home | blog | site map | reviews | bookstore traveler | book awards     24books.org
winterLAND book journal #17 - WinterLAND - Nov. 22, 2012 to Jan 20, 2013
     also journals: #18 - #19 - #20 - #21 - #22

We've returned to the welcoming people and climate of northern California after a few weeks in the constant rain of Seattle. It great to be back! Back in time for the winter rains ... opportunity to read inside where it's warm and dry.

   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/execution   p no enjoyment, but no warts



the dude and the zen masterthe lemurswimming homeriver swimmershadow catcher


crowing The Dude and the Zen Master by Jeff Bridges & Bernie Glassman (NF/272p) 1.20.13
   Now, how I'm a fan of Jeff Bridges, thoroughly enjoyed The Big Lebowski, and always have a calm, peaceful place for Zen-related thoughts in my life. So, when I had first heard that this book was in the works — I was excited for the possibilities. Then I read some reviews, and I saw Jeff (who was definitely acting VERY stoned at times) and Bernie doing the press appearances to promote the book. While they were very amusing, it also seemed that there was a possibility for a high level of lameness in the book's concept. Well, I'm now a believer.

   It's not a great book. It's not a good place for a beginner to check out the basics of Zen Buddhism. It IS a very enjoyable time spent with a couple of friends who have known each other for thirty years and are feeding off of each other's words. Jeff has some great stories about the films he's worked on, the people he's acted and reacted with, and has a very accessible manner that exposes how his mind works. He is very Dude-like at times.

   Bernie is a very prolific writer of books on Buddhist and spiritual practice. He is always striving to make the sometimes confusing Eastern thoughts and practices easier for us Westerners to relate to. I have read many books on Zen and feel that Bernie does a fine job bringing life and religion together in many clear, thoughtful, and amusing ways

   The format of the book revolves around a few days of the them talking about their lives, Zen, The Big Lebowski, and a whole grab-bag of other things while they hang out on Jeff's Montana ranch. At times their conversation get just plain silly, but I also found that there were many points that were most profound and thought-provoking. That's a good mix for any life — silly and profound. I'm very glad I picked it up at the bookstore and found good reason to bring it home for my eyes, mind, and sense of humor to enjoy.  

(late January 2013 update - the book is at # 7 on the NYT Book Review list)


The Lemur by Benjamin Black (John Banville) (F/132p) 1.16.13
   The story revolves around a man in a trouble marriage who's offered a huge paycheck if he'll write a biography of his bigger than life father-in-law. That would mean looking into the life of Big Bill Mulholland, who is presently a powerful magnate in international communications and was a legend in the world of espionage. John Glass is regularly a journalist, but when a million dollars is offered for this book, he accepts the deal. Then he finds the project nearly impossible to begin. He asks around about someone to do research — and then things begin to happen and threats come his way.

   This is more mystery than I normally go for, but the writing won me over and I much enjoyed the ride the novel gave me. 


Swimming Home by Deborah Levy (F/157p) 1.11.13

   First, an aside, this was a new book that published by Faber & Faber, but it literally fell apart in my hands as I read it. The binding gave way and I got to read the last pages a page at a time, loose in my hand. Sad when a book comes apart at the seems.

   As to the novel, it had a very distinctive style, and Levy can really turn a phrase, but the plot didn't move me that much and my interest wandered away. It could just be the wrong time for me to read what may really be a fine book — one can never be sure about these things.


Teach Yourself Visually HTML and CSS by Mike & Linda Woolridge (NF/311p) 1.7.13

I'm just a nerdy guy learning more about code and cascading style sheets. When they put visually in the title, they really mean it. I think you could put the text in a regular format and it would fit in 80 pages or so. Not that all of the screen shots in color weren't very helpful, they made some of the murkier concepts much clearer. I learned more and this book is a pretty good basic reference book on the subjects. The nerd learns more about being a nerd.


The River Swimmer by Jim Harrison (F/198p) 1.5.13
I adore Jim Harrison. This is book is made up of two novellas, one (The Land of Unlikeness) involving a lusty older man, and the other (The River Swimmer) is more a coming-of-age story. Most of the reviews I've seen have liked the lusty old man story, a very familiar storyline for Harrison, but I found myself more involved and captivated by the young man who's one pure passion of life is to jump in the river a swim, and swim, and swim. Why yes, there is much more to the plot, but it's a joy to read. Harrison is to be treasured for his appreciation of nature, good food, and, as is plainly evident in his work, and in the first novella, a keen appreciation and lust for the perfect rear of a reoccurring woman on a bike. She pedals by and Harrison's character is FOCUSED.


crowing The Shadow Catcher by Marianne Wiggins (F/318p) 1.3.13

What a way to start a new year of reading — with a great book! I've never read anything by Wiggins and this book was a delight. She is very inventive and brought a lot to the table about Edward Curtis, and so much more, that was so new and fresh to me. It was truly fascinating to read this excellent piece of fiction after having read Timothy Egan's great book about Curtis, Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher. I can only hope that her other titles are as good — because I'm sure to take some of them out for a spin in the future.



John's Yearly NERD NUMBER for 2012

   In 2012 I read and wrote up103 books in my book journals. Most of my favorite are newly published, but some older titles (like my #1 fiction pick) do find their way onto my lists — after all, it is my favorites of the book I READ last year. Of the 103 books, 58 works of fiction and 45 nonfiction — that's 56% fiction, 44% nonfiction. All together that was 31,224 pages — for an average book length of 303 pages.


facing the musicthe devil all the timeexpression web for dummiesthe yellow birdsword 2007 for dummies


Facing the Music by Larry Brown (F/187p) 12.31.12


The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock (F/307p) 12.30.12


Microsoft Expression Web for Dummies by Linda Hefferman & Asha Dornfest (NF/370p) 12.28.12

   So many Dummies books, so little time. Sad to say that the major thing that I learned from reading this computer software book was that the software has now pretty much been dropped — with no further versions to come out or to be supported. This is a little more annoying to me than the "average bear" because I had started using MS Expressions Web after Microsoft had dropped their FrontPage software. I'm certainly glad that by just mentioning Microsoft name my computer didn't freeze up or go to any death star blue screen. Yet, I'm still using Microsoft, go figure.

   As to the book itself, I found it quite useful and I learned much. Now, all I have to is get use to cascading style sheets and the like, improve this website, and figure out what my next website building choice will be. The authors don't try to cover everything there is to the software, websites, or CSS, HTML and XHTML — that would be thousands of mind-numbing pages. Instead, they lay out the basics and how to use the software to get you into a "learn as you go" situation. Let's see how this all helps.  


The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers (F/226p) 12.25.12


Microsoft  Word 2007 for Dummies by Dan Gookin (NF/388p) 12.21.22
   This is just one of those books that you feel that you should read it — since you've got it — and you're sure to learn something. I did learn many things "officially", but I'm not going to share. Let's hope it was worth it AND the information is useful. 

   The Dummies books are never really actually funny. You might find yourself laughing at some cartoon or an author's "joke," once in a while, but it's only because you're in the midst of learning something rather technical and you're inner nerd is showing. With a little conversation with real people, you should return to "normal" soon enough ... or, you're simply a true nerd. Good luck with that     


unchangable 70% Acrylic 30% Woolonemy bookstore  sea monkeysshoplifting from american apparel


The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma (F/253p) 12.19.12


70% Acrylic 30% Wool by Viola Di Grado (F/200p) 12.17.12


One for the Books by Joe Queenan (NF/256p) 12.14.12
   Joe amused me greatly at times, but it was those cascade of negative thoughts that wore me down in the end. With humor, there's always that possibility that you JUST WON'T GET IT some  times — I think that this was one of those times for me. He just seemed annoying, especially when he was going after booksellers as a group of self-centered egotists that having nothing to offer to any book shopper. On that score, FO Joe.

   By the book's end I thought he wasn't as thoroughly annoying, and even funny on occasion. Either I was seeing a better side to him, or I knew the book would be ending for me soon. This book probably hit me more forcefully than usually, considering what I had just read previously.    


crowing My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop edited by Ronald Rice (NF/373p) 12.11.12
My weakness for anything book business-related forced me to crow about this wonderful collection of authors speaking out about their love for their favorite bookstores. That connection between customers and their bookstore is what my professional career was all about.


Sea Monkeys by Kris Saknussemm (F/261p) 12.8.12


Shoplifting from American Apparel by Tao Lin (F/95p) 12.6.12
I fell victim to a staff recommends card for this book. You write these cards for years, and you find yourself curious for whatever excitement that any staff member is trying to share about a book. The bookseller's words (and even a snappy little drawing) caught my eye and I went for it. While it wasn't that bad, in all honesty, it really wasn't all that good either. The writing is strange enough at times that it kept my interest, but once I closed the back cover — it just wasn't satisfying.


the underaciever's manifestoshort nights of the shaodow catcherthe treeseeing trees  sweet tooth the collector


The Underachiever's Manifesto by Ray Bennett (NF/85p) 12.3.12

It's funny.

It's needed.

It's funny.

It's serious ... but how serious?

Yet, it's very funny.



crowing Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher by Timothy Egan (NF/325p) 12.2.12
Outstanding book, unbelievable life.

 website of Edward Curtis's The North American Indian


The Tree by John Fowles (NF/91p) 12.2.12
   This would be the third nature-based book out of the last four I've read. The Tree is a special book in that it is a 2010 reissue of a 1979 essay by the the late, great novelist, John Fowles. It's a short work in which Fowles is exploring where nature fits into modern man's life, as well as it's role in the inspiration of all manner and form of man's art..

   His father had always kept a neat, orderly, heavily-pruned orchard and garden. John's much lighter hand on his own land made a strong impression on him. "I think I truly horrified him only once in my life, which was when, soon after coming into possession, I first took him around my present exceedingly unkempt, unmanaged and unmanageable garden."

   Other lines from the book that caught my mind's eye:


"For it is the general uselessness of so much of nature that lies at the center of our ancient hostility and indifference to it."

"The modern version of hell is purposelessness."

"All novels are also, in some way, exercises in attaining freedom — even when, at an extreme, they deny the possibility of its existence."

"Again and again in recent years I have told visiting literary academics that the key to my fiction, for what it's worth, lies in my relationship with
nature — I might also have said, for reasons I will explain, in trees."


"The validity of an individual's unarticulated experience with the natural world is what Fowles is trying to underscore here."



crowing Seeing Trees: Discover the Extraordinary Secrets of Everyday Trees by Nancy Ross Hugo & Robert Llewellyn (NF/231p) 12.1.12

   This a spectacular book on the hidden life of the common trees around us — so much is hidden because we do not, and sometimes, can not, take the time to really look at the nature that surrounds us. My appreciation for the common maples, oaks, black walnut, pine trees, and many others mentioned in this superb book, has always been high, but now I'm seeing so much more. Makes me wish that I hadn't gotten rid of my albums of tree photos that I had taken for many years.

   I had bought this book quite some time ago, and had only reached for it the other day because it was a rainy, storming day, and I was looking for some inside distraction. It's a wonderful find and I'm sure to return to it time and time again.

   special type of book It so grand when you come across a very special book, one that blends a fact-filled text with stunning photographs that serve so well to illustrate the text. There are times when there isn't a photo for EVERY thing mentioned in the text, but those are rare. One is so spoiled with the photographs within this volume, they reveal the most minute structures of flowers, buds, leaves, and bark in such crisp close-ups. It's a large-format, square book that is printed on nice heavy, white stock that really shows off the photos. How could we be going through our lives missing so much? This book is excellent at opening the reader's eyes. 



Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan (F/301p) 11.27.12
   McEwan has been a favorite writer of mine for many years. In the last few books he has experimented more and more with style. Like Solar, Sweet Tooth enters new and different territory for him. I found myself drifting away from the novel at times, but once I sat down to read the last half of the book, it jelled more for me. The ending is very nicely done and lifted my opinion of the book immensely.
   It's a story that's takes place in the world of spies and literature, secret governmental programs and first novels, humor and deceit, oh, and love. Julie Myerson of The Observer, calls it "a great big beautiful Russian doll of a novel", and she's got it pegged. The love stories of the female main character were not my cup of tea, but it got the plot to where it needed to be for the book's ending to work so well. The book's construction is most clever and works well with the subject matter. While not one of my favorite McEwan novels, this one does hold its own for clever.
"This is a great big beautiful Russian doll of a novel, and its construction—deft, tight, exhilaratingly immaculate—is a huge part of its pleasure...Sweet Tooth is a comic novel and a novel of ideas, but unlike so many of those, it also exerts a keen emotional pull."
   — Julie Myerson, The Observer
"Thoroughly clever ... McEwan has spied on real life to write Sweet Tooth, and in reading it we are invited to spy on him ... Rich and enjoyable."
   — Financial Times



The Collector: David Douglas and the Natural History of the Northwest by Jack Nisbet (NF/235p) 11.25.12
   Vicky was the one who picked this book up at the
Waucoma Bookstore
in Hood River, Oregon. It tells of the travels of the Scottish naturalist David Douglas, as he saw and collected plant, mineral, and animal samples in the American Northwest, Hawaii, and even the Galápagos Islands (which he visited before Darwin's famous trip) between 1824 and 1834 for the London Horticultural Society. It was fascinating to think of this man traveling to so many places that were barely, if ever, seen by white men before. He was heavily dependent upon the friendships that he made with the native tribes, traders, and others who knew where to go to find the species and areas he sought.
   Personally, I find myself pulling back at times from these early narratives that describe a very different time and sensitivity, when maybe shooting a bald eagle or some seals for dinner was just fine in everyone's mind. It's my hairstyle that makes me the "sensitive ponytailed man" that I am.
   Our visit to the Northwest was over before we got to see much of the wild areas of the region, but I was starting to get a little of the sense of the wildness ... like the backwoods of my native Vermont, but with larger mountains, trees and 100% more ocean waters. Without the white men who explored and collected all those samples from the early wild lands of our country, our country's advancement and growth would have taken so much longer. If I had a glass, I would raise it to these brave men that boldly went where men of their kind had never gone before. Remember, Many of these men were lost and never heard from again, or, like Douglas, died traveling the wilderness in search of knowledge, and a little fame.
"We need all the help we can get imaging this country when it stretched out untouched by industry. What's left at book's end is the sense of plenty, of endless variety and beauty that accompanied these vistas." — Los Angeles Times



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