[Who is the Bookwoman?]
The Bookwoman has taken 2004 off in attempt to complete her
screenplay and get her act together. She will return to these pages
as time permits.
been doing a lot of light reading over the last couple of months.
Here's an incomplete list...
Dollar by Margaret Maron: Unfortunately, I think I've read
all the books in the Deborah Knott series. This one has some
really interesting details about carnival culture and the judge
finally gets into bed with the Deputy Sheriff (woohoo) but the
mystery wasn't very good and it was overpowered by the family,
neighbor and personal stories that are normally a warm and witty
complement to solid mystery plots in Maron's books.
Murder is Announced by Agatha Christie: Re-reading a couple
of Miss Marple mysteries. 10-15 years after the first reading, I
didn't remember who done it so it was great fun to figure them
out all over again.
- The Murder at the Vicarage by
Mojo by Joe R. Lansdale: I've read and reviewed another book
by this author, The Bottoms, which was far superior. This
one had likable characters and a good sense of place but it
didn't quite ring true on a lot of levels - a bit too preachy.
Lansdale was preaching to the choir when he should have been
concentrating on crafting a believable story.
- Last Lesson of Summer by
Big Trouble by Laura Lippman
Strip by Nancy Bartholomew: Okay, I gave this author two
chances because the book covers are fluorescent (signaling
sexy/funny/female-oriented) but these Sierra Lavotini mysteries
just don't hold up.
- Resurrection Men by Ian Rankin:
A little bit difficult to get into. I think this book must have
been very late in a series that I've never read before. I always
think that I want to read the mysteries set in contemporary U.K.
but I can't ever seem to get comfortable with them.
- Shampoo Planet by Douglas
Naked Detective by Lawrence Shames: This one kind of fizzled
but it started out strong and there were some nice touches that
were a cut above the rest. Since it is set in Key West, Florida
and doesn't take itself too seriously, you have to compare it to
something by Carl Hiassen but I think Shames' book has more
smarts than anything I've read by Hiassen.
- Banker by Dick Francis: Stress
- Proof by Dick Francis: Stress
- Flying Finish by Dick Francis:
- Straight by Dick Francis: Stress
- High Stakes by Dick Francis:
- Killer Market by Margaret Maron
- Back Spin by Harlan Coben
- Drag Strip by Nancy Bartholomew
- Mr. Perfect by Linda Howard:
Recommended by my sister...not as bad as I expected.
- Kill and Tell by Linda Howard
- Now You See Her by Linda Howard
- Darkness More Than Night by
- A Blind Eye by G.M. Ford
- Fury by G.M. Ford
- To the Nines by Janet
These books are always fun (and quick) to read.
River by G.M. Ford: My friends and I have read and enjoyed
all of Ford's Leo Waterman series of humorous mysteries set in
and around Seattle and were delighted to discover that he's got
a new series with a new protagonist, Frank Corso. I started with
the second of the three books, which I now consider to be the
best of the three. There is still a nice sense of humor and a
good sense of place (still Seattle) but these Corso books are a
little more "hard-boiled" as they say. I don't
generally crave harder boiling but I appreciate decent writing,
intelligent dialogue and a good sense of humor -- these books
have all that.
Making of Toro by Mark Sundeen: Last summer, in a bookstore
on the main street in Moab, I mistakenly walked into an organized reading
with Mark Sundeen as one of the featured local authors. I had
read Car Camping and liked it, although not as much as a
number of my male acquaintances (including several mainstays of
the Goliard creative staff), who quote the book frequently.
Anyway, while the other local authors were reading their pieces,
I noticed this lanky blond guy in distressed jeans, boots and a
worn yellow button-up shirt skulking around by the magazine rack and
looking nervous. He turned out to be Mark Sundeen, who
subsequently read the first chapter of Toro and was very
impressive. The chapter is funny and well-written and Sundeen's
faux-shy smirk and his obvious appreciation of his own silly
scene were irresistible. So, I was thrilled when the book was
finally released and read it quickly, with much enjoyment and
appreciation. I'm a sucker for the unreliable narrator, the
dramatic irony, the fine sense of humor and the positive,
authentic character who shines through all of the embellishments
and affectations. Since I'm basically a middle-class gringa
at heart with a happy family background and non-divorced parents, my
favorite part of the book was toward the end, when the narrator
talks about driving home from his grandparents' house with his
eyes closed in the "way-back" of the station wagon and
recognizing the turns as the family approached their home, and
pretending to be asleep so that his dad would carry him inside
to bed. My sister and I spent similar time in the
"way-back" of our family's station wagon and I vividly
remember the feeling as the car turned onto Agricultural Blvd
from Liberty then left on Monroe and finally right on Barberry
Lane then "Home again, home again, jiggety jig jig."
in a Mood Indigo by Francine Matthews: A friend brought me
this paper-back mystery after a vacation on the New England
coast. He had visited the Nantucket island beach where the bones
are discovered in the book. I like mysteries with a strong sense
of place and I'm trying to cultivate an appreciation for the
female authors in the genre but I find myself unable to
enthusiastically endorse the "Merry Folger" series of
mysteries. The book is fairly well-written but the heroine is
sort of annoying (she mentions repeatedly that her ancestors
were among the first to settle Nantucket and has a serious case
of daddy's girl/grand-daddy's girl syndrome). Plus, her
interrogation style is so pompous and aggressive to be
ridiculous and not very believable. Also, it was so obvious who
the murderer was going to be that I had almost talked myself
into believing that the big "twist" was going to be
that someone else did it. Alas, the big "twist"
revealed what I had already figured out before the book was
half-way over, in a wastefully bloody way. So, I'd probably read
another one of these books if it was given to me and I'd
certainly choose this author over, say, Nevada Barr or J.A.
Jance, but I'd prefer a Margaret Maron or (guilty pleasure)
Janet Evanovich any day.
Incognito by Tom Robbins: I think that Robbins is a very
talented writer of lyrical, thought-provoking, wacky books and I
would highly recommend Skinny Legs and All, Even
Cowgirls Get the Blues and most of the rest of his oeuvre.
However, Villa Incognito was less than expected. It
seemed to be the first rough draft of a Robbins novel.
Conventional Corpse by Joan Hess: Embarrassing.
Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes: I would not
recommend this book as a little light summer reading or place it
into someone's lap at a birthday party (as was done to me a
couple of months ago by a well-intentioned friend) but I will
acknowledge that the book was well-worth the effort that it most
certainly required. It provides a very thorough history of the
scientific discoveries and political factors that contributed to
the development of the first nuclear weapons, including
interesting portraits of some major scientific thinkers of the
20th Century (Niels Bohr, Ernest Rutherford, Enrico Fermi,
etc.). It also includes detailed coverage of the massive
administrative and engineering effort that was the Manhattan
Project. Although I expected it in advance, I was somewhat
depressed by the sense of inevitability, the suggestion that if
something can be done in science, it will be done so the
important thing is to be the first person to do it, the relative
lack of ethical reflection among the scientists and engineers,
etc. It was a great theoretical and engineering achievement and
many of the scientists who worked on the project were mindful of
the effects of their work and were convinced of their
justification and even responsibility to develop the bomb. But
the Germans weren't going to develop the bomb before the
Americans or even any time soon and the Allied forces would have
accepted a conditional surrender if not for a slip of the tongue
and the Japanese would have been willing to surrender
conditionally without the destruction of Hiroshima (and they
were practically in the act of surrender during the bomb run on
Nagasaki) and of course the Russians were going to do whatever
they could to balance the power. Everyone seemed to think that
the outcome was inevitable because scientists discovered the
ability to split the atom and yet it took many years and
billions of dollars and many intelligent, responsible people
saying "yes, this is what we should do" in order to
achieve it. How can that be inevitable?
Anne by Daphne Du Maurier: I loved Du Maurier's Rebecca
when I was a teenager and I picked this book up for 35 cents at
a thrift store. She apparently wrote the book about her own
great...?...great grandmother and the story was probably much
more interesting to her as a relative than to me as a reader. It
reminded me a bit of Defoe's Moll Flanders.
Motion by Johnathan Franzen: This one wasn't as carefully
constructed as The Corrections, which was itself a bit sprawling
and self-indulgent, but there are some really good parts among a
lot of parts that lack focus, especially the chapter about
"living in the black."
Corrections by Johnathan Franzen: This book has been highly
acclaimed by the critics and there are some really wonderful
things about it. Many of the descriptions are quite clever and
beautifully written and much of the "critique" of late
20th century America, middle America, etc. rings true. As a
rule, I don't really care for the lewd academic type characters
(O'Toole's Confederacy of Dunces, Dunleavey's Gingerbread
Man, etc.) like Chip (I think because it usually seems that
the author identifies too much with these characters and tends
to overindulge them) and I found nothing to connect with in Gary
and his family. However, I responded to Denise's story and (I
have no idea whether it is true to life but...) I was
particularly interested in the description of the elderly couple
and the effect of Parkinson's disease on the husband.
Track by Margaret Maron: I'll keep reading the Maron books
about Judge Knott whenever I find one at the library or used
bookstore. I like their sense of humor, family and place even
though the mysteries themselves are pretty lightweight. I'd put
her on the shelf somewhere near Paretsky's V.I. Warshawsky books
but far above authors such as Nevada Barr, J.A. Jance, Sue
Search of J.D. Salinger by Ian Hamilton: I started the book
irritated with the author for tormenting a talented writer who
obviously wanted to be left alone (and using an "alter
ego" as a device in the narration) but I ended the book
quite sad to have my illusions shattered about Salinger's
gentle, sensitive and brilliant soul.
and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig: I
firmly believed that I read this book when I was about 15 but
upon re-reading discovered that only the first couple of
chapters were vaguely familiar. I'm afraid that my teenage self
may have claimed credit for a book that she didn't actually
finish. Anyway, this was the first of many re-evaluations that I
had to make when reading the book.
Phelan's Greatest Game by William Kennedy: Although I liked
this book, it definitely wasn't as effective as Ironweed.
Stories by J.D. Salinger: I'm going to be quite daring and
list my favorites in descending order - The Laughing Man, For
Esme..., De Daumier-Smith's..., ...Bananafish, Teddy, Pretty
Mouth..., Uncle Wiggily..., ...Dinghy, ...Eskimos. While I'm out
on the literary limb, I'll express some musings on the
conclusion to "Teddy." I think that Teddy's sister
accidentally pushed him into the empty pool and screamed when
she realized what she had done. The walls of the swimming pool
room would probably be tile and reverberate in the same way that
the pool would. Also, I don't think she would have time for a
"sustained scream" if she were falling into the pool
herself. I don't think that Teddy would have purposely let his
sister die in his place, even at the last minute. And I think
that it was clear to that reader and Mr. Nicholson (whoever he
is) that Teddy dispassionately expected to move onto his next
life that morning. Okay, since I'm still out here, how about
"...Bananafish?" I don't understand how the Seymour
Glass from "Raise High the Roofbeams, Carpenters"
could have shot himself on the twin bed directly across from
where his wife was taking a nap. That's an aggressive and
mean-spirited act, which seems to be directed at Muriel more
than himself. He knew what Muriel was when he married her and he
had no right to attack her in this manner. If he felt trapped in
a banana hole, there are other ways, much more worthy of that
most sensitive of souls, that he could have self-destructed. Of
course, I didn't understand how the Seymour of
"...Carpenters" could have thrown the rock at his
childhood friend so maybe I'm missing the same thing in both
and Zooey by J.D. Salinger: I liked a lot of things about
these stories but they were a bit tedious and self-indulgent. I
had read this book before but didn't remember many of the
details. However, I had the idea that people think there were
incestuous undercurrents in the story. Perhaps my radar detector
for incest "vibes" is not very strong but I didn't get
that at all?! I'll have to do some research to get to the bottom
High the Roofbeams, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction by
J.D. Salinger: I thought that "Raise High the Roofbeams,
Carpenters" was a beautiful story. It was beautifully
written and funny, with truly interesting characters and a
wonderful "aura." I can't help but grin at the thought
of the narrator's affinity for the little deaf-mute gentleman in
the back seat. I didn't always enjoy reading the "Seymour:
An Introduction" story but I respect the effort and think
that it deserves a more careful re-reading when I'm in the mood
to be scholarly.
Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger: Since the back cover of the
Borderliners (I know I shouldn't read those) quoted
someone who compared Hoeg's book to Salinger's, I was inspired
to read this classic again. It really does deserve all of the
praise that it receives. Just for fun, I looked up the poem
by Robert Burns that inspires the book's title. It appears
to be about a girl who has a sexual experience (or many) out in
a field. I guess that I can understand how it would be
significant that Holden would impose his unrealistic dream of an
eternal childhood with this poem of sexual maturity but I
definitely don't understand why this poem would have been a hymn
that people sang in Sunday school?! More opportunity for
by Peter Hoeg: This book was well-written and the author did
a good job of establishing a sort of tamely sinister atmosphere.
I was quite interested in the "philosophical"
examination of time, the portrayal of the orphanage/reform
school system in Denmark and the impact on a boy who went
through the system. However, the "mystery" about the
"experimentation" on the students in the school didn't
make much sense to me.
Murder Book by Jonathan Kellerman: Another book chosen to
get me through a plane trip. My mother used to buy these books
in the checkout line and, since I used to read all of her
paperbacks when she finished them, I read quite a few of the
early books in this series. I remembered Alex Delaware as a
relatively intelligent and interesting "detective"
character but I thought that this book was fairly lame. Could be
because it was about the 20th in the series. Also, the author
photo on the inside of the back cover is pretty creepy...
Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver: I really liked this book and
have really liked everything that I've read by this author. I
like her sense of humor and her compassion and her strong female
characters. This one was set in a fictional Arizona town and has
a fine sense of place.
That Remains by Patricia Cornwell: A Kay Scarpeta mystery,
for reading on the plane on the way to Boston. I was interested
in the mystery but the denouement was pretty disappointing. I
think that mystery authors should figure out the end first and
then go from there because this is the worst part of most of
these paperback mysteries -- the author can never seem to figure
out a satisfying (or even logical, sometimes) conclusion.
Green Hills of Africa by Ernest Hemingway: I'll concur with
everyone who praises the descriptions but also with everyone who
criticizes the subject, big game hunting, and pities the
author's preoccupation with alcohol. I remember that I once
really enjoyed a short story about hills and white elephants and
liked another story about a husband and wife on a safari
(someone gets hurt, though, and I think that the characters were
actually characters and not Hemingway). I guess I thought that
this book was going to be one of those. Oh well.
Thirsty Muse: Alcohol and the American Writer by Tom Dardis:
I read the introduction and the chapter on Hemingway. Dardis
makes the case that Hemingway was an alcoholic, although he
never acknowledged it, and that it had a negative impact on his
later works. His point seems to be that, contrary to popular opinion, use of alcohol
does not make one a better writer but instead erodes the
abilities of talented artists.
in the Stream by Ernest Hemingway: Some parts of this book
were enjoyable but it lacks focus and cohesiveness. I'm
fascinated by the main character, alcohol, and wonder whether
the people around Hemingway were actually so persistent in
urging him to drink as the characters around the protagonist
Thomas Hudson were. Or is this some kind of distortion produced
by the alcoholism? Although it is terribly indulgent to try to
discover the character of the author in his/her works of
fiction, given the obvious parallels between the author and
protagonist in this book, it is impossible to resist. So, I'm
also interested in why the three sons in the book die very young
when Hemingway's three sons in real life did not...
Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway: I enjoyed this book and
am inspired to read more by and about Hemingway.
Night's Shore by Randall Silvis: This mystery is set in New
York City in the 1840s, with Edgar Allen Poe in the role of
"detective." The narrator, Little Augie Dubbins, is
appealing and the portrayal of Poe is sympathetic, although the
mystery is a little thin. I like this genre (historical,
literary, mystery) and think that this book was better than many
of the mysteries that are currently published. I'd say it was
much better than the books with Mark Twain as the protagonist
but not as good as The Alienist by Caleb Carr, with Teddy
Roosevelt et al.
Before Man by Margaret Atwood: I generally like Atwood's
books but I much preferred Cat's Eye and The
Handmaid's Tale to this book. I was really irritated by the
clumsy ploy of starting each chapter with the date of the
events/thoughts depicted (e.g. February 14, 1976). It seemed to serve
no purpose except to allow Atwood to insert a couple of episodes
that happened before the time covered by the narrative into the
middle of the book. However,
by the time those episodes were inserted, I had long since
stopped reading the dates and was therefore a little confused
and a lot irritated by the flashback.
Modes and Effects Analysis by Paul Palady: Perhaps it would be
best to just let you wonder about this one. ;-)
of Bones by Michael Connelly: I still think that Michael
Connelly is one of the best Mystery authors writing now but this
book was not nearly as good as some of his previous books. The
"twist" that Connelly usually does so well seemed to
be uninspired this time..
to Exhale by Terry McMillan: Although it is not the defining
characteristic of this book, I continue to be baffled by this
technique of describing very specific details to an almost
obsessive degree. Such as, (and I'm making these sentences up as
an example) "she pulled into the McDonald's drive-thru and
ordered a cheeseburger, a Big Mac, French fries and two orange
sodas then she squeezed the ketchup packet onto the paper
wrapper so that the kids could dip their fries" or
"she looked into her purse and saw a tube of lipstick (rose
frost), a crumpled up receipt from the bookstore, a comb, four
dimes and three pennies." I understand that this is
probably an attempt to elucidate the character by describing the
"stuff" that surrounds him/her but it can be a really
clumsy and irritating "technique." This book is almost
a "time capsule" describing life in Phoenix for
upper-middle class, educated black women in the early 1990s who
are looking for relationships with similar black men.
Death of an Irish Sinner by Bartholomew Gill: I've given
this author plenty of chances and I just can't get enthusiastic
about these books. The plots are uninteresting and the
characters are unengaging. The books also seem to have a
"dark side" that is entirely out of place. I am
enthusiastic about reading a mystery set in Ireland but I am
unenthused by this particular series.
Casa en Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros: Read slowly, in
Glucose Revolution Life Plan by Jennie Brand-Miller et al:
The information on the effect that specific foods have on blood
sugar was helpful but there were very few surprises. The best
tip that I learned was to incorporate acidic food (such as a
vinegar-based salad dressing) with meals as a way neutralize the
effect of the carbohydrates in the meal.
Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham: January was an
unsatisfying literary month for me and I don't know whether the
Maugham, Bellow and Waugh books were responsible for the lull or
whether my attitude toward these books was colored by a
dissatisfaction that stemmed from other causes. In any case, I
wasn't particularly engaged by this book but I was interested in
the information about what medical school was like in the late
Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow: I couldn't finish
this one. Again, the dissatisfaction could be attributed to
other factors than the quality of this book. Bad books don't
usually come as highly recommended as this one did so it was
Revisited by Evelyn Waugh: Another book that just didn't
strike a chord with me this month -- probably my fault.
New Glucose Revolution by Jennie Brand-Miller, et al.
by William Kennedy: This was a beautiful book.
Claudius by Robert Graves: Although I completed a
"Minor" in Classical Studies during college, most of
those studies covered the Greeks and Romans up to the time of
Augustus and did not deal with the Roman Emperors after
Augustus. This was an ugly period in history but I'm glad to
have learned a little more about it.
Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster: This was my least
favorite of the Forster books that I've been reading
Daughter by Margaret Maron: In general, I like this series
of books about a strong female lawyer and the small southern
town where she lives.
Dalloway by Virginia Woolf: I chose to read this book before
I heard about the movie, The Hours. There were definitely
some things to like about this book -- I personally like the
"stream of consciousness" style of letting the reader
figure out what has led up to the thoughts/events described and
I think that many of the descriptions are quite beautiful.
However, I have never really been able to appreciate Woolf to
the degree that she probably deserves and I was really turned
off by the suicidal poor man who thinks too much and is unable
to cope with the modern situation. I didn't like Leonard Bast in
the Forster book either.
- How to
Be Good by Nick Hornby: I have enjoyed all of Hornby's books
and this one had some very good elements but it seemed to be
more cynical and pessimistic than his other books and wasn't
nearly as much fun.
Rat by Ted Heller: This book is far from perfect but I
enjoyed it. There are some joyfully absurd characters and scenes
that remind you of the author's father, Joseph Heller.
Death of an Irish Lover by Bartholemew Gill: Nothing
White's Confession by Robert Clark: The protagonist has some
sort of strange condition that prevents him from remembering
what he has done unless he keeps careful track of his actions
via diaries and scrapbooks. He's an odd little guy and I was
initially intrigued by the narration. Ultimately, though, the
book didn't live up to my expectations although it wasn't a
waste of time. The movie Memento was more successful at
building from the idea of memory loss.
Room With a View by E.M. Forrester: I am really enjoying
these gentle, mellifluous books by E.M. Forrester and I plan to
finish his entire oeuvre in the weeks to come.
Easy Pieces by Richard P. Feynman: In progress...
on the Mississippi by Peter J. Heck: Another light mystery
set in the late 1800s on a riverboat cruise that doubles as a
moneymaking lecture tour for the bankrupt Samuel Clemens. No
surprises but Mark Twain is an engaging character and I'm a
sucker for the mysteries that are narrated by an imminently
respectable but nevertheless clueless companion (Poirot and
Hastings, Holmes and Watson, etc.)--in this case, Yale football
man and member of the eminent Cabot clan, William
"Wentworth" Cabot. Apparently, there are other books
in the series with titles such as "Tom's Lawyer," and
"The Mysterious Strangler" and, argh, "A
Connecticut Yankee in Criminal Court."
Day the Music Died by Ed Gorman: A light mystery set in Iowa
in right after Buddy Holly died in 1959. No surprises but the
Richie Cunningham-style protagonist/narrator provides a somewhat
soothing reading experience.
Flanders by Daniel Defoe: The "first novel of social
criticism in the history of English literature."
Eyre by Charlotte Brontė: I had to read this again, after
Sargasso Sea. I can certainly understand why Rhys felt such pity
for the first Mrs. Rochester but what I can't understand is why I
considered this book to be romantic when I first read it in my
early teens. I suppose that someone has already written a paper
about these books where the mousy little women are able to be on
"equal footing" with their dashing older husbands
after the men have been devastated by terrible fires caused
directly or indirectly by their more flamboyant first wives. Did
Du Maurier read Brontė or vice versa? [I've since learned that Jane
Eyre greatly precedes Rebecca and that I'm not the
first, of course, to draw the comparison.] Actually, I wasn't going
to finish re-reading this book until I came across the
description of Rochester's dog Pilot -- "a lion-like
creature with long hair and a huge head: it passed me, however,
quietly enough; not staying to look up, with strange
pretercanine eyes, in my face, as I half expected it
would." A Newfoundland, of course! I own two myself and
love the beasts. Alas, Pilot did not
figure prominently in the rest of the book...
End by E.M. Forster. I enjoyed this book much more than I
expected to. I think that I may have read it once in the past
but it was all mixed up for me with the other Anthony
Hopkins/Emma Thompson movies that came out around the same time
several years ago. This is the one where the modern, practical,
business-oriented Mr. Wilcox falls in love with the sensitive,
humanistic Meg Schlegel and the struggling clerk Leonard Bast,
trying to move above his station, falls under the bookcase and
expires, from heart attack.
Commitments by Roddy Doyle: This was a lightning-quick read but
quite enjoyable. The Dublin-speak was wonderfully entertaining. It
might interest you to know that the idea to have Jimmy interview himself in the mirror
was an innovation within the movie...at least it was interesting to
me. Although it doesn't appear in
the book, it is true to character and exactly the right choice to help tell the
story. Now to watch that movie again...
Run by Dick Francis: Typical D.F. mystery. This one was written
in the late 1970s and set in the Soviet Union.
Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking: This book was easy to
read and quite interesting. I feel that I have an update on my
understanding of modern physics (from the Capra books of the late
1970s) but I'm still out of date. Although the cosmology and physics
were interesting, of course, on a more personal level, I was charmed
by the scholarly asides that Hawking often placed in parentheses.
Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys: This book tells the story of Antoinette
Cosway Mason, who married Edward Rochester, became known as
"Bertha" and ended up in the attic of Charlotte Brontė's Jane
Eyre. Rhys' conception of Rochester and his first bride is much
different than C.B.'s!
and Defend by Richard North Patterson: Legal/political
paperback; okay for a plane ride unless you are a member of the
Christian Coalition and/or have ever picketed an abortion clinic, in
which case, you will probably think that RNP is going to hell. A
woman at the used book store was following me around trying to sell
me "trade credit" for cash and telling me about her
daughter who died camping in a national park and was a "Jane
Doe" for five months. I had to buy this book...with her trade
credit...just so I could get out of there.
Women by Colleen McCullough: Historical novel about ancient
Rome, the time of Julius Caesar's rise. I read a bunch of these
books when I was in college about Marius and Sulla and the Senate
before the arrival of Caesar. I didn't like this one as much as I
remembered liking the others but I still thought the book was worth
my time and I definitely appreciate the time that the author must
have put in for research.
Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare: Okay, okay. I was
inspired to re-read this play because of another teen movie
adaptation. Perhaps I wasn't in the mood but this may have been my
least favorite of Shakespeare's comedies.
Bottoms by Joe R. Lansdale: Excellent Edgar Award winning
mystery, which sort of had the feel of To Kill a Mockingbird.
The story is told from the perspective of a poor young boy in the
south, who has a tomboy little sister, a father he looks up to
(although unlike Atticus Finch, this father is flawed) and friends
among the blacks and the whites. The characters and the sense of
time and place were good and the mystery was engaging as well. I am
quite partial to feisty grandmother characters these days and the
narrator and his sister have a good one.
Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans: Ugh. I picked this up for 35
cents at the thrift store and thought it was a book about horses. I
can only repeat, ugh, ugh, ugh.
by Joseph Heller: I re-read this book every couple of years and I
never get tired of it. It's smart and funny of course, but it also
contains some incredibly poignant scenes and characters -- Major
Major Major attempting to play basketball in disguise; A.T. Tappman,
group chaplain; Snowden's death from stomach wounds while Yossarian
patches his leg...
Conspiracy of Paper by David Liss: I've already mentioned
how much I liked The
Alienist, so you know that I am a sucker for the historical
mystery. But even taking into account my predisposition to like
this book, I feel comfortable giving it high praise. It is set
in London in the early 1700s, with a Jewish boxer (black sheep
of a family of "stock jobbers" and tradesmen) as the
narrator and "detective." In a reluctant effort to
investigate the possible murder of his estranged father,
Benjamin Weaver confronts the British financial world at a time
when the first (a first?) stock market "bubble" is
about to pop. Benjamin also crosses paths with the organized
crime, anti-Semitism, degenerate nobility and even the
publishing industry of the day. The story is interesting, the
characters are engaging and the narrator's manner of speech and
sense of humor are quite appealing. My only complaint follows
along with my pet peeve this month, which is that books written
today about historical time periods sometimes suffer from the
obvious imposition of modern day attitudes on historical
characters. At times, Benjamin Weaver seems to be a bit too
"enlightened" to be truly believable. Still, I liked
him, his friends and his adventure. Plus, this was the first
time I've read about people being "swived" since John
Barth's bawdy Sot-Weed
Factor and that tends to be a sign of a fun read.
Eight by Janet Evanovich: Okay, by the seventh installment
in Evanovich's Stephanie Plum mystery series, it's true that the
novelty had definitely worn off. Nevertheless, I was still
sufficiently interested in the Stephanie/Morelli romance that I
picked up the eighth book when it came out this month. It was
definitely more of the same but it didn't get any worse than the
last one and it was an extremely quick read. It's like watching
a movie at a $2.00 theater. Even if it is not a great movie, it
can be worth the $2.00 to sit in the air conditioning and take
your mind off of things for a couple of hours. This book is
worth the 4 or 5 hours that it takes to read it.
Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S. Kuhn: A
scholarly classic. My college education was so full of talk
about paradigms that I'm afraid it was difficult to give Kuhn
credit for the original idea!
Red Tent by Anita Diamant: I attended nine years of Catholic
school but my knowledge of the Old Testament is very
superficial. I know about Noah and Moses and I even knew the
story of Joseph and his brothers but I knew nothing about Dinah
and wasn't too sure about the family tree after God stopped Abraham
from sacrificing Isaac. It was nice to figure out who was
married to whom, at least temporarily, and I was interested to
hear how Jacob came to change his name to Isra'El (assuming that
Diamant's version is not apocryphal). The book actually reminded
me a lot of Clan of the Cave Bear, with a sort of 20th
Century influenced-by-feminism view into the life of women that
is not reported in the history books....much talk of isolation
during menstruation and medicinal herbs! Actually, I don't want
to sound too critical. It has been a pretty good read.
mediocre literary month. I was tempted to read Seabiscuit again!
by Jane Austen: After watching the movie Clueless on
VHS, I felt compelled to re-read Emma for the second or third
and Prejudice is one of my favorite books and I've read all
of Austen's novels at least once. Emma has never been one
of my favorites but I was really disappointed with it during
this re-reading. Emma is a vain, selfish, snobby character and I
found it very difficult to have any affection for her at all.
Cher in Clueless is a much more sympathetic character
than her literary roll model and even though she takes on many
projects similar to Emma's (misguided matchmaking, devotion to
daddy, epiphany of her love for an older pseudo family member)
she is much more likeable in the process, as are the characters
who surround her. I found Emma to be a deeply disappointing
O'Clock Eastern Wartime by John Dunning: Unfortunately
similar to my experiences with Caleb Carr, Dunning's first book
(Booked to Die, a mystery about bookscouting) was very
enjoyable and the second mystery (Bookman's Wake) was
disappointing. The third book showed terrific promise and I
quickly read the first half of the book before I started to lose
steam. The setting, in a wartime radio station in 1930s New
Jersey, was enough to make the book worth reading and the main
character was also engaging. However, the plot seemed to be
unnecessarily full of holes and Dunning seriously botches the
attempt to be mysterious about a non-sinister portion of the
plot. When the "mystery" is cleared up and we are
supposed to see that there was a perfectly benign explanation
for the whole thing, I didn't believe the story and disliked and
distrusted a character that I was supposed to sympathize with
throughout the rest of the book. Like Kurzweil's Grand
Complication, I think that the concept was good, but the
execution was weak and I felt cheated that a good book was
Time by Caleb Carr: The Alienist was extremely
enjoyable. The plot was "gripping," the time and place
(turn of the century New York City) were interesting and the
historical and other characters were extremely enjoyable. The
Angel of Darkness was disappointing but it's hard to say
whether the dissatisfaction was due entirely to the book's
mediocrity or the unfavorable comparison with the first novel. Killing
Time was the worst of the three and although many of the
characters were engaging (I like the eccentric Jewish brother
characters, even though the brothers from the first two books
seem to be recycled in the third under new names) and some of
the plot was intriguing, the book did not hold together at
of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel: When I heard that the
long-awaited next book in the series was finally available
shortly after I purchased an old paperback of the first for 35
cents from a thrift store, I decided that my spirit totem must
have given me a sign. I probably would have liked this book a
lot better if I'd read it at age 13 but I still appreciated it
for what it was. I wonder how much of the details are based
in actual research and how much is entirely romantic
Turning Point: Science, Society and the Rising Culture by
Fritjof Capra: 1970s social commentary supported by the
state-of-the-art (again in the 1970s) of quantum physics.
Although the book was repetitive, I actually enjoyed the
perspective and have been buying organic foods ever since. I
wasn't really surprised but I was depressed to find that most of
the serious problems identified in 1981 are still serious
problems today (health care, environment, energy, political
partisanship). One area that I haven't been too concerned about
until recently was the nuclear threat and even that seems to be
coming into the fore.
month wasted on Zorba the Greek, but a dramatic turnaround at
the end of the month with the wonderful enjoyment of Seabiscuit.
An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand: A tremendously
enjoyable book about the world of horse racing. It was terrific fun to page through the book,
wondering what "the Biscuit" and his entourage would
do next. I've heard the author interviewed on NPR and a couple
of sports talk shows and she is just as enjoyable to listen to
as the book is to read. The book gives a vivid picture of the
lives of a group of people and horses who were brought together
by the career of an unlikely champion racehorse.
The stories of the owner, the trainer, the jockey, the horse and
his rivals all provide a wonderful look at horse racing and
America in the 1930s. Most of all, the descriptions of
Seabiscuit are irresistible. That horse was such a stinker! His
racing career got off to a rocky start because he was a funny
looking horse and pretended to be slow because he was lazy. Once
his people figured out how fast he was and he started to race
seriously, he was such an intense competitor and so ornery that
he would toy with the other horses before he beat them. One
horse had to be tricked into believing that Seabiscuit had left
the stable before he could ever resume his racing form, because
Seabiscuit had humiliated him so thoroughly! Since I'm secretly
pleased when my puppy shows the ingenuity to steal a loaf of
bread off of the counter, I guess it is safe to say that I'm a
girl who has a special place in her heart for ornery animals.
Seabiscuit goes right to your heart.
Screen-writer's Workbook by Syd Field: Practical research
for an impractical goal--selling a romantic comedy screenplay to
the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis: Perhaps Kazantzakis
caught me at a bad time but I have been thoroughly uninterested
in this story of the overly intellectual young man interacting
with a highly "earthy" older man. It seems that this
duality has been explored many times before and the
"intellectual" narrator is a serious bore.
Night Listener by Armistead Maupin: This book was hard to
put down. It has the same sense of humor as the Tales of the
City books but it is not as light and soap-operatic. It is very
well crafted with an interesting story, engaging characters and
a social conscience (deals with homosexual relationships and
living with AIDS in a matter-of-fact and engaging way). There is
also a very effective mysterious streak that shoots through the
book. There are all sorts of playful elements that mix up
reality with the TOTC books with the narrator's life with the
books that the narrator has written, with the story the narrator
is telling in the current book. I would have enjoyed the book
for the characters and storytelling on their own but the
mysterious twists were a wonderful bonus.
Turns a Trick by Julie Smith: Good literature that also lets
your mind soar is like expensive dark chocolate. Good fiction
that sooths and relaxes is like expensive milk chocolate.
Mediocre fiction that provides a temporary distraction is like
chocolate from the grocery store checkout line (e.g.
peanut butter M&Ms). And so on... This book was like a Jolly Rancher--not
really even worth the calories.
in the Water by Julie Smith: To borrow a rhetorical device
from the Movie Man, this book was all
Innings: The Anatomy of a Baseball Game by Daniel Okrent:
Although this book was recommended by a trusted source, I was
not optimistic about the prospect of 304 pages about the same
nine innings of baseball. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find a
collection of anecdotes and insights about the inner workings of
the game. Okrent brings a light touch to the
organization, integrating little bits of information about
pitching strategies, batting techniques, player idiosyncrasies,
the business of baseball franchises, ownership, the baseball
commissioner and other insights into a satisfying whole.
Puppy by Carl Hiaasen: My first Carl Hiassen. It reminded me
of a combination of Bill Fitzhugh's "lighthearted"
eco-terrorism and Tom Wolfe's "Man in Full" portrayal
of the egocentric hyper-masculine southern wheeler-dealer. The
book was okay but the theme of violence in support of ecological
objectives really left me cold. This "Monkey Wrench
Gang"-esque violence to people and property in the name of
environmentalism doesn't have any hope of reversing the
ecological damage, is invariably carried out by people who do
their own damage to the planet in many ways and always seems to
be more about the violence than the ecological motive.