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east bay revisited

journal #7 - East Bay basement REVISITED - Jan. 2 to Apr. 24, 2011   
journal #8 - #9 - #10 - #11

The big differences when I don't own, or work in a bookstore—is where I get my books. I keep up on what's out through many print and online sources. But the number of ARCs in my life goes way down and I'm out there buying books at all these other bookstores. Civilian life.

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a moveable feastgryphonthe keepplain honest menthe invisible circuspeep show

crowing A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway (NF/236 pages) 4.24.11
It took me several months to find a copy of this on a bookstore shelf. This is a sign of the times, the times of just-in-time minimal store inventories, and not much of any backlist on anyone's shelves. There are times when I feel that it isn't the right time to read a book if I can't find it without simply special ordering it. Then there are times when you run across a title - and NOW is the time.

This was such a great read! There is so much to be said for Hemingway's stripped-down style. I've gone into serious Hemingway jags several times in my life, and I've found myself loving the writing, but the macho bullshit just got to be too much...and some other writer calls me away. With this book, it was written earlier in his career (but released right around the time of his death) and he's writing about major figures: Stein, Joyce, Pound, Fitzgerald & the like. There are no testosterone-infused bullfights in Spain or safaris in Africa. He had just given up working as a journalist, and is living on very little and checking out the fabulous scene in Paris. It was a rich and heady time. I've always heard and read of people who love to return to this title to reread it time and time again. I've already dipped back in several times since finishing it a few days ago. 


crowing Gryphon by Charles Baxter (F/400p) 4.20.11
I have always enjoyed Baxter's writings. Being able to attend his recent (4.11.11) reading at Books Inc. in Berkeley was great fun. From his talk and the following discussion on teaching and writing, it was easy to see what a fine teacher he is for all students. He spoke about one of his favorite short story "tricks", to bring strangers together so that what you needed to know about the characters was brought out by them learning about each other as the story progresses. The author doesn't have to slog through narration and flashbacks to round out these people. There is a great variety in settings, characters, mood, and feel in these stories and there just a very few that didn't wow me - maybe I just didn't get them. This is such a fine collection that I've already gone back to it several times to relive some of the stories.


The Keep by Jennifer Egan (F/255p) 4.13.11
This is my third book by Egan. When you start with Goon Squad, and you know just how good she can be...you keep going back for more. This book has a couple of storylines going, plotlines that bring together two cousins, a prison and its writing program, an ancient castle being restored, social commentary, strange happenings, active imaginations and intriguing spirits. She's always guaranteed to keep it interesting. And like Cormac McCarthy, sometimes the writing is so good, you just have to stop, reread, and try and figure out how she did what she did with the language. 


crowing Plain, Honest Men - The Making of the American Constitution by Richard Beeman (NF/443p) 4.10.11
Simply one of the very best books that I've read on the personalities and motivations of the beginnings of our country's government. As he states in the book's acknowledgement, he thought about this book for forty years and wrote it for four. Time well spent. Excellent! 


The Invisible Circus by Jennifer Egan (F/338p) 4.4.11
   I picked this book up while waiting for the arrival of a different Egan novel that's been special ordered. This a nice read. It was Egan's first book, and while it's straight-line narrative isn't as creative as the structure of A Visit From the Goon Squad, it shows her as a talented writer in many ways. She knows how to tag and tug at your emotions and to create such vividly visual scenes.

   The story is told from the viewpoint of Phoebe, a very curious and brave eighteen-year-old San Francisco Bay Area girl. In the story she's fixated, and somewhat jealous, of her golden older sister - who killed herself in Italy. The older thrill-seeking Faith was the apple of their father's eye. He was a frustrated painter who's real job was at IBM, before he died after a long illness. Most of the book is taken up with Phoebe following Faith's hippie fantasy travels through Europe. The politics and changes of the 1960-1970s are much of the mind of Circus, but Phoebe's relations and feelings about Faith and her family members are the heart of it. Why is she tracking her dead sister? What does she hope to find? Egan doesn't wrap everything up in a neat and definitive package, but it is a great journey.

   There are some wonderfully vivid scenes that are crying out to be filmed for the big screen...dad's last ocean swim with his daughter(s)...and the feathers of protest hanging in the air beside the Eifel Tower...are still high-definition clear in my mind's eye. 


Peep Show by Joshua Braff  (F/263p) 4.1.11
This is a very funny book that pulls the worlds of ultra-orthodox Jewish life together with the sticky seats of the pornograpic world on 42nd Street in NYC. This is the old style, 1970s Time Square, where burlesque is almost completely gone, and been replaced by the sleazy peep shows, live sex acts, and pornography the ruled the area before the 1980s vice cleanup. The voice is of a seventeen-year-old boy, David, who's splintered family bridges the two worlds. Dad runs the declining Imperial Theater, with it's peep shows, sex dancers, and porn flicks. He's trying to find a job in the industry for his son and his camera. And mom has taken David's sister and joined a strict Hasidic sect. Neither of the men of the family can handle this religious conversion, and the volatile parents can't handle any kind of a civil conversation. The never-too-healthy dad has some hilarious lines when he attempts the moral high ground of a pornographer attacking a religion he views as strange and perverse. David is caught in the middle and is coming of age surrounded by barely-clothed women sex performers. Whatever could a writer find in this plot to put humor between two covers? This title has  been in the back of my mind ever since we supplied the books for an area art and literature festival through read. booksellers, and Joshua signed this book there. There is some crafty writing here that superbly handles love and death, split families, religion, and SEX SEX SEX. 


borgesgreat housesongthisswamplandia!a visit from the good squad

Borges' Travel, Hemingway's Garage by Mark Axelrod (F/188p) 3.28.11
This book is so clever that it fooled the person who shelved the title - they put it in nonfiction.


Great House by Nicole Krauss (F/289p) 3.27.11
There is some superb writing within these covers, yet as a whole this just didn't come together for me.


The Song Is You by Arthur Phillips (F/250p) 3.24.11
This would be a book that only moderately involved me, and while I can acknowledge the quality of the writing, it didn't work for me.


This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Topper (F/339p) 3.22.11
This was a
grand old time laughing. This is one very funny book.


crowing Swamplandia! by Karen Russell (F/316p) 3.19.11
I'm just minutes from reading the last page. I'm still out in the swamp, trying to collect my thoughts and keep the gators away. What a fine bit of writing this is - I will get back to you.


crowing A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (F/274p) 3.14.11
I've just finished the book that has made it onto so many great lists of books. It's a very impressive accomplishment and I'm still out there reading all sorts of reviews and information about this book. She brings to life some interesting characters in the world of music. You do some major time tripping from back in the days when punk rock was fresh and rebellious, to these same rockers looking at their own humanity.


my hollywoodthe speechred gardenwhile mortals sleep20 under 40revolutionaries 


My Hollywood by Mona Simpson (F/365p) 3.9.11
Just finished this novel, and for those of you who know me, you know that reading about children is not my concept of pleasure reading. Well, this book leads off with the details of baby care! Yet, by the book's last word, I was wowed by Simpson's talent again. She pulled me into the world of American mothers and the women they hire to care for, to parent, their kids.


The Speech by Senator Bernie Sanders (NF/255p) 3.8.11
He's my man from my home state of Vermont, writing on his eight-and-a-half-hour U.S. Senate speech about tax cuts, corporate control of the country, and the hurting American middle class.


The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman (F/270p) 3.3.11
This reads like interrelated short stories telling the 300 year history of a small town.


crowing While Mortals Sleep by Kurt Vonnegut (F/253p) 2.28.11
These short stories are truly wonderful. I got this book from the Borders store that closing down in San Ramon—which is looking real sad and pathetic. I just had to visit a Borders before they all disappear. I looked around the rapidly-emptying store, talked to some of the employees, and thought about all the independent bookstores put out of business by this one-time giant, all those fired employees that had to move on to jobs they never liked as much. I really hate the ability of big business to grow so fast, cause so much damage as they take over territory, and then to collapse under their own bloated carcass. Returning to Kurt—And, yet these were such good stories. 


20 Under 40 edited by Deborah Treisman (F/430p) 2.25.11
The short stories by those chosen by the New Yorker.


crowing Revolutionaries by Jack Rakove (NF/446p) 2.19.11
I'm a nut for those American revolutionaries.


new yorker storiesat home in the worldillumination gendarmeemily, alonesnakewoman of little egypt 


crowing The New Yorker Stories by Ann Beattie (F/514p) 2.17.11
It's a dream come true for any Beattie fan and I've been a big fan from when I meet her in my college days at UVM. What a thrill to have so many collected in one volume. This makes it so easy to relive all those stories from so many different New Yorker issues. This collection also allows the reader to see how Beattie's writing has evolved and changed over the years. Sometimes you forget just how much you like a particular author...this was a wonderful reminder. Thank you. Thank you.


At Home in the World by Joyce Maynard (NF/375p) 2.10.11
We hosted a reading for Joyce at read. booksellers and I've just now gotten around to reading this most interesting work. Joyce signed a copy of this book for us and included the word shameless - which is most appropriate. This is a very brave and honest book.


The Illumination by Kevin Brockmeier (F/262p) 2.6.11
Here's a novel that involves a concept that very much appealed to me. Suddenly people's pain becomes visible - it has become different colors and intensities of light.
Have a toothache? People can see it.
Your old knee injury is acting up. People can see.
Are you bleeding? There will be an intense light for all to see.
And how do we feel and how do we care about our fellow man?
   There are a series of characters that have their time in the limelight. Each character comes into focus as something (I'm not telling what) comes to them, and this, I think, is a weakness to the storyline. It seemed that Brockmeier may have run out of steam with the many parts to the story.
   Another odd feature of this book is that there's a chapter that centers on a character who's fixated on the number ten. The odd thing about this part of the book - is that every sentence in the chapter has ten words. Once I was hip to this, it was very distracting. For quite a few paragraphs I found myself counting words and seeing how he did this. Just think about what it would be like to write in only ten words.
   While simpler would have been better for this reader, this is still an interesting and provocative read.   


The Gendarme by Mark T. Mustian (F/294p) 2.4.11
   This novel has a very cleverly-crafted plotline that plays with memory, age, the dark side of human nature, and love. It's all played out against a very dark time in the world's history. Our plot travels between the 1990s, and the beginning of World War I. Between the life of a 92 year-old man who lost his memory during that war, and the horrible forced march of Armenians out of Turkey to Syria. The raw cruelty involved is shocking. Our main character, Emmet Conn, once a Turk, now an American in Georgia, is of a state of mind that involves some very powerful dreams that have taken over his life. Yet, these dreams seem to give him back the feelings and the facts of his forgotten time as a gendarme forcing these Armenians on through the desert those many years ago.
What is love?
What is memory, what's true in your dreams, and what is history?
What is sanity?
   This is a powerful story that hung with me for days. Imagine what it would be like to have your dreams tell you the story of the most intense period of your life - a time that you have no memories of. I've read many reviews online, and I'm amazed how many people were disappointed at the end of the book - because they saw it so very differently than I saw it. While the writing is weaker at times, this book deals with some very fascinating and thought-provoking concepts.     


Emily, Alone by Stewart O'Nan (F/255p) 2.2.11


Snakewoman of Little Egypt by Robert Hellenga (F/342p) 1.31.11



lost symbolnever let me gothe tower the zoo and the tortoisenixonland sorry no image   amy


The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown (F/509p) 1.25.11


Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (F/288p) 1.23.11


The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise by Julia Stuart (F/304p) 1.20.11


crowing Nixonland by Rick Perlstein (NF/748p) 1.17.11
This is a giant of a book, over 700 pages, about one of the figures of recent history that I still find myself hating. This book was very highly recommended to me by a customer in Placerville and he was so right. It's a most thorough and complete book...one that makes me so mad all over again.

Excerpts from a Family Medical Dictionary by Rebecca Brown  (NF/97p) 1.9.11


Amy and Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout (F/304p) 1.8.11


in the valley of the kingsspot   



In the Valley of the Kings by Terrence Holt (F/224p) 1.5.11


The Spot by David Means (F/163p) 1.2.11



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