A few great books I’ve read recently. What are you reading right now?
Ms. Marvel – Marvel Comic Series
In November, 2015 Marvel introduced Kamala Khan – the first Muslim superheroine and Avenger’s newest butt-kicking team member. Or, reintroduced, as she had appeared in several comics where readers were able to first get a glimpse of her powers. She is fantastic!!! Here’s her Marvel wiki bio
The Best American Short Stories 2013 ed by Elizabeth Strout
The stand outs – “Malaria” by Michael Byers (from Bellevue Literary Review) and”The Semplica-Girl Diaries” by George Saunders (from The New Yorker). Available from Portland Public Library.
Baking Cakes in Kigali: A Novel by Gaile Parkin
From the publisher Penguin Random House: The novel introduces us to Angel Tungaraza: mother, cake baker, pillar of her community, keeper of secrets big and small. Angel’s kitchen is an oasis in the heart of Rwanda, where visitors stop to order cakes but end up sharing their stories, transforming their lives, leaving with new hope. It is delightful and smart!! Published in 2010, available from Portland Public Library.
The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
A fantasy novel with dragons and Arthurian knights set in the early part of the Middle Ages by the author of Never Let Me Go and Remains of the Day. Ishiguro’s newest book brings an escape from the real world and delivers a creative story.
The Chilbury Ladies Choir by Jennifer Ryan (February 14, 2017)
From the publisher Penguin Random House: As England becomes enmeshed in the early days of World War II and the men are away fighting, the women of Chilbury village forge an uncommon bond. They defy the Vicar’s stuffy edict to close the choir and instead “carry on singing,” resurrecting themselves as the Chilbury Ladies’ Choir. We come to know the home-front struggles of five unforgettable choir members: a timid widow devastated when her only son goes to fight; the older daughter of a local scion drawn to a mysterious artist; her younger sister pining over an impossible crush; a Jewish refugee from Czechoslovakia hiding a family secret; and a conniving midwife plotting to outrun her seedy past.
Evicted by Matthew Desmond – **Paperback release February 2017
One of The New York Times top ten books of 2016.
For one year, Matthew Desmond, a professor of social sciences at Harvard University, lived in two of Milwaukee’s poorest neighborhoods to tell the story of eight families who struggle to find and maintain affordable housing.
America’s housing crisis looks something like this: Unable to afford soaring rents, millions of people are evicted every year. In Milwaukee, a city of roughly 105,000 renter households, roughly 16,000 adults and children are evicted in an average year. This is equivalent to 16 eviction cases a day.
The psychological impact eviction has on these families’ lives cannot be underestimated. Their personal things piled on the curb or trucked off to a storage facility where there is a chance it will be auctioned off.
Perhaps it is Desmond’s personal background – his parents lost their home in foreclosure – or his commitment to tell the truth – he avoids judgment, but offers empathy.
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
Published in 1963, there is no better piece of writing to examine race in America. At that time and from what I have read – now.
Baldwin was a legendary essayist, novelist, and social critic from Harlem, New York.
The Fire This Time – an anthology of essays about race edited by National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward
I most enjoyed the essays “The Weight” by Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, “Lonely in America” by Wendy S. Walters, “Da Art of Storytellin’ (a Prequel) by Kiese Laymon, and “Black and Blue” by Garnette Cadogan.
From the publisher Simon and Schuster: The Fire This Time is divided into three parts that shine a light on the darkest corners of our history, wrestle with our current predicament, and envision a better future. Of the eighteen pieces, ten were written specifically for this volume.
In the fifty-odd years since Baldwin’s essay was published, entire generations have dared everything and made significant progress. But the idea that we are living in the post-Civil Rights era, that we are a “post-racial” society is an inaccurate and harmful reflection of a truth the country must confront.
Homesick for Another World: Stories by Ottessa Moshfegh (January 2017)
Dear reader you are not going to like the people Ottessa presents, or their world, but you will not be able to turn away either. Rather, you will feel impatient wanting to know more and with the time you spend upon finishing the book thinking about these pitiful souls. Do not be deceived, once you begin one of Ottessa’s stories it is too late for retreat. And you will not be released upon reading the last word.
*My friend B, also an avid reader, who encouraged me to read Eileen – also written by Moshfegh and my favorite read of 2016 – had this to say: Moshfegh is very skilled at creating these miserable characters that become endearing in ways, or at least interesting and appealing enough to devote time with (Eileen so far has been the best). Of the characters in Homesick for Another World–I too kind of hate them, or pity them, but need to know what happens.
A treasure!!! – One short story from 2016 edition of The O.Henry Prize Stories – “Slumming” by Otessa Moshfegh from The Paris Review
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
Finally read it this coming-of-age tale when I saw her bio A House of My Own on the shelf. Haven’t read the bio yet, but grateful to have read this impressive novel.
Into the Water by Paula Hawkins (May 2017) LOVED!!!
Paula Hawkins’ second novel is even better than Girl on a Train. It is a sophisticated story of such imagination handled in such a thoughtful way that you cheer for certain characters, grieve for them, and urgently want to know who killed who and who could be next.
I crawled inside and didn’t want to come out. It thrust itself into my life. Sitting by the fire in my cozy living room I imagined walking the mossy path by the river up to the old cabin with these secretive emotional – some hateful – characters and was so happy. A must read.
The Jealous Kind by James Lee Burke
I began reading Burke after catching this article in my favorite periodical – Garden and Gun Magazine. Now I’ve got his books lined up on my shelf and am giddy exploring his stories. He just nails it all – the characters, the setting, the stories. Epic reads!!!
Letters to a Young Muslim by Omar Saif Ghobash
A beautiful book which explores the multifaceted experience of being Muslim today. This is an example of the cultural power of literature. Let this intelligent compassionate book inform you!!!
Little Deaths by Emma Flint (January 2017)
LONGLISTED FOR THE 2017 BAILEYS WOMEN’S PRIZE FOR FICTION
Flint pulls the reader into the finely observed working-class neighborhood of Queens, New York, in the 1960s. A work of fiction closely inspired by the case of Alice Crimmins, a beautiful sexual woman living who stood trial as much for the crimes she was accused of as for living an unconventional life.
I can’t wait for Flint’s sophomore novel – “I think everything that I write is going to be based on real crimes,” she says. Her next book is set in 1970s London Soho, near where she lives. Cannot wait!!
The Little French Bistro by Nina George (June 13 2017)
A truly delightful tale of second chances. THE feel good book of the year.
Now Is the Time to Open Your Heart by Alice Walker
Soulful. This book embraces you. Alice Walker oxoxoxo for all your words!!!
The One Inside by Sam Shepard (February 2017)
It’s him, it’s not him. Could be about Sam Peckinpah as much as Shepard.
Paris for One by JoJo Moyes
Accurate – “An old-fashioned, feel-good love story. . . It’s as if Moyes has booked a vacation and is taking us along. To Paris. Amour!” –USA Today
Prince Charles by Sally Bedell Smith (April 4, 2017)
A fan of “The Crown”? You might just really enjoy this. From the publisher Penguin Random House: This vivid, eye-opening biography—the product of four years of research and hundreds of interviews with palace officials, former girlfriends, spiritual gurus, and more, some speaking on the record for the first time—is the first authoritative treatment of Charles’s life that sheds light on the death of Diana, his marriage to Camilla, and his preparations to take the throne one day. It is insightful and even-keeled. I felt I understood Prince Charles by the end, but did not like him or dislike him anymore than before.
The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen (2017)
For those who want to better appreciate how refugees try to build new lives for themselves and their families.
First short story collection by the Vietnamese-American writer Viet Thanh Nguyen, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Sympathizer (2015). Stories vary sharply from one to the next. Most are set amid the Vietnamese exile communities of California.
Nguyen himself arrived in the US in 1975, living in a camp for Vietnamese refugees.
Rest in Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin
The book covers Martin’s life, as well as the aftermath of the deadly shooting and how it sparked protests across the nation. **Harvey Weinstein and Jay Z JUST bought the rights and yes they are looking at a series and film. Really happy for Martin’s parents. They didn’t get justice in the courtroom, maybe they will get more closure now.
Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion
Published in 1968, this is Didion’s first work of non-fiction and one of her greatest. A collection of essays mostly set in California in the 1960s. Didion is neither shy, nor does she pass judgment. She tells a good story with the skill of a high-wire artist. Subjects range from a murder in Redlands to Joan Baez and Howard Hughes.
Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson
The author is a Baptist minister and professor of sociology at Georgetown University. The book calls white people out and asks them to look at how much they have benefitted from black Americans while they suffer. I found many of Dyson’s points extremely valuable, but ultimately put the book down when it got mired in all his love for celebrities. Definitely worth a read.
What are you reading right now? Here are thirteen books I’ve recently loved …
The Bad News: Last Journalists in a Dictatorship by Anjan Sundaram
From the publisher/Penquin Random House:
With Bad News, Sundaram offers an incredible firsthand look at the rise of dictatorship and the fall of free speech, one that’s important to understand not just for its implications in Rwanda, but for any country threatened by demands to adopt a single way of thinking.
Loulou de la Falaise by Ariel de Ravenel and Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni
A beautiful coffee-table book, inspiring, colorful, and glamorous just like the woman herself. She was Yves Saint Laurent’s muse and soul mate. Her wardrobe are what fashion dreams are made of.
Kindred by Octavia Butler
This book stayed with me long after I finished it.
Science fiction classic. Part time-travel tale and part slave narrative, it was first published in 1979 and is still very popular.
Dana, a black woman, and her husband Kevin, a white man, have just moved into their home in 20th century California. Suddenly, Dana, is plunged back in time to 1819 Maryland. Over many visits to the past, Dana realizes that the son of the plantation owner is her ancestor and that she must protect his life to ensure her own existence.
** The graphic novel adaptation is SO cool.
That Woman: The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor by Anne Sebba
The author presents information that has not been available to previous biographers e.g. recently declassified British government files stored in The National Archives of the United Kingdom. She also accesses source material not previously used. And yet, it all just seems like a regurgitation of information. There is no storytelling here when you so badly want some and often I felt Sebba offered a more sympathetic portrayal than was needed. The relationship that has been widely considered a great love story of modern times appears to be nothing of the sort. The king, in Sebba’s telling, emerges as a man who today might be looked on as something of a stalker. There are also somewhat shocking revelations – assumptions – regarding Wallis’s medical issues. What may be most interesting is a description of what it meant to be divorced in the 1930s/40s.
The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
This is the kind of book you’ll want to dig into and not leave the house till you have turned the last page.
The story is told through the eyes of a writer for a high-end travel magazine, who’s recently received the assignment of a lifetime – covering a glamorous cruise ship’s landmark trip in the North Sea.
Her first night aboard she witnesses a passenger going overboard- or did she? When she begins to try and find out about the woman, she risks everything – including her life.
An Agatha Christie inspired thriller if ever there was one. (Ware is a self-admitted Christie fan)
I could not walk away from after the first thirty pages, the plot was that good, the characters that terrific.
If you like this, you might like: Girl on a Train, Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, and anything by Agatha Christie or Tana French or Dorothy L. Sayers.
Human Acts by Han Kang
Devastating, gorgeous, horrifying. Painful.
In 1980, in Gwangju, South Korea, government forces massacre pro-democracy demonstrators. The bodies are stowed in the hall of the complaints department of the Provincial Office. When the bodies — the complaints — grow too many, they are moved to the school gymnasium, and there, a boy named Dong-ho looks for the corpse of his best friend. His is the first section, followed by six more stories of the victims of Gwangju — including a spirit tethered to a stack of rotting corpses, the mother of a dead boy, an editor trapped under censorship, a torture victim remembering her captivity, and, finally, a writer.
Kang wrote the 2015 Man Booker Prize-winning novel The Vegetarian.
The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston
From the publisher/Hachette Book Group – A five-hundred-year-old legend. An ancient curse. A stunning medical mystery. And a pioneering journey into the unknown heart of the world’s densest jungle.
Strangers in Their Own Land by Arlie Russell Hochschild
Thought-provoking. A renowned sociologist from Berkeley, California travels deep into Louisiana bayou country—a stronghold of the conservative right.
One of “6 Books to Understand Trump’s Win” according to the New York Times the day after the election. For the record, I have also read Hillbilly Elegy and skimmed part of White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America and discussed these with a few savvy folk and we all strongly agree Strangers by a mile offers the most solid insight into why we are where we are politically and socially. (Other books one might consider are Evicted and Dark Money).
A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: Essays + Arguments by David Foster Wallace
I did not understand how much we had lost in 2008 when Wallace, at only forty-six-years of age killed himself. A well-read friend introduced this book to me when I told him I had been unable to read Infinite Jest. This book, a collection of essays, has made me devout admirer of Wallace. I want to read every single thing he has written. You could say I am “training” to read Infinite Jest (a book that takes some months to read with a dictionary and two bookmarks). LOVED “Tornado Alley” and the title essay about his experiences aboard a seven night luxury Caribbean cruise (an assignment for Harper’s magazine). BRILLIANT!!!!!
I recommend checking out his now famous 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College on You Tube.
Citizen by Claudia Rankine
Winner of the 2015 PEN Oakland-Josephine Miles Literary Award
Winner of the 2015 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in Poetry
Winner of the 2015 Forward Prize for Best Collection
Winner of the 2015 PEN Open Book Award
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry
One of the Guardian’s Best Politics Books of 2015
One of the Guardian’s Readers’ Books of the Year for 2015
Finalist for 2014 National Book Award in Poetry
Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism
“Marrying prose, poetry, and the visual image, Citizen investigates the ways in which racism pervades daily American social and cultural life, rendering certain of its citizens politically invisible. Rankine’s formally inventive book challenges our notion that citizenship is only a legal designation that the state determines by expanding that definition to include a larger understanding of civic belonging and identity, built out of cross-racial empathy, communal responsibility, and a deeply shared commitment to equality.”—National Book Award Judges’ Citation
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
A beautiful, realistic portrayal of grief.
Penguin/Random House: From one of America’s iconic writers, a stunning book of electric honesty and passion. Joan Didion explores an intensely personal yet universal experience: a portrait of a marriage–and a life, in good times and bad–that will speak to anyone who has ever loved a husband or wife or child.
Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood
Exceptional, marvelous. LOVED. William Shakespeare’s The Tempest retold as Hag-Seed.
The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories
In the mists and shadows, on the lonely roads, in dreary estates, and on wild moorlands we meet a variety of ghostly protagonists. The stand outs:
The Red Room (1896) H.G. Wells
The Phantom Coach (1864) Amelia Edwards
The Judge’s House (1891) Bram Stoker GOOD, EERIE
The Empty House (1906) Algernon Blackwood LOVED!!! A young man and his elderly aunt get keys to a haunted mansion. Blackwood’s prose, his power of suggestion are fantastic. One is “suddenly conscious of tingling nerves, creeping skin, and a chilling of the blood.”
The Taipan (1922) W. Somerset Maugham – too brief, didn’t care about character. Englishman living in China.
Mr. Jones (1930) Edith Wharton
Man-Size in Marble (1893) E. Nesbit EXCELLENT
Bellevue: Three Centuries of Medicine and Mayhem at America’s Most Storied Hospital, by David Oshinsky (2016 release)
To many Manhattan’s most famous hospital is notorious for its psychiatric ward. The nuthouse – a scary place to avoid.
It is and has been so much more, something I might never have known had I not read Oshinsky’s well-written and thoroughly researched book on the place.
In the 18th century Bellevue was a foul smelling filthy hospital, and the only place millions of immigrants without money or resources could get any help. Since then it has become known as THE hospital that responded to the AIDS crisis not by turning people away, but by treating them -treating all regardless of their disease, regardless of their social standing.
A hospital sometimes at the forefront of technological and humane advances – e.g. use of ambulances (a way to remove the wounded from the battlefields of the Civil War became a way to treat people in crowded city streets), organized nurse training, and as ever a place for people who fell through the cracks elsewhere.
**As a sideway I recommend reading this NYT article written in 1983 and as relevant today regarding the mental healthy crisis in this country.
A fascinating read not only about this important institution, but also an engaging look at the evolution of professional medical care in New York.
Oshinsky is the Pulitzer Prize winning author of Polio: An American Story.
Evicted by Matthew Desmond (2016 release)
One of The New York Times top ten books of the year.
Desmond, a prominent Harvard sociologist, spent over a year living in two of Milwaukee’s poorest neighborhoods to tell the story of eight families and two landlords.
From the publisher: “In vivid, intimate prose, Desmond provides a ground-level view of one of the most urgent issues facing America today. As we see families forced into shelters, squalid apartments, or more dangerous neighborhoods, we bear witness to the human cost of America’s vast inequality—and to people’s determination and intelligence in the face of hardship.”
Without a home everything else falls apart.
I strongly recommend reading this book and checking out this insightful article and devastating photographs in The Atlantic.
Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America’s Most Powerful Mafia Empires by Selwyn Raab
In 2005 a veteran crime reporter who has spent decades chronicling the mafia wrote what I would consider the best historical document of New York City’s organized crime, from the days of Dutch Schultz to John Gotti. All packed in 765 pages. Ok, it’s long – but there is so much information and it is so well organized!
In addition to the history of New York’s infamous five crime families- the Bonanno, Colombo, Gambino, Genovese and Lucchese – we get a bit of history on Las Vegas and how regional (smaller) families work. From the Mario Puzo like evolution of the gangs into corporate entities under the leadership of Lucky Luciano to the mob’s decline in the 1980s with the government’s increased use of antiracketeering (RICO) laws as a prosecutorial tactic and the abandonment of the old code of omertà with the embrace of the drug trade.
Since 2005, but really since 2001, the mafia has faded into the background.
Note, if you scan Google for what the mafia is up to you will find headlines as recent as April 2016 “46 Charged in Mafia Racketeering Conspiracy”…and certainly organized crime looms large, but the days of bodies piled in the streets and dapper dons in bathrobes smoking cigars on a borough street corner are in the past.
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance (2016 release)
It began and ended well enough with his grandmother’s shenanigans, but while I wanted to know her (“Mamaw”) better I cared little for him by the end. Vance seemed to have embraced a pompousness an “I’m better than you” attitude directed at the very people he blamed for that blasé attitude toward “his” people.
A self-described “hillbilly from a hard-hit Ohio steel town, Vance’s family struggled with poverty and domestic violence as jobs evaporated and alcoholism took its toll.
A college professor, with whom I was having a conversation about the number of books on poor white people, suggested I observe Vance’s media campaign. I slowly started to take note – and while this should neither add to nor take away from the book – found Vance a poster child for Trump. He has said he is not a Trump supporter, and yet during the campaign he popped up on dozens of outlets continually explaining why blue-collar white folks love Trump. Note, I have since found out the Silicon Valley venture capital firm he works for is owned by prominent Trump supporter Peter Thiel (who has since announced his bid for California governor).
The college professor I spoke with believes Vance is being groomed for a political position.
Well, read the book don’t read the book….certainly it lends to today’s political discussions.
*I strongly encourage reading this article in The Washington Post on the life and slow death of a former Pennsylvania steel town.
How to Survive a Plague by David France
From the publisher:
A riveting, powerful telling of the story of the grassroots movement of activists, many of them in a life-or-death struggle, who seized upon scientific research to help develop the drugs that turned HIV from a mostly fatal infection to a manageable disease. Ignored by public officials, religious leaders, and the nation at large, and confronted with shame and hatred, this small group of men and women chose to fight for their right to live by educating themselves and demanding to become full partners in the race for effective treatments. Around the globe, 16 million people are alive today thanks to their efforts.
Not since the publication of Randy Shilts’s classic And the Band Played On has a book measured the AIDS plague in such brutally human, intimate, and soaring terms.
In dramatic fashion, we witness the founding of ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group), and the rise of an underground drug market in opposition to the prohibitively expensive (and sometimes toxic) AZT. We watch as these activists learn to become their own researchers, lobbyists, drug smugglers, and clinicians, establishing their own newspapers, research journals, and laboratories, and as they go on to force reform in the nation’s disease-fighting agencies.
With his unparalleled access to this community David France illuminates the lives of extraordinary characters, including the closeted Wall Street trader-turned-activist, the high school dropout who found purpose battling pharmaceutical giants in New York, the South African physician who helped establish the first officially recognized buyers’ club at the height of the epidemic, and the public relations executive fighting to save his own life for the sake of his young daughter.
Expansive yet richly detailed, this is an insider’s account of a pivotal moment in the history of American civil rights.
Killers of the Dream by Lillian Smith
In 1949, Smith kept up her personal assault on racism with Killers of the Dream, a collection of essays that attempted to identify, challenge and dismantle the Old South’s racist traditions, customs and beliefs, warning that segregation corrupted the soul. She also emphasized the negative implications on the minds of women and children. Written in a confessional and autobiographical style that was highly critical of southern moderates, it met with something of a cruel silence from book critics and the literary community.
I LOVED THIS BOOK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Les Parisiennes: How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved, and Died Under Nazi Occupation by Anne Sebba
The former Reuters foreign correspondent, pored over memoirs, diaries, and letters, read books, watched films, handled artifacts, and interviewed women who lived through the events to understand how the war changed the lives of Parisiennes and how they adjusted to loss, fear, and hunger under occupation.
From the publisher:
Paris in the 1940s was a place of fear, power, aggression, courage, deprivation, and secrets. During the occupation, the swastika flew from the Eiffel Tower and danger lurked on every corner. While Parisian men were either fighting at the front or captured and forced to work in German factories, the women of Paris were left behind where they would come face to face with the German conquerors on a daily basis, as waitresses, shop assistants, or wives and mothers, increasingly desperate to find food to feed their families as hunger became part of everyday life.
When the Nazis and the puppet Vichy regime began rounding up Jews to ship east to concentration camps, the full horror of the war was brought home and the choice between collaboration and resistance became unavoidable. Sebba focuses on the role of women, many of whom faced life and death decisions every day. After the war ended, there would be a fierce settling of accounts between those who made peace with or, worse, helped the occupiers and those who fought the Nazis in any way they could.
The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt
Won the National Book Award in 2012.
An engaging literary detective story by noted Harvard Shakespeare scholar.
I recommend reading this review in the Los Angeles Review of Books.
An Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan
One of The New York Times top ten books of the year and a finalist for the 2016 National Book Award.
The story focuses on two families transformed by a 1996 explosion in a crowded Delhi market. The Khuranas, who are Hindu, lost two young sons in the blast, while the neighboring Ahmeds, who are Muslim, nearly lost their son, Mansoor.
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
If you are looking for one of those books where you begin skipping lines accidentally because you want to know what happens next, then this book is for you. Heck, it could keep you up all night.
The story takes place in a picturesque small-town near Sydney (Australia) and begins at an elementary school trivia night where there is a death – or was it murder??
Quickly jumping back six months to kindergarten orientation, we get to meet the Moms, all of whom have kindergarteners. There is tightly-wound, remarried Madeline with a fondness for impractical designer footwear who has to endure sharing a school year with her ex-husband and his new age wife and their 5-year-old. Gorgeous rich Celeste, who is a kind “mum” harboring a dark secret. And their new friend – shy, young single mom Jane who is new to town and harbors secret doubts about her son.
A random act of schoolyard bullying, sets the story in motion and pretty soon it becomes apparent that you have no idea what is really going on behind closed doors and that the big little lies told to survive may prove lethal one day. Moriarty takes a powerful stand against domestic violence and bullying, but don’t worry interwoven into the book are plenty of funny moments.
This dark comedic portrait of the kind of well-intentioned parents who might just be a little crazy at times is being adapted by HBO for miniseries starring Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, and Alexander Skarsgard!!
Count Magnus and Other Ghost Stories by M.R. James
These classic nineteenth-century ghost stories reach out from beyond the grave and wreak peril (sometimes supernatural) in seaside towns and on country estates
Miss Jane by Brad Watson
Longlisted for the National Book Award for Fiction.
A quality read!
The story is inspired by the life of Watson’s own great-aunt.
The heroine, (the fictional) Miss Jane Chisolm, was born in rural, early-twentieth-century Mississippi with a genital birth defect that would stand in the way of the central “uses” for a woman in that time and place: sex and marriage.
Watson succeeds in bringing to life the sadness and cruelty of Chisolm’s life and a woman whose inner strength and generous spirit cannot be limited by her physical self.
The Mothers by Brit Bennett
The debut novel of an immensely talented 25-year-old.
The coming-of-age story of three young people growing up in a tight-knit African-American Christian community in Southern California.
Nadia Turner is finishing up high school when she falls for the pastor’s son – handsome Luke Sheppard, a former football star whose injury has reduced him to waiting tables at a local restaurant. The trio is rounded out by Aubrey, Nadia’s conservative best friend. The two girls are slowly drawn to each other by the fact that they’re both motherless. Nadia’s mother recently committed suicide, and Aubrey’s long ago abandoned her.
At 17, Nadia gets pregnant and decides to abort the baby, a decision she hides from everyone for as long as she can. **I highly recommend checking out her very popular essay on race!!!
My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
Pulitzer prize-winning author and part-time Maine resident Elizabeth Strout has crafted an honest if not heartbreaking story told in fewer than 200 pages.
The novel begins with its protagonist Lucy Barton telling a story about what happened to her many years earlier.
A young mother of two, she was recovering from surgery complications, when her own mother to whom she had not spoken in many years, came to sit at the foot of her bed and keep her company for five days.
Her mother tells fun, gossipy stories about neighbors in her hometown of Amgash, Illinois, and everything seems to be ticking along well, until Lucy reveals to us in small ways the poverty of her upbringing, her hunger for her mother’s love and their difficult, at times abusive relationship.
The Neon Rain by James Lee Burke (1987)
The first of twenty Dave Robicheaux novels.
A seriously good detective novel with the perfect balance of suspense, intelligence and grit.
Robicheaux is a New Orleans homicide detective haunted by his infantry days in the Vietnam War who struggles with alcoholism and depression.
When he becomes involved in the case of a young prostitute whose body is found in a bayou he is thrust into the world of drug lords and arms-smugglers.
I recommend getting to know the fascinating Burke a bit more in this Garden & Gun magazine interview.
Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (2011)
PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE DESCRIPTION:
The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.
But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences, and leaving the lives of everyone, from the performers to the patrons, hanging in the balance.
The People in the Castle, Selected Strange Stories by Joan Aiken
(1924–2004) was born in Rye, Sussex, England
An anthology of fantasy stories by a 20th-century master of the ghost story. My favorites:
Bumblepuppy – The endearing story of a puppy’s ghost found trapped in an old storage box.
Listening – After hearing a lecture on the connection between music and everyday noise, a professor discovers strange connections in his ordinary life.
The People in the Castle A non-traditional fairytale between a small town doctor and a princess. There is no moral to be learned here, only a story to be told.
The Spy by Paulo Coelho (2016)
The book brings to life one of history’s most enigmatic women: Mata Hari. From a penniless young woman to a popular exotic dancer who shocked and delighted audiences with her powerful performances. As an independent woman in the first decades of the 20th century she defied convention and risked everything to live the lifestyle she aspired to – and she paid the ultimate price.
Mata Hari was the stage name Dutch-born Margaretha Zelle took when she became one of Paris’ most popular exotic dancers on the eve of World War I.
The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin (2016)
Truman Capote’s swans are all here – Barbara “Babe” Cushing Mortimer Paley, Slim Keith, Gloria Guinness, C. Z. Guest, Pamela Churchill, and Marella Agnelli.
During the 1950s and 60s these were the most beautiful, stylish, wealthy and envied women in all of New York. When a photograph of Babe with a scarf tied to her handbag ran, it created a trendy tidal wave that millions of women emulated.
For years Capote had been the confidant of high society women – primarily Babe Paley – but that all changed with the publication of his nasty article “La Côte Basque ” in Esquire magazine in1975. The main characters were thinly veiled characterizations of the main women in his life and after reading the article they never spoke to him again. The story takes place after Babe Paley died of lung cancer and after Capote had been ostracized from New York society. The former swans look back on how it all began.
Victorian Ghost Stories: An Oxford Anthology edited by Michael Cox and R.A. Gilbert
35 tales of haunted houses, vengeful spirits, spectral warnings, invisible antagonists, and motiveless malignity from beyond the grave, every one guaranteed to generate the pleasurable shudder.
The Last House in C — Street (1856) Dinah Mulock, The Romance of Certain Old Clothes (1868) by Henry James, and The Kit-bag (1908) Algernon Blackwood
Ghost stories were something at which the Victorians excelled. In an age of scientific progress the idea of a vindictive past able to reach out and violate present held an especial potential for terror, and throughout the nineteenth century fictional ghost stories developed in parallel with the more general Victorian fascination for death and what lay beyond it.
You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott
I swallowed in one gulp.
How far will you go to achieve a dream? That’s the question a celebrated coach poses to Katie and Eric Knox after he sees their daughter Devon, a gymnastics prodigy, compete.
And thus we enter the highly structured world – the sacrifices, the obsession – of an Olympic hopeful.
Then a mysterious death rocks their close-knit gymnastics community and everything they Knoxes have worked so hard for is suddenly at risk.
While trying to navigate the next few months, Katie is forced to consider whether there’s any price she isn’t willing to pay to achieve Devon’s dream.
NON-FICTION will publish next weekend. ox
*Photo of Babe Paley by John Rawling for Vogue Magazine (1946)
Is there anything better than a morning in bed with a cup of cocoa and a good book? Possibly, but I don’t think so. And as it gets chillier out there and we get less daylight than darkness and as I pile on the white comforters – reading in bed is truly one of life’s great pleasures.
What makes a great read? There are no rules. But as someone who reads a lot I can only say quality of writing and storytelling. Dialogue may not be great, but the characters must be developed and the story must flow. It must be believable – I don’t care if you are writing about lizard people from Saturn invading Middle Earth – I want to feel the book. The truly great ones, those stay with you maybe change you or your reading habits.
I read all types of books – memoirs, biographies, graphic stories, detective novels, legal thrillers, generational dramas, romance, and coming-of-age.
Here’s a list of titles I read recently and my thoughts.
Crossover by poet Kwame Alexander (2014)
2015 Newbery Medal Winner
Read this out loud and feel free to GROOVE and MOVE and SWOOP and Swooooooosh. The book is a young adult novel that follows 12-year-old basketball playing twins.
Check out this PBS video about the book here.
Mary Oliver’s exquisite poetry connects readers to the natural world in a way that is both beautiful and instructive.
American Primitive (1983), her fifth book, won the Pulitzer Prize. In her seventh book, House of Light (1990), won the Christopher Award.
After You by JoJo Moyes
The story picks up where the blockbuster Me Before You lets off.
Moyes’s heroine Lou works at an Irish-themed airport bar in a tacky emerald green uniform upselling bar snacks and cleaning up vomit in the toilets. Without giving away any spoilers the only other things I can tell you are – she is living through the consequences of the choices made in Me Before You and that the story has super funny moments and ones where you feel the despair and pure loss of hope Lou has accepted.
The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler (2015)
When a young librarian comes into possession of the diary of a traveling circus from more than 200 years ago, he decides the book may hold clues to a family mystery he needs to solve to save his sister’s life.
The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant (2014)
The story of a Jewish woman finding her place in Boston in the early twentieth century.
One Day I Will Write About This Place by Binyavanga Wainaina (2011)
MAGNIFICENT (!) coming-of-age memoir by a brilliant Kenyan writer.
Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh (2015)
Eileen Dunlop, a lonely young woman working in a boys’ prison outside Boston in the early 60s, is pulled into a very strange crime. Beautifully written, and laced with dark humor, Eileen is much more than a twisty crime novel, it is literary and complex. Shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize. By far one of the best books I have read this year.
The Fishermen: A Novel by Chigozie Obioma (2016)
Debut novel by Nigerian writer about four brothers who disobey their elders and go fishing. At the river, they meet a dangerous local madman who persuades the oldest of the boys that he is destined to be killed by one of his siblings. A dark, but beautiful book. Shortlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize.
Faithful Place (2010), Broken Harbor (2012) The Secret Place (2014), and Trespasser (October 2016) by Tana French.
The third, fourth, fifth, and sixth installments in French’s acclaimed Dublin Murder Squad series. It is not essential you read the series in order (In the Woods #1, The Likeness #2), but I think it will be a far more gratifying experience if you do. The first two novels feature the same detective in the series, the third and fourth involve different investigators. All the detectives are connected, and you get to see that connection and see different aspects of their personalities (professional and otherwise).
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (2016)
Sentenced to house arrest in a luxury hotel across the street from the Kremlin by a Bolshevik tribunal for writing a poem deemed to encourage revolt, Count Alexander Rostov nonetheless lives the fullest of lives, discovering the depths of his humanity. Through the windows of the hotel the aristocrat watches life change in Moscow from the Revolution to the Cold War — 30 years of tumultuous history taking place on the doorstep of the hotel. Excellent.
The Book of Harlan by Bernice L. McFadden (2016)
Beautiful!! The story begins in rural Georgia in 1917 where Harlan’s parents grow up. Then through Harlan Elliott’s young eyes we are taken to 1930s Harlem and with him as a young musician Paris which is shortly thereafter invaded by the Germans in 1940 and on to an ugly up close view of the Bitch of Buchenwald and back to Brooklyn.
An evocative and captivating narrative that presents a historical fiction of the African-American past and some of the contemporary dilemmas of the relatively present.
Heroes of the Frontier by Dave Eggers (2016)
A troubled dentist pulls up stakes and moves herself and her two children to southern Alaska.
After enduring The Circle (2013) I found this a welcome return to the Eggers I love.
Night Music by John Connolly – I listened to on CD
13 magnificent tales of the supernatural. “The Caxton Private Lending Library and Book Depository” is now one of my all-time favorite stories.
Mr. Berger spent 34 years as a closed accounts registrar, keeping his life as quiet and empty as possible. He prefers the company of books to that of people, and when the opportunity for early retirement presents itself, he is happy to spend the rest of his years in the countryside, with only books for company.
Mr. Berger’s quiet life is interrupted one evening when he sees a woman fling herself before a train, in the manner of Anna Karenina. When he rushes to help, however, the woman is gone—and thus Mr. Berger is even more shocked when he sees the same woman do exactly the same thing again, a few nights later. His investigation leads him to the Caxton Private Lending Library and Book Depository, a place beyond all his imaginings.
Salem’s Lot by Stephen King (1975)
Author Ben Mears returns to ‘Salem’s Lot to write a book about a house that has haunted him since childhood only to find his isolated hometown infested with vampires. While the vampires claim more victims, Mears convinces a small group of believers to combat the undead. From SK site.
Smile by Raina Telgemeier (2010)
Eisner Award-winning graphic memoir based on her childhood. Or more specifically, what it was like to be teased by other children face after losing two front teeth in sixth grade and wearing “embarrassing headgear,” braces. Middle school would have been SO much easier with this woman and her graphic novels about what it is like to be a normal pre-teen.
Ghosts also by Raina Telgemeier (September, 2016)
Graphic novel for children (or adults!). Middle-schooler Catrina narrates the story of her mixed-race (Latino/white) family’s move from Southern California to Bahía de la Luna on the Northern California coast.
Dad has a new job, but it’s little sister Maya who has incurable lung disease cystic fibrosis that is dictates the move. Turns out, in addition to the nice cool sea air that helps Maya breathe easier, the town is full of friendly ghosts.
Surrender, New York: A Novel by Caleb Carr (2016)
From Penguin Random House – In the small town of Surrender in upstate New York, Dr. Jones, a psychological profiler, and Dr. Michael Li, a trace evidence expert, teach online courses in profiling and forensic science from Jones’s family farm. Once famed advisors to the New York City Police Department, Trajan and Li now work in exile, having made enemies of those in power. Protected only by farmhands and Jones’s unusual “pet,” the outcast pair is unexpectedly called in to consult on a disturbing case.
My personal opinion – it could have been at least 50 pages shorter with a LOT less run around. I felt dizzy with all the plot turns and twists!
Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler (2016)
I feel about this book the way I do about The Princess Bride and mac and cheese. That I am the only person I know who does not like it (note all the glowing reviews and features). I really did not enjoy this book after the first 15 or so pages. Pick up Blood, Bones, and Butter by her fan Gabrielle Hamilton or Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. Those books go beyond the superficial world of Danler’s average small-town gal in the big city all a gaga about the bright lights and urban streets. Hamilton and Bourdain are not wimps and neither are their stories.
Danler’s debut novel. Told from the perspective of Tess, a 22-year-old who leaves a mundane past in flyover country for a fuller life in New York City as a server in one of Manhattan’s hottest eateries. The book closely mirrors the experience of the author.
The Trees by Ali Shaw (2016)
I really enjoyed this book.
From Bloomsbury – There is no warning. No chance to prepare. The trees arrive in the night: thundering up through the ground, transforming streets and towns into shadowy forest.
Adrien Thomas has never been much of a hero. But when he realises that no help is coming, he ventures into this unrecognisable world. Alongside green-fingered Hannah and her teenage son Seb, Adrien sets out to find his wife and to discover just how deep the forest goes. Their journey will take them to a place of terrible beauty and violence, to the dark heart of nature and the darkness inside themselves.
Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell (2013)
A fantastical collection of stories. My favorites: a community of girls held captive in a Japanese silk factory slowly transmute into human silkworms and plot revolution AND two vampires in a sun-drenched lemon grove try to slake their thirst for blood try helplessly to quench their thirst for blood. Russell is one of my favorite writers. I loved Swamplandia (2012 finalist for the Pulitzer). Her short stories regularly appear in the annual collections of Best American Short Stories (available at the library).
The Vacationers by Emma Straub (2014)
Realistic contemporary fiction.
From Penguin Random House – For the Posts, a two-week trip to the Balearic island of Mallorca with their extended family and friends is a celebration: Franny and Jim are observing their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, and their daughter, Sylvia, has graduated from high school. The sunlit island, its mountains and beaches, its tapas and tennis courts, also promise an escape from the tensions simmering at home in Manhattan. But all does not go according to plan: over the course of the vacation, secrets come to light, old and new humiliations are experienced, childhood rivalries resurface, and ancient wounds are exacerbated.
Note, I just checked her book Modern Lovers out of the library.
In the Bleak Midwinter (2003)
A Fountain Filled with Blood by Julia Spencer-Fleming (2004)
Books 1 and 2 in Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne Mysteries series, of which I am a big fan.
The series in a nutshell: Clare Fergusson is the priest at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Miller’s Kill, New York (based on a church in Portland, Maine!). Untraditional in every sense, she’s not just a “lady,” she’s a tough ex-Army chopper pilot, and nobody’s fool. When a mystery appears at her church door, she meets the town’s police chief, Russ Van Alstyne, who’s also ex-Army and a cynical good shepherd for the stray sheep of his hometown. As they start investigating, they discover a world of trouble, an attraction to each other…
The Wonder by Emma Donoghue (September, 2016)
I’ve been on a tear reading dark novels. This isn’t like me. I love biographies (ok those can get dark) and historic and modern romances…but here I go again reading and falling for a psychological thriller.
Donoghue’s last novel was Room, which became an Academy Award-nominated film in 2015.
Set in the 1850s in central Ireland, in the wake of the Potato Famine, Lib Wright, an English nurse trained by THE Florence Nightingale during the Crimean War, is called upon to observe an 11-year-old girl who say’s she has been fasting for four months and living off nothing but her belief in God. Ultimately, Lib finds herself at the heart of a religious conspiracy.
The Whistler by John Grisham (October, 2016)
Good solid legal thriller. Granted, the first thirty pages are a bit wooden, but stick with it! By page forty the story is moving steadily along.
We get that great Grisham working class protagonist that Grisham develops so well – only this time it’s a female! Lacy Stoltz – a lawyer who investigates judicial misconduct for the Florida Board on Judicial Conduct. She’s the real deal!
Greg Myers – our whistleblower – is a lawyer with a shady past. He approaches Lacy and tells her about a corrupt judge who has secretly been in business with the mob. Early on in their relationship, the wiseguys framed a man for murder who had stolen money from them and had her send him to jail to rot for the rest of his life (he’s old and sick and Myers wants to set him free). All the while she has been steadily growing an impeccable reputation – she wins her reelections by landslides. What will Lacy do?
The Lair of the White Worm by Bram Stoker (Classic)
Like Dracula the tale was loosely based on folklore, a fable from north-east of England featuring a serpentine dragon named the Lambton Worm. Stoker’s monster lives in a lair and terrorizes the characters in the novel, and the plot is ultimately a classic tale of good versus evil.
The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton Disclafani (2013)
I would have liked Disclafani’s debut novel a lot more if not for the marketing campaign. Whatever you do try to ignore any and all quotes and descriptions of the book and just dig into the story.
I loved her second oh so fun The After Party so much. This woman knows how to tell a story involving secrets, scandal, troubled women (who happen to come from wealthy families), and female friendships.
After the Tall Timber by Renata Adler (2015)
A collection of essays addressing some of the major American events of recent decades, such as the Watergate scandal, the “preposterous” Kenneth Starr report on Bill Clinton, the Supreme Court ruling in Bush v Gore, and the decline of serious journalism. I did not read them all, but thoroughly appreciated her coverage of peace march in Selma, Alabama.
Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan (2015)
Pulitzer Prize for Autobiography
An old-school adventure story, an intellectual autobiography, a social history, a literary road movie, and an extraordinary exploration of the gradual mastering of an exacting, little understood art. Brilliantly written for those who surf and those who have not.
Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen (September, 2016)
In his memoir, Springsteen tells the story of his life with the same honesty, humor, and originality found in his songs. Loved it.
Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History by S.C. Gwynne (2010)
The book tells the tragic and very bloody forty-year story of one of the ugliest parts of American history – the control of the American West. The sheer arrogance and ignorance of white settlers is matched only by the extraordinary violent tactics of the Comanche Indians.
I subsequently read Gwynne’s
The Perfect Pass: American Genius and the Reinvention of Football (September, 2016) Not so great even for a football lover like me.
Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson (2014)
Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the epic account of how Civil War general Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson became a great and tragic national hero. I knew little about Jackson going into the book and came away understanding why he was one of the most famous men in America’s history.
Everyone Behaves Badly by Lesley M. M. Blume (2016)
The Lost Generation – in all its depression and excess – was immortalized in The Sun Also Rises. Now, cultural critic Blue pens the true story of that infamous 1925 trip to Pamploma from which Hemingway drew his inspiration, delving into the salacious travails of the group that would define an era of modern literature.
The Future of Ice: A Journey Into the Cold by Gretel Ehrlich (2004)
Ehrlich was living in a tent in Wyoming when her publisher suggested that she write a book about winter, climate change, and global warming. For a year, she travels to extreme points (from Tierra del Fuego to the top of the world) in her quest to understand the complex, primal nature of cold; the forces that are destroying the season of winter; and why the chaotic rhythms of weather are becoming even more disruptive.
Jackson 1964: And Other Dispatches from Fifty Years of Reporting Race in America by Calvin Trillin
From bestselling author and beloved New Yorker writer Calvin Trillin, a deeply resonant, career-spanning collection of articles on race and racism, from the 1960s to the present. MUST READ.
Leaving Before the Rains Come by Alexandra Fuller (2015)
This book was just a bummer.
I consider myself a huge Alexandra Fuller fan – two of my favorite books are Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight (2002) and her second memoir Cocktail Hour Under The Tree of Forgetfulness (2011). I had stayed away from this – her third memoir – about the disintegration of her marriage – having heard not so great reviews and just not being as interested on the focus. The book just didn’t hold me the way her other two did.
Mayor of Mogadishu: A Story of Chaos and Redemption in the Ruins of Somalia by Andrew Harding (releases in US November 29, 2016)
From the UK publisher – An unsparing and revealing portrayal of Somalia, from the Siad Barre decades to Al-Shabaab, seen through the eyes of ‘Tarzan’, a formidable Mogadishu politician.
Harding has worked as a foreign correspondent for the past twenty-five years in Russia, Asia and Africa. He has been visiting Somalia since 2000.
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach (2004)
From the publisher – An oddly compelling, often hilarious exploration of the strange lives of our bodies postmortem. For two thousand years, cadavers—some willingly, some unwittingly—have been involved in science’s boldest strides and weirdest undertakings. In this fascinating account, Mary Roach visits the good deeds of cadavers over the centuries and tells the engrossing story of our bodies when we are no longer with them. Fascinating. Next I want to read some less morose more oddball stuff of Roach’s.
Under a Lucky Star by Roy Chapman Andrews
Covers his early years at the American Museum of Natural History (later on he was the director) and the expeditions he led to the Gobi of Mongolia between 1922 to 1930. There he and his fellow scientists discovered the first nests of dinosaur eggs, new species of dinosaurs, and the fossils of early mammals that co-existed with dinosaurs.
I much prefer his book An Explorer Comes Home where he writes about his wife Billy and their farmhouse in New England.
Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick (2016)
From the publisher – Valiant Ambition is a complex, controversial, and dramatic portrait of a people in crisis and the war that gave birth to a nation. The focus is on loyalty and personal integrity, evoking a Shakespearean tragedy that unfolds in the key relationship of Washington and Arnold, who is an impulsive but sympathetic hero whose misfortunes at the hands of self-serving politicians fatally destroy his faith in the legitimacy of the rebellion. As a country wary of tyrants suddenly must figure out how it should be led, Washington’s unmatched ability to rise above the petty politics of his time enables him to win the war that really matters. Definitely going to have to read a lot more Philbrick.
We are Not Such Things: The Murder of a Young American a South African Township, and the Search for Truth and Reconciliation by Justine van der Leun (2016)
For those who have never heard of beautiful naïve well-meaning 26-year-old Amy Biehl and her truly tragic gruesome death on August 25, 1993 – eight months before South Africa’s first fully democratic elections – well I suppose you could read this book. It’s not bad at all, it just doesn’t bring much to the story – certainly there is no research present that leads to gasps of surprise. Months after finishing the book I’m not sure which troubled me more – Bly, who didn’t live through the tumultuous 90s through the apartheid era and has little investigative experience, or Biehl’s mother who seemed to get a lot of first-class airline seats from some nefarious folks likely involved if not in her daughter’s death in the cover-up.
When Breath Becomes Air by by Paul Kalanithi (2016)
A beautiful moving memoir by a neurosurgeon at the start of his career who learned he had terminal cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. This is his – and to some degree – certainly their story.
I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything,” he wrote. “Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.’”
What are you reading these days? Any recommendations?
“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit”
– Edward Abbey
“Everything in nature invites us constantly to be what we are”
– Gretel Ehrlich.
A few weeks back, I spent four extraordinary days with Jackson Hole Mountain Guides (JHMG) in Grand Teton National Park.
For nearly a year I trained at the gym, in the pool, and hiked up several smallish mountains to prepare for the seven mile hike up to base camp and a couple days of climbing. At different points during those months I felt strong and was excited and others sad doubting my body and commitment. I wanted to succeed and to me that meant being able to at least get to high camp (no small deal – the distance wouldn’t be a biggie I do that mileage once a week now and then – but figure in you are gaining 4200 feet of elevation and it becomes very difficult very quickly) and do some climbing. Thanks to a TON of water (one of the best things you can do to acclimate your body is to drink water – something I did consistently for nearly 72 hours prior to the trek) and JHMG I did what I set out to.
When at long last, I got into the rental SUV in Salt Lake City and began driving towards Jackson, Wyoming it all felt very real and really great. As the mileage I covered grew the West opened up in dramatic fashion. The red canyons in Utah the open plains of Wyoming and those mountains!! A few small towns offered quintessential Americana with signs promoting rodeos and in Afton the Red Baron Drive-In with burgers, tater tots and an entire menu dedicated to shakes.
After checking into the Alpine House in Jackson Hole (I give it five stars for the delicious homemade breakfasts, comfortable spacious rooms, and super helpful staff) I explored the town. If anything the town wasn’t so great. Lots of tourists (five years ago locals verified what friends who had been there before and loved it told me – used to be summers were mostly locals – then something happened and no one is entirely sure what and now it’s more locals during the winter) and kitsch.
No tourists when I hiked up Snow King – locals favorite for in-town trail running (only “running” I did was into a couple waves of altitude sickness). It took every bit of determination and physical strength I had to make it up that mini mountain – something I could practically run up back home.
I will let the pictures tell the rest of the story….
My biggest takeaways:
Focus on what is in front of you, or the exposure everything around you will overwhelm you the guide explained. Trying to practice that here on the ground.
I LOVE mountains. I also LOVE having everything you need for a night out in the wilderness on my back. Trails and mountains will be a part of my life for the rest of it.
Wahoo, almost time for Special Surfer Night. Third Tuesday, June, July & August. Here’s a piece I did on it for the Huffington Post a couple years ago. Such an amazing program. Thanks Nanci B for all your energy putting it together and the awesome parents who bring their amazing kids!!! Fingers crossed for good weather!
Want to get in on the fun. Check any of these links out:
*This one is going to be BRIEF.
I’m really going to try to do one of these reading lists every month. I love to read and encourage reading. By the way, I get almost all the books I read either from the Portland Public Library or Longfellow Books in Portland. When I am fortunate enough to have the time to make a trip up the coast to Rockland I always stop in Hello Hello Books and never leave without an armload. It is so important to support our libraries and local bookshops. And the spoken word in general – why I buy the $6 Sunday edition of the NYT every other week or so – well, that and it’s my primary news source.
OK, what I have been reading:
Dark Places by Gillian Flynn – dark, disturbing, and none of the fun of Gone Girl.
Thunderstruck by Erik Larson – He is one of my favorite writers today. This is another well-written, well-researched book with as usual an interesting twist – Here’s the summary from Larson’s website:
The saga of how the lives of the inventor of wireless and of Britain’s second most famous murderer (after Jack the Ripper) intersected during one of the greatest criminal chases of all time. The inventor was Guglielmo Marconi, the young Italian genius; the killer was Hawley Harvey Crippen, who murdered his overbearing wife and fled Britain with his mistress, unaware that Scotland Yard was hot on his heels. The book—an instant New York Times bestseller—brings to life a host of forgotten characters, including spirit mediums, ghost-hunting physicists, Scotland Yard inspectors, and one of the great pioneers of forensic science. The climax occurs during a trans-Atlantic chase which, thanks to the miracle of Marconi’s invention, was followed by millions of people around the world—with Crippen and his mistress completely unaware.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson – brief and utterly fantastic.
Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem – This book deserved more time from me than I have right now. It is a story based on Lethem’s own experiences growing up on the streets of Brooklyn during the 1970s. It requires rereading, because it is that smart….that good. What The Paris Review had to say:
It is indeed about the jail, and the place of jails in American life. It is also about superheroes, soul music, science fiction, community empowerment, Spaldeens, graffiti, gentrification, and headlocks. The novel follows two friends, Dylan Ebdus and Mingus Rude—one white, the son of an experimental filmmaker, the other black, the son of an R&B singer, both motherless, both obsessed with comic books—from the 1970s through the 1990s. Along the way it captures a big swath of what used to be called, reverently, the inner city, and of boyhood and manhood in America.
Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail by Ben Montgomery – OK, here is the thing I am finding about so many of the reporters turned writers – it seems like there is this excitement of being able to write more than a few hundred words – they have this huge project and they get to indulge all those cravings for descriptions, etc. that get cut during their day job assignments. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes a reporter who produces Pulitzer Prize worthy news pieces gets lost in the jungle that is a novel. I cannot say I did not enjoy this book by Montgomery (who was nominated for a Pulitzer for his journalism), but it was nowhere near what I felt it should have been. When Montgomery writes about Gatewood’s abusive marriage he is spot on – you are present for all the vital details – but on the trail it is all facts and frankly that’s best left in a hiking guide book. I don’t mean to be overly critical here, I get it – who wouldn’t be panic stricken writing about someone this fantastic – and I mean he got me emotionally – but there was just so much missing along the way. What is that phrase – “When you can’t see the forest for the trees” – that’s half of this book to me. If you love the outdoors, if you love hiking, if you want to be inspired – read this book and please tell me what you think.
Selected Novels and Short Stories by Patricia Highsmith – I read “Strangers on a Train” and “The Price of Salt” (the film “Carol” is based on the latter) and loved both. Her dialogue is so entirely believable – she is a master at it. Highly recommend for a summer read.
A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle – another brief and excellent read. Welcome Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. **By the way, did you know Doyle based Holmes on Edgar Allan Poe!? So cool!
The After Party by Anton Disclafani. New Release. LOVED. You bet your britches I will be purchasing a copy of her first book The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls after reading this one. It’s like the (film) Giant (you know the one – with Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean) meets The Help (the book!). Ladies, put on your best dress pour yourself a gin and tonic, paint your lips (and fingernails) red and get started….
Description from Random House: Joan Fortier is the epitome of Texas glamour and the center of the 1950s Houston social scene. Tall, blonde, beautiful, and strong, she dominates the room and the gossip columns. Every man who sees her seems to want her; every woman just wants to be her. But this is a highly ordered world of garden clubs and debutante balls. The money may flow as freely as the oil, but the freedom and power all belong to the men. What happens when a woman of indecorous appetites and desires like Joan wants more? What does it do to her best friend?
Devoted to Joan since childhood, Cece Buchanan is either her chaperone or her partner in crime, depending on whom you ask. But as Joan’s radical behavior escalates, Cece’s perspective shifts—forcing one provocative choice to appear the only one there is.
Houston Magazine mini feature here. And pics of the mansions here. And OMG THIS mansion here.
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. Wow! This was another of those books I picked up and could not put down. I did, but only to sleep, eat, work a bit and then was right back into it as soon as possible. It is beautiful and devastating and a must read after you read Anthony Doerr’s exquisite All The Light You Cannot See. Two weeks later and it is in the forefront of my mind. Reading this book I knew I would need to return to Paris much sooner than expected. (Well, and the Ritz did just reopen – YAY!!!) Description from the author’s page:
In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France…but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When a German captain requisitions Vianne’s home, she and her daughter must live with the enemy or lose everything. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates all around them, she is forced to make one impossible choice after another to keep her family alive.
Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets Gaetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can…completely. But when he betrays her, Isabelle joins the Resistance and never looks back, risking her life time and again to save others.
With courage, grace and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah captures the epic panorama of WWII and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women’s war. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France–a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women.
J in the Sebago Lake Apiaries bee yard.
Queen cups with no royal jelly before we destroyed them (to prevent swarming).
Smoking…. and another shot Sebago Lake Apiaries.
If you look closely in the center of the pic – on the frame – you can see where the bees propolized (used a resinous substance obtained from plants to cover up) what likely was a sick bee. Sad, but a reality – and not so sad if you think it means the colony is healthy and wants to keep their hive clean.
The third Tuesday of the summer months, Aquaholics (a terrific surf/stand up paddle shop) in Kennebunk, Maine holds a special surfer night for children with Autism, Aspergers, Down syndrome ….
This year’s dates are June 21st, July 19th and August 16th. Time to arrive TBD depending on position, but generally speaking I am on the beach from 5 – 7ish.
Volunteer needs include:
Individuals with surfing experience to help special surfers in the water.
Individuals with little to no surfing experience to help run interference and redirect special surfers in the water as they approach shore.
Individuals to help check in special surfers and direct them on the beach.
Interested? Please contact:
Aquaholics Special Surfers www.aquaholicsspecialsurfers.org
Special Surfers https://www.facebook.com/AquaholicsSpecialSurfers