Monday, June 10, 2013

...and I want to read that one and that one and ...

How I feel about books may be metaphorical for how I feel about my life: I'll never have enough time to get to all the books I want to read, but they just keep writing more.  Between the Carolina Living section of the Charlotte Observer with the "Summer Reading Guide" (taken from somewhere else, as is usual these days) and the NYT's Sunday "Book Review," my list just keeps growing. 

Without question, I need to read Khaled Hosseini's new novel And the Mountains Echoed.  I loved his first two, so I can't wait to read this one.  I see too that Neil Gaiman has a new novel, his first adult book in awhile, The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Personally, I love his YA books.  Colum McCann, who wrote Let the Great World Spin, another favorite from a couple of years back, has just published Transatlantic. 

After her two wonderful memoirs, Jeanette Walls has written a novel, The Silver Star.   I enjoyed a recent article about her that dealt quite a bit with her relationship with her mother. She is proof, in my opinion, that someone can survive a dysfunctional family and become an amazing adult.

On sale tomorrow is The Astronaut Wives Club, a true story.  My favorite line in the movie The Right Stuff, based on the Tom Wolfe novel is when one of the wives (Mrs. Grissom, maybe), disappointed and angry that she doesn't get to meet the first lady, calls her husband a "squirming hatch-blower."

For now, I'm working my way through Kent Haruff's Eventide and listening to Game of Thrones on audio (although I don't know if I can afford enough gas to drive long enough for the whole book, much less the series.) On the iPad (for reading while I work out) is The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman. 

I'm reasonably sure that I won't succeed in reading everything I wish to read this summer (any more than I will master all the projects and challenges I'm tackling in the rest of my life), but it's still early June. I might surprise myself.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

All Over but the Shoutin'

Sometimes I read things out of order.  For some reason, I read Rick Bragg's memoir about his grandfather Ava's Man years before I finally got around to reading All Over but the Shoutin'.  I loved that book, not only its Alabama setting (the northeast, not the northwest--my own neck of the woods) but the natural, poetic way he wrote about this  man he loved and respected.  As he repeats more than once in his earlier book, he doesn't give his subjects dignity; he just recognized the dignity that was already there.

I finally managed to pull my copy of All Over by the Shoutin' off my shelf this week, resisting the urge to choose an eBook instead for a little road trip.  I am so glad I did. The book gives an up-close look at Bragg, from his childhood through his early career success (including his Pulitzer Prize), but he would be the first to tell anyone the book is really about his mother. To be honest, it's almost a love letter to his mother, a good country woman who survived tough times, always putting others--especially her sons--before herself.  Bragg tells how he took his one strongest talent--storytelling--and built a journalism career that took him to the New York Times and a fellowship to Harvard. He describes reporting on the chaos in Haiti, the Susan Smith murder case, and the Oklahoma City bombing.

He admits to avoiding long-term commitments and always fearing his success would disappear.  That fear led to his delay of the one promise he made to himself--eventually to buy a house for his mother, who had always lived in houses owned by someone else.

Throughout the book, reveals as much about his own writing style as he does about his life.  He managed to plop me right down in the middle of Alabama in a time that was all too familiar, even though I was fortunate not to have lived with all the limits he faced. If he comes across as jaded, even bitter at times, he is also honest.  While he demonstrates a lifelong suspicion of those he encountered from the other side of the tracks, he also admits to genuine friendship, kindness, and acceptance from unexpected places.

For the record, he presented an insider's view of Alabama football. At times, I had to stop and read out loud.

Since I'd heard Bragg read at a book event in Nashville a few years ago, I could imagine I was hearing his voice as I read, a distinct advantage. Sometimes, I imagine my own audiobooks.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Defending Jacob

William Landay's novel Defending Jacob edges into Jodi Piccoult's territory:  He places the characters in the middle of dilemma, lets them work their way through, and then throws a curve.

The story is told by Andy Barber, leading district attorney in a town just outside of Boston, who is investigating the stabbing death of a fourteen-year-old boy on his way to school--until Barber's own son, one of the victim's classmates--is charged with the murder.  Placed on the opposite side of the court system, Barber and his wife Laurie not only must convince the court of Jacob's innocence, but their own as well.

Andy must admit to his wife Laurie that he has kept secret his own family's past, bringing up the nature-versus-nurture debate. The defense lawyer has the family meet with a counselor who explores new DNA evidence of a potential "murder gene" and diagnoses Jacob as having more than ordinary adolescent angst and social awkwardness. The charge against Jacob affects his parents' marriage, the family's relationship with their neighbors and friends, who distance themselves after the accusations are made public. Readers will realize that whether guilty or innocent, anyone charged with such a heinous, public crime will be changed forever--as will the family.

In order to avoid spoilers, I can only say that Landay continued to throw curve balls through the tale, a real narrative rollercoaster ride.  I suspect I will be thinking about the story and its conclusion for a long time.