Monday, January 9, 2023

Back to ThreePines: Louise Penny's A World of Curiosities


For anyone who knows me as a reader, it should come as no surprise that I've just finished Louise Penny's latest novel in her Three Pines Series featuring Chief Inspector Armande Gamache. The only surprise is that I didn't read the book as soon as it came out in November.

This book moves back and forth between the past when Ganache first met the headstrong Jean Guy Beauvoir while investigating a murder and present day when the son and daughter of the murdered woman arrive in Three Pines.

I love so many things about Penny's books, particularly the character development, but I also enjoy how she weaves literature, music, and art into the narrative. In this case, a hidden room is discovered above the book store in which they find what at first appears to be a work of art known as "A World of Curiosities" or the Pastan Treasure. Closer inspection, though, shows that while at first glimpse the painting resembles the seventeenth century painting, it actually includes myriad details from modern day, from a digital watch to scratches that are found to be made in shorthand. Soon Gamache recognizes them as messages from a serial killer he put behind bars.

In addition to the beloved recurring characters from the village, Penny also reintroduces Amelia Choquet from a couple of years back, a tattooed and pierced young woman who survived life on the streets and was eventually brought into Quebec law enforcement. 

After spending so much time in the homes in Three Pines, I can recognize the smell of sandalwood, the family pets, and even Rosa, the profane pet duck of the crotchety old poet Ruth. 

When I read Louise Penny's books, I find myself tearing through them, pulled along by the suspense, but then sad when they end, knowing I'll have to wait until November for my next visit.


Sunday, January 8, 2023

Demon Copperhead: Kingsolver Always Delivers


I know I promised to share highlights of my 2022 reading, but I finished Demon Copperhead, Barbara Kingsolver's latest novel, on New Year's Day, and I am still thinking about it.

The title (and the author's notes) invite comparison to David Copperfield, but in anything but a derivative way. Set in a poor town in what had been Virginia coal mining country in modern day, the title character is one of the most compelling narrators I've read in awhile.  I wouldn't go so far as to call Demon a naive narrator, though his  youthful perspective is part of the attraction. I'm tempted to listen to the audiobook to see how that voice translates.

I've long been a fan of Kingsolver's novels. I've read everything she's written, including her poetry, starting with The Bean Trees. Reading her novels always led me to slow down and pay attention to her writing chops. Unlike some books I read when the author's process gets in the way of the story, Kingsolver's novels make me just a bit envious of how she uses literary elements in a way that seems so effortless and natural.

The protagonist was born to a teenage mom and named Damon, which naturally was changed to the nickname Demon by the time he got to school (as his best friend was stuck with the nickname Maggot.) In a series of misfortunes, he experiences abuse and neglect by his mother and stepfather, leading to a years or rejection and loss. Demon shows the dark side of foster care abuse and pitfalls of the systems intended to protect children.

This is also a story of drug and alcohol abuse, which is often so rampant in areas of economic decline. I recently read Margo Price's memoir Maybe We'll Make It, in which she writes candidly of some of the similar patterns of addiction she fell into. 

While Demon Copperhead is a hard read, it is not without hope. A number of caring, though flawed, people offer him surrogate family, encouragement, and opportunity. Two of his teachers, a mixed-race couple with whom he maintains contact, are examples of the power of educators who not only see their students but are willing to be seen as people. And who can't love characters who name their dog Hazel Dickens?

As I made my list of books I read last year, I was struck again how some slip away right after I read them, and others stick with me. I think I'll be thinking about Demon Copperhead for a long time, and I can't wait to have the opportunity to talk about it with my reading friends.


Monday, January 2, 2023

My 2022 Reading List

When I sat down this week with my wall calendar where I write the authors and titles of the books I read during the year, I found that even with the classes I am taking and teaching, I still managed to read 86 books during 2022. A few on the list are textbooks--at least those that I actually read in their entirety. You'll notice none of my statistics textbooks are listed. That does not mean I didn't spend a lot of time with them. I also focused on poetry one month, which was such a pleasure. 

Over the next few days, I will add a few posts focusing on specific books, but for now, here is the exhaustive list. Just going through and writing down the titles was a nice mental journey.


Warren Berger, A More Beautiful Question

Natalie Haynes, A Thousand Ships

Hyeonseo Lee, The Girl with Seven Names

Kirk Wallce Johnson, The Feather Thief

Jessamine Chan, The School for Good Mothers

Mary Beth Keane, Ask Again, Yes

Nick Courtwright, The Forgotten World (poems)

Jane L. Rosen, Nine Women, One Dress

Matt Haig, Reasons to Stay Alive

Deb Spera, Call Your Daughters Home

Sophocles, Antigone

S.J. Bennett, The Windsor Knot

Rothstein and Santana, Make Just One Change

David Epstein, Range

Charmaine Wilkerson, Black Cake

Jason Mott, Hell of a Book

Michelle Zauner, Crying in H Mart

Nita Prose, The Maid

Elise Hooper, The Other Alcott

Jennifer Egan, Candy House

Bruce Neidt, The Bungalow of Colorful Aging (poems)

Rosemary Sullivan, The Betrayal of Anne Frank: A Cold Case Investigation

Joseph Mills, Bodies in Motion (poems)

Diane Chamberlain, The Stolen Marriage

Carole King, Natural Woman

Ted Rose, The End of Average

Mary Laura Philpott, Bomb Shelter

TJ Klune, The House in the Cerulean Sea

Hernan Diaz, Trust

Anne Tyler, French Braid

Lily King, Five Tuesdays in Winter (short stories)

Emily St. John Mandel, Sea of Tranquility

William Kent Krueger, This Tender Land

Ann Patchett, These Precious Days

Matthew McConaughey, Greenlights

Emily Henry, Book Lovers

A J Jacobs, Puzzler

Gabrielle Zevin, Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow

Louise Erdrich, The Sentence

Elizabeth Stout, Oh William

Marie Benedick and Victoria C. Murray, The Personal Librarian

Bonnie Garmus, Lessons in Chemistry

Danusha Lameris, Bonfire Opera (poems)

Dorianne Laux, Facts about the Moon (poems)

Jeff Hardin, Small Revolutions (poems)

Kathryn Stripling Byer, Descent (poems)

Peng Sheperd, The Cartographers

Linda Anas Ferguson, Dirt Sandwich (poems)

Yasmin Kloth, Ancestry Unfinished (poems)

Michael McFee, Shinemaster (poems)

Scott Owens, For One Who Knows How to Own the Land (poems)

Tracy K. Smith, Wade in the Water (poems)

Wendy Cope, Two Cures for Love (poems)

Ron Koertge, Geography of the Forehead (poems)

Kate Quinn, Diamond Eye

Rodney Jones, Elegy for the Southern Drawl (poems)

Michelle Shocklee, Under the Tulip Tree

Cathy Smith Bowers, The Candle I Hold up to See You (poems)

Margaret Verble, When Two Feathers Fell from the Sky

Dan and Chip Heath, Switch

Celeste Ng, Everything I Never Told You

Silas House, Southernmost

Susan Rivers, The Second Mrs. Hockaday

Alex Michaelides, The Silent Patient

Peter Drucker et al., The Five Most Important Questions

Richard Osman, The Bullet That Missed

Liese O’Halloran Schwarz, What Can Be Saved

Stephen King, Fairy Tale

Emma Straub, This Time Tomorrow

Ruta Sepetys, I Will Betray You

Nelson Demille, The Book Case

Lois Lowry, The Giver

Elizabeth Stout, Lucy by the Sea

Pip Williams, The Dictionary of Lost Words

Gary Paulsen, Hatchett

C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Nicki Erlick, The Measure

Stephen Fry, Mythos

Jennifer Evans, Kitchen Front

Margo Price, Maybe We’ll Make It

Celeste Ng, Our Missing Hearts

Maggie O’Farrell, The Marriage Portrait

Elizabeth McCracken, The Hero of This Book