The summer readings lists are starting! Hurray! And from none other than Mr. Summer himself, Jimmy Buffett! Check out the Margaritaville Book Club (which really looks like another income source for margaritaville.com!).
A classic Jack London called On the Makaloa Mat looked interesting to me. It was published in 1919 and contains seven stories set in Hawaii considered his "island tales." And if you are an eBook reader, it appears this short story collection can be download free! (iBooks, Kindle).
Another interesting looking summer read is Journey Without A Map by Gardner McCay. During his final year, McKay gathered his notebooks together and began writing this memoir of a life so richly varied that it would seem contrived if it were a movie script. Dozens of handwritten diaries were augmented by events he'd written about previously. Both devotees of his short stories and plays as well as fans from his years as a television star will enjoy his unusual insights and even more unusual adventures.
One of my favorite authors of children stories, Chris Van Allsburg, has a new book, Queen of the Falls. He writes and illustrates his stories, and his illustrations are wonderful.
About the book:
At the turn of the nineteenth century, a retired sixty-two-year-old charm school instructor named Annie Edson Taylor, seeking fame and fortune, decided to do something that no one in the world had ever done before—she would go over Niagara Falls in a wooden barrel.
Wendy McClure is an unsentimental writer, but she loves the Little House On The Prairie books. No, she really loves them. She loves them so much that she bought a butter churn on eBay. And she churned butter—you know, just to see. She took off on a trip with her heroically game boyfriend (who's charming in part because he doesn't insist on making a point of how heroically game he is), and they visited historic places where Laura Ingalls Wilder lived, and museums and pageants and kitschy stores where she's still beloved. The Wilder Life is a book of stories about these adventures, and unlike a lot of similarly structured books in which writers appear to be doing unusual things just to write books about them, McClure essentially uses the opportunity to write a series of thoughtful essays about memory at different levels. There's the tiny, very specific theme of her particular childhood love of the Little House books, but as she immerses herself in those memories, it pulls back to become a book about the way all of us relate to stories we hear as children, and about the way nostalgia operates unpredictably and sometimes painfully, and ultimately even about our false cultural memories of a romantic pioneer past that only sort of happened.
Rosie Ferguson is seventeen and ready to enjoy the summer before her senior year of high school. She's intelligent-she aced AP physics; athletic-a former state-ranked tennis doubles champion; and beautiful. She is, in short, everything her mother, Elizabeth, hoped she could be. The family's move to Landsdale, with stepfather James in tow, hadn't been as bumpy as Elizabeth feared.
But as the school year draws to a close, there are disturbing signs that the life Rosie claims to be leading is a sham, and that Elizabeth's hopes for her daughter to remain immune from the pull of the darker impulses of drugs and alcohol are dashed. Slowly and against their will, Elizabeth and James are forced to confront the fact that Rosie has been lying to them-and that her deceptions will have profound consequences.
I listened to an interview on Talk of the Nation with Caroline Kennedy about a new book of poetry that she has edited, She Walks In Beauty. It's sounds like a very good collection. I think this excerpt from the book explain it best:
This book began around the time I turned fifty. Like my friends who had been there before me, I dreaded it for months, and was relieved when it was over and life seemed much the same as before. One of the nicest things that happened was that three friends sent me poems to mark the occasion. One poem was about love, one helped me cope with loss, and the third spoke to ways of being. I kept them and passed them on to others when the time seemed right. To me, that's the gift of poetry — it shapes an endless conversation about the most important things in life.
Creating an anthology of poems centered around the stages of a woman's life still seems like an unlikely project to me. I have shied away from the personal genre of literature, and never thought that growing old would be something I would do. Perhaps that's because, in my family, my cousins and I still refer to our parents' generation as "the grown-ups," although most of us are in our fifties. But there seemed to be something profoundly different about hitting the middle-age mark — a sense of accomplishment, an emotional reckoning, and a feeling of renewed possibility about the future. All that, and a tiny terror of sliding down the hill into a crumpled heap of old age. Working on this book reminded me that the personal is universal, being a woman is a profound part of who I am, and sharing experiences and emotions is the best way we can help ourselves and others.
Approaching middle age made me appreciate my deep connection to the women I have grown up with, worked with, and whose children have grown up with mine. We have learned what is important, we can look back as well as forward, and we have the chance to weave the choices we have already made into the changes we want to bring into our lives. Reading poems can help bring clarity and insight to emotions that can be confusing or contradictory.
Women have always been at the center of poetry — throughout history we have been its inspiration, and more recently, women are the authors of the most profound poetry of our time. One of the oldest known poets in the world is a woman — Sappho — and her fragments of verse are as emotionally piercing today as the work of many modern writers. The love poetry of medieval troubadours, Renaissance playwrights, and Romantic poets (almost exclusively men) celebrated female beauty and mystery; conquest, heartbreak, and desire. In the twentieth century, women poets gave voice to the pain and joy, relationships and loneliness, the work and the life of women. In today's world, as women struggle to balance work and family, to be good mothers and friends, to care for our children and our parents, poetry can help us accept our limitations, and inspire us to overcome them. In a world where language is too often used to manipulate, poems can help us find our authentic voice.
The book is divided into sections that seem broad enough to encompass the milestones in a woman's life — "Falling in Love," "Breaking Up," "Marriage," "Motherhood," "Death and Grief" — but they are intended as helpful, if arbitrary, dividers. Other sections are about some of the things that make us happy, like "Friendship" or "Beauty." My favorite section is the one titled "How to Live." It includes the poems that started this book, and many others, each containing wisdom that has helped me on my own journey.
Collecting these poems reminded me that when I was younger, I thought my task was to forge ahead and succeed as an individual. But growing older has helped me realize that our success lies in our relationships — with the family we are born into, the friends we make, the people we fall in love with, and the children we have. Sometimes we struggle, sometimes we adapt, and at other times we set a course for others to follow. We are all leaders and followers in our lives. We are constantly learning from and teaching one another. We learn, too, that the most important work is not done by those who seem the most important, but by those who care the most.
Women have always been the weavers of the world, literally and figuratively. We weave people together, we weave the experiences of life into patterns, and we weave our stories into words. Poetry has been one of the ways we do this. Poems distill our deepest emotions into a very few words — words that we can remember, carry with us, and share with others as we talk and weave the cloth of life.
Excerpted from She Walks In Beauty by Caroline Kennedy. Copyright 2011, Caroline Kennedy. Published by Hyperion. All Rights Reserved.
A decade ago Philip Connors left work as an editor at the Wall Street Journal and talked his way into a job far from the streets of lower Manhattan: working as one of the last fire lookouts in America. Spending nearly half the year in a 7' x 7' tower, 10,000 feet above sea level in remote New Mexico, his tasks were simple: keep watch over one of the most fire-prone forests in the country and sound the alarm at the first sign of smoke.
Fire Season is Connors's remarkable reflection on work, our place in the wild, and the charms of solitude. The landscape over which he keeps watch is rugged and roadless—it was the first region in the world to be officially placed off limits to industrial machines—and it typically gets hit by lightning more than 30,000 times per year. Connors recounts his days and nights in this forbidding land, untethered from the comforts of modern life: the eerie pleasure of being alone in his glass-walled perch with only his dog Alice for company; occasional visits from smokejumpers and long-distance hikers; the strange dance of communion and wariness with bears, elk, and other wild creatures; trips to visit the hidden graves of buffalo soldiers slain during the Apache wars of the nineteenth century; and always the majesty and might of lightning storms and untamed fire.
Written with narrative verve and startling beauty, and filled with reflections on his literary forebears who also served as lookouts—among them Edward Abbey, Jack Kerouac, Norman Maclean, and Gary Snyder—Fire Season is a book to stand the test of time.
Willa Jackson may have moved back home to Walls of Water, North Carolina, but that doesn’t mean she wants to be there. She handily isolates herself running a shop along the touristy strip of town that specializes in organic sportswear. In her neatly arranged (and boring) life, Willa hardly has to see any of the girls she went to high school with, including most especially Paxton Osgood, a rich do-gooder whose uppity fakeness and manicured nails set Willa’s teeth on edge.
Unfortunately for Willa—but fortunately for readers—her past refuses to stay tucked away. The renovation of an old mansion, the Blue Ridge Madam, causes Willa’s and Paxton’s paths to cross at last. In a twist too zany to be believed outside of the genre of Southern fiction, the women’s grandmothers were the dearest of friends and harbor a horrible secret, which has remained hidden beneath the peach tree in the garden: It’s the body of a dead man, and the two old women know how it got there. As the young protagonists unfold the mystery, they are offered a chance at friendship that neither realized they needed. Along the way they become entangled in new romances and create a few secret-worthy stories of their own.
On April 18, 1981, a ball game sprang eternal. What began as a modestly attended minor-league game between the Pawtucket Red Sox and the Rochester Red Wings became not only the longest ever played in baseball history, but something else entirely. The first pitch was thrown after dusk on Holy Saturday, and for the next eight hours the night seemed to suspend its participants between their collective pasts and futures, between their collective sorrows and joys—the ballplayers; the umpires; Pawtucket's ejected manager, peering through a hole in the backstop; the sportswriters and broadcasters; a few stalwart fans shivering in the cold.
With Bottom of the 33rd, celebrated New York Times journalist Dan Barry has written a lyrical meditation on small-town lives, minor-league dreams, and the elements of time and community that conspired one fateful night to produce a baseball game seemingly without end. Bottom of the 33rd captures the sport's essence: the purity of purpose, the crazy adherence to rules, the commitment of both players and fans. This genre-bending book, a reportorial triumph, portrays the myriad lives held in the night's unrelenting grip. Consider, for instance, the team owner determined to revivify a decrepit stadium, built atop a swampy bog, or the batboy approaching manhood, nervous and earnest, or the umpire with a new family and a new home, or the wives watching or waiting up, listening to a radio broadcast slip into giddy exhaustion. Consider the small city of Pawtucket itself, its ghosts and relics, and the players, two destined for the Hall of Fame (Cal Ripken and Wade Boggs), a few to play only briefly or unforgettably in the big leagues, and the many stuck in minor-league purgatory, duty bound and loyal to the game.
An unforgettable portrait of ambition and endurance, Bottom of the 33rd is the rare sports book that changes the way we perceive America's pastime, and America's past.
At 8:17 on a Friday night, the Illumination commences. Every wound begins to shine, every bruise to glow and shimmer. And in the aftermath of a fatal car accident, a private journal of love notes, written by a husband to his wife, passes into the keeping of a hospital patient and from there through the hands of five other suffering people, touching each of them uniquely. I love the soft blue veins on your wrist. I love your lopsided smile. I love watching TV and shelling sunflower seeds with you. The six recipients—a data analyst, a photojournalist, a schoolchild, a missionary, a writer, and a street vendor—inhabit an acutely observed, beautifully familiar yet particularly strange universe, as only Kevin Brockmeier could imagine it: a world in which human pain is expressed as illumination, so that one’s wounds glitter, fluoresce, and blaze with light. As we follow the journey of the book from stranger to stranger, we come to understand how intricately and brilliantly they are connected, in all their human injury and experience.
I thought I would mention a good book before the movie adaptation comes out in a few weeks that Cheryl and I both read. Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen was a very good story—you might want to read it before it hits the silver screen.
As a young man, Jacob Jankowski was tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. It was the early part of the great Depression, and for Jacob, now ninety, the circus world he remembers was both his salvation and a living hell. A veterinary student just shy of a degree, he was put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie.
It was there that he met Marlena, the beautiful equestrian star married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. And he met Rosie, an untrainable elephant who was the great gray hope for this third-rate traveling show. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and, ultimately, it was their only hope for survival.
When his daughter, Amy—a gifted doctor, mother, and wife—collapses and dies from an asymptomatic heart condition, Roger Rosenblatt and his wife, Ginny, leave their home on the South Shore of Long Island to move in with their son-in-law, Harris, and their three young grandchildren: six-year-old Jessica, four-year-old Sammy, and one-year-old James, known as Bubbies. Long past the years of diapers, homework, and recitals, Roger and Ginny—Boppo and Mimi to the kids—quickly reaccustom themselves to the world of small children: bedtime stories, talking toys, playdates, nonstop questions, and non-sequential thought. Though reeling from Amy's death they carry on, reconstructing a family, sustaining one another, and guiding three lively, alert, and tender-hearted children through the pains and confusions of grief. As he marvels at the strength of his son-in-law, a surgeon, and the tenacity and skill of his wife, a former kindergarten teacher, Roger attends each day to "the one household duty I have mastered"—preparing the morning toast perfectly to each child's liking.
With the wit, heart, precision, and depth of understanding that has characterized his work, Roger Rosenblatt peels back the layers on this most personal of losses to create both a tribute to his late daughter and a testament to familial love. The day Amy died, Harris told Ginny and Roger, "It's impossible." Roger's story tells how a family makes the possible of the impossible.
With his three critically acclaimed novels, Chang-Rae Lee has established himself as one of the most talented writers of contemporary literary fiction. Now, with The Surrendered, Lee has created a book that amplifies everything we've seen in his previous works, and reads like nothing else. It is a brilliant, haunting, heartbreaking story about how love and war inalterably change the lives of those they touch.
June Han was only a girl when the Korean War left her orphaned; Hector Brennan was a young GI who fled the petty tragedies of his small town to serve his country. When the war ended, their lives collided at a Korean orphanage where they vied for the attentions of Sylvie Tanner, the beautiful yet deeply damaged missionary wife whose elusive love seemed to transform everything. Thirty years later and on the other side of the world, June and Hector are reunited in a plot that will force them to come to terms with the mysterious secrets of their past, and the shocking acts of love and violence that bind them together.
As Lee unfurls the stunning story of June, Hector, and Sylvie, he weaves a profound meditation on the nature of heroism and sacrifice, the power of love, and the possibilities for mercy, salvation, and surrendering oneself to another. Combining the complex themes of identity and belonging of Native Speaker and A Gesture Life with the broad range, energy, and pure storytelling gifts of Aloft, Chang-Rae Lee has delivered his most ambitious, exciting, and unforgettable work yet. It is a mesmerizing novel, elegantly suspenseful and deeply affecting.
I have read several good reviews about A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years by Diarmaid MacCulloch (NY Times, The Guardian). It appears to be a very comprehensive look at Christianity's history and impact on society.
About A History of Christianity:
Christianity, one of the world’s great religions, has had an incalculable impact on human history. This book, now the most comprehensive and up to date single volume work in English, describes not only the main ideas and personalities of Christian history, its organization and spirituality, but how it has changed politics, sex, and human society. Diarmaid MacCulloch ranges from Palestine in the first century to India in the third, from Damascus to China in the seventh century and from San Francisco to Korea in the twentieth. He is one of the most widely traveled of Christian historians and conveys a sense of place as arrestingly as he does the power of ideas. He presents the development of Christian history differently from any of his predecessors. He shows how, after a semblance of unity in its earliest centuries, the Christian church divided during the next 1400 years into three increasingly distanced parts, of which the western Church was by no means always the most important: he observes that at the end of the first eight centuries of Christian history, Baghdad might have seemed a more likely capital for worldwide Christianity than Rome. This is the first truly global history of Christianity.
Jason has a problem. He doesn’t remember anything before waking up on a school bus holding hands with a girl. Apparently she’s his girlfriend Piper, his best friend is a kid named Leo, and they’re all students in the Wilderness School, a boarding school for “bad kids.” What he did to end up here, Jason has no idea—except that everything seems very wrong.
Piper has a secret. Her father has been missing for three days, and her vivid nightmares reveal that he’s in terrible danger. Now her boyfriend doesn’t recognize her, and when a freak storm and strange creatures attack during a school field trip, she, Jason, and Leo are whisked away to someplace called Camp Half-Blood. What is going on?
Leo has a way with tools. His new cabin at Camp Half-Blood is filled with them. Seriously, the place beats Wilderness School hands down, with its weapons training, monsters, and fine-looking girls. What’s troubling is the curse everyone keeps talking about, and that a camper’s gone missing. Weirdest of all, his bunkmates insist they are all—including Leo—related to a god.
Here is ANOTHER series I have never read that has a new addition. The Kurt Wallander detective series by Swedish author Henning Mankell—The Trouble Man is his latest in the series and possibly his last as Kurt Wallander retires...
On a winter day in 2008, Håkan von Enke, a retired high-ranking naval officer, vanishes during his daily walk in a forest near Stockholm. The investigation into his disappearance falls under the jurisdiction of the Stockholm police. It has nothing to do with Wallander—officially. But von Enke is his daughter’s future father-in-law. And so, with his inimitable disregard for normal procedure, Wallander is soon interfering in matters that are not his responsibility, making promises he won’t keep, telling lies when it suits him—and getting results. But the results hint at elaborate Cold War espionage activities that seem inextricably confounding, even to Wallander, who, in any case, is troubled in more personal ways as well. Negligent of his health, he’s become convinced that, having turned sixty, he is on the threshold of senility. Desperate to live up to the hope that a new granddaughter represents, he is continually haunted by his past. And looking toward the future with profound uncertainty, he will have no choice but to come face-to-face with his most intractable adversary: himself.
Here are the Kurt Wallander novels in the order that the novels occur in the time line of the series:
1. The Pyramid 2. Faceless Killers 3. The Dogs of Riga 4. The White Lioness 5. The Man Who Smiled 6. Sidetracked 7. The Fifth Woman 8. One Step Behind 9. Firewall 10. Before the Frost 11. The Grave 12. The Troubled Man
Okay, here's another series I've missed in life with a 6th book, the Thursday Next series of stories by Jasper Fforde. Thursday Next is a literary detective from Swindon, England who can move back and forth between the RealWorld and the BookWorld, interacting with any character that's ever been written. She solves various book crimes, sucha as the kidnapping of Jane Eyre. His new book is One of Our Thursdays is Missing.
Jasper Fforde's exuberant return to the fantastical BookWorld opens during a time of great unrest. All-out Genre war is rumbling, and the BookWorld desperately needs a heroine like Thursday Next. But with the real Thursday apparently retired to the Realworld, the Council of Genres turns to the written Thursday.
The Council wants her to pretend to be the real Thursday and travel as a peacekeeping emissary to the warring factions. A trip up the mighty Metaphoric River beckons-a trip that will reveal a fiendish plot that threatens the very fabric of the BookWorld itself.
Once again New York Times bestselling author Jasper Fforde has a field day gleefully blending satire, romance, and thriller with literary allusions galore in a fantastic adventure through the landscape of a frisky and fertile imagination. Fans will rejoice that their favorite character in the Fforde universe is back.