Monday, January 29, 2007


Well I actually did a rough draft of the next chapter of Reading For My Life. I know, you are saying, "Yeah, yeah." But really all I have to do is edit/re-write/etc. and you will have it.

Meanwhile, as promised, here are the books I liked most in 2006. They were not all published in 2006. They are culled from the books I read in 2006. I am proud to say that I read more books last year than ever before: 141. That is almost 12 per month. I impressed even myself.

1. The Thin Place, Kathryn Davis. Magical, mystical novel about modern times.
2. Ursula, Under, Ingrid Hill. Amazing fictional history of a northern Michigan family and what America really is.
3.Cryptonomicon, Neal Stephenson. More historical fiction combined with modern techno realities.
4. With Billie, Julia Blackburn. One righteous biography of Billie Holiday.
5. The Dream of Scipio, Iain Pears. Historical fiction again but which addresses what it takes to keep civilization going.
6. The Patron Saint of Liars, Ann Patchett. Very real and deep fiction about being a woman.
7. Small Island, Andrea Levy. Lives of Jamaican immigrants in post WWII England.
8. The Big Sky, A B Guthrie Jr. The best western I have ever read, hard to find, try used bookstores.
9. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer. The only fiction about 9/11 that I could believe. The coolest kid in fiction today.
10. White Ghost Girls, Alice Greenway. Incredible writing about sisters growing up in the Far East during the Vietnam War.
11. The Tender Bar, J R Moehringer. This is what memoir should be.
12. Brick Lane, Monica Ali. More immigrants in England, this time from Bangladesh. A great story.
13. There Will Never Be Another You, Carolyn See. If you like this author (I do), this is one of her best.
14. The King's English, Betsy Burton. The story of an independent bookstore. Reads like a page-turner novel.
15. Gifts, Ursula Le Guin. Supposed to be Young Adult fiction, but whatever she writes, it is about how to have peace on earth.

Sunday, January 21, 2007


The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C S Lewis, HarperCollins Publishers Inc, 1950, 189 pp
I must have read this book at least five times while I was growing up. It was one of those books, including Little Women, the first Nancy Drew book, etc., that I would read over and over, turning to it perhaps for security or comfort as life changed around me. It has possibly been almost 45 years since I read it last, but the magic held up. I read it with pleasure and was right there with Peter, Susan, Lucy and Edmund. In fact, I haven't been able to bring myself to watch "Narnia" because I am afraid they won't have gotten it right. I may have to finish re-reading the entire chronicles before I can watch the film.

Reading it this time, I noticed some new points as well. On the very first page it says that the children had been sent to the country and away from London, because of the war and the air raids. I hadn't remembered that and naturally it would have made no impression on me as a child because I didn't know what that meant.

Edmund's "punishment" for being selfish and beastly seemed overly lenient to me now, but when I was a child I was completely satisfied with the justice he received as a consequence of his actions. That says to me that children are quicker to forgive and believe in swift consequences as well as an easy re-acceptance of the guilty party once he has got what he had coming. I have decided that children have the right idea and that grownups are too serious and tend to hold grudges.

As far as Aslan, the Lion being a Christ symbol and all that goes, it is perhaps a bit overdone, but it did not bother me in the context of the story on this reading, anymore than it did when I was ignorant of the symbolism as a child. That Aslan came back to life because of "deeper magic from before the dawn of time" sounds just as plausible as that Jesus Christ arose from the dead because he was God's only son. I don't mean to upset any Christians by saying that, but I suppose I might.

Finally, my favorite concept when I was a child; that children could be gone to Narnia for years and come back to England to find that no time had passed, is still my favorite concept now. If only that were true when I emerge from a 500 page novel!

Now for the prize winners in 1950:

NATIONAL BOOK AWARD (NBA): This is the first year that this award was given.
The Man With the Golden Arm, Nelson Algren, Fawcett Publications Inc, 1949, 364 pp
Here is a quite dark novel about life in the gritty reality of postwar Chicago. Frank comes home from prison with bright ambitions to give up the life of a card dealer and drug addict and become a musician. Since he has come back to the same neighborhood where he got into trouble, he is soon embroiled in the same activities that put him in jail in the first place. It is only a matter of time before his drug dealer finds him and gets him hooked again.

By now, this is a familiar story but was undoubtedly new and exciting in 1950. Algren is a fine writer who creates the life of the streets and the thoughts in Frank's mind with great sympathy. It is a hopeless and depressing story but I was left feeling that many people's lives are just as desperate, except now we have welfare and anti-depressants.

The Way West, A B Guthrie, William Sloane Associates, 1949, 435 pp
I am so glad that I read Guthrie's earlier book, The Big Sky first, as it is much the better book. The Way West brings back Dick Summers, one of the key mountain men in The Big Sky. He is now the trail leader of a wagon train headed for Oregon.

The rest of the characters are families setting out from Missouri for a new life in Oregon. It is the final wave of pioneers, but these people are not wild independent spirits. They are settlers, and while they are tough and determined, they are looking to bring civilization to the wild lands of the West, to ensure that America gets these lands and not the British.

Instead of memorializing the last of a breed, Guthrie is now writing about the beginning of a venture. The story centers on a particular family, but includes the usual suspects involved in a wagon train. There is hardship, personality conflict, religion and a bit of romance. Guthrie is a good writer and brings it all alive, so it is a good tale.

I can see why this one took the prize, rather than The Big Sky, because it is the pioneers that America loves. We are a little leery of those wild mountain men.

NEWBERY AWARD (for children's fiction)
The Door in the Wall, Marguerite De Angeli, Random House Inc, 1949
The Newbery Award Medal for 1950 goes to this story of Robin, a ten year old boy in England during the Middle Ages. His father is off fighting with the King against the Scots. His mother has gone as lady-in-waiting to the Queen, thinking her son to be on his way to the castle of Sir Peter to train as a knight. But Robin fell ill and cannot use his legs.

He is rescued by a monk from a nearby abbey and eventually they make it to Sir Peter's. Robin must learn to find other strengths and live as a cripple, which he does with the help of the monks, a minstrel and others. When the castle is besieged, Robin goes for help and becomes a hero.

A good story, never boring for a moment. I wonder if this is the type of story the Newbery awards or if all books for juvenile readers are of this story pattern. So far it has been true of most of the winners.

CALDECOTT MEDAL (for picture book illustration)
Song of the Swallows, Leo Politi, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1949, 30 pp
This is a lovely story set in San Juan Capistrano at the small mission which is still there. It follows the seasons of the swallows, which come in spring and leave in late summer. Politi is also the illustrator. The tale conveys the love that children have for animals.


I have been notified by a couple readers that I am missed on the blog. Thanks for the nudge. On January 2, I started the new job at the bookstore. After a wonderful six months of not working, it was a shock, though I love the job. Have to get up at a certain time. Have to be gone to work for 24 hours a week, including driving. Plus my tutoring business suddenly filled up with kids who can't do their math.

When the going gets tough (and I fully realize that plenty of people work full time jobs and still get other things done), I get extremely anxious about my reading time. So besides religiously exercising off the holiday pounds and keeping my husband fed, all else I have been doing is reading.

And even my TBR pile has grown bigger because I got some great books for Christmas presents plus my new boss wants me to be well read in the Young Adult area. Phew! But thanks to some kind words from certain readers (I respond well to kindness), here I am at the computer on a Sunday morning composing a post or two for the blog. I haven't even read the NYT Book Review yet.

Today I will give you the final section of books read for 1950. A second post will be the promised Favorite Books of 2006. Then somehow this coming week, I hope to finish the chapter on 1950, in which my sister gets born and I learn about sibling rivalry.

How has your new year started off? What are you reading now? Comments are welcome.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007


World Enough and Time, Robert Penn Warren, Random House, 1950, 465 pp
This novel is really long, not as powerful as All The King's Men, but still a strong novel. Jeremiah Beaumont, son of a failed man, comes of age and tries to find justice in a corrupt world. The setting is Kentucky, the time is early 1800s. After the Revolutionary War, the new country had all lands to the Mississippi River. In the South, after 200 years of tobacco and cotton growing, the lands of the original colonies were depleted as well as crowded. Families crossed the mountains into Kentucky, cleared new land, fought off Indians and at some point Kentucky became a state. Then there was a financial crash and many farmers owed bank loans they couldn't pay.

So politics in Kentucky at that time was centered on what to do with all these indebted and impoverished people. One party favored a system of relief while the other party found that to be unconstitutional. Interesting to see the same old questions and the same old corruption way back then.

Jeremiah is a sort of innocent who believes in absolutes, who is looking for heroes and love in his life. But he is tricked by everyone because he can't get the knack of living in the gray areas. Once a woman gets involved, he is really sunk, especially because the woman, Rachel Jordan, has her own considerable woes.

Therefore World Enough and Time is a tragedy, but also an investigation into truth and justice. I was completely drawn into those ideas and also into the story. Some things I've read by other authors and critics suggest that Robert Penn Warren was not all that admired, but I disagree.

Helena, Evelyn Waugh, Little Brown and Company, 1950, 247 pp
The Empress Helena was the mother of Constantine the Great. In 313 AD, Constantine, as Roman Emperor, announced the toleration of Christianity in the Empire. Waugh has created in this book a fictional account of Helena's life and through her story has shown the conflicting forces of that age.

Helena became a Christian herself and after years of loneliness and neglect by her husband, set off on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. She was quite old for a woman of those times, but oversaw the building of churches at Bethlehem and Olivet (near to where Jesus was crucified.) She also had two pieces of the True Cross excavated and brought back to the Roman world where they became relics.

Waugh portrays her as a wise, no-nonsense woman who, by her intelligence and her faith, goes her own way. The book was a light and easy read even though the story dealt with such weighty issues. Especially ironic is that Constantine was the man who allowed Christianity to make its way into a mainstream religion, but himself had very little understanding of it.

I, Robot, Isaac Asimov, Doubleday, 1950, 272 pp
1950 is the first year for publication of large amounts of full length science fiction books. Many of the early sci fi books were collections of stories which the authors had published in the pulps during the 1940s and that is the case with I, Robot. According to Asimov in these stories, robots were first built only as machines but somewhere in the 1980s began to have something like sentience. Susan Calvin, Robopsychologist of United States Robots is about to retire at the age of 75, making it 2057 in the stories, and is looking back over her involvement with robots.

Humans and robots have had an uneasy relationship, even though robots were made by humans. Each robot was programmed according to three fundamental laws designed to prevent them from harming humans. Eventually, due to unions of workers and religious groups, robots were banned from Earth and could only be used in space.

Still situations came up, so Susan Calvin and other top executives and cyber-engineers of United States Robots had to troubleshoot those pesky robots. Each chapter is about one of those incidents. The writing and dialogue is about par for those days, but the humor and affinity for robots is great. I don't know where they got the screenplay for the movie version: it is nothing like the book.

I liked I, Robots immensely, especially the last episode, "The Evitable Conflict", where through robots and cybernetics, war has been eliminated by balancing supply and demand across the planet. The robots who do this are called "The Machines" and they even have a way of handling the greedy and the power seekers who would try to subvert them. Very enlightened concept.

The Man Who Sold the Moon, Robert A Heinlein, Signet Books, 1950, 167 pp
This crumbling paperback, which I found in a used bookstore, contains four stories from an unnamed "original edition". Some of the stories appear to have been first published in one or another of John Campbell's pulps.

The first story, "Let There Be Light", is about two scientists (a man and a woman) discovering how to harness solar power and sell it as energy. I was annoyed by Heinlein's attempt to write some kind of hip dialogue for the times.

"The Roads Must Roll" takes place in a future when rolling roads (something like the people movers in airports today, but much faster) have replaced cars and trains. A labor agitator causes big trouble.

"The Man Who Sold the Moon", long enough to be a novella, is the main piece and also a great story. Delos D Harriman has a dream to go to the moon. The government has dropped its space program, so Harriman decides to use his assets and those of any investors he can find to do it through private business. He is a consummate wheeler-dealer, a guy who never considers failure, someone not too worried about legalities and a man with a big purpose that includes the good of mankind. He pulls it off. He uses lawyers, PR men and audacity. But he doesn't get to go to the moon himself. He is trapped in the huge business he created because his investors are afraid it will all go bust if he leaves. Oh my, what a same-old story.

In "Requiem", the very short final story, Harriman gets revenge. I won't give it away, except to say that it made me feel like my own life has been worthwhile. How did Heinlein do that?

The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury, Doubleday, 1950, 181 pp
My only experience so far with fiction about Mars was a book by that title by Ben Bova. The Martian Chronicles was something wholly different. The only similarity was the idea of people from Earth going to Mars.

Bradbury's Mars has something of a fairytale sensibility about it. Houses of crystal pillars, crystal walls, golden fruits, a fossil sea which was once red, desert sands which melt into yellow wax. Martians still exist with brownish skin, yellow coin eyes and soft musical voices. In a series of very short stories, earthmen come. At first their expeditions are wiped out by Martians but finally the earthmen prevail, stay and bring more people until a population grows while Earth becomes worse and worse, ecologically and politically. Mars becomes commercialized and changed.

The ending is apocalyptic yet wonderful, cool and sentimental all at the same time, which I think is Bradbury's signature style. He is an original and I liked the book.

Pebble in the Sky, Isaac Asimov, Doubleday, 1950, 200pp
This book was really great! It is sci fi, in the future. Earth is a little planet in the Galactic Confederation. There is a group of Earthmen who want their planet back and want the good old days, but they have an evil leader who has very bad ideas on how to achieve this. It involves viruses! In 1950 Asimov includes viruses in a story!

The story also has a racial angle. A scientist from another planet falls in love with an earth girl (an earthie) and has to confront his prejudices, though he had considered himself "progressive" and free of all that. A complex story with many threads and a bit of mystery, suspense and good heroes. Very exciting read!


As was bound to happen, the New Year is here. I had the most fun, exciting and active holiday season I've had in a while. Lots of friends getting together for parties, food, music and talk. Despite all of the horrific events that the governments and media of the world prepared for our holiday depression, we managed to steer clear of too much political discussion and it was unanimously agreed that praying for peace, in whatever form each of us prays, was a good daily activity for all.

I have much to look forward to in 2007. Tomorrow I start a new job as a bookseller at one of my favorite local independent bookstores. If you are in the Los Angeles area, you can visit me there and buy lots of books from me. Once Upon A Time is located in Montrose, CA, just off the 210 freeway on Honolulu Ave at the corner of Ocean View. It is a comfortably packed store of fine literature and a huge selection of childrens and young adult books. In addition are scadillions of gift items from stuffed dragons to reader's toys.

I have also committed to playing a live show of my music in February. I am practicing guitar every day now and building up some new calluses while pulling my songs out of the oblivion of stored, no longer used items in my memory banks. I haven't performed for over two years and I am a little anxious about it but at "show time" I always come through.

Small self-promotion: If you want to check out my music, you can go to my music website: It is very out of date and all of the ordering information for my CDs is wrong, but you can email me directly from the site and tell me what you want. You can also find my first 2 CDs at My third CD was never marketed but can be ordered from me by email.

With all the new activity, I hope I can still get enough work done on my memoir, Reading For My Life, so that there is a chance of getting it done in this lifetime. I will have a lot of extra reading to do for the bookstore job, but I am encouraged to note that I read more books this past year than ever before in my life, so I am on a roll.

Coming up here on the blog are: The 1950 chapter of Reading For My Life.
My Top 10 (or more) List of Favorite Books from 2006.

Thanks so much to all of my readers this year. Your comments and feedback have been enjoyed by me more than I can express. Keep them coming!