August 31, 2006

The Top Shelf

As we are both voracious readers, my husband and I own at least a dozen bookcases in our small 1930's bungalow. In the antique oak bookcase in the living room, I have one shelf reserved for signed books. I don't generally attend book signings unless I really enjoy the author's works. As fate would have it, I just happen to have thirteen signed books.

A dear friend sent this over to me from England (many thanks again, Nat!), but I have not yet read it. I think I tried when it first arrived, but got distracted and wound up setting it aside.
Inscription: Lesley - Jasper.

Picked this up in The Elliot Bay Bookstore in Seattle a few summers ago. I read the first few chapters, but set it aside for something a bit more engaging.
Inscription: Paul Collins

I met Hasselstrom at a Willa Cather conference (she was the keynote speaker) in Red Cloud, Nebraska in 1997. I've read a few of her stories and poems, but not the entire book.
Inscription: Linda Hasselstrom

Another acquisition from the Willa Cather conference.
Inscription: Linda Hasselstrom

I'm pretty certain my mom gave this to me many years ago. I know I've read it, but that was another lifetime ago. Thumbing through it now, I realize it's high time for a re-read!
Inscription: To Lesley - Erma Bombeck.

I fell in love with Bess Streeter Aldrich's prose when I first read A Lantern in Her Hand in 1997. I attended a book signing for Carol Miles Peterson (biographer) at Barnes and Noble in Lincoln. Haven't read any of the book (yet!).
Inscription: For Lesley, With all good wishes, Carol Petersen.

Another book (which I did read and love) from my mom.
Inscription: Dear Leslie - All the very best & lots of love. Jennifer Lauck.

I read this in April 2005. I gave it a perfect 5/5 and it wound up on my Top Ten list for the year. I wrote a fan letter to the author and received not only a signed copy, but a separate personal note of condolence to my husband and myself.
Inscription: For Lesley and Rod, And in memory of Rachel - With my best wishes and deepest prayers for you and your family. Philip Beard.

I met Lorna Landvik at a small conference in Cleveland, Ohio in 1998. She is very funny (used to perform stand-up comedy) and kept us all in stitches.
Inscription: June 20, 1998. For Lesley - Here's to finding your own oasis! Lorna Landvik.

I attended a book signing for Haruf at Barnes & Noble in Lincoln. What a thoroughly engaging (and very humble) man. He was such a joy to listen to and talk with during the signing.
Inscription: For Lesley - Good to meet a book seller. Kent Haruf.

Same book signing at B&N.
Inscription: For Lesley - Good to see you, Kent Haruf.

I met Jill ker Conway at the same conference in Cleveland in which Lorna Landvik was participating. I hadn't read her book yet, but she was fascinating to listen to.
Inscription: To Lesley, with warm greetings, Jill Conway

Saving the best for last. Russell was another author I was fortunate to meet at the Cleveland conference. Not only is she incredibly intelligent, but she's also very funny. I had already read her book and thought it was absolutely fantastic.

Inscription: For Lesley - All the best, Mary Doria Russell

August 25, 2006

From the Corner of His Eye

From the Corner of His Eye by Dean Koontz
Finished on 8/24/06
Rating: C (3/10 Ho-hum)

I started keeping a reading journal about 10 years ago and have recently begun my 10th book. Some are very simple, wire-bound notebooks with a pretty cover and others are specifically made to keep track of the books read, including sections for favorite passages, book group notes, books lent/borrowed, book stores & services, and recommendations. These are charming journals with literary quotes sprinkled here and there, making for enjoyable reading as well as writing. Up until my recent leap into the blogosphere, these journals have been a great source of valuable information to this bibliophile. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve referred back to an earlier entry, looking for a specific quote or my thoughts about a particular book. My favorite excuse for sitting on the guest room floor, reading journals scattered about me, lost in my long-forgotten words, is the pursuit of a list of titles to recommend to an inquiring friend or relative. I’m always flattered when I get a phone call from my daughter (as she waits to board a plane in the DFW airport) or the son of a good friend or an email from a friend who needs a list of titles to recommend to her face-to-face book group, all asking, “Hey, Les (or Mom in the kid’s case), I need something to read. What do you recommend?” Eeeek! I’m supposed to come up with suggestions at the drop of a hat? I need preparation! I need at least an afternoon searching for the perfect titles for the specific taste of each reader. I need more time!! These things can’t be rushed.

One thing I’ve discovered is there’s nothing worse (ok, that’s a bit extreme – we all know there are worse things in life) than raving about one of your favorite books to a fellow reader, eager for her to share your joy and enlightenment in the lyrical prose of your favorite author, only to hear months later, “Oh, ya. I read that book you told me about. Gawd, it was the worst thing I’ve read in ages. The author yadayadayada…” and so it goes. Not only will this person never call you again for a book rec, but your credibility as a well-read individual has just been shot to hell. Sigh.

But wait. We all have our own specific reasons for enjoying a book. Sometimes it’s simply the right time or the right place. Or we find something with which to identify that another wouldn’t (or couldn’t), based merely on our particular life experiences. There’s no rhyme or reason as to why some books strike us so powerfully when others are fodder for the recycle bin. So why take it personally when a recommendation is stomped all over?

Which brings me to my point. (I know, finally!) What happens when a very dear friend (whom I’ll just call "Heidi" because...well, that happens to be her name) not only raves about From the Corner of His Eye, but gives me a copy for my birthday and I finally get around to reading it and about halfway through, I start thinking, Oh, no. I don’t like this book. What am I going to tell Heidi when she asks? Do I tell her my husband left it on an airplane and I haven’t had the time to get another copy? Do I write an honest review, but change my Blogger address and accidentally forget to give her the new one so she can’t read it? Do I fudge a bit (ok, lie) and say it was good, but gee, I have so many books to read and thanks but I really don’t need any more recommendations for, say, another five or 10 years?

I think I’ll just tell the truth. (Who knows, maybe she’ll never ask, and since she’s one of the busiest people I know, she’ll probably never read this blog anyway!). I didn’t love the book. I didn’t even really like it. The first few chapters were good and the closing chapters were satisfying, but that leaves about 600 pages that I struggled through for two whole weeks! Why? Because I had to see how it ended and I’m not a skimmer. And besides, some of my most favorite books took anywhere between 50-200 pages before I got hooked. So I figured I'd better stick it out. This book (a mass market – hard on the eyes, but easy to hold up in bed) is a whopping 729 pages! I don’t usually mind long books, but this one really needed a more stringent editor. If Koontz really felt compelled to drag the plot on for that many pages, he should’ve increased the tension just a notch or two. I liked the main characters and came to care about them (especially the two young children) and their individual plights, but got a little frustrated with the constant introduction of new characters far into the narrative, making me wonder if and when all the separate storylines would converge. The plot-related particulars about quantum physics and parallel universe theories were intriguing, but I had to suspend disbelief many times over, and couldn’t help but wonder if Koontz truly believes in what he describes.

One final note: I’ve never been a huge fan of Koontz. I think Whispers was the first book of his I read (back in the early 80s, if I remember correctly). I never gave him much consideration until the summer of 2004 when I read Odd Thomas (which I read again this past February). It turned out to be one of the best books I’d read in a long time. Eager for more, I checked out The Taking from the library. Good, but not as good as Odd Thomas. I was thrilled when Forever Odd was released, but deeply disappointed that it failed to live up to my expectations. And now this dissatisfying read. So, are we through? Do I banish him to the list of authors I’ll never read again? (I just discovered another title, Velocity, in one of my previous blog entries. So unimpressive I'd forgotten I'd even read it!)

I suppose that all depends on whether a well-intentioned friend or relative raves about Koontz’s future release of Brother Odd. I’m pretty sure I won’t get a copy for my birthday or Christmas this year. However, gift certificates are always greatly appreciated. ;)

August 23, 2006

Back-To-School Classic Challenge

Labor Day is just around the corner and I've decided to get motivated and read some classics that have been lingering on my shelves for far too long. I hope to get through most of these before the holidays. Wish me luck!

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller CURRENTLY READING

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck FINISHED

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury FINISHED

Emma by Jane Austen

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath FINISHED

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller FINISHED

One of Ours by Willa Cather GAVE UP ON

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

The Mother's Recompense by Edith Wharton GAVE UP ON

The Optimist's Daughter by Eudora Welty FINISHED

Old Jules by Mari Sandoz Didn't realize this is nonfiction (biography); substituted with
The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells FINISHED

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley FINISHED

The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

August 17, 2006

My Favorite Bookstores

In light of my most recent review, I thought I'd post my favorite bookstores for today's

In no particular order...

The Elliott Bay Book Company
Seattle, Washington

Powell's City of Books
Portland, Oregon

EarthSong Book Store - Del Mar, California

Allegory Books & Music - Gleneden Beach, Oregon (Marketplace at Salishan)

Canyon Way Bookstore & Restaurant - Newport, Oregon

Upstart Crow Bookstore and Coffeehouse
San Diego, California (Seaport Village)

Borders Books & Music - Fort Worth, Texas

Half Price Books - Fort Worth, Texas

A Novel Idea Bookstore - Lincoln, Nebraska

Bluestem Books - Lincoln, Nebraska

London, England

The Tattered Cover Book Store - Denver, Colorado

Mark's & Co.*
London, England

* I haven't actually visited Marks & Co. on 84, Charing Cross Road, but after reading Helene Hanff's lovely book (and watching the movie several times), I feel as if I've strolled through the stacks, gingerly handling the old, dusty books, contemplating the extra weight in my suitcase and carry-on luggage.

August 15, 2006

The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop

The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee
Finished on 8/8/06
Rating: B+ (7/10 Good)

I think that I still have it in my heart someday to paint a bookshop with the front yellow and pink in the evening… like a light in the midst of the darkness. (Vincent van Gogh)

In 1992, my husband and I left the sunny, salt-laden air of San Diego and moved to Lincoln, Nebraska. As she gazed at the map of the United States hanging on our laundry room wall, our youngest daughter innocently asked, “So, where’s the beach?” She was all for the move until she learned there wasn’t exactly an ocean in the middle of the country. I’m sure we did what most parents do in times such as these. Bribery. Believe it or not, she actually wound up loving Lincoln.

In 1997, we were casualties of yet another lay-off (we had both been laid off from
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich back in San Diego in the late 80s). Cliffs Notes (yes, there really was a man named Cliff) had been good enough to give us the opportunity to move to Nebraska when they purchased my husband’s software company, but after half a decade we were back in the job-hunting arena. With a few more years under her belt, Amy was a bit more reluctant when we told her the news. Not quite as easy a sell as when she was 8.

Texas didn’t do much for any of us. It’s too hot. There are scorpions (in our brand new house, nonetheless!) and fire ants. People drive worse than they do in L.A. or San Deigo. So we pretty much spent the entire summer of ’98 camped out in front of our TV watching Sosa and McGuire battle it out in pursuit of Marris’ record. Inside. Air conditioning. No bugs (those came after we moved from the apartment to the new house). We also enjoyed hanging out at
The Ballpark in Arlington. The Rangers were decent back then. Life was ok. Not great, but ok.

But I missed my friends. Kids make friends (eventually) at school. Hubby was too busy slaving over a hot computer to worry about his social life. I was getting tired of chasing the cats away from the scorpions. I needed a job! Lucky for me I found what would turn out to be the BEST job I have ever had. One guess. Yep, I got a job in a
bookstore. Pure bliss for this voracious reader. And no, I didn’t spend my entire paycheck on books, but I came close. I took advantage of the employee discount days, my regular discount, comps and ARCs (advanced reader copies) from publishers, and reveled in the pure joy of being surrounded by books and people who enjoyed books as much as I do. (Incidentally, knowing how much I'd enjoy it, my former boss sent this book to me.)

I loved “hand-selling” my favorite titles to customers who’d come to me for recommendations. I loved unpacking & sorting the new arrivals in the backroom. I loved organizing a section that hadn’t been alphabetized in weeks. I loved going through my huge list of books to “pull,” filling up dozens and dozens of boxes to ship back to the publishers. I loved coming in at 6 am (really!) with the other shelvers, turning up the volume as we listened to
Clapton, Van Morrison, CSN&Y, John Hiatt and the Subdudes while we shelved books in our favorite sections (Travel, Fiction, Cooking) and loathing the perpetually disorganized and troublesome sections (Transportation, Crafts, Computers). I didn’t mind that I was earning a “below-poverty-level” wage. I would almost be willing to work for free. Almost.

We’ve since moved back to Nebraska (couldn’t bribe the kid this time – for reasons completely incomprehensible to us, she now loves the state of Texas and will graduate from
TCU this December) and while I no longer work in a bookstore, my love for reading is just as strong.

Lewis Buzbee’s bookseller’s memoir is a lovely gem of a book, both in content and appearance. Just over 200 pages and roughly 7” x 6”, it fits neatly in one’s hands. The cover is appealing, with its towering stack of books placed tidily on a wooden pier, a lake or ocean in the background with a seagull off to one side. The books are illuminated by the glow of a camp lantern. Lovely, lovely cover which almost invites gentle stroking.

I was immediately entranced by Buzbee’s anecdotes, identifying with not only his life as a bookseller, but as my contemporary, tripping down memory lane as he shared tidbits from his childhood. I found myself nodding in agreement as he reminisced about they joys of perusing the Scholastic Weekly Reader, recalling how I, too, carefully marked the boxes with dark x’s, anticipating the day my fourth-grade teacher would carefully unpack the boxes, calling each student up to collect his stack of new books. Ahhhhhh. The Box Car Children. Encyclopedia Brown. Ramona. Homer Price. What a thrill! And as I type this, I wonder about the children who didn’t get to order any books. Did Mrs. Goodrich purchase a few extras to hand out to those less fortunate than me?? I’m willing to bet that she did.

But more than the pop culture recollections, I relished the details and terminology that booksellers (and former booksellers) share: Face-outs; Co-ops; End caps; the café with its “punkier” baristas with their multiple-piercings, tattoos and sloppy attire; the quirky regulars who never seemed to have a job to go to and lived in the café or slouched in overstuffed chairs scattered about the store; the camaraderie among the employees. Buzbee began his bookselling career at Upstart Crow and Co. Bookstore and Coffeehouse (the Bay Area location). I have fond memories of discovering
Upstart Crow in San Diego’s Seaport Village. It was the first bookstore of its kind that I’d visited. A restaurant and coffee bar. Comfy chairs. Hardwood floors. Chess and checkers available to those who wished to play while sipping a hot drink. This was not the B. Dalton or Waldens I was used to. This had charm and character and I wanted to move in.

In addition to recounting his life as a bookseller and sales rep, Buzbee packs quite a bit of historical information about the trade into his slim book. I wasn’t nearly as interested in these details, finding them somewhat dry, and wound up doing a little skimming when he strayed from his more personal stories. He also touches on widely diverse topics: used bookstores; the decline of reading (bah!); the advent of paperbacks; censorship and the fatwa against Rushdie; the Patriot Act and book purchases; and the indies struggling to survive against online, chains, and mega stores (Sams, Wal-Mart, Costco).

I can’t imagine any bibliophile not finding something of interest in Buzbee’s lovely memoir. Definitely a keeper to be read again and again. And of course, I won’t have any trouble locating my copy as it will be shelved (yes, I still shelve my books in alphabetical order) in the company of Sara Nelson (
So Many Books, So Little Time), Anne Fadiman (Ex Libris), Anna Quindlen (How Reading Changed My Life), Ronald B. Shwartz (For the Love of Books) and Paul Collins (Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books).

OK, so maybe Texas wasn’t all that bad. After all, I did discover the joy of working in a bookstore (and got to attend some great baseball games at The Ballpark). And I still know someone in the biz who is generous enough to send me comps and ARCs. Now if only Borders would come to Lincoln. Somehow, Barnes & Noble just isn’t the same.

A few of my favorite passages:

November, a dark, rainy Tuesday, late afternoon. This is my ideal time to be in a bookstore. The shortened light of the afternoon and the idleness and hush of the hour gather everything close, the shelves and the books and the few other customers who graze head-bent in the narrow aisles. There’s a clerk at the counter who stares out the front window, taking a breather before the evening rush. I’ve come to find a book.


It’s not as if I don’t have anything to read; there’s a tower of perfectly good unread books next to my bed, not to mention the shelves of books in the living room I’ve been meaning to reread. I find myself, maddeningly, hungry for the next one, as yet unknown. I no longer try to analyze this hunger; I capitulated long ago to the book lust that’s afflicted me most of my life. I know enough about the course of the disease to know I’ll discover something soon.

And a "me, too!" moment as I had just recently mentioned something very similar in
a previous post:

I became a voracious reader and book luster at fifteen, after discovering The Grapes of Wrath.


But there is one indisputable assessment we can make of Steinbeck, placing him in a category that’s often overlooked in literary and cultural histories. Steinbeck’s books are important because they are formative ones. They often spark in younger readers a longing to know more about the world, to engage, and to continue reading. Maybe the proper term for such work is books of engagement.

August 13, 2006

Blue Screen

Blue Screen by Robert Parker
Finished on 8/8/06
Rating: A (9/10 Terrific)

Once again, Robert Parker hits a home run. Boston PI Sunny Randall returns, along with a familiar face to fans of Parker’s Jesse Stone series. Sunny has been hired to protect a beautiful (but spoiled) actress, whose next role does not involve a box office hit, but rather a publicity stunt in which she is to play on the Connecticut Nutmegs’ National League baseball team. Say what?! Sunny manages to keep the prima donna in line but when a dead body turns up, she finds herself working alongside (very closely alongside) Stone, the Chief of Police in Paradise, Mass. Hmmm.

Parker’s snappy dialogue and Sunny’s new friendship keep the pages turning. I was up until well after midnight, unable to close the book until I could see how Sunny would fare.

As I've said in previous reviews, I really like Sunny. She's a gutsy, intelligent woman who hasn't lost touch with her feminine side. She also happens to have a thing for Viggo Mortensen. Good taste. (Note to fans of Parker's western novel, Appaloosa -- Mortensen has been cast to play Everett Hitch - yet another book I must read!).

Having been introduced to Jesse Stone, I’m eager to start in on Night Passage, the first in the Jesse Stone series.

In Cold Blood

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
True Crime/Creative Non-fiction/Non-fiction Novel
Finished on 8/6/06
Rating: A- (8/10 Very good)

I must have been in my early teens when I first heard about the Manson murders. It was early in the ‘70s when I picked up a copy of Helter Skelter and proceeded to have the living daylights scared out of me. Did my mom know I was reading this?

Other than a couple of Stephen King novels (It and The Shining), I don’t recall ever being so scared while reading a book. These killers were real people. Insane, yes, but very real. If they could inflict such horrors on complete strangers, couldn’t somebody else do the same to me and my family? I think we were camping somewhere in Northern California at the time and I remember feeling very afraid in our cabin after the lanterns were turned off for the night. My innocence and naiveté that the world was a kind and gentle place was shattered. And until recently (when Capote was released on DVD), I had no interest in reading anything from the true crime genre.

When I worked at Borders, I was always surprised that true crime sold so well. Ann Rule and Jerry Bledsoe have quite a fan base, but the mere act of shelving or alphabetizing books in that particular section gave me the chills. The covers are disturbing, the content worse and I never understood the appeal. That said, I was eager to give In Cold Blood a chance after watching Philip Seymour Hoffman’s marvelous portrayal of Capote.

I was three years old when Dick Hickock and Perry Smith were put to death for their roles in the murder of the Clutter family on November 15, 1959. I don’t recall ever hearing about the murders in Holcomb, Kansas until several years ago when someone in one of my on-line book groups mentioned reading In Cold Blood. Even then, I didn’t really pay much attention other than to wonder why anyone would want to read about something so terrible.

I suppose curiosity got the best of me, especially once I heard what a compelling read it is. I found this to be quite true and didn’t mind the long flights and lay-over on our recent vacation. Capote held me spellbound, drawing me in from the opening pages, yet with none of the sensationalism or gratuitous violence I’d anticipated.

I suspect there are those who wonder how I could possibly read such a chilling account of these senseless murders in light of the horrific tragedy my own family experienced last year. I really can’t say and don’t know why the narrative didn’t frighten me as it has other readers. Perhaps I’ve been to hell and back and there’s just not much else that can scare me anymore.

From Amazon:

"Until one morning in mid-November of 1959, few Americans--in fact, few Kansans--had ever heard of Holcomb. Like the waters of the river, like the motorists on the highway, and like the yellow trains streaking down the Santa Fe tracks, drama, in the shape of exceptional happenings, had never stopped there." If all Truman Capote did was invent a new genre--journalism written with the language and structure of literature--this "nonfiction novel" about the brutal slaying of the Clutter family by two would-be robbers would be remembered as a trail-blazing experiment that has influenced countless writers. But Capote achieved more than that. He wrote a true masterpiece of creative nonfiction. The images of this tale continue to resonate in our minds: 16-year-old Nancy Clutter teaching a friend how to bake a cherry pie, Dick Hickock's black '49 Chevrolet sedan, Perry Smith's Gibson guitar and his dreams of gold in a tropical paradise--the blood on the walls and the final "thud-snap" of the rope-broken necks.


In 1959, Capote set about creating a new literary genre -- the non-fiction novel. In Cold Blood (1966), the book that most consider his masterpiece, is the story of the 1959 murder of the four members of a Kansas farming family, the Clutters. Capote left his jet-set friends and went to Kansas to delve into the small-town life and record the process by which they coped with this loss. During his stay, the two murderers were caught, and Capote began an involved interview with both. For six years, he became enmeshed in the lives of both the killers and the townspeople, taking thousands of pages of notes. Of In Cold Blood, Capote said, "This book was an important event for me. While writing it, I realized I just might have found a solution to what had always been my greatest creative quandary. I wanted to produce a journalistic novel, something on a large scale that would have the credibility of fact, the immediacy of film, the depth and freedom of prose, and the precision of poetry." In Cold Blood sold out instantly, and became one of the most talked about books of its time. An instant classic, In Cold Blood brought its author millions of dollars and a fame unparalleled by nearly any other literary author since.

August 10, 2006

My Favorite Non-Fiction Books

When I entered the blogosphere last October with Stop All the Clocks, I had no idea what I was doing and had to ask for lots of help from my very smart and computer-savy hubby (who, by the way, is not only my own personal geek squad and editor, but the Editor for a very helpful computer magazine with a great monthly column found on the back page - end of plug).

Now, almost a year later, I have not one, not two, but three blogs (and am considering a new one for my other passion - cooking)! Along with the creative challenge of posting on a regular basis, I've come across some wonderful blogs (mostly having to do with books or gardening) and as a result, I've "met" some incredibly articulate, passionate, and well-read bloggers who have not only added to my ever-growing To Be Read list, but have given me many ideas for future blog topics.

In addition to learning the blog lingo (sounds like a
Tom Lehrer song) such as "tag," "meme," "buttons," and how to change my template using HTML (argh!), I've recently come across a new version of a meme. One of my favorite bloggers participates in an activity called Thursday Thirteen in which bloggers post thirteen things about anything they desire, thus allowing their readers to get to know them a bit better. When I first heard about this, I thought it was a little silly and didn't really give it much consideration. But as the day wore on, I kept thinking about it in terms of books and have decided to give it a try. (How can I resist the opportunity to make a list?) I may not post a list every Thursday, but you never know. Until recently, I never thought I'd have three blogs!

So... here's today's lucky 13 (I like the sound of that so much better than Thursday Thirteen):

13 of My Favorite Non-Fiction Books (in no particular order!)

1. Rocket Boys (aka October Sky) by Homer H. Hickam, Jr.

2. Birdbaths and Paper Cranes: A Family Tale by Sharon Randall

3. Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage by Madeleine L'Engle

4. Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck

5. High Tide in Tucson: Essays From Now or Never by Barbara Kingsolver

6. Fifty Acres and a Poodle: A Story of Love, Livestock, and Finding Myself on a Farm by Jeanne Marie Laskas

7. The Sewing Room: Uncommon Reflections on Life, Love, and Work by Rev. Barbara Cawthorne Crafton

8. Hollyhocks, Lambs and Other Passions: A Memoir of Thornill Farm by Dee Hardie

9. Around the House and in the Garden: A Memoir of Heartbreak, Healing, and Home Improvement by Dominique Browning

10. Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road by Neal Peart

11. All Over but the Shoutin' by Rick Bragg

12. Wait Till Next Year by Doris Kearns Goodwin

13. 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

There you have it. Wonder what this list says about me.

August 6, 2006

Survey Says...

I’ve been tagged by Heather! Took me a long time to come up with my answers since I have more than one book for almost every question. Here goes:

One Book That Changed Your Life

I read The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck in my 9th grade English class. It was the first time I’d ever read any significant work of literature and just couldn’t get enough. I was spellbound by Steinbeck’s rich, thematic prose.

Much more recently, I'd have to say that Neal Peart's Ghost Rider gave me great comfort after Rachel's death. Peart's travel essay/memoir resonated with both me and Rod, helping us to understand the grieving process and reassuring us that we weren't going crazy.

One Book That You’ve Read More Than Once

Oh, so many to choose from! I can’t think of any that I’ve read more than twice, but there are several in that category. I'll say Losing Julia by Jonathan Hull (others include Crow Lake by Mary Lawson, A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving, and Fried Green Tomatoes by Fannie Flagg).

One Book You’d Want On A Desert Island

Moby Dick by Herman Melville. This is my husband’s all-time favorite book. He’s read it dozens of times and keeps insisting I should read it. I’ve managed to read the first few chapters, but got bogged down and figured I’d just have to take Rod’s word for it. However, if I were stuck on an desert island, the odds are pretty good that I’d finish the damned thing since there’d be no alternative.

One Book That Made You Laugh

Again, this is so hard to just pick one! I’ll go with Fifty Acres and a Poodle by Jeannie Laskas (others include Bachelor Brothers’ Bed and Breakfast by Bill Richardson and Straight Man by Richard Russo).

One Book That Made You Cry

Kent Haruf’s Eventide has a powerfully poignant scene that actually made me cry real tears. Usually I just get a lump in my throat, but Haruf really tugged at my heart strings. OK, I’ll keep cheating. Here are some others that come to mind: Beach Music by Pat Conroy, The Usual Rules by Joyce Maynard and Dear Zoe by Philip Beard.

One Book That You Wish Had Been Written

Pass. I can't think of anything!

The One Book That You Wish Had Never Been Written

Moby Dick (see above)

One Book You’re Currently Reading

I’m just about finished with Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. It’s been quite a compelling read.

One Book You’ve Been Meaning To Read

I’ve had Catch-22 in my stacks for years and plan to read it this fall. I vaguely remember reading parts of it years ago in high school, but for whatever reason, didn’t get very far. I’m going to start a Back To School Reading Challenge, beginning on September 1st, and Heller’s novel will be my first selection.

Now I need to tag five people. Hmmm, I think everyone who has a book blog has already participated (and this is a bit too long for a comment). If not, consider yourself tagged.

Snow Blind

Snow Blind by P.J. Tracy
Finished on 7/28/06
Rating: A- (8/10 Very good)

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved to read. While all the other children in my kindergarten class stretched out on their mats at naptime, I got to sit with my teacher, quietly reading from Dick & Jane. Looking back, I don’t recall any of the other kids trading naps for a chance to read to the teacher, but maybe they did. All I know is I felt very special and very lucky.

As a young reader, I enjoyed the popular children’s series such as the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House books, The Bobbsey Twins, The Happy Hollisters, All-of-A-Kind Family and Anne of Green Gables. I also found great pleasure in discovering the classic stand-alones: The Magic Far-Away Tree, Heidi, and The Secret Garden. Yet unlike many of my friends, I was never terribly interested in mysteries, only reading a solitary Nancy Drew (The Hidden Staircase) and maybe a couple from the Trixie Belden collection.

In spite of the distraction of boys and the beach, my love for reading didn’t subside when I hit my teens; however, I don’t remember too much of what I read for pleasure: That Was Then, This Is Now; Go Ask Alice; The Shining (had to read this one on the beach – it scared the crap out of me!); an occasional Sidney Sheldon or (gasp) Danielle Steel. But again, no mysteries.

Life got busy (marriage, baby, divorce, back-to-school, remarriage) and before I knew it I got sucked into the world of computers and the Internet. In the mid 90s I discovered online book groups, opening up a whole new world of authors to choose from. I began to read Ian McEwan, Rohinton Mistry, Jose Saramago, Richard Russo, Ann Patchett, Barbara Kingsolver, Donna Woolfolk Cross, Margaret Atwood, and Mary Doria Russell. Gone were the days of Steel, Grisham and Sanders. Lots of contemporary fiction, but still no mysteries.

Then, someone with whom I share similar reading tastes mentioned that she greatly enjoyed mysteries by Dennis Lehane and Harlan Coben. I kept hearing these names and finally decided to give them a try. What a thrill to not only discover a new group of great authors, but a new genre as well. I fell in love with Lehane’s Kenzie/Gennaro duo; Coben’s Myron Bolitar and his psychotic sidekick, Win; Robert Parker’s gutsy and intelligent Sunny Randall; John Sandford’s womanizing Lucas Davenport; and most recently, P.J. Tracy’s Monkeewrench Gang. I love the ongoing character development in each of these series, for very much the same reason I love a good TV drama (Six Feet Under, The Sopranos, and of course, the very best of the best, House M.D.). It’s not so much about the mystery and unraveling of clues, hoping to figure out whodunit, but rather the bantering and camaraderie between the regulars in the series that keep me coming back for more. Kenzie, Bolitar, Randall, Davenport, and Grace all share a common trait with the Fishers, Tony Soprano, and Gregory House: They’re flawed individuals and often miserable, which makes them all the more believable and human, and thus, loveable.

Snow Blind, Tracy’s latest Monkeewrench novel, doesn’t disappoint. Set in the frigid winter environs of Minneapolis and surrounding areas, Detectives Leo Magozzi and Gino Rolseth are back in action, tracking down leads to a series of murders, while forced to babysit Iris Rikker, the newly elected sheriff of rural Dundas County.

Damnit, there weren’t supposed to be bodies. Bodies had never been mentioned, not once.

She stared holes into the eyes of her reflection, mentally reinforcing who and what she was – onetime city girl, substitute English teacher at whatever school in the district would take her, and the brand-new deputy who’d been working a scant two months on night-shift dispatch because part-time teaching didn’t pay the bills – and then she closed her eyes and took a deep, shaky breath. Yesterday she had been those things. Today she was the newly elected sheriff of one of the largest rural counties in Minnesota and some jackass named Sampson thought she was the person to call when you found a body lying around.

In spite of the fact that Grace, Harley and Roadrunner (the computer whizzes, collectively known as the Monkeewrench gang) appear only briefly in this new release, Magozzi, Rolseth and Rikker are just as entertaining and make up for any void caused by the absence of the others.

The dilemma of writing a review about a mystery/thriller is the constant possibility of revealing a “spoiler.” For this reason, these reviews tend to be a bit light in plot detail. You’ll just have to take my word for it. This is another great read by a talented mother-daughter writing team. If you haven’t read P.J. Tracy’s mysteries, you’re in for a treat. Meanwhile, I have the new Sunny Randall book in my stacks! Life is good.

August 4, 2006

Home Again, Home Again...

I'm back from my vacation and while I had a great time (in spite of the heat & humidity!), I didn't get much reading accomplished (not that I really thought I'd have the time). I finished P.J. Tracy's Snow Blind and started in on Capote's In Cold Blood (which I should finish tonight if I'd stop reading other book-lovers' blogs!). Not sure what I'll pick up next. Maybe something light and fluffy since I plan to start September with a stack of classics (my own "Back To School Reading Challenge").