Looking back, it’s been a good year for me concerning books and reading. I’ve read some very good books in 2009 and enjoyed the time spent reading. I had total knee replacement in Dec 2008, so reading was a frequent activity for me in the first months of 2009.
The Queen’s Gambit - Walter Tevis
I didn’t know someone could write a book about someone obsessed with playing chess and that I could get interested in chess as a result. But there you have it! Tevis is a very good writer. The book is a page turner. It has one of the best opening lines in literature: Beth learned of her mother’s death from a woman with a clipboard. Highly Recommended.
The Tin Roof Blowdown - James Lee Burke
Good as usual. Set in New Orleans right as Hurricane Katrina hits and the next few weeks after. Very intense. Recommended.
The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film - Michael Ondaatje
This is a book that gets you deep into the filmmaking process -- and actually, the making of any art. Murch reveals a lot about what it’s like to edit film. The more I learn about film editors, the more respect I have of them. Plus, Ondaatje makes very fine contributions to this book. He has the role of interviewer and he asks really good questions ... plus, he talks about writing which was also very interesting. This is a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED book. Highly. It’s THE best book I’ve ever read about making art. [But I haven’t read Maya Lin’s Boundaries yet.]
Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise -- Ruth Reichl
This was a delight and very interesting. Reichl is a good good writer too. The book is about her time as a restaurant critic for the NYTimes. Plus, it’s got some quick recipes in it too. Page turner. Very quick to read. Recommended.
Seven Dials - Anne Perry
The best of Perry’s Thomas and Charlotte Pitt series. The best so far anyway. Haven’t read them all.
True Compass -- Edward Kennedy and Ron Powers
I have been thinking about this book for some time. I finished it in September. I bought it for myself for my birthday. What to say? I was satisfied and disappointed at the same time. The book got some very good reviews ... but I can't give it that. There were parts that were boring. Parts were so disheartening: his descriptions of how the Senate works were so so disheartening! No wonder very little gets done. Then there's his lack of real knowledge about how real people live. Kennedy said that he wrote about his illness to give others encouragement. Well, yeah ... if you're rich, famous, and you have the fabulous health plan that senators have, it would be encouraging. But for the rest of us regular folks -- not so much. We just do not have the resources to get the kind of care and attention that he got. We "Americans" have got to stop deluding ourselves ... is the United States really a "First World" nation? In some things, yes. We have First World advertisements and entertainment. Healthcare? No, we are way down the line. Many countries have first rate healthcare, but not us. Yes, maybe the quality of care is up there ... but part of evaluating healthcare is if it's available to you -- always. I have good insurance right now because I have a job. Ask me in 10 years how I'm doing. First World education? Only if you are very middle class or rich.
I thoroughly enjoyed his stories about his family and family history. But, how much of them were fairy tales? ... that thought kept niggling at the back of my mind. Which ruins it, don't you think? As an acquaintance said of the book: "It could be shelved in either fiction or non-fiction." Another friend suggested that The Last Lion was a better book.
His story is one of redemption. I'm glad for him. But, as you read about his life -- the joys and intense tragedies -- you really can't forget about Mary Jo Kopechne. No matter how hard you try. Ultimately, not recommended.
The Little Sleep - Paul Tremblay
Murder Mystery, Tremblay’s debut novel. Not so good. His main character -- the detective -- has narcolepsy and that is interesting. But, sadly, not recommended.
Mansfield Park - Jane Austen
I struggled with this at first ... because I was reading another book that I was interested in. But once I finished that, I concentrated all my efforts into this and really loved it. She is so subtly and brilliantly funny. And the character of Fanny Price! Such inspiration. Everyone wanted her to marry Henry Crawford and she listened to her own heart and mind and refused. Refused even though it would have been so much easier in many ways to marry him.
Slamming Open the Door - Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno
This entire book of poems is about Bonanno’s experience of losing her daughter to murder. The poems are incredible! The writing is what all poets aspire to. I had the honor to read one of these poems at my friend Patricia Edith’s opening for the exhibit of art she curated plus the publication of her book of poetry c. Patricia got Bonanno’s permission. Highly Recommended.
8 Student Nurses and Other Dead Girls - Patricia Edith
Disclaimer: Patricia is my very old and dear friend. She is one of “The Hermits” a family made up of me, my daughters, Patricia and our animals. The human Hermits go to Santa Cruz every August.
Patricia is consistently brilliant in her poetry. And I’m not just saying that because she’s my friend. I have always loved her poetry. She always tackles deep subjects and brings something new to the surface. Highly Recommended.
Old Filth - Jane Gardam
Ah ... Jane Gardam. My new favorite writer. Her writing stimulates my imagination so! I am there looking over the shoulders of her characters, smelling their smells, tasting their food, feeling their passions, loving their loves. She’s English and she’s wonderful. FILTH means “Failed in London, try Hong Kong.” And many English did just that. You’ll also read about the children of the Raj. In my most dominatrix voice (if you knew me, you’d know I’m much more vanilla when giving advice about reading), I command you to READ THIS BOOK. Highly Recommended. One caveat: Not as good as Salman Rushdie -- have you read him yet? Again, dominatrix: READ HIM FIRST!!!
Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name - Vendela Vida
Vida is a San Francisco writer. Married to Dave Eggers. They both wrote the excellent screenplay for Away We Go. This book is very interesting. Well written. Sometimes it failed me though -- but maybe that’s me. It’s set in Finland among the native people there. As I said, very interesting. And the characters are believable but unpredictable -- I love that in a movie or book. And that combination is hard to achieve. Recommended. And, I’d read her next book too. I can’t wait to see what else she writes.
Purple Hibiscus - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I had a hard time in the first third of this book because it was set in Kambili’s family’s home. Kambili is a 15 or 16 year old girl in Nigeria. Her father is a tyrant. That’s why it was so hard for me. My father was a tyrant ... and my mother’s father was one too and we lived with him for five months. So this is a charged situation for me. I kept wanting to stop on this book ... but I urged myself on. When Kambili and her brother, Jaja, stay with their aunt Ifeoma it gets a whole lot better. Wait. I should say it got better for me. The writing is consistently good throughout. There’s a lot about Catholicism vs. traditional religion in it too. Part of the father’s problem is that he has a distorted sense of what is sinful -- coming from his newly acquired Catholicism. One of the many things that’s interesting is that Kambili’s father -- who beats all of them (Kambili, Jaja, and their mother) -- is very moral and brave when it comes to fighting for his country. The country is ruled by the military and is very oppresive. Kambili’s father -- Eugene -- fights back with the newspaper he owns. And he is so generous to other people. So, the family feels very conflicted about him. I didn’t ... I hated him. He was so unbearable. That’s what made it hard to read. Recommended with reservations.
Zeitoun - Dave Eggers
You MUST read Zeitoun. Especially if you live in one of those areas -- like I do -- that can be struck by a natural disaster. Most of us do now, don’t you think? With global warming, there are more fierce hurricanes, more tornados. And just the other day I looked at an old National Geographic magazine’s map of where earthquake areas are in the world -- there’s a lot of them! And I live in the San Francisco Bay Area ... so we think about them all the time -- that is when we’re not in a state of denial.
Ms. Manitoba struggles all the time with “must” when it comes to giving advice to other people. Who am I to tell you what to do? Will you forgive me this one time? Because if you do, you will learn some important things by reading this book.
You better hope hope hope and pray (if so inclined) that you are never in a natural disaster of huge proportions like the poor folks in New Orleans were! The natural disaster parts are bad enough ... but what is far worse is the army of “helpers” who come in later: National Guard, FEMA, law enforcement from other areas. That’s when the real tragedy will happen. These people don’t know you. They’ve been told to watch for looters. And like one of the quotes in the front matter of this important book: To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Every person looks like a looter. Or a terrorist if you’re Arab or Muslim.
That's what happened to Abdulrahman Zeitoun. At the time of Katrina, he was (and still is) a citizen and successful businessman in New Orleans. Think of it: you're well-known by your community and a successful businessman -- yet, after Katrina, you are thought of as a looter and terrorist. Without any proof. No evidence whatsoever. No hearing for weeks. No phone call. The phone call. It's that special part of the U.S. judicial system: the phone call. We're taught about this all the time as children: if you're arrested, you get a phone call. The worst serial killer gets a phone call.
Don't count on it after a disaster. In a disaster with our friends from FEMA in control you become one of the Disappeared -- and yes, they are the ones in control -- and now that they are a part of Homeland Security they have even more control and an even worse attitude -- to an employee from FEMA, everyone looks like a looter and a terrorist.
And what about you, woman in your 70s -- do you really think your safe? Read about the tale of Merlene Maten. She was 73 and a diabetic. She and her husband had fled their home before the hurricane and checked into a downtown hotel thinking they would be safer there. After three days, Maten went down to their car in the parking lot next door to get some food they had in the car. She was arrested for looting. It made no sense! Yet she was arrested anyway. Folks, this is what is so striking when you read this book: the “helpers” -- law enforcement, National Guards or whatever -- do not listen to you if you are just regular folks. Remember, you’re a nobody. They don’t listen to your story ... they don’t look at the real facts: your 73 and diabetic and you’re at *your* car getting food. They don’t take the time to see if you really are checked into that hotel next door. They just arrest you.
You better hope hope hope and pray that a disaster doesn’t head your way.
We can fool ourselves sometimes into thinking that the system works pretty well. But in a disaster? Horrible consequences. Nothing works. Or, let me put it another way: it works against you. Remember, you’re a nobody. You’re not wealthy. No one will listen to you. The guy with the hammer sees you as a nail. An excerpt:
... Even if in New Orleans, this machinery was sometimes slow, or poorly engineered, generally it functioned.You come to realize too that the priorities by those “helpers” were removing people off the streets -- not matter their reasons for being on the streets -- and building enclosures to put all the people they arrested.
But now nothing worked. Or rather, every piece of machinery -- the police, the military, the prisons -- that was meant to protect people like him [Zeitoun] was devouring anyone who got close. He had long believed that the police acted in the best interests of the citiziens they served. That the military was accountable, reasonable, and was kept in check by concentric circles of regulations, laws, common sense, common decency.
But now those hopes could be put to rest.
This country was not unique. This country was fallible. Mistakes were being made. He was a mistake. In the grand scheme of the country’s blind, grasping fight against threats seen and unseen, there would be mistakes made. Innocents would be suspected. Innocents would be imprisoned.
All of this reminds me of Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine. As amazon says:
Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine advances a truly unnerving argument: historically, while people were reeling from natural disasters, wars and economic upheavals, savvy politicians and industry leaders nefariously implemented policies that would never have passed during less muddled times.
Absolute power corrupts absolutely. This is why civilian review boards are so vitally important. All policing powers must be held accountable at all times. Even more so during a disaster. There is just too much temptation for many people that when they are in a situation of power they use it to the detriment of others. I chose my words carefully: “for many people”, not all people. And when a situation is tense, you’re feeling nervous and fearful, the mind leaps. The muscles are jumpy. You overcompensate. You strike with greater force.
I want to thank Dave Eggers for writing this book -- and for all the important things he does with his abundant energy. Good stuff. Thanks. From deep down. I hadn't read any of his books before, glad I started with this one.
The writing is so very good too. The book is a page-turner. It's not depressing at all. The book has a main story -- the story about the Zeitouns -- plus lots of other very interesting stories. Although watch out! If you were mad about how folks in New Orleans were treated before -- WATCH OUT -- you're gonna be furious by the time you finish this book.
[I'm very fortunate to have bought tickets to the spring City Arts & Lecture series in San Francisco. Dave Eggers will be there with the Zeitouns! I'm very excited to see all of them.]
The Film Club - David Gilmour (not the musician)
There is nothing like becoming a parent to humble you. Especially if you’re the type of person who’s got an opinion on everything--like I do, for example. Very humbling. This is a nonfiction story about Gilmour’s attempts to stay connected with his son. His son HATES school. He’s around 15 when the book starts. Gilmour and his ex-wife, the son’s mother, agree to let his son drop out of school and not have to get a job, with certain conditions: no drugs and he has to watch three movies a week with his father. His father chooses the movies. Not all the movies are what critics would describe as “great movies.” But Gilmour picks the movies because they’re special to him in some way (and he describes why they’re special for our benefit) and he hopes they will stimulate conversation with his son. It sounds like a desperate attempt to connect ... but if you care about your kids, you often do desperate-sounding things to reach out. I don’t begrudge Gilmour that. In fact, it worked. It was brilliant.
One troubling ... and distracting thing for me was Gilmour’s drinking. And it bothered me that he was so unaware of it. I kept thinking “What kind of an example is that?” We often don’t like it that we are examples for our children to imitate. But there it is. We are.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
I know that this book needs no help from me ... people are buying it and reading it -- and enjoying it. It's a good good book. I just finished it meself and loved it. It had everything I wanted at the time. I had been watching serious things on DVD and wanted to read something that lifted my spirits but wasn't fluffy. Plus, I wanted a story set in a place very different than my own. Boy, did I get that in spades! So the setting was wonderful for me -- lots of outdoors AND it's an island ... I love oceans, rivers, lakes, creeks ... even puddles. So there you go. Yes, and I loved the characters. The story is told in a series of letters. The main character is a writer. The story moves along quickly. There are no wasted words. And the characters made me laugh out loud. What more could you ask from a book? Well ... yes, substance. There's that too. I highly recommend it.
Riding Toward Everywhere - William T. Vollman
Do many feminists like Vollman? I wondered as I read this book. I’m one. The reason I wondered is that occasionally I felt that he thought of women in a sexual sense only. But overall, there’s a realness to his writing and adventures that I admire. He is very prolific--good golly, you should see all the books he’s written! This one is about trainhopping. Like the hobos do. I have always wanted to do that. Hop a freight train. I must admit now that I’ve read this book I realize what a romantic notion was in my brain. I no longer want to do it. And, of course, it would be ridiculous for someone like me--who has just had knee replacement--to try it. His stories made me realize how many more people do it than I thought. It’s like the subterranean world of people who live in the subway tunnels under New York City.
Folks, there are so many groups of people who are mistreated in this country! Vollman talks about poor and homeless people -- a subset of all the people who hop trains. How these people are hated, passionately hated, by townsfolk.
Part of why I no longer dream of “catching out” is accidents and danger. Vollman talks plenty of both. But his stories are also laced with the best nature and travel writing.
That was the great thing about this sort of ride: breathing the air of reality. In the Gilroy country the evening smelled of garlic; later on, near Santa Barbara, the dawn would smell of anise. Freight train rides are parables. Why have we chosen to live behind walls and windows?And more:
... Reality caresses and stings! For a fact, reality kills; so does reality denied; at least when reality lays hands on me I feel it. I never want not to feel it.
Much later, near midnight, I went out again. The moon was long gone, but the entire tree was blossoming with stars.Last excerpt:
... And beside me there came more and ever more stars, brighter and whiter and clearer than I had seen in a long time. [reminds me of Manitoba] Indeed, I had forgotten the stars, as I so often will on those other nights of my life. No matter what I have accomplished and whom I have loved, how much I have lost by missing the stars for so many of my nights! And now I am grey, and who knows when I will die, and never see the stars again? Who would I have been if I could have been alongside these stars always?In the Skin of a Lion - Michael Ondaatje
Ondaatje is very good. I recommend this book because his writing is so very good, the characters are interesting, the story unpredictable. And you don’t feel like you wasted your time reading this book. I often feel this way about books lately. I’ve dropped several books after about 40 pages this year. Let’s face it, there are a lot of books that really do not deserve our attention. And I’m including the ones that are almost good books. They’re still not good enough. That’s why writing is a cold mistress. You have to work hard to woo readers. Ondaatje’s writing is the best kind of wooing. You’re not aware of it. You’re there in the character’s lives ... kind of like a ghost ... watching. Watching. Holding your breath. Rooting for certain characters. There’s a lot of the story that is about people working and what they do at their jobs. I appreciate this and it’s not boring to boot -- writers don’t write too many stories about our working lives.
Plus, past readers of this biannual exercise in documenting my reading life know that I am prejudiced -- YES I AM -- and proud of it. I am partial to books where the action is set in Canada. Our gentle neighbor to the North. (Have you ever wondered what it would be like if our Northern neighbor wasn’t so gentle?)
The story is primarily set in Toronto during the early part of the twentieth century. The characters include: a dynamiter who works for a lumber company and then in a feldspar mine, an actress, bridge builders (the Prince Edward Viaduct to be exact), a nun who falls off the bridge as it’s being built and is caught by one of the builders -- from the Balkans -- who is hanging below, “a bare-knuckle capitalist” making money from Toronto’s spurt of growth, a searcher hired by a company to find the missing capitalist, a public works commissioner, another actress -- a puppeteer -- her young daughter, and tannery workers. Here’s an excerpt:
Dye work took place in the courtyards next to the warehouse. Circular pools had been cut into the stone -- into which the men leapt waist-deep within the reds and ochres and greens, leapt in embracing the skins of recently slaughtered animals. In the round wells four-foot in diameter they heaved and stomped, ensuring the dye went solidly into the pores of the skin that had been part of a live animal the previous day. And the men stepped out in colours up to their necks, pulling wet hides out after them so it appeared they had removed the skin from their own bodies. They had leapt into different colours as if into different countriesHit Parade - Lawrence Block
Good per usual. It’s weird to have a hit man be the main character that we empathize with ... but Block is talented so we do. This book is a collection of short stories about the hit man and his “agent” who gets him the jobs.
Fun Home - Alison Bechdel
This was very good. It’s a graphic novel that weaves several stories together. One of the main two stories is about Bechdel’s father who was a very interesting man -- accomplished renovator and decorator of old houses, director of the family’s funeral home, teacher, lover of younger men. Yet, he presented himself to the world as straight straight straight. The second thread is about Bechdel growing up and how she felt around her father ... and coming out as a lesbian. How the stories loop in and out--expertly done. Highly recommended.
The Gathering - Anne Enright [didn’t finish]
This book really made me feel like a Philistine. Or is it Palestinian? I can never get those right! Must be Philistine. Yes, I’m a Philistine because I kept thinking “It won the fucking Booker award I should be really liking this.” Oh, there were many reasons why I should like it. My mother was Irish, I should like this book. The writing is good, I should like this book. (If the writing is good but a book’s not keeping your interest is it a good book? It’s one of those “If a tree falls over in a forest ...” kinda questions.) I read three quarters of the bloody book for Christ’s sake!! And then I stopped. I thought “I’m not really liking this book.” And I put it down.
Songbook - Nick Hornby
I started this book years ago. Would read a little then put it down when some other book nagged at me. So other books have interfered with this particular one. This book is based on a great concept: Hornby takes a favorite song of his and tells you why it’s his favorite. It’s a mix of music criticism and memoir because sometimes he concedes that a song may not be the best one of its genre--but it’s his favorite because it’s associated with something special that happened to him--and he tells you about that special thing. Hornby is a good writer and makes it all work. Now, in the hardback version you also got a cd that included every one of the songs he talks about. But I have the cheap paperback. You may be able to buy the cd separately. Not sure. The book is recommended. Oh, another comment: it’s not as funny as The Polysyllabic Spree or Dirt vs. Housekeeping, or Shakespeare Wrote for Money -- his book reviews. He cut his teeth on Songbook. In those last books mentioned, he let his humor blossom gloriously.
Shakespeare Wrote for Money - Nick Hornby
I LOVE HORNBY. He’s so interesting and funny. And a damn good writer too. This trilogy: The Polysyllabic Spree, Dirt vs. Housekeeping, and now Shakespeare Wrote for Money -- they’re brilliant and I’m so sad he’s not writing these reviews anymore ... I hope it’s just temporary.
... a novel I had just abandoned by a senior, highly regarded literary figure ... It wasn’t just the opacity of the prose that led me to abandon the novel, however; I didn’t like the characters who populated it much, either. They were all languidly middle class, and they drank good wine and talked about Sartre, and I didn’t want to know anything about them. This is entirely unreasonable of me, I accept that. But prejudice has to be an important part of our decision-making process when it comes to reading; otherwise, we would become overwhelmed. For months I have been refusing to read a novel that a couple of friends have been urging upon me, a novel that received wonderful reviews and got nominated for prestigious prizes. I’m sure it’s great, but I know it’s not for me: the author is posh -- posh English, which is somehow worse than posh American, even -- and he writes about posh people, and I have taken the view that life is too short to spend any time worrying about the travails of the English upper classes. If you had spent the last half century listening to the strangled vows and the unexamined, usually dim assumptions that frequently emerge from the mouths of a certain kind of Englishman, you’d feel entitled to a little bit of inverted snobbery.And yet another Excerpt:
I recently discovered that when my friend Mary has finished a book, she won’t start another for a couple of days--she wants to give her most recent reading experience a little more time to breathe, before it’s suffocated by the next. This makes sense, and it’s an entirely laudable policy, I think. Those of us who read neurotically, however--to ward off boredom, and the fear of our own ignorance, and our impending deaths--can’t afford the time.Brilliant! Describes me to a tee.
X Films: True Confessions of a Radical Filmmaker - Alex Cox [didn't finish]
Boring. Didn’t finish. He directed Repo Man and Sid & Nancy among others. He tells how he got each one made. I thought it would be interesting but it wasn’t.
The Graveyard Book (Young Adult) - Neil Gaiman
Oooooo, this was good. A novel with lots of pictures ... but not really a graphical one. I thoroughly enjoyed this one. It’s about this young boy who grows up in a graveyard and only he can see the spirits of the people who were buried there. He’s adopted by a couple who are spirits. Very interesting. He must stay in the graveyard because there is somone who will kill him (he killed the rest of the boy’s family) if he leaves the boundaries of the graveyard.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (Young Adult)
Graphical novel. Very very good. Alexie is so good at writing about pain and ... amazingly makes it funny sometimes. He’s a good writer and I recommend this book.
The following books by Anne Perry (in the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series):
Death in the Devil’s Acre
Still loving the series. Started last year.
Vive la Paris - Esme Raji Codell (Young Adult)
Interesting characters at first. Then several of them got on our nerves (my youngest daughter and myself ... I do not talk in the royal “we”.) However, I do want to recommend a book that she wrote that I read several years ago: Educating Esme: Diary of a Teacher's First Year.
After Tupac and D Foster (Newbery Honor Book, Young Adult) - Jacqueline Woodson
I loved this book! I really really wanted to be friends with the three main characters. It’s fresh! (I can see why “fresh” was such a hip word at one time.) The book is serious AND funny. Here’s my first excerpt ... the narrator is going to visit her brother in prison ... her family is all there waiting at the door:
The loudest sound in the world is the soft click of prison gates locking behind you.Writing doesn’t get any better than that.
Maybe it’s how final it is--the loud slam of the gate, then the quick, gentle click. Then the scary feeling of it all being forever.
So many gates slamming shut. So many locks clicking. One after the other until you’re all the way inside.
And the only way out is at the hands of a prison guard, who has to press a button. And turn a key. Then press another button, and turn another key. All the while staring at each of you. And you know what he’s thinking:
Remember this place good, y’all. We got a spot waiting for you.
Here’s an excerpt, hopefully it’ll give you a real taste of the liveliness of the book:
Neeka took a last sip of hot chocolate, set her cup on my dresser, then lay back on my bed, her head wrapped in one of Mama’s scarves to keep it from getting messy while she slept.
“I get it now,” she said.
“D’s cool. She’s like from another planet. The Planet of the Free.” Neeka sat up on one elbow and looked at me. “I’m gonna g to that planet one day.”
I shook my head and laughed. “We did, girl! We went tonight!”
Neeka held out her hand and I slapped it. And we laughed like we were losing our minds.
Double Identity - Margaret Peterson Maddox (Young Adult)
Very good for its age group. Page turner. Recommended. My 11-yr old recommended it to me (she doing that more and more) and I really liked it ... couldn’t put it down. And we loved talking about it afterwards. Premise of the book: What if you were approaching your 13th birthday and just found out that you had an older sister who had died ... and that you were a clone of that older sister?
a mercy - Toni Morrison
Ahhhhh ... she’s so good. Her writing produces envy in me. Her use of language takes you back in time. You’re there, you’re really there in the 1680s. To read is to enter another world--when the author is successful. An excerpt:
One chance, I thought. There is no protection but there is a difference. You stood there in those shoes and the tall man laughed and said he would take me to close the debt. I knew Senhor would not allow it. I said you. Take you, my daughter. Because I saw the tall man see you as a human child, not pieces of eight. I knelt before him. Hoping for a miracle. He said yes.A Field of Blood - Denise Mina
It was not a miracle. Bestowed by God. It was a mercy. Offered by a human. I stayed on my knees. In the dust where my heart will remain each night and every day until you understand what I know and long to tell you: to be given dominion over another is a hard thing; to wrest dominion over another is a wrong thing; to give dominion of yourself to another is a wicked thing.
This is a mystery with a very original character -- Paddy Meehan -- set in 1981. She’s working-class, Irish Catholic living in Glasgow, Scotland. She works as a “copyboy” at the Daily News. She wants desperately to be a journalist at the paper. Opportunity comes knockin’. A wee lad is kidnapped by two other young boys and is murdered. Paddy’s fiancé is related to one of the alleged killers -- an 11-year old boy brought up in an extremely neglectful family. Paddy figures things out and scoops a story. I was very interested in the depiction of the working-class Irish Catholic community that Paddy was from. I didn’t know this but massive numbers of Irish immigrated to Glasgow which contributed to the explosive growth of Roman Catholicism in the city. The story moved along very well and the characters were interesting and believable. One thing that was irritating to me -- but believable -- was Paddy’s ongoing self-criticism about eating too much and gaining weight. I have always found this boring and hard to listen to. Recommended.
The Dead Hour - Denise Mina
Another page turner by Denise Mina. Paddy is now on the night shift ... kinda like an ambulance chaser for her newspaper. She and her driver listen to the police radio and go to where the action is. Paddy writes up the stories. The story starts out with what Paddy thinks is a domestic quarrel. Like in Field of Blood, ethics and the violation of ethics is a common subject. Again, you get an inside view of working-class Irish Catholics in a particular community just outside of Glasgow. Hard times are even harder -- it’s set in 1984. There’s an extremely bad recession going on. One in three adults are on disability. Paddy has become the only adult in her family -- they all still live together -- that has a job. Recommended
Undiscovered - Debra Winger
I liked this memoir very much. I read it in one day. That’s unusual for me. It’s not a long book. I’d suggest getting it out of the library, like I did. I’ve always respected Debra Winger. She’s a good writer and I loved her drawings. She’s six years younger than I am so some of the things she writes about -- the passing of her parents, being a parent herself -- I can really relate to. Plus, she lives out in the country which is something I’ve always fantasized about and a lot of the book is about living there. Some excerpts:
The idea of fashioning myself to please men was a constant battle. Part of me loved that juicy feeling of being desired, but the attraction I felt to authenticity was far too fierce to leave me n that other place for long -- and so began a very ambivalent relationship with acting in Hollywood.
Authenticity is not a goal for the faint-hearted. I have started on this journey, and I want to continue with grace.
Ted [Kooser, the poet] once told of coming home from a radiation treatment, and as he neared his home, lined up on the fence was a sight he had never witnessed before: vultures, hunkered down, wing to wing, the length of his yard. He stopped the car, got out, and addressed them.
“Not this time, fellas.”
Betrayal can live inside of you like a poison that feeds on disappointment. It is completely useless for life in the now. It must be mined and wept about and turned into a story with a beginning and an end.***
Okay, folks, that's it. Enjoy your reading in 2010. In a week or so, I'll put out my list of books to read in 2010.