home | blog | site map | reviews | bookstore traveler | book awards     24books.org
winterLAND book journal #19 - WinterLAND - May 5 to Sep. 20, 2013
     also journals:
 #17 - #18 - #20 - #21 -

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


the missing inkanderw's braingoatorangesgood proseenglish grammar


The Missing Ink by Philip Hensher (NF/255p) $26.00, Faber & Faber - read 9.20.13


Andrew's Brain by E.L. Doctorow (F/200p) $26.00, Random House - read ARC 9.17.13


crowing Goat Mountain by David Vann (F/239p) $25.99, Harper - read 9.14.13

   Fans of this great writer know to expect a violent ride, one that takes you though a gritty, bloody, troubling world. His novels focus on intense relations between people and take the reader into some most disturbing places.

   We got a chance to hear him speak several years ago at Moe's Books for his novel Dirt.  Listening to him answer questions and relate facts about himself and his writing, just made me want to know more about what his life has been like. How twisted has it been?


Oranges: A Global History by Clarissa Hyman (NF/191p) $18.00, Reaktion - read 9.12.13


Good Prose by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd (NF/183p) $26.00, Random House - read 9.10.13


The McGraw-Hill Handbook of English Grammar and Usage by Mark Lester and Larry Beason (NF/354p) $17.00 - read 9.7.13

What can I say, this book had no plot, no characters, but I learned, and relearned, a great deal. This is an old style textbook sort of handbook that made things quite clear, but was no source of entertainment. Learning can be more enjoyable than this, but it served the purpose.



the telling roomluminous airplanesoblivionhothousedear lifedeliriously happy


The Telling Room by Michael Paterniti (NF/344p) $27.00, Dial Press - read ARC 9.1.13

This ARC just came from the publisher, it's been some time since I requested it and it is now out on bookstore shelves. His previous book, Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America with Einstein's Brain, was quite memorable, and I have high hopes for this book about a special cheese.



Luminous Airplanes by Paul la Farge (F/243p) $15.00, Picador - read 8.29.13

Picked this up at a local store, as I was won over by the description on the jacket. 



Oblivion by David Foster Wallace (F/329p) $15.00, Back Bay Books - read 8.22.13



crowing  Hothouse: The Art of Survival and the Survival of Art at America's Most Celebrated Publishing House Farrar Straus & Giroux by Boris Kachka (NF/345p) $28.00, Simon & Schuster - read 8.22.13

Dear Life by Alice Munro (F/309p) $15.95, Vintage - read 8.13.13

   I would have to say that I'm disappointed. The glorious reviews of this, her latest collection of short stories, were sky high. I had held myself back from the expense of getting this when it first came out in hardback. For story after story, I was left liking them, but — while the writing was unquestionably good, and many of the characters were well-crafted and interesting — the plotlines just weren't my cup of tea. Vicky said it first, and her words haunted me as I read the collection, these seem like old lady stories. She's now 81, but the reviews keep saying her writing is still golden.

   Many of the stories are set in the past, and there's nothing wrong with that, but they mostly seemed to have an overriding gentle and mannered way to them. Yes, things happen, but I wasn't surprised much and there wasn't much in the shocking style. Personally I needed some good old plot twists, some inventive styling..

   The last four stories were different. Unusual for her, she included something more autobiographical and I enjoyed them. She has spoken of these rarities in recent interviews, “I believe they are the first and last — and the closest — things I have to say about my own life.”

   I fall back to my old reframe here, sometimes a great book simply doesn't move the reader if they aren't in the right place for it. So, I will leave the collection thinking old lady stories. Thinking about it now, I haven't ever been that impressed by any of her stories, yet so many readers love her. I guess I just don't get her. My loss. I move on.


Deliriously Happy by Larry Doyle (F/272p) $14.99, Ecco - read 8.10.13
   This is a collection of comic bits, far-ranging comic bits ... some of them are hilarious ... some, not so much. Most of them were published in the New Yorker, Esquire, National Lampoon and the subjects range from Karl Rove, Fred Flintstone, to dogs, a family's dad who's been stuffed and put back in his favorite chair, and the "lost" and sexy part of Huck Finn. It is always tough to sit down with a comedic book and read it cover to cover and have every short comedy bit strike someone as funny, you're sure to find some of it a little off, it's just the nature of comedy writing. But, when this former writer for The Simpsons is funny, it's good. Being me, I longed for more political humor, but I got my jollies, had my laughs, and I closed the cover smiling and happy.


legend of a suicidearcadia419arguablythe bookman's talei hate to leave this beautiful place


crowing  Legend of a Suicide by David Vann (F/240p) $13.99, Harper Perennial - read 8.8.13

   This is simply an excellent combination of fine writing, wonderfully-drawn characters, a setting strong enough to be counted as another character, and a storyline that involves twisted people circling death. This was Vann's first published work, and is in the form of several short stories and one rather long short story that take place in Alaska and include much that is autobiographical. I always find myself surprised and impressed, sometimes repulsed and shocked, but I will always return for more of Vann's writing.

   Months ago we got a chance to see him speak at Moe's Books, when he was touring for his excellent, and also twisted novel, Dirt. He had some friends, and maybe relatives in the crowd, and, with them there, and some questions from readers wondering about how autobiographical his fiction is, he was most uneasy talking about how he depicted his mother in Dirt, and I'm sure the same unease would have stalked the room if anyone had brought up the father figure in Legend of a Suicide. His father did live in Alaska, David was born there, and the title's suicide is a reference to his dad's death by his own hand with a .44 Magnum. There are many trouble people in his writing. They all ring true as people, and they act completely unpredictable (like much of life) at times of ultimate stress — it always makes for some damn gripping reading.

   Several of the other short stories in Legend also grab a hold of you, but the long one, Sukkwan Island, is really developed, and you really get into the man and the son's disjointed relationship as they struggle to survive the harsh climate of their remote and crude cabin in Alaska. You think things are coming to a head ... and then they pull through another hardship ... and then it all goes to hell. You end up with one person alone, with a very thin connection to any reality, and you don't hold out much hope.

   Vann portrays a crazed mind on paper as good as anyone ever has. He's a writer that you want to be disturbed by.


"Vann looks into the dark and isolated heart of the American soul. It is a devastating journey ... impossible to put down and equally impossible to forget." — San Francisco Chronicle


for more check out www.davidvann.com


Arcadia by Lauren Groff (F/239p) $16.00, Hyperion - read ARC 8.6.13

   In the beginning ... this story was just a little too stereotypical in characters and action, but I warmed to the book when things stopped being so hippie dippy idyllic. That's it, give me pain and suffering, and things start to bogie story wise for me. This is your 1960s large commune that struggles from the beginning, but most of the bizarre people assembled start out working towards a common goal.

   There are many characters introduced as Groff tries to give you a lay of the communal landscape, some will be front and center, some will just be rather cardboard and beaded figures moving around in the background.


419 by Will Fergusen (F/399p) $16.00, Pintail - read ARC 8.3.13

   There is so much not to "spill the beans" about, when it comes to this novel, including the title. It was a fairly engaging novel that had some believable characters dealing with love, death and money mostly in Nigeria. I learned a great deal about the country, a great deal that most any Chamber of Commerce or Travel Bureau wouldn't want to focus on. The overpowering and overwhelming poverty and corruption that is portrayed in 419 man this one of the darkest books that I've read in some time. There are several main characters spread across the country, and the globe, that are cleverly brought together by the book's conclusion. There's some troubling violence that brutally forces the plot forward and little to feel good about. But there is some.

   The book begins with an old man's death as he hurtles off a high cliff ... where the road curves, and his car's path doesn't. Yet, there are some good people, trying to do the right thing here and there. This book is sure to stick with me for a long time, and my thoughts will be sad whenever Nigeria is mentioned.    


Arguably by Christopher Hitchens (NF/749p) - read 7.29.13

   Hitchens had a staggeringly encyclopedic mind, one that brought obscure references to all manner of history, culture, beast or man. As he so clearly shows with the range of topics in this hefty collection of essays, he could carry on about most anything and always surprise you with facts and his outspoken opinions. At times, when I was reading an essay that was on a topic that had never interested me before, he could give it a twist and keep me turning the pages to see what was coming around the next bend. When our opinions clashed (always inevitable with any reader and Hitchens) it was fun to see where he was just have a great time of it, and where he was just taking it over the top. It loved to get a rise out of people. His ego knew no bounds within these covers.    


The Bookman's Tale by Charlie Lovett (F/ 347p) - read 7.22.13

   It's a rare day when I purchase a mystery. Even rarer when it's one in hardcover. What could it have been in this case? Could it have been that the entire story is about books, book sleuths, book dealers, book scholars, and who really wrote Shakespeare's works? Yes, I admit it. Not only that, but it was an excellent page turner that educated and entertained me in fine style. You could smell the musty stacks of aging books throughout.

   While I'm not a good one to judge a mystery, I do know that this worked for me. Now, I'll see if it passes the mustard with my mystery-loving lover.   


I Hate to Leave this Beautiful Place by Howard Norman (NF/194p) - read 7.18.13



one last thing before i goknockemstifflet him goin other rooms other wondersrematkable readsodd type writers


crowing One Last Thing Before I Go by Jonathan Tropper (F/324p) - read 7.15.13

   The man is very funny. I came away from this novel with the strong message that the male human is very simple, and, for the most part, VERY confused by the fairer sex. It seems that most of us men just don't get women. 


Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock (F/203p) -read 7.14.13


crowing Let Him Go by Larry Watson (F/269p) - read ARC 7.12.13


In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin (F/247p) - read 7.10.13


crowing  Remarkable Reads edited by J. Peder Zane (NF/251p) - read 7.5.13


Odd Type Writers by Celia Blue Johnson (NF/171p) - read 7.2.13



the shelter cyclethe oddsand the mountains echoedthe lighthousebarbarianthe falls


The Shelter Cycle by Peter Rock (F/211p) - read 7.1.13


The Odds by Stewart O'Nan (F/179p) - read 6.22.13


And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini (F/402p) - read 6.21.13


The Lighthouse by Alison Moore (F/183p) - read 6.20.13


The Barbarian Nurseries by Hector Tobar (F/422p) - read 6.19.13


The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates (F/465p) - read 6.15.13

   My side note complaint —

I got this as a bargain table item and I wondered about the abrupt ending ... was that really a stylist bit of wonder there? No, I found out. I stopped in at the Gallery Bookshop in Mendocino, and asked if they could just check to see how many pages this paperback edition ran. Yup, my book that I got for cheap, was just a misprint, and didn't have the last 20 pages or so.



how i became stupidinfinite jestcorn maidentime after timeenonre


How I Became Stupid by Martin Page (F/164p) - read 6.11.13



special type of book Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (F/1,079p) - read 6.8.13
   I started this several years ago ... and then let it go. Now I'm about a quarter of the way through it and I can't imagine HOW I could have left it. It's a real hoot and it's taking me to some very interesting places in the far corners of my mind. When I pick it up and start to read, it just takes over and I'm rolling along in a special place. I've never experienced any other book quite like this one.

   Does every word sing? No. Are there things contained in the book's 1,079 pages of text and footnotes that don't work. Hell yes. But he took the novel form and stretched it this way, and bent it that way, until it worked on many different levels, and failed on some others. A major physical problem I had with the book was its heft challenging a badly sprained thumb of mine — holding this book up in bed to read was and sometimes a dangerous proposition.

   As a tennis junkie and player from way back, reading the tennis players insider stuff about Hal and the family's tennis academy was pure gold for me. All of the up close and personal agony of the drug halfway house's clients was hard to read at times, but certainly interesting. The book takes place sometime in some nonspecific future, after the US, Mexico and Canada have come under one government, and the years are named after their corporate sponsors. Sadly for this Vermont born reader, all of New England has been abandon and is only used for storing hazardous waste in a polluted hell on earth. 

   The book style of moving from tennis training and competition, to dealing with all those monkeys on all those addict's backs, to the North American politics of this futurescape, kept your reader's mind loose and it was one VERY FUNNY book.

   There were nearly 400 footnotes in the back of the book and they served many purposes. Explaining and detailing all the drugs, legal and street, was a common feature — one that seemed simply too clinical and cold after about the twentieth time. Another reference book use of the footnotes was to explain all the abbreviations that Wallace created and used throughout the work. He knew we needed to know — and what's better than a fun trip to the back of the book? I ended up using two bookmarks while reading I Jest, one for my place in the text, and one for my latest footnote. The footnotes were also used by Wallace for many other purposes. Moving back and forth, never knowing where any footnote would lead you, kept reading fluid and created many spectacularly humorous moments for him to play out a joke, or just mess with your head.

   The word unique could have been created just to label this book. Lord knows that reviewers, and readers of all kinds, have called it many things. But it's been an experience for this reader that was entirely unique. This is an experience in reading that is massively creative and one long strange trip of a book. Hell, I will be thinking and pondering his words for a some time.      



The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares by Joyce Carol Oates (F/365p) - read 5.17.13

   For me, these seven short stories were good, sometimes quite creepy, but never approached any sort of a nightmare level. With fresh descriptions and images of the Boston Marathon bombing in my head, as well as my general state of mind, these seemed more like a tame, school board-loving young adult title. Nothing threatening.

   The title story was a twisted story of a young girl (could she be the Corn Maiden?) kidnapped by some older girls from her school. The story has a wonderful twist in the end, but still more creepy than skin-crawling. The graphic descriptions of the procedures of a plastic surgeon in another story were closer to the "unsettling mark". Odd to think that I had considered going into medicine when I was younger — luckily my "thanks but no thanks" true-to-myself DAMN that's GROSS thoughts took over and sent me towards the vast wealth guaranteed in independent bookselling. My lack of repulsion with these stories could just be that wrong-book-at-this-time sort of thing, but Oates didn't show me enough that I will give them another reading anytime soon.    



Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (F/529p) - read 5.14.13

   My very first book by Kate Atkinson — I don't read mysteries but once in a blue moon, so when Vicky was so excited about this non-mystery Atkinson, I went for it — and this was a very clever and satisfying novel. The main character travels around through time in a constant and most unconventional way, and the writing WORKS seamlessly. After a while of watching to see how Atkinson pulled these multiply stories off so well, I just sat back and read for pleasure. This was a real treat. 



Enon by Paul Harding (F/276p) - read ARC 5.9.13

   This novel is the story of Charlie Crosby, who turns out to be the grandson of the protagonist in Harding's previous, and wonderful novel, Thinkers. The first third of the book was very engaging and enjoyable, then the middle section wasn't as much, and, yet, Harding redeemed himself in the writing of the book's last third. I need to ponder the novel, stir my feelings around in my mind some more ... and I'll get back to you.



The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison (F/276p) - read 5.5.13

   I had heard and read so much high praise about this novel that I was afraid that there was no way that it could live up to it all ... yet it did. I was a happy man reading this book and so wished that it would go on for a few more hundred pages. This is a fascinating piece of work that is a most original take on the buddy/road trip story. Evison portrays what many would label losers in a very kind way. Just because someone isn't pulling in the big bucks, doesn't mean that they can't have some golden properties in some other, more important area of life. Misfits and crippled folk, runaways and misguided inventors, the lonely and the loving, caring and cruel people — they all find a home in this generous, funny and redemptive story.



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