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!