January 14, 2011

January 2010

Thanks to everybody for coming out on a wintry night!  We jumped right in last night so I'll do the same today:

God is Not Great - Christopher Hitchens
Two for the Road - Jane and Michael Stern
Service Included - Phoebe Damrosch
Devices and Desires - P.D. James
The Holy Man - Susan Trott
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Shaffer
Life List - Olivia Gentile
The Soloist - Steve Lopez
Happy Trails Our Life Story - Dale Evans and Roy Rogers (CO-AUTHORED by JANE AND MICHAEL STERN!!!!!!)
Among Schoolchildren - Tracy Kidder
Mountains Beyond Mountains - Tracy Kidder
The Red Tent - Anita Diamant
The Queen Mother - William Shawcross
Clay Town 1954 - George Lindsay
American on Purpose - Craig Ferguson
Heat - Bill Buford
People of the Book - Geraldine Brooks
Year of Wonders - Geraldine Brooks
March - Geraldine Brooks
The movie The Reader
The movie Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Wesley the Owl - Stacey O'Brien
Dewey the Library Cat - Vicki Myron
South of Broad - Pat Conroy
The Botany of Desire - Michael Pollan (Mom's giving a book review of this at Old Woman Creek Feb. 24 at noon)
In Defense of Food - Michael Pollan

Dwight in FLA recommends digesting Alice Munro in small amounts:  Too Much Happiness and View from Castle Rock

Mary Lou in Maryland is so good with her book notes.  I love the line about the sartorially splendid dwarf:

Susan Wittig Albert writes a series of not-too-brutal mysteries set in the imaginary town of Pecan Strings in the Texas hill country.  They feature law firm rat-race escapee and herb shop entrepreneur China Bayles.   All the novels have a plant name in the title.  So far, I’ve read:
            Thyme of Death (1992)
            Witches Bane (1993)
            Rueful Death (1996)
            Love Lies Bleeding (1997)
            Chili Death (1998)

With her husband and under the pen name Robin Paige she writes a series set in Victorian England.  Some of these are:
Death at Bishop’s Keep           
Death at Gallows Green
Death at Daisy’s Folly 

From the Senior Center book exchange I recently culled two mystery novels by Cara Black.  These are for fans of Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret series.  They are set in present-day Paris and feature Aimee Leduc who, with her partner Rene Friant, runs a cyber-security agency.  Aimee is an orphan, her American mother having disappeared when she was young and her ex-policeman father having been mysteriously assassinated.  Rene is a sartorially splendid dwarf.  The characters are nicely drawn, the Paris setting is marvelous, and each book includes the appropriate street map.  So far I’ve read:
            Murder in the Marais (1999)
            Murder in the Sentier (2002)

I don’t recall anyone mentioning Tony Hillerman’s mystery series set in the Four Corners Navajo territory and featuring Navajo Tribal Policeman Joe Leaphorn.  I believe the first in the series is The Blessing Way (1970).  In later novels of this series, as Leaphorn retires, the lead shifts somewhat to Officer Jim Chee.   These strongly plotted novels provide vivid descriptions of the landscape and perceptive and respectful treatment of Navaho culture, religion, and tradition.  The last in the 18-novel series is The Shape Shifter (2006).  I haven’t read it yet.  I’d also like to read his memoir, Seldom Disappointed (2001) and there are a number of other nonfiction titles that sound interesting.  Hillerman died in 2008. 

I received some wonderful books as Christmas presents.  All of them were unfamiliar to me. They have inspired me to resolve to read fewer mystery paperbacks and more real literature this year, both fiction and nonfiction.  Below I’ve described the ones I’ve enjoyed so far.

Sherill Tippins, February House (2005).  This book tells the fascinating story of the writers and other artists who shared a Brooklyn Heights house in 1940 and ’41.  Some of the residents were Carson McCullers, W.H. Auden, Benjamin Britten, Gypsy Rose Lee (yes, the stripper), and editor George Davis.  Guests from time to time included several of Thomas Mann’s offspring, Kurt Weill, Lotte Lenya, and William Saroyan.  This was a very prolific period for these artists and the book chronicles their successes (and a few failures).  It also reveals the philosophical and psychological stress the expatriates suffered with the war news from Europe.

Alice Munro, Too Much Happiness (2009).  This is a volume of ten powerful short stories, most from the point of view of a female protagonist.  The title story is based on the life of Sophia Kovalevsky (1850 – 1891), a Russian novelist and mathematician and Europe’s first woman university professor.  All of the stories are very well crafted, with strongly delineated characters and satisfying resolutions.

Sandra Day O’Connor and H. Alan Day, Lazy B (2002).  The Lazy B is the SE Arizona cattle ranch where the Justice and her siblings grew up.  It is more the story of the ranch, its founders, owners, and workers, than an autobiography of Sandra and her brother.  It covers the period of 1880, when the ranch was established, to 1981, when Sandra was nominated to the Supreme Court.  It really is a series is vignettes, focusing on the land, the windmills and watertanks, the cattle, the cowboys, the horses, and the generations of Days who owned the ranch.  It’s not particularly well written, but it is a very interesting picture of ranch life in the last 19th and early 20th century.  Some of the photos are wonderful. 

Sarah Orne Jewett, The Country of the Pointed Firs.  Simon and Schuster have done a marvelous job of designing this 1997 edition of Jewett’s 1896 “commonplace book.”  It is handsomely bound and includes a fine collection of photographs of life and scenery of costal Maine in the late 19th century. This short novel tells the narrator’s story of her summer spent as a border in a small fishing village. The focus is on the townspeople, their ways of life, and the costal setting. The “plot” is minimal and unimportant, but the glimpses into the lives of the townspeople are compelling. 

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