31 December 2010

More reading to do soon

A few more titles from the last few pages of the 2010 Indie Bound Book calendar:

  • Restless, by William Boyd
  • The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, by Dinaw Mengestu
  • The Girls, by Lori Lansen

And some from the 12 December 2010 issue of The Seattle Times,  page H4, "Best Crime Fiction of 2010."

  • Rock Paper Tiger, by Lisa Brackmann
  • The Weed That Strings The Hangman's Bag, by Alan Bradley
  • Faithful Place, by Tana French
  • Spies of the Balkans, by Alan Furst
  • This Body of Death, by Elizabeth George
  • The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing, by Tarquin Hall
  • Moonlight Mile, by Dennis Lehane
  • I'd Know You Anywhere, by Laura Lippman
  • Still Midnight, by Denise Mina
  • The Devil's Star, by Jo Nesbø
Also, we went to the movies today to see True Grit,  a remake of the old John Wayne western. This one, directed and produced by the illustrious Coen Brothers, stars Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon. I'm not going to try to start reviewing movies, don't know enough for that, but I mention this because one of the previews we saw was for an upcoming movie of Lincoln Lawyer,  made from the novel by the same name, by Michael Connelly. I instantly remembered reading Lincoln Lawyer,  and looked forward to finding it in this journal. It's not here, which means either I read it before I started keeping this (October 2005), or (likely) I forgot to enter it. In any event, Mrs. L. thinks she and I both read this book and at least one other my Connelly. I retrieved a book list from Connelly's web site and expect to pursue some reading in that direction as well.

Border Songs

Mrs. L. read Border Songs first. She read about it in a Seattle Times book review, and when she was reading it, kept telling me that it was very good. I agree. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, it was a "can't put it down" read, and I look forward to more from Jim Lynch.

We found it exceptionally interesting because the book is set in an area about 150 miles north of us. Blaine, WA is the town you will drive through if you take I5 north through Washington and enter Canada. It is the home of the border crossing, the Peace Arch, the symbol of Canadian-American friendship.

The friendship between our countries has fallen on hard times in recent years. In the US, we've become prey to xenophobia, and  many foreigners that enter the USA illegally do so through Canada. Furthermore, British Columbia has apparently developed quite an underground marijuana-growing industry, and a lot of this product crosses the border at or near Blaine. US citizens are less pleased with their neighbors to the north, many of whom may see us as violent, under-educated bigots bloated with too much wealth and power.

This story centers on a young man who has grown up in Blaine, a town where the Canadian border is very real, but at the same time very artificial. Brandon Vanderkool joins the US Border Patrol at the urging (and string-pulling) of his father, Norm. Brandon is no ordinary BP agent. He is severely dyslexic, stands six-foot-eight, and immediately shows a terrific talent for noticing the tiny inconsistencies in the world around him that betray smugglers and illegal border crossings.

Brandon's job brings into focus the nature of the tensions between Canadians and Americans in this small international community. The characters are beautifully drawn and believably human. The story is plotted with mastery, and we enter a world we are painfully reluctant to leave at the turning of the last page.

As if all this were not enough, Lynch has included a wonderfully sensitive portrait of the natural history of the Pacific Northwest, with especial attention to bird life. In addition, we are allowed to see nature through the eyes of a most unusual observer, Brandon Vanderkool.

If you haven't already, I urge you to treat yourself to a reading of Border Songs.

23 December 2010

Indie Bound Daily Book Calendar

Last Christmas my sister-in-law Diane gave me a daily tear-off calendar from IndieBound.org,  which represents the American Booksellers Association, an organization of independent book stores.

Each page of the calendar contains something about a work of literature, often in the form of a question with the answer printed upside-down in tiny print at the bottom of the page.

I've had daily tear-off calendars before, often with cartoons on each page, but I've never had one that kept my attention as this one has. As it nears the end of 2010 and the pad has grown very thin indeed, it seems I've begun to notice books that I want to read much more often on its pages. In the last week these books have come to my attention:
  • Ghostwalk, by Rebecca Stott
  • Travels With My Aunt, by Graham Greene
  • The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint, by Barry Udall
  • Fall on Your Knees, by Ann-Marie MacDonald
I look forward to reading every one of these. I haven't picked up a book by Graham Greene in a long time; the other authors are all new to me.

20 December 2010

Diaspora, by Greg Egan

I became bogged down in the thick swamp of exposition at the beginning of this novel. No doubt there are people who will disagree with me, but this is no way to write. I gave up in the first ten pages.

A Quiet Life, by Kenzaburo Oe

I'm having a rough time with this one. I read A Personal Matter,  and was impressed. Now, wading through this novel, I find it hard to keep going.

No doubt this is a personal failing, but I couldn't finish this book.

15 December 2010

A Home for Scared People, by Chris Onstad

I cannot say enough good about Chris Onstad, Achewood, the characters, the stories, the genius. I have worn out the word "genius" by talking about him.

One indication of Onstad's skill (genius): I am much older than him, born during the Eisenhower administration. The Korean War and I are contemporaries. Achewood is more than a little contemporary, hip, and wrapped up in popular culture, which description would make lesser work not only inaccessible but completely undesirable to me. The world of Ray Smuckles, Roast Beef, Molly, Téodor, Cornelius, Phillipe, Nice Pete, Todd (a squirrel), Lie Bot, Chucklebot and Pat is not only attractive, it is addictive. Every time Onstad releases a new (free) web comic I experience a strong release of serotonin.

Therefore, it was not a difficult decision to purchase a new copy of A Home for Scared People, and I am happy that I did. It is a nicely done little book, hardbound and high quality, and contains many pages of original prose dealing with the background of some of the characters. In particular, the relationship between Ray and Beef is examined in detail, from its origins in high school.

We should all enjoy such friendships.

How Onstad keeps body and soul together I suspect has a lot to do with the efforts of his wife. One day, if there is any justice in the universe (there may not be), he will be rich and famous in his own right. In the meantime, I strongly encourage everyone to support him in every way possible. The world is better for his art.

13 December 2010

Pattern Recognition, by William Gibson

I listened to the audio book version of this, on 9 CDs, read by Shelly Frasier.

Set in the present, even recent past. Cayce Pollard lost her father Win when he disappeared near the World Trade Center on 11 September, 2001. Win was loosely connected to the CIA.

Why did I like this book so much. I was drawn into its world and did not want to leave.

Mirror World (England). What an attractive idea, it describes the feeling of being in a foreign land so well. Those little things I used to notice about Canada when I went there as a child.

Contemporary Russia. Oligarchs.

Pilates. Starbucks

Cayce has a sort of allergic reaction, to certain brand names / logos. One that is mentioned, and used against her in the plot is The Michelin Man, Bibendum.

"The footage" is a film that's being revealed one little segment at a time via anonymous Internet postings. YouTube is not mentioned, and indeed may not have existed at the time this was written, or if it did it was such a minor whistle stop on the Info Railroad that no one would have known what it was.  I was attracted by the retro-Internet world of people on a forum, Hotmail, Ethernet connections in hotels. Saying "hello" when answering a cell phone, being surprised at discovering who is calling -- pre caller ID?

I really loved this book, was sorry when I played the last CD. I'm thinking about getting the print version to read and see if it makes a similar impression.



06 December 2010

Prayer of the Dragon, by Eliot Pattison

Inspector Shan finds himself in a remote village with his friends Lokesh and Gendun, the aged lama. A man is dying, but if he lives he faces a horrible primitive execution.

In this mystery, we are again treated to the world of modern Tibet, overshadowed by the iron shadow of the Chinese occupation. Shan must straddle the chasm between two cultures, one ancient and spiritual, the other new, cold, and materialistic.

Yet another element is introduced into this novel, that of the American Navajo. Two Navajo characters, seeking for the ancient roots of their own culture, join the cast.

I enjoyed this book but wonder if I actually needed to read yet another of these Shan mysteries. It was reassuring to read Bone Rattler, and know that Pattison could apply his excellent writing skill to another setting, and different characters.

28 November 2010

Another Thing to Fall, by Laura Lippman

A Tess Monaghan mystery, set in  Baltimore, involving a TV production company taping a new show for a cable series, some suspicious events including at least one murder, and a glimpse into the personalities, stresses and conflicts that populate such an enterprise.

This is a well-done novel of suspense, not a masterpiece of literature, that kept me entertained all day today, a cold and rainy Sunday in late November.

27 November 2010

Cinnamon Kiss, by Walter Mosley

Great mystery, story, atmosphere. Great insight into the life, and point of view, of an African-American in California in the 1960s.

Great book.

Independence Day, by Richard Ford

Frank Bascombe's life in Haddam, New Jersey, continues after The Sportswriter.

Frank is a real estate agent now. Most of the action in this book takes place over the Fourth of July weekend, during which he tries to sell a house, resolve a relationship, and help his disturbed son, among other things.

Frank's days seem to be 96 hours long. Perhaps this reflects on my own laziness and lack of productivity, but the amount of action and thought that this man experiences in twenty-four hours is—to me—unbelievable.

Frank Bascombe's world is well-to-do, if not wealthy, and white. (His ex-wife's second husband, Charley, is indeed wealthy, for contrast.) Many of his problems are those of abundance, and as such perhaps not much to be pitied. He mentions more than once that he doesn't really need to work. His independence of financial worry sets him apart from most Americans. He is, in fact, a landlord who owns two rental houses in the "colored" neighborhood of Haddam, and we get a hint of the lives of his tenants in a very different world.

In this book we get a close look at Bascombe's son Paul, a rather disturbed teenager. Paul figures in the other books in this series, but I believe this is the most detail I've read about his life and problems. While Paul isn't quite believable as a character, he does represent many of the things that happen to kids in America who are given too much, and raised to expect too much.

Swan Peak, by James Lee Burke

This Dave Robicheaux novel takes place in Montana. Cletus Purcel, Dave, and his wife Molly, are spending the summer with Albert Hollister, a retired English professor.

It's not much of a vacation. Clete is intimidated by a couple of hired thugs within the first few pages of the book. Murders that at first seem like serial killings are reported soon afterward. Cletus' drinking and womanizing, and Dave's sober-alcoholic angst threaten to get in the way of them being any help to the local sheriff, and the FBI (in the person of a young lady to whom Cletus takes a liking).

Burke does a great job of describing the Montana countryside, and evoking the moods of this tough, remote land.

Swan Peak is a thoroughly enjoyable continuation of the Dave Robicheaux series.

07 October 2010

Armageddon in Retrospect, by Kurt Vonnegut

I can do no better than Roy Blount, Jr. Click on the title above for a link to his New York Times review of this book.

What I will say is how we love Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., and how we cannot stand for him to be dead, and how we would publish his canceled checks if we thought we could.

I agree with Mr. Blount that the very best part of this collection of posthumous publishings is the recounting of KV's experience in Dresden.

And I miss him very much. He died shortly before my father did. The Alplaus Fire House posted memorials to them both.

Here on Earth, by Alice Hoffman

The New York Times said "Heathcliff Redux."

I'll say "lightweight," but understand, this is as much a judgement upon me as the book, because I read the whole thing.

27 September 2010

Recent readings

Oh, I have been bad. I've lost track of several things, and some of them were really good. Here's what I can remember:

Distress, by Greg Egan. Delicious science fiction, a journalist in the near future, deals with modifying DNA, bionics, open-source, much more. I definitely want to read more from this guy.

A Death in the Family, by James Agee. Remarkable. Deeply felt and emotional without being in the least sentimental. American. Set in Knoxville, TN, early 20th century. Vivid character development, excellent POV renderings -- many of children. The author's skill is formidable.

A Personal Matter, by Kenzaburo Oe. (1969) Bird is a young married man who suddenly finds himself the father of a child born with its brain outside its skull. All three of these authors are new to me. All of them make me want to read more of their work.

10 June 2010

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, an Inquiry into Values, by Robert M. Pirsig

I first read this book about 35 years ago. I had forgotten great rafts of it, and much of what I remembered was inaccurate.

There are many paragraphs devoted to discussion of philosophy--of Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle--that are very dense and not easy to get through. Perhaps they didn't sink in the first time, or perhaps they were skipped over; the reader has been guilty of that type of behavior before.

What sticks with me now is Pirsig's description of the state of mind, the "right attitudes" one needs in order to carry out the task, motorcycle maintenance, which is of course both object and subject, both metaphor and literality. May we all enjoy such attitudes.

If you click on the title of this entry it will take you to a 2006 interview of Pirsig by Tim Adams of The Observer.

I read this book online, this time. There was no "online" the first time.

07 June 2010

Some things to read in the near future

One of the few things that makes me feel like I want to go on living for a long time is the evanescent list of books and authors I've yet to read.

  • Roberto Bolaño: 2666, The Savage Detectives, and more.
  •  Lords of Finance, by Liaquat Ahamed
  •  Let's get print copies of That Old Cape Magic and Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo.
  • Jeffrey Archer
And then there's the books to re-read.
  • Herman Hesse
  • Thomas Mann
  • Trevanian
  • and always, always Mark Twain 
  • and James Joyce

22 May 2010

Literally Fantastic

The Red Tree, by Caitlin R. Kiernan - something new for me. I'll describe it as a Gothic novel. Very creepy, very good.

American Gods, by Neil Gaiman - great stuff, fantasy in the tradition of Stephen King if that may be said.

30 April 2010

More from htmlcomics.com: Harvey Pekar

Another great treasure unearthed at htmlcomics.com is Harvey Pekar's American Splendor. I wouldn't have known about the comic series, Harvey, or his appearances on the old David Letterman show on NBC except for having seen the movie, American Splendor.

You have been advised.

29 April 2010

Books: recent, on the way and thought of.

The Red Tree, by Caitlin R. Kiernan is at the library waiting for me to pick it up.

I just received Fatal System Error, by Joseph Menn, and read the first few pages last night.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman is on the way from Better World Books.com. I learned about the book and the bookseller on Twitter today. Neil Gaiman is @neilhimself.

M & I recently finished reading Union Atlantic, by Adam Haslett, a newer novel that deals with modern finance and life in the USA. I highly recommend it.

I'm currently reading Bones, by Jonathan Kellerman, and listening to Bridge of Sighs, by Richard Russo, as I drive back and forth.

And so, a backlog is developing. Rather than order another book and put it on the pile, let me note that Scott Turow has released a new novel called Innocent. I eagerly await this particular feast, as I've never failed to enjoy one of Turow's books.

25 April 2010

Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? by Raymond Carver

This is a collection of short stories. I picked it up today and started reading it, and realized I'd read it before. Not to worry. Carver is worth reading many times over. The first story is "Fat." It takes place in a restaurant, a waitress serves a very fat man who eats a great deal. The second story is "Neighbors," in which a couple cares for their neighbors' apartment and cat while they are away. In both of these stories there are strange, seemingly unrelated changes that take place in the protagonists as they handle these mundane events. There are twenty more, and I look forward to every one.

My Earthquake Phase

I listened to an audio book recording of 1906 by James Dalessandro about two months ago. Not the best novel I've ever encountered, but it delivered a dose of painless history, about which I can't complain. Since such a book necessarily contains some embellishments and actual fiction it made me curious about the facts of the actual event, the San Francisco earthquake and fire in April 1906.

This led me to another audio book, A Crack in the Edge of the World, by Simon Winchester. This is a serious exploration of the modern science of geology, plate tectonics, and how this all relates to the 1906 earthquake. I thought the book was terrific, and very informative, but this reviewer doesn't agree, and says it's inaccurate and poorly done.

Bryan Burroughs of the New York Times Book Review didn't like it, either. He says it's "...the kind of book where an author spreads the paint around - that is, goes wandering down endless back alleys in hopes of finding something interesting..."

Maybe that's what I wanted. After all, both of these were audio books that I listened to while driving back and forth to work. They relieved the boredom of being confined in an automobile, stuck in the flow (or lack of flow) of traffic, without compromising my attention to driving.

Ah, well.

23 April 2010

Recent reads

Union Atlantic, by Adam Haslett
Tin Roof Blowdown, by James Lee Burke
Hella Nation, by Evan Wright
That Old Cape Magic, by Richard Russo
Bridge of Sighs, by Richard Russo
Home Poetry Repair Manual, by Ted Kooser
Valentines, by Ted Kooser
Essential Pleasures, anthology ed. Robert Pinsky
Delights and Shadows, by Ted Kooser