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April 30, 2008

The Shadow of the Wind


The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Contemporary Fiction
2001 Penguin Press
Quit on 4/19/08
Rating: DNF




Book Description

Barcelona, 1945—A great world city lies shrouded in secrets after the war, and a boy mourning the loss of his mother finds solace in his love for an extraordinary book called The Shadow of the Wind, by an author named Julian Carax. When the boy searches for Carax’s other books, it begins to dawn on him, to his horror, that someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book the man has ever written. Soon the boy realizes that The Shadow of the Wind is as dangerous to own as it is impossible to forget, for the mystery of its author’s identity holds the key to an epic story of murder, madness, and doomed love that someone will go to any lengths to keep secret.

This is my book club's choice for May. I'd heard great things about the novel and was very excited to finally have a reason to read it. The first hundred pages or so started out very well, but after that my interest began to wane. I kept plugging along, hoping to get more interested the further along I read. No such luck. But as it happens, I need to fly to San Diego the day of book club anyway, and will miss The Shadow of the Wind discussion. Actually, I'm disappointed that I won't be here to hear all the comments from those in the group who have told me they're enjoying the book. I have a feeling I'm going to miss out on a lively gathering!

This is a tricky narrative. The reader is constantly introduced to new characters. There's a story within a story, peopled with characters similar to those in the real book. If I had to read it again, I'd want to make some sort of an organizational chart, showing who belonged to which story.

In spite of my lack of enthusiasm for the novel, I did mark a few passages:

That afternoon, back in the apartment on Calle Santa Ana, I barricaded myself in my room to read the first few lines. Before I knew what was happening, I had fallen right into it... The minutes and hours glided by as in a dream. When the cathedral bells tolled midnight, I barely heard them. Under the warm light cast by the reading lamp, I was plunged into a new world of images and sensations, peopled by characters who seemed as real to me as my room. Page after page I let the spell of the story and its world take me over, until the breath of dawn touched my window and my tired eyes slid over the last page. I lay in the bluish half-light with the book on my chest and listened to the murmur of the sleeping city. My eyes began to close, but I resisted. I did not want to lose the story's spell or bid farewell to its characters yet.

Once, in my father's bookshop, I heard a regular customer say that few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart. Those first images, the echo of words we think we have left behind, accompany us throughout our lives and sculpt a place in our memory to which, sooner or later—no matter how many books we read, how many worlds we discover, or how much we learn or forget—we will return. For me those enchanted pages will always be the ones I found among the passageways of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books.

and

In my school boy reveries, we were always two fugitives riding on the spine of a book, eager to escape into worlds of fiction and secondhand dreams.

I'd love to hear your thoughts if you loved (or hated) this book.

April 27, 2008

The Girl With No Shadow



The Girl With No Shadow by Joanne Harris
Contemporary Fiction
2008 William Morrow (Harper Collins)
Finished on 4/15/08
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)



Book Description

Since she was a little girl, the wind has dictated every move Vianne Rocher has made, buffeting her from place to place, from the small French village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes to the crowded streets of Paris. Cloaked in a new identity, that of widow Yanne Charbonneau, she opens a chocolaterie on a small Montmartre street, determined to still the wind at last and keep her daughters, Anouk and the baby, Rosette, safe.

Her new home above the chocolate shop offers calm and quiet: no red sachets hang by the door; no sparks of magic fill the air; no Indian skirts with bells hang in her closet. Conformity brings with it anonymity—and peace. There is even Thierry, the stolid businessman who wants to take care of Yanne and the children. On the cusp of adolescence, an increasingly rebellious and restless Anouk does not understand. But soon the weathervane turns . . . and into their lives blows the charming and enigmatic Zozie de l'Alba. And everything begins to change.

Zozie offers the brightness Yanne's life needs. Anouk, too, is dazzled by this vivacious woman with the lollipop-red shoes who seems to understand her better than anyone—especially her mother. Yet this friendship is not what it seems. Ruthless, devious, and seductive, Zozie has plans that will shake their world to pieces. And with everything she loves at stake, Yanne must face a difficult choice: Run, as she has done so many times before, or stand and confront this most dangerous enemy. . . .


It's been almost eight years since I first read Joanne Harris' Chocolat. I enjoyed that novel very much and went on to try a few more by Harris. I gave up on Blackberry Wine in 2005, but last April I read Five Quarters of the Orange and liked it probably as much as Chocolat. When I got an Advance Reader's Copy of The Girl With No Shadow (entitled The Lollipop Shoes in the UK), I was excited about giving it a read, but had some reservations. Harris seems to be a hit-or-miss with me. Well, I shouldn't have doubted her ability to write a winning sequel. This was just fabulous! I liked it even better than Chocolat. I was a little concerned that too much time has passed since reading the first book and wondered if I should go back and re-read Chocolat. But with so many other books to read, I really didn't want to take the additional time. I did consider renting the movie again, though, as it follows the book so closely. But after a chapter or two, I really didn't think it was necessary (unless, of course, you want to drool over Johnny Depp!) -- Harris does a fine job with the back-story.

Let's see if I can tempt you to read this wonderful book.

It's not easy being the daughter of a witch. Harder still being the mother of one. And after what happened at Les Laveuses I was faced with a choice. To tell the truth and condemn my children to the kind of life I'd always had: moving constantly from place to place; never stable; never secure; living out of suitcases; always running to beat the wind--

Or to lie, and to be like everyone else.

and

How to explain this to Roux, who fears nothing and cares for no one? To be a mother is to live in fear. Fear of death, of sickness, of loss, of accidents, of strangers, of the Black Man, or simply those small everyday things that somehow manage to hurt us most: the look of impatience, the angry word, the missed bedtime story, the forgotten kiss, the terrible moment when a mother ceases to be the center of her daughter's world and becomes just another satellite orbiting some less significant sun.

It has not happened—at least, not yet. But I see it in the other children; in the teenage girls with their sullen mouths and their mobile phones and their look of contempt at the world in general. I have disappointed her, I know that. I am not the mother she wants me to be. And at eleven, though bright, she is still too young to understand what I have sacrificed, and why.

Harris' mouthwatering descriptions made me reach for a mug of hot cocoa (Ghirardelli) and long for a trip to France:

But there's always time for hot chocolate, made with milk and grated nutmeg, vanilla, chilli, brown sugar, cardamom, and 70 percent couverture chocolate—the only chocolate worth buying, she says—and it tastes rich and just slightly bitter on the back of the tongue, like caramel as it begins to turn. The chilli gives it a touch of heat—never too much, just a taste—and the spices give it that churchy smell that reminds me of Lansquenet somehow, and of nights above the chocolate shop, just Maman and me, with Pantoufle sitting to one side and candles burning on the orange-box table.

As with Chocolat, I loved the setting in this book:

Montmartre is a village within the city—and remains deeply if dubiously nostalgic, with its narrow streets and old cafes and country-style cottages, complete with summer whitewash and fake shutters at the windows and bright geraniums in their terra-cotta pots. To the folk of Montmartre, marooned above a Paris simmering with change, it sometimes feels like the last village; a fleeting fragment of a time when things were sweeter and simpler; when doors were always left unlocked and any ills and injuries could be cured with a square of chocolate--

I also love the details that made it so easy to envision a room or character:

First, I see her catch the scent. It's a combination of many things; the Christmas tree in the corner; the musty aroma of old house; orange and clove; ground coffee; hot milk; patchouli; cinnamon—and chocolate of course; intoxicating, rich as Croesus, dark as death.

She looks around, sees wall hangings, pictures, bells, ornaments, a doll-house in the window, rugs on the floor—all in chrome yellow and fuchsia-pink and scarlet and gold and green and white. It's like an opium den in here, she almost says, then wonders herself for being so fanciful. In fact she has never seen an opium den—unless it was in the pages of the Arabian Nights—but there's something about the place, she thinks. Something almost—magical.

This sequel doesn't have quite as many tantalizing descriptions as Chocolat and it has a much more sinister feel to it, but it's certainly a winner in my book. I couldn't put it down and when I wasn't reading it, I was constantly thinking about the characters, curious to see how it'd all play out. Harris is definitely not the hit-or-miss author I thought she was!

April 23, 2008

Valentines



Valentines by Ted Kooser
Poetry
2008 University of Nebraska Press
Finished on 4/1/08
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)



For Valentine's Day 1986, Ted Kooser wrote "Pocket Poem" and sent the tender, thoughtful composition to fifty women friends, starting an annual tradition that would persist for the next twenty-one years. Printed on postcards, the poems were mailed to a list of recipients that eventually grew to more than 2,500 women all over the United States. Valentines collects Kooser's twenty-two years of Valentine's Day Poems, complemented with illustrations by Robert Hanna and a new poem appearing for the first time.

Kooser's Valentine poems encompass all the facets of the holiday: the traditional hearts and candy, the brilliance and purity of love, the quiet beauty of friendship, and the bittersweetness of longing. Some of the poems use the word valentine, others do not, but there is never any doubt as to the purpose of Kooser's creations.

Ted Kooser knows my husband's boss and stopped by the office one day to sign copies of his book for the employees. Two years ago, Rod wrote a poem for me for Valentine's Day. This year he surprised me with a signed copy of Kooser's book! Here are a couple of my favorites:

The Bluet

Of all the flowers, the bluet has
the sweetest name, two syllables
that form on the lips, then fall
with a tiny, raindrop splash
into a suddenly bluer morning.

I offer you mornings like that,
fragrant with tiny blue blossoms--
each with four petals, each with a star
at its heart. I would give you whole fields
of wild perfume if only

you could be mine, if you were not--
like the foolish bluet (also called
innocence) -- always holding your face
to the fickle, careless, fly-by kiss
of the Clouded Sulpher Butterfly.

and

Splitting An Order

I like to watch an old man cutting a sandwich in half,
maybe an ordinary cold roast beef on whole wheat bread,
no pickles or onion, keeping his shaky hands steady
by placing his forearms firm on the edge of the table
and using both hands, the left to hold the sandwich in place,
and the right to cut it surely, corner to corner,
observing his progress through glasses that moments before
he wiped with his napkin, and then to see him lift half
onto the extra plate that he had asked the server to bring,
and then to slowly unroll her napkin and places her spoon,
her knife and her fork in their proper places,
then smoothes the starched white napkin over her knees
and meets his eyes and holds out both old hands to him.

This is a small collection that can easily be read in one sitting. I enjoyed some, but not all of the poems. I've read a few of Kooser's collections and there's usually just one or two poems that speak to me. Maybe I'm just not a big fan of poetry. I want to appreciate each and every one, but so many leave me wondering what the heck they were supposed to mean!

So, maybe I didn't love this book. But I love the idea that my husband wanted to give it to me for Valentine's Day. And, the funny thing is that Kooser came to my work for a book signing right around the same time he went to my husband's office. I missed the signing, but a couple of days before Valentine's Day, I picked up a copy and started to buy it for Rod, but then put it back, thinking he'd probably prefer a book about Winston Churchill. Wouldn't that have been a hoot if we'd both given each other the same autographed book? I can just imagine the look on both of our faces as the first gift was unwrapped!

Oh, one final comment. In addition to Kooser's poetry, the book is filled with wonderful line drawings by Robert Hanna. Check them out, if you get a chance.

April 20, 2008

Here Comes The Sun



Don't be fooled by the sign!

6 walks in 2 days!

Our new oasis!



Current temp: 79 (F) Whoohooo!

Another gorgeous Sunday, walking in the park.

What did I see?

Shocks of yellow forsythia amidst bare trees and shrubs.

A stream, a small boy and a stick.

Two male cardinals flitting about in tandem.

Happy dogs.

Tired runners (training for the upcoming Lincoln Marathon?)

What did I hear?

An ice cream truck.

A train whistling and rumbling in the distance.

A little girl at the park ("Watch me, Mommy!!")

Church bells ringing at noon.

A choir of birds (chickadees, cardinals and a red-wing blackbird).

The rhythmic patter of running feet.

What did I feel?

The warmth of the sun.

The wind on my face.

Contentment.

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun,
and I say it's all right

Little darling, it's been a long cold lonely winter
Little darling, it feels like years since it's been here
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
and I say it's all right

Little darling, the smiles returning to the faces
Little darling, it seems like years since it's been here
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
and I say it's all right

Sun, sun, sun, here it comes...
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes...
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes...
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes...
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes...

Little darling, I feel that ice is slowly melting
Little darling, it seems like years since it's been clear
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun,
and I say it's all right
It's all right

April 18, 2008

Love Walked In



Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos
Contemporary Fiction
2005 Dutton
Finished on 4/3/08
Rating: 4.75/5 (Fabulous!)




"My life--my real life--started when a man walked into it, a handsome stranger in a perfectly cut suit and, yes, I know how that sounds."

When Martin Grace enters the hip Philadelphia coffee shop Cornelia Brown manages, her life changes forever. Charming and debonair, the spitting image of Cary Grant, Martin sweeps Cornelia off her feet, but as it turns out, Martin Grace is more the harbinger of change than the change itself....

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, eleven-year-old Clare Hobbes must learn to fend for herself after her increasingly unstable mother has a breakdown and disappears. Taking inspiration from famous orphans (Anne Shirley, Sara Crewe, Mary Lennox, and even Harry Potter) Clare musters the courage to seek out her estranged father. When the two of them show up at Cornelia's cafe, Cornelia and Clare form a bond as unlikely as it is deep. Together, they face difficult choices and discover that knowing what you love and why is as real as life gets.

An acclaimed poet, Marisa de los Santos writes with a careful grace that illuminates the losses and joys of life. Witty and fresh, glowing with big-screen magic moments, Love Walked In marks the arrival of a gifted storyteller and proves that while love is always unpredictable--a dizzying, astonishing turn--it could be as close as your very own front door.

I loved this book! As soon as I realized I was reading another winner by de los Santos, I had to force myself to slow down and savor the story, knowing that once I finished, I wouldn't have a backlist to work through.

Love Walked In is much more than chick lit. (I'd probably call it women's fiction.) While some readers have criticized the book for its predictability and contrived coincidences, I found it to be a very satisfying story filled with humor, touching moments, believable dialogue and characters that stay with you long after you close the book. I enjoyed all the references to classic movies and actors, children's literature and even found the description of Pancit so enticing I immediately went online in search of a recipe to try! I read Love Walked In after the sequel, Belong to Me, and have to say I liked it even better, probably because I really liked the younger Clare in this book. She's also in Belong to Me, but she’s more of a secondary character in the sequel. Oh, but then I really liked the character of Piper in Belong to Me! Hmmm, let's just say I loved both books and that I'm thrilled to have discovered Marisa de los Santos. I can hardly wait for her to write her next novel. Move over, Elizabeth Berg! de los Santos is my new must-buy-in-hardcover favorite.

Fans of Jeanne Ray, Elizabeth Berg and Anna Quindlen won't be disappointed. I recommend both Love Walk In and Belong to Me for a great summer reading combo. Meanwhile, I hope Marisa is working on her third book, hopefully with more of Cornelia, Teo, Piper and Clare!

April 17, 2008

Orange Short List




Go, Pat!!!

Awards: Orange Prize Shortlist Long on Debut Novels

Three of the six authors named to the Orange Prize shortlist are being honored for their first book. The Guardian reported that Chair of the judges Kirsty Lang said she was "extremely pleased" to see Sadie Jones, Heather O'Neill and Patricia Wood "on a list that reflects the scope, variety and international breadth of the Orange prize."

The Orange Prize shortlist:


The Outcast by Sadie Jones
Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O'Neill
Lottery by Patricia Wood
When We Were Bad by Charlotte Mendelson
The Road Home by Rose Tremain
Fault Lines by Nancy Huston

The prize celebrates fiction by women and is open to any novel written in English. The winner will receive £30,000 (US$58,893) at a ceremony in London's Royal Festival Hall on June 4.

April 15, 2008

Can It Really Be?

Is winter really over? Is it safe to say we won't see any more of this?

It sure feels like this was the longest winter ever!

I didn't mind the snow (too much), but the ice storm was terrible. Ever been locked out of your car (with it running!) because the doors froze shut while you were trying to warm it up?


Oh, boy! I can finally wear these again!


I'm not sure Annie feels the same about warm weather as I do. She sure loved romping through the snow.





It's currently 76°!! Of course, since this is Nebraska, we also have 55 mph wind gusts. I think there are only three days each year when the wind doesn't blow. But I'll take it. Could be worse. At least it's not blowing snow!


April 4, 2008

Good Day, Sunshine

Yesterday was an absolutely gorgeous day. Sunny, blue sky with temps in the low 60s. Annie got to go on two long walks: first with me through the park after I got home from work and again after dinner with me and Rod. I'd really like to take my camera on these walks, but for some reason, Annie's afraid of the camera. It's amazing how she knows when one of us has picked the camera up, even if she's in the other room. As soon as she hears the click of the power button, she run upstairs to her bed. We think she got scared early on when we were taking indoor pictures of her, using the flash. It has the rapid, red-eye reduction flicker, which is annoying to dogs, as well as people!

In any event, I don't have any pictures from our lovely walk. But I do have some from last fall when Rod and I spent a few hours at the Lauritzen Gardens in Omaha while my MiniCooper was having some work done. We just happened upon their Autumn Festival and enjoyed wandering around the 100-acre site. It felt more like July than October, as I recall, but we had fun looking at the antique tractors on display, hiking up the hill to the Japanese Sunpu Castle Gate, watching the windsocks dance in the breeze, and cooling off from the heat while listening to some live music on the garden terrace. All in all it was a fun afternoon and I hope to get back for the Spring Into Spring Festival in mid-May.

The following photographs are from the Japanese Sunpu Castle Gate.














Good day sunshine
Good day sunshine
Good day sunshine

I need to laugh, and when the sun is out
I've got something I can laugh about
I feel good, in a special way
I'm in love and it's a sunny day

Good day sunshine
Good day sunshine
Good day sunshine

We take a walk, the sun is shining down
Burns my feet as they touch the ground


A Month in Review - March ('08)

It's always nice to look back on the month and see that there were a few books that I truly loved. Not only were they great reads, but they have lovely covers, as well!

Click on the titles to read my reviews.

Inheritance by Natalie Danford (2/5)

Things I Want My Daughters to Know by Elizabeth Noble (4/5)

Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos (4.5/5)

I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak (2.5/5)

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (4.5/5)

The Prince of Frogtown by Rick Bragg (2/5)


Favorite of the month: Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos

Books Read 6
DNF 0
Male Authors 2
Female Authors 4
New-To-Me Authors 3
Audio 0
Fiction 4
Nonfiction 2
Historical Fiction 0
Classic 0
Poetry 0
Teen 1
Children's 0
Sci-Fi 0
Fantasy 0
Horror 0
Romance 0
Humor 0
Travel 0
Memoir 2
Culinary 0
Mystery/Thriller 0
Series 0
Re-read 0
Challenge 0
Mine 6
Borrowed 0
ARC 3
Gift 1

April 2, 2008

The Prince of Frogtown


The Prince of Frogtown by Rick Bragg

Nonfiction - Memoir
2008 Knopf
Finished on 3/30/08
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)
ARC - Due out on May 6, 2008




Book Description

In this final volume of the beloved American saga that began with
All Over but the Shoutin’ and continued with Ava’s Man, Rick Bragg closes his circle of family stories with an unforgettable tale about fathers and sons inspired by his own relationship with his ten-year-old stepson.

He learns, right from the start, that a man who chases a woman with a child is like a dog who chases a car and wins. He discovers that he is unsuited to fatherhood, unsuited to fathering this boy in particular, a boy who does not know how to throw a punch and doesn’t need to; a boy accustomed to love and affection rather than violence and neglect; in short, a boy wholly unlike the child Rick once was, and who longs for a relationship with Rick that Rick hasn’t the first inkling of how to embark on. With the weight of this new boy tugging at his clothes, Rick sets out to understand his father, his son, and himself.

The Prince of Frogtown documents a mesmerizing journey back in time to the lush Alabama landscape of Rick’s youth, to Jacksonville’s one-hundred-year-old mill, the town’s blight and salvation; and to a troubled, charismatic hustler coming of age in its shadow, Rick’s father, a man bound to bring harm even to those he truly loves. And the book documents the unexpected corollary to it, the marvelous journey of Rick’s later life: a journey into fatherhood, and toward a child for whom he comes to feel a devotion that staggers him. With candor, insight, tremendous humor, and the remarkable gift for descriptive storytelling on which he made his name, Rick Bragg delivers a brilliant and moving rumination on the lives of boys and men, a poignant reflection on what it means to be a father and a son.

It's been almost a decade since I first heard of Rick Bragg. I absolutely loved his first memoir, All Over but the Shoutin', savoring the beautifully crafted sentences, laughing and crying my way through the entire book. It's one of the first memoirs I'd ever read and I was so moved by Bragg's story and writing, I bought several copies to give at Christmastime that year.

When Ava's Man was about to come out, a former co-worker sent me an Advance Reader's Copy. I couldn't wait to return to Bragg's lyrical writing and quickly finished the book I was reading. Unfortunately, I couldn't get past the first few chapters of Ava's Man, despite two separate attempts. I was so disappointed!

So when that same friend sent me an ARC of The Prince of Frogtown, I was a little more prepared when it, too, failed to live up to All Over But the Shoutin'. However, unlike with Ava's Man, I stuck with it, determined to read the entire book. (Which I did, although I have to admit that did skim a chapter or two.)

In water so fine, a few minutes of bad memory all but disappear downstream, washed away by ten thousand belly busters, a million cannonballs. Paradise was never heaven-high when I was a boy but waist-deep, an oasis of cutoff blue jeans and raggedy Converse sneakers, sweating bottles of Nehi Grape and Orange Crush, and this stream. I remember the antidote of icy water against my blistered skin, and the taste of mushy tomato and mayonnaise sandwiches, unwrapped from twice-used aluminum foil. I saw my first water moccasin here, and my first real girl, and being a child of the foot washers, I have sometimes wondered if this was my Eden, and my serpent. If it was, I didn't hold out any longer than that first poor fool did. It took something as powerful as that, as girls to tug me away from this tribe of sunburned little boys, to scatter us from this place of double-dog dares, Blow Pops, Cherry Bombs, Indian burns, chicken fights, and giggling, half-wit choruses of "Bald-Headed Man from China." Maybe we should have nailed up a sign--NO GIRLS ALLOWED--and lived out our lives here, to fight mean bulls from the safe side of a barbed-wire fence with a cape cut from a red tank top, and duel to the death with swords sliced of a weeping willow tree. I don't know what kind of man I turned out to be, but I was good at being a boy.

And so begins The Prince of Frogtown. I love the way Bragg writes. It's impossible to read his words and think he's from anywhere but the South. His sentences have a cadence that make me want to read them over and over again, listening as I would to a favorite song.

It was the year I realized the TV preachers' rants on hell were all wrong, that the devil lives in Alabama, and swims in a Mason jar. He lost his looks, drank his paychecks, wrecked his old cars, and stiffed the Tennessee Valley Electric until all they would give us was free dark.

My biggest complaint lies not in the writing, but the focus of The Prince of Frogtown. I wish Bragg had written more about his relationship with his stepson and less about his father. But obviously, as the title tells us, the book is really more about the latter, with short (2-3 page) vignettes about his stepson. And yet I wonder if I really would have liked it better if the emphasis were more on his own parenting, than the lack of his father's. In spite of the lyrical prose, there were times I thought, I don't really like this man (Rick, not Charles) at all. I was really put off by Bragg's initial attitude toward his young stepson. He didn't understand the boy, felt he was pampered and spoiled by his mother, and he doesn't hesitate to tell the reader just how he feels about his new life as a husband and father.

I was born into a people who could cuss the horns off a bull, before revival and after dinner on the ground, but he lived in a world rated G with candy sprinkles on top.

And there were times when I though he was downright mean-spirited toward the boy. After reading the following blurb from a Kirkus review, I see I'm not the only one who had these same reservations about the book:

Alternating chapters on his unnamed stepson, by contrast, resound more with the annoyance Bragg feels at the start than the love he professes at the end, at which point the author sounds uncomfortably self-congratulatory about the maturation of his stepson, now "the man I rushed him to be."

Personally, I'd rather be a pampered and spoiled child than grow up amongst dog-fighting, cock-fighting, gambling drunks.

Bragg's love for the boy he calls his son begins to show itself toward the end of the book, tugging at my heartstrings in spite of myself:

I waited for him, as he got older, to torture me with rap, or heavy metal, or plastic top forty. But one day he heard Johnny Cash, and his life changed. I heard him in his room, singing "Get Rhythm" and "Folsom Prison Blues."

He sings well. His voice is deep, strong. He sings from the backseat. He sings to the dog. I stood in the kitchen recently and watched him sing as he walked around in the yard. It was one of the finer moments in my life.

And, I couldn't help but chuckle when he poked fun at women:

He does not like girls, yet.

"Why do they talk so fast?" he asked me. "I can't understand what they say."

"That's all right, boy," I said. "You won't be able to understand them when they talk slow, either."

But the sprinkles of humor and touching sentiments are few and far between. I'll be interested to see what others think of the book once it's published. Meanwhile, All Over But the Shoutin' remains one of my all-time favorite memoirs. It might just be time for another reading.