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winterLAND book journal #18 - WinterLAND - Jan. 22 to May 1, 2013
    also journals:
#17 - #19 - #20 - #21 - #22

We've doing our Northern California being-with-and-helping-family thing — a few days in Oakland and a few days in Winters every week. During the summer the contrast between the intense heat of the Central Valley and the cool dampness of the East Bay is fascinatingly different.

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


patron saintwildbeautiful ruinstree of smokelifeboatburgess boys


The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett (F/336p) 5.1.13

   With this book you can take a trip back in time, to the early 1990s, and experience the very first published novel by Ann Patchett. I would say that it was an interesting, but not totally satisfying trip back in time. There certainly were many of the elements that create the magic that lives in so many of her other books, but my problem was these elements simply didn't come together — there was a glow, but no magic.

   Oh my, I'm being tough on a novel that had some very interesting and curious characters exploring a story over a extended time frame, in a setting that got me leaning forward in interest. Yet, with this early Patchett, I found myself thinking that this more like some collaborative work between Anne Tyler's odd, sympathetic characters and some of the bizarre edginess of a twisted John Irving tale. Now, I'm a huge fan of all these authors. I like odd people. I like bizarre situations. The thing is, that a good Patchett novel has a warmth of humanity that backs all this up, and I just didn't think that she got it all working together in novel number one. Still, it was better than many a book published by others — just not a full Patchett.     



Wild by Cheryl Strayed (NF/311p) 4.27.13

   The honesty and straight-forward telling of this woman's solo trek of over 1,000 miles trek of the Pacific Crest Trail was almost as brutal in the telling, as the hiking was to her battered and abused feet. I found myself amazed and ticked off at her unpreparedness for this monumental hike, but, at the same time, SHE DID IT, and at a very difficult point in her life. Strayed doesn't seem to hold much back in her telling of the story of her life. She just lays it all out there for all to read. The death of her mother changed her life very powerfully. This major trek just may have been a way of saving herself from the self-destructive and painful life she was living, one full of loss, drugs, sexual abandon, a divorce from a man she still loved, and her painful memories.

   Being alone in nature wasn't just some modern day "recharging-off-the-batteries thing" for her. She seemed to need the suffering involved with making this long journey without any physical training. There was a desire to maybe break on through her emotional pain. Without planning it, she was able to change the focus of her suffering — partially from the emotional pain stabbing her heart, to the physical agony of her feet, legs and back.  All that time alone, allowed her to sort some things out, distract her thoughts to the wonder and immediate threats that surrounded her, and to meet friendly people who related to her entirely differently, because she was doing something big and showing that she could do it on her own. Her trail took her over a thousand miles and it brought her to a stronger person...herself.


crowing Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter (F/337p) 4.23.13

   Jess Walter has always shown himself to be a clever and talented author in his previous works. But with Beautiful Ruins he has taken a leap onto a higher level (let's say shelf) and shows himself as being a much better writer, one capable of impressing me enough to rate this book as something to CROW about—even when I was only half way through the book.

   It's plot that involves many characters moving in and out of the limelight over quite a span of time. There is the wonderfully slow pace and innocence of a tiny, almost forgotten, town lodged on the rock cliffs of Italy. The sweet owner of the town's only hotel is captivated by a beautiful (but no ruin) blonde American actress that steps off a boat in the harbor. Then, there's a story that revolves around Dick and Liz (and others) making the uncontrollably-expensive film Cleopatra. Walter aptly describes the back-stabbing world of Hollywood, a world were fortunes come and go and come again, and people are immortalized on film...seemingly forever. As a reader I got to spend some time up close and personal with Richard Burton as he drank and charmed his way through this epic time of his life. A scene that has stuck in my mind, is one where the "simple" hotel owner sits beside Burton and watches him as he excessively drinks, smokes, and speeds a sports car down the curving Italian roads. Watching this life force roar down the narrow roads both scared and captivated him at the same time.

   The range of happenings and feelings of the book's events — modern and half a century old — exposes a sweetness, a selfishness, a dishonesty, and a loveliness that was all described just right and so very cleverly written that the book is extremely touching, funny and lovely. This is a book that I'm sure to read again some day.


Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson (F/614p) 4.20.13
   Disappointment. /
Wrong book at the wrong time. / I just didn't GET IT. / Don't read a war novel when you're feeling peaceful.


   Any of these could be the reason that I just didn't enjoy the reading experience of an older book by one of my favorite writers. Whatever the reason, I didn't like much about this novel. Yes, there was one of the most intense and gross torture scenes I've ever read, and the letters of a dead man were effective and well-crafted at the book's conclusion, but so much of the book didn't deliver for me. I have high expectations for anything by Denis Johnson ... or should I say I HAD high expectations? Maybe I just didn't want to be immersed in the brutality of Vietnam all over again. Skip Sands and the CIA in the theater of war had some fine writing swirling around them, but it just wasn't a place I wanted my head.

   This book has been in my view for a long time as a base to hold my computer's monitor up higher. Maybe this demeaning use of a long novel was taking cruel advantage of its thickness AND possibly creating a bad vibe with the emotions of the story. Can an inanimate object harbor ill will? I am willing to take the blame for my disappointment.


The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan (F/274p) 4.14.13
In general, I was not that moved by this novel. It may be that I have read several books about actual happening where people are stranded for days, weeks, and more in lifeboats, or on anything that floats. Knowing that a story is true, can make a disaster grip me much more. Also, the fact that this story was told from the position of a person of privilege — and I have a distaste for the rich playing such a large role in our fictional entertainment — was a drawback to my attachment to the story.   


crowing The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout (F/320p) 4.10.13
Considering that she won the Pulitzer Prize for a previous novel, Olive Kitteridge — one that both Vicky and I loved — it was such a treat to bring her latest novel home for a reading. And it was a terrific book.
Words to come.



butterfly winterwaterlandtransAtlanticlondon undertale for the time beingvampires in the lemon grove


Butterfly Winter by W.P. Kinsella (F/300p) 4.6.13
Kinsella's first novel in fifteen years offers its readers a fulfilling freedom from the constraints of regular time


Waterland by Graham Swifts (F/358p) 4.1.13
It took five or six bookstores to find this on a shelf, but it was well worth the effort. .


TransAtlantic by Colum McCann (F/205p) 3.26.13 (ARC)
Oh those very generous publishers, this ARC came a few days ago.


London Under: The Secret History Beneath the Streets by Peter Ackroyd (NF/205p) 3.26.13
   Doesn't everyone find tunnels, sewers, rats, explosions, bomb shelters, and the vast London Underground enough to make a good little book out of? Well, maybe not everyone, but it kept me entertained and learning for several hours. This small book offered a little about quite a few topics about what's beneath the surface of this great city — presently, and more intriguingly, in the city's long past.

   I learned that:

— the Underground was used by Londoners seeking safety from Germany's Zeppelins during World War I, and hundreds of thousands again found themselves sleeping there, and in many other tunnels, for many of the nights of WW II
— at times the sewer rats were called "bunnies" by the workers that toiled near them

— in the past, pollution of the Thames River caused the drinking water drawn from it to be "of a brownish colour" - you've got to love the British

— the early and numerous springs of the city's spas (or "spaws") promised everything, even "strengthens the Stomach makes gross and fat bodies lean and lean bodies fleshy"

— some sewer walls are now coated with 30 to 40 inches of fat, since the advent of modern fast food

— there was a huge group of people ("toshers") who made a meager and illegal income from scavenging the sewers for anything of value

— every time someone (a "jumper") attempts suicide in the Underground there will be an announcement, throughout the system, for "Inspector Sands" to investigate the "incident"

— the underground trains system's name was between Tube, Electric, and Underground

— the Underground's one fare for all caused quite a stir among the classes of London ... "Yet as a reading of Dante would have suggested, all are equal in the underworld."

— because of concern for the people's reaction to seeing the tunnels walls flying by so closely to the underground train's windows, the carriages were quilted and became nicknamed "padded cells"  

   London Under was always interesting, but after looking at Ackroyd's large book on London, which was focused above ground, I found myself wanting more text about what he was just touching on...down below. But, to be entertained and educated is a good gift from any book.  


A few choice lines:

"The past is beneath us. It exists still as the companion of the present city"

"Yet there may be monsters. The lower depths have been the object of superstition and of legend as long as there has been man and women to wonder."

"We are treading upon our ancestors. As soon as the original city was built above the ground it began to sink."

"London is built upon darkness."




crowing A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (F/418p) 3.24.13 (ARC)

This is one of the best and most inventive novels that I've read in some time. The book is just splendid. I keep rolling the plot over and over in my mind. Quantum physics, Zen Buddhism, philosophy, suicide, and playing with time and place have never had it so good in fiction.


Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell (F/243p) 3.19.13



stanger's childwish you were hereart of powerwhy we writetenth of december time was soft there


The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst (F/435p) 3.16.13

   I have had this novel around for some time, and as I had enjoyed the Swift book so much, it was a good time to stay in the British mode. Hollinghurst's book lays out a grander story, one that plays out over several generations, and was a fascinating look at the changing culture and economy in England. It's almost like Downton Abbey, if you didn't focus as much on the downstairs/upstairs split as much. Having said that, there are some characters that are of the servant class that reveal major parts of the story, but most of the book revolves around the rich, the pretty women, and the handsome men that dominate this novel's pages.

   As I have mentioned in many of my reviews, I tend to grind my teeth and despair at all the books and films that concentrate on the lives of the privileged and beautiful. Many of them seem prime material for elimination, or least incarceration — but that's just me. 

   The fact that much of the plot is, at first, centered on the flashy Cecil Valance and loyal George Sawle. Their relationship, Cecil's poetry, and Cecil's relationship with George's sister Daphne, carry through to the plot's end. It touching and a strong part of the cultural changes involved in the story — the the gay relationships, and how open and talked about they become in time. I really warmed to the characters as the story moved on.

   The whole historical quandary of how so many of the landed families coped with the dismal economics of this period brings forward a profound sadness in me. All these families trying to maintain these enormous estates and homes always gets to me, even if they are such dinosaurs in our time. Having lost the only home I ever owned, after a short time, to foreclosure, makes me much more sympathetic to these somewhat pointy-headed rich.

   So much of the book is about people's histories and a number of powerful love stories that play out around and through these people's lives. There's a lot going on, involving deceptions and the mysteries of life that made this a most touching book.   


crowing Wish You Were Here by Graham Swift (F/319p) 3.10.13

   This was a fabulous read! It had so many of the topics that light me up, like death, pondering death and suicide, rural life and isolation, and some seriously troubled family dynamics. Plus with a Swift novel, you get great writing, emotion, and with this one, a style that shifted constantly in time without ever losing or confusing me as a reader.

   I could tell you about the players and the action, but I think it's best to go into the reading experience of this book — expecting a slightly disturbing, but honestly felt story by a writer who is so very talented.   

   Every time I have ever read anything by Graham Swift, I wanted to read more. It's sad to report that presently the shelves of most of the East Bay's bookstores are quite lacking when it comes to new copies of any of his books. I'm still searching, but there's a ready solution nearby, pick this one up again and enjoy the whole thing over again, I'm sure to pick up more from a second reading. Books, oh, wonderful books.



Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham (NF/501p) 3.7.13

   Over the years I have read many a book about our founding fathers. Oddly enough, Thomas Jefferson wasn't among those many books...maybe a mention here and there. Meacham's book is a large volume that goes a long way towards rectifying my deficiencies in this area. I learned a great deal about the man and also many of his thoughts on the personalities and events of his times. A very cultured and intelligent man, a man who was central to so many of the events of our county's beginning, but also a shy man in many regards.

   Contradictions are almost a given when looking back over 200 years at a man's manner, but this is the man who wrote our Declaration of Independence, and it's not really crystal clear about how he felt about men being equal. Many have said that he meant it absolutely, any man equal to any man. Some say it was about landed gentlemen, not to include the rabble of Americans who owned no, or little land, And though he always owned slaves, it becomes abundantly clear that he felt them different. Sally Hemings and her "relatives" were set free in his will, but none of his other owned humans. Meacham makes a strong case that if Jefferson did believe that American slaves should be set free — at some time when it would not be disruptive to the nation — he assumed that they would want to return to Africa or wherever they came from, because it was inconceivable that the two races could live together in our country. Then there's the other half of the population, women.   


Why We Write edited by Meredith Maran (NF/229p) 3.1.13


Tenth of December by George Saunders (F/251p) 2.26.13


Time Was Soft There: A Memoir, A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare and Company by Jeremy Mercer (NF/258p) 2.24.13




reader on readingwe live in water any day nowluminariomthe merchants of culturethe guards


A Reader on Reading by Alberto Manguel (NF/294p) 2.20.13

We're talking about a class act with this and its look into what reading mean to the author.



We Live in Water by Jess Walter (F/177p) 2.1613

It's a grim and hard-edged world that's reflected in Walter's excellent short stories. He's a fine writer when telling the tales of those in our society who are having a rough time of it. These are the people that are always on the underside of the economy — and when the economy tanks, like it has — they're just that further down into the muck.



Any Day Now by Terry Bisson (F/287p) 2.12.13

"This is the best fiction about what's called the Sixties ever written. If you were there, this is where you were." — John Crowley



  Luminarium by Alex Shakar (F/432p) 2.8.13

"Days after finishing Luminarium, I'm still stumbling around the house in a mixture of wonder and awe." — Washington Post


Let's just say after I finished Luminarium, I felt no awe, but I did wonder what it was about this novel that I obviously missed. There were some rather memorable lines, like:

   "Muggy enough outside to stagger the gnats."


   "— it felt like he'd been turned inside out, like all of his skin were inside simmering in stomach acid and all his nerves and bones were scrapping  

   against the sheets." 


   There were some interesting concepts in the book that dance around some very interesting philosophical issues. There are also some very revealing looks into the world of computer gamers and the people who design those games. There, that might be it, GAMES. I'm not much of a gamer. No let me be clear — other than a current fascination with an online pool game (one ridiculously close to mimicking how bad I am at the actual physical game of pool {the one with real balls, not going into real holes, on a real table}) —  I have only played a game or two in over fifty years. I'm an outsider looking in at something that's distasteful to him, like seeing Dick Nixon on the beach in Bermuda shorts and wingtips ... well, like back when Dick was still alive. I imagine it would be even more distasteful with a dead Nixon.

    OK, I've gotten to a Nixon moment. I'm off my subject. This was a book that didn't work for me. Enough.  



Merchants of Culture: The Publishing Business in the Twenty-First Century by John Thompson (NF/424p) 2.2.13

   Here's a fine book for anyone, veteran of the book world or newcomer, who wants to learn a great deal about how this industry works, fails, and is presently a world a-changing. There is a enormous amount of data from all corners of the publishing business in the United States and the United Kingdom, as well interviews with many of the major players. I have been involved in bookselling for thirty years, and I was picking up all manner of facts and insights into this world — a world that was thought to be a gentlemen's pursuit a generation ago, but has become a rough and tumble business today. If you don't think things are changing much, just try and visit a Borders store, or mention Amazon, or e-books, to your local independent bookseller.

   Much of what's between these covers is not pretty, and doesn't seem hopeful much of the time, but people are certain to always read books. It's just that many people will give up the full pleasure of reading a quality printed volume — because they're cheap, impatient, not that interested, whatever — for the chance to spend even more time with an electronic device. Myself, I'm happiest with ink and paper, covers and bookmarks, and a book's smell and the tactile sensation of turning the pages. Hell, I want to walk away from my computer as I write this — there are always plenty of books waiting for me in my world.

   This is the second edition of this title, having been revised in 2012. Things are changing at an alarming rate for many, veterans and newbies, in the business, but with change there always comes opportunity. Well, as I'm quoting fortune cookies now, I'll stop myself ... for now.

   Just know that if you want to gain vast knowledge about publishing and bookselling, this is a great place to start. 



The Guards by Ken Bruen (F/291p) 1.22.13

   I pushed the mystery button too hard and ended up reading a book that will keep me away from the genre for some time. There were some points that I found myself somewhat interested in where the plot was taking me, but not enough. When it comes to mysteries, let's all just agree that I just don't get them. I'm not driven to FIND WHO DID IT.

   It was a nice hit of Irish characters and the writing was interesting and clever many times, yet it was not satisfying. Next.   




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