Thursday, October 17, 2019

THE DEFECTOR


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The Defector, Daniel Silva, G P Putnam's Sons, 2009, 466 pp
 
Another great thriller from Mr Silva. The Defector is a bona fide sequel to its predecessor in the series, Moscow Rules. The entire series is best read in sequence I feel, but especially this time.
 
In order to avoid spoilers I cannot say much about the plot except that the things Israeli assassin Gabriel Allon thought he had fixed in Moscow Rules did not stay fixed so he has to go back to Russia, Putin's Russia. His new wife Chiara has been kidnapped by the villain from the earlier book and Gabriel is determined to rescue her or die trying. I can say he does not die. He can't because the series is still going, but their lives are forever changed.

Seeing as how Russia continues to this day to make trouble for the US, Europe and in the Middle East, Daniel Silva's series continues to give an excellent picture of the past two decades of political turmoil in the Western world.

Last decade, between 2002 and 2005, I read Upton Sinclair's Lanny Budd series. Those ten books were eye-opening for me as to the causes and results of WWI and WWII, including the Cold War and the influences of communism throughout the world. His viewpoint was definitely from a liberal perspective; fine with me because I call myself a Liberal.

I feel like Daniel Silva is carrying on that education for me. Though I don't see much hope or progress for the liberal idea that the arc of history bends toward justice, it eases me somehow to at least have some idea of the causes of injustice.

OK, Mr Silva, nine books read and ten more to go. I hope to finish the series by the time the next book comes out.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

A MOVEABLE FEAST


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A Moveable Feast, The Restored Edition, Ernest Hemingway, Scribner, 1964/2009, 225 pp
 
I have a mixed relationship with Ernest Hemingway. I have only read four of his novels. For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940) was my favorite and I liked The Sun Also Rises (1926) pretty well. Across the River and Into the Trees (1950) was a bit misogynistic and repetitive for me. The Old Man and the Sea (1952) won a Pulitzer Prize, is revered by critics, literature professors and other serious readers. I was underwhelmed by a story that told an eternal tale about life being tough with the only fun being hunting/overcoming the elements.
 
I have also read Paula Hawkins's The Paris Wife, in which she paints him as a cold-hearted, self-involved womanizer. So why should I take this guy seriously?

A Moveable Feast is another book loved by Hemingway fans but when it came up on my 1964 list I was going to blow it off. I am glad I didn't.

It is a memoir, published posthumously after the author's suicide in 1961. His working title had been "The Paris Sketches," written between 1957 and 1959. He was looking back on his early years as a writer in Paris during the 1920s.

When Hemingway died his publishers at Scribner were still awaiting an introduction and the final chapter. So A Moveable Feast as it was originally published in 1964 was compiled by editors. I read the later "Restored Edition" with omitted material reinserted by Patrick Hemingway, a son from one of the author's four wives, and Sean Hemingway, a grandson.

Who knows what Ernest himself really wanted in the book? He opted out by ending his own life.

I am glad I read it though because I got at least a version of Hemingway's own and how he felt about those years. He had regrets about his treatment of all his wives, admitting that he was deficient as a husband. He includes what to me are revealing accounts of his friendships and acquaintances in the Paris years: Gertrude Stein, Sylvia Beach (founder of Shakespeare and Company Bookstore), Ford Maddox Ford, Ezra Pound, F Scott Fitzgerald and others. 

He goes into detail about his writing process in those years and the many, many books he read. It was easier to live in poverty then, he thought. Well, I feel that way about the late 1960s. It is always easier to live in poverty when one is young, in love, and not yet a parent. 
 
But I saw that he and his first wife Hadley were quite in love, even though he did use her as a bed partner, a secretary and almost a servant. They had fun skiing in the Alps back when there were no chair lifts. Hemingway believed that climbing up those mountains made one's legs so strong that you could not possibly break them skiing down!

I am still not sure I trust the man but reading A Moveable Feast reminded me that behind or inside every artist is just a human being with weaknesses, foibles, self-doubts, and mistakes made. Most people merely live the best they can (or don't.) Artists rise above all that and produce lasting creations that attempt to make sense of it for the rest of us.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

OCTOBER READING GROUP UPDATE






Quite a nice and varied lineup in my groups this month. 

Carol's Group:
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Tina's Group:
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One Book At A Time:
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Bookie Babes:
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I have finished reading The Ten Thousand Doors and loved it. Currently struggling through A Passage to India. I have already read and discussed Where the Crawdads Sing for another group but it's always good to discuss a book I thought was great.
Have you read and/or discussed any of these?

Thursday, October 10, 2019

THE LONELY HEARTS HOTEL


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The Lonely Hearts Hotel, Heather O'Neill, Riverhead Books, 2017, 389 pp
 
Summary from Goodreads: Two babies are abandoned in a Montreal orphanage in the winter of 1914. Before long, their talents emerge: Pierrot is a piano prodigy; Rose lights up even the dreariest room with her dancing and comedy. As they travel around the city performing clown routines, the children fall in love with each other and dream up a plan for the most extraordinary and seductive circus show the world has ever seen.

Separated as teenagers, sent off to work as servants during the Great Depression, both descend into the city's underworld, dabbling in sex, drugs and theft in order to survive. But when Rose and Pierrot finally reunite beneath the snowflakes after years of searching and desperate poverty the possibilities of their childhood dreams are renewed, and they'll go to extreme lengths to make them come true. Soon, Rose, Pierrot and their troupe of clowns and chorus girls have hit New York, commanding the stage as well as the alleys, and neither the theater nor the underworld will ever look the same.
 
My Review:
My favorite book read in September will also be on my Top 25 Books Read in 2019. 
 
There are many reasons to read books: to learn about life and the world, to understand history, to find empathy for all types of people and creatures, to be entertained, to feel any and all possible emotions. I read for all those reasons.
 
My #1 reason for continuing to open the covers of as many books as I can is to find the ones that take me away to places of wonder. The Lonely Hearts Hotel did that for me, more completely than perhaps the great majority of books I have read.
 
Orphans, a love story, music, magic, clowns, deepest sorrows, highest achievements, all set in two iconic cities: Montreal and New York. These are ingredients that never fail to lure me in and when they are combined with style and sympathy and a clear-eyed look at life, as Heather O'Neill has done, I never want the book to end.
 
This is a novel for grownups who will not ever forget the spells cast on them by certain books in their childhoods, maybe more geared for females but I wouldn't want to make that judgement on either the book or the readers. I guess what is more true is it's a book for a select group of readers who would recognize each other anywhere. 
 

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

THE TESTAMENTS


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The Testaments, Margaret Atwood, Nan A Talese/Doubleday, 2019, 415 pp
 
I first read Margaret Atwood in 1996. The book was Cat's Eye, her 7th novel published in 1989, the year I turned 42 and she turned 50. Next I read The Robber Bride, then Alias Grace. I found her to be one of the most intelligent authors I'd read and utterly brilliant when it came to females and their relationships with each other as well as with men. I wondered how I could learn to be that intelligent.
 
Now I am 72 and Margaret is almost 80. As I moved towards the end of middle age I had decided that I would navigate my older years seeking wisdom. As always, Margaret Atwood is way ahead of me. From The Handmaid's Tale through to the MaddAddam trilogy, The Heart Goes Last and now The Testaments, her wisdom as well as her wit has just grown and grown.

I loved The Testaments! The characters, the pace, and the reassurance that women can fight oppression at any age with smarts, courage, cooperation and even a touch of evil. Women of three generations inhabit the story. Not all of them are nice people, well perhaps none of them are. It's not always about being nice. Some are good, some are horrible. 

They are united only by an aversion to being under the thumbs of men. Not all men are bad of course, but they easily can become handy with those thumbs as well as other body parts.

Margaret Atwood's wisdom, along with a sharp sense of politics and deep awareness of how human beings act and react, shines through The Testaments on every page. She has said she may be done writing novels. I say she deserves to make that choice. After all, that is one of the things wisdom is for. If she is done, she has left us with a perfect sequel to The Handmaid's Tale.

Monday, October 07, 2019

OUR TRIP TO LASSEN VOLCANIC NATIONAL PARK







As I mentioned last week, I have wanted to go to Lassen ever since reading Nevada Barr's mystery Firestorm. On Sunday, September 29, we got up at 5 am and were on the road by 6:30. Most of the 8 hour drive from Los Angeles to Lassen is on I5, the interstate that runs from the California/Mexican border at Tijuana to the Canadian border at Vancouver. We like to stop, stretch and change drivers often so we made it to Mineral, CA in about 10 hours.

Our first stop in the area was Highlands Ranch Resort. We did not get rooms there but had heard about their excellent restaurant. So after a leisurely happy hour at the bar with its great bar menu we headed to our more economical cabin. By then it was close to dark and the predicted storm of rain mixed with snow had begun.

I loved that our front porch was tucked behind two huge pine trees. We had a kitchen, small living room, bedroom and bath. Once we got the heater going we were cosy under lots of blankets because it rained and snowed all night.
 
We woke to a wonderland of snow on trees and the ground though the roads in the area were cleared. But when we arrived at the park we learned that the road through the park was closed. We walked up the road as far as we could, adjusting to the altitude of 5000 feet! But we could see Lassen Peak where the last eruption of its volcano was in 1913. It was cold and I was bundled!
 

 
We spent the rest of the day studying the exhibits in the Visitor Center and driving around the Lassen National Forest which surrounds the park, enjoying a picnic by a lake, and another great dinner at Highlands Ranch.
 
On Tuesday morning the 29 mile road through the park was open! Some of the trails we had picked out to hike were still covered with snow, some were too steep for me, but we walked along a creek, then hiked to and around Summit Lake. I lagged along while Greg went ahead and then came back to fetch me. I loved seeing chipmunks, birds, snow cascading down from the trees as the sun warmed the area and spotting animal tracks.
 
 
By the end of the afternoon we had driven the entire road and then drove back to the entrance. Amazing how much different things looked when going in the opposite direction!
 
 


 


 
The rocks in the foreground of this last photo are from the 1913 eruption! That area is called Chaos Crags.
 
After another 10 hours on the road on Wednesday we were home. All that driving was so worth it!! The next day I started another Nevada Barr mystery, Blood Lure, set in Glacier National Park. Thanks to our trip I could just feel the atmosphere, the unique combination of wilderness and human care that keeps our National Parks protected and gives us a chance to experience a bit of what our country was like before we made it into what it is now. 
 
I can't recommend those books enough for giving the feel of the parks, the experience of what park rangers go through to keep us safe while also protecting the parks from human wrongdoing. If you can get to any of the many American National Parks it is the most wonderful adventure, even for weaklings like me, and the most soul reviving, nature appreciating thing I have found. We met a couple guys who had been off-trail for four days and had not even known the road was closed until we connected at Summit Lake! 

I wonder where we will go next year.
 
 

Friday, October 04, 2019

BOOKS READ IN SEPTEMBER





September was a busy month including a family weekend in the middle and our trip to Lassen Volcanic National Park beginning on the 29th. The trip was amazing, epic and soul nourishing. I will try to squeeze in a post about it. The National Parks of the USA are one of our best national treasures. I am so grateful to have the time and the resources to visit at least one a year and I encourage everyone to do so. 

Meanwhile I managed to read a good number of books, the shortest and yet some of the best were four Caldecott Medal winning picture books. I am making a brief study of the illustration styles that were awarded in the 1990s and will do a post on those books when I get through the decade.

Stats:
15 books read. 13 fiction. 7 by women. 3 for My Big Fat Reading Project. 2 memoir. 2 speculative. 3 thriller. 4 picture book.

Countries visited: Russia, Canada, Great Britain, France, USA, Israel.

Authors new to me: Jason Matthews, T Kira Madden, Abby Geni, Heather O'Niell, Alex Michaelides, David Wiesner, Peggy Rathmann, Paul O Zelinsky, Allen Say, Hubert Selby Jr.

Favorite: The Lonely Hearts Hotel
Least Favorite: The Silent Patient
 
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Have you read any of these? What were your favorite books read in September?


Saturday, September 28, 2019

OUR ANNUAL FALL VACATION







We are about to embark on our latest National Park adventure. This year we will visit Lassen Volcanic National Park in northeastern California. We hope to hike as much as the weather and my lung capacity will allow. There are rain, possible snow showers, as well as sun in the forecast!
 
The photo above does not do justice to the entire area but you can get further info and pictures here  and the history of volcanoes in the area here.
 
I was inspired to go to Lassen by a book, of course. Nevada Barr's fourth mystery, Firestorm, was set there. Finally we will see it in real life without the wild fires and blizzards that feature in the book.

I will be back to my blog and yours later next week.

THE WILDLANDS


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The Wildlands, Abby Geni, Counterpoint, 2018, 357 pp
 
I read this novel for a reading group. When we discussed it last week we all agreed that it started out rather unimpressive, got better as it went along, then became totally gripping and had a perfect ending.
 
The McCloud family of Mercy, Oklahoma, lost every bit of their home and farm due to a Category Five tornado. The four siblings had already lost their mother at the birth of the youngest; their father disappeared without a trace in the tornado. Darlene, the eldest, was left with no choice but to give up her dream of college and take care of Tucker, Jane and Cora.

Tucker soon took off. Darlene worked at the local grocery store while Jane and Cora went to school. All of them were crammed into a rundown motor home living in near poverty.

After a year, Tucker resurfaces, having become an eco-terrorist. He lures 9 year old Cora to join him on a cross-country mission to wreak havoc on those who mistreat animals.

I felt the author took too long setting up the story with a tightly controlled narrative style, telling rather than showing the extreme emotional distress of these siblings. Once Cora leaves with Tucker the pace and style of the story picked up. 

It was then I saw that Darlene's tightly controlling nature had been the voice of that first part. When Tucker is in control of the story, it gets progressively wilder and crazy. Darlene's life then becomes a desperate search for her abducted sister.

I have read novels about eco-terrorism before. Like any terrorist, a madness takes over with such characters. The author got that exactly right with Tucker. You don't know until the very last chapters whether Cora will survive the madness or perish.

All in all, a great read with a well-constructed plot.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

LAST DAY


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Last Day, Domenica Ruta, Speigel & Grau, 2019, 274 pp
 
Domenica Ruta is an author to watch. Her debut With or Without You, a memoir, was so gripping I read it in a day. Last Day, her first novel, was one I had to warm up to but she left me impressed by the end.
 
We may be reaching saturation on the post-apocalyptic novel just as we may be reaching saturation on the climate change debate. Who among us can go through each and every day knowing that the long prophesied end of the world as we know it is quite probably coming in the next 50 to 100 years?

Last Day is another look at the ultimate outcome for the sentient being experiment on planet Earth. It is told from multiple viewpoints as various as we have in real life: an astronaut on the International Space Station, a young woman raised by religious helicopter parents, a messed up tatoo artist with criminal tendencies, a mentally challenged orphan aging out of group homes, and a lapsed Jehovah's Witness.

At the fictional future time in which the story takes place, all around the world humans celebrate/anticipate the end of days. Once a year on May 28, in accordance with each area's traditional ethos, Last Day is a worldwide event.

The tone of Domenica Ruta's sparkling imagination is layered with humanist wit. A funny doomsday story, you might ask? Yes, I say.

Within all the variety of human personality types, goals and ethics, she seems to say, we share the responsibility and the consequences for our home world and our individual lives. Really, because of that deep truth, how else could it end?

Monday, September 23, 2019

LONG LIVE THE TRIBE OF FATHERLESS GIRLS


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Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls, T Kira Madden, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019, 304 pp
 
In her debut, a memoir, T Kira Madden relates a childhood full of loneliness and confusion but also so much love that it did not destroy her. Reading the book I was aware of it being carefully crafted with the most beautiful language she could create. Without self pity she revealed emotions that both fit her age as she grew while tinging them with the insights she gained from looking back as a grown woman.
 
I don't want to say more. I knew maybe too much from listening to her interview on the Otherppl podcast before reading her book. So much that I was in doubt about getting into it. As it turned out her style of compiling incidents into vignettes both short and long was a perfect blend of the wonder and the horror of childhood.

Not once did I feel emotionally manipulated nor was I overcome by what she exposes. Perhaps if I knew her personally or was a relative I would have. Instead my heart went out to her. She seems to have come to a place in life free of recrimination. She did mention therapy in her interview, but she clearly never stopped loving either of her parents.

If you decide to read the book, perhaps you will have some of the thoughts and speculations I had concerning this paradox: how some people have had fine, almost idyllic childhoods and grew up to have bad lives while some lived through bad troubles and grew up to find themselves and create good lives. I suppose we are all somewhere on that particular spectrum. It behooves us all to live with tolerance for others, especially our parents and our children.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

WITH SHUDDERING FALL


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With Shuddering Fall, Joyce Carol Oates, Vanguard Press, 1964, 316 pp 
 
This the first novel by Joyce Carol Oates. I read it once before in 1992 and judging from what I said about the book in my reading log, I had little idea what it was about except that the characters were like no one I had yet met in books or in life.
 
Rereading it 27 years later I could hardly believe it was a debut novel. I do know from having read Invisible Writer, a biography of JCO by Greg Johnson, that she wrote several novels and then threw them away before even seeking publication. I also learned that she was raised in a small rural town similar to the one in this novel.

She therefore did not just make up a dark story wherein an innocent 17 year old girl gets mixed up with the violent son of the crazy hermit who was a neighbor and old friend of her father. She saw lives like these around her as a child.

I don't agree with the synopsis/summary on the Goodreads page but to tell you why would be to reveal too much about the plot. The girl Karen does enter into a compulsive affair with Shar, a race car driver, but her reason for doing so is buried in the first section of the story. Revenge is the main theme formed from a violent act against her father which was beyond Karen's experience of life so far. 

Her unwavering commitment, her lack of concern for herself, her icy control, are portrayed in scenes as chilling as anything I have read by Shirley Jackson or Carson McCullers or Flannery O'Connor.

I am pleased that I took the time to reread With Shuddering Fall. I have been reading Joyce Carol Oates for many years, but sporadically and in no particular order. I hope to read all the novels in order, a large project because she is so prolific. She has devoted fans as well as readers who dislike her books with equal passion. I am one of the former. How about you?

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

RED SPARROW


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Red Sparrow, Jason Matthews, Scribner, 2013, 431 pp
 
I picked this up on a whim at the library because my husband and I loved the 2018 movie adaptation. (I will watch Jennifer Lawrence in anything she does.)
 
Jason Matthews is another retired CIA officer who turned to fiction. Former intelligence people write the best spy fiction in my opinion because they have lived it.

The book goes into much more detail than the movie about both CIA and Russian intelligence. Plus Putin is quite present in the story. Was he even in the movie? Even though Matthews may have overdone it a bit with all that detail, I found the novel quite informative.

Finally, the book ends with the idea that there will be more to the story of Dominika and Nathaniel. What do you know? There are two sequels! Hopefully there will be two more movies as well.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

NO CURTAIN CALL


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No Curtain Call, Alice Zogg, Aventine Press, 2019, 200 pp
 
This is the latest mystery by my self-publishing friend Alice Zogg. It is her 14th book! She has recently left her series character who featured in the first 10 books and her last four have been stand-alones set in and around Los Angeles. 
 
Retired sheriff's department lieutenant Nick Fox is trying to make a new life for himself after being nearly blown to bits during his police work. An old friend asks Nick to investigate the death of his high school age son.

The case is three and a half years cold, having been written off as a suicide. The thing is, the boy died from an opioid overdose and no one had ever seen him even drink let alone use drugs.

The other thing is Jim Hoang was a high achiever at the elite Citadel High School who had performed his first role in the school musical but died on stage during the final curtain call. His parents believe he was murdered.

Nick Fox knows how to conduct an investigation and most of the potential suspects are drama students from Citadel. Having recently read Trust Exercise by Susan Choi, also set in an elite high school with an emphasis on the performing arts, I must admire how well Alice Zogg drew her characters with all their teenage drama on and off the stage.

This author never lets me figure out who done it until her investigator does. As always she continues to outdo her earlier books with ever tighter plots and deeper looks into the characters. She is proof of the maxim that one can teach oneself to write simply by writing. Since I know her personally I know that she writes these books for her own enjoyment and from her own drive to create them.

I do enjoy a mystery I can read in one day!

Sunday, September 15, 2019

STAR WATCHMAN






Star Watchman, Ben Bova, ACE Books, 1964, 217 pp
 
Many years ago I read Mars by Ben Bova, liked it, and decided to put the author on my Big Fat Reading Project lists. I thought that Star Watchman was his first book. Now I have found out it was his second and his first is either out of print or hard to find. So I am starting with this one and going on from here.
 
The human race has expanded into space and built an interstellar empire by taking over from an ancient alien race known as "the Others," a barbaric and ruthless sort who are still around with designs to recover their power. 

Star Watch Junior Officer Emil Vorgens has been dispatched to investigate an uprising on Shinar, a relatively minor planet. He is rather out of his depth on his first mission and must man up, defy Earth's military leader on Shinar, and try to prevent an all out major war with the Others.

This was an entertaining story complete with three opposing forces: Earth, the Others and a revolutionary band of Shinar inhabitants. Vorgens uses his wits, his courage and his commitment to the role of Watchman to resolve the situation.

In Ben Bova's introduction to the edition I read, he says, "The problems of colonial wars...where major powers fight 'minor' wars in some Third World country were uppermost in my mind as I wrote Star Watchman." Those minor wars in the early 1960s were France in Algeria and the US in Vietnam.

Thus I found Bova's ideas about a better way for those two countries to handle such conflicts, as he portrayed those ideas in his story, quite interesting and applicable even to today's conflicts around the world.

Bova has written scads of books, won 6 Hugo awards and is still going with his latest book Earth just released this past July. I look forward to reading more.

If you have read Bova, which have been your favorite books?

Friday, September 13, 2019

GAIN


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Gain, Richard Powers, Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1998, 408pp
 
Continuing my reading of Richard Powers novels in reverse publication order. Seven read and five to go.
 
I was worried I would dislike Gain because one of the main characters has cancer, ovarian to be exact. I get squeamish reading "cancer novels" and I did in this one too. However, in classic Powers style, he ties her story in with the carcinogenic impact of toxic waste produced by the cosmetics factory of a huge American company located in this woman's town.

Clare & Company, started by three brothers as a soap manufacturing concern in 19th century Boston, grew into an international consumer products conglomerate (think Proctor & Gamble.) Tracing the growth of this business gives Powers the opportunity to present a history of capitalist business practice in America. 

Most of the financial shenanigans went over my head but the rest of it was fascinating as it traces the incredible growth of just about everything in America over three centuries, showing how we got from then to now. Makes your head spin.

I happen to be one who fully believes that the malignant rise of cancer in the world is a direct result of the radiation and chemicals we spew into the environment. That is a downside of all that industrial growth and our luxurious way of life. Don't get me started on the epic fail of medicine to find an even somewhat humanitarian way to treat this scourge. (My apologies to those who have successfully survived the disease.)

Now I find myself reading all the labels on my soaps, cleaners and cosmetic products even more obsessively than I did before.

Once again, Richard Powers took a scenario from which we suffer while we benefit, focused it on the personal human level, and forced me to learn much more than I knew before. Gain is a link from Rachel Carson's Silent Spring to the world we have today.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

LOST CHILDREN ARCHIVE


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Lost Children Archive, Valeria Luiselli, Alfred A Knopf, 2019, 375 pp
 
Another one of the best books I have read this year. This is an utterly down-to-earth while at the same time enchanting novel. Luiselli tells the stories of a "found" family; of children lost while emigrating to America from Central America; of one woman's obsession with those lost children; and of two special children who tie it all together.
 
A man and a woman, both single parents, meet while working together to document the sounds and diverse peoples of New York City. They fall in love and make a family with the woman's daughter and the man's son. Their lives are happy for several years.

When the adults find their interests and paths diverging they set out for Arizona where the man wants to document lost Apaches. The woman hopes she can find the missing immigrant children of a New York friend and still preserve her marriage. The two children are closer than many natural siblings.

Will this "family" come unhinged due to the parents growing apart? Their weeks long trip across the country by automobile is a process of disintegration for the parents while the children sense with a growing awareness that the parents might not stay together. The boy invents a heroic quest to save his family and reintegrate his parents. Though this section of the book dragged a bit for me it was livened up by all the details of their days and reminded me of the road trips my family made every summer when I was young.
 
Luiselli structures her story using intricate methods that parallel the puzzles of family, Native American genocide and the current immigration crisis. She begins quietly in New York, meanders through the road trip section, then explodes into the final section with a change of narrator and a bit of magical realism.
 
I would say the risks in Lost Children Archive are as high for the reader as they are for the characters. If you make it all the way you will be rewarded with a tragic but magical finish that will blow your mind and stir your heart.


Monday, September 09, 2019

SEPTEMBER READING GROUP UPDATE




Reading groups are few this month and I have already read The Alice Network. That is fine because there are so many great books releasing lately that all I want to do is read what I want to read. Even so, I am always glad to see my reader friends in real life!

One Book At A Time:
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Carol's Group:
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Bookie Babes:
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So, female spies, humans vs animals, and a psychological thriller. Sounds pretty good.
Have you read and/or discussed any of these? What are your groups discussing this month?

Sunday, September 08, 2019

MEMORIES OF THE FUTURE


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Memories of the Future, Siri Hustvedt, Simon & Schuster, 2019, 315 pp
 
This is the fourth Siri Hustvedt novel I have read. It sounds hyperbolic but I pretty much worship this author for her intelligence and her well formed feminist views. My top two favorites are What I Loved and The Blazing World. I think Memories of the Future is her most tricky and complex novel yet and don't expect everyone to like it. In fact, possibly many readers I know would not like it at all.
 
What she has done is created a fictional memoir. In the process she examines memory, the female in the arts, a #MeToo incident, and the power of imagination, anger and rebellion to lead a woman to freedom despite all.

Since I am trying, and mostly failing, to write an account of my own life, I found gems in Hustvedt's novel as to how it can be done. I have thought of taking a class in memoir writing but have a horror of someone else telling me how to do it before I have made all my own mistakes first.

I have been reading through a self-created syllabus of actual memoirs and autobiographies. Each time I read one I am given illuminations. Probably not the most efficient way to go about getting the project done but I learn the most about writing by reading.

Here in Siri Hustvedt's ficitonal memoir is another clue: writing memoir is a dialogue among one's various selves over the decades. I was beginning to realize that on my own but I got a brilliant example of how to do it.

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

STONE UPON STONE


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Stone Upon Stone, Wieslaw Mysliwski, Archipelago Books, 2010, 534 pp (originally published in Poland, 1999, translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston)
 
"Stone upon stone
On stone a stone
And on that stone
Another stone" 
-from a folk song

This book was my translated novel for the month. It has sat on my shelves for almost a decade and I kept putting off reading it because it is so long. It turned out to be a mixed blessing.

First of all, it took me 10 days to read, during which I got several wonderful naps. The title comes from the folk song quoted above. Polish peasants, people who have farmed grain and raised animals for centuries upon centuries, are now dealing with rapid change after WWII has left their ancient country under communist rule.

The pace of life went at the speed evoked in the song. A peasant son narrates his life story. I don't know if it is a Polish thing but he and everyone else in the book go on and on, so many words. Like a cow chewing cud, they ruminate about their thoughts, tell tales, and give each other advice.

Gradually I became immersed in a world that only moves as fast as a day from sunrise to sunset, a year from planting to harvest to cold long winter to spring planting again. I moved into the head and heart of a man who rebelled and fought against the tyranny of his father, the monotony of peasant life, the oppression of military invasion, but never lost his sense of himself or became beaten down.

The translation is wonderful. It sings, it sounds modern and almost serves as a metaphor for the wrenching changes these people were put through. The underlying wisdom of such simple folk, derived from their intimate connection with the land and its cycles of life, comes rising up out of all those words. 
 
Like the overwhelming majority of reviews I read, I too ended up loving the book, feeling a transcendence as regards the extremes of which human life is composed. I do not regret one second of the time I spent reading what is a masterpiece of an epic. Life is a mixed blessing.

"Stone upon stone
On stone a stone
And on that stone
Another stone"