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east bay WINTERS split
journal #14 - East Bay/ Winters SPLIT - May 8 to Jul. 15, 2012
     also: journal #1 - #2 - #4

Most every week we're on interstate 80 ... moving between the East Bay and the Central Valley city of Winters. We are splitting our time, 3 or 4 days here, 3 or 4 days there—keeping busy, and, as always, reading. There is always a heavy, over-stuffed sack of books moving right along with us. Some of these are pretty short "reviews" as my time near a computer is some times pretty limited. I always hope to write more when I find the time.  

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up jumps the devilpurewe the drownedbrieffarthercolor


Up Jumps the Devil
by Michael Poore (F/358p) 7.15.12
   This is one hell of a clever first novel. The character John Scratch is everywhere in this book—because he's The Devil. He finds his way into the lives of so many people: causing General Washington to get tough with the British, being outfoxed by Benjamin Franklin, having his way in ancient Egypt, and trading fame and fortune for different people's souls left and right.

    In the beginning, the book goes to a different character with practically every chapter, before it starts to center on a young band, whose members (Zachary, Memory, and Fish) sell their souls for fame, and it works out quite bizarrely in the end. Imagine that?!

    One of my favorite stories in the book, is the back and forth between him and GOD. As you've probably heard, they just don't seem to be able to get along and Poore really shines in how he frames the story. He shines in most of the stories, as he combines a great deal of history and mythology with his fiction writing—and it all gets stirred together in his very inventive, twisted and hilarious way. He really has his way with everything.

    If I was currently working in a bookstore, I would be hand-selling this novel to every reader around that appreciates originality.


Pure by Andrew Miller (F/331p) 7.11.12
This novel has some very strong writing within. Miller takes a story steeped in history and presents it in a very modern way. Vicky loved the book and I found it very engaging to superb at times.


crowing We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen (F/675p) 7.6.12
I found this a wonderful read. It's one that just kept me eagerly turning all those pages. It's a fine sea-going tale of generations of men in a small town that live and die on or under the sea. I've never lived on the ocean (just a lake in Vermont) but I now share the salty aired history of these characters. I've been thinking about this book ever since I finished it. The memories are good ones. Thoughts wash around in the corners of my mind and find themselves holding their own with some waves of thoughts from some of Melville.


Brief Interviews With Hideous Men by David Foster Wallace (F/321p) 6.29.12
It took me a long time to get around to finishing this book, but it is a solid and fascinating collection of short stories. Wallace was curious, clever, and never afraid to try new styles and structures. He kept his readers on their mind's toes (oh, I like that image) and created literary works that are so unique that it's sometimes difficult to get your mind around them.


Farther Away by Jonathan Franzen (NF/321p) 6.26.12
It's a new collection of nonfiction, also known as essays, reviews, and lectures. He can just reach out a knock your socks off with his writing.


Color by Victoria Finlay (NF/395p) 6.23.12
In the past, I've read entire books on single colors, but putting so many colors together in a single volume allows them to really play off each other and build into a even more powerful history lesson. There is much information about the world within this book's covers and it made me appreciate the entire palette of colors in one book. It's all here: science, art, great artists, politics, history, health, and equally as powerful–business, business, business. 


cloud atlasinterventionsmonstresscanadaa tragic honestymanual of painting and calligraphy


Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (F/509p) 6.16.12
I've been told how great this novel is by people I know, respect and love—so I picked it up and I finally found out for myself. What I found was that it's brilliant writing many times and is told in many different sections with many different characters. But not all the sections or characters held my interest. At times, I just found my mind wandering off, away from the book and its inhabitants ... never a good sign. He tried to do so much with this one book. That old saying, "Less is more" just kept coming back. Yet because he writes so wonderfully at times, I will definitely try another of his books in the future. Vicky is very disappointed with my opinion and says it's iffy if she's continue to live with me.


crowing special type of book  Interventions by Richard Russo (F/205p) 6.8.12

Down East Press has put together a very attractive boxed set of short works with four separate paperback books that also include artwork from Richard's talented daughter, Kate, on their covers and inside each volume, on a removable postcard. There is a novella (Intervention), two short stories (one, The Whore's Child, was already included as the title story in another collection of his) and a short memoir. The brief and powerful memoir is taken from the full Russo memoir to be released this fall. Intervention was my favorite of the fiction pieces. Taken altogether, I was just captivated by this beautiful, little set.


The memoir was my favorite volume. It was titled High and Dry, was fascinating. It told of Russo's small hometown of Gloversville, New York and its rich and colorful past of glove making. His grandfather was a very highly skilled glover from the old world, but when the factory was mechanized for speed and increased production his skills weren't needed or appreciated as much.

     "Machines and the relentless drumbeat of piecework, together with a shorter work season, guaranteed that he'd die a poor man."
Low-skilled machine operators pumped out the volume that made the neighboring streams turn a whole rainbow of bright colors on a regular basis. Having grown up among the many abandoned mills of New England myself, this personal look back really resonated with me. Taking a product that required such skill, by proud members of a glove makers guild, and reducing it to huge stamping machines, cutting out a constant stream of product, and a few fingers here and there, is a sad tale for a Luddite like me. Tanning hides with the bark of local hemlock trees just seems somehow more true, than the use of chrome, and all its poisons and environmental destruction.
    "Chrome tanning was never anything but lethal, its byproducts including lime, chlorine, formaldehyde, sulfuric acid, chromium III, glycol ether EB,   

     Toluene, xylol, magnesium sulfate, lead, copper, and zinc to name just a few." 

The personal story of his relatives and how they coped with all the changes of time, was intensely sad, but obviously very close to Russo's heart. Like many areas of former industrialization, Gloversville is a much different town than when it was riding high with the money that came to it as the hub of American glove production. Russo's clear, straightforward, and personal style made me feel like I had lived in Gloversville—and watched it decline from its those grand buildings and well-earned reputation.   


Monstress by Lysley Tenorio (F/240p) 6.7.12

This short story collection has been catching my eye for sometime. Now I've removed it from a bookstore and have just enjoyed the last short story.


crowing Canada by Richard Ford (F/418p) 6.6.12

I have been waiting for some time for this to get released, and now I've just finished rolling through this fascinating novel about some average folks staging a bank robbery. The novel's first lines:
    "First, I'll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happen later."

Ford's writing is just wonderful.


A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Works of Richard Yates by Blake Bailey (NF/613p) 5.28.12

I have had this volume around for years, and I finally pulled it out of the pile and found out how VERY SAD was the life one of my favorite writers. I also find myself pulling Revolutionary Road out every few years and enjoy the experience all over again.


A Manual of Painting and Calligraphy by Jose Saramago (F/243p) 5.25.12

This was just published in the US, yet it was his first novel in his native Portugal. By the time I had got to the end of the novel it had redeemed itself, but there was an entire section in the middle that did not do much for me.



elements of stylesalvage the boneshomethe elephant vanishesdirtin one person


The Elements of Style by William Strunk & E.B. White (NF/95p) 5.22.12
Again I buy this helpful book...my other copies are securely packed away in a storage unit. Whenever I pick up this small book, I always learn something—it's the beauty of forgetting things.


Salvage the Bones  by Jesmyn Ward F/258p) 5.21.12
This is one of those books that's passed around the family, and the house. It is stellar in parts, not so much in other places. Glad I read it when I got the chance, as I've been wondering about it since it was first published.


Home by Toni Morrison (F/147p) 5.20.12
Borrowed this from Vicky after she spoke of it in glowing terms. I warmed to the book and its characters, but my impressions never made it to the glowing stage.

crowing The Elephant Vanishes: Stories by Haruki Murakami (F/327p) 5.18.12

I always connect to Murakami's words and the way he thinks about things. Why I didn't read this earlier (as it came out around 1993) I don't know. I do know it was in our bookstore, and if I did read it before—I'm now experiencing it in a major "senior moment" of forgetfulness.


What I am entirely aware of is how much I loved these short stories. I could have read on and on and on. It would have been heaven to have another 300 pages of stories like these?

crowing Dirt by David Vann (F/258p) 5.10.12

   This is easily one of the best novels that I've read in some time. We got a chance to see David Vann read and answer questions at Moe's Books and he was very funny. There were some of his in-laws in the crowd and maybe that made him extra nervous, or whatever, but his comments between readings were so delightfully bizarre and funny. He made the new book enticing, and we were both already primed to buy it, based on his previous exciting novel, Caribou Island. His writing here is just as fabulous and the subject matter as wonderfully disturbing. At Moe's he said that he has always had a troubled relationship with his mother. He still sees a counselor about the mother-son dynamic and that's very much reflected in the novel. All of the family members in the book are dysfunctional, but it's the intense problems between our main character, twenty-two-year-old Galen, and his mother that really come to a head at the book's end. I'm not going to say anything else about the plot, other than—it's simple, unexpected, and bizarre.

    What I want to mention, is the beauty of Vann's language. His short sentences are divine. In structure, they harken to the simplicity of a Hemingway. And like reading a great Cormac McCarthy novel, his writing is almost too good. You will find yourself stopping and rereading lines, to see just how he does so much with simple words. So much is expressed in so few words.

    When he is writing about the Central Valley it is a brutal beauty. Inferno and hell are easy terms to describe the intense heat that bakes the soil and the mind here, but Vann is also able to recreate so many states of mind that come about when working, moving, or just breathing, in a searing heat at 100 degrees and more. The other masterly expressed reality that Vann handles with seeming ease, is when he writes about the dirt that makes up the valley. Dirt is so much more than a title, it takes over the last part of the book. Galen's connection with reality becomes very tenuous at times in the book, leading to the following "dirt" passage.


"Galen didn't know what any of it meant, but he knew dirt was his teacher. At every moment, unexpected, dirt was showing him something. Better than going to a university. He might never go, even with all the money. He might just stay right here, in this old house and orchard, and learn everything."  

Another passage that struck me, was dealing with Galen's grandmother who has been put in a "home" for her own good.


 "Do you know what it's like to not remember?"


"It's like being no one, but still having to live anyway."


It's a thrill to have read this book once and to know how good it will be to return to again.


In One Person by John Irving (F/425) 5.8.12

Irving seems to have devoted this novel to sexual identity and acceptance. He has included a broad range of different sexual preferences and has created a story that is very moving at times. I just wish that he had developed some of the side characters more and made me feel like the book's story was more important than the more political statements he was making about love and caring.  


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