August 31, 2007

Southern Reading Challenge Update

I finished Maggie's Southern Reading Challenge earlier this week. As you might recall, I compiled a list of 13, but only needed to read three in the three month period. Here's what I wound up choosing (click on the titles to go to my reviews):

gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson (Georgia)

Up Island by Anne Rivers Siddons (Georgia)

The Great Santini by Pat Conroy (South Carolina)

Unfortunately, none of these were terribly impressive, and I'd be hard pressed to pick one over the other.

Thank you, Maggie, for hosting this challenge. I'm going to hang on to my list just in case you decide to do it again next year.

August 27, 2007

The Joy of Baking

Once again, Nan has inspired me to step out of my comfort zone and do a little more baking. Last year I tried her homemade bread. It was a huge success! Rod, Miss Maddie and Miss Maddie's family all loved it, as did I. This time, Nan's delicious-looking blueberry crunch caught my eye and I knew I had a similar recipe somewhere that I wanted to try again. After a little searching, I came up with this:

Strawberry Cobbler

The recipe claims to serve 8. Ha!

August 26, 2007

The Great Santini

The Great Santini by Pat Conroy
Contemporary Fiction
Finished on 8/20/07
Rating: 2.5/5 (Fair)
TBR Challenge #6
Southern Reading Challenge #3

Book Description

The Astonishing Autobiographical Bestseller By The Author Of Beach Music

Today his family would be called dysfunctional. Bull Meecham -- fighter pilot, warrior, juggler, clown and bully -- a hard-drinking terror of a man who calls himself The Great Santini -- actually hides behind his misnomer. His swaggering mask is all Marine, and entitles him to be the absolute ruler of his family, which he handles with all the tenderness and understanding of a drill sergeant shaping up a class of new recruits.

Bull's wife, Lillian, is a beautiful steel magnolia -- without her cool head and infinite patience, the family would fall apart. Ben, at eighteen the oldest of Bull and Lillian's three children, is a natural athlete whose best never satisfies his father. As Ben struggles to become his own man against the intimidation of his father, he's forced to stand up, even fight back, against a man who refuses to give in.

Bull Meecham is undoubtedly Pat Conroy's most explosive character -- a man you should hate, but a man you'll come to love, in this stingingly authentic production.

I never came to love Bull Meecham, but as the book drew to a close, I began to reconsider my initial opinion of the novel. While reading The Great Santini, I couldn't help but compare it to Beach Music, the only other work of Conroy's I've read. From my journal, dated September 1996, I wrote:

THE BEST! I think this has to be one of the very best books I've ever read. I couldn't put it down and didn't want it to end. I want to read everything Pat Conroy has ever written. He writes the most beautiful sentences I have ever read. I felt like I could see, hear, taste and smell everything he described. The characters became part of me. I laughed. I cried. What a beautiful, lyrical book. I recommend it to everyone!

So why did it take me 11 years to pick up another book by Conroy? Did I have some inkling that Beach Music was the best of lot?

Unfortunately, there's just no comparing The Great Santini to Beach Music. Instead of lyrical prose, I found verbosity. Rather than endearing and memorable characters such as Jack McCall and his mother Lucy, I found nothing but crude vulgarity in Bull. The long, drawn out details of several basketball games grew tiresome, whereas the lush details of Italy and South Carolina drew me in to worlds I've come to long for even after all these years.

When asked to name my favorite books, Beach Music immediately springs to mind with no hesitation. I've wanted to read it again, yet fear it won't live up to that magic one feels when reading a gem for the first time. I had hoped to capture that feeling once again when I picked up The Great Santini. Sadly, I was disappointed. My first inclination was to say this is an awful book. However, looking back I think Conroy is superb storyteller. He created a realistic family and a believable character in Bull, who was a dispicable father, husband and human being, and I cringed at his words as often as his actions. I held my breath, hoping for a better outcome, wrapped up in Ben's world and desire to simply make his father proud.

I've wrestled with my reaction to this novel, wondering why I hesitate to recommend it or give it a higher rating. I think it boils down to the disturbing nature of the story. Sure, I've read upsetting novels that I've loved and gone on to rave about to anyone who'll listen (The Book Thief is the first that comes to mind), but this is a portrait of a family (albeit a dysfunctional family), and we all have families. As children, we desire our parents' love and approval and as parents we teach and guide our children while providing them with love and assurance. I know what family is, whereas the terrors of war are distant and somewhat removed from my daily life. I can read a book such as The Book Thief and appreciate the harrowing tale of the Holocaust, yet still love the story. In reading The Great Santini, I felt nothing but disgust for the chauvanistic bully and bigot portrayed by Bull Meecham. That disgust interfered with my overall appreciation of the narrative, but not so much that I couldn't finish. And there were, afterall, beautiful passages sprinkled here and there.

A favorite passage:

The next day Ben received a phone call from a Coach Murphy who said he heard from some of his players that the Arlington Jaycees had cut one hell of a baseball player and that he would consider it a personal favor if Ben would come play for his team. That was the beginning. And as Ben walked along the edge of the salt river, he realized that he wore the memory of Dave Murphy like a chain and it carried him like a prisoner to the infields of Four Mile Run Park in Arlington, Virginia, where he played for the Old Dominion Kiwanis for two of the best years of his life. In the night games, beneath the arc of lights, in his last year of Little league, Ben's new spikes gleamed like teeth as he walked toward Dave Murphy. For years Ben had walked toward him in dreams and sudden thoughts. If he could, Ben would have told him about the soft places a boy reserves for his first coach, his unruined father who enters the grassless practice fields of boyhood like a priest at the end of life. Coach Murphy was gentle. Yes, that was it. Gentle to the clumsy, girl-voiced boys whom he trained to be average, to be adequate, as he hit the soft fungoes to the outfield green. But Dave Murphy had a gift. Any boy who came to him had moments of feeling like a king. Any boy who played for the Old Dominion Kiwanis. Any boy. Coach Murphy still haunts the old fields where his boys bunted down the line, and with graceless fever took infield in voices that cried out for fathers. Going home after practice, they waved good-bye to their coach as they slid their spikes on the sidewalk, astonished at the fire that sprang from their feet. Then they turned toward home, toward the real fathers who waited for their sons to come homeward disguised as heroes.

Hmmm. Perhaps I would've found more to love had The Great Santini been about baseball (which lends itself to poetic prose, not to mention my love for the game) rather than basketball.

The Great Santini is a work of fiction, but how much is really a retelling of Conroy's own childhood? I'll have to give My Losing Season a read and compare details. I've had an Advanced Reader's Copy in my stacks for close to five years. Now I'm eager to give it a read.

here for more on Pat Conroy, the author, the man and the child.

August 24, 2007

Bits and Bobs

It's Friday and I'm trying to get a head start on my weekend chores so I can curl up with a book or two this weekend. I have a stack of library books that have already been renewed once and I really want to get to them! I also have 4 tall stacks of books to pick and choose from for the various challenges I'm participating in. Then there's that stack of recently acquired books... I have an overdue thank you to both Nan and Bellezza for picking me for their Nice Matters Award. I'm truly touched and honored.

I'm supposed to pass this along to seven (or is it four?) bloggers. I really have a terrible time choosing the recipients for this sort of thing. I hate to exclude anyone and cause hurt feelings. Every blog I visit is created by very nice people, so if you're reading this, consider yourself nominated! Labor Day is just around the corner (How can that be?! Summer just started!) and I've posted a few new summertime recipes over on my food blog. Check 'em out! Or better yet, let me tempt you with a few pics!

Potato Salad
Marinated Chicken Wings with White BBQ (Dipping) Sauce
Salmon Pasta
Black Bean Salsa
Rachel's Caribbean Shrimp & Mango Salad
Grilled Chicken Tacos
Shrimp with Feta Cheese

I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm constantly amazed when a stranger posts a comment on one of my blogs. How did they find me? Was it a random hit as a result of a Google search? I have been known to spend far too much time perusing my data results on StatCounter. (Are you all just as curious as I am, wanting to know who all those people are who are reading your blogs?) Well, it turns out Ian from the San Juan Island Update has a Google alert set up and discovered my blog after I mentioned Friday Harbor in my bookstore post. He turned around and mentioned my blog here (scroll down to the August 21st news) which generated quite a spike in my stats for that day! I received a nice comment from another Friday Harbor local (a columnist for a different San Juan Island website) who first heard about me via Ian's column. You still with me? I use Google alerts for a variety of subjects, but this is the first time (that I know of!) I've had someone find me via their alert -- well, with the exception of an author who read my negative review of his book last year! I was initially both surprised & horrified when I received his very nice email, claiming he was "proud to get my first 'F'!" In any case, it's flattering to have my blog mentioned elsewhere. Now if only someone would pay me to do this so we can move to Friday Harbor!

August 23, 2007

Carl's R.I.P. II Challenge

Last year I decided to skip Carl's R.I.P. Challenge, but not this year! I've had my list ready for several months and am anxious to get started. I'm not sure which of the Perils I'll participate in, but here's the list from which I'll be working. Go here for more details.

1. Brother Odd by Dean Koontz

2. Everything's Eventual: 14 Dark Tales by Stephen King

3. A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

4. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

5. Stardust by Neil Gaiman

6. New Moon by Stephenie Myer

7. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

8. Heart Shaped Box by Joe Hill

9. Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

10. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

11. Coraline by Neil Gaiman (sure hope I like this author!)

12. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

13. The House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne


Dracula by Braum Stoker

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

August 22, 2007

Vacation Purchases!

As you may recall, I packed over half a dozen books to take on my recent trip to the Canadian Gulf and San Juan Islands. Of course, I was too busy playing with my our new camera to read much of anything other than A Walk in the Woods (which I only managed to read on the long flights to and fro). So, I really didn't need to buy any more books, did I? I had plenty to read and quite of bit of variety just in case. Did this discourage me from adding more weight to my already heavy duffel bag? (Alright, alright. Duffel bags.) Nah. What fun would that have been?

I've never read anything by Annie Dillard, but when my stepmom mentioned The Living early on in our cruise, I thought both Rod and I might both enjoy this debut novel. It's set in the Pacific Northwest, just 20 miles south of Canada (specifically, the Bellingham, Washington region). June was fairly certain that I could find a used copy at Serendipty (in Friday Harbor) and she was right. I haven't had a chance to read the book, but my husband picked it up as soon as we got home and thoroughly enjoyed it. He said not a lot happens, but that it's excellent and quite beautifully written.

Next stop was Griffin Bay Bookstore (also in Friday Harbor). I'd been perusing June's large collection of regional cookbooks while lounging on the boat and remembered a delicious salmon pasta dish she'd made for us a few years ago. The recipe was from her copy of the San Juan Classics Cookbook. Well, of course I had to find a copy for my collection! And what better than a cookbook for a souvenir of our vacation. (And yes, I've already tried a few recipes. Go here and here.)

Griffin Bay Bookstore has such a lovely selection of cookbooks and I was so tempted to buy more than just one. Next time!

Heading down the hill, we stopped in at the Harbor Bookstore where I found a fabulous canvas book-bag with the store logo on the outside pocket. Perfect for lugging all my new books home on the plane!

I also picked up a copy of Putumayo Presents: Music from the Wine Lands for our hosts. This is a marvelous cd, as is the Paris album (which June bought earlier that day at Griffin Bay Bookstore). We listened to both albums every night for the remainder of the trip!

June had another recommendation, which I easily found at Tanner's Books in Sidney, British Columbia. The Curve of Time is a biography of a widow who cruised the coastal waters of British Columbia with her five children aboard a 25 foot boat in 1927. Sounds a bit crowded, wouldn't you say? Apparently this is quite the classic amongst Canadians and boaters. I'm quite anxious to get to it!

I found this lovely little book in the regional section of Tanner's. After scanning the back cover (and admiring the gorgeous cover art), I knew I had to own it! Here are a few lines from the back cover: "In her first bestselling book, Anny Scoones introduced Glamorgan Farm, one of the original homesteads on Vancouver Island. Now in Home and Away: More Tales of a Heritage Farm, Anny presents new stories about the joys and sorrows, excitements and mishaps, of life on a working farm. She also shares stories of travels to other parts of the world. Her travel tales offer keen observations of her experiences away, and also her perspective from afar on the importance of having a place to return to that truly is home." Doesn't this sound lovely?! I think this is a must for my flight to Oregon next month. Yes, we're going on another vacation! But I digress...

I know, I know. I could've bought this at home (with my employee discount!), but I love the Canadian cover AND Sara Gruen is Canadian (born in Vancouver, lived in London, Ontario, went to university in Ottowa), and I was in Canada. So once again, I felt compelled to add this to my stack of souvenirs.

For as long as I've known him, my husband has loved boats. He's read dozens and dozens of books (fiction and nonfiction) about sailing, motor crafts, lost-at-sea-adventures, how-to manuals. You name, he's read it. He's the only person I know who reads the Chapman Piloting, Seamanship and Small Boat Handling tome once a year. And we don't even own a boat! Yet.

We added a copy of Joshua Slocum's famous narrative to our stack at Tanner's. Surprisingly, it wasn't one Rod had already read. Not sure if it'll hold my interest, but you never know. Someone, somewhere just might host a nautical reading challenge!

Last but not least, I bought two copies of...

Don't you just love that cover?! Much more colorful than the U.S. version!

I guess I'm really not a true fan, as I decided to sleep rather than walk up to Tanner's for their midnight festivities. I did manage to get some fun goodies the next morning, though.

Cool bookmark (those are actually individual stickers)

Another bookmark

And that's it! Now to find more time to read.