home | blog | site map | reviews | bookstore traveler | book awards     24books.org
east bay WINTERS split journal #15 - East Bay/ Winters SPLIT - Jul. 24 to Oct. 24, 2012
also: journal #12 - #13 - #14

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.  
   more book journals
     what's John READING now?      Vicky's Page

crowingbook to crow about    not the best or the worst    special type of book special creative design    p no enjoyment, but no warts




san miguelon writing


San Miguel by T.C. Boyle (F/367p) 10.24.12
Bought this new novel, by my man Boyle, on the first day it was available, and I had high expectations. The man has dropped the strangeness that makes an appearances in most of his works (of which I'm a large fan of) and has instead gone with a conventional, historical style. While his writing still shines brightly, the book wasn't quite what I was looking for. This was the second novel in a row by Boyle that has been a disappointment to me, but I was wowed by its ending.


On Writing by Stephen King (NF/291p) 10.15.12
After reading about how fine this book was countless times AND reading bits of it about his periods of heavy drinking and drugs — I had to read it. It's very good, with lots of personality and quite a bit of straight-forward advice.
It is a real treat to read the honest, funny, and biting words of a man who tells about the world of writing, a world that he knows so well.


stop what you're doing and read this!ladies and gentlemenbedwaging heavy peacetelegraph avenueit's fine by me


Stop What You're Doing And Read This! (NF/181p) 10.11.12
This is a fascinating and personal collection of writings by a varied group of British writers (Carmen Callil, Tim Parks, Nicholas Carr, Michael Rosen, Jane Davis, Zadie Smith, Mark Haddon, Jeanette Winterson, Blake Morrison, Dr. Maryanne Wolf & Dr. Mirit Barzillai) about how they feel about reading, writing, and literature in general. Some of the essays are very good and others are a delight.

crowing Ladies and Gentlemen: Stories
by Adam Ross (F/241p) 10.5.12
Here was a short story collection that was a true page-turner, one that I buzzed through it just a couple of short sitting. It was a wonderful place to be and I found his short works to be much more satisfying than his novel, Mr. Peanut. Peanut certainly had a unique plotline, but it rather sagged under its own weight at times. These stories were bright, fresh, and well-written.


Bed by David Whitehouse (F/246p) 10.2.12

After loving Big Ray so much, and talking to a relative who told me about Bed, I had to go there. Life can become an interesting parade of books. In the end Bed wasn't as fulfilling as Ray, but it certainly had its scenes. I will remember the falling off the roof and smashing into the concrete walk for some time. Whitehouse, in a few paragraphs, can be so graphic, grotesque, and fascinating — all at the same time. 


crowing Waging Heavy Peace by Neil Young (NF/497p) 9.29.12
   I was very anxious for this book to come out, and the publisher helped out by releasing it a week early. I was able to enjoy it sooner and most completely. In the book, Young shares his advice for other aging rock stars, "Write about your life", but I've not read any other rock and roll biographies that I've enjoyed half, no, make that a quarter as much.

     The style is almost conversational with its short sentences, paragraphs, and chapters. Several times he speaks directly to the reader to say that if you aren't liking my style, simply pass the book on to someone else who might get into it. But I found his style to be so completely "Neil-like" that it worked perfectly. I have been a fan for decades and have read a great deal about him, but this book was like a whole new world. Supposition and guesses about what was going on at a particular time, with a particular project, or a particular person, is many times, quickly explained directly from the horses mouth.

   The title, Waging Heavy Peace is a reference concerning his advanced sound process (that returns the 95% of the sound that MP3 files strip away from the original recording) and whether he see himself going to war with Apple and iTunes, no, Mr. Young will wage heavy peace.

    Casual is the word this man's world. And full. Here's a man who's dad called Windy, because he was full of so many different ideas. You get to read about: his fascination with Lionel trains (so much so that he is a partial owner of the company, and has designed a control system, as well as a whistle and sound system) — his experiences creating movies and being central to films made about him and his music — his joy at the new experience of writing this book — the before-mentioned, high-quality music playback process — cars, cars, cars (transportation of most any kind cars, boats, trains, planes, etc.) — building homes, garages, and other structures — many other interests, beyond the music that is at his core.

    He also voices a powerful worry, that giving up alcohol and weed has some how changed his music writing abilities. He continues to state how long it's been since he's written a new song. Since I saw him in concert with Crazy Horse not that long ago at Lake Tahoe, his music-writing abilities seem to have returned to him. He seems to hold very little back in the book (mostly when it's about other people) and is seeming to try and make amends for how difficult he is to work with, or for. He readably admits that he becomes totally obsessed with projects and wants them to be as good as possible — many times forgetting about any one else's feelings.

    There are a lot of looks back (what else do you expect from a memoir) that involve friends, relatives, fellow musicians and music business folk, that have died along the way — these are people he loved, people that meant the world to him at one time or more. His emotions seem very honest, especially for someone that has been often time described as a uncaring jerk.

    After finishing this book, I feel like I have spent some time listening to a friend describe much about his life and the things that are important to him. Neil has written something that meant a lot to this big fan of his. I really didn't think he had it in him — impressive.        

check out www.neilyoung.com 


Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon (F/465p) 9.25.12

While I travel Telegraph most every day that I'm in the East Bay, I didn't find this novel entirely satisfying. It may be all of the midwifery, childbirth-as-topic that I had no interest in, but mostly, I'm sure, it was my unfulfilled expectation of reading more about a local, independent retailer being a part of a richly diverse neighborhood — Chabon was covering seemingly everything else in this story. This will cause me to reevaluate and most likely I'll wait for the next book to come out in paperback, before I take the Chabon route again.


It's Fine By Me by Per Petterson (F/199p) 9.23.12
This was an ARC that I won from a literary website, by an author that has impressed me greatly in the past. With this novel I found myself never really getting to the point where I cared about most of the characters AND my interest in the storyline wandered off. Now, this could all be my frame of mind, or, just a book that doesn't measure up to some of his others—can you always be sure what it is that doesn't work with a book and its reader?


high strungBIG RAYthe orchardistsalingersuccess storieslost memory of skin


High Strung: Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, and the Untold Story of Tennis's Fiercest Rivalry by Stephen Tignor (NF/235p) 9.20.12

I was excited that this was is out in paper, and I had to have it as I'm a tennis player and junkie from way back ... just ask my first wife about the North Conway, New Hampshire pro tournament we went to on our honeymoon. This was the tennis world at its most popular.


crowing  Big Ray by Michael Kimball (F/182p) 9.18.12
This is a fantastic novel. A young man reflects upon his large (500 pounds) and troubled father who has just died alone in his apartment. It is rather short (less than 200 pages) and written using about five hundred clever, reflective, and short paragraphs, that range from one sentence to half a page. The short bits work like scattered thoughts and remembrances of a thirty-eight year old son trying to collect himself. How does he really feel about losing a father who was not an easy man to relate to, in any way, for anyone? There is some very twisted humor that keeps the book moving between some pretty troubling memories and other philosophical thoughts on life, death, and what our relationships mean to us. I will be rereading this book very soon, because it's a quick read, reaches deep into your heart, and is very satisfying.


"Michael Kimball has been writing innovative, compelling, and beautifully felt books for years, but Big Ray seems a breakthrough and culmination all at once. It's a funny and terrifying, and it's his masterpiece, at least so far." — Sam Lipsyte


"Big Ray is disturbing in the most extraordinary ways, and, in the end, extraordinarily touching also. There's nothing quite like it I've ever read until now (Though there were times I thought the ghost of Barry Hannah was whispering in my ear). It's amazing." — Madison Smart Bell

check out www.michael-kimball.com


special type of book It qualifies for being a special type of book solely on the cover's great photograph of Big Ray's abused and crushed easy chair. The picture helps define the plot and I've always had a thing for overstuffed chairs.


The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin (F/426 p) 9.15.12

I was attracted to this novel by a description that focused on the isolation involved in this story of an old man working and living in his own Washington state orchard. It takes place at the beginning of the twentieth century and is beautifully crafted. The book depicts its different characters and their attachment to a plot of land, to a lifestyle, and to each other ... the author moves a lot of action through this framework, but it wasn't always to my taste. I'm still pondering the book.  


Salinger: A Biography by Paul Anderson (NF/313p) 9.10.12

What?—I was reading a biography of another of my favorite writers, hard to believe. So much was familiar, but it's always fun to see a person's character, life, and accomplishments through another set of eyes.


Success Stories by Russell Banks (F/192p) 9.5.12
This is an older collection of short stories from the eighties that I skipped over. Now that I've come back to them I'm blown away by how inventive Banks can be while showing how people try to cope with how bad their lives are going.


Lost Memory of Skin by Russell Banks (F/416) 9.2.12
   For many years I've been pissed at Banks for appearing in many ads for Barnes & Noble, but I have risen above that AND I haven't seen any B&N ads with the man. The coast was clear to return to his work.

    His work always seems to carry the burden of the lives of the poor, disadvantaged, and generally people who are down-on-their-luck. He is one of the best. I think of the characters in Raymond Carver novels when reading Banks. Lost Memory of Skin is centered on the Kid, a man in his twenties who has been convicted of pedophilia. His existence is summed up by the fact that the only legal place for him to live (since he must remain at least 2,500 feet from any children) is under a highway overcrossing, aka the causeway. His world is filled with the other pedophiles that also must live there with their electronic-tracking ankle braclets.


midnight risingevery love story is a ghost storythe age of miracles winter journalthe way the world worksthe eccentropedia


Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War by Tony Horwitz (NF/290p) 8.31.12
I was so glad to see that this had come out in paperback. I had debated getting the hardcover so many times. I would hold it in my hands, asking myself, "Should I?" I now have and I am a reading.


Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A life of David Foster Wallace by D.T. Max (NF/309p) 8.29.12
I've been waiting for many a month for this biography of one of our most inventive American authors to come to the local shelves, and now I'm cruising around Wallace's early years.


The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker (F/269p) 8.25.12
This is a novel passed on to me from Vicky with high praise. It has a great premise — each day is getting longer, a few minutes at first, and later on, the length of a day has more than doubled. The writing is very nicely handled. Plot-wise the author explores what you would expect would be the natural and social ramifications of this happening, and also she takes the reader in many inventive and engaging directions. Both Vicky and I are most impressed that Walker was able to pull off such a sophisticated storyline in her very first novel. She holds herself back from writing too much detail, too much explanatory science, and simply let's the story unfold as it would to a young girl living her life in the midst of the story's most curious times.


Winter Journal by Paul Auster (NF/230p) 8.24.12

This is a very special book. Auster is writing about his life, by dropping down — seemingly at random, or so it seems so far — on all times in his life, be he 6 or 64. Very personal and real. In the beginning he uses lots of very short pieces (half a page down to a paragraph) and as you move through the book there are some much longer sections. It's written in the second person and while it is so personal, he is such a fine writer that he engages the reader. He also amused this reader many times. His views of life, death, and everything else we all go through, are most interesting. Reading this slim volume was a fascinating place to be.

crowing The Way the World Works by Nicholson Baker (NF/314p) 8.22.12
Baker's nonfiction work is always odd and/or interesting enough that it always captures my mind and takes me many places. I share some of his extremely anal habits and that was most amusing, and maybe a little embarrassing. There are some shorter pieces (a page or two) and some others that are quite long, as in the great piece on the then-new San Francisco Library (The New Main), where you can really get into it, as well as get really pissed off about it. Baker's work is wide-ranging and his interests are strong and run deep. Is so many of these pieces, you can sense that he feels
what he writes.


The Eccentropedia: The Most Unusual People Who Have Ever Lived by Chris Mikul (NF/494p) 8.14.12
Most everyone of the people included in this book is most strange in their own special way. It is such a great book to cruise around in and find the bizarre. It also seems right to read this after reading Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behavior by Kate Fox and seeing how very eccentric the English are.


a supposedly fun thing i'll never do againa hologram for the kingconversations with david foster wallacethe unlikely pilgramage of harold frywatching the englishthe pale king


A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace (NF/353p) 8.14.12
I've only read the piece on professional tennis so far (which I quickly searched out and devoured), but it was very interesting. As a tennis player himself, Wallace had an experience at a tennis tournament very much like my own. The first time you see the pros hit in person, most tennis players/fans/nuts instantly stop thinking that they themselves need only a little more practice and they could hold their own on a court with these players.


special type of book A Hologram For the King by Dave Eggers (F/312p) 8.7.12
This is one good-looking book from Eggers and the good people at McSweeney's. There is no wrap, just a hardcover that's been seemingly carved and is a treat to hold. Strange to say that I was, up to the point I read this novel, an Eggers virgin. I had started several of his books and had never been engaged with his writing and had dropped them. Now I have finished one of his books. I found it engaging and very clever at times, but overall I wasn't taken by the storyline and found my mind wandering. I will try another of his works sometime, but maybe I just don't get him ... that's always a possibility.


Conversations with David Foster Wallace edited by Stephen Burn (NF/181p) 7.30.12
   I can't get enough. There are about twenty interviews contained in this book, and while some of them are repetitious, many are very insightful into the troubled mind and life of one of the true heavyweights of modern American writing. There was so much brilliance and depression in Wallace's life. Just some of what his life included:

he won a MacArthur "Genius Grant"

and was an adult towel boy at a health club (after a breakdown)

and delivered a fascinating commencement address (latter published as This Is Water)

and his works were included in The O. Henry Prize Stories (2002, 1999 and 1989)

and he also won the Aga Khan Prize for Fiction

and Time magazine's Best Books of the Year

and Salon Book Award

and the Lannan Literary Award

and the Whiting Writers' Award

and obsessions with Melanie Griffith, Alanis Morissette and Margaret Thatcher

and he spent his adult life on anti-depression drugs only to have health complications and to then hang himself.

    I find his work and his life fascinating. Obviously I'm not alone, as the huge, and ever-growing catalog of DFW-related writings, stage plays, films and more attest to. The last piece in Conversations, tells a brief history of Wallace's life, and the depression and sadness that overcame the man before his death. It's a intensely sad ending note, but only to be expected. His work was a brilliant light that lite up the literary world and then was extinguished much too soon. Having his interviews collected into one volume was a closer look at the man behind those powerful and very unique books.


a few quotes from the book
"I had a teacher I liked who used to say good fiction's job was to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable."

"I got to the point where I couldn't quit using them." (on those famous/infamous Wallace footnotes)   
"You look at the clock and seven hours have passed and your hand is cramped." (on writing)


and something from the last piece with Wallace's good friend Jonathan Franzen
Franzen spent a week with Wallace in July. David had dropped seventy pounds in a year. "He was thinner than I'd ever seen him. There was a look in his eyes: terrified, terribly sad, and far away. Still he was fun to be with, even at 10 percent strength."


The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (F/320p) 7.27.12
This is a very sweet book about love, life, commitment, and dedication.


Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behavior by Kate Fox (NF/416p) 7.26.12
Oh, the English are so curious. Fox does a fascinating job at shining a light on many of the foggy, damp behaviors of our friends across the sea. But I did get so sick of hearing about class this, and class that—it's like they're a foreign country.


The Pale King by David Foster Wallace (F/565p) 7.24.12
With Wallace's brilliant writing and the inside skinny on the inside world of the IRS, how could you go wrong with an unfinished book? Wallace just slays me, how he does what he does is amazing at times. There are so many story lines, characters, and literary styles racing around in this rather large volume that it's stunning that any editor even tried to put something together. I'm still flashing on parts of it, days latter.



 home | blog | site map | reviews | bookstore traveler | book awards | to the top