulkner, Random House, 1949, 246 pp

I read this off and on over several months. It was one of the remaining books on the 1949 list. I did not find it gripping. It is a set of short stories and one novella (Knight's Gambit), all about the lawyer Gavin Stevens, who was a main character in Intruder in the Dust (1948). I loved the earlier book, which had all kinds of wisdom in it. Knight's Gambit features Gavin Stevens' particular wisdom and tolerance for the ways of his local people, as a theme that runs through the stories.

When a crime is involved, as it is in each of these tales, Stevens is the man who can suss out the perpetrator while everyone else is running around perplexed. It is never who it seems and his ability to track down clues is prodigious, but he also has a certain sympathy or empathy for the criminal. At times though, even the reader can't see how he figured it out. But then, Gavin Stevens is a chess player. This reader is not.


Case Histories, by Kate Atkinson, Little, Brown and Company, 2004, 310 pp

There was quite a stir of reviews when this book came out last year. Her first novel in 1995, Behind The Scenes at the Museum, won the Whitbread Award, so she was an author to keep track of. When I heard it described as literary crime fiction I was intrigued. Then the LitBlog Coop ( picked it for their first Read This! selection in May. So I read it, at least to keep up with the discussion on the blog.

It was not a bad book. It kept me interested and somewhat amused. Jackson Brodie, the PI on the case, is really the weakest character. Yes, he has issues in his personal life and yes, he has all the obligatory dangers of a detective to live through, but he is almost a flat character; a foil against which the other characters reveal themselves.

The "case histories" are three families who each lost someone dear to them but never found the culprit. Now in these families we have some real characters who go through change as people while Jackson solves the crimes. I finished the book about two months ago and it is telling that I do not remember much about who the murderers actually were.

The other problem for me is that keeping three whole different family histories going for more than two decades in one novel of only 300 pages, necessitated many mere glimpses of each story. This was not as bad as in a book like The Jane Austen Book Club, but any one of the family histories would have rivaled Ian McEwan's Atonement had it stood alone. Therefore the whole book is more like a clever device in a novel's drapery.

The summary of these worrisome aspects is that the book was just OK and I will move on to other authors before I read her earlier work.

Sunday, October 23, 2005


No Country For Old Men, by Cormac McCarthy, Alfred A Knopf, 2005, 309pp

This is McCarthy's latest book. I have only read All The Pretty Horses previously but decided to read this one now before finishing the trilogy, because I wanted to and because a respected reading friend read it, on hearing about it from me, and wrote me a long email about it. He found it a bleak and hopeless story.

Some drug runners have a big shoot up somewhere deep in the heart of Texas. A young man riding around in the country comes across the remains of the debacle and finds a case with a couple million dollars in it. The chase is on.

A local sheriff, an old man, gets involved because it happened in his jurisdiction. People die, innocent people are harmed and the sheriff, in confronting a new level of evil and lawlessness, is dismayed. Interspersed with the story are the sheriff's musings, which is where McCarthy gets to put in his philosophy.

So the outcome is tragic and it is pretty bleak, but I did not find it hopeless. It is definitely about evil getting the upper hand and is a message to people to be aware of that. I think that evil erupts at various times and places in the world. It is happening now and it takes a high confront of evil to fight back and overcome it. Not necessarily by starting wars with other countries, but by getting in ethics in your own country. The age of innocence which America has enjoyed for so long has ended. At the end of T H White's The Once and Future King, Arthur is old and broken, his kingdom and his dream for England are in tatters. But he grabs a young knight and tells him the dream and what needs to be done. He passes the torch to the young. I think that is the message of McCarthy's book. This is no country for old men.

Thursday, October 20, 2005


The Professor and the Madman, by Simon Winchester, HarperCollins Publishers, 1998, 242pp.

This is the story of the making of the Oxford English Dictionary, with emphasis on two men in particular. Dr James Murray was the editor of the dictionary, who labored for decades at the Scriptorium (the dictionary's headquarters ) at Oxford. The idea was first proposed on November 5, 1857, but it was not until 1878 that James Murray, a public school teacher and longtime member of the Philological Society was accepted at Oxford as its editor. He organized the methods of collecting the definitions and had a whole army of volunteers to help him complete the project.

Dr W C Minor was an American medical doctor and Army captain, who suffered from mental illness and finally landed in the equivalent of a mental ward in an English prison for committing murder when overcome by his madness. While thus imprisoned, he contributed massive amounts of data to the dictionary for over 20 years. In the book, Winchester covers the unusual relationship between these two men; each is a type of genius and each is mad in his own way.

I learned that I am a philologist: one who loves learning and literature and who studies literature, grammar, literary criticism and the relation of literature to history. After 25 years of intense dictionary usage to understand what I study, I saw the other side of the coin, which was people studying books to find the definitions and historical development of our language. Now that I have read this account of how the dictionary was prepared and why it is laid out as it is, the entries make much more sense to me. Each definition in the OED is followed by a quotation which is an example of the earliest use of that meaning of the word that was found in books or literature. The OED is the most complete account of the history of the English language in existence.

The Professor and the Madman is fascinating. I felt that the author spent a bit too much time speculating on the causes and nature of Dr Minor's mental aberrations, but other than that it was an eye-opening account of a monumental labor that I had previously taken for granted.

Sunday, October 16, 2005


It has been a great weekend. All I did was read and mess around with books. Last week I finally finished the list of books for 1949. (See post entitled "My Big Fat Reading Project" in the July archives.) This is a milestone in the project because I have now completed a decade. Soon I will post my summary of 1949 and then a summary of the decade 1940-1949.

This morning I read the NYT Book Review and the Los Angeles Times Book Review, as I do every Sunday morning. In the LA Times is a review of Jane Smiley's Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel for which she read 100 novels. She was in the middle of writing Good Faith when 9/11 happened and she got blocked. She read the 100 novels to get herself going again on fiction. I have read Good Faith, which was really good and I saw her speak at the Los Angeles Festival of Books last spring. Smiley is a professor of literature somewhere and all I could wish was that I had had her as a professor when I was in college. She is so smart and articulate, with a great sense of humor. Then I met her later in the ladies' room and discovered that she is about 6'5". I love tall women.

Anyway, in the Calendar section of the LA Times, David Ulin (who is the brand new editor of the LA Times Book Review and doing a great job) had an article entitled "Literature, now more than ever", in which he talks about the vital importance of novels to the culture and about Jane Smiley's book and another book by Anne Fadiman (whose Confessions of a Common Reader I loved.) Her new volume is a collection of essays which she edited entitled Rereadings. The essays are by writers giving their experiences on rereading favorite novels.

It is all good: about how novels connect readers with the writer's interior world, share viewpoints, create empathy between people and how that is something the world needs right now. It occurs to me that in the 21st century, we are on the verge of true globalization-the family of man predicted by us hippies in the 60s. We are in the last gasp of those who profit by creating conflicts, using the differences between individuals, nationalities and religions to precipitate violence by keeping the fear of the different or unknown stirred up in a consciously created dangerous environment.

Tonight I am revitalized in my deep-seated belief that communication and understanding can overcome factors that alienate human beings from each other. The almost instantaneous speed of communication allowed by today's technology, of both words and images, while also used by the merchants of chaos for their own ends, cannot be completely subverted but can eventually bring about the increased global understanding that mankind needs.

But to assimilate and digest the information that leads to understanding, we need the kind of solitary moments of reflection that people experience while reading fiction. I would like to know what other readers experience in terms of understanding different peoples, cultures, faiths and outlooks on life through reading fiction.

Saturday, October 15, 2005


I can't quite say why, but I loved this book. The heroine is a motherless girl brought up by a terrible father (he is not cruel, just no parenting instincts, lost in his own world and a bit nuts.) She ends up in a household of German immigrants as a sort of mad professor's assistant. The professor is studying a very obscure religious sect and this research is his passion, but no one in American academia cares. His wife was a brilliant physicist in Germany but she is no one in America, so is majorly depressed. There are also four children.

Then there is the Bear Boy, heir to a fortune his father made by writing a series of children's books based on the boy. Bear Boy is now a man and also quite nuts. He is using his fortune to support this family, which is a welcome relief to their poverty but also a source of deep shame. Bear Boy is intrigued by the professor and has designs on the eldest daughter. There are all these odd elements. It reminded me of early John Irving. There is just no interest in anything normal.

Rose, the teller of the story and the heroine, is perhaps the most stable but she has no history of normality and is somewhat detached from it all. Because this is the only family she really has at this point and the only means of support, she tries to help them keep it together. Still, she is disinterested, where I would be trying to fix everything. The person who does fix everything is a complete surprise. You don't see it coming at all and when it comes, you are so immersed in the charms of abnormality that is seems a mixed blessing.

I've thought it over for weeks, but I still can't say what it is that made me love this book so.

Monday, October 10, 2005


I picked this up in mass market paperback at the airport on my way to Ohio last month. I believe it is the most recent book by John le Carre, though the copyright was 2003. My husband and I are both le Carre fans. We do not think he wrote "good" books and "bad" books, as some critics claim. We like them all. I have not read The Constant Gardener, but I remember seeing only non-glowing reviews when it came out, although it seems like every critic and their brother love the movie.

But Absolute Friends is something very special. What is it about this author? This book is the epitome of how I feel these days. The world is fucked and you do your best to make a difference, but does it or can it really make a difference? One of the friends is Edward Mundy, born in 1947, the son of an English army officer in Pakistan, whose mother died in childbirth, whose father lost his way when Pakistan overthrew British rule, and who ends up as a spy. Actually during the Cold War, he is a double agent spying for England on communists in East Germany.

The other friend is Sasha, son of a German Lutheran fascist minister and a double agent spying for East German communists. Are you confused yet? I had to really pay attention to keep everyone straight, but I like books that are a bit more strenuous than watching TV. The two met as young activists against Imperialism and the Vietnam War in the 60s. They were both part of a group in Berlin, of which Sasha was the leader and the one who had a philosophy and a vision.

The story begins in the present and moves through back story to the tragic denouement. The confusion is actually a brilliant complexity of two life stories that entwine and lead inexorably to where they both arrive at the end, brilliant because it is their very involvement in world events that determines their destiny. The thread of dread is always there: the masters of war, the fascistic military-industrial complex of greed, the children of wars and the confused parents who are the children of earlier wars and class conflicts. Communism fails, the Berlin Wall comes down, but within a decade it is all replaced by terrorism.

John le Carre is anti the whole mess: the governments of England and the USA, the war in Iraq, the criminal disregard for any form of true statesmanship in favor of greed and money. He is showing us that Nineteen Eighty-Four was all true even though it is our own "democratic" governments who are creating this brave new world.

Well, I believe all of it. I just do not see clearly these days how to effect a change in the course of mankind's destiny. (Don't worry, I am not depressed or apathetic. I still try in my various ways. Including writing this blog to get the word out that there is about 1000 percent more truth in fiction than in the news or on TV.) Ted Mundy and Sasha are martyrs to freedom but I am concerned that enough people will ever understand that.


I love Margaret Atwood. I love everything she writes. I have read all of her novels and short story collections. I have read a collection of her literary lectures called Negotiating With the Dead. This year she released Writing With Intent, Essays, Reviews, Personal Prose. It is exactly as the title says; a collection of her writing over many years including plenty of book reviews of books I've read or plan to read. The publisher is Carroll & Graf and I found the book on the New Book shelf of my public library.

Every selection is totally interesting because even in these non-fiction pieces her humor, her unique view of human nature, history and literature and especially her very incisive and sane views about women are there as clearly as in her fiction. At the risk of going on and on, I think she may be the most intelligent woman writing today.

If you are a Margaret Atwood fan, I highly recommend reading some or all of this volume. Also, I saw on another blog a speculation or rumor (not sure which it was) that Atwood could win the Nobel Prize for Literature. I think that would be justice.

Saturday, October 08, 2005


Sometime a month or so ago, I posted a call to teens, asking for suggestions of good teen books. A friend of mine, a fellow songwriter, suggested Francesca Lia Block, whom I had heard of but never read. First I read Weetzie Bat, an early book of Block's from 1989, which I'd seen reviewed back when it came out.

It is stupendous. Weetzie Bat is a teenage girl in Los Angeles, from a broken home. She has a male friend with whom she makes the rounds of LA after school. He is like a soul mate but not a boyfriend because it turns out he is gay. Eventually he finds a boyfriend and Weetzie finds a boyfriend. After a series of fortuitous events involving a very cool old woman, they inherit her house and all live there together. They make films together, share adventures and heartbreaks and create a teen girl's perfect life. At least, for me, if I could have had a perfect life when I was 17 and 18, it would have been like theirs.

Weetzie is not a "normal" girl, she is not a "good girl", but she is good-hearted, artistic and a bit magical. She comes through all her exotic and dangerous adventures unscathed, amidst a collection of other misfit characters. Block creates a fairy tale life and mood with all the emotional intensity that goes with being a teen. I could hardly tell how she did it, but I was completely drawn in and charmed.

I am sure that no mother I know would want her daughter reading this book or having such a life, but I am sure there are girls who do both. I'm not sure that life in Los Angeles is a safe as the author makes it seem.

Then I read I Was A Teenage Fairy, written by Block in 1998. I didn't like it as well. Barbie is the daughter of a failed supermodel, who at 11 years old is being pushed by her mom into modeling. She is molested by a photographer but cannot bring herself to tell her mom. She acquires a secret friend, Mab the fairy. Mab is a fiesty, self-centered and quarrelsome character who argues with Barbie but also does her a lot of good by insisting that Barbie get some backbone.

At 16, Barbie finds a boyfriend who is a teen movie star. She finally stands up to her mom, achieves success as a photographer and publishes a book about fairies with photographs of Mab. The writing wasn't as strong as in Weetzie Bat and I was not drawn into the world of the book as much. It was a bit too transparent for me, as a book about dealing with teenage molestation, but then I am not a teenager anymore. Sometimes I wish I was though. My favorite age was 18. Block has lots more books including a brand new one, so I will read more.

Thursday, October 06, 2005


Well, this was a fine book and much better than I expected. Aaron Gadd is the son of a dour deacon in the Congregational church who is also a farmer in a small New England town. The time is early 1840s. Gloom and doom, sin and hell-fire, coldness and cruelty make up the deacon's personality and outlook on life. But Aaron is an irrepressible lad, so he leaves home to become a successful carpenter in a nearby town. He has friends, he drinks and even has a lover, a lose Catholic girl. His upbringing haunts him though and at a Revival, he gets the ferver to go out West and be a missionary to the Indians.

The West for Aaron turns out to be Minnesota, which is Sinclair Lewis' birthplace. In fact, The God-Seeker is the last book Sinclair Lewis published at the end of a long career. The story becomes a history of the settling of that state, complete with trappers, traders, missionaries, Indians and heavy weather. All that is good but the real story is about a young man finding his own beliefs about God, people, love, work and society. Aaron's life purpose is to make all races get along and while he matures and faces the world as it really is, he keeps trying to do his part.

The characters are distinct and well drawn. The story telling is masterful and the message comes through without much preaching (an accomplishment for Sinclair Lewis.) Warning: the book starts slowly and I didn't think much of it for quite a while, but it was well worth plugging along because it gets gripping and moving all the way to the end.

Thursday, September 22, 2005


First the music:

If you know me, you know I am also a singer/songwriter in the contemporary folk genre. Naturally I am a fan of female singer/songwriters and I have a new love. Kasey Chambers' CD, "Wayward Angel" is the kind of new record I just don't want to stop playing. Remember when you were young and you would get a new album and you would listen to it everyday, over and over, until you knew all the words and could sing along with every song? That is what happened to me with this CD. Then my husband stole it out of my car and I had to fight to get it back.

I don't know anything about the artist and I almost don't want to, because now I have my own idea about her from the songs. She has one of those voices which can go from thin, little girl to soulful to rockin' to warm and sensitive. The styles are contemporary, country, bluegrass, folk and even a hot, sexy blues. Lots of angel imagery, some angst, love, family and just fun. Hot musicians, including the incredible Steuart Smith on electric guitar. Kasey wrote all the songs and the recording was done in Australia.

I don't care. It is just great music.

Rodney Crowell: one of my songwriting heros. I even mention him in my song, "Solstice". Last night we saw him live at The Mint in Los Angeles. His band was amazing with Will Kimbrough and Jed Hughes on guitars. They did a bunch of songs from his new CD, "the outsider" plus many of my favorites from earlier albums. The sound was the usual atrocious mix that The Mint is infamous for. Rodney even stopped the second song and tried to communicate with the soundman. Then he accepted what he obviously had to work with and rocked on.

I haven't seen a band have so much fun performing in a long time. He also did Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone", complete with singalong and we all knew all the words and lost our voices. In between verses he introduced the band, they did blistering solos and oh my god. It was fabulous. Then I bought the new CD and got him to autograph it. What a night!

On to the movies: Two weekends ago we saw "The Four Brothers"; me, my husband and my son. It is set in Detroit, where we are all from, so that was great right there. The "brothers" are foster kids who were adopted by their foster mom. Two are black, two are white, they are now grown and pretty much hoodlums but as their mom says, you should have seen them before she got them. They reunite at their mom's home after she is shot to death in a convenience store in the neighborhood and decide to avenge her death.

Naturally a whole can of worms is opened and it gets to be a crime thriller with plenty of gratuitous violence and blood, but these brothers are so fearless and cool with each other and it is so exciting right up to the end, that I wasn't bothered by it. Plus these boys just really love their mom. Under all that bravado and toughness they are softhearted mama's boys. Charming really. If you aren't afraid of blood, I highly recommend it.

"Word Wars" is an amazing documentary about Scrabble. Made in 2004, it follows four obsessed Scrabble players on the way to and participating in the ultimate Scrabble tournament in San Diego, CA, sponsored by Hasbro who makes the board game. I mean, we play Scrabble fairly often and feel good if we get over 100 points. These guys study the official Scrabble dictionary and memorize hundreds of words (using flash cards!) and get over 400 points regularly. Each one is a special kind of geek. I wouldn't want to be one of them, but I could appreciate the obsession, because I am like that about reading. If I was offered a hugely paying job that would take away my reading time, I would no way take that job.

I've been working my way through all the movies in which Jessica Lange plays a part, from earliest to current. (What would I do without Netflix?) Finally got to 1995 and saw "Losing Isaiah". It has a very young Halle Berry, who was a great actress even then. I thought the screenplay was weak and somewhat unrealistic. Halle plays a crack-addicted teen who has a baby and leaves him in a trash can, finds a fix, passes out, etc. Isaiah is the baby. Jessica Lange plays a social worker who adopts him. The druggie Mom goes through rehab and wants her baby back. Big drama.

Finally I saw "Spanglish" with Adam Sandler and an actress who is famous in Mexico and who reminded me of Penelope Cruz. It is a look at a Mexican single mom in LA, who takes a job as a maid with a rich family and almost loses her daughter to them. Hm. Similar theme to "Losing Isaiah" in a way. The acting is really very good and the daughter gets the best of both worlds because of her mother's commitment to her values and the exposure to the American Way which speeds up her assimilation. Probably not very realistic, in fact very idealistic, but entertaining and not bad, as movies go.


Now I see that my post from two days ago is there plus a new one I wrote tonight, both about the same book. Well I just have to get over being embarassed about not knowing squat and move on. It is an interesting study in how I can write about the same thing on two different days and it comes out differently. You, my faithful readers, get to observe the phenomenon.

Yes, I can do it. I am moving on.


OK, so I haven't posted for a while due to many things. I know one person noticed because she sent me an email about it. If anyone else has been checking for new stuff, thank you for your patience.

I have been reading and have lots of books to write about. I tried a post two nights ago but blogger was having personal problems and it didn't show up on the blog. To their credit, I sent a help (!!!) email to blogger and they answered with their apologies.

On to the books:

About A Boy, by Nick Hornby, was made into a funny, heartwarming movie with Hugh Grant playing the main character, Will. I've seen the movie twice and liked it very well, recommended it to others, but the book is so much better.

As I began reading it, I kept seeing Hugh Grant, which is why I hate seeing a movie before I've read the book. It actually took about 100 pages before I was really in the book and not the movie. In the book, Will's childhood and the reasons for his being the shallow guy he is are explained. Marcus' mom is not such an over the top character but a believable person. Hornby does an excellent job of portraying Marcus as a pre-teen boy who is emerging from the world of his parents and finding his own identity and views. Will does actually grow and change as a character into a guy who is facing real life. It happens because someone needs him and he is able to be of use. That also happens in the movie, but the emotional impact of the book is so much stronger and deeper. And it doesn't have that stupid school talent show stuff AT ALL. Who was the screenwriter and what was he thinking?

Now I have realized that I need to read High Fidelity, because I liked that movie a lot also, but maybe there is more in store for me in the book.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


I am back home in Los Angeles. I am no longer sick. I have started a new job as a teacher of at risk kids in a very cool private school, just 10 miles from my house (in LA, this is huge. No long freeway drives to get to work.) So that is just to fill in the missing weeks. Meanwhile I was, of course, reading and have lots of books to blog about. I don't know if anyone is reading this because I have not had a comment in a while. If you are reading, please at least say HI.

So About A Boy, by Nick Hornby was made into a successful movie, which I liked very much. ( I am a sucker for stories about people who help messed up kids, because that is my profession. ) I must say though that the book is so much better than the movie. At first, as I was reading, I kept seeing the movie in my head, with Hugh Grant featuring in my mental image pictures. The movie follows the book pretty faithfully at first, with all of Will's sick tactics for getting women, all his shallow ways, etc. But once we meet Marcus's mother, it all veers into a much better and more real vein. The portrayal of Marcus as a pre-teen who is emerging from the world of his parents and finding his own identity is so well done. Will also does actually grow and change as a character into a guy who is facing real life.

The emotional impact of the book is stronger and deeper than the movie. It does not have that really stupid thing with the school talent show at all. Amazing what they do in Hollywood. I am glad I read the book and must give a shout out to the lone male in one of my reading groups who recommended the book.

Saturday, September 03, 2005


I have been silent here for far too long. I have excuses. August was the month from hell for me. I took on way too much work, the most upsetting aspect of which was that I hardly got to read at all.

Then on August 18, my birthday, I got the flu and was in bed for two days. After that, all I could do was go do the tutoring I had booked and go back to bed. That went on for a week. This was all preceded by taking on first a geometry student and then an algebra student, both of whom were in summer school and going at triple speed. I was completely rusty on geometry and not that swift on algebra either, so every minute I wasn't tutoring I was crash coursing myself thru a highschool geometry and then algebra text.

There was a rather amazing outcome for me after all that math study. Usually as I am falling asleep at night, I think about the book I am reading. Sometimes the characters are in my dreams and doing things that they don't do in the book. (Does that sound like it is really time for me to write a novel myself? I think so.) Other times I have realizations about life and people and society. Well, after studying theorems or linear equations or whatever for hours and doing the problems, I started having blinding realizations about life and people and society that looked like advanced math problems applied to life. It was kind of weird. I wondered if that is how the mind of a genius works. The only thing I did wrong is not getting up and writing them down.

On August 26, still coughing and sneezing and blowing my nose, I boarded an airplane and flew to Cincinnati, OH, to visit my son, his wife and my three grandchildren. But my trials and tribulations were not over. Hurricane Katrina was headed for the Ohio River last Monday plus some bonehead had left a tanker car full of styrene (the chemical that is used to make styrofoam) on a siding east of Cincinnati. It went past its use-by date and started venting styrene into the atmosphere. (Highly toxic and carcinogenic and prone to exploding is styrene.) So we were faced with possible evacuation orders. My very sensible son turned to me and said, "Maybe you should just go to Michigan tonight."

The rest of my family lives outside Ann Arbor, MI, so I headed to my Mom's house that night, two days ahead of my scheduled plan. It was for the best. She let me sleep all I wanted, put no demands on me and cooked all kinds of great food. We had fresh tomatoes, zucchini, peppers from the garden and lovely cool weather. I finished getting better.

Tomorrow I fly home and start a new teaching job on Tuesday. It is all good. I will teach at a very small private school which takes kids who have fallen behind grade level and brings them back up where they should be. I will have a class of 10 students of all different ages, just like the one room schoolhouse teachers I used to read about when I was a young girl dreaming of being a teacher someday. And after a 5 hour day, I can go home and READ!!! And then post on my blog. Best of all, they are going to give the geometry and algebra kids to the other teacher. Whew.

So check back soon. I will have more book reviews plus my musings about movies and music. Whatever you do, don't get the flu. Take your vitamins, get enough sleep and think good thoughts. If you used to live in New Orleans, my prayers go out to you.

Monday, August 08, 2005


I am a member of four reading groups. This is a little crazy but it is working out pretty well. I joined the first one because I wanted someone to talk to about books. Then one thing led to another and I ended up being in four. It is good because a) I read books I would otherwise have never read (actually a mixed blessing. I had to read one by Nicholas Sparks a few months ago-yuck.) and b) I read books on my to-be-read pile that I otherwise was not getting around to. Also, as a budding writer, it is fascinating to me to hear all the different reactions from actual readers, not critics, to the same book. Being in four groups means I have a meeting about once a week which is a bit challenging but not impossible.

This month so far, I read Little Scarlet, by Walter Mosley and The Jane Austen Book Club, by Karen Joy Fowler together with Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen. I had been meaning to read The Jane Austen Book Club ever since it came out. The story involves five women and one man who read and discuss all of Jane's books over a six month period and I thought I would read the Austen books first, but reading a Jane Austen book just doesn't get me excited so I never got around to it. I did read Pride and Prejudice while I was reading Reading Lolita in Tehran last fall and it wasn't bad once I got used to all that stupid dialogue that she puts in to make fun of how people talked in those days. At least now I know what people mean when they talk about Darcy.

Anyway, The Jane Austen Book Club was a disappointment. It is the second book about book clubs I have read. (The other one was a reading group pick as well, entitled Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons.) I always think I will like this type of story because I love reading and I am in reading groups, but in both books, there are too many characters and you never really get deeply into any one of their lives. Plus this one was just too much like any other modern book about modern women and all their issues. She obviously was drawing comparisons between these women's lives and the women in Jane Austen's books, but the fact is that Jane Austen does it better.

So part of the plan this month was to also read Northanger Abbey in combination with the other book. (I will be interested to see how many group members managed to read both.) I finished the Fowler book yesterday and the Austen book tonight. Catherine is the heroine in Northanger Abbey, and she is the most likeable of Austen's women so far, in my opinion. She is a bit ditzy and unaware, mostly because she is young and also because she doesn't realize, as all the other women do, that getting a husband is THE THING. She suffers agonies over the stupid things she does and has a lovely sense of what is right socially, but has not a duplicitous bone in her body. And of course, in the end she gets her man.

Well, that is enough of Jane Austen for now. I am going back to the William Faulkner book I interrupted to read these two.


Well I am still on 1949, but I am getting close. Lots of reading getting done, but some of it is for reading groups. My eyeballs are not burning yet though, so I know I can do more, if only life would let me.

The Beginning and the End, by Naguib Mahfouz. He is Egyptian and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988. This is a good thing because then his books got translated into English. I am a big proponent of reading fiction by writers from other countries. I think it is a perfectly plausible road to world peace. Fiction by foreign authors is always a surprise to me, sometimes difficult to read, has viewpoints that are refreshingly not American and Mafouz did not disappoint me. He is one of the first Egyptians to write novels and he began writing them in the 1930s.

In this story, a family falls into poverty after the father dies. They were only barely middle-class when he was alive. The mother stoically keeps the family going. The daughter must go out and earn money as a seamstress, a source of dishonor for a woman in 1930s Egypt. Two of the sons finish school and assume positions. A third son has always been a reprobate, but he finds income through unsavory connections with crime and drug dealing and is the one who puts up the money to get the other boys started in life.

All of the children have various love interests but it is the middle son, who sacrifices his own wants to help his younger brother yet finally finds a wife, while all the others' lives end in tragedy. The whole book is a study on the degrading effects of poverty on otherwise fairly normal people. Each one has a character trait that becomes emphasized all out of proportion by circumstance, which makes the novel universal rather than local.

The book was published in 1949 and marked Mafouz's change from writing historical fiction to contemporary stories. I started to wonder, after I read this book, about Egypt. I've read countless books about ancient Egypt and two books by Mafouz about 20th century Egypt. What happened in between? Does anyone know of a good book about Egyptian history? What I would love is a James Michener or Edward Rutherfurd type of book that traces the whole history of the place.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005


I read The Season of Comfort, by Gore Vidal, as part of My Big Fat Reading Project (see post of this title from early July.) It was published in 1949 and is Vidal's fourth novel. It was just OK. I think he was trying to write a bestseller in the style of the time but it just didn't have that zing.

It is a family story. The head of the family is a Virginia politician who was once Vice President under Wilson. He is no longer in office, but his daughter is having her first baby as the book opens. It is actually this child's story and you watch him grow up and break free of his overbearing and slightly crazy mother. But just as he finds himself and decides to pursue a career as a fine artist, he goes off to fight in World War II and the story ends. It was not a bad story, but did not enlighten me in any way.

All of the four Vidal novels I've read so far concern young men finding themselves, but the best one was the first, Williwaw, which had some actual excitement in it. Of course Vidal went on to write many books including some lengthy historical fiction. It will be interesting to see how he develops as an author as I read through the years.

Speaking of which, I am very close to finishing the reading for 1949. I am excited. I will finally move into a new decade; the decade which most shaped my life. I started this project reading books from 1940, so this will be the ninth year I've finished. Every time I get to the last few books of a year, it seems that time slows down or all kinds of stuff comes up in life that keeps me from reading. I wanted to finish the last five books last week and only got through one of them. I get a bit frantic about it. Well, I get very edgy whenever I can't get in the amount of reading time I want to. I realized yesterday that reading is what I use to create space in my life. All the daily stresses and issues press in around me, but when I am reading I feel free of all that and am off to other lands, other lifestyles, other viewpoints and new ideas. I wonder how it is for other people who read lots of books.

Monday, August 01, 2005


I saw Walter Mosley speak at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books this spring. He talked about making the experience of black people real to other people. He read from the first chapter of Little Scarlet, his latest Easy Rawlins book. He is an excellent reader and I could still hear his voice when I began to read the book.

The setting is the Watts District of Los Angeles, 1965 in the aftermath of the riots there. A woman has been murdered and the only suspect is a white man. The Deputy Police commissioner does not want that to be true, as it will only cause a new eruption of violence. He summons Easy to help smooth the waters. Easy does more than that. He finds the real murderer.

This was the first I read about Easy Rawlins. He is quite a guy. Born dirt poor in Texas, he came and lived in the ghetto of LA but raised himself up. He owns a house outside of Watts, has a family of sorts and besides his job as a school janitor, he has a sort of private eye service for his people in Watts. He is serious about the evils of racism, but he is no prude. He does what he has to, to get the job done. He has a heart of gold and a chest full of anger towards the white establishment, including cops.

I thought the book was great. It works on many levels and does what I think fiction should do, which is put into words what people feel and know but cannot always express. But I read the book for a reading group discussion and was amazed to find that about half of the group disliked the book. They felt that it was too sympathetic towards violence and crime and could not see why blacks should still be so angry when slavery has been abolished for all these years. Why don't these people just get an education and get a grip and move on, was the attitude of this part of the group. Geez! I was dismayed at the blindness. I suppose that a writer can write the truth, but can never be sure it will be heard.