Wednesday, December 19, 2007

On Death and Dying

Death has been on my mind a lot recently but that's not necessarily a bad thing. A friend of mine recently lost her husband to a long illness and, since she's not ready to talk about it yet, I've been trying to imagine myself in her place, wondering what would help me so that I can help her. Up until a few years ago I wouldn't have been able to perform this exercise because I hadn't ever had a "soul mate" (trite but true); someone who completes me. If you're fortunate enough to finally find this person, it's devastating to contemplate life without the other half of yourself.

My friend Don, a much more practical person than I, is more accepting of the natural progression of things but I, having read and reread Kubler-Ross, know that the knowledge of our inevitable demise doesn't preclude the pain of loss and the steps of the grieving process. As John Donne said in his beautiful poem, which was read at my mother's funeral many years ago, "any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind."

All of this is to say that I'm as immersed in death in my real life as I am in literature. In a couple of weeks I'll be hosting a discussion of Jim Harrison's Returning to Earth, a book one critic called "a valediction to mourning." That term speaks to me. It's a perfect way of saying that it's ok to not be immediately ok after the death of a loved one. Just read Joan Didion's Year of Magical Thinking or listen to Diane Rehm's recent interview with Calvin Trillin as he discusses his Alice, gone five years but still very much a part of his life.

I expect that this book discussion may be difficult for the attendees, depending upon their life situations. I hope it will also be life affirming. Harrison is another one of those authors of such literary renown that I'm ashamed that I haven't read him before. His stories are very regional, set in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, a bit of land you can almost smell and hear, his writing is so perfect. The main character, Donald, is dictating his family's history to his wife Cynthia so that their children will have a deeper understanding of their ties to the land after he is gone. Donald you see, is 45 years old and dying of Lou Gehrig's disease.

There is no angst, no Sturm und Drang, in this tale. Donald, a member of the Anishnabeg clan of native peoples who inhabit the U.P. and Canada, is another person who sees his death as a natural part of life, to be taken charge of and embraced as a "returning to earth." The story though, is not as much about Donald's death as it is about the empty place he leaves in the lives of his kids, Clare and Herald, Cynthia and her brother, David. Through their reminiscing readers are able to glean insight into the mourning process and the many different ways that each person uses to cope.

Please don't by-pass this beautifully written, thought provoking book because of the subject matter. Not in the least depressing, it is in fact, an affirmation of all that is glorious and remarkable about the simple act of being alive.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Blown Away by The Tin Roof Blowdown

Yes, I'm back to my dark side with James Lee Burke's latest novel, highly recommended by my friend Maryellen who seldom steers me wrong. I used to read Burke's Dave Robicheaux series when Alafair was still a little girl. Then, tired of the violence, I left him behind for a while. Robicheaux's daughter is in college now and the real Alafair, James Lee's daughter, is writing a great mystery series of her own. Burke has not lost his edginess as he's aged. In fact most critics agree that The Tin Roof Blowdown is one of his best.

Be prepared if you're not familiar with Burke. The mood is always sinister, muddy, and slimey. The language is foul but honest. Even the good guys have bleak histories and are always one step away from sliding back into the muck. New Orleans on the uncertain days leading up to Hurricane Katrina and its horrific aftermath is a major player in this novel of despair. Looters looking for just enough food and money to stay alive raid the wrong house at the wrong time in the wrong place. Detective Robicheaux, brought in from New Iberia Parish to join the NOPD in their investigation, uncovers so much more than a simple crime.

Burke has never been more politically outspoken in his fiction. There is no concealing his love for New Orleans and his disgust at the response of our government and our nation to the tragedy that transpired there. Often fiction does a better job than straight news reporting at depicting the truth and this book is a tough read for those who can't handle the truth (apologies to Jack Nicholson). Burke forces us to look behind the curtain of frivolity that surrounds the party city to the exteme poverty, racism and lack of opportunity for those who don't work on Bourbon Street. He forces us to examine our perceptions of good and evil, revenge and betrayal, brotherhood and love.

Read by a crusty, sinister sounding "good ole boy" named Will Patton, this book's atmosphere is considerably enhanced by the audio performance.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

For Mma Ramotswe Fans

My friend Tina brought this to my attention. Looks like great fun. Bless the BBC.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Taking a Break

Every now and then I do need a respite from the morbidly depressing novels I normally read. One author I can always count on is Alexander McCall Smith. I often recommend his delightful series, The Number One Ladies Detective Agency, to my customers as these books never fail to leave me chuckling. Personally I think that the only way to read them is on CD or download. Lisette Lecat, with her lilting accent, is perfect in the many roles, using subtle vocal changes to reflect each character male or female.
Speaking of the characters....McCall Smith's insight into the little foibles of us weak humans and his penchant for forgiveness of them, is the wonder of these novels. Where I often have trouble caring about those who people "good literature," (think of The Corrections), I never fail to shed a tear over the simple, everyday lives of Botswana's number 1 sleuth, Maa Ramotswe, her assistant Maa Makutsi who has a weakness for pretty, impractical shoes, and Mr. J. L. B. Matakoni, proprietor of the local body shop, who fears he may not be exciting enough for his detective wife.
I'm currently listening to number 8 in the series, The Good Husband of Zebra Drive, in which all the characters we've come to know and depend upon seem to be having mid-life crises. Though I think the books can stand alone, it feels better to read them in order, slowly coming to understand the beautiful natures of these people who will become your new best friends.

By my bed I've got a couple of novels I've been hoping to get to, among them The Madonnas of Leningrad, which was a popular book discussion here at the library and an autographed copy of The Whole World Over that I picked up when I met author Julia Glass at Book Expo a year ago. At work I'm half way through The Savage Garden by screenwriter Mark Mills. Well received by reviewers and set in Tuscany, this one naturally caught my attention.

Adam is a less than ambitious Cambridge scholar, inexplicably chosen by his professor to spend the summer in Italy researching the history of a formal garden at the Villa Docci. The elderly signora, owner of the property, guards its secrets on the one hand while opening her villa to Adam on the other. She doles out the information she wants him to have but the gossipers at the local trattoria contradict much of it and Adam begins to surmise that the true history of the villa may be much darker than he's been led to believe. I hope so!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Culture Shock

Dare I say it? If there could possibly be anything good to come out of this war in Iraq, which seems to be lasting a life time, it might be the fervor with which readers have embraced the plethora of novels that have come out of the Middle East in the past, say, five years. Thoughtful people all around our country seem to truly desire an understanding or insight into the Islamic culture and religion. Programs here in our library system on this subject generally have standing room only. Did this all begin with The Kite Runner? I wonder how the negative publicity surrounding the making of the upcoming movie will affect this phenomenon?

I've been thinking about this because I've just finished two books, one of which is Hosseini's much anticipated follow-up to The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns, which sits high upon the New York Times best seller list. This novel, dedicated to the women of Afghantistan, is a devastating indictment of a way of life that forces young girls into marriages that basically amount to slavery and virtual imprisonment. It is also a novel of war and is overwhelming in its relentless description of lives lived under the threat of daily bombings, starvation, death and destruction. I don't believe that any of us can conceive of such an existence. My complaint with Hosseini's work is that he portrays people and events as either good or evil, offering little of the nuance that informs a great book discussion.

On the other hand, Yasmina Khadra, an Algerian writer who gets much less publicity and respect, is a master at layered storytelling that forces readers to ruminate long after his books are finished. Last week twenty women attended my book discussion of Khadra's The Attack, second in a trilogy of life in the Middle East that began with The Swallows of Kabul. These novels, while as devastating as Hosseini's, delve much deeper into the effects of living in a suffocating atmosphere of turmoil and upheaval.
Khadra is a pseudonym (his wife's name actually) for Mohammed Moulessehoul, a former military officer now living in France. I have to wonder if he immersed himself in psychology during his military training as his ability to recreate the complexities of male/female relationships of long duration, and to speak from the woman's heart, is uncanny. There is a scene in Swallows...where a relatively liberated Muslim, aware of the injustice of Taliban rules toward women, happens upon a stoning of an adulteress as he walks home from work. He moves into the crowd, drawn by an ugly fascination, and inexplicably finds himself picking up a stone to throw at the already dead, cloaked stranger. Mired in guilt and disbelief at his own behavior, he confesses to his wife, expecting her usual succor and understanding. Khadra's description of the wife's response is a literary tour de force.

Once accused by an interviewer of always writing about terrorism, Khadra responded that his novels talk, not of terrorism, but of "human brittleness, anger, humiliation, the fears, sometimes the hopes; and of this burning and fatuous actuality which spoils our life." A few of the women in my book group also seemed to fixate on the terrorist aspects of The Attack, a novel in which the central act of a suicide bomber serves as the catalyst for a more profound tragedy. The real story is about a marriage. Is fifteen years long enough to truly know someone? Dr. Amin Jaafari and his wife Sihem live as good a life as one can in a world of such conflict. They are Muslims who have assimilated in an Israeli community in Tel Aviv. He is a surgeon, dedicated to saving lives. They are educated, well-traveled, well-connected, and yet........

Khadra writes in French and has been well-served by his translators. The language of the text is as fierce and emotional as the story it tells. It may be a few months before I'm psychologically prepared to tackle his third offering, The Sirens of Baghdad.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Listening in the sickbay

So there I was in the bowels of the ship, somewhere between Corsica and Gibraltar, IV drip hooked up to my left arm and a nebulizer strapped around my nose and mouth (very bad hair day) with visions of dollar signs dancing through my head. I needed a diversion and was so glad I had thought to bring my loaded mp3 player on vacation with me. I chose to begin Woman in Charge by Carl Bernstein. Great choice! For some reason I was under the impression that this book involved a negative treatment of Hillary Clinton so I had steered away. In fact, it is a fascinating and, so far at least, objective look at a most fascinating woman.

Now let me say right up front that I am an Obama girl. He has been my choice ever since I read Dreams from My Father and then the wonderfully titled Audacity of Hope. For me, Barack Obama is everything we need in this country right now, a bright voice of calm and reason in a world gone mad, a thoughtful man of nuance in a country all too black and white. I don't trust my fellow Americans to see this my way though so I'm hedging my bets with Hillary. After reading Bernstein's account I'll be even more comfortable with her as my final candidate.

This is a woman who has had a passion for justice and public service since her most formative college years. Her growth and development from an 18 year old Goldwater Republican to a mature, moderate Democrat was the result of an incredible education, a drive to succeed, a penchant for involving herself with movers and shakers in the legal field and a talent at attracting strong mentors. In fact, the naysayers who think that Hillary only hitched herself to Bill's star don't know the half of it. Most of Hillary's friends, professors and supervisors from her law school days actually thought she was throwing herself away by choosing love, Bill and Arkansas rather than a political career of her own. To her credit, through hard work and extreme determination, she's managed to have it all.

Hillary Clinton has been labeled a "polarizing" candidate and it's thought that voters either love her or hate her. I truly hope that Bernstein's book will get into voters' hands in time for them to get to know and empathize with this deeply complex woman who overcame a background that was a far cry from the idyllic life she herself described in her autobiography. Hillary has worked against racial discrimination and injustice since her early days with Marian Wright Edelman and the Childrens' Defense Fund. She struggled for more than two years with her decision to marry Bill and went into that relationship with full knowledge of his weaknesses which she ascribed to his less than savory childhood. She saw a visionary; he saw a nuts and bolts, "just do it" kind of gal. Contrary to public opinion, he pursued her relentlessly. Between them they have worked non-stop to fulfill an idealistic dream for a better world.

I haven't gotten to the "bad" chapters yet and I know it will be painful to read about the Monica fiasco and the impeachment proceedings. Ironically, Hillary Clinton made a name for herself in legal circles working on the impeachment of Richard Nixon. But I'll keep reading for the insight and with a firm knowledge that, as bad as it was, it doesn't hold a candle to what's happening right now.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Barcelona - A City and a Book

Yes, I'm back from my extended, ambitious vacation which took Don and me to 4 countries and 9 cities in 14 days. Whew! Of course, I had big plans to blog my way around the Mediterranean but you know what they say about "the best laid plans of mice and men." A nasty respiratory infection and a terrible wireless Internet connection squashed my plans at travel writing.

Several people, including my sister and my library director, upon hearing that I was headed to Barcelona, had recommended The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I admit I had not heard of him before, yet now his name seems to come up in casual conversation every time I turn around. Isn't it odd how that happens? Between us I believe that Don and I carted about 10 books onto the cruise ship. This was the only one I finished! We even took a self-guided "shadow of the wind walking tour" through the Bari Gothic section of the city where much of the action in the book took place. Apparently this novel really put Barcelona on the map - a much deserving city in my opinion.

Every time I travel I'm reminded once again of how very important it is to get out of one's comfort zone and see the world as it really is and not how the news media would have us believe. I consider myself pretty well-traveled and open to new places and scenes but I still didn't expect Spain to be such a beautiful, modern country and a delightful blending of the ancient and the new. Barcelona reminded me a great deal of Paris with its lovely, wide, tree lined boulevards criss crossing the city. Separate, safe bike paths encourage folks to reduce emissions and stay healthy. You can pick up a bike at selected places in the city for a euro, unlock it, ride it all over the city and drop it off at any other designated spot. What a concept. I've heard that Paris has implemented this as well. There are special lanes just for buses and taxis and it goes without saying that public transportation is alive and well and efficient all through Europe. We used it everywhere when we weren't walking and managed to make ourselves understood in Spanish, French and Italian over the course of the two weeks. One doesn't need to be an expert to be appreciated for the effort and, damn, it feels good!

We had one rather ironic incident in a museum (Napoleon's birthplace and childhood home) in Corsica. After perusing three floors of information and reading the explanatory signs in our passable French, we came to a guest book. The person who signed before us had written a diatribe about the fact that "for heaven's sake, the signs should be in ENGLISH!" Hmmmm...We cracked up and proceeded to write a complimentary comment in our best high school French. I just knew in my heart that this anonymously indignant person was most likely from our cruise ship and would be the same person who would write to the News-Press complaining that Hispanics don't try hard enough to speak English. Nothing bi-lingual in America, please, just everywhere else!

Anyway, back to the Zafon book. It's difficult to describe this unusual novel. One word that comes to mind is atmosphere. It's one of those that I suspect people will either love or hate right out of the gate. Barcelona is definitely the main character; not the wide tree-lined streets described above, but the dark, seedy, mysterious labyrinth of alleyways that are home to the less fortunate denizens of the city, circa 1945. Nothing draws in a librarian like the promise of a story about a widowed antiquarian book dealer who initiates his lonely son into the world of The Cemetery of Forgotten Books. When our young Daniel, allowed to choose one book for his own, picks a long lost novel by Julian Carax, an author around whom a shadowy legend has been born, the novel is off and running. Unrequited love, shifty politics, class wars and some very sly social commentary all combine to make this novel a great read.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Feasts of Love

I've been in a particularly sentimental mood lately. Perhaps I needed a break from all the political upheaval and anger that's always brewing inside me. For whatever reason, I was so ready for the movie last week, The Feast of Love. I remembered how much the book by Charles Baxter had delighted me but I couldn't have told you the plot if my life depended on it. Ah fickle memory. I only knew that I put it down with a feeling of deep satisfaction and that sense one gets now and then that all's right with the world.
I had the same sensation (and I believe that Andrea did too) when we sat at the end of the movie, credits rolling, unwilling to get up and plunge right back into the real world. Baxter's book, you see, is a celebration of love in all its manifestations. It doesn't make judgments, it acknowledges hurt, loss, the pain of a "wrong" decision, a misplacement of trust, but it also espouses a philosophy that has kept me on an even keel in the past, which is that all of our choices, at least when it comes to love, are better than not giving it at all. There's no room for bitterness in the human heart.

That same theme is evident in all the writing of Robert Hellenga, another favorite of mine. I just burned through The Italian Lover in record time, at least for me. This book is a follow-up to Hellenga's The Sixteen Pleasures, the story of Margot Harrington, then an American college student, a "mud angel," who went to Florence to restore books after the terrible flooding of the Arno in the 1960's; a flood that decimated so many of the great works of art which had been displayed or housed in the churches and convents of this wonderful Renaissance city. Margot, Sandro, her much older Italian lover, and the city of Florence were equally compelling characters in the earlier book and Hellenga's cadre of fans were more than ready for "the rest of the story."

Margot, twenty-five years later, is a renowned book conservator whose life story is being made into a movie, The Italian Lover, by Esther Klein, a tough-talking, recently divorced producer. Esther is hell-bent on proving herself to the Hollywood power brokers who control the purse strings and to her ex-husband, the love of her life, who has left her for a twenty-something. She hires Miranda, a young insecure ingenue, to star alongside the much more sophisticated Italian actor Zanni, and brings in director Michael, who is quietly dying from prostate cancer. With him is his wife of many years, Beryl, an accomplished woman used to being able fix anything. As this menagerie decends upon Florence, filming in the convents, eating at the nearby restaurants and hiring local grips and cameramen, readers realize that Margot is the only one who doesn't understand that her dramatic screenplay is about to be turned into a romantic comedy.

There's no doubt that Hellenga is in love with Italy. He writes of each piazza and alleyway so that we can smell the garlic emmanating from the doorways. Even if you've never been there yourself, you can perfectly visualize the dogs romping outside Margot's apartment in the Piazza Santa Croce. But more than this, Hellenga loves his characters. Each quirky, self-absorbed, bright, caring person in Hellenga's books is someone you already know or truly want to know. They make decisions about their relationships that we may not understand but, as with Charles Baxter, there are no judgments put forth, no punishment for mistakes, just human beings trying to love one another as best they can. Finishing this book I felt the same deep satisfaction that I got from The Feast of Love. I sighed audibly.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Thoughts on a few books....

I just finished a deceptively simple little novel recommended by my former boss (that sounds weird, doesn't it? Boss seems to have such a negative connotation) Linda Holland. She thought it might make a good choice for our book discussion group and I suspect that, even though I can't really say that I liked the book, she's right and it would.

A Hatred for Tulips by noted newpaper correspondent Richard Lourie is one of those books that asks a morally ambiguous question that can't be answered in a right or wrong way. The story revolves around two brothers. Joop, the narrator, has grown up and lived in Amsterdam, harboring a guilty knowledge that has affected his every waking minute for the past sixty years. His younger brother Willem left Amsterdam with his mother after the devastation of World War II and has led a fairly privileged, very American life.

Reunited after all these years, Joop and Willem sit down over drinks and try to find any common ground between them, something that would indicate that they are even related. In the course of the afternoon's reminiscing, Joop reveals his secret for the first time. Readers may be disturbed, even horrified, by what Joop has done, but the questions arise: how far will a person go to feed his starving family, to gain love and acceptance from one person in a world gone mad with bombing raids and death camps? No, I didn't "like" this book but it will make for a great discussion!

I may have mentioned previously in this blog that some of my friends and I are playing around with an online book discussion group. We very virtuously agreed that we'd all wanted to read Gabriel Garcia Marquez at some point in our reading life. A couple of weeks ago, albeit after a couple of glasses of wine and a heavy dinner, I sat down expecting to fall in love with 100 Years of Solitude. Snore. How does one get to be 58 years old and still have guilt because a "good" book doesn't knock one's socks off? Could it be that recovering Catholic thing? I was soooo relieved when I read on our discussion blog that my very intellectual friend Laura had the same reaction. Whew! She commented that magical realism definitely isn't her thing and the irony is that, in the hands of Laure Esquivel or Isabel Allende, I've always enjoyed that unusual convention. But with Marquez, not so much.

On the upside, I'm about half way through a deeply felt book by another author, one I'd often heard about but never read. Andre Brink's Before I Forget is a literary, erotic paean to women. Chris Minaar, a lawyer, political activist and writer, now in his 70's, examines the meaning of his life through the curtain of memory. Disheartened by the state of the world, the war in Iraq being the centerpiece, and numb over the recent death of a lover, Brink, through Minaar, offers the reader a glimpse into the heart and soul of a thinking man and it is a wondrous sight. Oh, would that I could even remotely dredge up such facility with the English language! I'm not even sure that it can be learned.

I'd love to quote some lines from this book but I'm at home and Brink is on my desk at the library. I may slip it in sometime tomorrow. Meanwhile, I've got to head to Muvico to meet Andrea for The Feast of Love - one of my all time favorite books and one of the many that are being brought to the "big screen" this fall. Yes, yes, it only got 2 stars in the "No-News News-Press" but we are nothing if not optimistic!

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Romeo and Juliet - 2007 Style

WOW! I went to an extremely powerful production of Romeo and Juliet yesterday afternoon at the Florida Repertory Theatre in downtown Ft. Myers. I've had season tickets to this theatre for many years now and cannot remember a time when I was disappointed with a production, so I was surprised at the lukewarm review that Drew Sterwald wrote for our local newspaper. I normally agree with him on just about everything. Then, my friend and loyal reader Maryellen, met me at a fundraiser for the new library Foundation Board where we ran into several co-workers who had seen the modern-day Romeo and were badly shaken by it.

Now I'm wondering what rock these people have been living under for the past 20 years. After all, this play was adapted and performed by the award winning Classical Theatre of Harlem whose mission, God bless them, is "returning the classics to the stages of Harlem, nurturing new, young, and culturally diverse audiences, and to producing theatre that truly reflects the diversity of ideas and racial tapestry of America." I can't tell you how fantastic it felt to sit in this gorgeous old theatre, usually peopled only with wealthy, retired senior citizens ( yes, you might wonder how I got in!) and see a racially mixed audience with an age range from 12 to 80. I subconsciously thanked my parents once again for exposing us to live theatre at an early age - they were amateur thespians themselves - and I wondered how these kids would remember yesterday's experience in the years to come.

I loved several things about this production, including the fact that there was no intermission to ruin the emotional buildup the actors worked so hard at creating, and that they adhered to Shakespeare's glorious original language and timeless storyline. The action takes place in contemporary Harlem so the rap music, suggestive dancing and butt-revealing baggy pants reflect that. (nothing you wouldn't see on MTV should you choose to watch) Since the Bard of Avon was such a bawdy guy with a clever penchant for sexual innuendo, the modern setting really worked for me and certainly got the students' attention. The choreography was exquisite, especially in the fight scenes which involved guns rather than swords.

If I could only take one book into exile on a deserted island I've always known it would be TheComplete Works of Shakespeare. It's a marvel to me how he was able to write about the universal human condition, the seven deadly sins if you will, with such compassion and humor. The message of Romeo and Juliet has been reprised on stage and screen innumerable times over the years, most notably in the Broadway musical West Side Story. It is as apt in 2007 as it has always been. Like the Capulets and the Montagues, we foolish humans seem to continue to find reasons to hate each other, be it race, religion, or culture, when it would be so much simpler to recognize our common humanity. Like Romeo and Juliet our children and grandchildren are paying the price.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Book Snob?

I really do hate to admit it but I think I'm becoming a book snob. I'm sitting here in my office looking at the photo I had taken with one of my all time favorite writers "back in the day," Elizabeth Berg. Have I changed that much since I picked her up at the airport 6 or 7 years ago? Or, has she?
When The Handmaid and the Carpenter came out I thought it was just an aberration but now, with Dream When You're Feeling Blue, I worry that Berg is perhaps yanking out some of her early material that couldn't get published and reissuing it because she's famous and she can. I was fully prepared to love this book. The dedication to her dad and the photo of what I'm sure is her folks on their wedding day appealed to the romantic in me, reminding me of a similar photo I have of my parents in the 40's. The World War II era has always called to me. My 82 year old aunt thinks that I was born in the wrong time. Still, after coming off an outstanding work like The Time of Our Singing and then listening to The Book Thief, I couldn't even give Berg the full 50 pages that the Rule of Fifty requires.

On top of that I had begun reading Penelope Lively's Consequences, which I hope to finish up this morning, and although it hasn't torn me up the way Heat Wave did about ten years ago, it's nevertheless a worthy addition to her oeuvre. It too begins in the 40's but in England, with Lorna, a young woman railing against the fate of being born to a social climbing family that expects their daughter to be something she can't. In a fit of rebellion she falls in love with and marries an artist. The two of them fashion a beautiful life of simplicity and harmony, raising their daughter Molly in the gorgeous countryside, until the war intervenes and does its usual damage.
Lively can turn a beautiful phrase, as my friend Andrea reminded me yesterday, and I'm coming to love the strong, independent generations of women who evolve from Lorna's lineage.

What else am I listening to that I could take or leave? In the car it's Jeffery Deaver's SleepingDoll. He's had my heart ever since he told a bunch of us at the reading festival a couple of years ago that he chose Lee County's festival over the Virginia Festival of the Book because he heard that ours was where the "regular fans" were at. Gotta love the man! It's not his fault that the book isn't knocking me out. My attention span right now is at near zero. I'll be leaving for a European vacation in a couple of weeks and haven't been concentrating on my Spanish language skills. I'm torn between getting all my overdue books back before I go and learning how not to be an ugly American.

On my mp3 I've got Laura Lippman's What the Dead Know which got rave reviews in AudioFile magazine but it doesn't exactly have me dying to go for a walk this morning either. Lippman has a fabulous reputation and has won multiple awards including an Edgar for her Tess Monaghan series. This book is a stand alone about two sisters who disappeared from a mall in Baltimore thirty years ago and how the dead case is reopened after a hospitalized accident victim claims to be one of the long lost Bethany sisters. Judging by the reviews in Library Journal and on Amazon I think it would behoove me to get off this darn computer, stick on those earphones and head out the door. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Another Blog, Another Book

How in the world are we to juggle all this online information? We have been challenged here at the library to create a blog to discuss technology and challenge us to use the web to our advantage. While it's true that I already have this one, I'm not sure I'm ready to share it with the world so, yup, I made another one. So, if you find that I'm missing in action over here talking about what I'm reading then you'll find me at the other blog talking about the joys and pains of technology!

Meanwhile, just a note to say that I finished an audio book called Forgive Me by Amanda Eyre Ward. I had never read anything by her but had seen a blurb in AudioFile Magazine and the story line appealed to me. It's not drop dead great fiction but hey, they don't all have to be, do they? Sometimes I'm just listening to something to keep my type A personality from rearing its ugly head on US 41! Forgive Me is a very satisfying story about forgiveness on many levels, from the global to the personal.

Nadine is a small town girl, born and raised on Cape Cod, who's always had a yearning for something more. I can empathize with that as I couldn't wait to get out of Dodge (Great Barrington, Massachusetts). Even at 17 I wanted to see new and different places and now, at 58, the desire is stronger than ever. Nadine, with her degree in journalism, runs toward trouble wherever she can find it, sending hard-hitting stories back to the American news media. In South Africa she falls in love with a man and with a country but the lure of the next story, the potential Pulitzer, always finds her leaving commitment or entanglements behind.

When Nadine is attacked and injured while scouting a story outside Mexico City she is sent home to the Cape to recuperate under the suffocating care of her estranged father and step-mother. Here she is pressured unmercifully by her family and oldest friend, a contentedly married mother of three, to "settle down like a nice girl" and bake cookies. She tries. Nadine has an affair with the physician who's been treating her injuries and seems to understand her need to roam, that is until she leaves him, drawn back to Cape Town for the Truth and Reconciliation hearings, the historic post-apartheid process of forgiveness on a grand scale.

I don't want to give away too much more of the story but suffice it to say that here, in Cape Town, Nadine confronts those she has hurt in the past, precipitates a reconciliation that one would assume could never happen and makes some unexpected decisions about her own future. I love the way the author runs two or three parallel storylines that eventually veer off course to intersect. I highly recommend the audio version of the story as the narrator, Ann Marie Lee, is adept with the lilting Afrikaans and pulls off a passable Boston accent as well.

Today is my book discussion of The Time of Our Singing which I only finished this morning but wrote about in a previous blog. This is such a devastating book, it has taken the wind out of my sails. I talked with my friend Don on the phone this morning as he journeys through the old South in search for his ancestors, hoping he could give me some insight that I could take to my ladies this afternoon. His advice, which he knows will be tough for me, is to try to rein in my passion a little bit and see what unfolds. I'll keep you posted.

Friday, September 7, 2007

A Tale of Two Books

I hate it when I'm too busy reading to post to my blog. Does that mean I'm addicted to both reading and blogging?? Right now I'm juggling a few books, having just finished and returned Stephen Carter's New England White while being smack dab in the middle of my book discussion book for this month, The Time of Our Singing by Richard Powers. Both authors speak of the African American experience over the 20th century, Carter from the position of exclusive membership in an elite, powerful club of African American movers and shakers, and Powers through the eyes of a biracial couple who brave tremendous scorn with grace and aplomb, raising their children through the turbulent '50's and '60's.

Carter is a glorious writer, his books exhibit elements of all that's best in historical fiction, with a hefty dose of suspense and relationship problems thrown in, topped off with codes and anagrams a la The DaVinci Code. A prolific writer of non-fiction, Carter is a distinguished professor of Law at Yale, whose two fiction books are just what the doctor ordered; big, fat, literary and convoluted. In a Waspy college town, thirty years ago, a young lady was murdered, an investigation was stonewalled and an innocent black man was framed for the crime. I've finished the book and I'm still not sure "who done it."

Fast forward to present day as Lemaster Carlyle, president of a university (NOT Yale the author assures us) and his wife Julia, wend their way home from a faculty function in their Cadillac Escalade (the author seems to consider this vehicle a status symbol and I can only hope he's being facetious) and come upon the dead body of Julia's former lover, Kellan Zant. It seems that Kellan has been investigating this past murder and has enlisted the help of the Carlyles' daughter Vanessa, a history buff with brains and curiosity. Like red ants disturbed in their nest, the unsavory facts this duo uncovers crawl through town, affecting characters from the upper echelons of the university system to the powerless ones on the "other side of the tracks."

One thing I don't quite get about Carter, and I found this in both his new book and the previous best seller The Emperor of Ocean Park, is the underlying impression of an angry man dwelling too much on the barriers to race relations in our country, not to mention the prejudices abounding within the membership of the "darker nation."(his term, not mine.) I've read interviews with Mr. Carter ( ) that belie this feeling I have, so perhaps I'm being overly sensitive. It certainly wouldn't be the first time!

On the other hand, Richard Powers' characters and we readers, have every justification for being deeply angry at the historical evidence of our country's slow, with a capital "S," progress in enacting civil rights legislation that brought African-Americans into full participation in United States citizenry. In 1939 Delia Daley and David Strom travel from very different paths to Washington, DC. Their common goal, to listen to Marian Anderson's concert being held at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial because the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to allow the Negro songstress to sing in their hallowed Constitution Hall. Do you remember learning this in school? I sure don't! Thank God for fiction writers who so deftly weave the true history of our nation throughout their fictitious tales.

David, a displaced Jew with no living family, and Delia, an upper class African-American woman from a large, educated family make a mistake in judgment that day. They fall in love, believing that they can rise above the pain of discrimination, sheltering their three future children from the evil effects of prejudice through the strength of their love. But love alone cannot prepare Jonah, Joseph and Ruth for what they find when they at last break out into a world where a young man named Emmet Till is bludgeoned to death for speaking to a white woman, Martin Luther King, Jr. is gunned down on a hotel balcony for having a dream, and cities across the country smolder with the flames of dissent. The Time of Our Singing is a powerful book written by a man reviewers refer to as "the finest writer of his generation who has never been heard of." But we all know John Grisham, don't we? What a sad commentary!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Markus Zusak's Book Thief

When Maryellen and I heard Mr. Zusak speak at an ALA tea, we knew there was something special about this young man. He was - I'm not quite sure how to describe it - wise beyond his years maybe? I had not read about his book, published for adults in his native Australia, but for some reason, being marketed to young adults here in the states. Not that I don't think teens should read and appreciate The Book Thief, because I certainly do. Still, this book is so sophisticated, the writing so compelling, that adults may well miss out on a great read because of the library's decision to classify it for young adults.

Taking my library director's recommendation, I downloaded this to my mp3 so that I could hear actor Allan Corduner's brilliant performance as the narrator, a sardonic, witty Death with a capital "D." As you can imagine, Death is terribly busy in pre-WW II Germany. Hitler is making his run up to his vision of a perfect Aryan race and the mood is somber as people like Liesel's parents, branded as Communists, begin to quietly disappear. Death takes a particular interest in the 10 year old Liesel when he observes her clandestinely rescuing a book from the snow after her little brother's funeral. This book, The Gravedigger's Handbook, will change and possibly even save Liesel's life.

The Book Thief speaks to me on so many different levels. I don't want it to end yet I fear the ending too. There is no other time in history that draws me as much as the '40's do. My friend Don constantly marvels at how someone with such a sunny disposition as mine can be so fascinated by the darker side of humanity. I have no explanation. Perhaps acknowledging the worst in society puts the heros on an even higher pedestal? I only know that I feel such dread as Kristalnacht comes, bonfires of books burn in the streets of Molching outside of Munich, children are forced to join the Hitler Youth Brigade with no understanding of the hate they spew. Addresses of "Heil Hitler" are analyzed and interpreted for their sincerity.

Into this historical maelstrom comes Max, a Jewish refugee temporarily protected from suspicion by carrying with him and reading a copy of Mein Kampf. On Himmel St. (an ironic use of the German word for Heaven?) in Molching, Liesel's foster parents, Rosa and Hans Hubermann, open the door to Max, fulfilling a promise made years before and setting in motion a chain of events which will forever inform their lives and that of their beloved Liesel.

I just cannot say enough about this book and the thoughts it's engendered. Whenever I read about the Holocaust I wonder if, and hope that, I would have had the courage to stand against the evil in some small way. I think about the other races and cultures that have faced similar systematic persecution. Our own Native American population and the African Americans who relied on the genius of the Underground Railroad to reach some semblance of freedom in the North and Canada. Then I look around at the anti-Muslim sentiment in our country since 9/11 and worry about which group will be next. But, just maybe, by reading fiction like The Book Thief, our young people will be inspired to change the frightening path we're on.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A Fascinating Read - Finally

I'm just finishing up a book that drew my attention months ago as I was putting away biographies on the new book shelf. The White Masai is such an amazing story that I began to wonder if it could all be factual. I hoped that Corinne Hofmann wasn't another James Frey and, just to be sure, I scoured the Internet looking for interviews and evidence. I now believe that Ms. Hofmann was truly, deeply in love with Africa and, by extension, with her Masai warrior, Lketinga.
My friend Don and I have talked about this phenomenon at length. He has been lucky enough to have lived and worked in several countries including Africa and the Middle East. He told me that it was common, among the women especially, to become enthralled by a certain culture and to then choose a husband as an entree to that life so different from what they've known.

When Corinne Hofmann arrived in Kenya from Switzerland, boyfriend in tow, she couldn't have dreamed that she would leave her business, family and friends behind for a life of loneliness, illness and poverty with a Masai warrior whose eyes met hers across a crowded room. (I feel like breaking into song....) I've never really believed in love at first sight, which isn't to say that I don't think there can be an immediate physical attraction between two people. To truly love someone you must know what's in their heart and mind, don't you think?

Corinne relentlessly pursued the warrior, Lketinga, for months. He at first, thought she was married to the boyfriend, and studiously avoided her. She on the other hand, had made up her mind. What's remarkable is how the two lovers managed to communicate enough to forge a life together in the Kenyan Bush, building and living in a dung and stick hut. Hofmann was accepted by her warrior's mother but distrusted by his friends, who undermined their relationship at every turn, planting seeds of doubt in Lketinga's mind about Corinne's faithfulness. This is where her inability to learn the language caused her a great deal of consternation and I was frankly surprised that she didn't try harder to understand what was being said around her.

Facing extreme prejudice among the Kenyans against their own Masai, Ms. Hofmann breaks through the red tape, obtains a marriage license and makes Kenya her home for four years, giving birth to their daughter at great risk to her own health. In the final analysis though it's not so much the cultural differences (and there are many) between Corinne and Lketinga, but the universal differences between men and women that forced their separation. The romantic in me so wanted to see them succeed in their union even as the skeptic in me knew that, as she said in an interview, she had to leave before she lost sight of herself.

Don't have time to read the whole book but perhaps I've caught your interest? IF you have high speed (the buffering can drive you crazy!) you can link to this website for a video clip of an interview and information on the film that's been made from Corinne Hofmann's story.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Rule of 50 - once again

My friend Andrea told me that our "famous" librarian, Nancy Pearl, spoke about summer reading books on NPR this morning. Apparently she shocked the interviewer by mentioning that for every book she recommends, she delves into and gives up on at least 12 others. What a revelation. Now, rather than feel guilty, I fancy myself a more discerning reader!

After I listened to Pearl's interview I took Kim Edwards' The Memory Keeper's Daughter, which I've been struggling with for weeks, right up to the check-in desk. The plot does have an interesting premise; mom delivers not one but two babies and the physician, her husband, takes it upon himself to send away the second child, a girl born with Down Syndrome. This could happen because the action takes place back in the early '60's when women were still well sedated during childbirth. We used to call this "the Joan Rivers school of childbirth;" wake me when it's over and my makeup and hair are done!

The nurse, to whom the disposition of the second child is assigned, cannot bring herself to leave the little girl in a home for the disabled in another city. Instead, she takes the little girl to raise on her own until the doctor, about whom she has a higher opinion than I did, comes to his senses and reclaims his daughter.

The writer's prose, I'm sorry to say, is just too simplistic to keep this story moving forward. One would guess, even if one didn't already know, that this must be a first effort. Yet I had to give it a go as the darn book has been on best-seller lists for ages and is still being discussed among book clubs all over the country. I'd still like to know the denouement - you've got to figure that the siblings will meet somewhere down the road and the decades of lies their parents have told them will blow up in their faces. I just didn't have the patience to get there.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

My week with Shakespeare

I've written here previously about Theatre Conspiracy, a local semi-professional acting troup that was recently ousted from their theatrical home of some 12 years. They are scouting around Lee County for a new performance venue but, in the meantime, Will Prather from the Broadway Palm has loaned Conspiracy his black box theatre for two productions this summer.
If you like Shakespeare or slapstick humor, do get yourself over there this weekend or next for The Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged. Janice, Jess and I went on Thursday night and the $19 ticket price was worth it just to see these three white bread guys perform Othello as a rap. It's silly and fun and involves a good bit of audience participation. The entire second act is devoted to the bard's most famous play Hamlet. The skill of the three young men who take the roles of all of the characters in the play is especially evident in this set-piece.

I'm listening to a book that also revolves around Shakespeare, in particular, the sonnets. Carol Goodman is the author of The Sonnet Lover, an intriguing tale that involves college politics, art historians, film makers, lovers and suicide. Juicy enough to get your interest?
Those of you who know me understand my interest in all things Italian, so it doesn't hurt that the action in this book is taking place at the college's villa in the hills outside Florence. One of the primary characters, Dr. Rose Asher, is returning to La Civetta where, as a student 20 years ago, she had an affair with her married professore. Now she's there as an expert on Renaissance poetry, consulting on a film script written by one of her students. The film revolves around the identity of Shakespeare's "dark lady" and some missing sonnets. No, it's not rocket science but it's great fun!

Monday, August 6, 2007

Annie Dillard

When I first read about The Maytrees I knew I would add the title to my "to read" list. Even though I'd never read Annie Dillard previously, I was familiar with her and felt that I was somehow lacking for not having read her sooner. I was right!

Ms. Dillard's writing style, described in the book jacket as "spare and elegant," was a bit jarring to me at first. I tend toward writers with a penchant for long, flowing sentences that take up half a page. Her clipped lines of half-finished thoughts and conversations that lacked punctuation took a little adjusting to. I would sit and read a few pages out loud to feel the flow until pretty soon I was drawn right in. And guess what? You CAN start a sentence with a preposition!

It's the characters, though, who truly capture the imagination. Toby and Lou Maytree marry and live together in her little one-room shack on the dunes outside Provincetown. For fourteen years, with nary an argument, they share a life of simple quiet days, deep friendships, rolicking good sex and the raising of their only child, Petie. Toby writes his poetry, marveling at his good fortune and Lou reads anything and everything, feeding the hunger of her deep interior life.

When Maytree leaves town with their longtime friend Deary, it is more of a shock to the reader than it is to Lou. She simply accepts what life has given her and looks philosophically on the bright side; she'll have more time to read and, she has Petie. Dillard uses the perfect metaphor to describe this time in Lou's life. As she simplifies, cutting out fashion, radio, eating in town, and other people and things she no longer needs, she finds that "the blows opened her days like a pinata. A hundred freedoms fell on her." Twenty years later when a broken Maytree returns to Provincetown with Deary, slowly dying of heart failure, he arrives at Lou's door asking for help. She doesn't hesitate.

At a time when the news is so bleak and people are so mean-spirited, Annie Dillard's beautiful examination of the vagaries of long-term love, loyalty and forgiveness is a perfect antidote. The sense of rightness that this book gave me has stayed with me long after the reading of the last page.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Ten Years in the Hills!

I know, I know. The actual title of Jane Smiley's latest offering is Ten Days in the Hills, but listening to those 20 discs I felt like I had signed my life away. Yet every time I decided to give up on it, Smiley would grab me with a great discussion of the war in Iraq as opined by Elena, the conscience of the disparate group inexplicably spending these ten days in Max's house in the Hollywood hills. Suzanne Toren's beautiful performance of the book on CD was likely another reason why I stayed with it longer than I should have. At one point I actually cheated and logged on to Amazon just to read others' reviews of the book. I kept thinking I was missing something but, no, I wasn't alone in finally saying "who cares?"

I'm not saying that the writing isn't great because, with Smiley, it always is. She's perennially a book club group favorite. I love her sense of sardonic humor and she uses it liberally here. There's plenty of sexual activity going on, but I'm sorry to say that it isn't the least bit titillating. On the contrary, the characters all seem to make love with one clinical eye on a mirror analyzing each other's responses.

Some of you know that I teach a workshop on Readers' Advisory skills and one of the things I talk about is why we read. In an exercise in which a reader is interviewed about The Bridges of Madison County, she explains that, although she wasn't initially drawn to the book, everyone was talking about it so she felt she had to give it a go. That was the same situation going on with me. I'd even read that Smiley's book was a take on Boccaccio's Decameron. I confess, I think that's a bit of a pretentious stretch. However, if you have ten days to spend with a group of rather self-absorbed, navel- gazing Hollywood has-beens, then by all means read this book. If not, there's plenty of other fish in the sea.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Life in the Emerald City

Do you all remember that line in the film Network when Peter Finch screams that he's "mad as hell and not going to take it anymore"? That's all I could think of as I watched the Democratic debate on CNN/You Tube the other night. Several political blogs have written scathing critiques of former Senator Mike Gravel, one saying that he resembled a "mad dog." But my heart broke for him. He's angry and frustrated, as so many of us in this country are, and he can't seem to get the point across that yes, our young men may be dying in vain.

If your blood pressure is even remotely near borderline you're going to want to stay away from the book I'm just finishing up on my mp3 player. Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone by Rajiv Chandrasekaran will make any thinking person very angry! A former Baghdad bureau chief for the Washington Post, the author writes with much empathy for the few naive staffers who actually signed on to work in Iraq with humanitarian goals in mind. Yet, his descriptions of the mind-boggling carelessness (read, lack of planning) and the actual cruelty of the Coalition Provisional Authority under the inept direction of Paul Bremer, is appalling.

In a particularly upsetting episode Chandrasekaran tells how, within the Green Zone, peopled with Iraqi workers, Americans ate pork every night at a sumptuous buffet served in the palace. Iraqi customs were either ridiculed or ignored in the worst possible ways.

Another incident describes how 100's of job applications from American students of the Middle East, who actually spoke the language and understood the culture, were dumped in the garbage in favor of unqualified and massively inexperienced political "friends of W" who held good Republican values. Pentagon officials actually asked in job interviews how potential employees voted and what their opinions were of policies such as Roe v. Wade. Is this legal? Not in most worlds, but apparently the government has a loophole.

Most distressing is reading about the tremendous influence that Dick Cheney personally had on every single person hired to "fix" Iraq. Just imagine the scary wizard of Oz behind his curtain in Dorothy's Emerald City and you'll have the picture. I imagine that by now everyone knows that Cheney's Halliburton had all the major contracts for work in and outside of the Green Zone. Even the laundry contract was awarded to them. Of course, it took over two weeks for staffers to get their clean clothes as everything was "outsourced" to Jordan. Go figure.

As upsetting as this book is I really think it needs to be required reading for any voter worth his salt. But you've been warned - take your blood pressure pills first!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Let's Talk Books Again

I'm really in a panic. Now that I've committed to blogging about books I realize that there's NO way I can keep up with all this reading - and still have a life, that is. After all, reading is supposed to be a most pleasurable way to pass one's spare time, it shouldn't have my gut in an uproar. Still, the older we get, the less time we can devote to light reading when there's oh so much to be learned from great literature and, thanks to Andrea and Don, non-fiction. I wish I was more convinced that there's a heaven. I really need to believe that one day I'll get to all the books I've had to bypass in this life!

Back when I read strictly for fun, and when I was still in my "all things Italian" phase, I picked up a first novel by Anthony Capella. It was a delightful read called The Food of Love. From years of working on our Reading Festival and dealing with authors, big-time and small, I've found that you can get a real sense of a writer by his webpage. Capella's, as you can see, has a great sense of fun and whimsey about it and he doesn't take himself too seriously. When my friend Judy, with whom I share a love of all things foodie, recommended Anthony Capella's new book The Wedding Officer, I was all over it. Where his first book was set in contemporary Rome, this one takes place in post-WW II Naples. British and American forces, sent to make some sense of the chaos, are making themselves at home in Italy and are not immuune to the beauty of the land, the food and, of course, the women. Recently jilted by the girl back home, British Capt. James Gould arrives to work in the field security office as a "wedding officer" whose job it is to prevent foreign officers from falling prey to the seductions of the local women. In the process he runs afoul of the Cosa Nostra, black marketeers, and, you guessed it, a gorgeous Italian firebrand named Livia Pertini. I wish I could finish this book but I really must move on. Instead, I'll recommend it to you readers and you can tell me how it ends.

To Publish of Not to Publish....

The moment of truth has arrived! Yesterday, a friend whose opinion I value, asked me if she could link my book blog to her blog about the professional collection within the library system where we both work. Of course, flattery will get you everywhere - right? I was flattered, to say the least. But then my better judgement took over and I realized that I'd be putting my blog and my political and personal opinions out there for my library world to see. Am I ready?

What's wrong with that, you might ask, but think about it. How many times have we read that people's MySpace pages (yes, I have one now) and blog opinions have come back to haunt them when they've applied for certain jobs or promotions? Is it fair? Probably not, but be truthful. If you're a flaming liberal and you find out that a certain person you thought you liked has an anti-Hillary bumpersticker on their SUV, don't you see that person in a whole new (unflattering) light? I know, I know, it goes both ways but you get my point.

I love writing about books but I'm the first one to admit that my reviews are not professional. If I was reviewing for a newspaper or journal I would feel compelled to be objective, fair and balanced - don't laugh. However, in my blog I can speak freely about my personal reaction to certain authors and books based upon my politics, upbringing, life experiences, et al. I believe that it's the asides and editorializing that makes my blog fun for people to read. This is the me I wish I could share with the world but expediency tells me that I'm wiser to share it only with those who know and love me. Isn't this a sad commentary on the world we live in today?

Saturday, July 14, 2007


I really should have mentioned that the ONLY way to read Donna Leon's books is to listen. I was just reading an article by Benjamin Cheever in Audiofile Magazine in which he expounds on the joys of jogging and listening, driving and listening, flying and listening. You get the idea. He compares audio book listening to the comforting feelings he had being read to as a child.

David Colacci ( ) IS Guido Brunetti; calm, thoughtful, clever, empathetic and he has a perfect accent to boot.

Venezia - Light and Dark Sides

I'm not quite sure what keeps drawing me back to Donna Leon's Commissario Brunetti stories. I can't really call them "mysteries," though there usually is one. The plots are fairly simple to figure out so I don't really consider them "challenges." Yet there is something beguiling about the commissario, the laid back life style of the Venetians and the complicated politics of Italy, the Veneto in particular, that entices me. Perhaps it is the way Ms. Leon loves Venice, as anyone who's ever been there must, warts and all.

I was lucky enough to hear Donna Leon speak at the American Library Association in DC a couple of weeks ago and was reminded anew of how much I appreciate her politics which can be gleaned from the moral dilemmas with which she confounds Brunetti. She has tackled the sex slave trade, immigration and economic blackmail, environmental crimes committed by the glass factory owners in Murano, and in Suffer the Little Children, illegal foreign adoption and medical privacy issues.

Over an impromptu luncheon last week with co-workers I was asked if I could be comfortable with the European lifestyle. We had been talking about our travels in recent years. I didn't hesitate for a second! Are you kidding? Every time Guido Brunetti and his wife meet for lunch, order up their panini and several glasses of pinot grigio, I wonder what's wrong with us Americans. Most of us consider ourselves lucky to eat a salad at our desk while reading work-related material. Studies have shown that Americans work longer hours and take fewer vacations than most other workers in developed nations. Brunetti, Paola and their delightful children actually talk while eating their lovingly described dinners in the evening and, when the kids go to do their homework, Guido and Paola relax on the couch with their books and snifters of grappa. Ah, va bene! No wonder I keep returning to Donna Leon and her Venezia. Take a look:

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Alice Sebold channels Shakespeare

I've just finished an advance readers' copy (thank you Jessica!) of Alice Sebold's follow up to the incredible Lovely Bones. The Almost Moon won't be released until October and you can bet there will be scads of holds on this book. I haven't read any pre-release information about it but the controversial subject matter and Sebold's reputation tell me that book discussion groups will be clamouring to get their hands on it. The book jacket notes that the author will soon begin a 5-city tour and I can't wait to catch an interview or two. I suspect she will be fielding some very awkward questions. Note to fellow librarians: I'll start lending this out tomorrow.

I thought Shakespeare had a lock on family tragedy but The Almost Moon is explosive. Helen Knightly's crime is so appalling that I felt myself physically recoiling from the pages even as I couldn't get enough of them. In a single 24-hour period Sebold lays out Helen's childhood, adulthood and likely future in a movie quality tableau.
Anyone familiar with Alice Sebold's autobiography, Lucky, which deals with the aftermath of the rape and beating she suffered while a student at Syracuse University, understands that, in Sebold, readers are dealing with an author who doesn't shirk from horrific truths. Her honesty as a writer is as admirable as it is devastating. I don't want to say any more about the plot of this book - even a few sentences of explanation would spoil it. Suffice to say, I read this book in two days - probably a record for me - and I'm anxious for you all to read it too so we can talk! Hurry up Maryellen.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Summer Reading

Vacation is almost over and I'm ashamed to say that I've only managed to read two books - both very light fare - but each entertaining in its own way. Summer Reading by Hilma Wolitzer began slowly for me. I kept getting this author confused in my mind with Meg Wolitzer, whom I've thought of as a little meatier in both subject and style, so I kept waiting for the book to get deeper.
Angela Graves, ostensibly a typical spinsterish retired English professor, actually has a rather lurid past which she chases through her relationships with the wealthy young air heads who attend her book discussion groups on lazy, summer afternoons in the Hamptons.
She despairs of reaching any of these women with the exception of Lissy, a lonely newlywed trying too hard to be accepted by Long Island's old guard. Lissy struggles to read the books Angela chooses to discuss. One surmises that she may suffer from dyslexia. But she does at least attempt to look outside her own shallow life and is moved, after reading Villette, to connect with the most interesting character in the book, her part-time housekeeper, Michelle.
I've been told that Diane Rehm had a lively interview with Ms. Wolitzer and then used her monthly Readers Review forum on NPR to discuss Villette, a lesser known Bronte novel. Listen and learn at:

They say you never should, but I often do choose a book by its cover. The Sidewalk Artist by Gina Buonaguro and Janice Kirk is a delightful little novel - yes, there was a photo of Venezia on the book jacket - set in Paris, Florence and Venice. The authors deftly weave two intertwining tales, one set in contemporary times and the other during the height of the Renaissance, surrounding the artist Raphael and the mysterious woman who was thought to be his muse and true love.
Tulia Rosa, a budding novelist with writer's block, not to mention a cheating boyfriend back home in New York, who has subsidised her six week European sojourn to make way for a new gal, leisurely strolls the streets of Paris searching for elusive inspiration. She feels an instant attraction to the young chalk artist whose representations of Raphael's angels grace the sidewalks. As they talk and share a bottle of wine it becomes obvious that Raffaello, this young man with the coin filled beret and paint stained fingers, knows Tulia better than she knows herself. Their connectedness has a depth that belies the brief time they've known eachother and their affair, while all encompassing and fulfilling, is tinged with a sad and mysterious tenuousness.
You can see where this is going, I'm sure, but that's OK. The writing is lyrical, the characters are charming and the outcome is satisfying. Why not give it a go?

Friday, June 29, 2007

ALA and then some

Books are alive and well in case you doubted it. Publishers were pushing galleys on us at every turn but I also had the chance to acquire some autographed hard copies. I'm especially pleased that I met Joyce Carol Oates and have a copy of The Gravedigger's Daughter to delve into. I actually was a bit greedy I guess, as I need to mail home a box of books or face a penalty for an overweight suitcase!

My biggest disappointment at the conference was the cancelation of Khaled Hosseini who apparently had a family emergency. Not that Patricia Cornwell, his replacement, is any slouch in the fame department. I guess it just indicates how my reading tastes have matured over the past several years. Those who heard her said she was fantastic. My friend Maryellen and I attended the ALEX awards presentation one afternoon. These honor cross over books written for adults but perfect for referring to young adults, or vice-versa. The surprise guest was Jeannette Walls who wrote book club fave The Glass Castle, an inspiring speaker whose book I'm ashamed to say I've avoided because I just didn't want to hear one more lament about a dysfunctional family. I've changed my mind.

Susan Vreeland had FOLUSA tea attendees all verklempt as she spoke of the ILL efforts of her local library while she was writing Girl in Hyacinth Blue and recuperating from a bone marrow transplant. Joyce Carol Oates spoke of her grandmother, subject of her latest book, declaring "the Irish will break your heart." Frank Delaney responded by opining that Oates should be the first American winner of the Nobel Prize for literature! Most delightful of all was a young Australian writer, Markus Zusak, whose book The Book Thief was sadly lost in transit. I can't wait to get my hands on a copy.

Ok, the sun's out and, since I'm typing from the dining room table overlooking the Chesapeake Bay, (eat your hearts out) I'm done for today. My omelet and biscuits are almost ready!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

On a Lighter Note.....

My car will be sitting idle for the next several days while I attend the American Library Association Conference in Washington, DC. More about that later. This means that I'm temporarily deprived of one of my modes of reading. So the question for me was, should I hang on to the cd book of Christopher Buckley's Boomsday and bear the wrath of the library's overdue reminder calls, or should I call it quits.

Remember Nancy Pearl's Rule of 50? Right. I ditched it. I had made a valiant effort though. I actually listened to 6 of the 9 discs! And you know what? I still didn't like any of those crazy characters and didn't really care how their lives turned out. Buckley does have a very wry sense of humor, I'll give him that. Remember Thank You for Smoking? But somehow, the idea of government sanctioned "transitioning" (a euphemism for commiting suicide) at the age of 70 just didn't sit well with this "on the cusp of 60" librarian.

I admit that I had a few laughs at the picture of Cassandra Devine typing away on her nightly blog, calling for a revolution of the gen x's and y's, who are tired of paying into a broken social security system to support the retirees. When the kids broke down the gates at private communities throughout Florida, peopled with gin swilling lotharios and their botoxed wives, descecrating the golf greens, I confess I chuckled. But Buckley just seems to get meaner and meaner as the book goes along. Each politician, clergyman, businessman and 2nd wife is such a blatant caricature of the real thing. Add to this that the book is read by former actress and political activist Janeane Garafolo whose strident voice annoyed me so much on Air America. I just couldn't take it any more.
Maybe, if I wasn't going away, I might have finished Boomsday just out of curiosity. But then, Jane Smiley's Ten Days in the Hills came in for me and, since my trusted friend Maryellen tells me it's great, I'm moving on.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Elizabeth Edwards

I'll admit that I've put off reading Edwards' book Saving Graces because, frankly, I wasn't sure I was ready. If you've ever sat in a doctor's waiting room preparing for a diagnosis that you already know in your heart, then you'll understand what I mean. But, I was going to hear her speak at the upcoming American Library Association conference and wanted to have read her book before I met her.

There is no easy way for a doctor to look you in the eye and tell you that you have cancer and there's no easy way to hear the news. When Elizabeth Edwards, in her absolutely beautiful book, described getting that news just a few days before the 2004 election, I felt like it was happening to me all over again. I didn't cry the first time. This time, walking in my neighborhood, I listened and sobbed, not for myself but for all the people I know and have known who have had to face this devastating news. What a catharsis!

There is nothing in the book to indicate that Mrs. Edwards had a co-writer to help her manage these memories. She is an attorney after all, and familiar with crafting briefs. She writes as if she's simply telling a story to a friend and you feel like a friend when you're listening. She moves quickly past the cancer - no self pity or sorrow there - because the majority of the book focuses on Wade, her sixteen year old son who was killed in an automobile accident. That's when the tears just don't stop.

A child's death seems to me an inconceivable heart break and yet Saving Graces is not a heartbreaking book. It is courageously honest yet remarkably uplifting. Elizabeth Edwards takes readers into her confidence, sharing the lowest point of her life, the biggest challenge to her marriage, and the truth behind all the political spin. She speaks of the blogs and listserves for parents whose children have died and the "saving graces" that came from having others to pour your heart out to in anonymity, without fear of judgement. She talks of her husband John and their amazing daughter Cate, another one of their saving graces.

No matter what your politics, this is a family that you'd like to get to know better. For that reason I'm anxious to go for my walk now and get back to the book. I'm sorry to say that I won't get an opportunity to meet Elizabeth Edwards next week. It seems this tough lady is on the campaign trail in Iowa and had to cancel her speaking engagement in Washington. Our loss is the country's gain.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Rule of 50

Famous librarian Nancy Pearl spoke to hundreds of us at a conference a few years ago in Seattle. She's probably the most well-read librarian in the United States but she admitted she didn't get there by finishing every book she picked up. Oh, thank God! Once she explained her "rule of 50" I was off the hook. That old New England ethic "finish what you start, blah, blah, blah," no longer had to be followed. Presumably, after the age of 50, time's a wasting and, if a writer fails to grab your attention after 50 pages, then that writer no longer deserves your time and attention. Better yet, for every year after 50, Nancy says we can subtract the number of pages read. I'm down to 42. Look out writers!
Of course, it may not be the author's fault. Sometimes we're just not in the mood for a certain story or we've built up an expectation around a certain title that just can't be met at that time in our lives. Over the past few years I've gotten much better at setting aside a book that just doesn't grab me because, look out many others need my attention.
One such book is going back to the library tomorrow. The reviews were all excellent and Michael Wallner's April In Paris sounded right up my alley. WW II novels have always intrigued me. My aunt Jackie has always wondered why that is. She claims it was a terrible time to be a young woman but, oh, so full of meat for a writer. The plot is great. German soldier, fluent in French, is in Paris to help interrogate captured resistance fighters. At night, to escape the horror of what he sees all day, he dons another persona and wanders the streets of Paris mingling with the locals. He falls in love and begins an affair with a young woman who works for the resistanc, putting himself in an untenable situation. It immediately reminded me of a terrific foreign film I saw a few weeks ago called Black Book which had a similar theme.
I can't figure out why the book isn't grabbing me. In trying to analyze it I think it's the writing style, which is very stilted. Then I realized that the book was written in German and translated and perhaps it's the translation that isn't working for me. At any rate, I'm moving on to my prized autographed copy of Julia Glass's follow up to Three Junes. It's called The Whole World Over and it caught my attention from the first page.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Deborah Crombie's a Texan

I've listened to almost all of her books in the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series and I still have to go to Ms. Crombie's website ( ) each time to convince myself that she's really from Texas. Setting is usually important to me as a reader and in these British mysteries the author's love of England and Scotland really shows. She creates such an authentic sense of place.
The murders are intricate and challenging to try to solve, and her characters are fully drawn, complicated and oh, so human. Duncan and Gemma have evolved over the life of the series, coming close, pulling apart, facing death, divorce and custody suits and still, in the final analysis, loving and respecting each other.

I've been doing a good deal of walking lately because of my MP3 player and am about two thirds of the way through Now May You Weep. Crombie takes us to the Scottish Highlands for this one and, since I've been watching the entire 5th season dvd of Monarch of the Glen, I have an even better appreciation for the beauty of those mountains, lakes and castles. Gemma and her friend Hazel are off on a getaway weekend to Innesfree, a B & B run by an old school friend of Hazel's. It's to be a "foodie" weekend with cooking lessons and plenty of the local Highland whiskey. All, of course, is not as it seems. The very married Hazel is being persued by Donald Brodie, owner of Benvulin castle and distillery, to whom she was once engaged. Various other local characters and relatives are also attending the cookery weekend run by John and Louise Innes, whose devotion to one another rings an uncomfortably false note. To Gemma it seems that one could cut the tension with a knife. Natually there's a murder - I won't tell you who gets it - and Duncan joins Gemma at Innesfree to help in an unofficial investigation.

This is a great series for those readers who enjoy a literary mystery with some depth and character development. Sometimes it doesn't matter but, in Crombie's series I recommend reading them in order. Enjoy!

Saturday, June 2, 2007

I Love Gore Vidal!

You know how people ask that silly question "if you were stranded on a deserted island with only one person, who would you choose?" I hate that hypothetical stuff but....what an education you'd get if the one person was Gore Vidal. Since there'd only be the two of us, I wouldn't even have to worry about being intimidated by his amazing depth and breadth of knowledge on so many varied subjects. He'd HAVE to talk to me eventually!

Actually, he already is. At least that's how it seems as I listen to him read the second half of his biography, begun with Palimpsest back in '95. Yes, I know that earlier in this blog I told you that authors seldom make good readers but in Vidal's case that isn't so. In fact, no one else could read this memoir. His voice is lovely, so full of weariness (for outliving most of his friends and his dear partner of 50 years, Howard Austen) and sadness for our once proud country that seems to have hit rock bottom during the Bush years.

There are very few famous (and infamous) names from the worlds of literature, film and politics that haven't crossed Vidal's path. He's adept at imitating voices and does so with gusto when speaking of telling incidents involving Truman Capote, Tennessee (the Bird) Williams, Johnny Carson or the Kennedys. One wouldn't want to be the recipient of his sharped witted zingers but it's terribly funny when someone else, like Barbara Cartland, is.

The reasons I love Gore Vidal are many. How can you not appreciate a man who still writes all his work on yellow legal pads? His affinity for Italy brought him to my very favorite town on the Amalfi coast, Ravello, where he and Howard lived for nearly 30 years I believe. The first time I was there I had lunch in a wonderful little restaurant on a hill overlooking the water. Apparently he and Howard frequented this place and there was a photo of them with Bill and Hillary prominently displayed on the wall (much to the chagrin of my conservative traveling companions). I love his politics and the courage he had to speak out early on when only a few of us acknowledged that the Supreme Court took the presidency away from Al Gore and the American people.

Point to Point Navigation is not just a memoir but a fascinating look at the cultural history of the past fifty years. I highly recommend it. While you're reading that I'll be moving on to Vidal's fiction. It seems he even wrote a few mysteries under a pseudonym. It may take me a while but I'm a determined reader!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Two Great Reads! One, Not so Much

There's nothing like a long flight to aid and abet an avid reader. I took the holiday weekend to fly to Massachusetts for a long overdue visit with my dear aunt Jackie and Cynthia, "the blogger's sister." I got to finish The Camel Bookmobile by Masha Hamilton. For those of you who don't know this, I was a Bookmobile Librarian for two years while I was in graduate school and it was one of the most satisfying jobs I've ever held.
Much like Fiona Sweeney, the character in the book, I was convinced that I was saving the world, one child at a time. Except that she's doing it in Africa! I had high hopes for this book and, while it did touch lightly on the problems that arise when one brings the outside world to remote, arid environs where hunger and disease are the primary worries of the people, it certainly doesn't have the depth of, say, The Poisonwood Bible.
What Hamilton does do though, is bring attention to the actual camel bookmobile which does indeed exist and needs our help. I had no idea of this when I began the novel but have since looked Ms. Hamilton up online - don't you just love the way one thing leads to another when you're reading? Her website tells the other side to this story. Take a look:

So what were the great reads you might be wondering. On the flight back home I began and couldn't put down Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love. I'd been saving it ever since I'd read the review last year - kind of as a treat - the way some people (me too) save certain foods for a guilty repast. So many of us dream of this but Gilbert actually did it - took a year off from the daily grind - to travel and write. And oh, how she can write! The subtitle of this book is "A Woman's Search for Everything, Across Italy, India and Indonesia." At only 30- something you might think that she hasn't lived long enough to know what "everything" is, but I love how she makes no bones about it and offers no apologies for wanting it all. To get to know her better you can read a Q & A at her website:
I've got to get back to the book!

Tomorrow I'll try to take time to write about the other fascinating book I'm in the middle of, Gore Vidal's Point to Point Navigation.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Blood Diamonds

Movies are piled up all over my living room tables because I just can't seem to set aside 2 hours in a row to sit and watch them. Blood Diamond was top on the list only because it was overdue at the library. My friend Don and I opened a bottle of wine, made some guacamole and finally sat down Sunday to watch. What a disappointment! (at least Don's guacamole was great)

While we both decided that the movie was over rated, it did precipitate a long discussion about the civil war in Sierra Leone and raised many questions about when, who, how long, etc. Much to this librarian's dismay, Don went to Wikipedia, the bane of our existence, and did manage to get some factual information. I, on the other hand, went to the library catalog to look up a new book I'd read about, a memoir by Ishmael Beah who was actually a child soldier conscripted to fight at the age of 13 in Sierra Leone's revolution. I expect this to be a devastating but important read as we struggle to understand how younger and younger men and women, especially in the middle east, are brainwashed into strapping bombs to their bodies and blowing themselves, and innocent bystanders, to bloody bits.

The book is called A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. It's available in audio format too. If you want to get a feel for Mr. Beah and what the book is about you can hear his interview with Terry Gross on NPR:

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Blogging is addictive and I must say that I've missed not having something to say this week. Of course, those who know me understand that I've had plenty to say, but it hasn't necessarily been book related.
I'm just finishing the audio version of Margaret Atwood's Moral Disorder, a series of intertwining short stories that are at once funny as hell and devastatingly sad. I had planned to write quite a bit about it but I've just read A. S. Byatt's review of the book that appeared recently in the Washington Post Book World. How does one follow that?
I will say that the reader, Susan Denaker, does a great job with the material. I wondered, as I often do, how much of the author's life, if any, is reflected in these stories. Atwood's main character, Nell, reflects on the awkward, painful and difficult position of being, not only the "other woman" but also a stepmother, in a long relationship with a man who selfishly avoids pressing his wife for a divorce because she's so "fragile."
Now, before you defend the wife, Oona, let me tell you that she's the one who left him, introducing Tig to Nell practically on her way out the door. Controlling through passive-aggressive behavior, Oona looms large in the lives of her sons and exerts an incredible amount of influence on Tig, now Nell's husband. Nell, meanwhile, is dealing with aging parents, a sister diagnosed with schizophrenia and the pull of her biological clock.
The saving grace here is the beauty of Margaret Atwood's writing. Nell's ruminations over the years are spot on, whether she's describing her fear and anxiety at being 11 years old and having to watch over her mother who is facing a problem pregnancy or being a single, twenty- something college professor at a faculty party where the wives eye her with envy and distrust. A lifetime of caretaking for others could result in some deep seated resentments ( I know I've certainly had my moments) but Atwood's Nell shows remarkable resilience and compassion. She makes you want to be a better person.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

All roads lead to books! At least that's how my synapses work. Frank Lloyd Wright designed only one synagogue in the United States and I read yesterday in my local newspaper that this building has been designated a National Historic Site. Thoughts of F.L. Wright immediately lead me to Howard Roark, Ayn Rand's archetype of the "perfect man" made famous in her classic novel The Fountainhead. I seem to recall that back when I read this book for the first time, I got it in my head that Roark was supposedly loosely - or not so - based on Frank Lloyd Wright.
It just so happens that a few of my more erudite co-workers, also new to blogging, are going to hold an online book discussion of The Fountainhead and, though I begged off by pleading too many overdue books, some of you readers may want to tackle it. To learn how this all came about follow the link to
Meanwhile, I'm treating myself to some book candy. This week Alice Hoffman's Skylight Confessions graces my bedside table. She never lets me down! You could line up excerpts from 20 books - kind of like a blind tasting at a winery - and I'd pick out Alice Hoffman's writing every time. There's something very distinctive about her deceptively simple style that just grabs me from the first page. I always get such a vivid sense of foreboding yet I never seem to intuit what's going to happen next. How does she do that?
Francine Prose in her latest book, Reading Like a Writer, talks about the beauty and difficulty of perfecting an austere writing style where every word counts. Think Hemingway, (though she uses a passage of Flannery O'Connor's to make her point). Prose says that we must read slowly and methodically if we are to discover the "crucial revelations in the spaces between the words." So THAT'S my problem. I'm just going too fast.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

The cultural assimilation of immigrants in their adopted homelands has long been the subject of great fiction, from a classic American writer like Willa Cather to Andre DuBus to Amy Tan. When I read that a movie version of Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake was forthcoming, I recalled that this was a book I'd always wanted to read and had never gotten around to. Too late! Suddenly everyone wants to read it and I'm on a waiting list along with all of our other customers. No special treatment for librarians on staff!

Sunday afternoons are generally "movie time" for my friend Don and me and last Sunday was no exception. We chose The Namesake and we both found it very satisfying as a story and as a movie. For some reason that - who knows - may have to do with a previous life, I'm drawn to the Indian culture, the large, raucus family gatherings, the music, clothing, all of it. The very talented director of this movie, Mira Nair also directed Monsoon Wedding, another favorite of mine, as well as an early Denzel Washington flick called Mississippi Masala.

Nair was the perfect choice to handle Lahiri's novel. She doesn't shy away from stories of race and culture bias but she isn't heavy handed with our human foibles. All of these books and movies explore the difficulties of people who very much want to "fit in" without completely dismissing their heritage. The generation gap is clear as the parents prefer to stick with the "old ways" while the children rebel, finding love, friendship and a future through new eyes unclouded by ancient prejudices. The path is seldom easy and not all assimilation stories end as well as these do but it behooves us to remember that we were all strangers here once.

On the way out of the theatre I was approached by a library- goer who recognized me. She opined that the movie was far better than the book - not something we hear that often. Of course, I laughed to myself because she might as well have thrown down a gaunlet on the dim theatre stairs. Now I HAVE to read the book!

Friday, April 27, 2007

History was never my forte - all those dates and place names to remember. When you're a student it's difficult to find it all relevant. But...when you get your history lessons through exquisite literature, it's a whole new ball of wax!
I'm just finishing Half of a Yellow Sun by Nigerian-born writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I would say that I can't put this book down but I'm sorry to say that it's the book I have by my bed, which dooms it to be read in small increments. That's because, by the time I land in bed with my book, my attention span maxes out at about 10 - 15 minutes!
I really wish I could take a day off to finish reading this beautifully written tale of twin sisters Olanna and Kainene, raised in a well- to- do Igbo family, prepared for lives of leisure which they both eschew. Olanna has her consciousness raised by Odenigbo, the educator and political activist with whom she lives and Kainene, trained to take over the family business disappoints her father by taking up with a white British ex-pat studying Igbo art in Nigeria.
The backdrop for this novel is the devastating 1960's Biafran Civil War, a move for secession that resulted in over 2 million deaths. Told through the eyes of Ugwu, a young house boy for Olanna and Odenigbo, the story of a once idyllic life transformed by war, starvation, and greed will tear you apart. I can't help but make comparisons to the current Iraqi nightmare and wonder what kind of literature will rise from the ashes there.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Theatre Conspiracy has been producing "cutting edge" plays at the Foulds Theatre for thirteen years now and I've been supporting their efforts since I first saw a powerful rendering of Equus about ten years ago. Sadly, the Conspiracy's contract will not be renewed, yet ironically, last night I attended one of their finest works to date.
The Dunes, written by Craig Pospisil and winner of this year's new play contest, is a very satisfying evening of theatre. Lightly based on Chekov's The Cherry Orchard (I'll now have to go reread that!), the action centers around a rambling old summer home in the Hamptons with enough property and views of the sea to protect it from the McMansions that are popping up all over the place. It is here that an aging diva comes with her family to lick her wounds upon realizing that she's been left bankrupt by a scheming husband. Unable to land a meaty role to beef up her bank accounts, Laura deals with her problems by putting her head in the sand and allowing the burden of worry to fall on her responsible step-daughter Vanessa who's recently become engaged to an investment broker.
As the summer heats up, the light, familial bonhomie soon deteriorates and long-held resentments boil to the surface. The actors play off each other so well, keeping the script's realistic dialogue moving along at a perfect pace. The set is one of the more sophisticated that I've seen at Theatre Conspiracy. I highly recommend this play to local readers.

Meanwhile, I've got an addendum to my assessment of Black Swan Green. It's not all lightness and laughs but don't let that turn you off. There's a lot going on in this book, not least of which is the British conflict in the Falklands and its effects on the families of Black Swan Green. The author also does a marvelously poignant job of examining the slow deterioration of a marriage through the eyes of Jason Taylor and his sister. Jason, too, is the subject of much cold blooded adolescent teasing because he has a stammer for which he sees a speech therapist. His revenge is that, under an inventive pseudonym, he writes delightful poetry which is published in the vicarage newsletter. Like I said, there's a lot going on here!

More about next year's book discussion line up next week.