Archive | October, 2012

Mayans and Magic

27 Oct

Ah I know it’s been a while since a last posted – but I HAVE been reading, I’ve also been traveling. The beginning of my continental wedding tour took me to Portland, where I spent many hours lost in the stacks at Powells – it really is amazing. I ended up buying two (used and old) books, The Moviegoer by Walker Percy and Queen Lucia by E.F. Benson. The first is the all time favorite of a past co-worker, and the second had a bit of a resurgence when Downton Abbey proved such a success. I haven’t read either yet. Here is what I HAVE been reading:

This is way outside my usual, but both of the Books on the Nightstand bloggers recommended it. It is very much a thriller – very much like Michael Crichton’s Outbreak, but with the added twist of the Mayan prophecy that the world will end on 12-21-12. The premise is that a mysterious and deadly virus begins in LA and quickly spreads…and the source can be traced to an ancient Mayan document that has just been discovered and sold on the black  market. The key to finding a cure may lie in deciphering the ancient text, so a team of scholars and doctors team up to try to beat the clock. It was good – initially I thought it was a little silly, but then I found myself at work thinking “if I can get through x amount of work, I’ll read one more short chapter.” So that’s something.

The cover on this one, I don’t love it. But. It came up on my library cue (finally) and I brought it home. A short while later, it was over. It really is a slender little book, and it was an IndieBound pick a few months ago. I have to say, I really liked it. It was like a mix of Vaclav and Lena by Haley Tanner, True Deceiver by Tove Jansson (one of my ALL TIME favorite winter books), and maybe two other things I haven’t quite nailed down yet. It is the story of a young girl who lives on an island with her parents. The island is so small, she says she can run around the whole thing in 58 minutes. They share the island with a handful of other misfits who are all seeking solace and solitude in the aftermath of the war. On the day the books begins, our narrator finds a dead boy washed up and frozen on the shore. And then we learn that her mother has “run away” – or in truth, disappeared and is assumed dead. The rest of the novel is the young girl trying to work out what happened to her mother, reminiscing about their life on the island, and ultimately deciding her future. It was really pretty good. I gave it 4/5 stars (as opposed to 3/5 for 12-21).

 

I have a large stack of things I’m eager to read – so hopefully the next post will be quicker in appearing.

 

Two True, Two Make Believe.

11 Oct

OK. I know it’s been a little while since I’ve posted – don’t think I haven’t been reading! I just haven’t found time to jot down my thoughts here. I have FOUR books to talk about tonight. And, for a nice change of pace, two of them are non-fiction. Here we go:

I loved Louise Erdrich’s last novel, Shadow Tag, though many other readers found it not-her-best. I loved the dramatic ending. And I was really excited to get to read this new one, The Round House. I read today that it is on the list of finalists for the National Book Award – and I was a little surprised. Not because I didn’t like the book, I did, just because it is kind of rough. Here is the story: the mother of a young, Native American boy is brutally attacked. He and his three best friends set out to solve the crime. Parts of it reminded me of Stephen King’s (or rather the movie version of) Stand By Me in that the boys are so very BOY. But these boys are a little rougher than the Stand By Me crew. They talk about unsavory things. And get a little perverse. So there are two aspects – the boys’ coming of age and the investigation/mystery of the mother’s attack. If you don’t mind a little of the unsavory and rough, you should read it. I am a fan of Louise Erdrich (but liked Shadow Tag better!).

There is a funny story behind Howard Anderson’s Albert of Adelaide. Or how I came to read it. I am in just the beginnings of a raucous wedding season (four in the next five weeks still left to go!) and was driving to Chicago last Friday night. On the way, I decided to catch up on episodes of this podcast called “Books on the Nightstand.” It is hosted by two Random House sales reps – and while I find one of them to be less than enthusiastic, the OTHER one makes every book sound like one I want to read. And he talked about Albert. Basically saying he didn’t want to give even one bit of it away by describing it – but that it was a book that needed to be read. The quote on the dust jacket is something about how if Cormac McCarthy had written The Wind in the Willows this would be the result. So I pulled off the highway somewhere in Iowa and googled to find the closest bookstore. I HAD to read it that night. Too bad the bookstore was closed and I had to make another detour on my way home to pick it up. And I knew that I had built it up too much in my head. Which I had. It is an adventure story about a platypus (Albert) that escapes from an Australian zoo in search of “Old Australia” where animals live free with no humans bothering them. And on his journey he meets a slew of other Outback animals and gets into a little bit of trouble. The kind of book that I’m sure is ladled with metaphor and would be perfect for a high school English class. And I can think of a handful of people who would love it. I liked it.

Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler was given to  me by a friend. It was originally published decades ago and is being brought back in this nice new package sometime soon. When she handed it to me, I said “Oh I don’t really read a lot of non-fiction!” and she said to just read it – that the chapters are short and she is upfront about what happens to all the characters she introduces. I brought it with me on my Chicago road trip, and since I was without Albert, I picked it up. And zinged through it. Trudi, the author and narrator, is an Austrian Jew and the year is 1937 (I think…maybe 1938?). She owns a hat store, travels to Paris to see the latest styles and make her purchases for the season. She is very glamourous and in the processes of divorcing a man she loves but is not in love with. Towards the beginning, she talks about meeting and falling in love with a man named Walter whom she goes on to marry. The story is probably a little similar to other Holocaust stories – the terror and fear and franticness of trying to leave the country while they still can. But my friend Susan was right – the chapters are short enough that I kept thinking “Oh I’ll just read one more. And one more…” and I did love the way she introduces a character – say one of her shop girls, or a man who helped them secure a travel permit, or a woman who always looked down her nose at Trudi – and then tells you, in the same chapter, what becomes of them. This one died in a camp, that one escaped to America, etc. I think this would be an easy sell – especially to people who loved Suite Francaise.

And here is the last one. I mentioned this earlier, but now it is OUT. After I graduated from college, I went to Denver’s Publishing Institute and Will Schwalbe was a guest speaker there – having just released a book about the art of email. Remembering him from that summer, I felt a weird sort of bond to this book, and maybe loved it more. Basically, his mother died. That’s the long and short of it, and you know it from the beginning. Heck you know it right from the title. But as she was dying, as she was in and out of the hospital for Chemo treatments, she and Will started a lovely two-person book club. Both voracious readers, they decided to read the same books at the same time and discuss them. Each chapter is about a different book that they both read, and what they thought about it and why they loved it and how it helped them cope. But that makes it sound cut and dried. And it’s not. He is a great story teller, and any lover of books will LOVE the reading list. And his mother was actually a tremendous woman, and you get to learn her life story through the course of the book too. Yes, you may cry, but if you are a reader, you should read it.