Robert Grede’s first novel has all the makings of a rollicking good story. Based on the life of Sergeant George Van Norman, Grede’s great-great-grandfRobert Grede’s first novel has all the makings of a rollicking good story. Based on the life of Sergeant George Van Norman, Grede’s great-great-grandfather, The Spur & The Sash seamlessly combines fiction and fact. The facts, Grede tells us, are these: “Sergeant George Van Norman, a Yankee, was wounded in one of the last battles of the American Civil War, at Nashville (December 15th and 16th, 1864). Left behind to recover when the armies marched on, he was ordered to guard a local plantation from January to July, 1865, where he fell in love with the owner’s daughter.”
George arrives at Elm Grove, the plantation, unsettled and awkward around Southern mannerisms. When the house servant asks him, “Whom may I say is calling?” George cannot believe the formality (bordering on the ridiculous, to him) of the question. He keeps replaying the scene in his head – “Whom! Whom!” – with great wonder and amusement. Luckily, George gradually falls into the good graces of the plantation owner, a fair-minded and intelligent Judge Wilson, over talk of good soil and drinking of good whiskies.
From then on, George begins to build a new life. He falls in love with Eva, Judge Wilson’s daughter, and she with him. This alone is an immeasurable comfort, but he also befriends the Judge’s son, the main servant, Eb, and even reconnects by chance with a former Confederate soldier, Noah Turner, whom George had once released as a prisoner. Also populating the story is a villainous character named Slive, who kills, steals, and double-crosses as easily as breathing. Is it really a coincidence that his name is an anagram of “evils”? I’d guess not. Slive is responsible for truly horrific deeds, but there is also a fantastic scene in the book where he decides the best method of scaring off “squatters” is to create a monster called “Swamp Wampus” – which involves Slive running around in a sheet, his dirty work boots showing underneath, yelling “Behold the holy specter of doom!”
But not everything in the story is gunfire, horse thieves, and wandering through dark swamps. The story hinges on two main emotions: love and displacement. The first of these, of course, revolves around Eva. Eva is part Scarlett O’Hara, part Emily Dickinson. Wasp-waisted and clad in “spruce-blue velvet,” Eva spends her introductory chapters literally hidden in the attic of her father’s house, safe from unsavory soldiers and carpetbaggers. To pass the time and seek some outlet for her unsettled thoughts, Eva writes letters to her dead mother. The letters are so intimate in their honesty and admittance of fear and doubt that reading them makes you feel slightly guilty, as if you had happened upon a church and overheard someone else’s confession.
What George and Eva both see in the other is virtue, something that seems to be distinctly lacking in their world of carpetbaggers, wounded men, and utter social and political chaos. George muses, “Her beauty had not blinded him to her shortcomings, but perhaps it had to her virtues.” When their first love scene finally occurs, it is as dramatic as could be expected – “the sky opened, and the angels sighed.”
Despite the romance anchoring him to Elm Grove, George naturally struggles with the feelings of a stranger in a strange land. Ironically, he finds his answer in Judge Wilson’s words, who tells him: “Beauty is as you find it, Sergeant, a matter of philosophy and geography.” When George returns again and again to the question of “Home? What is home?”, he tells himself that perhaps, after all, it is truly “a matter of philosophy and geography.” George finds his philosophy through Eva, through Noah, through the Judge, through his own memories of his home in Wisconsin and his memories of the war. He finds his geography through breathing life back into the once grand Elm Grove, through crumbling the rich soil between his fingers and seeing the wall around the plantation grow “by rock and yard.” With this newfound sense of place, both emotional and tangible, George is able to find peace.
Grede is fond of patterns: the scenes that open on a train are sure to use the phrase “kick-kack, kick-kack” to describe the sounds of the journey. George sees the familiar soldier’s pattern of “Load-hand-tear-charge-draw-ram-return-prime-hup!” mirrored in the bending and straightening rhythm of the farmhands planting seeds. The shifting pattern of Eva’s letter-writing shows the changes in Eva herself, as she leaves behind her insular existence to join George in an unfamiliar world. The first few times we see Eva writing to her mother, she “folded the letter carefully to put away in her drawer with the others.” After she first mentions George in a letter, “she gently dabbed her quill in her ink rag and set aside her writing kit.” Further along, she hurriedly shoves a letter into the desk, “its deepening stack of letters rustling softly as she slammed the drawer.” And lastly, after Eva writes a love letter to George, she takes the stack of letters to her mother and burns them in the yard. This seems less of a violent gesture than a gentle laying-to-rest of a solace that Eva no longer needs.
Like the kick-kack of the trains, Grede’s prose rolls richly along throughout the book, carrying the story to its somewhat bewildering end. The Spur & The Sash is an utterly satisfying read, though the factual story of George and Eva ends in a less-than-satisfactory manner. Truly a masterful effort for a first novel, Grede shows complete command over his subject and his craft. Steeped in philosophy and geography, The Spur & The Sash is a memorable contribution to the sesquicentennial of the Civil War....more
The End of Country is like many other books that have surfaced in the last five or so years on the scarcity of true wilderness and the abuse of naturaThe End of Country is like many other books that have surfaced in the last five or so years on the scarcity of true wilderness and the abuse of natural resources resulting from corporate greed. Seamus McGraw’s story is frightening, even apocalyptic; after all, Nature’s resources are finite. But it needs to be told and, for many residents in Upstate New York like me, its subject is increasingly relevant.
“Hydro-fracking” is the hot topic of the Northeast and, as McGraw so emphatically expresses in his first book, anger, fear and desperation make for an explosive climate (pun intended). Whether America likes it or not, hydraulic fracturing is here to stay. We are a nation desperate to eliminate foreign dependency on fuel and yet refuse to reduce our increasingly burdensome need for energy. New sources are imminent and natural gas is slated to provide.
Rather than preaching the benefits and perils of natural gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing, McGraw shows the reader its complexity. Glimpsing into McGraw’s family history and delving into the lives of his neighbors, of landowners in Dimock, of historic oil barons and gas innovators, of geologists, and of academics, the reader pulls from the facts and figures a story about individuals who had the dumb luck to own property on top of a natural gas deposit. The Marcellus Shale brings with its wealth a lot of promises, all overshadowed by greed, reluctance, fear, and distrust. There are many players shaping Pennsylvania’s land as well as the future of American energy. There’s the geologist from Penn State that added fuel to the fire of corporate land leasing. The skeptical quarryman just trying to get by and enjoy the seclusion his wooded home offers – and that the gas companies take away. The teacher who moves to the country to build her dream house and agrees to lease her land, hoping to be on the crest of a movement towards cleaner, environmentally friendly fuel. The dozens, perhaps hundreds, of farmers on the brink of losing their land and to whom gas company money is a god-send, a payout that offers their family and future generations more time. Dozens more whose histories with the land (or lack thereof) shape their ultimate decision let the gas companies in and the drilling commenced. And yet all of them wish they did their homework and wonder if they made a mistake.
McGraw bemoans “the end of country” without passing judgment on those who, directly or indirectly, helped the drilling process along. He shows that most of the time people are struggling to make ends meet and to survive. And this survival story, the conflict between preserving the land and ensuring its conservation as gas companies drill and dig and hack away at it, is the book’s most compelling and powerful narrative. The decision to allow natural gas drilling on one’s land is not as simple as greed or environmental stewardship. There is no dichotomy, no black and white – except when a committee of landowners decides to go head-to-head with the drillers for overstepping their bounds and behaving negligently. The landscape is grey and, like the Pennsylvanian land in which the Marcellus Shale and its pockets of gas rest, there are multiple layers worth exploring. Unfortunately for McGraw and the other landowners with signed gas company leases, the ground is always shifting. Figuratively and literally.
Out of all this rich, colorful, albeit occasionally repetitive narrative, McGraw offers his reader’s one caveat to sum up the experience: make your profit but protect the land. He argues for caution, oversight and control. Allow gas companies to push the land to its limit but don’t let them destroy it as coal miners once did, damaging the land beyond repair. His wish, a soft whispering in the turn of the pages, is for fellow man to rise above corporate greed and recall the workman’s instincts that facilitated survival in a rougher, tougher, simpler time. Yes, this wish is buoyed by banal notions of America’s early pioneers. However, it is also endearing and nostalgic. It’s a wish fulfillment that in an age of $4-a-gallon fuel prices and prolonged foreign conflict is more genuine than trite. Take from the land but don’t forget to give something back – like time, respite and fertility – suggests Ken Ely, one of many landowners for whom McGraw creates a heroic persona.
McGraw’s project, from the very beginning, is educational. Smart decisions need to be made and the environment needs to be safeguarded. The impression is sad but realistic: make the most of a bad situation. Along the lines of that “old saw” in farm neighborhoods of his family’s, McGraw counsels, “It’s not how hard of a punch you can throw, it’s how hard of a punch you can take.”
McGraw wants Americans to take a gut-busting punch. And then get up, wheezing, to labor and toil once more so that there is something to pass on to the next generation. Wholeheartedly, I agree....more
Young adult fiction is not a genre I generally seek out, given my lack of interest in vampires or teen romance. Something like Hope (Delacorte Press/RYoung adult fiction is not a genre I generally seek out, given my lack of interest in vampires or teen romance. Something like Hope (Delacorte Press/Random House) is not what I expected of teen fiction. It's a haunting story of Shavonne, who has been in "juvie" all her teenage years. Based on Shawn Goodman's own experiences working within New York State juvenile detention facilities, it's a coming of age story that breaks your heart open to the possibility of hope for someone who has had the cards stacked against her. The antics of abusive guards and careless counselors give the reader an unflinchingly honest and realistic look inside these institutions which beg for juvenile justice reform.
It's the voice of Shavonne which resonates. Angry and confused by what has happened to her, Shavonne lashes out in violence against those who come close to her secrets. As her 18th birthday approaches with imminent release into a harsh world, she begins to open up to a sad-eyed middle-aged white male counselor. He lets her come to terms with giving birth to a baby delivered straight into the system and her own crack-head mother who deserted her. He lets her see it isn't her fault; but what comes next for her will be of her own choosing. He lets her discover these things herself.
The connections between her low self-esteem and self-destructive path lead her to the weight of guilt from the secret she keeps. The guilt she has carried for the role she played in her brother's childhood accident builds like emotional thunderclouds. Letting go of the blame and shame for not being a mother to her brother, or a mother to her own infant, is only possible when she begins to recognize she has been a motherless child. Only now is she becoming an adult and will be responsible for her own self from now on and Shavonne discovers something like hope. ...more
Leslie Daniels is a great writer whose background as a literary agent serves her well in her craft.
Romance, baseball, a dog, small town upstate cultuLeslie Daniels is a great writer whose background as a literary agent serves her well in her craft.
Romance, baseball, a dog, small town upstate culture, crime, memoir/creative nonfiction, writing and authors and agents: women's fiction has a fresh new voice. Daniels mixes it all up so there's something for everyone. Plus humor, sardonic and ironic.
Walking away from a marriage because you don't know the proper way to load a dishwasher, the narrator beings the story with losing custody of her kids. Leslie Daniels weaves a tale without pity and applies the book business lessons from Lolita which Nabokov wrote while living in the house in Ithaca, NY where Leslie Daniels lives.
I have only one wish about this book. The fictional name of our community as Onkwedo stinks. This seems too opaque when I live here. Perhaps this is the urbane Leslie who feels at home in the rush of pedestrian street traffic. Everyone who knows Nabokov is hip to Ithaca. And Ithaca has its own character, somewhere between Buck County and Fargo. When a novel's setting is in New York City, the author generally doesn't fictionalize it as New Jerk. I say this only because I think she's captured Ithaca's spirit ...light, dark, and shadows. Red. Not yellow and green. This town bleeds Red and the undercurrents implicating Cornell, not Waindell University, in the plot are as literary and sophisticated in nuance as Nabokov's Pnin, which my local reading group enjoyed reading a year ago. I just think Ithaca is such a book town that Ithaca could have worked more for her than against in the literary success of the book.
In an interview with Tish Pearlman on the radio program, Out of Bounds, WEOS-FM (March 3, 2011), Leslie Daniels talked about the importance of her writing group to building the book. Her colleagues fell in love with the character of Barb Barrett and Leslie wasn't writing fast enough to satisfy their interest and enthusiasm. Writers need writer friends who push them forward.
Barbara Barrett is a character like Nancy Botwin (played by Mary Louise Parker) in the off-beat black comedy television series, Weeds. Caught up in the maelstorm of becoming a single mother, both Nancy Botwin and Barbara Barrett take risks to become self-reliant and the leader of their family pack. The journey of Barbara Barrett is more compelling; Nancy Botwin just keeps making one bad decision after another. Barbara learns and grows and becomes your best friend by the end of this page-turner breakout novel.
Part Ann Tyler and part Alison Lurie; Weeds meets Cougar Town. The journey to live an authentic life is one gathered up from the scattered pieces of a shattered life. And you're laughing with her as she cleans house.
Once I started this, I couldn't do anything else. It was a one sitting read; about 8 hours of reading pleasure. Alison Lurie, Janet Fitch, and Dorothy Allison provide glowing blurbs; among other great endorsements from the literary world good writers inhabit. My true test of how good a book is by how dirty my house gets while I'm caught up in a good story. Let's just say I hired someone to help with housework this week!
Leslie's opening lines draw you in and won't let you go.
"I knew I would stay in this town when I found the blue enamel pot floating in the lake. The pot led me to the house, the house led me to the book, the book to the lawyer, the lawyer to the whorehouse, the whorehouse to science, and from science I joined the world." ...more
Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry previously published much of this how-to guidebook as Putting Your Passion Into Print, but in the last five yeaArielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry previously published much of this how-to guidebook as Putting Your Passion Into Print, but in the last five years the game has changed; and so has the role of the author in the book publishing business. This is the most current and relevant set of guideposts in the environment of social media and book publishing.
What I really like about this new reference text is that it tells authors what is now expected of them in this whole new ballgame. It answers the question many authors ask: why should I blog? Do I need an agent? How do I prepare a book proposal?
Much more is now expected of authors by publishers. This guidebook helps an author navigate the landscape of the shifting sands in publishing today. Being an author today requires more than writing the manuscript. You need to create the market demand for your book and you need to fill that demand by using social media and other digital channels to sell it to your audience.
Most important, this book helps you figure out how serious you really are about publishing your book. It's a full time job. And it's a job that requires a lot of computer savvy, a selling personality, and time BESIDES brilliant writing talent.
As a book development editor with Swenson Book Development, I encourage my new clients to read this guidebook before we begin work on their book projects. It serves to validate the challlenges and opportunities the current state of book publishing presents to authors. More importantly, the book creates an increased market demand for author services no longer filled by traditional publishing houses yet essential to the success of a book in the marketplace today.
The dirty little secret that publishers are less successful than authors at selling books is out in the open and this book is essential to authors who want their books to be bought and read. Essential. ...more
The 20th anniversity edition of this Writer's Digest Book seems a bit leaner than in previous years; despite new articles, hundreds of listings for wrThe 20th anniversity edition of this Writer's Digest Book seems a bit leaner than in previous years; despite new articles, hundreds of listings for writers' conferences, and fresh material on this rapidly changing business. Nearly a third of the book is dedicated to how-to and background information for authors on finding the right agent for your work. The second third of the reference guide offers 550 updated listings for literary agents. The last third is a specialty index for those who use it as a business tool for handy reference.
Chuck Sambuchino is the editor of this 20th edition of 2011 Guide to Literary Agents. He's built a career on helping authors find the right agent.
What I like about this book is how useful it is to someone just dreaming of becoming an author and to veteran professional writers. It lets novices know what to expect of an agent, and what is expected of writers to prepare for literary representation.
Most publishers now only accept manuscripts from agents. (The exceptions to this generalization are found largely in non-fiction trade small and independent publishers.) No unsolicited manuscripts is a constant refrain new writers hear. This guidebook offers an author the necessary background to understand the role of an agent and what they will do for an author.
The Softcover price of the book includes acess to a free online seminar on how to use the tools in this book to get an agent, a searchable online database of the listings in the book, and a free digital download of Writer's Yearbook 2011 which I read cover to cover.
As a book development editor with Swenson Book Development LLC, this reference guide is always within arm's reach....more
Mars is far. Kessler's ability to make astrophysics comprehensible to an eighth grade girl and get her to giggle is the geek appeal. Spending a summerMars is far. Kessler's ability to make astrophysics comprehensible to an eighth grade girl and get her to giggle is the geek appeal. Spending a summer inside mission control in Tucson brings home the fact that Mars is truly distant.
A sol is a Martian day. It's a couple hours and some minutes longer than a day on Earth. Hence the plot of sleep deprivation and science stirred together and shaken. Kessler's own experiences with time-shifting and its physiological, emotional and professional impact are documented in a way Hunter Thompson might admire.
Digging for Regolith, the word for Martian dirt, is part of the mission. The objective is to determine whether Mars has water. The execution of these tasks by teams of NASA scientists is about as action packed as watching paint dry on the wall. Kessler keeps the reader turning the page nonetheless with his wacky way of connecting the reader to the science in pursuit of a discovery. Arcade games, household cleaning products, even anti-freeze are ways in which Kessler demystifies the discovery of water on Mars.
In the process of sharing his fly-on-the-wall observations, the scientists become humans and a few heroes; all of them characters you grow to know and care about. It's the best evidence NASA presents for continued funding of the US Space Program. ...more
For anyone who has ever turned their eyes to the sky and pondered, this story of the 1807 Weston Fall offers a full and fasincating account of how earFor anyone who has ever turned their eyes to the sky and pondered, this story of the 1807 Weston Fall offers a full and fasincating account of how early Americans reacted to a magnificent meteorite. The responses and reactions of those who witnessed this event are chronicled by Cathryn Prince in this meticulously researched book. Across time and culture, Prince reports on humans' responses and rationalizations to meteorites -- thunder stones -- and offers the kind of contextualization needed to make sense of the national controversy which ensued in 1807.
The Professor is Benjamin Silliman, with a calling to become Yale's missionary for American Science. The President is Thomas Jefferson who mocks the Yankee who would consider the meteor anything less than an act of God. You can see through the array of factual evidence, the seeds for the split between south and north that brought the nation into civil war 40 years later. The "you are there" feel to the story makes it a joy to read as history comes back to life; the specificity and details of everyday life in 1807 give depth to the characters and actions. Science, in its origins, began with space exploration and this historical connection is compelling.
Described in the subtitle as "a travel guide for the modern blogger," Suzanne Stefanac's book is worth reading whether you are a blogger or not. ThisDescribed in the subtitle as "a travel guide for the modern blogger," Suzanne Stefanac's book is worth reading whether you are a blogger or not. This is not so much a how-to book as it is a why-to-blog book.
The first two chapters offer a new take on the history of communications. And the book really begins with the introduction of the internet as radicalizing the way communications occur. Instead of pushing messages (from advertising to propaganda), the shift is to pull the audience to the message. Instead of one-to-many or one-to-one channels of communication, the shift is toward many-to-many channels. The blogosphere is the heart of the many-to-many messages.
Stefanac provides a layout of the landscape in her explanation of the blogosphere. Even though the book was published in 2006 and some things have changed, her insights into the culture still ring true. Technorati is no longer the only major search engine for blogs, for example. Google, Yahoo, Bing, and most others now include blogs in their search engine results. Such changes confirm how spot-on Stefanac is about the democratization of media. With a common sensical approach she addresses issues of trust, privacy, security, and legal safeguards. Yet its reading about the power of collaborative discourse -- many-to-many conversations -- that gets to the heart of blogging.
There are so many basics to blogging covered in this book I can highly recommend it to anyone who wants to understand this new social media phenomena. People all over the world upload more than a million new blog posts every day. Every day. News blogs are written by citizen journalists and professional reporters. Food blogs by farmers, grocery stores, chefs, home cooks, foodies, gardeners, upscale food magazines, food manufacturers, product advertisers, etc.
Blogs as diaries. Blogs as clubhouses. Blogs as news feeds. Blogs as soapboxes.
Stefanac takes the blogger on a road tour. She gives the reader driving instructions but most importantly takes them under the hood of the car to explain how the search engines work. And how to check our own fluids, tire pressure and lights. It's a handy desk reference for a seasoned blogger and a wonderful place to start for someone who is new to blogging....more
Women's Painted Furniture, 1790-1830: American Schoolgirl Art by Betsy Krieg Salm (University Press of New England, 2010) is a treasure and keepsake.Women's Painted Furniture, 1790-1830: American Schoolgirl Art by Betsy Krieg Salm (University Press of New England, 2010) is a treasure and keepsake. Between the late 1700s and 1830 American Schoolgirls accomplished watercolor paintings on fine wooden pieces that are together valuable antiques and a pathway to our past. Discover the long lost art of painting on wood by American Schoolgirl Artisans in the earliest days of the nation. Emily Dickinson's paternal aunt Lucretia, Harriet and Catherine Beecher, and the daughters of some of New England's most famous families were artisans of women's painted furniture. This lost art and the history of its students and practitioners is an amazing untold tale of women's education. Abigail Adams' writings look less radical against the recovered history of women's education. The roots to America's rural Female Academies and Eastern seaboard Women's Colleges are bound together by its focus on this art and its instruction.
Betsy Krieg Salm is an artist who creates historical reproductions of these early American pieces. In her book she shares her recipes, techniques, historical sources and the provenance for the never-published-before photographed items, originals, and her reproductions.
This is a book to enjoy during the end of winter. It is filled with the whimsy of young girls' paintings filled with flowers and insects, animals and scenic summer views. It makes you want to go through it with your daughter just so she sees what young girls accomplished under instruction more than 200 years ago. See if you can cultivate the artist in a young woman today: share this book and celebrate the contributions to history of women worldwide....more
When you don't want a book to end, you know it's one you can recommend to friends. Heather Lende's 2010 book, subtitled "Family, Friendships, and FaitWhen you don't want a book to end, you know it's one you can recommend to friends. Heather Lende's 2010 book, subtitled "Family, Friendships, and Faith in Small-Town Alaska," is a heart-warming memoir.
"Part Annie Dillard, Part Anne Lamott" is the back cover description to this entertaining and enthralling depiction of real people struggling with real world issues as they stay true to living life on the edge of survival, much less civilization, in a small town in Alaska. Part Northern Exposure, part Prairie Home Companion might be a better description of the narrative of Heather Lende's Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs. The author of If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name put Haines, Alaska, on the literary map, and this book makes it a place you'll want to revisit.
Heather Lende writes the obituaries for the local newspaper in her small Alaskan community and her Hospice work is a natural extension of her job. But it's her own brush with mortality that keeps her writing real and fresh.
She suffered a traumatic bike inury just as her first book launched. She also lost her mother soon after, whose last real message to her living survivors offers us the title to her new book. Lende's mother fought off an impending death for years and, without sharing any final words, left her wondering what her mother would have wanted to say. Take good care of the garden and the dogs becomes her tag line for coming to terms with life's bad breaks and unanticipated turns. Heather doesn't just inspire, she conspires. This gifted writer invites the reader to engage in creating connections and community through the process of grief and mourning. She divides the world into "those" people: those who have experienced suffering from the loss of a loved one and those who will.
Lende weaves her life lessons into everyday Alaskan adventures. The totem poles, Ttlingit friends, the almost annual Blessing of the Fleet, snowshoeing, new community health center and Episcopalian congregation make for a window into a part of America that is honest, unadorned and profound....more
My neighbor Cathy lent me her copy of Cesar Millan's book, Cesar's Way: The Natural Everday Guide to Understanding & Correcting Common Dog ProblemMy neighbor Cathy lent me her copy of Cesar Millan's book, Cesar's Way: The Natural Everday Guide to Understanding & Correcting Common Dog Problems. She insisted I borrow it. "Lucy owns you. You don't own Lucy," Cathy told me. She described my female Dalmatian's dominant behavior in my "pack", which is Cesar's way of speaking about households with dogs.
A friend years ago recommended watching The Dog Whisperer starring Cesar Millan on the National Geographic Channel. I don't have a television and have never seen this charismatic TV character. What I gather now after reading this self-made national dog expert's book is that most of his charisma is derived from his own personality. It doesn't shine through in the book. Yes, it's a New York Times bestseller and it has a million copies sold but it is not very well written. There's too little advice for someone like me who has lived nearly half a century with dogs as part of my everyday experience.
Lucy is an alpha from birth, smart and headstrong. Reading about how to handle such natural born leaders from Cesar Millan described Lucy; how she has needed to be led, challenged, and demands so much more from me. And like many of the famous celebrity clients...from Oprah to Will Smith...Cesar challenges you to be your best pack leader. Get behind Lucy, Cesar.
I didn't get my real diagnosis until almost the end of the book. There on p. 267 is a key sentence for me and Lucy and Scooby and our pack. "There are no strong pack leaders in a home in mourning." Lucy is a daddy's girl and daddy is gone. Mourning is still in process, although I know I am called upon now to be a stronger pack leader.
Cesar's suggestion of walking your dog longer and more often is a good one. Wearing them out and running down their internal batteries is Cesar's way of being the best master of your dogs. I wish I could run or walk four or more hours a day with dogs in the hills of Los Angeles.
With all the common sense advice he packs in his book, those fans who watch his television show have a handy reference. Cesar Millan has built a platform for a book from his viewing audience. It doesn't have to be written all that well.
Melissa Jo Peltier is Cesar's ghostwriter and she's at least given credit on the cover of the book. Yet the voice throughout is that of Cesar's. And he says a lot of the same things over and over again. Did I say this was a quick read? No; not really. It's a long and painful read.
The brand identity of Cesar Millan sells his video tutorials and lesson plans and private sessions. He's not writing books. He's selling leashes and dog toys and has a website and a newsletter. He's building a corporate empire based on the millions of dog owners north of the Mexican border. Cesar's rags to riches story of immigration is a bit sketchy and he waxes over things by name dropping the rich and famous with dog issues. He also pulls the heart strings by his case studies of rescued dogs and their rehabilitation in a pack.
It's not really a book about how to train your dog. But how to let your dog be more of a dog and healthier, happier and more balanced as a result. Ultimately it's not about changing your dog's behavior; it's changing your own. Dogs follow....more
The past never goes anywhere. It is with us always. In the culture of the "now" we risk losing out on the transformative power of recollecting that whThe past never goes anywhere. It is with us always. In the culture of the "now" we risk losing out on the transformative power of recollecting that which has passed away. Reflecting upon personal gains and losses through the lenses of accumulated experience and knowledge guides one towards a more meaningful life. Ignoring the past is folly.
Know where you've been to get where you're going. A new book by John P. Schuster, author of Answering Your Call, offers readers a guide to discovering how your past can be an asset not a liability. The Power of Your Past: The Art of Recalling, Reclaiming, and Recasting is published by Barrett Koehler, a leader in the industry dedicated to creating a world that works for all.
John P. Schuster is a principal of the Schuster Kane Alliance, Inc. He serves on the faculty for the coaching programs at Columbia University and the Hudson Institute of Santa Barbara. With real-world examples, anecdotes, and empirical evidence, Schuster shows readers how to reclaim positive past experiences to guide our future and to reinterpret and recast negative memories in light of life's lessons.
Contemporary culture places emphasis on the now at the expense of the past and the future. The failure to learn from our mistakes and extend the lessons from our successes is how and why we get "stuck" in our lives. Living in the moment becomes cliché if one merely becomes detached from the past and the future. The danger is a pervasive form of amnesia where we lose sight of who we are and our purpose in this life.
Schuster's model of self-examination requires a reflection upon those influences which evoked or compressed your identity and life story. What things in your experiences brought out more of who you really are as a person? Who or what forces compelled you to diminish aspects of who you are? The answers lead one to rethink one's current status and act in accordance with such revelations.
It is the last chapter of this very deep book that I found most compelling. "Using Suffering to Grow," is a means of honoring the past and requires hard work in processing loss and grief.
"When absorbing the sadness of the loss, we must concentrate on bad guys to demonize, or black holes of sympathy in which we get to play the cosmic victim of terrible circumstances. Demonizing and victimizing are the sources of those stories in which we can get so woefully stuck," (p. 182). Schuster's writing for leaders in business and management, policy and finance, education and law draws upon the readers' hearts as much as their minds.
"The suffering that started off challenging our being and our ideas of what life is and should be ends up opening our heart, expanding our identity, and connecting us forever to the human family and life" (p. 184). The power of the past is the redemption found in reconciling previous experiences with how and why it brought one to the present, to the "now."
History never goes anywhere. We can always look back for the answers to our future....more
I wanted to read something I hadn't read before and didn't already know as a fan of Willa Cather's writing. Call it the intellectual stretch. The ProfI wanted to read something I hadn't read before and didn't already know as a fan of Willa Cather's writing. Call it the intellectual stretch. The Professor's House (1925) is a short book with only three chapters. Now that I read the book I recognize it as three pieces written separate and apart from one another.
The second chapter, "Tom Outland's Story," stood alone for many years as an unfinished work. Today it would stand alone as a captivating short story about the Southwest during the frontier days. Thirty six pages long, this voice is Willa Cather at her storytelling best. It's the story of two young men and their archeological discovery on a mesa. A man's story: friendship, adventure, betrayal and loss. It's a masterpiece of description for a time and a place; the reader is dropped into the middle of the frontier prairie landscape and its human scenery.
The first and third chapters are wraparounds. Seventy pages of narration about the professor and his family and circumstances related to Tom Outland's premature death build up to the revelation in Chapter Two. The third chapter is only thirteen pages long and yet it's where all the plot lines pull together.
The narrative premise pulling these three pieces, written at different times, is that a professor doesn't like the direction his life has taken. Due to circumstances, Professor Godfrey St. Peter has come into more comfortable circumstances as a result of his daughter's inheritance from Tom Outland, her fiancée, and his own writing and publishing success as a scholar. His wife, Lillian, also receives a small inheritance check every month from her family and has sustained all appearances of class for his insignificant income as a college professor.
The professor and his wife Lillian have two daughters; and now two son-in-laws. His own position with regards to his own family as he faces his 50s is at stake. His wife moves into their new house, but he decides to keep his old study in the rackety-trap attic in the old house. He's stuck. He's stuck because of what transpired with Tom Outland. There is mention of a patent and his invention as a student there in the college; the professor and his family had taken Tom in as an unschooled youth and he proved a scientific genius. The exact financials are kept rather discretely; implications are that it makes the professor quite uncomfortable.
The professor won't accompany his family on their trip to Europe for the summer. He spends it in the old house in his study doing as he pleases for the first time since his youth. Seeing Lillian fall in fondness with their sons-in-law, he recognizes he has long ago fallen out of love with his wife.
He finds in the seamstress a confidante over all the years they shared the attic for their "work." She is never sexualized, but throughout the first and third chapters she is the female heroine to the professor. Augusta is St. Peter's rock.
In the third and final chapter, the Professor finally falls prey to the dangers of his woodstove and the weather in his attic. He collapsed into a sleeping stupor in the midst of a rain storm after spending the afternoon and evening contemplating the meaningless of his family relations and career; carbon monoxide filled the room. He welcomed the easy escape, before Augusta rescues him just in time for his family to arrive home from Europe.
Perhaps this felt like a cob job because I bought a crappy paperback edition. The corrupted fonts resulted in a variety of typos and pages 68-72 were duplicated passages. Something tipped me off that the narrative flow was more than a little contrived. It isn't Cather's best novel. Novella is even a stretch. Triptych maybe.
I take some solace in seeing one of my heroines trying to make a living wage from her work. Like many writers, pieces and fragments of our best work lie outside that which is easily marketable. This shows she tried to take one of her gems and work it into a fine piece of jewelry; didn't quite work, but the gem is apart from its setting. And you see how the stone is distinct from the steel. As a reader and a writer I liked looking at more of her writing and career as I see how hard it remains to make a living at this craft of writing....more
Pick Hall 213. No nameplate on the wooden door along the dark concrete hallway. I knocked. And waited. I could hear low level conversation going on bePick Hall 213. No nameplate on the wooden door along the dark concrete hallway. I knocked. And waited. I could hear low level conversation going on behind the door and the rustling of papers. I knocked again. I could hear footsteps approach the door. "Can I help you?" asked the head of a graduate student peering out the door opened only a crack.
"I'm looking for Marvin Zonis. Is this his office?"
"Yes. Do you have an appointment?" The crack in the door did not widen.
"Do I need one? Isn't this when he has office hours? How do I make an appointment?" I fumbled for words. As a new student at The University of Chicago, a naïve young white girl from Wisconsin, I let myself be intimidated. Behind this door was someone hard at work on questions that mattered in the real world. I wanted to be part of that; so I kept showing up at office hours in the fall of 1980 until my persistence paid off with a graduate research assistantship working with Marvin Zonis.
The following September, it would be my blond head that popped out that door when new students knocked. Inside that office, bookshelves lined three walls and the fourth wall of windows looked out onto the Quad, the lush green campus of Hyde Park. Persian rugs on the floor, lamps on the desk and filing cabinet, plants everywhere; this is where I began thinking about the impact of local culture on larger political and economic forces and vice versa. Marvin and his research assistants spread out newspapers, government documents, notes, and ideas across a large wooden seminar table. The conversations held inside Pick 213 changed forever my understanding of how the world works.
Starting with the Iranian revolution and the overthrow of the Shah, Marvin Zonis has been a trusted voice of reason in the analysis of political stability, regime change and U.S. foreign policy. Zonis appeared almost every night for several years in the early 1980s on a television news special called, "America Held Hostage," that became "Nightline." His message: political stability and economic growth are usually determined at the local level. Despite all the theories of modernization, westernization and globalization, Marvin Zonis compiled thirty years of real life case studies where local institutions, local leadership and local circumstances affect outside forces of change rather than are affected by them.
Risk Rules: How Local Politics Threaten the Global Economy by Marvin Zonis, Dan Lefkovitz, Sam Wilkin and Joseph Yackley (Agate Publishing) was just released on April 1st, 2011. This new book demonstrates how the recent overthrow of Mubarak in Egypt, uprisings in Tunis and Yemen, the global recession triggered by the U.S. credit crisis in 2008 and the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Libya, are results of the failure to understand the political economies of different countries and cultures. Somebody should lend a copy of Risk Rules to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.
Risk Rules is "[A] must-read for all the architects of American policy, those who seek to replace them, and all Americans who will have to deal with the consequences of their policies," according to Ted Koppel. Zonis has provided consulting services to companies, policymakers, investors, voters, and others whose lives and finances are affected by distant world events. This book sets forth fifteen main principles of how countries work. The powerful, intuitive, and practical framework for understanding international development on the ground is an intellectual achievement of merit. Marvin Zonis, professor emeritus of international political economy at The University of Chicago Booth School of Business is the author of The Eastern European Opportunity and Majestic Failure: The Fall of the Shah. He and his coauthors published an earlier version of this model for risk assessment based on understanding local culture in Kimche Matters (Agate 2005). This new book provides evidence of the model's utility for understanding contemporary events and those looming on tomorrow's horizon. ...more
Phillip Meyer's 2010 novel is a haunting reflection of contemporary America. The senselessness of violence is a theme that permeates the plot. Just asPhillip Meyer's 2010 novel is a haunting reflection of contemporary America. The senselessness of violence is a theme that permeates the plot. Just as I finished it, Loughner went ballistic in Arizona and suddenly this work of fiction offers a mirror into our nation's mental health. When life means nothing, death means nothing more.
Set in a small factory town in Pennsylvania, the characters come to life and I recognize my neighbors and friends and community in the depressing state of affairs. The deep characters' problems resonate outside the steel industry woes; these people lived through the de-industrialization of our nation in complicated family situations.
Billy Poe played high school football and excelled at that alone. Isaac English, Poe's friend, is small and bookish. But like Poe, after graduation from high school Isaac simply drifted. He was left to care for his father -- disabled from an injury in the factory -- after his mother committed suicide and his sister, Lee, escaped to Yale.
Isaac makes a plan for his big escape. He steals $4,000 in cash from his father and hooks up with Billy Poe to escape this hometown of hopelessness. Before they are even out of town they run into a trio of "bums" who challenge them for their shelter against the rain. Isaac runs for it but Billy Poe can't walk away from a fight. Before he knows it, Poe has a knife at his throat. Isaac returns when he realizes he's left Billy behind in danger. He sees Billy under assault and picks up a rock and hurls it. Much to his surprise at his own strength under the influence of adrenaline, the bum is dead. The Swede, they called him.
Meyer's epigraph is written by another old Swede, Soren Kierkegaard: "If there were not eternal consciousness in a man...if an unfathomable, insatiable emptiness lay hid beneath everythng, what would life be but despair?"
Nihilism, for Soren Kierkegaard, is the leveling effect of society. It's the suppression of individuality by social forces to the point where the self disappears. Nihilism isn't the same as anarchy. It's more the philosophy of nothingness rather than the senseless destruction resulting from holding such a world view. Nietzsche is perhaps better known than the old Swede for his political writings about nihilism. Nietzsche realized that the impulses toward senseless destruction result from a life without meaning. Nihilism is the belief that there is no point to existence. Moral nihilism is when no action is judged as inherently right or wrong. Killing, for example, isn't right or wrong. Existential nihilism is the belief that life has no intrinsic meaning or value. This makes for a heady mix of themes in a small town crime story. Epistemological nihilism is that pervasive skepticism in our society in which facts and knowledge can simply be denied. I'm not talking about a healthy dose of critical reasoning. No, it's the widespread belief that you can't believe anything.
It is not simply Poe, Isaac, and his sister Lee who inhabit this nihilistic world in American Rust. Parents, the police, the bums, the lawyers, and their peers reside here, too. The story is gripping and its telling magnificent. The chapters are titled by the voice of the character who narrates. Louise Erdrich is another writer who uses this technique so effectively to convey the depth and complexity to characters. Each voice is distinctive and authentic in a haunting way for its almost confessional tone.
Geneen Roth's new title is almost banal. I had a really hard time getting through it and it was a very quick read. Promoted by Oprah Winfrey [book selGeneen Roth's new title is almost banal. I had a really hard time getting through it and it was a very quick read. Promoted by Oprah Winfrey [book selection and guest appearance], the book follows the classic genre of self-help diet books. For all the hype, it reads like most every other diet book sans recipes, menus, points, weights, and measurements. Roth gives the formulaic fat book a twist: you can eat what your body needs and feed your soul without counting calories or stepping on the scale.
Compulsive eating, calorie counting, dieting, obsessing over weight and appearance, and binging and purging are all symptoms of a spiritual hunger. Figuring out what your spirit craves that is stuffed down with food is the key to weight loss. Key, but the key only unlocks the possiblity. And so counting calories, exercising, and hypnosis open that door. Every path requires you walk through that door and get what you really want. Much easier to talk the talk, than walk the walk.
Generally speaking, opening those doors to one's deepest spiritual hungers can unleash all kinds of unexpected things, not all pleasant. While most diet books are careful to dictate the reader take the advice of the author under supervision of a doctor, Roth might have offered such a caveat. Women Food and God is a diet book that should not be adhered to without professional counseling and/or psychotherapy!
The big insight of her new book is a simple reworking of her previous New York Times' Bestseller, When Food is Love. She's built a successful platform for this publication with a career in leading retreats for women with food issues. Were the answers so simple to weight loss, obesity could be conquered. While I concur with Roth's central premise, it's kind of a one-liner and incredibly shallow. The book is a well-trod path to almost nothing....more
May 1876. Moscow. Lizanda and her chaperone sitting on a bench near the Grotto on the Promenade witness a young student from a wealthy family use a reMay 1876. Moscow. Lizanda and her chaperone sitting on a bench near the Grotto on the Promenade witness a young student from a wealthy family use a revolver to shoot himself. Was the death really a suicide? Or a game of American roulette?
Erast Fandorin, clerk and civil servant fourteenth class, reports for duty to Brilling with the Criminal Investigation Division of the Moscow Police. He's sent out to investigate. He quickly discovers this is no ordinary suicide when Fandorin witnesses a murder directly related to the event.
The plot is as twisted as The Manchurian Candidate by Richard Condon (1959) and as historically situated in solving crimes as Sherlock Holmes (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) with the intrigue of James Bond (Ian Fleming). The telling is done with dry wit. It's both a parody and a commentary on czarist society. Everyone is under surveillance by everyone else and the feeling is similar to the kind of peek-a-boo Boris and Natasha did in the old Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons. The young clerk gets his first break when his boss gets him to buy and wear a Lord Byron corset. You can't help but chuckle when he invokes the breathing practices of Indian Brahmin Chandra Johnson to resist the effects of chloroform when he falls into his adversary's hands...and it works. While working undercover he wins a lot of money playing poker with a person of interest - and his boss lets him keep it.
Whereas Colombo played an aging, sloppy, and confused investigator whose ability to act stupid led criminals into his lair of justice, Fandorin is a young, intelligent, and rational investigator whose beginner's luck, sheer coincidence, and lack of experience lead him to indirectly discover one clue after another as he follows the hot trail across Europe to London.
Three female characters take center stage in the plot. Lizanda is his "angel" and Amalia is the spirit of "Azazel," the conspiracy. Lady Astair is the third. Super-Nanny to the street urchins and poor orphans of London. That's right; a female Fagin to Fandorin's Oliver. There is a shocking traumatic cliffhanger ending; enough said. Read it.
The Winter Queen is the first in a series of eleven detective novels by Boris Akunin and introduces detective Erast Fandorin to the American audience. Boris Akunin is the pen name of Grigory Chkhartishvili, a philogist, critic, essayist, translator of Japanese and author of two other series....more
Dear Lord, forgive me for my trespasses before I even start.
William Paul Young's popular fiction title, The Shack, begins with a very compelling premDear Lord, forgive me for my trespasses before I even start.
William Paul Young's popular fiction title, The Shack, begins with a very compelling premise. Mackenzie Allen Phillip's daughter, Missy, went missing on a family vacation. No, this is not a mystery or crime story book, though clearly Young considered pulling this audience to the book. The brutal murder of Mack's daughter in Oregon's wilderness leaves him with the Great Sadness, a beautiful metaphor for the power of grief. Again, Young pulled in the bereavement market with his plot structure. But it is the calling from God who appears as a big black woman in a shack in the woods where the murder transpired that makes the story compelling.
The premise works upon the readers mind to examine their relationship with the personas who they identify as deities. Hurrah that the story challenges a white man to consider his stereotypes about God, but that's as far as the intellectual challenge goes. Jesus appears as a carpenter and the spirit could have been played by Phoebe in Friends. The cliches and overwritten segments made this a difficult read for me. I was open to the message but the words kept getting in the way. The last 50 pages proved excruciating. I could already see the ending before Young took me there. Anti-climatic resolution of the "crime" and overdrawn workings of Christian notions of father, son and holy ghost made this a less than satisfactory read. I'm guessing I would not be the only reader who had difficulty finishing the book.
That's not to say its' spiritual challenge is an unworthy one. I wish the challenge had been deeper and richer. Instead I felt as though the writing was so dumbed down as to be banal. The denouement was spiritually satisfactory but as narrative I found it lacking. It took me forever to finish this book and I think the story itself deserves a better telling.
I read the book because I find myself struggling with many of the same issues that Mackenzie faced when he lost his daughter: how dare God allow this to happen? Living under the veil of the Great Sadness myself, I am now intimately aware of the Great Sadness in others. I wish I could become an evangelist for The Shack, but I lived in a shack and those life experiences made me a better writer, not just a better person. And that's where story, experience and the gift of writing intersect....more
In the day when authors complain editors and publishers don't read beyond the first page, Greene gives them plenty of reason why it isn't necessary toIn the day when authors complain editors and publishers don't read beyond the first page, Greene gives them plenty of reason why it isn't necessary to finish a story before judging the potential. The first sentence, the first page, the first chapter are omens of all that follows. If you can't captivate your reader immediately, they won't get any further.
"Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him." What an opening sentence. The reader begs to find out more.
Greene reveals characters so complex they continue to haunt you long after the story ends. Getting inside the mind of a ruthless, cruel, sadistic punk provides the reader with a psychic voyeurism into his criminal actions. But it is his use of female characters I find so penetrating and disturbing. There are no heroes and no pretty girls.
"Pinkie," referred to by the narrator as The Boy, works on getting an alibi for his involvement in murder by courting the waitress, an eyewitness to incriminating evidence on him. In his mind, the solution to his problem is to marry this plain girl so that she cannot be forced to testify against him. So what makes this good catholic woman-child fall in love with a mobster who pushes her to kill herself as her last act of undying love? This incredible story is made credible by Greene's telling.
He knows the power that falling in love with being in love can have on a woman. To be the object of desire -- to be loved -- is the primal urge. And Graham Greene gets inside her mind. This split between the rational and the moral is gendered by Greene. Pinkie's criminal logic and Rose's crazy love offer the reader emotional danger in the human process of rationalizing the irrational. But it is on the emotional plane where Graham's female characters are so compelling. The sensibility of right and wrong, honor and trust, confession and sin, means and ends are entrusted to the women of the story. Greene garners the sympathy of the readers for Rose, a girl blinded by her good intentions and naiveté.
Pinkie's nemesis is a woman whose intuition drives her to keep snooping and following the trail of evidence to Rose and Pinkie. Miss Ida Arnold was the last person to see the victim alive. He had flirted with Ida and they agreed to continue their rendezvous around Brighton that summer day. Ida had left him just outside the Ladies' Loo and when she came out, he was gone. A ditched date is an insult and a scorned woman a driving force. But Ida Arnold had heard Hale's premonition of his own death just before he disappeared. Their tryst wasn't a mortal sin and Ida thought him a gentleman enough to honor him with the discovery of his cause of death: not natural. Ida is the female of virtue; it's in her meddling, interfering and pestering way as a woman that she rescues Rose and stops this rogue gangster in his killing spree. Ida is a little bit Angela Lansbury playing Agatha Christie in a seaside resort town. She's annoyingly good.
A novel of the 1930s with criminal activity, racetrack betting and gambling rackets that is told in film noir layered over cinéma vérité. Rowan Jaffee directed a UK film adaptation released earlier this year starring Sam Riley as Pinkie, Carol Marsh as Rose and Helen Mirra as Ida. This adaptation is set in 1960s England instead of the 1930s. I haven't seen it and am not inclined to do so. The movie in my head that Greene created with his words couldn't ever be appreciated on a big screen. It's the internal life of the characters where the real action takes place and belongs in the interior and intimate space of the reader to play out.
Not a big murder thriller reader, I thoroughly enjoyed the distinctive voice of an American whose commentary comes to live inside the story. For most of the twentieth century, Graham Greene offered us the great American novels. His critical observations, national insights and generational reflections appear throughout his essays, memoirs, and short stories that tell us more about ourselves as Americans than about Greene himself....more
Mattie Ross, the central protagonist in True Grit, is an American heroine and her pursuit of justice for the murder of her father is intrinsically comMattie Ross, the central protagonist in True Grit, is an American heroine and her pursuit of justice for the murder of her father is intrinsically compelling. My book group just finished discussing it and made it even richer in the reading.
To be able to write from the perspective of an old woman recounting the childhood events more than sixty years earlier is a daunting task for a modern white male writer and yet the voice is convincingly authentic. Overlook Press reissued this classic American western in 2004 and it is widely available in paperback and at the libraries.
Charles Portis wrote a historical novel with a journalistic specificity that makes the Old West come alive again. The genre of Westerns is now more appreciated by the German reading public than our own. It died a slow death in television serials and cheap pulp novels. But True Grit is great American literature: humorous and action packed, with colorful characters and a larger moral....more
Dodie Smith’s novel is just like any other charming British novel set in the countryside in the 1930s: the landscape is glorious, the cupboard is bareDodie Smith’s novel is just like any other charming British novel set in the countryside in the 1930s: the landscape is glorious, the cupboard is bare, and the characters eccentric. I Capture the Castle opens with the wonderful line “I am sitting in the kitchen sink as I write this.” The “I” is Cassandra Mortmain, the 17-year old narrator of the novel (which is, in fact, her journal). She is keeping vigil over her stepmother, Topaz, and her elder sister, Rose, as they attempt to rejuvenate their ragtag wardrobes with a healthy dose of green dye. Unfortunately, this lends both their clothes and their skin an interesting virescence – a state that is much lamented when their new, handsome, wealthy American neighbors come calling. This episode is just one of the many very human portraits that Cassandra draws, wittily and honestly, with her stub of a pencil. And just like humanity, I Capture the Castle manages to be funny and sad at the same time.
The castle in question, where the Mortmains reside, is magnificent but dilapidated. This state of affairs seemed romantic to the family once, but now it is simply mournful. No member of Cassandra’s family escapes her keen sense of observation, and she certainly has no shortage of material. The characters are already caricatures of themselves, even without Cassandra’s commentary. Her father is a brilliant author with one highly lauded book, whose inspiration has vanished since Cassandra’s mother died when the girls were young. When he does on occasion become inspired, he smashes pottery and stores day-old kippers in his briefcase. Rose, Cassandra’s older sister and the classic beauty of the family, is hell-bent on finding a rich husband to save her family from the castle’s gloom. Simon and Neil Cotton, the two handsome Americans, become the main targets of her affection.
The youngest Mortmain is Thomas, an extremely intelligent child who gets a bit lost in the shuffle of his family’s larger-than-life personalities. The largest personality of all is the children’s stepmother Topaz (“not an evil one,” Cassandra hastens to assure us when she is introduced). Topaz was a muse for the great artists of London before she married James Mortmain, and she suffers woefully if she does not think she’s inspiring a great man, so James’s lack of creative output is very hard on her. And finally, there is Stephen – a young man in love with Cassandra, who has been the jack-of-all trades for the Mortmains for years, and who (according to Topaz) looks like “all the Greek gods rolled into one.”
Cassandra Mortmain is a paradigm of a writer – a literary Rumplestiltskin, who turns her world into narrative gold. The plot is warm, amusing and thoroughly delightful, but that isn’t the source of the book’s magic. The source is Cassandra’s narrative voice. Cassandra “captures the castle” with prose that is inquisitive, solemn, witty, and piercingly perceptive by turns. A book written in the voice of a young girl runs the risk of seeming consciously naïve, but Dodie Smith and Cassandra avoid this peril altogether. Instead, her writing is very wise and very young – wistfulness and cynicism engage in hand-to-hand combat almost daily.
To whom does one give credit for such a resilient voice? Once in a great while one stumbles upon a narrator who is so flesh-and-blood that giving credit wholly to the author seems unfair. Surely Cassandra simply walked into Dodie Smith’s mind, fully formed, out of her dank castle and across the English countryside.
I’ll leave you with a souvenir from the ever-marvelous Amazon, where I found a comment from a reader who had written a letter of admiration to Dodie Smith herself in the 1980’s. The reader was generous enough to share Smith’s reply on Amazon. The section below shows that the characters remained as alive for Smith as they will remain for all of her readers.
“I don’t even like to think of the future of the characters because I don’t want them to grow older. I’ve been asked again and again to say whom Cassandra marries but I’ve no idea. I like to think of her just hopeful for the future and I shall let myself think you and I share this idea. I am now 89 and sometimes (but only sometimes) almost feel it, but not when I think about Cassandra. Thank you again for your letter which has given me great pleasure. And I like to think that in some mysterious realm of the imagination, the characters in my book are pleased too and send you their love – with mine.” -Dodie Smith...more
Let's Take the Long Way Home is a memoir that covers less than a decade of Gail Caldwell's career and personal life. Gail is a writer's writer and sheLet's Take the Long Way Home is a memoir that covers less than a decade of Gail Caldwell's career and personal life. Gail is a writer's writer and she's lived a writer's life. She's the former chief book critic for The Boston Globe where she wrote for more than 20 years. With a Pulitzer Prize for Criticism (2001), this is not her first memoir and it's not so much about her as it is about her friend Caroline and their friendship based on the bonds of their canine companions. Caroline Knapp (the author of Drinking: A Love Story) became Gail's neighbor, dog walking buddy, and friend; they shared their love of books. Knapp was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and dies.
"It's an old, old story: I had a friend and we shared everything, and then she died and so we shared that, too." So Caldwell opens her real life story.
They met over their dogs. Gail learned to row and Caroline to swim because Gail swam and Caroline rowed. Two private, self-reliant writers came to be friends and this story is a memoir of true friendship.
"It's taken years for me to understand that dying doesn't end the story; it transforms it. Edits, rewrites, the blur and epiphany of one-way dialogue," (p. 123). Caldwell's use of timing -- the rhythms, beats and pacing of her prose -- keep most of the narrative in the "showing" -- the doing, the action. Yet when she "tells," she has something to say.
The story she tells is how to let the heart break open. "I know now that we never get over great losses; we absorb them, and they carve us into different, often kinder, creatures. ...We tell the story to get them back, to capture the traces of footfalls through the snow." (p. 182)...more
There is a red diary hidden in plain sight. Irene continues to write in it even after she realizes Gil is secretly reading it. She writes, but she wriThere is a red diary hidden in plain sight. Irene continues to write in it even after she realizes Gil is secretly reading it. She writes, but she writes lies to entrap him. Irene keeps her own personal journal at the bank in a safe deposit box. She locks away her innermost truths. The father of her three children begins to doubt his paternity because of what he has read in her red diary. The gaps and fissures created between Irene's red diary and her blue book at the bank reveal how small breaches of trust and invasions of privacy between a man and wife is a game of shadow tag.
Erdrich tells the story of a man and a woman who have three children; each character so familiar to me they feel like home and I'd know them if I bumped into them at the grocery. After 20 years of reading her books peopled with folks from Minnesota with or without Indian blood, these people are familiar and their real stories are tragic. One of the things I love about Erdrich's writing is that she makes the dilution of Indian blood the subtext of her quintessentially American stories. The mixed heritage of characters is laid lightly in descriptive details and plot advancement, particularly in the voices of Irene and Gil's children.
She has the gift of telling her stories with each character speaking as narrator by chapter. Each telling of the story in its turn is her exquisite style of writing. And in this new title, Erdrich adds another layer or two of complexity in the tale-ing with diaries and journals and this novel, making the genre a trope for what is real. Its meaning and the truth reside in the reader of the varying narrative accounts.
Since Love Medicine, her first novel, I've been an avid reader of Erdrich's books. The Beet Queen and Tracks, her second and third novels, proved equally compelling. She does not require her readers to have read her previous work, though certainly if a reader has done so the reading proves richer. Four Souls had an excerpt in the New Yorker that had me ordering the book rush order. This is her thirteenth novel. She's also published a collection of short stories, three books of poetry, five children's titles, and two non-fiction books. Erdrich can write.
She can speak, too. I've heard her give a reading (Athens, Georgia, late 1980s). Louise is not someone I know personally but she's the kind of person I would like to know. Having followed her career, I do know she has loved and lost her husband, Michael Dorris; for many years they were quite the celebrity couple in academic and writing circles. Life has not been so easy for her but the writing has been good. As a reader I am grateful to her for solving deep spiritual generational family puzzles. Sometimes the puzzles are my own and sometimes they are of someone close to me just at the moment I needed to `get it'.
If you've never read anything by Louise Erdrich before now, this is a perfect novel to indulge yourself in for the pure pleasure in the craft of writing. You don't need to know a thing about her or her previous novels. It stands entirely on its own as a work of genius.
The premise of love undermined by distrust makes it a quick read. I could not put it down. What happens between a man and a woman when the day to day rages of passion become everyday? And what if that mundane experience is wild passionate love? Irene and Gil are in love and madness descends when the years roll on and Irene is still the primary subject of all his paintings. Her image is what he sells. He wants others to consume her, too. To be an object of sexual arousal day in and day out for his pleasure and business takes its toll. I won't reveal the tragic ending; you never see it coming.
The beginning begs you to enter: "I have two diaries now...You gave me the first book in order to record my beginning year as a mother. It was very sweet of you. ...After quite a lot of searching, I expect, you have found my red diary. You have been reading it in order to discover whether I am deceiving you." Gil suspects Irene may be having an affair with one of his friends. Irene wants to be left alone, in privacy; she seeks solitude desperately. Going to the bank and sitting in the tiny cubicle day after day to write in her blue notebook, it is where she confesses to her husband her deception. So begins the twisted tale. Page one: "The second diary, what you might call my real diary, is the one I am writing in now." Here begins a soul searing look at the depths of love and its darkest pools.
Put the book on a gift list for yourself. Or check it out at the library. I got mine through Book of the Month Club. Believe it or not I've been a member since the 1980s; I think I got my copy of Louise Erdrich's The Bingo Palace free on bonus points. If you like Shadow Tag, you might like Louise Erdrich's other books. I've learned a lot about good writing from studying her techniques. She's a most remarkable writer....more
I discovered this new book after my friend Angel brought me a loaf of this delicious sweetbread she had baked herself. When she brought the loaf of brI discovered this new book after my friend Angel brought me a loaf of this delicious sweetbread she had baked herself. When she brought the loaf of bread, she asked if I would be interested in a bag of "starter" to make my own. Because I have an intolerance for wheat and should avoid the sweets, I passed.
I had also heard about this Friendship Bread phenomena and likened it to a chain mail scheme. I just don't do them. Trying to keep bread starter tended for ten days consecutively with everything else I've got going on seemed stupid. To me, a plastic bag full of fermenting goo that requires daily mashing is like a new pet and I have enough to take care of already. So I passed on the baking opportunity.
But when I read about this new novel - which came out the same week Angel shared a loaf with me - I had to get it.
It's not about the bread. It's about the friendships. Darien Gee creates a set of memorable characters. The ensemble cast of a small town community advances multiple storylines that weave in and out of their involvement with this rising batter. I cared about these people and found myself near the end weeping as a rift in the friendship between two sisters is repaired. The town of Avalon, Illinois, is a central character in Edie's attempt to write the news story of her career about how this basic batter for bread became the impetus to a better town. ...more