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 ..big flying reviews                               

Breath by Tim Winton
"...the outlaw feeling of doing something graceful, as if dancing on water was the best and bravest thing a man could do.." is one of the meditations that Winton gives to his young protagonist in Breath. This book is beautifully haunting and my favorite read of 2008. By the way, Aussie Tim Winton is, generally, fantastic. My favorite book of 1994 was The Riders.
- Vicky

February, 2009

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout is my favorite kind of book, relying heavily on the characters that live in the stories to propel the action who reside, after I've finished reading, vividly with me. Strout puts her people in unpredictable, sometimes stunning, predicaments but never unbelievable ones. This book was a lovely discovery.
- Vicky

February 2009


open book Here are some books that I read and found most interesting. These lists were sent out in emails from our bookstores. I can't say that these are book reviews, some are just this side of a book blurb, but they are a reflection of my excitement for what I read. These are STILL good books. Thanks & keep on reading. - John


In my continuing Revolutionary War reading jag, I had to read 1776 by David McCullough, and while not the best book of all time, it was an interesting telling of those revolting times. 

1968 by Mark Kurlansky is a fine telling of the events of that rather special year. I've read this book over the course of maybe nine months and it has brought right back to that time instantly, each and ever time I picked it up.  

All right, so I have a Boyle problem. I can't stop myself. Ever since (November 16, 2005) Vicky and I saw T.C. Boyle at the Crest in Sacramento (thanks to Judy & Jim) I can't stay away from his dark and twisted words. I had read some Boyle before, but listening to him read drove me back to his short stories. Since seeing him I've read After the Plague, Descent of Man, If the River Was Whisky, and Without a Hero and I have started his latest collection, Tooth and Claw. If you're looking for a master of the well-written, dark tale, you can't go wrong with Boyle.

David Dionisi did a talk in the bookstore for his book, American Hiroshima (paperback) and it created a lot of interest and conversation with the crowd. The book tells about the possibility of a terrorist attack on one of our nuclear power plants. David obviously knows this information cold and gives the reader much to ponder in these times.

Ballastics by Billy Collins—the man's poetry can always bring a smile and speak of death, many times in the same poemBilly is a favorite poet of mine. 

One of the most depressing and fascinating books I've read in some time was Donald Hall writing on the sickness and death of his wife the poet Jane Kenyon in The Best Day The Worst Day. It's not all gloom, there's much on their love and life together...as well, of course, their writing.

The Big Oyster by Mark Kurlansky tells the story of NYC through the history of its oysters. His writing is always interesting (Salt, Cod, 1968 and other books) and Big Oyster is not just a fascinating history of a city and its fame for oysters, but like many of his books, you get recipes as well.

Breaking Ships by Roland Buerk tells of the obsolete Asian Tiger, a ship destroyed at one of the many ship-breaking yards along the beaches of Bangladesh. Like a swarm of ants (with steel cutting torches) the poor workers reduce enormous tankers and cargo ships to scrap metal in a few short weeks...while wearing flip flops and shorts. Another Third World/global trade cultural collision.

If you are looking for a wonderfully creative, weird and inventive little work of fiction, check out The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil by George Saunders. It takes place in a repressed country that is so small the entire population is supported on a single pair of feet. I won't even get into describing the "people" and more of their plight...it's a very short book and any more description could ruin the whole experience. Pick it up and try out the first few pages..you'll know quickly if it's your style.  

I saw the movie and I wanted to experience the story first hand...so I read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl and I loved the edge and the humor that he brought to his work. I'm a Dahl virgin no more.

Since 2006 is the 100 year anniversary of the earthquake in nearby San Francisco, and Simon Winchester is one of my favorite nonfiction writers, A Crack in the Edge of the World was a must and rewarding read. One always learns so much with Simon about things both near and far to his subjects.

Crimes Against Nature by Robert Kennedy Jr. looks at the future as the time to correct the environment mistakes of the presentespecially the tidal wave of changes coming from the Bush administration. Decades of environment progress have been eroded or completely washed away by these changes. But, Kennedy has hope and shows the way for worlds of progress and improvement. 

The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman—her fiction is always fascinating and she delivers again.

The King's English by Betsy Burton—nonfiction about a real bookstore in Salt Lake City and what it takes to keep going...I felt their pain.

Like a Rolling Stone by Greil Marcus was the best book I've ever read that was entirely focused on one song. It was a curious look at the history, recording, and social effects of this Bob Dylan tune...and YES, I do love Dylan. 

The Long Emergency by James Howard Kunstler is a very informative and bleak look at the future. World leaders need to wake up to the concept that the world has already used up half (and that's the very easy half) of the world's supply of oil supply. Now it will get harder (more expensive) to find, refine, transport and SHARE what's left. Kunstler supports his words with facts and he looks at the many political and social factors that will determine the futures...haves and have-NOTS.

Memoires of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez is not a book for everyone, but it's been a decade since Marquez has written a work of fiction, and I was ready for him. This little book has shot up the bestsellers list, so I have plenty of company in enjoying his strange tale of an old man's obsession with a young virgin and the relationship that he DOESN'T have with her.

Mike's Election Guide 2008 by Micahel Moore - this interesting little books lays out a lot of information on the political races of the year–—and it has shot up the NYT bestsellers list very quickly 

Mr. Galloway Goes to Washington by, yes, Mr. George Galloway, is a fascinating little book that describes this extremely strong personality butting heads with Congress over Iraq and the truth. We need more truth and Iraq.

Our Endangered Values by Jimmy Carter lays out a personal, regional, and national relationship with the power of the political evangelical movement. At first, I was thinking why is he going into such a history of the changes in the southern states, but then he masterfully expands the story of the movement's influence to include the White House and the nation. Jimmy always comes back to his very strong belief in the separation of church and state...oh to follow the Constitution...what a concept.

Last night I finished a graphic novel titled R. Crumb's Kafka with artwork by Robert Crumb and text by David Zane Mairowitz that is a very special little book. The text and the drawings worked perfectly to present the thoroughly troubled story of Franz Kafka's life and his major works.

A book that I've wanted to read for years is the highly regarded Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. This is a novel worth waiting for. I found it a wonderful read, that while a little dated, is now one of my favorite books.

Saturday by Ian McEwan—some of the best fiction I've read in a good long time...he's a master.

Searching for the Sound by Phil Lesh - OK, I'm a big Grateful Dead fan...it's a long, strange and interesting trip AND not badly written.

There was The Secret Man by Bob Woodward which was about Watergate's main mystery man Deep Throat, but I found it even more interesting (in these times) for his words on journalistic integrity and what the Watergate experience had meant to his life.

The small novel Sky Burial by Xinran was a fascinating look at one culture from the convention of another. The story takes you to Tibet, to view this foreign land with the Chinese eyes of a woman looking for her missing Red Army husband. She lives with a Tibetan family and it's just a very well done piece of fiction. 

Specimen Day by Michael Cunningham was a very clever and well written trio of fictional tales. It was a keeper for both me and Vicky who lead me to it.

Jim Harrison returned to my life with his new book, The Summer He Didn't Die, which contains three novellas. I'm a huge fan of Jim Harrison and two of these stories were just brilliant in my mind and the other was very good. I won't say which were which...read the book and we'll compare notes.

Sweet and Vicious by David Schickler is another clever novel that is strong on the sweet and the vicious...one that I enjoyed at the same time and in the same space as Wolf Point.

The Truth (with Jokes) by Al Franken is another very funny and insightful political book AND it's looking seriously like he's leaning towards running for the US Senate from Minnesota. This is a great way to go...read, laugh, learn.

The United States of Wal-Marby John Dicker told more of what I find so disturbing about many retail/social trends in this country. The book has a lighthearted sense of humor while it tells of how corporate domination, or is that damnation, leads to a life of fewer options, styles, and certainly choices. Maybe some of us are just born into the wrong time.

Once I read that Dalai Lama book, I had to journey on to the The Universe in a Single Atom by Dalai Lama. Here the Dalai Lama writes of one of his true joys–—science. While some of the theory he confesses is beyond his scientific understanding, he does present a beautiful blending of the spiritual and the scientific.

Continuing my Chinese/Tibet cultural mixing, I also read The Wisdom of Forgiveness by Dalai Lama and Chinese author, Victor Chan, and it was a more peaceful look at the cultural divide that altogether disappears on some spiritual levels. There's also a great story about the Dalai Lama and Desmond TuTu spending some joyous time together...I find myself hearing their strange laughter often...and smiling.

There's fine writing in Wolf Point by Edward Falco and I enjoyed this novel immensely. A sad man picks up a sexy young couple hitchhiking and the interplay between the characters is fascinating. What is honesty and truth? What do they matter? How much of comfort is physical, how much spiritual? The story moves, twists and evolves and I'll always remember the ending scene.

It's been a few days since I finished The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion and I'm still very much in the pages of that book. Didion tells of how she coped, and at many times, didn't cope, with the death of her husband of many years, the writer John Gregory Dunne. If watching John die at the dinner table wasn't enough for Didion, their only daughter had been seriously ill for months, and died before this book came out. Reading a very gifted writer's words and thoughts on something this close, this immediate, was very powerful. I think there's a tear in everyone's eye waiting to come out while reading this book.


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