Monday, September 18, 2017

Theft By Finding

Bev's book Rule #3 - don't repeat books.  That rule exists because I am a slow, slow, slow reader and well, you know how many books call out to be read.  David Sedaris is one of the few exceptions to Rule #3.  They guy is so darn funny and someday I just need that little dose of his edgy humor.

Theft by Finding threw me off at first.  Of course I skipped the introduction, that was the problem.  If you pick up the fascinating book, read the intro.  Sedaris shares his philosophies on keeping a diary.  First, his diaries span 40 years.  Who is that anal about keeping a diary?  Second, his diaries face outward.  He documents what he sees, what he hears, what he does and with whom, but the traditional diary staples of questioning oneself, one's purpose, and the world does not figure in.  

Frankly, I am surprised that David Sedaris survived the 70's.  This guy lived what I consider a sketchy, dangerous and beyond stupid life. He had no money;  ans rather than living form paycheck to paycheck, he lived from phone call to phone call perfecting his pitch to bill collections for a sympathetic extension.  No rent money, no money to pay bills or to buy food - yet he had easy access to drugs - pot, LSD, meth, all sorts of dangerous stuff in deadly combinations and without taking a usage break.  He hitchhikes everywhere taking rides from any number of questionable characters, and he slept where ever and with whomever.  

In the intro, Sedaris tells us that he self edited this book and the entries he omitted would have made him look "evil, selfish....sensitive."   So far, this book carries no hints as the the satirical genius he would become. I have laughed only once, but don't take that to mean I don't like this book.  I do.   I will finish this volume (1977-2002) and wait impatiently for volume two.  

That one laugh? He refers to an AT'T rep who continues to call him about paying his bill a "professional scolder".

Oh, what about that title?  It's a British concept meaning that if you find something and keep it without trying to locate the rightful owner you are guilty of "theft by finding."  I haven't figured out how that relates to the book yet unless it refer to the idea that David Sedaris is telling us more about other people's lives than his own.

More on this next week unless I decide to read circle of Terror, a crime fiction piece just dropped off by author Larry Powalisz  Although he now lives in Houston he came up this way to get away from the flooding for a while).He spent over 25 years with the Milwaukee Police Department as an inner-city police officer and detective. He also served over 29 years with the United States Coast Guard as a reservist, active duty, and civilian, mainly in the capacity as a special agent with the Coast Guard Investigative Service. He earned a bachelor and master's degree in criminal justice from the University of Wisconsin. 

Book group went well on Friday night, although my teacher radar detected that  someone who had not read the book.  Because I am way too practical for my own good, I wonder why someone would bother coming to a discussion under those circumstances.  But, why not?  Maybe she didn't have time to read it and wanted to hear about the book to see if she wanted to work it into her life.  Or maybe she just likes us. 

Book group 2 meets tomorrow.  Pride and Prejudice on deck.  I had two fails with that book in the past, but this time I read carefully and intentionally.  Hopefully, I'll be able to keep up with the discussion.  We'll see. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

Grantchester...just realized I never published this post from a few weeks back.

Don't go thinking that I have given up on Pride and Prejudice and have moved on to a different book.  Actually, I am breaking my reading rule #2 (the first being Read No Books with Dogs On Cover) which is Only Read One Book at a Time.  

My copy of P & P continues to fall apart as I turn pages and keeps me wondering what speed bumps prevented me from finishing my first two attempts.  I continue to resist the urge to dig into the Spark notes friend Mary dropped off believing me to be in unspeakable literary pain.  Thank you, Mary.  Once I accepted that character converse in paragraphs, rather than in clipped give and take, I was blissfully on my way to enjoying much of the clever banter.

Now, on to Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death. It is inevitable that at some point during our discussion, that someone in book group #1 will reference something about  a PBS show - be it the architectural pastries on the baking competition, the nasty Italian married to the young rich Australian woman with the complicated family, or the latest escapade of the good Padre, Father Brown.  For a couple years now, people have been raving about - and I have been ignoring - Grantchester,  the Vicar whose dabbles with crime solving when not saving souls.  I confess, I finally caved and began watching.  Although I do not find him as swoon-worthy as some. he does have amazing shoulders.  Good plots, too.  

And wouldn't you know, the PBS show is based on a book series.  While not exactly cozies, this first book is gentle, filled with snappy dialogue to move to plot along quickly and characters just as interesting as those on PBS.  This first book is actually six short story mysteries, perfect for lazy summer reading.  I could also say they make good treadmill reading, but, even though it should, that does not take place in my world.  

In the first story, which I am partially into, Pamela Morton brings Sidney into her confidence about an affair she has been having - rather had been having since her secret lover has turned up dead at his desk.  They were planning to run off together.  How easy it must have been to run off, get lost and never be heard from again in the days before data bases, Internet and Face book!  The grieving widow, a German refugee, admits that she was aware of her husband's failings - perhaps she's the culprit?  I do enjoy the PBS show because I can usually identify the criminal and the motive rather quickly.  Makes me feel smart. 

Maybe these short mysteries will be the same and increase my self-esteem even more.

Public Service Announcement - if you haven't tried the fig and honey Triscuits, you ought to.  I love crackers, but Triscuits are generally not high on my list - too mush like sawdust.  When a member of book group #2 served them at her home with cream cheese and pepper jelly, Connie D. slipped into the kitchen and began snooping through cupboards to find out what the delightful items were.  Her not so clandestine actions were discovered, and Anna got out the box of crackers and everyone was happy.  On Friday, I had a full box here at LaDeDa which I opened to share with a hungry customer.  Gone.  They are all gone.  Really, find them.  Try them.  And if you don't like them, I'll take them off  your hands.

Thanks for stopping. by.

The Little Paris Bookshop and Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice - conquered.  Finally.  Attempt three was the charm, and, to be honest, the book charmed me as well.  I guess, as with all books, this one had to be read at just the right time in order to settle in nicely to my frame of mind.  

Even though many readers do not find Austen a challenge, I did, and so I needed to follow it with a lighter book.  I chose The Little Paris Bookshop.  

Monsieur Perdu identifies himself as a "literary apothecary". He assumes that everyone needs help for something, and upon meeting each customer in his floating riverboat bookstore, he diagnoses the malady and prescribes a book-scription.  How does he do it?  Clearly, he is an empath, something a lot of people claim to be, or desire to considered.. Empaths are highly sensitive, super intuitive folks who read people's emotions.  In Purdue's case, he asks questions,. listens to the voice as well as the response, and observes body language and facial expressions.

Like many empaths, the life has been sucked out of him by those he helps, and also by the loss of a love some twenty years before we ever meet him.  Sadly, Mr. Perdu was so removed from his own inner life that he did not take the time to unravel the truth behind why his love left him.

Fascinating premise.  Uncomplicated plot.  But I have to tell you, even though I fought with Austen, battling though the dialogue delivered in paragraphs rather than the brisker give and take that I like, speculating on whether a turn of events served as a quick and unsubstantial reversal, and trying to reconcile Regency norms with the often unRegent like behavior of her characters.....oops. this sentence has gotten away from me. Basically, what I'm trying to say is that reading these novels back to back illumined for me what a fine novelist Austen is.  Her syntax is lush but never gets sloppy.  Her themes are universal and her characters multi-faceted.  Opinionated Jane Austen.  She did not hold back when it came to issues such as women's place in society, and outdated, illogical traditions and laws. 

As a reader, Austen made me work and ...20/20...hindsight and all .... Austen won fair and square.

Teachers and students experiencing the first weeks of a new school year - have a great one.  Teach well. Learn lots.

First year retired teachers - every day is Saturday.  And when you start missing those bright eyes and the satisfaction of a successful lesson just remember your 5:30 alarm, smile, roll over and think about pouring yourself a cup of coffee any time you want.   

Monday, August 28, 2017

Brain on Fire

No matter where I was on Sunday, this book was with me.  Between canning marinara sauce, and pickles (not together, of course, and not something I will ever do again), reading on my half finished deck between raindrops (half finished is a story for another day!), and even while staring G.B. into a corner to capture her for a much needed cleaning - this book  was with me.  

Susannah Cahalan was twenty-four when two small bites appeared on her arm.  Thinking they were bed-bug bites, she dismissed them. This was the first in a long series of questionable incidents - were the bites ever really there?  Over the coming weeks, she intermittently experienced a number of puzzling and often debilitating symptoms.  Her thinking became fuzzy; she flip-flopped between depression and euphoria, and eventually, she was hospitalized in a near catatonic state.  

Weeks of tests, both invasive physical tests and challenging mental exams, led to a myriad of diagnosis, treatments,  and medications along with the looming thought that the best placement for Susannah might be in a mental institution.  

Susannah recalls much of what took place during that dark month through hospital paperwork, and the memories of family, friends and medical professionals.  She herself has little memory of the horrifying month in the hospital when, according to one doctor, her brain was on fire.

This is an intense book, and because she regains her journalist chops and writes about her struggle, we don't have to hold our breath for a positive outcome.  My only criticism with the book is that it is structured like a mystery.  I rushed to the end to learn the final diagnosis.  Had I been informed from the start, I may have read the biological and neurological information with greater intention.  Still, she handles them in understandable terms, using analogies and without talking down to her readers. 

According to the cover, a movie version is on the horizon.  I am not sure about witnessing this struggle.  I am also unsure of how the powerful, first person account can possibly be translated to a film with the same integrity and terror without becoming melodramatic.  We'll see....

Thanks for stopping by.
No post next week...Labor Day!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Random Chatter

Just some random thoughts today.....

This morning I Googled "short haircuts for fat faces" and lots of fine suggestions popped.  I gasped at the possibilities - all those high cheekbones, sunken cheeked faces staring back at me.  The possibility of a whole new face was in my future until I realized that only the hair would change, and realistically,  with a short cut, I would most likely look more like a pumpkin-head than I already do.  
Scrolling a bit more revealed the photo to the left.  I wondered, had I actually googled "short haircuts for cranky white women"?  Looked just right for me.  So, in about four hours, I will present my now unruly hair (I am nearing that awful country western singer look) to my hairdresser with a collection of pictures and tell her to have at it.  I will walk out happy, with a controlled head of hair and  the my usual angry white woman face  That hair happiness will last until tomorrow when morning reality reminds me that my hair only looks good for the few hours after leaving the salon.  It's some sort of Karma, I guess.

From the friendship file comes this little addition to reading books on my personal list, books chosen for book discussion groups, books that customers suggest I read because they want to talk about them, and books that I feel I should read to keep on top of trends (the dreadful Fifty Shades of Gray falls into that category) I am now reading (or is pre-reading?) books for friends.  Friend Nancy stated that she had head so much about Louise Penny but didn't want to invest time or money unless she had a handle on what to expect.   Would I read it for her and report back? she requested. 

 I agreed with a belligerent reply making the request appear to be a great inconvenience, although Louise Penny piqued my interest long ago. When she recently appeared on "20/20" "60 Minutes" or whatever, I decided to start her series set the  a small, fictional Canadian town of Three Pines. Never did I imagine that my reading a Louise Penny book would constitute a book emergency, but that is exactly how this scenario is materializing.  "Have you read it yet?"  was the first gentle inquiry on the progress of the Penny project.  Forgive the unintentional alliteration.  I am not a fan of funny phonics.  "No". Quickly, the demanding inquiries escalated.   Two days later...."Have you started?" "No."  "How long am I supposed to wait?"

Wait no longer, Nancy.  I have begun.  And I shall finish shortly.  This first in a series is a fast read with a compelling plot and great characters.  I will not read another one because there too many people, business and organizations have French names. for now,  that is my review of Still Life by Louise Penny  Thanks you for choosing me to be your pre-reader.

And thank YOU for stopping by.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Zookeeper's Wife

Because Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death is really a collection of six short mysteries, and because book group 2 is not scheduled to discuss Pride and Prejudice until late September, I took a break and slipped in another book from the great and growing to-be-read pile.  

In 1939 during the German occupation of Poland, Jan and Antonina ran a zoo.  Eventually, the Nazis extended their unthinkable experimentation to animals, and confiscated the best of the Zabinski's stock.  As tensions heightened and Jews were being rounded up, killed or transported to death camps, a small community came together the risk their own lives to hide as many people as they could.

A complex operation of secrecy led to at least 300 people being housed at the abandoned zoo which served as a sort of way-station until the next leg of their protected journey could be put into action.

Heading the operation, putting their lives on the line and at times compromising personal values for the good of others were Jan and Antonina.  They are among the many unsung heroes of the German occupation, like Corrie Tenboom and others whose stories only come to light for most of us through writers like Diane Ackerman.  Critics say that Ackerman wanders too far from the central story here;  for me, the side trips she took were needed to fill in gaps in my history knowledge.  

Stylistically, Ackerman is a good as ever in this offering.  She moves with ease from the dark side of war to tender depictions of the many, many persons whose lives and journeys she shares.  And the animals!  They are character as well, and the author offers them the same care and respect given to the humans.  

Worth taking a chance on.

As far a Sidney Chambers is concerned, I am totally enjoying this breezy look at the life of a vicar who works both sides of the altar.  On one hand, he deals with saving souls, finding the good in people.  In detective mode, he looks beneath the surface, considering how and why criminals turn to evil.  Fun stuff.  I have always like mysteries set in small town, be it an English village or a secluded western ranching town. No big city crime stories for me.

Pride is moving along nicely as well.  Since beginning this dance with Austen, many Austen-ites have appeared in my life to offer advice on how to conquer this book.  While I appreciate the advice, I think I am beyond the need to conquer - it really is quite a simple book.  But yes, Kris, I do know that I can look up "odd" words in a dictionary, and Kevin, I have seen the movies and know the basic plot, but will most likely watch it again.....oh, Michelle, I won't be cutting down my reading "obligation" by skipping every other chapter, but thanks for the suggestion...

...and, thanks for stopping by....

Monday, July 31, 2017

A Hit and Some Misses

As you know from last week's post, I am working my way through Pride and Prejudice.  Last week's image shows my edition held together with rubber bands; I have progressed to duct tape - evidence to all of you who doubted that I have the tenacity to finish this book that I am indeed opening it.  So far, so good...more to come next week.

Book group #1 met on Friday to discuss Truman Capote's In Cold Blood.  This was Stephanie's choice and she was a little nervous about it.  However, we had one of our best discussions ever and it got me thinking about the reading preferences of those in our group.  Since it's summer, there has been a lot of casual reading, popular picks and mysteries.  One member collects suggestions from friends and family and adds them to an impressively long Want-to-Read list. Preferences include dialogue over narrative, narrative over dialogue, unambiguous endings, reality over fantasy, gritty plot and character....I love that we're not on the same page, so to speak.

I have lost count on how many years this group has been together.  It has taken a couple different formations, but we are now a stable group.  Finally, in 2007, we began recording what we read.  At each meeting, everyone jots a thought or two on our title in a notebook.  Looking back, we have had many books that we all enjoyed.  Sadly, there have been misses...books that have just tanked and have had more than one reader fuming over the perceived wasted time.  Also sadly, many of the disliked books were my choices.  

These are some of the books that haven't flown....*'d titles were my selections

  • *West with the Night....I will forever be a champion of this book, Markham took me away with her storytelling
  • The Art of Hearing Heartbeats...framed story, predictable
  • *Vampires in the Lemon Grove....short stories each paying homage to a significant piece of literature ranging from To Kill a Mockingbird to The Communist Manifesto
  • The Life List..pretty obvious book, hits you over the head with lessons
  • *A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar..even I hated this one
  • The Lonely Polygamist and The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint - introduced me to Brady Udall. Layered. Intense.  Provocative...great characters and intelligent plots
  • *The Life of Pi - maybe being a philosophy minor helped;  first half was enlightening, the second half put all the ideas from part 1 into action.  Captivating.
  • *Valley of the Dolls - satisfying period piece
  • *The Family Fang - dark comedy, could be helpful to understand theatre people
  • Mennonite in a Little Black Dress
  • *A Reliable Wife
  • *Olive Kitteridge
  • *Star Lake Saloon and Housekeeping Cottages
  • *Chronicle of a Death Foretold
There are more, but I'm giving myself a complex and so this is where it ends.
Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Pride and Prejudice Take Three

People give me things.  Valerie gifted LaDeDa a flat screen TV and Shelly gave us the piano that frequently fills our space with offerings by little fingers curious about the sounds they can create, as well as from gifted, experienced pianists.  I have a chaise lounge with quite a theatrical history - well, I'm actually storing it for Heart-A-Rama (with full use rights).  Last week a beaded curtain was deposited here (anyone want it?) and before that several huge boxes of unwanted, used books arrived. 

 Among them was an old, barely together volume of Pride and Prejudice. Not the one you see to the left - don't recall where that one came from but it is stamped with the name of a long closed, local department store.  I also have a set of Dickens with a stamp from the same store.  The store, as far as I know, never sold books, so that got me thinking about why they had these.  I believe that some posh clothing stores (info source: years of watching Sex in the City) have comfy areas where friends and.or spouses sip wine and read European editions of magazines  while they wait while companions try on and try on and try on.  Maybe these books occupied such a space in the lovely downtown Manitowoc shop.  Or maybe they were props for a back to school display.  Better yet, perhaps the business owner, concerned not only with the financial well-being of his./her employees, offered a lending library of quality material so clerks could slip in a few comments about the Bennet sisters between discussing the differences between seamed and seamless nylons.  
At any rate, how curious is it, that my #2 book group has chosen Pride and Prejudice for our September read?  And yes, I am reading the copy held together with rubber bands.  My friend Connie is reading my most recently acquired edition, with falling out pages, and pencil notes decorating the pages, some of which appear to be in a foreign language (the notes, not the pages).  Sure, I know where to get a fresh copy, fully intact with a font size that won't blur my vision, but there is something wonderful about reading an old story from an old book. 

 To be honest, this is my third attempt at P & P.  I have faked reading it twice before - once for a library book discussion meeting, and once when #1 book group selected it.  Years of teaching speech and theatre helped me polish a variety of facial expressions indicating that I am; interested, fascinated, puzzled, annoyed, name it. The affirmative head bob - you know, just like those little dog bobbers people for some reason still have in their cars - works wonders at convincing people of so very much.

But, this time, I will read the book, cover to cover; I have already on page twenty-two.  Careful and plodding at first - needed to get used to Austen's style, which in the past I have found stuffy.  Perhaps I chose not to deal with it long enough to get into the rhythm.  My twenty-two page commitment has revealed two layered character - the parents.  What fun.  Witless and clueless mom,  a dad with lots of fancy chess moves waiting to be played.  So far, I have only met the two oldest daughter, Jane and Lizzie, and if truth be told, after watching numerous movie adaptations, I can find little use of the the three younger Bennet girls.  I realize that somewhere there lurks a zealous Janite who, having written multiple dissertations on the function of the later three, would be horrified by that statement.    Ho hum.

There's not much more to say at this point, except that, since it is now in print....I will finish this time. No faking.   I will not go to my discussion group unprepared.  

On another note...BAH HUMBUG Hallmark channel.  We do not need to be seeing promos for your week of multiple, original Christmas movies or 2017.  Shut up and let us enjoy summer.

Thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

I remain  perched upon the fence about this book.  Don't know how many more of these essays I will read, if any.  My ambivalence stems not from any negative feeling about Megan Stienstra's work, but just the opposite.  This book hits at every little moment that catches us unaware ,filling us with fear and near immobility. 

Fear.  That's the theme.  That's the word that travels through each essay - sometimes shooting like a bullet, triggering deep seated memories - other times the word crawls along and you don't notice the fear until it it too late to move out of it's way.  I'm not talking huge scary moments here.  Let me give you an example.  Last week I stopped into a local communications franchise (not naming cuz they did nothing wrong).  After forty-five minutes of trying to understand what a very patient customer service person attempted to explain, a man walked in with a fully exposed gun in a holster at his hip.  Believe or not, I have never seen a handgun before and my reaction frightened me as much as the gun itself. Nothing happened,  He just stood there looking like someone who should not have a fun.   I had to leave.

Stielstra masterfully takes us into similar experiences from her own life, paralyzing and -thank goodness - sometimes funny.  "10, Or the Little Girl Character" reveals child fears and shows us how little moments embed and may never be fully flushed.  I never thought about children's dreams before.  Now I wonder about them a lot.  Do they dream with the same intensity that adults sometime do?  Do they puzzle over them?  Can kids even determine if what they experienced was a dream or do they think it was some sort of out of sync reality?  Making a mistake.  Tornado drills.  Throwing up in school.  All small, yet we don't really understand their impact, do we?

For me, this book is more about questions than answers.  Sure, I am fearful of the same things that you all fear, but can the source of my many quirks be traced back to simple, unaddressed fears?  Not sure I want to know.  Really, I am lucky to be living in a safe, blissful spot and don't want Stielstra or anyone else digging around an untethering weird memories like that parade of goofiness midway though Macbeth.  Meta cognition,  prompted by Carlos Castaneda , and by Ira Progroff -in a beyond crazy college course where the professor expected (wanted?) to see us dramatically dissolve into tears were enough for me.  For the record, I never cried, and it was the only grad class I didn't not ace.  Instructor said I appeared distracted most days. In reality, I was trying to control my inappropriate eye rolls as she ruminated on the mistakes she made in her broken marriage, the biggest being not writing a mission statement for their relationship. Egads.  

Anyway, I guess this is one of those journey stories and hopefully by the end, after the author has dissected several deer hearts (hence the cover) dealt with poverty, motherhood, and the current White House residents, perhaps she will fell better.  As for me, I feel pretty good right now and find that my perch upon the fence suits me just fine.  However, this is work worth reading even in small bites.

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Once in a Blue Moon Lodge

Even when Lorna Lanvik writes a book that doesn't quite measure up to her other offerings, I still enjoy it.  This book is sort of choppy - let's call it episodic - and I find it hard to follow.  Three plots are in motion right now, and perhaps once I get farther into the story, they will begin to merge and all will be right with the world.

This sequel to Patty Jane's House of Curl plays with ideas of transition, uncertainty and generational secrets.  Patty Jane plans to close her business. leaving her daughter, Nora, unsure of her next move.  Nora's solution?  Road trip!  This begins the stampede of colorful characters that pop up randomly in individual episodes.

So far, the most colorful of all, grandma Ione, appears to be the catalyst for what should be an examination of past adventures - or perhaps past sins.  See, that's the thing about Lorna Landvik - her novels have light hearted titles, her characters are exploded versions of funny folks we all know, there are grin worthy moments on each page, and yet, beneath it all lies a wealth of truths about fear, loss, sadness, challenge and resilience.

I always finish her books having re-lived moments of my own life, only with a different backdrop, perhaps different music, and certainly fresh perspectives.  Some people categorize her work as chick-lit.  I would disagree. She gives us no pathetic protagonist wrestling with romance, careers, or some form of paralyzing hyper-anxiety.  Yes, she does focus on female characters, but when we meet them, they are fully realized, living in the real world, not a fictionalized jungle populated by beautiful people searching for the next big thing.

Anyway, I haven't read enough to comment fully.  Grandma Ione and Nora are about to leave for Sweden where  Ione will be reunited (for some mysterious reason) with the great love of her life and the ex-best friend who married him.

On another note...I have never read a Nero Wolf mystery and ran across Murder by the Book at a rummage sale this past weekend.  Guess what I'll be reading on the deck on Sunday afternoon?

Thanks for stopping by.