Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Choosing a beach book, however, involves a variety of considerations, some quite pragmatic. For example, I would never take one of my signed first-edition copies to the beach. That would be foolish; however, I did read a hardcover copy of One Thousand Splendid Suns on the beach last summer. I was in the middle of the book and couldn't quit. I just had to be careful: no smearing of suntan lotion.
Some people prefer romance novels or action adventures for the beach: Nora Roberts, Danielle Steel, James Patterson, and such. Since I honestly don't read them any other time, I don't read them at the beach.
On a whim, I brought a book I found after my sister mentioned it. For a dollar plus shipping online, I found a copy of Replay by Ken Grimwood. It's a dogeared copy, the type of paperback found at the drugstore. This one, however, appealed to me. My sister Amy mentioned something about someone who had tried to option the book for a movie. The cover proclaims "Winner of the World Fantasy Award," another tidbit that might usually cause me to avoid the book. The premise, though, is intriguing. In 1988, (a year after the book was originally published) a man dies of a heart attack at 43. He awakens in his college freshman dorm in 1963, fully aware of his prior life. He makes a few changes (and even attempts to prevent the Kennedy assassination), but he again drops dead of a heart attack at 43. The books continues the cycle, with him returning a little later each time.
Somehow the book reminded me of The Time Traveller's Wife, although Grimwood did follow fairly strict chronology. In at least one of Jeff Winston's replays, the world politics involving the Middle East are fairly prophetic. The overall theme, if there is one, indicates that one can make small changes within his or her life, but rarely can we alter the grand scheme of things.
I'm usually a slow reader, pausing to underline phrases or to make notes. This was not literary enough to warrant close examination of the text. It was, rather, a perfect beach book: unputdownable. Unfortunately, I finished it the day I started and must now decide what to read next. Fortunately, like a good scout, I'm prepared!
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Some of the explicit details of the plague are horrific, though evidently very accurate. I was most interested to learn in the Afterword that the story, though fictional, was based on the experiences of a real English village. At one point near the end of the story, I was afraid it had taken a "romance novel" turn, but rather than tying it up all too predictably, Brooks throws a curve and builds an ending I didn't anticipate. In all fairness, a plague novel can't have too tidy a "happily ever after" ending, now can it?
No less somber is my other nightstand book right now, Doris L. Bergen's War and Genocide, which traces the rise of Hitler and the Nazi power through World War II and the concurrent mass killings of Jews, Roma, Communists, homosexuals, and others considered undesirable or a threat to the New Order.
In order to sleep at night, I needed some more pleasant fare. To that end, I decided to accept the challenge I read in a recent blog on Robert Lee Brewer's site Poetic Asides (to which I have a link). In this particular interview, contrary to the conventional wisdom that one who wants to write poetry should avoid reading others' poetry, poet Bill Abbott suggests that any aspiring should read a book of poetry every other day for sixty days. See the interview here: http://blog.writersdigest.com/poeticasides/Selfpublishing++Slamming+An+Interview+With+Poet+Bill+Abbott.aspx
I have just begun the challenge, but I have read so far Ron Rash's collection Eureka Mill, which follows his grandfather's move from the family farm to a textile mill in South Carolina. I heard Rash reading from this work back in the spring at CVCC. It tied in with Hickory's Big Read, The Bridge by the late Doug Marlette.
Next I read Flying at Night by the former national poet laureate Ted Kooser. Already a fan of his poems, I was especially pleased when he appeared at the fall conference of the National Council of Teachers of English three years ago. A small, unassuming man, he writes poems that evokes poem-worthy memories of my own.
Yesterday I completed Sarah Lindsay's Primate Behavior, a quirky collection that draws from primitive worlds, archeology, and even circus life. I liked "Life on Earth, Part Twelve: The Business Salmon."
I love the challenge of choosing what to read next. My bookshelves have an ample offering, but I find myself scanning them for the ones I don't see. I am particularly eager to read again a collection by Miller Williams (whose daughter Lucinda is a recording artist I enjoy.) It may be in one of the umpteen boxes in my garage or in my attic, taken from my old classroom when I left high school a year ago. Meanwhile, the offerings are rich, and I'm ready to immerse myself in the memories, inventions, cadences, and diction of others.
Monday, July 14, 2008
Saturday, July 5, 2008
I had a copy of Tony Earley's Blue Star, the sequel to Jim the Boy, but the local library had it on CD, so I filled a recent car trip to Raleigh listening. Both books are deceptively simple. This one dealt with the class conflicts between the farm boys in town, the mill town kids, and the mountain people, particularly those with Cherokee blood. He still manages to give such insight into the characters. I particularly love Uncle Zeno.
I also found Joshilyn Jackson's new novel Between, Georgia on CD. We'd read Gods in Alabama for book club a good while ago. In addition to a story that sucked me in, she offers some insight into Usher's syndrome and American Sign Language.
I just finished reading an advanced reader copy of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, writtten by a pair of authors, (Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows). I've seen few book collaborations that really worked, but this one did. Told through letters, the story is set just after World War II. The protagonist is touring with a book of columns she wrote under a pseudonym during the war. Her correspondence with a member of the society on Guernsey (one of the Channel Islands) develops into a keener interest and results in her visiting to learn more about the people who have just survived German occupation. Even though the title is almost cutesie enough to bring up images of Sweet Potato Queens, the story is more serious, though with plenty of good humor. I'll be reviewing it for the Observer for some time in August.
I also read Dear American Airlines by Jonathan Miles, also a novel in letters--or one long, angry letter written in the airport by a man whose delayed flight is causing him to miss the wedding of his estranged daughter. Meanwhile he is translating a novel from Polish and telling his life story. It's quirky, sometimes angry, and--having sat in O'Hare waiting on rain to stop somewhere too many times--I couldn't resist the book.
Meanwhile, I've finished listening to Anne Tyler's Digging to America and David Sedaris' When You Are Engulfed in Flames and William P. Young's The Shack. This book has gotten a lot of word-of-mouth attention and for good reason. It's a hard book to label, Christian fiction, perhaps almost an allegory. It certainly helps one get past the picture of God as looking like Gandalf, since the Trinity appear as a black woman, an Asian woman, and (of course) a Middle Eastern carpenter. The book desperately needed a good editor, or at the very least, a proofreader.
Anne Patchett's little book What Now is certainly my recommendation for graduate gifts. There are several out there, but I enjoyed hers, developed from a commencement address she delivered at her alma mater Sarah Lawrence.
And to borrow her question: What Now for me? I'm starting The Story of Edgar Sawtelle because everywhere I turn, it is mentioned. I am also reading So Young, So Brave, So Handsome, a Lemuria First Editions Club selection by Leif Enger. I loved his first novel Peace Like a River. Unfortunately, I let a friend borrow my signed first edition, and it is lost. I'll report back soon. What's on your stack?