Friday, April 30, 2010


Aloft, Chang-rae Lee, Riverhead Books, 2004, 343 pp

Lee's third novel was the one which brought him to my attention. It was widely reviewed with mixed reactions and I put it on my TBR list for 2004.

The story is once again set in the suburbs of New York City, but the Korean/American character is in the background this time. It is a family saga about Italians and their landscaping business created by  its patriarch, a crusty old guy who lives in assisted living at the time of the novel.

Jerry Battle, the main character, took over the business from his father after the other son was killed in Vietnam. Jerry retired and turned things over to his son who, in an attempt at expansion, has over-extended the company and is running it into the ground. Jerry has issues similar to Lee's previous main characters, revolving around an inability to connect with people and symbolized by his hobby. He owns a small plane and likes to fly over Long Island, feeling the detachment of being above it all.

Jerry's wife was a  Korean who eventually went insane back in the days when their family doctor knew little about treating mental illness. Her tragic death, witnessed by their two small children, left deep wounds in them all, but Jerry never confronted any of it. In the novel, it all comes to a head and he has to find a way to deal with several damaged family members.

Right from the beginning, I became engrossed in the story and the characters. Jerry Battle is a complex fellow with a rather twisted sense of humor. He reminded me of friends I had in Michigan who worked with their hands doing small construction and roofing jobs. I had an uncle who worked for Ford Motor Company in Detroit who also falls into this category of men who work physically hard all day and have barely enough energy left for their families despite being, deep down, soft-hearted and fairly faithful husbands.

I wouldn't have expected this author to write such an American story and demonstrate this depth of perception into American suburban life. Perhaps the critics were surprised as I was by this big leap of difference from his two earlier novels. The ability to entertain evidenced in Native Speaker is in fully realized form here. The characters and their actions belie the touchy-feely approach to family that supposedly characterized late 20th century American life, which I found refreshing and thought provoking and probably quite true.

(Aloft is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Thursday, April 29, 2010


The Rosemary Tree, Elizabeth Goudge, Coward-McCann, 1956, 381 pp

Elizabeth Goudge is an author who can always raise me up from whatever slough of despond I get my self into. After reading the dark novels I love, I go to her to restore my balance and faith in mankind. She never lets me down. She wrote over twenty novels in her lifetime, most of which are now out of print though any library with a good fiction selection carries her books.

 The Rosemary Tree is a story about people trying to deal with the greatly changed post WWII world. The central family is comprised of John Wentworth, a vicar, his wife and three daughters who live in the vicarage of a small English village along with Harriet, the nanny who raised John. Nearby in the manor house is John's aunt.

 On a typically quiet day, formerly famous author Michael Stone wanders into town. He has a troubled past and in fact has just been released from prison. The vicar's wife is his former sweetheart, so complications of the heart arise. Goudge's books often include a wise woman. Harriet plays that role in this one. Somehow through love and understanding and Christian charity, Michael is rehabilitated as a human being and the vicar's family remains intact.

The characters are wonderfully drawn, the wit is acerbic, the natural life of the English countryside is as healing as the palatably rendered Christian philosophy which is Elizabeth Goudge's trademark. She can almost send me back into the church but actually what she does is remind me of the universal truths in any religion by which I try to live my life.

Finally there is five year old Winkle, one of her masterpieces of a child. This author never married or had children which may be why she has such a clear-eyed view of what it is like to be a child, to have that mixture of wonder and mischievousness that kids have when they haven't been too messed up by those rearing them. A thread of the supernatural runs through Goudge's writing and in The Rosemary Tree, Winkle daydreams back to her spiritual home universe.

(The Rosemary Tree  is out of print, available at libraries or used book sellers.)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Breath, Eyes, Memory, Edwidge Danticat, Soho Press Inc, 1994, 234 pp

One of the wonders of the United States melting pot is its wide range of writers from other cultures who emigrate to America and write in English. This provides us with a built-in translation program carried out by the immigrants themselves with a lag of approximately one generation.

I decided to read Danticat in tribute to Haiti when the earthquake happened. Breath, Eyes, Memory is her first novel and while it is in part autobiographical, it is stunning. The style is plain and unassuming but made exotic by the glimpses into Haitian culture that Danticat provides. 

The first person narrator begins her story at age eleven, when she learns she is to be sent to her mother in New York City. She has been raised since infancy in a town outside Port au Prince by her aunt, whom she loves like a mother. Her own mother and the girl's birth are shrouded in mystery and in the way of eleven year old girls, Sophie would rather not know the details in the interests of maintaining the status quo.

However, off to New York she goes and unavoidably learns the grim details of her mother's past and of life as an impoverished minority in America. The most affecting aspect of the story is the custom of Haitian mothers repeatedly "testing" their teenage daughters to insure the girls remain virgins until they are married, which results in a mild form of genital mutilation deeply damaging to a woman's sexual development. Danticat reveals the tradition which goes back many generations and probably has its roots in African tribal culture.

 Eventually, Sophie grows up, marries, becomes a mother and because she is educated, goes back to Haiti to seek an understanding of her life and troubles as well as her mother's. The story traces that fragile path of a woman moving out of ignorance and superstition into knowledge and selfhood.

"I come from a place where breath, eyes, memory are one, a place from which you carry your past like the hair on your head. Where women return to their children as butterflies or as tears in the eyes of the statues that their daughters pray to. My mother was as brave as stars at dawn. She too was from this place. My mother was like that woman who could never bleed and then could never stop bleeding, the one who gave in to her pain, to live as a butterfly."

(Breath, Eyes, Memory is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Saturday, April 24, 2010


I get a break this month because I have already read two of the books coming up. Here is the line-up for my reading groups in May:

Adult Discussion Reading Group
Little Bee, Chris Cleave
Tuesday, May 11; 7:30 pm

Sunland/Tujunga One Book at a Time
Meets at Mi Casita, Sunland, CA
Contact for reservation: Lisa
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, David Wroblewski
Thursday, May 20; 7:30 pm

The 19th Wife, David Ebershoff
Monday, May 24, 7:00 pm

Mystery Reading Group w/ tea & scones
Open Season, C J Box
Wednesday, May 26, 8:30 am

Bookie Babes
Barnes & Noble, Burbank, CA
Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen
Wednesday, May 26, 7:30 pm
All of these groups are open to new members. Contact the store or contact person given if you are interested. 

Happy Reading

Friday, April 23, 2010


Palace Walk, Naguib Mahfouz, Doubleday, 1956, 498 pp

(Palace Walk is the first volume of the Cairo Trilogy. It was originally published in Arabic in 1956; translated by William M Hutchins and Olive E Kenny, then released in English by Doubleday in 1990)

Naguib Mahfouz is a Nobel prize winner from 1988. He is credited as the first Egyptian to write modern novels. Palace Walk follows a middle class family through two years in the early 1900s. World War I is ending, leaving Egypt under occupation by British forces, their leaders sent into exile and the populace in rebellion. The political factors are as much a part of the story as the family matters. This has been Mahfouz's theme in all his novels so far: the outside influences which bring change to religious and family traditions.

Al-Sayyid Ahmad, the father of the family, is a complex character who rules his wife and children in the strictest interpretation of Muslim patriarchy. His wife and two daughters never leave the home unless wrapped in cloaks and veils and under his close chaparonage. His three sons work or go to school but all live in abject fear of Ahmad's anger and displeasure.

But out in the world, Ahmad is admired and well thought of even though he is a womanizer and gets drunk every night. As his children begin to marry and one son becomes deeply involved in revolutionary activities, Ahmad has to confront the contradictions in his character though he changes little.

The plight of most women is dire. Basically imprisoned in their homes, submissive to husbands from arranged marriages and only scantily educated, they play no other part in the social world besides mother and wife. The only alternative for a woman is to become an entertainer and mistress to wealthy men. Not all husbands are as strict as Ahmad, who exemplifies the extreme, but no "respected" woman gets far.

Palace Walk is a look into another culture, though also an example of life in present day Iran and Afghanistan. I predict further and more far reaching upheavals in the second and third books of the Cairo Trilogy, but in this first volume, Mahfouz has laid out how Egypt was before the larger picture changed.

As a writer, he is strong on character, both male and female. His plotting is less dramatic so it is the characters, their emotions and conflicts, hopes and fears, that drive the novel and keep one reading. In every one of his books so far, I have reached the end satisfied by a stirring tale.

(Palace Walk is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


The Yiddish Policeman's Union, Michael Chabon, HarperCollins, 2007, 411 pp

In the second novel I have read by Chabon, the first being The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, I was again enchanted with his prose, his descriptive powers and his plumbing of the human heart. The author was awarded both the Hugo and Nebula awards for this inventive tale of alternate history. So convincing is he that two readers in my reading group thought it was true.

What if the oppressed Jews of WW II had been given asylum in Alaska, on an island where they lived, multiplied and flourished in an uneasy coexistence with the native Tlingit Indians? What if, after sixty years, a born-again Christian American President ruled that time was up and their protected Federal District of Sitka would revert to Alaskan control?

Meyer Landsman is a ruin of a homicide police detective, your typical noir character except that he is Jewish. By a freak of co-existence, his partner is also his cousin, Berko Shemets, a half-breed who professes Judaism. Meyer's marriage has shipwrecked on the shoals of a lost child but he gets no relief from his undying grief because his wife is also his boss: the chief of police.

So when a man is found murdered in the cheap hotel where Landsman is living, all the faults and fractures of Meyer's life and of the Jewish community begin to gap and break, creating a wild tale that is comprised of family saga, murder mystery, love story and an intimate look into Yiddish life and the Jewish diaspora.

It is Chabon's unique style to combine tragedy and comedy. In straying as close to some fine line as possible, he incorporates enough melodrama and slapstick to make his highly literary novels into page turners. If you don't know Yiddish and you have no Jewish background, I recommend the paperback which has a handy glossary. It also helps to have a Jewish friend you can question at various points. 

The Yiddish Policeman's Union was a fabulous read. I am thankful to my reading group, the Bookie Babes of Burbank, CA, for getting me to read a book that has been on my TBR list for three years, but of which I was a little afraid. And rightly so!

(The Yiddish Policeman's Union and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay are available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Monday, April 19, 2010


The Subtle Knife, Philip Pullman, Random House, 1997, 326 pp

Oh my! In Philip Pullman's second volume of His Dark Materials trilogy, things get darker, weirder and more ominous. Lyra, the central character in The Golden Compass, having chased after her father, lands in not one, but two other worlds.

A new character, twelve-year-old Will Parry, enters the tale. He is also seeking his father and becomes a somewhat unwilling companion to Lyra. As if there were not enough evil and dangerous characters in The Golden Compass, new abominations appear, such as the Spectors who consume the souls of adults but leave children alone. However, the children are now orphans without adult supervision who resemble those kids in Lord of the Flies.

After 300 pages of heart racing, heart stopping, and heartbreaking action, this volume ends in the cliff hanger of all time. If I had had the third and final volume, The Amber Spyglass, on my shelves I would have begun reading it immediately. Oh yes, the "subtle knife" is indeed subtle though lethal beyond belief. It never goes dull but you would not want it in your kitchen.

I almost want to postpone reading the final volume because I am not sure I want the story to be over.

(The Subtle Knife as well as The Golden Compass and The Amber Spyglass are on the shelves in the fantasy/science fiction section at Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Friday, April 16, 2010


Retreat to Innocence, Doris Lessing, Michael Joseph Ltd, 1956, 334 pp

It could be that 1956 was just cursed. It took me forever to read the list of books for this year and hardly any of them excited or impressed me. Retreat to Innocence lacks the power of Doris Lessing's first two novels.

 Set in London rather than South Africa, it tells the story of an affair between Julia, a young woman who is bored with her life, and Jan Brod, who is a writer, a Jew, a communist and an expatriate of Czechoslovakia. Julia, feeling unloved by her current boyfriend Roger, had taken to frequenting a coffeehouse where Jan Brod hung out. She rather throws herself at Brod and ends up becoming his lover, though he is much older and doesn't love her anymore than Roger does.

So the summer moves slowly along as does the story. Julia has very little understanding of herself, life around her, or Brod. The whole affair is doomed. In the way of spoiled young women, she comes to the end of the affair unchanged though she has been exposed to new ideas and realities.

I finished the book unsure of Lessing's point. Was she trying to show the shallowness of British people or the double standards of British immigration policies or the sad failures of communist idealism or what? Lessing has done all she could in later years to suppress the book, claiming that it is too sentimental. In fact, I had a hard time finding it. Perhaps someday when I read her autobiographies, I'll find out why she wrote and published it at all. 

(Retreat to Innocence, as I mentioned, is hard to find. It was not even in any of my libraries. It can be ordered from used booksellers on-line.)

Thursday, April 15, 2010


A Gesture Life, Chang-rae Lee, Riverhead Books, 1999, 356 pp

Chang-rae Lee's second novel did not fully work for me. Again he has a protagonist who is adrift between cultures. Franklin Hata was born in Japan to impoverished Korean parents, then adopted out to a Japanese family who raised him with every advantage. He had planned to become a doctor but before he could complete his medical training he was conscripted into the Japanese military. He served throughout WW II as a medic.

When the story opens, Doc Hata has made what he considers a successful life in a small community north of New York City. He owned and ran a medical supply store, got wealthy and has the respect of the entire town. For reasons that are not clear, he adopted a Japanese orphan whom he named Sunny, but when she hit her teenage years she suddenly flipped from super obedient to uncontrollably rebellious and left home. She and Franklin were estranged for six years, though she come back into his life later in the book.

I felt the author did too well in creating his main character. The tone of the writing is Franklin's voice completely but because he is so concerned with his manners, his efforts to "fit in" and because he is so emotionally repressed, I grew to dislike him intensely. His emotional death makes him incapable of dealing with Sunny's problems to the degree that he drives her away. 

Finally after almost 200 pages of this, the man's back story is revealed in bits and pieces. Only then do you learn how he became the man he is. I was sorely tempted to give up on this novel and even though the story made sense in the end and was truly tragic, I had been made to wait so long that I did not care as much as I felt I should have. 

Possibly Lee's slow and controlled pace is an Asian thing, though in his first book, Native Speaker, the action enticed me all the way through. In the war scenes, he does create a highly distressing sense of the Japanese military mind under the Emperor, which fits with American novels I have read about the war in Asia. But this novel was such a departure from his first, that I felt I was reading a different author.  

(A Gesture Life is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Boon Island, Kenneth Roberts, Doubleday & Company Inc, 1956, 275 pp

The #10 bestseller of 1956 is what I call "dick lit." Extreme adventure with not one female character until the last few pages. Essentially it is a ship wreck story and is meant to show the benefits of strong leadership in times of peril and stress.
Kenneth Roberts had two top bestsellers in the 1940s: Oliver Wiswell (1940) and Lydia Bailey (1947). He is an excellent story teller, is clearly on the right politically, and can create fascinating female characters when they fit in the story. Boon Island however, is Lord of the Flies with a happy ending, where the good guys win.

A group of men set out from England in 1710 with a cargo of rope and Irish cheese, bound for Maine. They are harboring a young man who accidentally commited murder back in London. Also on board are a psychopathic first mate and two of his cronies. The first mate is the type of character who brings evil into the midst of men of good will. Captain Dean is your level-headed, patient yet firm sort who would lead a boyscout troop these days.

Within one day's sail of their destination, in the middle of winter, they are driven by a storm onto desolate, rocky Boon Island. Will they survive in freezing temperatures on nothing but mussels and seaweed? Will the evil Langman succeed in taking over from the admirable Captain Dean?

It is an exciting story with plenty of psychological content and many mentions of how hardworking people save the day though they carry the slackers on their backs. Clearly men still read novels in the mid 1950s.

(Boon Island  is out of print, except for a revised version which is also hard to find. I recommend your local library or a used book seller.)

Friday, April 09, 2010


The Mandarins, Simone de Beauvoir, The World Publishing Company, 1956, 610 pp

I read the #9 bestseller of 1956 while vacationing in wintertime Sedona, AZ. Long, wordy, philosophical but with a compelling story, it was just great.
Located in Paris and later in America, the story begins on Christmas Eve, 1944, at a party to celebrate the liberation of France from Germany. The gathering includes the main characters, all leftists, writers,  and publishers who were involved to one degree or another in the Resistance against the Germans. They are now dreaming of the possibilities for the future of France.

De Beauvoir does a marvelous job of juxtapositioning the personal with the political to create a novel of love and ideas. She is equally good at portraying the men and the women, all of whom are well-read intellectuals. The book speaks to intelligent readers as all of her books do.

The critical literature about The Mandarins names real life personages as the ones behind its characters. Robert, the philosopher and writer, is Jean Paul Sartre; his wife Anne is de Beauvoir herself; Henri, young novelist and journalist as well as student of Robert, is Albert Camus; and Anne's American lover Lewis is Nelson Algren. All of that is interesting enough but what I enjoyed was the author's ruminations on how much influence intellectuals and writers really have on the course of history and political/societal change. As a reader, that is a question I ponder daily and the underlying purpose of My Big Fat Reading Project. The other conundrum addressed is the role of romantic love and how that differs individual by individual and between men and women.

I doubt The Mandarins would even sell in today's world, let alone become a bestseller. The fact that it did so in the mid 1950s says to me that the decade was not the intellectual dark age that many like to claim it was.

(The Mandarins is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Thursday, April 08, 2010


The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold, Little Brown and Company, 2002, 328 pp

I reread The Lovely Bones for the One Book at a Time Reading Group. I had recently read a chapter in Dorothea Brande's Becoming A Writer where she talks about how to read like a writer. One of the exercises was to read a book twice: once for pleasure and a second time for analysis. 

I began this reading by making notes about things I noticed and that was fine. But soon enough I was just drawn in to the story and reading with great pleasure. In fact, I liked the book much better this time. When I read it in 2003, I was looking at her whole heaven thing through my own spiritual views and hers made me uncomfortable. I found myself scoffing at that aspect of the book. I also felt at that time that the ending was sappy.

Now I have lost both of my parents, even watching one of them die. I've been five years grieving for them. What a difference it makes to have my own reality on losing loved ones.

Another point: I have now read enough to recognize that there are two themes going on here: One is the effect of a loss by death of a family member on the remaining members. Secondly, the book is a mystery because even though Susie knows who killed her, no one else does. She wants them to solve and revenge her death. Like Lisa See's hungry ghost in Peony in Love, Susie does not get everything she wants. None of us here on earth do. In fact, she gets much more of what she wants in her "heaven."

Then there is Ruth who is odd, psychic, and a student of death. She is like a Hindu goddess and actually the strongest character in the book. I noted that she only deals with women who were killed by forms of abuse from men.

In summary: rereading is very worthwhile, although I usually feel I don't have time because of all the books that I still want to read. But I now eagerly anticipate rereading my favorite authors, Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison and Barbara Kingsolver. 

I have not seen the movie made from The Lovely Bones. I was a bit afraid of it but now that I have reread the book, I am ready. Has anyone seen it? I would value your comments.

(The Lovely Bones is available in paperback on the shelf at Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)



I know. I missed a day again. What can I say? I was writing for pay yesterday.

Today's word is tohubohu and comes from page 99 of The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon.

tohubohu is a noun meaning chaos; disorder; confusion. It comes from the Hebrew tōhū wā-bhōhū

My sentence: After the earthquake, tohubohu was the order of the day. 

Please give us a sentence. 

Tuesday, April 06, 2010


The Tribe That Lost Its Head, Nicholas Monsarrat, William Sloane Associates, 1956, 598 pp

This long novel was the #8 bestseller in 1956. Set on a fictitious island off the west coast of Africa, it is a story of trouble between the British Empire and the natives on the island, which Great Britain has ruled for 100 years.
Troubles have erupted before because just about anything can set off the natives who become savage and violent. This time the catalysts are the death of the tribe's chief, the return of the chief's son from England where he has been getting an education and the descent on the island of the worst kind of news reporters.

The overall tone is pro-Empire and conservative. The British residents on the island (the Governor, the Resident Commissioner and the head of police) see no other solution than the use of military force to put down the violence and take out the few key natives who are fomenting the situation. Due to the meddling of a sensationalist press, who run around stirring up trouble between the two sides, the outside world is on the side of the natives, wanting to see them have their freedom. The line of the British government is that the tribe is not "ready" for self-government and won't be for a long time.

I was of course annoyed by this conservative view but by the end of the book I realized that once any white "advanced" civilization subjugates a more primitive people, there are several things at stake. Primarily it is an economic problem, because the subjugators are there for their own profit. In their view, the natives are "ready" for self-government when they have been sufficiently "civilized," meaning they can enter into the economy of the rest of the world as players rather than as workers/slaves within the system.

Now I understand the "white man's burden" and I must thank Nicholas Monsarrat for making it clear to me. It was created by the white man as an explanation. We will plunder the natural resources of primitive areas and in return we will "teach" the natives how to play the game, but we do not really envision ever giving them as much power as we have. What a world.

(The Tribe That Lost Its Head is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)


Bayou Suzette, Lois Lenski, Frederick A Stokes Co, 1943, 208 pp

Bayou Suzette is the first in Lois Lenski's American Regional Series. Between 1943 and 1968, she wrote 17 books for readers aged 8-12, covering many of the major regions of the United States. Her purpose was to tell children how other children lived in various areas of the country. In today's world of cookie cutter towns with all the same eateries and shops, Lenski's books give the flavor and essence of regions in our country when they were unique only 60 years ago. (Link to her bibliography.)

Suzette is the irrepressible daughter of a large Creole family living in a small town amid the Mississippi Delta. When the story opens, her father is bedridden from a gunshot wound that failed to heal after a shooting competition. All the children in the family contribute to keep money and food coming in. Suzette's job is fishing.

Eventually she meets and brings home an orphaned Indian girl named Marteel. Indians (which is what they were called in the 1940s, not Native Americans) were considered the lowest class of people in the Delta: dirty, untrustworthy and even dangerous. But Suzette's big-hearted though tough-minded Maman is eventually won over, especially after Marteel helps the family in important ways.

The Creole community is rambunctious and somewhat wild with family feuds, feasting days and hard times that include the flooding of the Mississippi. Lenski's children are not goody-goody or examples of correct behavior. Suzette has plenty of strong willed gumption which alternates between adventure and defiance.

I was captivated on every page of this lively story.

(Bayou Suzette is out of print, so you would need to check your local library or used book sellers.)

Monday, April 05, 2010


Native Speaker, Chang-rae Lee, Riverhead Books, 1995, 324 pp

This novel is amazing! I don't know how I could have missed it for almost 15 years. The author is Korean born, raised and educated in the United States (Yale, MFA from University of Oregon, now teaches at Princeton.) 

Henry Park, the main character, was raised in New York City by Korean immigrants, so as is usual in first novels, there is some autobiographical influence here. Henry's father, who had been an electrical engineer in Korea, built up a successful chain of small grocery stores in the city and eventually moved his family to the suburbs. When the story opens, Henry is working as a spy for a private espionage company and is married to a white American woman. They have lost a child, their marriage is crumbling and Henry has recently survived a disastrous assignment at his company. In other words, his carefully created life is in shambles. Henry is a very careful man in most respects though he has a penchant for danger.

This is not ordinary story about the strain of a lost child on a marriage however. Nor is it a second generation immigrant tale nor a spy thriller, though it is all of those things. It is the weaving of these three narrative threads, as well as Lee's corruscating style that places the novel way above the norm. Aside from probably being ahead of his time, the novel could have won a Pulitzer Prize, because it is a quintessential American story for the 21st century in the way that Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is.

I was infatuated on every page, wanting to read as fast as I could but lingering to savor sentences. Henry Park has a plethora of issues which center in an inability to express his inner feelings in spoken language, an understandable weakness for a person raised between two languages and two almost opposing cultures. His wife Lelia, another stunningly created character, is a speech therapist who is defeated by her own husband's speaking deficiencies.

Presumably Chang-rae Lee is intimately familiar with his protagonist's troubles. Happily for us readers, he has overcome them, at least as a writer. Rarely does a novel so fully insert me into  the lives of its characters. Every time I open a new book, I hope for this type of reading experience and in Native Speaker I got it.

(Native Speaker is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)


I have been reading, but not blogging. Good old blogger had some issues last week. First all the images disappeared from the blog: that was scary! A couple days later they reappeared. Then for a day I couldn't get on to compose a new post. That was annoying. Then I just lost my momentum. But it is a new week, all seems well now, so here I go.

Even though I live in southern California, March was a rainy, cold and cloudy month. I read 17 books. I only have 12 books left on my reading list for 1957 and since I planned to finish the list in April, I will make that goal. 

Here is a rundown of what I read in March:

The Dream of Perpetual Motion, Dexter Palmer
Raising Demons, Shirley Jackson 
Rebel Yell, Alice Randall 
The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold, Evelyn Waugh
Pnin, Vladimir Nabokov
Palace of Desire, Naguib Mahfouz
Native Speaker, Chang-rae Lee
The Sandcastle, Iris Murdoch
Thunder on the Right, Mary Stewart
The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold
A Gesture Life, Chang-rae Lee
The Yiddish Policeman's Union, Michael Chabon
The Tale of Despereaux, Kate DiCamillo
Breath, Eyes, Memory, Edwidge Danticat
The Company She Keeps, Mary McCarthy
Aloft, Chang-rae Lee
The Surrendered, Chang-rae Lee

I am going to be reviewing Chang-rae Lee's new book The Surrendered for BookBrowse this month, so I read every book he has written in the order in which he wrote them. That was a new challenge for me and intensely interesting. Reading four books by the same author in the space of three weeks put me so much into his world, style and ideas. I usually like to read an author's works from first to latest because I enjoy seeing how the author grows and changes as a writer, but this was an even deeper step than that. 

I was looking forward to The Dream of Perpetual Motion because it is steampunk and by a first time author, but I did not like it at all (though plenty of other people seemed to), so there will be no review of it here on the blog. If you read and liked it, let me know and I will give it another chance.

What did you read last month? What did you like?