Thursday, May 26, 2011

Heard about a Book...

In listening to a discussion of audio books on Talk of the Nation, one caller mentioned a "great book," not only the audio book production, but the novel itself. Published in 2006, The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai was reviewed well (NY Times, NPR, The Independent) AND it won the Man Booker Prize!


"In a crumbling, isolated house at the foot of Mount Kanchenjunga in the Himalayas, lives an embittered judge who wants only to retire in peace from a world he has found too messy for justice, when his orphaned granddaughter, Sai, arrives on his doorstep. The judge's cook watches over her distractedly, for his thoughts are claimed by his son, Biju, who is hopscotching from one gritty New York restaurant to another, trying to stay a step ahead of the INS on an elusive search for a green card that "was not even green."" When an Indian-Nepali insurgency in the mountains interrupts Sai's exploration of the many incarnations and facets of a romance with her Nepali tutor, and causes their lives to descend into chaos, they are forced to consider their colliding interests. The cook witnesses the hierarchy being overturned and discarded. The judge must revisit his past, his own journey and role in their intertwining histories.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Just Started...

I've been waiting for this in paperback and it was just released—The Passage by Justin Cronin one of the best selling novels of 2010. Cronin wrote two of my favorite novels in recent years—The Summer Guest (see February 10th) and Mary and O'Neil (see March 5th)—but this is quite a departure from that fiction, and has become an epic piece of science fiction.


First, the unthinkable: a security breach at a secret U.S. government facility unleashes the monstrous product of a chilling military experiment. Then, the unspeakable: a night of chaos and carnage gives way to sunrise on a nation, and ultimately a world, forever altered. All that remains for the stunned survivors is the long fight ahead and a future ruled by fear—of darkness, of death, of a fate far worse.

As civilization swiftly crumbles into a primal landscape of predators and prey, two people flee in search of sanctuary. FBI agent Brad Wolgast is a good man haunted by what he’s done in the line of duty. Six-year-old orphan Amy Harper Bellafonte is a refugee from the doomed scientific project that has triggered apocalypse. He is determined to protect her from the horror set loose by her captors. But for Amy, escaping the bloody fallout is only the beginning of a much longer odyssey—spanning miles and decades—towards the time and place where she must finish what should never have begun.

With The Passage, award-winning author Justin Cronin has written both a relentlessly suspenseful adventure and an epic chronicle of human endurance in the face of unprecedented catastrophe and unimaginable danger. Its inventive storytelling, masterful prose, and depth of human insight mark it as a crucial and transcendent work of modern fiction.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Heard about a Book...

Just out in paperback is Empire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwynne that received many accolades in 2010 (see January 23rd). I listened to an excellent interview with Gwynne by Terry Gross on Fresh Air. (Note: I bought this at Sundog Books on August 1st while at the beach.)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Heard about a Book...

I heard on NPR about an interesting memoir, I Love a Broad Margin to My Life by Maxine Hong Kingston, which takes its evocative title from a quote from Thoreau that hangs over Hong Kingston's desk. Some of the quotes from the book struck a cord: "Standing on top of a hill;/I can see everywhichway—/the long way that I came, and the few places I have yet to go." As she grows old, she notes the impulse to "save each scrap of moment" along with the desire for "poetry as it came to my young self/humming and rushing, no patience for chapter book," nor patience, either, for "the stupid, the greedy, the cruel, the unfair [who] have taken/over the world."


In her singular voice—humble, elegiac, practical—Maxine Hong Kingston sets out to reflect on aging as she turns sixty-five.

Kingston’s swift, effortlessly flowing verse lines feel instantly natural in this fresh approach to the art of memoir, as she circles from present to past and back, from lunch with a writer friend to the funeral of a Vietnam veteran, from her long marriage (“can’t divorce until we get it right. / Love, that is. Get love right”) to her arrest at a peace march in Washington, where she and her "sisters" protested the Iraq war in the George W. Bush years. Kingston embraces Thoreau’s notion of a “broad margin,” hoping to expand her vista: “I’m standing on top of a hill; / I can see everywhichway— / the long way that I came, and the few / places I have yet to go. Treat / my whole life as if it were a day.”

On her journeys as writer, peace activist, teacher, and mother, Kingston revisits her most beloved characters: she learns the final fate of her Woman Warrior, and she takes her Tripmaster Monkey, a hip Chinese American, on a journey through China, where he has never been—a trip that becomes a beautiful meditation on the country then and now, on a culture where rice farmers still work in the age-old way, even as a new era is dawning. “All over China,” she writes, “and places where Chinese are, populations / are on the move, going home. That home / where Mother and Father are buried. Doors / between heaven and earth open wide.”

Such is the spirit of this wonderful book—a sense of doors opening wide onto an American life of great purpose and joy, and the tonic wisdom of a writer we have come to cherish.

Award Winning...

Philip Roth is the winner of the Man Booker International Prize which is awarded for an achievement in fiction on the world stage. It is presented once every two years to a living author for a body of work published either originally in English or widely available in translation in the English language. It has previously been awarded to Ismail Kadaré in 2005, Chinua Achebe in 2007 and Alice Munro in 2009.

Roth's most recent book is

In the "stifling heat of equatorial Newark," a terrifying epidemic is raging, threatening the children of the New Jersey city with maiming, paralysis, lifelong disability, and even death. This is the startling theme of Philip Roth’s wrenching new book: a wartime polio epidemic in the summer of 1944 and the effect it has on a closely knit, family-oriented Newark community and its children.

At the center
of Nemesis is a vigorous, dutiful twenty-three-year-old playground director, Bucky Cantor, a javelin thrower and weightlifter, who is devoted to his charges and disappointed with himself because his weak eyes have excluded him from serving in the war alongside his contemporaries. Focusing on Cantor’s dilemmas as polio begins to ravage his playground—and on the everyday realities he faces—Roth leads us through every inch of emotion such a pestilence can breed: the fear, the panic, the anger, the bewilderment, the suffering, and the pain.

Moving between the smoldering, malodorous streets of besieged Newark and Indian Hill, a pristine children’s summer camp high in the Poconos—whose "mountain air was purified of all contaminants"—Roth depicts a decent, energetic man with the best intentions struggling in his own private war against the epidemic. Roth is tenderly exact at every point about Cantor’s passage into personal disaster, and no less exact about the condition of childhood.

Through this story runs the dark questions that haunt all four of Roth’s late short novels, Everyman, Indignation, The Humbling, and now Nemesis: What kind of accidental choices fatally shape a life? How does the individual withstand the onslaught of circumstance?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Heard about a Book...

Here is one of those "viral" Internet phenomena - two people wrote and illustrated a book, and put it on FacebookGo The F*ck to Sleep by Adam Mansbach, illustrated by Ricardo Cortés.

From NPR's Here & Now:

What parent isn’t occasionally frustrated by their child’s bedtime antics? A new book by Adam Mansbach provides some comic relief. A pirated PDF version of the book titled Go The F**k to Sleep, has gone viral through email and Facebook — catapulting the book to the top of Amazon’s best-seller list, despite the fact that it won’t be released for sale for another month.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Reading List...

Cheryl just checked these two new novels out of the library, Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks and The Land of Painted Caves by Jean Auel, the sixth book in her Earth's Children series.

Caleb's Crossing:

In 1665, Caleb Cheeshah-teaumuck was the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College. Here, Pulitzer Prize winner Brooks imagines that Caleb was befriended by Bethia Mayfield, whose minister father wants to convert the neighboring Wampanoag and makes educating Caleb one of his goals. Bethia, herself desperate for book learning, ends up as an indentured servant in Cambridge, watching Caleb bridge two cultures.

The Land of Painted Caves:

In 1980, Jean Auel began her Earth's Children series with her novel
The Clan of the Cave Bear. Now, more than 30 years and 45 million copies later, she brings this six-volume Ice Age epic to a reassuring conclusion with The Land of Painted Caves. In this evocative, carefully researched fiction, Cro-Magnon shaman Ayla and her heroic mate Jondalar struggle with environmental upheavals, and threats from wild animals and hostile hunters. Transcending difficulties, this loving, loyal couple find peace and respite in unexpected places and move resolutely towards a more secure future.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Just Started...

Cheryl has just started The Sea Captain's Wife by Beth Powning, and says it's good so far.

From the author's website:

Growing up on the Bay of Fundy, Azuba Galloway dreams of going to sea. She watches magnificent ships slowly making their way into Whelan's Cove, the sense of exoticism bursting from their holds along with foreign goods. Years later when she meets a seasoned captain, Nathaniel Bradstock, and they fall in love, Azuba imagines an exciting life at sea with him. But Azuba becomes pregnant soon after they marry and Nathaniel, who knows too well the perils of life on a ship, refuses to allow Azuba to join him.

Days turn into weeks and months—voyages can take two, three years before the ship and crew make their way back to New Brunswick. When Nathaniel eventually does return, he discovers that a horrible mishap involving Azuba has caused a scandal and he is forced to take her and their young daughter aboard his ship. They set sail for London with bitter hearts.

Alone in a male world, surrounded by the splendour and terror of the open sea, the voyage will not only test her already precarious marriage, but everything Azuba believes in. With a sure hand, Beth Powning captures life aboard a sailing ship—the ferocious storms, the impossibly isolated ports of call, the grueling daily routine—and shows how love evolves even in the most extreme circumstances.

The Sea Captain's Wife is an awe-inspiring tour that captures the vigour of life, women at sea, in the Age of Sail and gives us an unforgettable young heroine who shows compassion, courage and love while under incredible duress.

Just Started...

We went shopping at the big book retailer that is NOT in bankruptcy, and searched the just released tables. I bought The Great Lover by Jill Dawson, and so far so good—a very clever start with an exchange of letters between two old women who discover their pasts are linked through one man, the English poet the Rupert Brooke.


Nell Golightly is living out her widowhood in Cambridgeshire when she receives a strange request: a Tahitian woman, claiming to be the daughter of the poet Rupert Brooke, writes to ask what he was like: how did he sound, what did he smell like, how did it feel to wrap your arms around him? So Nell turns her mind to 1909 when, as a seventeen-year-old housemaid, she first encountered the young poet. He was already causing a stir—not only with his poems and famed good looks, but also by his taboo-breaking behaviour and radical politics. Intrigued, she watched as Rupert skilfully managed his male and female admirers, all of whom seemed to be in love with him. Soon Nell realised that despite her good sense, she was falling for him too. But could he love a housemaid? Was he, in fact, capable of love at all?

In a dazzling act of imagination, Jill Dawson gives voice to Rupert Brooke himself in a dual narrative that unfolds in both his own words and those of her spirited fictional character, Nell. A memorable tale of love in many guises, of heartbreak and loss, the novel brings Brooke vividly to life as it shows him to have been a far more interesting, complex and troubled figure than the romanticised version allows.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Award Winner...

As usual with poets, I have read very few, but I need to check out this book—The Best of It: New and Selected Poems by poet laureate Kay Ryan, winner of this year's Pulitzer Prize in poetry.


Kay Ryan’s recent appointment as the Library of Congress’s sixteenth poet laureate is just the latest in an amazing array of accolades for this wonderfully accessible, widely loved poet. Salon has compared her poems to “Fabergé eggs, tiny, ingenious devices that inevitably conceal some hidden wonder.” The two hundred poems in Ryan’s The Best of It offer a stunning retrospective of her work, as well as a swath of never-before-published poems & all of which are sure to appeal equally to longtime fans and general readers.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Heard about a Book...

Amaryllis in Blueberry by Christina Meldrum looks like a good book—it's getting several good reviews.

About the book:

In the stirring tradition of The Secret Life of Bees and The Poisonwood Bible, Amaryllis in Blueberry explores the complexity of human relationships set against an unforgettable backdrop. Told through the haunting voices of Dick and Seena Slepy and their four daughters, Christina Meldrum's soulful novel weaves together the past and the present of a family harmed—and healed—by buried secrets.

Award Winner...

Out in paperback is the National Book Award winner for fiction, Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon—worth a read!

Thoroughbred horse trainer Tommy Hansel has a scheme to rescue his failing operation by shipping four unclassed horses to Indian Mound Downs, run them in cheap claimers at long odds, and then get out fast before anyone notices. The problem is, at this rundown riverfront half-mile racetrack in the West Virginia panhandle, everybody notices from the start -? Kidstuff the farrier, track super Smithers, an old groom Medicine Ed, gypsy owner Deucey Gifford, eventually even the ruled-off bookmaker Two-Tie, and an ominous trainer, Joe Dale Bigg. But no-one factors in Hansel's go-for girlfriend, Margaret Koderer. Much like the beautiful, used-up, tragic creatures she comes to love, Maggie is almost a force of nature, an adventuress with enough personal magnetism to spin everyone's sure thing right back to the source of all luck.

Lord of Misrule is a darkly realistic novel about a young woman living through a year of horse racing while everyone's best laid plans go brutally wrong. With her first novel since her acclaimed Bogeywoman, Jaimy Gordon bears comparison to other great writers of the American demimonde, such as Nathanael West, Damon Runyon, and Eudora Welty.

Heard about a Book...

I'm not sure where I first saw this book—The Four Corners of the Sky by Michael Malone—but I'm reading reviews that say things like, "Reading Michael Malone is like listening to Mozart—his writing dances and sparkles,..." "...a fabulously entertaining novel," "...a perfect summer read!"


In small towns between the North Carolina Piedmont and the coast the best scenery is often in...the sky. On flat sweeps of red clay and scrub pine the days move monotonously, safely, but above, in the blink of an eye, dangerous clouds can boil out of all four corners of the sky…The flat slow land starts to shiver and anything can happen. In such a storm, on Annie Peregrine's seventh birthday, her father gave her the airplane and minutes later drove out of her life. Twenty years is a long time to be without a father, and, for Navy pilot Annie Peregrine-Goode, the sky has become a home the earth has never been. So when her father calls out of the blue to ask for a dying wish—one both absurd and mysterious—no is the easiest of answers. Until she hears that the reward is the one thing she always wanted … Thus begins an enchanting novel that bursts with energy from the first pages, and sweeps you off on a journey of unforgettable characters, hilarious encounters, and haunting secrets.
The Four Corners of the Sky is master storyteller Michael Malone's new novel of love, secrets, and the mysterious bonds of families. Malone brings characters to life as only he can, exploring the questions that defy easy answers: Is love a choice or a calling?

Great Book...

Another reminder from Pat for a book that's been out for awhile—"Everyone must read Mudbound!" by Hillary Jordan (see May 30th). Paul also endorses this story (see July 7th).

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Heard about a Book...

This book looks fascinating—Physics of the Future by Michio Kaku.

About the book:

Imagine, if you can, the world in the year 2100.

Physics of the Future, Michio Kaku—the New York Times bestselling author of Physics of the Impossible—gives us a stunning, provocative, and exhilarating vision of the coming century based on interviews with over three hundred of the world’s top scientists who are already inventing the future in their labs. The result is the most authoritative and scientifically accurate description of the revolutionary developments taking place in medicine, computers, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, energy production, and astronautics.

In all likelihood, by 2100 we will control computers via tiny brain sensors and, like magicians, move objects around with the power of our minds. Artificial intelligence will be dispersed throughout the environment, and Internet-enabled contact lenses will allow us to access the world's information base or conjure up any image we desire in the blink of an eye.

Meanwhile, cars will drive themselves using GPS, and if room-temperature superconductors are discovered, vehicles will effortlessly fly on a cushion of air, coasting on powerful magnetic fields and ushering in the age of magnetism.

Using molecular medicine, scientists will be able to grow almost every organ of the body and cure genetic diseases. Millions of tiny DNA sensors and nanoparticles patrolling our blood cells will silently scan our bodies for the first sign of illness, while rapid advances in genetic research will enable us to slow down or maybe even reverse the aging process, allowing human life spans to increase dramatically.

In space, radically new ships—needle-sized vessels using laser propulsion—could replace the expensive chemical rockets of today and perhaps visit nearby stars. Advances in nanotechnology may lead to the fabled space elevator, which would propel humans hundreds of miles above the earth’s atmosphere at the push of a button.

But these astonishing revelations are only the tip of the iceberg. Kaku also discusses emotional robots, antimatter rockets, X-ray vision, and the ability to create new life-forms, and he considers the development of the world economy. He addresses the key questions: Who are the winner and losers of the future? Who will have jobs, and which nations will prosper?

All the while, Kaku illuminates the rigorous scientific principles, examining the rate at which certain technologies are likely to mature, how far they can advance, and what their ultimate limitations and hazards are. Synthesizing a vast amount of information to construct an exciting look at the years leading up to 2100, Physics of the Future is a thrilling, wondrous ride through the next 100 years of breathtaking scientific revolution.

Heard about a Book...

This is probably not a book I will afford myself, a coffee table book called The History of Surfing by Matt Warshaw, but it's very interesting and the some of the photos are amazing.

About the book:

Matt Warshaw, former editor of SURFER magazine, knows a hell of a lot about surfing, and is up there with the most knowledgeable authors out there. After five years of research and writing, he has completed a totally unprecedented history of the sport and the culture it has spawned. With a voice that is definitive, funny, and wholly original,
The History of Surfing is definitely worth a read.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Reading List...

From Pat, some recent "good books":

At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin
Matters of Faith by Kristy Kiernan
Hellhound on his Trail by Hampton Sides

At Home: A Short History of Private Life:

From one of the most beloved authors of our time—more than six million copies of his books have been sold in this country alone—a fascinating excursion into the history behind the place we call home.

"Houses aren't refuges from history. They are where history ends up."

Bill Bryson and his family live in a Victorian parsonage in a part of England where nothing of any great significance has happened since the Romans decamped. Yet one day, he began to consider how very little he
knew about the ordinary things of life as he found it in that comfortable home. To remedy this, he formed the idea of journeying about his house from room to room to "write a history of the world without leaving home." The bathroom provides the occasion for a history of hygiene; the bedroom, sex, death, and sleep; the kitchen, nutrition and the spice trade; and so on, as Bryson shows how each has figured in the evolution of private life. Whatever happens in the world, he demonstrates, ends up in our house, in the paint and the pipes and the pillows and every item of furniture.

Bill Bryson has one of the liveliest, most inquisitive minds on the planet, and he is a master at turning the seemingly isolated or mundane fact into an occasion for the most diverting exposition imaginable. His wit and sheer prose fluency make At Home one of the most entertaining books ever written about private life.

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter:

In the late 1970s, Larry Ott and Silas "32" Jones were boyhood pals. Their worlds were as different as night and day: Larry, the child of lower-middle-class white parents, and Silas, the son of a poor, single black mother. Yet for a few months the boys stepped outside of their circumstances and shared a special bond. But then tragedy struck: Larry took a girl on a date to a drive-in movie, and she was never heard from again. She was never found and Larry never confessed, but all eyes rested on him as the culprit. The incident shook the county—and perhaps Silas most of all. His friendship with Larry was broken, and then Silas left town.

More than twenty years have passed. Larry, a mechanic, lives a solitary existence, never able to rise above the whispers of suspicion. Silas has returned as a constable. He and Larry have no reason to cross paths until another girl disappears and Larry is blamed again. And now the two men who once called each other friend are forced to confront the past they've buried and ignored for decades.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Heard about a Book...

I heard about an interesting book that is getting good reviews, Blood Work by Holly Tucker, "A riveting account of the first blood transfusion experiments in 17th-century Paris and London."

From the author's website:

On a cold day in 1667, a renegade physician named Jean Denis transfused calf’s blood into one of Paris’s most notorious madmen. In doing so, Denis angered not only the elite scientists who had hoped to perform the first animal-to-human transfusions themselves, but also a host of powerful conservatives who believed that the doctor was toying with forces of nature that he did not understand. Just days after the experiment, the madman was dead, and Denis was framed for murder.

A riveting account of the first blood transfusion experiments in 17th-century Paris and London, Blood Work gives us a vivid glimpse of a particularly fraught period in history – a time of fire and plague, empire building and international distrust, when monsters were believed to inhabit the seas and the boundary between science and superstition was still in flux. Amid this atmosphere of uncertainty, transfusionists like Denis became embroiled in the hottest cultural debates and fiercest political rivalries of their day. As historian Holly Tucker reveals, transfusion’s detractors would stop at nothing – not even murdering Denis’s patient – to outlaw a practice that might jeopardize human souls, pave the way for monstrous hybrid creatures, or even provoke divine retribution.

Taking us from the highest ranks of society to the lowest, from dissection rooms in palaces to the filth-clogged streets of Paris, Blood Work sheds light on an era that wrestled with the same questions about morality and experimentation that haunt medical science to this day.