Sunday, August 31, 2014

End of summer; back to books Sunday Salon: Aug. 31, 2014

After a burst of vacation/travel reading, I slowed down mid-August. Read much of Chris Bohjalian's The Sandcastle Girls for book club, but then couldn’t attend  the meeting, as I had some family conflicts that arose. Sandcastle  was a mediocre reading experience for me – another historical novel that seemed to try hard to teach –and in this case impress with violence. The story of slaughter of Armenians by Turks, and the events at Gallipoli, need to be told an retold, but this telling didn’t engage me.
 I started Niall Williams The History of the Rain, but haven’t made great progress.
It isn’t the book; it’s me. I do best when I have long stretches of reading time or a deadline, and lately I’ve chopped my reading into such short, unsatisfying segments that I’m frustrated.   The damn internet – and all the news sites I visit  -- get in the way of good novels. I confess to a near-obsession with checking in on the corruption case of our former Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen.  The melodrama and trashiness of the testimony have had me hooked. The case has gone to the jury, so I'll soon be done with it.
 I work today, but tomorrow may devote a couple of  hours to Rain, and  hope to create enough flow to propel me.  So far, it’s a lovely, lyrical book, with multiple mid-narrative interruptions in the telling, all the more reason to read it without my own digressions to add to its own.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Here again, two weeks in a row! Sunday Salon: 8/17/14

Here again, two weeks in a row!

            I have begun a reflection/review on The Burgess Boys, but once again, I got caught up in reading and put aside my writing.  So I took a break from thinking about brothers Bob and Jim to read about completely different characters – brothers Patrick and Jack.
            I also turned from  from literary fiction,back to crime. Amazon sent me a link on what the author Michael Connelly is reading. I love Connelly’s work, so I decided to read the first book on his list, Michael Koryta’s Those Who Wish Me Dead.   Not Connelly, but good nevertheless.
           Those Who Wish Me Dead places a 14-year-old Jace Wilson in an alternative to a witness protection program after he sees two men murder another. Jace becomes Connor and joins a survival program for troubled teens in the mountains of Montana under the direction of Ethan Serbin. Along with eight or so other boys he will live in the mountains and learn to survive and, his parents believe, no one will know to follow him there.
Except the brutal Blackwell brothers somehow do and kill and hurt others along the way in their pursuit of Jace. What was to be survival school turns into a real survival situation for both instructor and teen as Jace is hunted down by calculating predators.  Along the way the brothers threaten and use a sheriff, then Ethan’s wife Allison, then Ethan to find Jace.
Two elements of Koryta’s craft standout.
            First, dialogue. The Blackstone brothers converse about Allison, then Ethan, in  the presence of each as if they weren’t there (the way not-so-professional pediatricians or teachers might talk to parents about a child while the child is present). They objectify their prey even as they show how they live in a world all their own.  The result, coupled with their brutality, is truly creepy.
 Second, Koryta’s ability to insert orienteering skills and survival lessons – how to create shelter from a plastic sheet, how to build a fire, how to think like a survivor into his story adds interesting expert information. He furthers the survival element by adding fire and a fire-fighting expert Hannah Faber, who joins Jace in his quest to escape the Blackstone brothers. 
In an ironic coincidence in my reading life, the  Blackstone brothers turn out to be the Burgess brothers.  Thomas and Michael Burgess  took on the aliases Patrick and Jack Blackstone after arriving from Australia.
            The Burgess Boys--Jim and Bob -- are much more complex and civilized (and harder to write about) than Burgess brothers Thomas and Michael, but stories of both engage me in very different ways.
            Next on reading list: Chris Bohjalian’s The Sandcastle Girls(for book group) and Niall Williams’s History of Rain (another long-listed Booker).

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Diving in: Sunday Salon: Aug. 10, 2014

Diving in:

Diving into the blogging pool.
Absent since January, I need to plunge. Head first.
What happened? Well I got wrapped up in books – long, long books. First Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, then Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries. Then Tartt’s book a second time for book club, because I couldn’t hold onto all the richness of the first read.
 Big tomes shut me up and the blog down for a bit. They seemed so much more interesting than my own thoughts.
So I’ve been reading, not writing.
What else have I read?
 Here’s a smattering.  Jo Nesbo’s The Son.  A bunch of  Robert Craig  -- Chasing Darkness, The Sentry, The Watchman, Suspect.
Back to lit fiction: Anthony Doerr’s  All the Light We Cannot See, a beautiful historical novel set in Germany and France during  and after World War II.
            Then Christina Baker Kline’s  Orphan Train for book group  (a book, which for my taste had a setting, and characters that were too shallow and simplistic. Think junior high school.)  While reading, I argued with the writer’s sense of Maine. I know Kline has lived there – but how and how much? Is she there, as I suspect, mostly on vacation?
It’s sometimes dangerous to read about places you know too well.  I asked myself am I just picky? Would any book set in Maine please? To counteract, I picked up Elizabeth Strout’s The Burgess Boys. And the answers came boomeranging back: Yes. I am picky. Yes. There are writers who understand Maine and its world as I do – only better.   Strout nail’s Maine and its people – how they attach to it and move away from it, come back to it and reflect on it. But then why shouldn’t she?
Pulitzer Prize winner for Olive Kitteridge, Strout pulls her stories  from the crimes and headlines of the recent past, and her characters from her life.   Born in Portland, educated at Bates College in Lewiston, she now makes her home in both Maine and New York City, with her husband Jim Tierney who has some  biographical details in common with her fictional characters.  She sets The Burgess Boys  in both New York City and the in  fictional Shirley Falls, Maine, a small town that closely resembles  the Durham, Lisbon Falls- Lewiston area.  Heck, Shirley Falls even has a Moxie Festival, just like the one Lisbon Falls celebrates each year.  (Moxie is a bitter Maine cola that tastes something like Dr. Pepper).
Then, in the last two weeks,  I took a long car trip  from Virginia to Maine and back. While driving I listened to books on the long list for the 2014 Man Booker Awards. On the way up, I heard Richard Powers’ Orfeo.
On the way back listened to The Siri Hustvedt’s  The Blazing World. Both are written by   geniuses.  I cannot imagine living in either’s head,  but I enjoyed lovely visits.  Both are works on and about aesthetics and culture:  Powers writes eloquently about music in last 100 years. Hustvedt explores gender and identity in the contemporary art world. Will follow up on these two later this week.

Enough for now or I will rattle on and never post.