Sunday, December 26, 2010

Winding Down 2010

Yes, it's Sunday afternoon and I'm holed up on the couch under a soft, blue blanket (thanks Andrea) fighting off the earache and cough that have been dogging me since I returned from Ohio. Outside the wind is absolutely howling and it'll be in the '30's shortly so I should be outside watering the greens. Instead I'm reading and contemplating the "best" lists that everyone's been publishing for the end of the year.

Have you ever tried to make a list of your top ten reads? I thought it would be easy but I'm already at 16 titles that MUST be on the list. Hmmmm - and this is only out of 95 read this year. I didn't even break the 100 mark like I'm sure my buddy Maryellen did. Shame on me.

When thinking of personal favorites I realize that the criteria can be very different than it would be for a best written list. Often one reads a book at just the right moment in time and it simply gets you in the gut or the heart or the memory. Once in a while we read something that teaches us a history lesson that we wouldn't have been complete without. Sometimes, we just need a book that makes us sigh with delight or laugh out loud. My list will have all of the above. Here goes: oh, this is tough!

1. Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes
2. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
3. The Book of Night Women by Marlon James
4. A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore
5. Zeitoun by Dave Eggers
6. Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
7. Great House by Nicole Krauss
8. Noah's Compass by Anne Tyler
9. Another Country by James Baldwin
10. Mr. Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt

Honorable mentions go to Born Round, The Leisure Seeker, The Three Weissmans of Westport, Nightfall and The Widower's Tale. So, come on, tell me yours. I really want to know!

Friday, December 24, 2010

What I Did for Love

The phone call came in just as I was leaving for work last Wednesday. My brother - my "baby" brother - was in the hospital after suffering his second stroke in 9 months. Further conversations confirmed that this time the recovery might not be quite so effortless. His throat, therefore the swallowing mechanism, was paralyzed. By the next day, I found myself also paralyzed. How could I get to Ohio on such short notice? And Christmas week to boot. I had to be there but also had to be out of the way - a help and not a hindrance.

For only the second time in my life, I rented a car, mapquested the directions, got myself to Pittsburgh, hopped in and drove. Going out, the weather was with me. Twenty five years in Florida has severely weakened my ability to even contemplate driving in snow, let alone in a strange car in a strange land. I was a wreck but being with my brother and sister-in-law were the top priority.

You see, ten years ago a similar call came in but it was about my dad. He too had lost the ability to swallow but had refused a feeding tube and slowly, over a two week period, slipped into a coma and died. My brother, like my dad, is one of those soft spoken, amiable men that everyone likes. Loyal, steadfast, willing to give up the great passions or dreams for the life of a homebody, reveling in being the good provider, a husband, dad, grandad. So, the question is, would he be a fighter? Would he rage against the machine?

While all that remains to be seen, I could leave Ohio yesterday knowing that before the day was out, my brother would be home in his recliner, in the arms of his family. Yes, he has a feeding tube but it is expected to be temporary. Yes, he faces surgery, but not until his brain has healed from this latest insult. Yes, he's depressed but his wife is a rock. Now I could relax and fall apart, which I did, clutching the wheel in terror and cursing as semis passed me going at the speed of light  through snow, sleet and freezing rain.
 I slid slowly into the parking garage at the Alamo rental car return not even caring that the fool behind me was so impatient that he swerved around me inside the garage, almost running down the poor young man who was retrieving keys.

Back in Florida, surrounded by my books, facing another day of endless sunshine, listening to Don whine about the chill in the air, I can laugh and thank whatever Fates brought me to this place. I'll write my review for Library Journal, sit out back this afternoon in the warmth and prepare for my book discussion on The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and envision a springtime when my brother and his wife will join us for some R and R, eat some good food and enjoy some red wine - working on keeping those arteries clear!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Finding One's Niche

I've been a bit over philosophical the last few months. I expect it has to do with thoughts of coming up on that special age that, in our parents' time, meant sitting back and relaxing for the rest of one's life. For our generation, 62 means very different things. Why, one almost feels guilty for saying the word retirement! People wonder, "what on earth would you do?" I accuse those people of a dire lack of imagination!

For those of us who love our work the choices are even harder. What many of us would like is the gift of time. An extra day or two to read and write would suit me just fine and time to go to New York for an NBCC event, time to volunteer on ALA's Notable Book Council, time to push myself out of my comfort zone and feel the satisfaction after having done so.

I had a golden opportunity this week to do just that and, I can't believe I'm saying this, it was FUN! I was asked to speak on the local NPR station about the great books of 2010. My usual reaction would be to call my friend Maryellen and say, "you go, I can't do this," but that wasn't an option this time. When the library director asks for a favor, the answer is always YES! And all this is to say that I think I've found my niche. Listen if you have the time and see what you think:

I have another book from Library Journal to read and review this week. Loved the cover - ROME! (thank you Barbara!) Will let you know if the book lives up to it's cover. Finished The Cookbook Collector this morning with a huge smile on my face. How I do love happy endings! A very satisfying read. I'm halfway through Dennis Lehane's Moonlight Mile on my Nook. You've gotta love his politics. He never misses a chance to slip them in.

Planning to take a break from Paul Theroux's trip through Africa so that I can listen to Room. It's getting too much press to ignore. Treated myself to my own copy of Nancy Pearl's Book Lust to Go. If I want to BE her, I absolutely have to read her!
So, what are you all reading?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Extraordinary, Ordinary People

This extraordinary autobiography by former National Security Advisor and Secretrary of State Condi Rice has been a wonderful surprise for me. It's the first book that I downloaded from the library to my new Nook and I worried about finishing it in the 2 week time frame. I needn't have.

You can breeze through this story in no time because the writing style is simply delightful. I felt like I was just sitting around talking with a friend throughout most of it. (until she got to the last chapter - her belief in W) I'd always wondered how Ms. Rice could be a Republican, it just didn't compute for me. She very briefly touches on her reasons, which date back to Jimmy Carter's administration and pieces of his foreign policy with which she says she disagreed. She left the Democrats shortly after.

Yes, she's feisty, pro-military, hawklike and a big believer in the right to bear arms, so I'm going to guess, though she doesn't say it, that his failure to secure the release of the hostages was the turning point for her. I've always felt that Carter got a bum rap on that and his recent interview on the Diane Rehm show backs me up. But for one extra helicopter, that mission may have been saved. He listened to his military advisers, the advice was lacking, but he took the blame as he had to.

At any rate, Condeleeza Rice has written an ode to her loving, foresighted parents who put their hearts and souls into her upbringing, making sure that she had every single opportunity available to a middle class black girl in 1950's Birmingham, Alabama. They never had to force her, she was a force to be reckoned with all on her own. At 3 she sat at her mom's piano in church and began to play, lessons ensued. In school she was pushed ahead a year so that she wouldn't be bored. An interest in ice-skating, after moving to Denver, evolved into an obsession with perfection. Condi never did anything half way!

Having educators for parents almost assures a leg up. Teachers don't stop at the end of the school day. Believe me, I know. Yes, I hated it at the time. I was more rebellious than she, but now I realize how very, very lucky I was to have parents who always had books in their hands and expectations for us kids. Condi's folks were extraordinary. Their whole lives revolved around her and the democratic process began at home at an early age. All job changes and moves were discussed among the three of them.

What struck me most is Ms. Rice's sense of humor and self-deprecation. She never seems to brag about her accomplishments, they just are what they are, and they are many. Provost of Stanford at 38 years old! And parents out there, don't despair when your kids have trouble settling down. Condi was well into her 20's before she figured it out, going from studying to be a concert pianist to becoming a foremost, international Russian expert.

Most interesting were her descriptions of the dark days in Birmingham when her neighborhood was being firebombed most every evening and her dad, a Presbyterian minister at the time, sat outside on the porch with his shotgun over his lap to protect her home and family. Rev. Rice had deep misgivings about Rev. King's non-violent movement, especially after the bombing of the neighborhood church that killed four girls from their community. Can you even imagine how that incident would affect someone for years to come? I can't.

But I loved it when she wrote about her dad starting the first Black Studies program at Denver University under the tutelege of an old friend from Alabama who was now President of Denver. The first guest speaker, Stokely Carmichael, shook the very foundations of this very white school and he became a close friend of Condi's family for many years. Who'd have thought that?

Enough, I've said enough. Read for yourself and see what you think. If I had any complaint it would be that she didn't really delve into the politics of the Bush administration at all. Perhaps she's saving that for another book or maybe she's protecting her long friendship with the senior Bush and his wife Barbara who she credits as important mentors. Either way, I now feel that Condi Rice is a woman I'd love to get to know better. Never thought I'd say that!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Cookbook Collector and Other Titles

I had to stay away from writing for a few days as I received a most unusual book from Library Journal with a scary 7 day turnaround! I'm tweaking the review now and will send it in tomorrow. A Good Hard Look is the name of the novel which won't be out til next June and it revolves around the real hometown of Flannery O'Connor, Milledgeville, GA, and the denizens thereof.

 That's all I can say at this time but I can tell you to keep your eyes peeled for the most delightfully unusual book I've read and reviewed in ages. It's called Mr. Chartwell and it got a starred review last month.

Meanwhile I've given up on Elizabeth Kostova's The Swan Thieves. I was listening in my car and the reader was putting me to sleep! A definite no-no while traversing Route 41. Can anyone who read it tell me why I should go back to it? Please?

I've traded it for Paul Theroux's Dark Star Safari. Fussy me - I don't care for this reader either but the idea of a trip from Cairo to Cape Town intrigues me right now as I'll be going to Africa in September. I've also started Condi Rice's Extraordinary, Ordinary People, the story of her wonderful family and strict upbringing in Birmingham in the terrifying '50's and '60's. It's beautifully written and indicates a delightful sense of self-deprecation and humor that didn't come across while she was Secretary of State. It's on my Nook. Sure hope I can finish it before it disapirates! OK, Ms. Rowling - is that really a word?

Now, if you have patience and really enjoy a slow book that unfolds quietly, affording you time to acquaint yourself with the characters and begin to feel that you care for them, then The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman is for you. It's strange, I've been listening to this for quite some time now and it feels as though I'm reading two different books.

 It appealed to me because of the premise of the two disparate sisters, one very practical and by the book, the other, rather flighty and prone to impracticality. I wondered if I'd see Cynthia and me in here but, instead, I see the two sides of me. Uh oh, does that mean it's all about me as my sister would say?? The novel takes place in California during the dot com madness with the older sister, Emily, running Veritech a startup Internet company, taking it public and making the big bucks.

Jess, the younger, is a perpetual student, always broke, studying philosophy, following a bad boyfriend around trying to save the redwoods, and working for the reclusive bookman, George. There are a host of quirky characters, most of whom are with the wrong person or in the wrong place. Few are following their passions though all of them desire to do just that. Trouble is, we the readers are the only ones who can see it.

The chapters that follow the boom and bust of of the Internet world are actually very interesting even to someone like me who would normally tune out when business is explained. The chapters that follow George, his antiquarian bookstore, his growing feelings for Jess, and his deep appreciation for the unusual cookbook collection he stumbles upon are downright glorious! Ms. Goodman describes the worship of books in a way that underscores my complete faith that e-book readers will never completely replace the physical beauty of bound pages.

I highly recommend this one - so much so that I think I'll head out for my walk so I can get back to it. Hat and gloves may still be needed but I'm out of here.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Don't Let's Go to the Dogs......

Fair warning: I'm about to be a book snob. I'm the first one to enjoy a clever title but I just hate it when a publisher chooses to issue a title that is just plain poor English usage. You will NOT catch me reading The Wind Done Gone! So, when customers kept placing holds on Alexandra Fuller's story of her African childhood, Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, I just put it on my list of book titles that annoy me and called it a day.

The trouble is, I now realize that I was only hurting myself. I've been fascinated with books about white Europeans who leave the comforts of home to live in a continent so overwhelmingly different from what they've known ever since reading Karen Blixen. Then there was The Flame Trees of Thika, (thanks Cynthia!), and in India, the exquisite Raj Quartet or The Far Pavilions. These books only tended to fan my flame of romanticism and naivete, a weakness that I'm trying to overcome through learning and living without becoming too cynical.

The bottom line is that I saw the paperback of Fuller's book on the Friends' shelf so I picked it up and started browsing. Sure enough, I couldn't put it down. It reads like a cross between Out of Africa and The Glass Castle. It is lovingly written, showing a depth of appreciation for the beauty of Africa and an amazing well of forgiveness for the difficulties that Alexandra "Bo Bo's" parents put their family through.

Moving from country to country within the continent, Zambia, Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mogadishu, the Fullers "follow the money" (kind of). They are farmers, growing tobacco. They raise and herd cows. They lease derelict farms and work to turn them around using the slave labor of the indigenous population - paid but not really. They rarely make a dime. To their credit, they all work. From a very young age BoBo and her sister Vanessa are out there in the fields and at the market. Their Mum is a horsewoman who can train and break a horse with the best of them, riding through her difficult pregnancies, right up til she's hospitalized for rest.

What becomes clear through Ms. Fuller's storytelling is the extreme hardship of life in the bush, the loneliness that comes from the cultural divide. BoBo and Van are, at this time, not allowed to befriend the black population and not willing to befriend the white missionaries. Until they are sent off to private schools their lives are proscribed to such a degree that it seemed like abuse to me.
 Mum, once a happy drunk, succumbs to full-blown alcoholism as she buries unformed babies, fights off cobras with an Uzi, and is finally diagnosed with manic-depression. She is fearless but hateful to any black who crosses her path yet saves the life of Violet, a native woman whose husband has attacked her.

Like so many Europeans who believe that they know better than the ones they think they have conquered, there is an underlying sense of superiority among the adults that, by some wonderful quirk of fate, does not carrry down to the children. Ms. Fuller's love for Africa is exacerbated after she goes to England and returns. Her descriptions of the smells, tastes, and especially, the sounds of the continent resonate with the reader as they only can when one has loved a place beyond description. Probably the way I feel about Italy. 

I believe that, in everyone, there is a spot where we truly feel we belong - where we were born to be. For Alexandra Fuller, though she currently lives in America, that place is Africa. Read more about her writing and upcoming sequel to Dogs at:

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Nook v. Sony: Battle of the E-readers

So, what happens when a tech-savvy gentleman tries to drag his lady friend kicking and screaming into the 21st century? I call it the battle of the e-readers, or, the lost weekend. Last year Don gave me a first generation Sony e-book reader for Christmas. I was thrilled! I thought I was the coolest thing going and boasted of my prowess at work. It has taken me all this time to adjust to its quirks and I was just beginning to think I had it mastered when, you guessed it, he decided to "upgrade" me.

I am now the proud owner of a Nook, wi-fi, 3G e-reader and victim of a lost weekend. I can't tell you how often I advise my customers at the library that the Nook is the easiest e-reader to use in navigating the library's free downloadable library. I lied!

True confessions, I showed an ugly side of myself as I almost threw the Nook out the window in frustration trying to find the book I had downloaded from the library's website. Calls to the tech support line proved humorous as I was speaking with someone even newer to e-readers than I was. I could hear him turning the pages of his manual as I asked questions. Now, I could have read the manual myself but, hey, that would have been too easy, right? After all, they actually put it right on the Nook and it's also at the Barnes and Noble website.

So Sunday, Don holed up in my office while I retreated to the lanai and we both figured out our e-readers. You see he adopted my Sony. The first time he tried to download a book to it he was told in no uncertain terms that the "device" wasn't registered to him. Who says Big Brother isn't watching us? We had to call and get it out of my name and into his.

In the meantime, I tried to download a library book to my computer but it would only show up in the Sony Reader Library instead of the Adobe Digital Editions library. Sooooo - Don had to delete the Sony software from my netbook. Can you even imagine for one minute our customers handling this??? It was a comedy of errors! The good news is, we have both now mastered our e-readers and are happy. A second trip to Barnes and Noble at Coconut Point yesterday (they are the best sales folks in the world!) and I learned how to access my email and my New York Times on my Nook (which was the object of the exercise in the first place.)

Now, a word to the wise....apologies to my employer but......our e-book collection is the pits! Literary fiction? Fugedaboutit! Ten new books on how to raise chickens in e-pub format? No problem. How many farmers do you see out in the coop with their e-reader? Hmmmmm.

Your best bet is to go to Guttenberg or another free download library with classics and load up on good reading. My Nook holds about 1500 titles and I can get Henry James and Edith Wharton for a buck or two. Even those Ken Follett tomes I've been wanting to read "someday" can be purchased for 5 or 6 bucks so why be hindered with a two week checkout?

Don has now downloaded du Bois' The Souls of Black Folks while I have The Complete Works of Shakespeare. There's peace in the valley again.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Michael Cunningham

I finished Mr. Cunningham's latest novel, By Nightfall, just before bed last night and have been thinking about it since 5ish this morning. I scarcely know where to begin to describe this beautifully written novel and the plethora of themes that the author has managed to include in scarcely 200 pages.

Those of you who've read his Pulitzer Prize winning take on Virginia Woolf, The Hours, will know what to expect in the way of literary excellence, but where that book was unrelentingly melancholy, this one has a note of redemption and acceptance, a fact that may be the result of the aging of the author or, perhaps, the aging of this reader.

I recall clearly standing in line to meet Mr. Cunningham at a Book Expo in New York City. An exquisitely beautiful man in the traditional Greco/Roman ideal, he was unassuming and pleasant to this author-stalker as I handed him our reading festival packet and issued the invite. Overly intimidated by genius, I didn't even have the courage to get a signed copy of, I think it was his non-fiction book, Land's End,. like everyone else in the queue was doing! He said we'd hear from him but our festival didn't end up fitting into his schedule. Truth to tell, a writer of his caliber probably wouldn't draw the crowds he deserves here in Southwest Florida.

By Nightfall is, fittingly, about beauty and its demise. It's a novel about aging. It's a novel about sensuality and sexuality, about long-term relationships and fleeting ones. It's about family, friends, parenthood, miscalculations and betrayals. It is achingly true and astonishingly hopeful.

As an observer of life, Michael Cunningham is breathtakingly spot on. The first scene between long-married Peter and Rebecca fills with tension as a discussion ensues in the back seat of a N.Y. City cab. On their way to a party neither one wants to attend, they contemplate the upcoming visit of Rebecca's much younger brother, a reformed drug addict, aimless genius, and the bane of Rebecca's existence. Each makes a conscious decision not to annoy the other, at least until later. It's such a telling, realistic examination of the dance of marriage.

Relieved empty nesters, their relationship with their only daughter is fraught with tension, not to mention the very real false memory syndrome, Peter and Rebecca live the settled-in lives of two career households. Peter's work is to recognize and evaluate beauty, a subjective responsibility is ever there was one. He owns a gallery with friend and partner, Uta. The hope is that Peter will take Rebecca's baby brother under his wing, introducing him to the joys of the art world, maybe even putting him to work.

Rebecca's brother Mizzy has an agenda. The beautiful young man, gay or bi-sexual, we're not sure, is too smart by half. Sensing the malaise in his sister's marriage and Peter's lingering sorrow over the death of his revered older brother of AIDS, Mizzy parades, pouts and charms his way into Peter's psyche, acting as a catalyst for an explosion of emotions that Peter has long held in check.

The language, the insight, the amazing way Michael Cunningham has of handling extremely complicated feelings with spare and perfect prose must cause other writer's to writhe with envy. I, on the other hand, just want to tell everyone "read this book."

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Grace of Silence and more

Right now it just so happens that I'm in a biography phase. It likely began when I chose The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks for my January book discussion and then it just took off from there. Condi Rice's book is sitting here on my desk - not sure who'll get to it first, Don or me - and Pat Conroy's My Reading Life is on my wait list. Oh, and let's please not forget the new Nora Ephron book I Remember Nothing which will please me tremendously if it's half as funny as I Feel Bad About my Neck!

The Grace of Silence is a beautiful, enticing title. I'd have picked up the book even if Don and I weren't followers of Michelle Norris on NPR. Her voice is calm, seductive, yet authoritative on the radio and I hoped for the same from her reading of her own book since I'm listening in my car. When Ms. Norris is narrating the story of her youth and her family she does a beautiful job, but when she tries to differentiate her voice from those of the folks she's interviewed or remembers, she lapses into a disconcertingly shrill, almost angry dialect, that I find a tad distracting.
Of course, there's no question that she has a right to be angry, as anyone would who tells the story of race relations in the United States in the twentieth century. And really, that's what this book is about. Ostensibly a story of her forebears, in particular her dad, Belvin Norris Jr., with whom she was especially close, The Grace of Silence, to me, is more a history of the civil rights movement as seen through the prism of family.

The irony is that Ms. Norris, who spearheaded "a conversation about race" for All Things Considered, her NPR show, found that her own family had maintained deliberate silence about racial hurts and secrets from their past. One thing that she examines closely is the fact that her grandmother, her mom's mother, had spent a good deal of her life earning money, raising her family, by working as a traveling Aunt Jemima for Quaker Oats.
The Aunt Jemima image has undergone many interations over the past 70 or 80 years, but Norris delves deeply into the negative feelings that blacks today have for this painful image and the embarassment that her mother felt when admitting what HER mother had done, while still admiring that her mom, Ione, had such pride in her work at that time. It's a very complicated set of emotions that Ms. Norris is dealing with, thus the history lesson is a necessary addition for most readers.

Many chapters deal with World War II and the effect that it had on black veterans returning from the war expecting to be treated with the respect they deserved and realizing that, though they were fighting for freedom overseas, they still were not going to enjoy freedom at home. This tied in with what I had already discovered at the Tuskeegee Airman's Memorial and which I wrote about in an earlier post about my latest trip from Baltimore to Ft. Myers.

Norris's dad Belvin joined the U.S. Navy as one of the brightest graduates of his high school class in Birmingham, yet the highest rung he could aspire to in the service was that of a cook. Yet shortly after he was honorably discharged from the Navy, full of pride at having served his country, he and his brothers were involved in an altercation on their way to a dance in which he was shot in the leg by a white policeman.

This discovery shocked Ms. Norris to her core. She explains in interviews that she not only had no idea that this had happened to her dad as a young man, but that she really had no idea what young black men had to live through in the '40's and '50's. This seems almost impossible to believe to somone my age. It seems that I've always been aware of the unfair and unlawful disparity between blacks and whites in America. However, I was blessed - didn't think I'd ever say this - with a family that was rarely silent!

   Delving into her family's history resulted in an education into the dark past of our country's history of American apartheid. Better able to understand her dad's obsessive insistence on appearances; the house and yard always perfect, the kids dressed to the nines when they went off to church, the report cards that had to be perfect, Norris comes to a new appreciation of the grace of her father's silence, his reluctance to color his children's thoughts about white/black relations because of his own frighful experience. She describes a man of honor, pride, responsibility, and love. In short, he could have been my dad or many others I know. The $64,000 question is, why did it have to be so hard for him and so much easier for us?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Europa Editions - A Novel Bookstore

A Novel BookstoreI've mentioned here in the past how often a book cover catches my eye and this one was no exception. I've read several books translated and printed for publication in the U.S. through Europa Editions and they are the loveliest books to look at, to hold, and to read. If you've read their edition of Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog then you'll know what I mean.

If you'll admit to being a book snob then this is the perfect novel for you! Author Laurence Cosse has accomplished something that isn't easy nowadays - she's come up with an imaginative plot and then slowly, lovingly, laid it out for readers to savor, admire and chuckle at. You've heard of the Slow Food Movement? Well I would call this a slow novel in the very best sense of the words.

Contemplate, if you can, a bookstore with nary a copy of Dan Brown or Danielle Steel. Put it in a big old brownstone with curved front windows and window seats, set on a quiet side street in any cosmopolitan city - in this case it's Paris. Ahhhh - now choose eight authors whose works you've admired for years, who never let you down, whose novels stand the test of time and your own high standards. Invite each of them to anonymously contribute a list of the best 600 books they've ever read, collate the results and begin ordering only the world's best novels for your exclusive bookstore.

Van and Francesca have lived this dream - she owns and he operates this Novel Bookstore. The eight authors continue to write novels as well as critique others' novels for inclusion. We learn all of this as they share their history with a police detective. Why? Because someone is trying to KILL the book snobs! How have their names been discovered? Their every move monitored? I've read some pretty nasty book reviews and have even alluded to them in this blog, but I wouldn't secretly wish for the reviewer to meet an untimely end. Who knows, one day it could be me!

A Novel Bookstore is a deep reader's delight. A hodgepodge of literature, character study, humor and mystery. Keep an open mind though, the ending may surprise you.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Apologies for having committed the cardinal sin of blogging. One mustn't go more than a week without a post or folks lose interest! We are an immediate gratification society after all. The problem is that I had nothing to say - believe it or not! I've been working and planting, walking and thinking, and, I'm in the middle of four books.

Almost finished with Christopher Hitchens' memoir and am marveling at the fact that it was much like a historical timeline of my life. The old adage, "may you live in  interesting times," certainly applies to those of us born in 1949. Think of the history involved in the last half of the 20th century!

Hitchens was in the middle of every major movement in Great Britain, from anti-apartheid, to anti-Vietnam, to the Northern Ireland terrorism. As a proud Socialist he wrote and debated all over the world, making a name for himself as an outspoken contrarian, all of which makes it difficult to follow his thinking that defended the invasion of Iraq. Toward the end of his book he does tell a poignant story that speaks to taking responsibility for our writings when he discovered that a young soldier killed in Iraq had many of Hitchens' writings in his possession and had expressed great admiration for, and a certain influence by, Hitchens' writings.

He talks at length about his correspondence with the young man's family, his trepidation at meeting them for the first time, his attendance at the funeral service. It's a very moving and responsible piece of writing and confirms once again for me that one need not be a person of faith to be a good person.

Speaking of contrarians, I was reading a review in this week's New York Times Book Review of V. S. Naipaul's latest The Masque of Africa. This is an author who has interested me for years and the fact that I haven't "gotten" to him yet makes me feel - well - not very well-read. This may be the book that I will get to. The Trinidadian Nobel Prize winner Naipaul has a reputation, particularly when it comes to his travel writing, of being less than sympathetic to the third world countries he tours, writing of Christianity vs. Islam and the plethora of tribal religions and customs.

The reviewer of this particular book, Eliza Griswold,
 notes that Naipaul may be relenting with age and softening his stance. At one point during a trip through Gabon, his legs give way and he has to concede to being propelled in a wheel barrow into a nearby town. There he meets and talks with an older woman in the community who, noting the chagrin with which Naipaul has had to cave in to the perceived indignity of his infirm body, confides that "in Gabon, when an old person dies, we say that a library has burned down."

This is my new favorite saying. I'm sharing it with you readers in hopes that you will pass it along. Andrea, thinking of you and the Storycorps project and how each person who shares their story is a treasure trove, a library if you will, of history and information. What a shame we don't honor our elders more.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Election Day in Southwest Florida

I'd love to write about books but the election is all I can think of. Naturally I'm not surprised at the outcomes so far, though I am surprised at how soon the major networks feel they can call the winners - an hour after the polls closed, at my own library as we are a polling place, they are already calling Rubio the new senator from Florida. How can this be? Have they counted the absentee ballots? How come, three days after I voted, I received a robo-call admonishing me for not having done so? Oh, this is so depressing. And right after I watched clips from Stewart/Colbert's rally for sanity had brought me a little hope - yes, it does spring eternal!

Well, I may not fit in here in Southwest Florida but I have to tell you I got a huge, marvelous surprise on Saturday when Don and I attended a showing at the Bonita Springs Art Center. Women Call for Peace was the name of the exhibit and it was astounding.
One rarely finds this kind of quality exhibit here in the Naples/Ft. Myers area. I've seen very little advertising so I'll tell you about it here. If it hadn't been for one of my more informed, wonderful volunteers and book group attendees extraordinaire, I wouldn't have known about it either.

One of the featured artists was Faith Ringgold whose name I only knew because of being a librarian and having seen her gorgeous work in the children's room. She writes and illustrates and has a beautiful book about Rosa Parks that I was happy to see we had three copies of in our branch.

Another artist whose work was simply extraordinary was Emma Amos

The depth of the emotion and heart that goes into the work of these artists just fills the heart. Never having had a talented bone in my body when it comes to anything remotely artistic or creative, I feel such envy at the way these women express themselves. Much of the work involved quilts, a form of expression that goes back centuries when women used messages sewn into quilts in order to communicate, often a cry for help. Much of the work is, of course, against war - the idea being that women are less likely to wage it if they have to send their babies off to die in it - but then some involves calls for peace closer to home. Works express strong feminist trends, indicating the pain and agony of abuse in all of its forms.

Tiny DVD players scattered throughout the exhibit can be employed to view video interviews with the artists in which they express their views of the world and how they've attempted to come to terms with it. One especially interesting video involved a mother/daughter sculpting duo who employ chain saws to begin the process of pulling a work of art out of nothing but a dead stump.

OK, this exhibit runs through the end of November so, if you get a chance to check it out, you'll be very pleased. Meanwhile, it's back to the tv to see if I can bear the rest of today's story. If Scott beats out Sink, I'll know that there's truly something wrong with me fellow Floridians that common sense can't cure.

As to books: I'm only a few chapters away from finishing Freedom. Well worth the investment in time. I've begun the debut novel Juliet by Anne Fortier and am about halfway through my favorite atheist's autobiography Hitch-22. Christopher Hitchens reads his own book and naturally that gives it an effete air but heck, it's the Queen's English after all and I love his honesty. He also mentions that he was at Oxford when Clinton and all his cohorts were attending (including Robert Reich) and agrees with me that Clinton actually did NOT inhale. Some of us just can't swallow smoke into our lungs. He imbibed his cannabis through brownies! Book I absolutely couldn't spend time on? Stiltsville.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Franzen's Freedom

I'm two thirds of the way through Jonathan Franzen's newest epic, Freedom. It's everything I expected and more. Discussion has been going on here at work for a few weeks between those of us who loved The Corrections and the other who couldn't take it. I'll admit that the families in his earlier book held few redeeming qualities - though some of the scenes came right out of my childhood - (which I thought was fairly idyllic). You've got to have a sense of humor, right?

Someone who seems to be lacking that humor is author Jodie Picoult. I'm not sure I understand her ire at the publicity and honors that Franzen is receiving but it certainly seems overblown. I'm all for exhibiting a healthy dose of self confidence but for her to put herself in the same literary category as Franzen is just simply unrealistic. To say that women are consistently left out of literary awards and acknowledgement seems inaccurate as well. What about Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel?
Perhaps, after looking over her recent interview on the Huffington Post, her gripe is more about publicity rather then respect. However, if I had her bank account I don't think I'd be whining.

Anyway, back to Freedom which I find myself unable to put down. Ironically, I've been fighting off a major autumn cold for the past ten days and have been sleepless and hacking half the night away. This incident has afforded me the opportunity to read during the wee hours so I may actually have the book back to the library relatively close to deadline!
The Berglund family, around whom the action swirls, is a kinder, gentler, version of the family in The Corrections. Their issues seem to be less black and white; a much more nuanced portrayal of the day in/day out intricacies of holding together a related unit of wildly divergent personalities brought together by the accident of birth and the choice of marriage, made like so many of them, at an age when the protagonists are just too darn young and unformed.

Franzen can be downright hilarious, not in the laugh out loud funny way, but in the wincing "ouch" kind of way, as he skewers the left, the right, and all the inbetweens. This is a very political novel in which people with the best of intentions  turn absolutely Machiavellian in their aim to achieve their goals. Take, for instance, Walter Berglund's burning desire to save a blue warbler at the risk of getting into bed with the Bush/Cheney crew that will scrape raw the West Virginia mountaintops to achieve a 100 year gain. It's all end justifies means and he's encouraged in his quest by a young, dewy-eyed assistant who takes advantage of the rift between the long-married Walter and Patty to insert herself while Walter is at his weakest.

Patty, meanwhile, is sunk in apathy and depression as she dwells on the road not taken. Back in college, while she was under the spell of Walter's roommate, rocker Richard Katz, Walter worshipped her from a distance. Rather than take the chance on the womanizer Katz, she convinced herself that the good, stolid Walter would be the right choice for a husband (an ideology that usually proves true). Only problem with this is that Walter and Patty continue to see Richard throughout their marriage and the itch between Patty and Richard cries out to be scratched.

Helicopter parenting has a particularly bad outcome in terms of the Berglund's son Joey who rebels against his liberal family's intense love and scrutiny by moving next door into the home of his girlfriend and her right-wing, beer-swilling step dad (a rather stereotypical example to be sure) whose pick-up trucks and rusty construction equipment are the bane of Patty's existence. After Joey moves East to attend college he's torn between the complete sexual satisfaction - and isn't that what it's all about for a 19 year old? - from Connie and the possibility of hooking up with his roommate's sister and the chance to get upwardly mobile. He rather callously calls upon his newly discovered Jewish roots to ingratiate himself with his roommate's dad and lands himself a summer job that will serve him well.

No, this isn't a feel-good novel, nor is it intended to be. It is however, a sadly realistic look at life as we know it. It's peopled with hypocrites, slackers, those without good judgment and those who judge too much, those who'll stomp on someone else's rights so that they can get theirs and those who fight for what they believe is right as the expense of someone else. These same characters forgive, forget and love in their own inimitable ways. They are, probably, most all of us!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Glass Rainbow

Such a lovely title for such a dark novel! But then I suppose that a glass rainbow indicates the fragility of beauty, how easily it can be broken, an apropos metaphor for the tragic, violent deaths of the young women that haunt Dave Robicheaux in this latest entry in Burke's long-running, powerful series set in the mysterious, treacherous bayous outside New Orleans.

I usually listen to my Robicheaux novels because Will Patton does such an outstanding job in the narration. His vocal renditions range from world-weary to downright sinister with a guttural timbre that ratchets up my blood pressure and has me looking behind me when I exit the car. As Clete Purcell, Dave's longtime friend and polar opposite, Patton can bring the reader to tears describing the emptiness and desolation of his life. As Dave, Patton takes us into the heart of a man whose ferocious, protective love for his wife and adopted daughter Alafair, conflict with the deep anger of the Vietnam veteran and cop who sees an injustice and just has to right it.

One often wonders how much of these novels - and those of many, many writers - are based in at least some fact. Because of my work on the Southwest Florida Reading Festival ( )and the years of writing to Alafair Burke in an attempt to lure her and her dad to Ft. Myers for a head to head presentation, I know that she is a law professor in New York and a well-known mystery writer in her own right. In The Glass Rainbow, Alafair is still in law school but is taking a semester back home to complete her first novel. She is dating a man from an old Louisiana family with a dark history that dates back to slavery. The Abelards have made their wealth on the backs of others for generations.

Dad doesn't like it and, to add to his discomfort, he is investigating the murders of two teenage girls, one of whom had crossed paths with Kermit Abelard and the ex-con turned novelist with whom he shares his home. The con, Robert Weingart, is about as slimy a character as you'll meet in literature but then Burke always fills his books with them. I guess it's so that we, the readers, won't feel quite so guilty at the jubilation we feel when Clete and Dave turn their violence outward.

I really thought that Burke could not get better than he was with Tin Roof Blow Down which I blogged about here a year or two ago, but The Glass Rainbow is right up there when it comes to unveiling a story that reveals his depressingly low opinion of human nature. Readers sense that James Lee Burke, or at least Dave Robicheax, has lived through the depths of despair and come out the other side a deeply damaged man trying to make sense of a deeply damaged world.

If this sounds too despairing to read, ignore me! Like my other favorites in this genre, George Pelecanos, Dennis Lehane, or Richard Price, Burke has an exquisite ear for what's real, balanced with a joy in the natural beauty of his surroundings, the smells, sounds and tastes of the bayou, that will just knock your socks off.

If I had any critique at all it would be that his female characters, while ostensibly strong (chief of police Helen Swallow), always seem to have a weakness pulling at them subconsciously. I would love to see him flesh out Dave's wife Molly, the former nun whose love is barely holding him together. Other than that, I can always count on James Lee Burke for a great ride.

Almost finished with my LJ book, a quick read by a South African named Damon Galgut. The book was a finalist for the Booker Prize - pressure!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Let the Great World Spin

Years ago I used to listen over and over to the sound recording of Liza Minelli's live concert at Carnegie Hall. This was in her hay day and she could belt out a song like nobodies' business. True confessions - if I hadn't become a librarian I would have loved to be a torch song singer - but there probably wouldn't be enough training in the world! Anyway, she sang with such passion and one of the numbers was about the world going round and round and ROUND and round - basically a lament but also an ode to life and how it goes on no matter how badly we screw up, how difficult our lives may become, how much joy or sadness we live through and with.

That song kept going through my mind as I read Colum McCann's National Book Award winning novel. The premise is so simple yet so profound. I'm always so envious when a writer pulls off a trick like this, making it look so easy. He took one factual happening in the life of New York City in the early '70's and wrapped around that incident a complete novel of vignettes in which the lives of a few intercept in ways that have repercussions for years to come.

The news worthy event was when a Frenchman named Philippe Petit managed to elude security guards, break into the World Trade Center towers one evening and lay out a cable between the twin buildings. He waited until rush hour the following morning before stepping out onto the cable in his ballet slippers, balancing bar in hand, to dance and skip his way across the gap to the cheers, jeers, awe and anger of the public.

Gloria is one of the women who witnesses this crazy, death defying stunt as she makes her way from the Bronx to the upper east side to meet with a group of mothers who have very little in common except that they have all lost their sons to the war in Vietnam. They gather to remember, to comfort, to talk about their boys as if they were still here. They hang out in the kids' bedrooms, touching their clothing, their trophies, the tangible reminders that they once were whole, living human beings. Can there be a worse loss?

We meet an Irish priest who, plagued by the need to save others, cannot save himself. He lives in a two room walkup in the worst section of town where he defies the pimps and gang members by taking care of a cadre of prostitutes without ever prosletizing. He offers them a place of respite between tricks, bails them out when needed and looks after their kids. We meet the young widow with whom he falls in love, a nurse who would love to be a doctor but will never find the way.

Then there's Lara and Blaine, artists whose one night fall from sobriety, causes a minor fender bender with a huge impact. Lara's admonition to just drive away, back upstate to their ramshackle cottage, haunts her until she returns to the city, admitting her culpability to the priest's brother and thus creating a bond that will surprise and please readers with its perfection.

Let the Great World Spin is a deeply tragic yet profounding hopeful novel of life and death. An accessible read, it is only made difficult by the feeling one gets that they're on a runaway train. We see the characters as they make mistakes, misunderstand eachother, stumble and fall, before we can grab them up, get their backs. It's a feeling of grave frustration but one very much worth having. Thanks to Linda Holland for the recommendation!

Two treats awaited me at work this week. Franzen's Freedom appeared on my desk - not long after I placed it on hold! It's pretty formidable looking and, of course, I only have two weeks to read it so naturally a new book arrived the following day from Library Journal. I started that one over the weekend - it's short but deep. I hope that I can do it justice. I may be incommunicado for a few days.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Reviewing Philip Roth

It's always with trepidation that I approach a supposedly professional review of a book that I've already read and reviewed, especially when it's one by an author as august as, say, Philip Roth. This past summer I had the pleasure of casting my humble judgment about his latest novel, Nemesis, for Library Journal (link here and scroll down to Roth).

I try to follow Barbara Hoffert's (LJ books editor) advice to trust myself as a reader and offer an honest opinion without nuance. But that opinion should be based on a lifetime of reading experience and offered with a modicum of objectivity. So I'll admit to being rather shocked at what I found to be a highly personal attack on Philip Roth in a review by Roxana Robinson in the Washington Post last week when I was up in Maryland.

It seemed to me that she failed the author by refusing to separate her feelings about him, based on personal experience or hearsay, I'm not sure which, from her thoughts about his novel. For a moment, but only one moment, I questioned my own evaluation of the book, which I thought was profound on several levels and ripe for a book discussion. Aside from Mr. Roth's ability to place his readers smack down in the middle of Newark, New Jersey, circa 1940's, it's his examination of guilt along with all of its ramifications that impressed me the most. As a recovering Catholic I'm always fascinated by the power of this useless emotion to ruin lives and take the joy from living.

So, when I opened my Sunday New York Times Book Review to Philip Roth's visage staring back at me from the cover, I couldn't wait to see how another professional reviewer handled Nemesis. Kudos to Leah Hager Cohen for her honesty and integrity. I loved her review, not simply because she agreed with me on all aspects of the novel, but because she admitted to a bias and then committed her summer to the due diligence that Roth deserves.

One doesn't have to admire all of his work, in fact I rather panned The Humbling for its gratuitous sexual content and the life-denying look at a man in his sixties, but the author of American Pastoral is a genius in my book and always will be.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Thoughts on the Drive South

As we made our way from Maryland back to Florida last week I was reminded that it's been almost forty years since I first made this trek from Massachusetts to the land of sunshine and skin cancer. Back then, I-95 was still unfinished and the old route 301 took us through what was, to me, another world. Fresh out of college, I was a strange mix of naive yet aware - aware of the outrageous disparity between my good fortune and all that it entailed (solid home life, great education, etc.) and the very unfortunate others whose rough hewn, falling down shacks we drove by as we wended our way through the Carolinas and Georgia.

On the one hand I marveled at the beauty of the landscape, the old southern plantations with their wide porches flanked by pillars and the miles long driveways lined with old oaks dripping Spanish moss. Why, you could almost envision Scarlet O'Hara racing her dad, both on horseback, down toward the barns. What you didn't see, of course, were the then slaves, now servants, who tended to those horses, barns, grounds and people, living in the unheated, unplumbed shacks that dotted the countryside. There's no question that this knowledge detracted ferociously from my appreciation of the surroundings.

Add to that the certainty that 200 years really hasn't changed all that much here in the United States and, if you dwell on it long enough, it's extremely depressing. When we stopped at the welcome station in South Carolina we were greeted by the smiling face of Gov. Sanford, still serving and more popular than ever, though he abandoned his postion last year, leaving the country and failing to even set someone up as the "in-charge" person should a state emergency arise. I've read that he even went so far as to have an aid "tweet" occasionally during the week he was in Argentina with his paramour. Yet New York's Gov. Patterson was villified for accepting tickets to a baseball game. Sometimes I think we're living in a science fiction world!

We stopped in Walterboro, SC, to visit a memorial to the Tuskegee Airmen, the famous African American soldiers who trained as World War II fighter pilots at the then Walterboro Airport, now the Low Country Municipal Airport. The day was perfect, warm and clear, and out at the little air strip small planes were doing touch and go's. Men were parasailing or hang gliding or perhaps parachuting down from the clear blue sky. In a pine woods area to the right of the field was a beautiful sculpture of a young pilot along with a glass case full of sun-faded photos of the original cadre of brave young men who actually had to fight to go overseas and fight for freedoms they didn't even have here at home. It could break your heart.

We read that the farmers who donated the land for the airfield still continued to raise their crops and that they actually hired German POW's who were being held in Walterboro - back when we followed the rules of the Geneva Convention - to help them. The Germans were not only paid a stipend but were fed and actually befriended by the locals, some of whom stayed in touch years after the war ended. That's a great story and I'm all for it, except for one problem.

The black American soldiers who were actually going off to fight against the Germans were not allowed to mingle with the whites, not even with the POW's. They were segregated in both their living and eating quarters, not even able to socialize at the dances. How can this be, you might ask. I have no answer, but this is your history lesson for the day. The more we learn the more we can try to understand the suffering of our fellow men - that's my hope. For more information on the Tuskegee Airmen and their incredible feats:

Yes, I'm still reading like mad and will report next on Let the Great World Spin, recommended by my former manager and deep reader, Linda Holland. I'm also listening to two books, an old Donna Leon and a new James Lee Burke. All three of these novels are very dark - suprise, surprise. I also may have to take up where Don leaves off in the new book by Pulitzer winner Isabel Wilkerson. The Warmth of Other Suns, the story of what she calls "the great migration" of Southern sharecroppers to the Northern cities, looking for opportunity and a more equitable life, is on my radar for book discussion next season but I already know that, psychologically, it'll be tough going.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Widower's Tale

Well, Julia Glass did not let me down. What a wonderful group of characters to spend time with. What a lovely respite from the outrageous characters I have to spend time with in the news. Up here it's the Washington Post every morning so I feel like I really have a pulse on the doings of the nation's capital, just 30 minutes away. By the way, I'm totally apologetic that I didn't get myself into DC last Saturday for the anti-Beck rally. Don doesn't do crowds and I don't drive in the city. Not a very committed progressive, am I?

So, back to my recommendation of Ms. Glass's latest novel. She has a talent for rendering family relationships, the tensions, the love, the hard work and aggravation that comes with nurturing and sustaining them over the long haul. The people in her novels are not one dimensional. Like all of us they can be annoying one minute and huggable the next. While Clover is a dreamer who always has to be bailed out by her dad, Trudy is an overachiever who depletes her load of compassion on her patients and therefore has none left for her sister.

Trudy's son Robert is supposed to be following in his mom's footsteps, training at Harvard for a career in medicine, but a svengali-like relationship with his mysterious roommate Arturo, a rabid environmentalist, will result in an unexpected detour that may notactually be all  bad.

Sarah Straight, the fifty something mom who caught the older Percy's eye, will have to face some demons of her own and the means that she chooses, controversial and appropos in light of the current health care crisis in our country, will be painful to Percy and difficult to comprehend.

Ira, a gentle teacher, driven from his previous post by a homophobic parent, seems to have found safety and acceptance at last at the school on Percy's property, but his long time relationship with Anthony, a lawyer known as The Python, is cracking under the strain of Anthony's push for a showy, in-your-face wedding.

Glass beautifully uses these folks to examine the oldest theme in the book. People needing people, choosing to live with the mess of interaction as opposed to solitary neatness, opening ourselves up  again and again to the possibility of loss for the joy of letting someone in, these are the dilemmas that face us in fiction and in life. Do with them as you will.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

What a Difference a Day Makes!

Thursday at the library I was stressed to the max. Between orientation for two new volunteers, reviewing a book for LJ, and doing the usual cleanup that one does before leaving for vacation, I wasn't sure I'd get it together for the early morning flight to Md. Add to that the precipitous weather forecast that had me rummaging for a few extra pairs of sweats at Beall's Outlet Thursday night and, well, all I can say is - all that must have happened in another lifetime.

This morning before the wind turned and started coming from the North, I sat out on the deck overlooking the Chesapeake Bay and started a new book that I snatched from Jess yesterday - an autographed copy no less, of Julia Glass's The Widower's Tale. It's just wonderful - more on that in a minute - my only trouble being that I had to keep looking up at the view.

Can there be anything better than to fall asleep and awaken to the sound of the shallow bay waves  caressing the rip rap down below? To wake up in the night to see the waning moon hovering over the water like a lantern? I've never known such peace as I feel here in Chesapeake Beach. This morning it was so clear that the faint gray shadow of the Bay Bridge over to Annapolis could be seen on the horizon, fronted with dozens of varied size sails as people take advantge of what will likely be one of the last fine days of the season.  I look up to see the funky box-like container ships as they head down toward the Atlantic and this evening, at dusk, over wine, we'll be able to see the lights of the cruise ships as they do the same.

A whole week to read! Such choices I had! On the plane it was A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book, a rather daunting, close to 700 page tome about Olive Wellwood, a famed children's story book writer, and her family  as they maneuver through the times and political upheaval of London in the early 1900's. Though I loved Possession and I'm valiantly trying to stick with Byatt's latest, it may take a back seat to Ms. Glass's latest novel which I'll burn through in the next day. What a delight!

Percy Darling, the widower of the title, reminds me of Ann Tyler's widower in Noah's Compass. He is just a "darling!" A retired librarian, from the Widener no less, he has plenty of funny things to say about the new "wired librarians" in his small New England town. He's a curmudgeon of the first order, a man who only loved once, his wife Poppy who drowned in their back yard pond when their daughters were teens.

Now Trudy is an oncologist in Boston and Clover has left her husband, who she believes may be in love with a man, and left her kids in New York to return to her home town and lick her wounds.  Always the "flighty" one, but also the one more in tune with her dad, she convinces Percy to let her convert their barn into a nursery school for the town's yuppie parents.  Percy's glorious solitude is about to be invaded by chattering little four year olds. Yet he seems remarkably amenable to the changes going on around him and, suddenly, after more years than he cares to think about, to the charms of one of the moms.

I was a bit disappointed in Glass's past couple of novels but this one, more on the caliber of Three Junes, is not going to let me down. Tomorrow I'll tell you what I'm listening to - after I decide which of the 10 books on my mp3 player is going to hold my interest the best.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


OK, friends, have any of you read this book and, if so, why didn't you tell me about it before? Were you afraid I'd go into another rant? How did this story, Zeitoun, get by my radar screen? I'm sure I've had customers ask for it and that book groups are talking about it. Did I think Dave Eggers was too "difficult" for me?

I'm about 60 pages from the end of this true story about one family's surreal experience, having lived through Hurricane Katrina but almost being destroyed by their own country. "Heck of a job Brownie!" This reads more like a novel and, if you pretend it's one, then you might be able to finish it without having your head explode the way mine is right now! It's like 1984 revisited.

The Zeitouns, a large, loving family have lived and worked in New Orleans for many years. Kathy raises their four kids and runs the business end of the painting contracting company while her husband, Abdulrahman, is the personality and workaholic, out in folks' houses all day. Do you get it yet? They are Muslim. Has it mattered in the past? Not at all. They are very successful, own several houses, and have friends all over the city. Their faith is a non-issue, as it should be.

With Katrina bearing down on the city, Kathy, the native Louisianan, begins to worry and pushes for them to leave. They have family a few hours away who will take them in. But Abdul is a stubborn man and not easily persuaded to leave what he considers his responsibilities behind. You all know the rest, don't you? Zeitoun stays, weathering the storm handily, but awakens two days later to the sound of water running through the first floor of his home.
 Salvaging what he can, he moves up to the roof where he pitches a tent, ties up his old canoe and spends his days paddling around the city helping any stray animals and people that he can. He and Kathy talk on the phone every day at noon like clockwork, she, along with Mayor Nagin, still pressing him to come to her and the kids.

And the nightmare begins. Five men and a woman, in full riot gear, armed with M-16's, rush Zeitoun's home, manhandling him and his friends. Strip-searched, thrown in outdoor dog cages and fed only pork, which of course, he could not eat, Zeitoun was held for 3 days without access to a telephone, without any explanation, but with the kinds of slurs - "Al Qaida, Taliban" - that let him know he wasn't being held for staying in the city without permission.

What follows is a week of such torture, such appalling treatment, such despair, that my stomach kept clenching as I read. How could this happen, you might ask, in the United States of America? Transferred to a super-max security prison, still without a phone call being made for him, an atty. or anyone else even knowing if he was alive or dead, Zeitoun and I began to lose hope. Admittedly, I had to go to their foundation's website to assure myself of the outcome before I could continue reading.

Dave Eggers has written a must-read book that should serve as a warning to anyone out there who, in their proud American complacency, echoes that old saw, "it couldn't happen here." It could, it did and it will again. All proceeds of the sale of this book go to the Zeitoun foundation to help rebuild New Orleans. Buy it, read it, pass it on.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Red Hook Road - Yet Another Country

Reading around the world happened to take me to Maine last week where I followed novelist and essayist Ayelet Waldman. Waldman has interested me for a very long time and I believe that in previous posts, perhaps while discussing her last novel, Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, I linked to the essay that brought her so much attention, the one in which, honest to a fault, she discussed having had an abortion and, though the loving mother of four children, commented that her love for her husband came first. Whoa - anathema to some, this apparently shocked the "civilized" world. But I remember hoping that my parents cared more about each other than they did about me.

Waldman's latest novel, Red Hook Road, seems much more mature and, in fact, she took some real chances with it in terms of her trust in her readers. I'll admit that it took me about 100 pages before I appreciated how cleverly she was unveiling the truths of her story. This is not a spoiler. Ms. Waldman kills John and Becca Tetherly not even an hour after their wedding and in the first chapter. The risk was that herreaders wouldn't care, because frankly, we had yet to get to know the young couple.

The joy is that Ms. Waldman spends the rest of her time with us carefully peeling back the skins of the families, compared in reviews to the Montagues and Capulets, allowing us to learn and care about Becca and John through their parents, siblings, and extended family in the little village in Maine where the actions takes place.

Coming from a small New England town myself, where I've witnessed the seething resentment of the wealthy New Yorkers who come for the summer or the weekend, driving up prices, clogging the roads, trying to change things, I empathize with the difficulties between the Tetherly and Copaken families. Jane Tetherly, single mother of the groom, has lived in Red Hook for generations, caretaking the "outsiders" homes. In fact, she is the housekeeper for Iris Copaken, wealthy New York college professor, a bit of an intellectual snob and mother of Becca who has given up a chance to pursue a classical music career to marry John and ply the Caribbean on the sailboat he is building.

The two women have a tenuous relationship at best. Both families are deeply disappointed in their children's choice of a life partner but intend to make the best of it. After the accident that takes their kids from them, the families become more entwined than they could have imagined. The depth of their grief is not obvious at first, in fact the only sympathetic character is Iris's husband, a lawyer who takes up boxing as a way of channeling his rage. But hang in there with these folks because they are beautifully, slowly, revealed in all their foibles, flaws and humanity.

An interesting subplot revolves around Iris's father, famed classical violinist Emil Kimmelbrod, whose interest in a young protegee, Jane's adopted niece Samantha, threatens to be the final rift between Jane and Iris, and Iris and her long-suffering husband. Ms. Waldman displays an impressive knowledge of (or lots of research on) the types of violins, classical music in general, and the minute care that go into honing a musical talent and that's not even to mention what she teaches us about the detail that's entailed in retrofitting a wooden sailboat.

Red Hook Road was a very satisfying read for me. If you're interested, Diane Rehm hosted Ms. Waldman on her show a few months ago where they discussed her novel:

Meanwhile I started Dave Eggers's Zeitoun which has grabbed me and won't let go. More on that next week after I see what Library Journal has sent me. A book is in the mail!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Rereading Classics - Another Country

It's not bad enough, is it, that every day we read reviews of hundreds of books we just HAVE to get our hands on? When will we ever have time to delve into them all? Add to that the conundrum of all those glorious old classics one wants to revisit and Houston, we have a problem! At my library I have an end of aisle display for classic literature and the fact is, as soon as I put an Edith Wharton or a Henry James face out in its plastic receptacle, it's gone in 60 seconds. Readers are hungry for great literature.

Because of this I've decided that I, too, must return now and then to the novels my mother offered, to whet my appetite for reading so many years ago. I recently read a review of The Cross of Redemption, a collection of essays, reviews, and speeches, not previously compiled in one volume, by the author James Baldwin. I can only read one or two of these at a time because they are so powerful, so honest, and ultimately, so heart breaking in their timelessness, that I despair. Will change ever come to America?

My interest in Baldwin then progressed to one of his novels if, that is, I could find one in our downloadable books catalog. I often have difficulty finding much in the way of literary fiction in either our downloadable audio or ebook collections - a valid reason why I may have to splurge on a Nook (cheap classics) even though I love my Sony.

Another Country is read by the perfect narrator for the material. I fell for Dion Graham's voice while listening to some George Pelecanos, but his rendering of the Baldwin material is on a whole new level. The sensuality (and sexuality), the anger, the pathos, even the slightly off key singing of Bessie Smith, bring a depth to the novel that I might not have garnered from a straight reading.

As you may know, this book was published in 1962. I was in eighth grade, living in a Norman Rockwell type small New England town. Whatever I learned about the civil rights movement, the violent struggle for equality that was plaguing the South, was likely formed by osmosis, listening to my parents discuss and argue over the news before dinner, but before too long my consciousness was raised and I've been learning ever since.

The title Another Country is most apt for several reasons. Baldwin writes so movingly about characters who are angling to escape the boxes that society forms for them. Blacks forced in shackles from their own countries now find themselves in "another country," one in which they are disrespected and thus lose self-respect.
Gay men and women from all over the states come to New York City where they hope to fit in and find "another country" where they can be welcomed. Women are just beginning to chafe at the domestic "country" that they've been assigned to and are on the cusp of breaking out.

Rufus, a black jazz musician, is the catalyst for all the action in this tragic novel. A man who doesn't seem to fit in either the gay or straight world, he runs with the artists, writers and musicians who form their own country in 1950's - '60's NYC.

But Rufus is filled with the rage that comes from being promised a bill of goods that isn't forthcoming, similar to the anger that's now festering again just under the surface of our society. This rage informs his love affair with Leona, an old soul, a Southern white girl whose husband and child are lost to her. The reader gets that this relationship is doomed from the start but I was still devastated at the bleakness of Baldwin's vision.
Rufus kills himself, Leona's family consigns her to an institution, and this is only the first chapter.

All of the future action revolves around the way in which Rufus's death impacts his friends, family and former lovers. We learn that men and women were equally attracted to Rufus and that fact is a particular problem for Vivaldo, an aspiring writer who takes up with Rufus's younger sister Ida. Is it Rufus or Ida that he wants? Does he have the will to maintain this bi-racial relationship at a time when the gossip in this ostensibly "liberal" town could make or break his aspirations?

And what about Ida, a talented, ambitious singer who sees prejudice and hatred in the eyes of the musicians when she appears at the Harlem jazz clubs with her white lover. The racial divide has never loomed so large but Baldwin writes so beautifully, so thoughtfully that I can barely stand to put this audio down.

Other countries are discussed; France, Spain, where these misfits can maybe make a life free from the curious looks, the judgments, the innuendo that follows those whose dignity is disallowed. I've read that Baldwin himself found salvation in the south of France where he died in 1987. Yet today, in 2010, the Senate failed to overturn Don't Ask, Don't Tell and our black president is presumed to be from "another country." And this is why the classics will always speak to us.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Great House - Yes, It Lives up to its Rep

I scarcely know where to begin in talking about Nicole Krauss and her latest novel Great House. I wouldn't want to do the book a disservice by leaving you with my previous posting or mislead you into thinking the book is only about a desk. Naturally, it is so much more, so much deeper than that, which is why it reminded me of The Red Violin.

The desk has belonged to many people over the ages and has meant something to each person - has almost inhabited each owner in a way. I had to go to Ms. Krauss's website - -  to read an interview with her in which she remarks that the novel is really about memory, or as she calls it, "emotional inheritance." Isn't that a fabulous term? That's why I love writers so much. How do they do it? How does someone so young find the depth or imagination to write characters at every stage of life, rendering them so fully formed?

Maybe it's only because I had such a wonderfully inclusive and insightful book group at the library today to analyze Olive Kitteridge that I'm making this comparison, but it seems to me that, like Elizabeth Strout, Krauss has taken a series of stand alone stories and used the conceit of the desk to knit them into a perfect whole. Though it takes some concentration to read, and while you may find yourself returning to previous sections to be sure you haven't missed something, you will be rewarded with amazement at what can be accomplished with the English language.

The setting fluidly runs from New York to London, and Budapest to Jerusalem. There are several main characters, one a famous novelist who narrates much of the novel, another, Mr. Weisz, an antiques dealer whose specialty is tracking down valuables stolen from victims of the Nazi purge and Holocaust, returning them to their families or heirs.

The theme of familial relationships looms large in this ambitious, complicated novel. The difficult relationships between parents and children is heartbreaking in its realism, in its ultimately missed connections, disappointments, unstated desires, loss and longing. But please don't think that I'm saying this novel is depressing - it is not. At the risk of leaning on the most overused word in book reviewing, it is luminous!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Maybe I Really Am a Writer!

I've found that, increasingly, I wake up during the night or early in the morning with fully formed blog posts written in my head. I can't wait to get to the computer but it isn't fair to put down whatever thoughts are floating about my consciousness - not fair to readers who come here expecting to read about books. I simply can't read fast enough to keep the theme of "reading around the world" going, though you'll all admit that I try like hell!

Don has had an idea that I should create a second blog to deal more with my political and societal musings, which can be triggered at a moment's notice by an off hand comment from a customer at the library, an observation of human interactions that sometimes feed my soul but more often tend to confirm my opinion that living in another country might be the way to go.

 Just today, trying to make a dent in my Sunday papers, (I begin with The Week in Review in the Times so that I can concentrate on Frank Rich, Maureen Dowd and the guest essayists) I came up with about three different rants that I could write in a heartbeat. Let's see, Afghanistan - follow the money; Education - we're lost; Health care - why won't people admit that we're no longer number 1, not even close (unless of course, you've got the money to buy the best).

 Later, I'll peruse the News-Press while watching the US Open men's final since concentration isn't really called upon to scan the latest murders, drug busts, etc. Yesterday the sheriff's office was so proud of the garage full of marijuana it discovered after, I believe 10 hours' of men and equipment - for what? Legalize it and get it over with for heaven's sake!

You'll be glad to know that I've lightened up my ride to work with the latest from Alexander McCall Smith. I just adore the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series and have found myself falling in love with Smith's version of Botswana even if I may not get there when I take my big Africa trip next year. The continent is simply too big and choices have to be made. Three weeks may seem like a long time but the itinerary we're putting together is ambitious and Gabarone just doesn't have a draw like DuBois's Ghana or Don's previous home in Senegal.

Since we plan to end our stay in the Sudwala Safari Lodge outside Kruger Park I thought it only fitting that I listen to The Double Comfort Safari Club which is, if you're familiar with the series, a slow, languorous read that can lull you to sleep on the road if you're not careful. But there's a place for this kind of novel, the sweet, insightful musings of Mma Ramotswe, McCall-Smith's alter-ego, and the delightful, quirky side kick, Mma Makutse. I feel that I know them personally, especially after watching the HBO special last year.

The plot is certainly far-fetched - a woman in the states has died and left a considerable sum to a safari guide in Botswana who treated her kindly while she was vacationing there. The attorney who writes from St. Louis to Mma Ramotswe doesn't know the name of the lodge or the name of the guide - hmmm - but will foot the bill for Precious and Grace to track down the guide, travel to the safari lodge and hand him the inheritance. You doubters will say, "oh yeah, we'll see how that works out," but I, as a reader of the series, am fully confident that it will.

By my bed I have a much sought after advanced reader's copy of Nicole Krauss's new novel The Great House. I plan to ignore the "rule of 50" on this one and keep going though it seems very dense. The reviews have been glowing from every quarter, I loved her first novel The History of Love, and the premise, though done before (remember The Red Violin?), intrigues me. Then too, how can I not admire a novelist whose protagonist relaxes by leaving the city and driving through the Berkshires - mentioning my hometown of Gt. Barrington by name?

One of the primary characters in Ms. Krauss's book is a desk. There's something mysterious and exciting about a big old desk. I remember one in my great aunts' house that intrigued me so much with it's creaky roll top, its nooks and crannies, drawers big and small that often stuck, reassuring my young, imaginative mind that something wonderful was hidden there.

The desk in the novel belonged to a revolutionary, a poet who bequeathed it to another writer when he decided to return to his own country to continue the fight against the dictator Pinochet. The writer produced novel after novel - though Krauss's description of the writing process sounds more like hell than heaven - from this cherished desk for 25 years. Then, one day a stranger calls claiming ownership of the desk and the writer's life seems to cave in on itself.

I intend to spend a lazy afternoon reading and will let you know if this novel lives up the the hype.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Sometimes we're right to be angry!

OK, don't laugh, it's not my fault that I live so close to work and rarely drive anywhere anymore, but I finally finished So Much for That and Lionel Shriver gave me the most satisfying ending to a novel that I think I've ever encountered - and that said after all my complaining about her. Oh, I wanted to jump out of my driver's seat with a fist pump when Shep made his final visit to the oncologist's office to discuss his wife's prognosis.

Shep had done all his homework and had known all along that mesothelioma had a very low, read no, cure rate, but with that guilt that is so understandable and which doctors can beat you with every time, he had continued to fork over the bucks for one experimental treatment after another. The latest one that the good doctor recommended would cost $100,000 per dose and Glynis's life expectancy was three weeks, give or take!

From my research into this amazingly angry writer, Lionel Shriver, I have discovered that she has had her run ins with the medical profession and their infuriating insistence upon prolonging life at all costs. Sure, each of us has a different sense of what constitutes quality versus quantity but I learned the hard way that our good common sense can often be overruled by well meaning families and doctors who see research opportunities and a healthy insurance reimbursement.

My mom was only my age when she was diagnosed with liver cancer. It was more than a shock to our family as my mom was one tough nut. She was rarely sick that I can remember and I had never known anyone who had had cancer and hadn't recovered, so talk of death was not an option. Within six weeks she was gone, a bald, skinny, shrunken shell of the vibrant, brilliant teacher, reader and conversationalist extraordinaire that she had been. I was so angry! Why didn't she fight it, I wondered. Where was all that spunk she used to show when she taught Shakespeare to the high school boys who were one more offense away from jail?

I overrode my dad and got up the courage to call her doctor a few weeks after her funeral for a talk. When he told me that she had known that she couldn't be cured and that she had opted for the full load of chemo anyway, I was devastated. To think she had ruined her final days, a woman who loved eating out more than anything,  no longer even able to swallow, in a futile attempt to "hang on" a little longer, for us? I wrote my living will shortly thereafter.

This all brings me to Barbara Ehrenreich's Bright-Sided; How Positive Thinking is Undermining America. Some might say that this is a radical idea but I love Ms. Ehrenreich's courage to tell us the things we don't want to hear. Maryellen and I were first introduced to her at a long ago ALA conference in Atlanta where she was a keynote speaker about her first  big book Nickel and Dimed. She was angry then and she's angry now. There's a lot going on in this book but one chapter really spoke to me.

Ms. Ehrenreich had been diagnosed with breast cancer. An educated, research oriented person, she naturally went to the doctor's office with all the answers before she asked the questions. Then she got caught up in this relentlessly PINK, cheerful business (the ribbons, the hats, the tennis balls for pete's sake - even kitchen utensils) which personally drives me bonkers and trivializes the disease. Did someone forget that men get breast cancer too?

She talks about how doctors use the military metaphor for dealing with illness (we peaceniks resent that), the battle, the fight, the long haul, etc. She examines the guilt that one feels for getting ill and the subtle ways that one is made to feel that it's all their own fault when, hey, sometimes it's just the luck of the draw. But worst of all, and most damaging, is this implication that one can get better by positive thinking and that, is all the drug cocktails and radiation fail, it's somehow the patient who isn't "trying" hard enough. GRRR - This is one of the huge issues addressed by Lionel Shriver as well. Funny how when you're reading one thing it always links to another.

Lest you think, dear readers, that I'm some kind of a crank, nothing could be further from the truth! In fact, if I do say so myself, I'd guess that most people who know me would say that I have one of the sunniest dispositions around - and they'd be right. But, as Judge Judy once said, "don't pee on my leg and tell me it's raining!"

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Mystique of Steig Larsson

So what is it, will somebody tell me, about this fascination with the Steig Larsson trilogy? I've never seen customers (at the library) go so crazy for a series of novels, by a European no less, that are so full of violence and disturbing sexual images. Well, sure, there's James Patterson, but with him, you've read one, you've read 'em all. I understand that the Larsson books are at least well written. I'll find out soon enough as a friend just gave me her three books after she finished them.

I crack up when these sweet little ladies with their permed hair and sedate demeanor come in complaining that they've been waiting so long for the books. I wonder if they know what they're in for. But then, who knows, maybe they see me as that sweet little librarian who loves her work so much and would never have an inkling into my love affair with the dark side either.

A couple of weeks ago as we spent most of Saturday in the waiting room of the Florida Skin Center with all the other ex-sun worshipers, I got a real kick out of seeing what the others were reading. We all know the drill and come prepared with plenty of reading material, laptops, snacks, etc. Don was lost in his electronic chess game and I was with Obama's family in The Bridge, but looked up to see an older couple - ha! - probably our age - come in and settle in with their books. What was she reading? You guessed it. Steig Larsson.
Pretty soon the whole waiting room was in a discussion about the films vs. the books, the upcoming American version vs. the European one, and with one leading comment a room full of strangers had found a meeting of the minds. Jeezzzz - I love it when that happens!

True confessions, I did try to listen to the first in the series, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, a couple of years ago and for whatever reason - we all know sometimes its just a temporary mindset that keeps us from enjoying a certain novel at a certain time -  I just couldn't get into it. I doubt I gave it the patience that it deserved and now, having Netflixed (can that be a new verb like "googled"?) the film, I do intend to go back and read them all. Don and I watched the original European version with subtitles and plan to watch the next one soon.
Rape scenes are especially disturbing to me but I've come to love the fierce, tough gamin, Lizbeth Salander and when she gets her vengeance - well, let's just say I was ashamed of myself for the thrill of it!

Meanwhile, I had read at one of the hundreds of book blogs I subscribe to ( Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind) that there was another famous couple before Larsson and his partner (who I really hope has another novel on that laptop she refused to give up to his greedy family), who were the Swedish precursor to the Girl trilogy. Ten titles, considered masters of the police procedural, were published by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo and, wonder of wonders, my library has them all. Last night I began The Laughing Policeman and it got me from page 1. Will keep you posted.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Labor Day

Yes, the title is apropos, isn't it? Once again I've been eyeballing this novel because of the gorgeous cover art and because I've read much about the author Joyce Maynard, but had never read her work. (great interview with the author on Amazon!) I'm listening to this book and admittedly, I've been lax in my walking lately because of the ferocious heat and my new found love of my pilates video.

This novel is disturbing in a deep, visceral way that makes one recall the Stockholm Syndrome that afflicted Patty Hearst and that was handled so well in literature by Ann Patchett in Bel Canto. It's psychologically fascinating to me how easy it is to come under the spell of a person who treats us with whatever it is we're missing in life and how certain personality types are adept at sussing that out right away.

Escaped convict Frank is one of these types, deftly singling out 13 year old Henry and his mother Adele as they make one of their infrequent trips to the Pricemart in a small town in New Hampshire. Adele suffers from a worsening case of agoraphobia and relies overmuch on her young son to be her lifeline to the "real" world. Divorced and incapable of leaving home to hold any kind of meaningful work, Adele lives in a somnolent dream world, reminiscing about her past as a woman who loved to dance and style and get out in the world.

Frank has injured himself in a plunge out of a hospital window and needs to lay low over the Labor Day weekend, convincing Henry and Adele to take him home with them. Once there, Frank begins to open new worlds for both young Henry, whose self-esteem is at an all-time low, and for Adele with whom he falls in love.

Slowly, over the course of the weekend, the author unveils Frank's story, how he came to be imprisoned and plotted to make his escape, so that empathy for him is not only plausible but acceptable. This allows the reader to understand how both Henry and Adele begin to see Frank's entry into their lives as a saving grace. There's little that Frank can't do, his cooking that he learned from his grandmother, teaching Henry how to throw a ball, household chores that have gone undone for years take shape in his hands.

But the most eventful transformation is the one in Adele as she blossoms under Frank's  love and care and the renewed power of sexual fulfillment. The problem is that Henry, at 13, is also beginning to feel the power of puberty, and we can all remember how creepy we used to think it was that our parents actually "did it!" Henry is no exception and the mixed feelings of sexual jealousy, being on the outside looking in as his mom and Frank become more and more intoxicated with each other, skew his thinking to the point where he contemplates the ultimate betrayal.

This is an incredible novel that would be great fodder for book groups. The pace builds so slowly that the heart pounding worry about what's going to happen next sneaks up on readers almost without warning. As you're reading you have this constant feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop. I recommend it!

Meanwhile, Swamplandia has proven to be a delightful place to hang out for a week and my review for LJ just kind of wrote itself.  Sometimes they come so easy and other times not so much. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to it but I love the challenge. Off to work guys, have a great holiday weekend.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Lovers

Have you ever seen a book on the shelf that just screamed out to be chosen? One of the things that I absolutely love about the configuration of the reference desk at my library branch is that it sits directly across from the new book section. Not only does it make it easy for us to do double duty, shelving and answering questions as the same time, it also allows us to really examine all the scrumptious new novels that come in under the radar - the ones that don't go right back out to fill holds.

Long before the review appeared in the NYTimes book review I had spotted Vendela Vida's gorgeous little novel, The Lovers. It caught my eye for a couple of reasons, one of which is that the title has been used so many times before (one wonders why book titles aren't copyright protected) but also because of the simplicity of the cover art - the silhouette of the young boy wading into the becalmed sea - which doesn't become relevant until you're well into the book.

Upon opening the book the reader is greeted by a page of black and white intricate paisley kind of design reminiscent of Turkey where the novel takes place. These little things of beauty that a publisher accomplishes are missing to the reader of an ebook. One of the few drawbacks but, alas, there it is.

The story revolves around Yvonne, a young widow, a former school teacher, who hasn't fully mourned the death of her husband in an automobile accident back home in the states. She decides, quite courageously, to travel back to the tiny seaside town of Datca, where she and her husband spent their honeymoon. Readers understand that "you can't go home again..." and that memory has a way of being superior to reality.
This turns out to be the case as Yvonne walks the scruffy main roads, littered with trash and patrolled by stray animals. She realizes that she was blinded by love the first time she was there and that nothing is as she remembered.

In her loneliness she befriends almost anyone who will talk to her, including the spurned ex-lover of her mysterious landlord, a pair of tour boat operators, and a young boy who haunts the beach collecting shells to sell to tourists. She and Ahmet communicate using smiles and gestures while one gets the impression that she sees in him every student that she couldn't reach. Oddly, she yearns for his approval, paying him to paddle out on his surf board, scanning the ocean floor for the perfect shell.
Like many Americans Yvonne has good intentions tied up in helping this boy, but based on faulty information. When things go tragically awry, Yvonne is left to mourn once again.

The Lovers is a very unusual, haunting, spare novel. Things happen in this book that defy reality but, as a reader, I tended to just accept what Ms. Vida gave me, going with the flow. I don't normally do that. I usually talk to myself throughout a book saying "that wouldn't happen, that couldn't happen," but for some reason, the beauty of the author's prose forced me to suspend disbelief and succumb to the story.

Talk about suspending disbelief! I can't believe the wild book I just received from Library Journal for review. It appears to be a literary fantasy piece called Swamplandia and it takes place, you guessed it, in the Everglades. It doesn't appear at first glance to be anything like what I'd normally read, yet the author, Karen Russell, has accrued a daunting list of credits in her very young career so I will have to give it much credence. Eight days to read and review. Guess what I'll be doing this weekend?