Category Archives: book reviews

The Tuesday Book Sculptures

Sorry about yesterday, everyone. Traveling in rural areas of Scotland makes for spotty Internet. But all shall be forgiven, because I have now seen, in person, the Edinburgh Book Sculptures!

If anyone doesn’t know, I am a fanatic for these things. The backstory is best told on a different site, so I’ll just give you the basics here. In 2011, a mysterious little paper cut statue of a tree growing out of a book appeared in the Scottish Poetry Library. It was titled “Poetree” and had a tag honoring books, ideas, and words, thanking the library for existing.

Everyone thought that was nice, and then shortly a second statue appeared. And soon they were everywhere: the National Library, the Storytelling Centre, the Writer’s Museum, the Filmhouse, the Central lending library for Edinburgh, and the National Museum. Always celebrating words and ideas and thanking the institution (all of whom had free admission) for being there.

The sculptures gathered enough attention to have a book put out: GIFTED. And the best part is, once the sculptures gained international attention, it didn’t take the media long to figure out who had made the statues. And at her request, they withheld her name. So very British.

The other fun part about the sculptures is the books they are made from: the dinosaur from AC Doyle’s Lost World, the Hyde street scene from Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. And most of the rest from Ian Rankin novels (a great crime writer based in Edinburgh).

This is a random sampling of some of the statues, which I have now finally seen in person. Some of the venues were rather startled by my ardent worship, but I am a happy person.

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The Monday Book: FAREWELL SUMMER by Ray Bradbury

farewell-summer-ray-bradburyBradbury is one of my all-time favorite authors, even though he breaks all the rules of what I normally like to read.

He isn’t about character development or plot, and one of the reasons people have a hard time adapting his books to TV or Movies or Stage Plays (witness The Martian Chronicles and Something Wicked This Way Comes) is that not much happens. What does happen is subtle. I mean, think about it, humans land on Mars and the theme of Chronicles is how it makes humans feel and act to have done that.

When the wind blows in Bradbury’s books, it is action, event, and plot development. His winds don’t blow, they dance, sprinkle the dust of mummies into towns, awaken strangeness, extend foggy hands to pull you into graveyards and make you explore your dark side. They might even slap you off a cliff, but they never just blow. And yet, that’s all that happens for three chapters: Bradbury describes the effect of the wind on people – mostly young boys and those who would force them to return to school at the end of summer: the Evil Old Ones who battle for control of the clocks.

I don’t know any other authors who can write such mundane clichés with so much beauty and elegance, you go back and reread the sentences for the joy of them.

Farewell Summer is actually the sequel to a book I didn’t get into all that much of Bradbury’s, mostly because it was written so much from a boy’s perspective that it left no room for a girl to say “Hey, me too! I want more childhood and to be grown-up at the same time, too!”

But that’s fair enough. How can anyone stay feminist-annoyed at an author who writes such incredible openings as this one in Chapter 19:

Grandpa’s library was a fine dark place bricked with books, so anything could happen there and always did. All you had to do was pull a book from the shelf and open it and suddenly the dark was not so dark anymore.

Yes, okay, just give me some more sentences and let me slide under the spell of his poetry where nothing happens except the wind blows and school lets out for summer. It’s lovely.

 

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The Monday Book: MEMOIRS OF A SURVIVOR by Doris Lessing

I like most of Lessing’s work, but she can be a real downer. This book picks up on some scenes that appear in others, and since this was published in 1974, I’m assuming these were the first appearances, and their refinement came in later works.

Somewhere in her life, Lessing saw or felt that girl children were valued less than boys. She’s got this running as a sub-theme through a lot of her novels, and it’s here in a few of the scenes involving Emily, the teenage protagonist of this novel.

The novel has two protagonists, the second one also being the narrator, a woman in late mid-life who watches from her London flat window as society breaks down around her. Think “The Road” because there’s no specification of what’s happened, just reactions to it. The societal disorder is actually pretty ill-defined, because it’s mostly there to explain why there are bands of roaming young people terrorizing the city. Think “Children of Men.” Something’s gone wrong centrally.

The narrator gets Emily in a very strange way; one day a man knocks on her door and tells her this child is her responsibility from here on out. And the narrator says “Fine.” Think Stephen King, eschewing explanation and yet not sounding implausible because it’s all so human-nature driven.

Then Emily gets into all sorts of scrapes and her pet Hugo is getting eyed up by the gangs for dinner, and it’s not going well, and…. well, the ending is a bit of a shocker. It’s actually happy. That’s all I’m gonna say.

This book requires a lot of the reader. Nothing is what it seems, except is is. Everything is falling apart, and yet some things are getting better for no reason. If you like literary fantasy – and I’m not even sure that’s a genre – you’re going to love Lessing’s Memoirs of a Survivor. If you like things explained, best pick up something else.

When she published it in 1974, Lessing called it a dystopian fable. Apparently, it was made into a movie in 1981. I don’t even want to think what violence the subtle writing and edgy themes would have suffered in that process. I’d say this book is like steel lace. The beauty is unusual in where it’s found, yet the writing is so delicate in describing bluntness. Steel lace.

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The Monday Book: YOU HAD ME AT WOOF by Julie Klam

hadmeatwoofSo this is one of those books that’s an awful lot like a “reality” show. It just takes what comes and turns it into funny.

Klam’s writing is funny. She turns stuff that is bread-n-butter dull about rescuing dogs into fodder for guffawing. Her turn of phrase and comedic typing timing shine through.

Because overall, this is a book that will be so familiar to rescuers, it’s kinda like when cat people play that game Neko Atsume. Why? You do that all day in real life….

There are some intense moments in WOOF but overall this is a light, breezy read that gives mostly laughs. I read it on my girl getaway weekend in Asheville with friends who are also animal lovers, and after a couple of out-loud snorts, they forbade me to read any more as we settled in for bed.

Klam also weaves her family into the narrative, detailing sibling rivalry between her daughter and a co-dependent puppy, and how her husband reacted to assorted pass-throughs of needy canines. Not much of it is in depth, more a laugh-a-minute across the surface. I was totally in the mood for that when I read this, so it worked. If you’re looking for a deep read about dog rescue, this isn’t it, but if you want to dip a toe into the water and see how it feels, WOOF is for you.

Diversion doggies; it’s a fun, quick, sweet, light read. Two paws up for YOU HAD ME AT WOOF.

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Intersections

Jack’s doing the Monday Book this week because yesterday was Wendy’s birthday – –

This is more about books in general and the kind I favor.

I tend to read memoirs, biographies, histories and novels that are set in the present. I tend not to read romances, historical novels, science fiction or fantasy. BTW – romances about the Amish may be popular but I’ve never read any.

The most recent read was ‘Monty Python Speaks’ which is really a history of the famous fellows from the their roots and on to infamy (they’ve all got it infamy). It included a reference to my big sister’s old school chum Denise Coffey, who starred in a precursor of the ‘Circus’ on British TV called ‘Do not Adjust your Set’ it even had her in a picture alongside Cleese, Palin and Jones. I was probably about 10 years old when I last was in her company.

So books can not only be a way into a particular world from the point of view of the author (and her husband), but also alongside a character referenced by someone else altogether. This gets us towards something else – altogether – –

One of my favorite writers of fiction is the author of the Inspector Rebus novels – Ian Rankin. They’re novels, but the author and Rebus are from West Fife where I also spent most of my life. He captures the Fife coalfield villages perfectly and those passages are very real to me.

So I suspect we (or at least some of us) live our lives, very often, through reliving our lives through others’ writings or maybe projecting our lives into others’ writings. We wander back and forth through our own lives, imagined lives, lives we’ve read about, imagined lives we’ve read about –

Aren’t books wonderful?

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The Monday Book: THE BAR CODE TATTOO by Susanne Weyn

First, apologies for last week, when dental surgery knocked me out of the world for a few days. I read Tattoo as escapism – somebody was having a worse time than me.

Weyn’s premise is interesting: everyone gets the bar code tattoo, encrypting all the data about them, on their seventeenth birthday. It isn’t mandatory, but it’s encouraged. Except it’s becoming mandatory. And as this takes hold, more and more people are getting the raw end of this deal, because the government knows everything about them. Promotions, health care, educational access: it’s not an open system  now that people are open books.

What’s interesting is that only one small dialogue in the book is devoted to the Christian take on what is essentially the Mark of the Beast plan. Weyn concentrates instead on the rebellion of teens and the growing awareness among people that the tattoo is ruining instead of assisting their lives.

While the writing is what I’d consider lumpy and the characters pretty thin, I liked reading it because I’m fascinated by dystopian lit, and YA fiction. And Biblical retellings, although this one ignored the religious angle. Her second and third book take up that piece a wee bit more, but overall this is more teen thriller based on futurism than any form of religious fiction.

It’s not the kind of thing I would read every day, but when you’re in the mood for frenzied, freaky, and futuristic, you couldn’t do better than the Tattoo series. (Weyn’s next books are Barcode Rebellion and Barcode Prophecy.)

 

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The Monday Book: NIGHT JOURNEY by Kathryn Lasky

It stands to reason that, having cleaned out the children’s room, I would have picked up a book or two to read for fun.

What’s really cool is when you start reading, and suddenly you remember a line from the book just before you read it, and you quote it as you read along. Which is how I found out I’d read this book a long, long time ago.

I picked up The Night Journey not because I remembered reading it, but mostly because it had a Samovar on front, and because Trina Schart Hyman illustrated it. She’s one of my two most favorite children’s book illustrators. LOVE her work.

Journey describes a great-grandmother and grandchild reconstructing the elder woman’s escape from pogrom-filled Russia when she was the age of the child to whom she is now telling the story. Filled with finely-drawn characters like Aunt Ghisa (a little bitterness from the unmarried sister who still loves her niece) and Wolf, the tormented loner who escaped an earlier Cossack raid at a cost higher than life. When Rache is first told her great-grandmother’s story, so intense is Wolf’s part in it that she writes it in a letter to be opened on Rache’s eighteenth birthday. The letter being opened is the culmination of the story, and it is intensely bittersweet.

Children’s books aren’t so layered and deep these day, methinks. The dismantling of the Samovar so the family can sneak it out with then, and the protection of the gold coins the family carries, run through the larger historic story like gold threads. It is a very satisfying read.

And fast. Which is fun sometimes, when you just want to spend two nights living someone else’s life from the safety of your pillow.

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