Category Archives: out of things to read

The Monday Book: WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING by Delia Owens

I’d heard good things about this book for some time, and looked forward to reading it.

The short version is, I love the way Owens writes, but didn’t much believe in this novel’scrawdads plot.

The book is about Kya, a girl who raises herself when her mother leaves an abusive husband and one by one the other kids head out from the swampland to make their own lives. Kya doesn’t starve and sorta makes peace with her dad, until he dies, by which time she can more or less cook and make a few dimes here and there with assorted activities.

The local boys know there’s a marsh girl so there’s a few hide and seek scenes, but the nicest and smartest of the boys befriends her, falls in love with her, teaches her to read, and then abandons her in college because he thinks she won’t fit in. But the star athlete at the high school decides to take her on, and she gets taken in.

Kya starts writing books and illustrating them, she gets a little respect, some money, fixes her house, etc. Star athlete winds up dead, Kya gets blamed, she finally gets found innocent. She marries the nice guy who realizes how much he’s misjudged her.

And then years later he learns the truth about whether or not she killed the usurious high school athlete. Not gonna spoil that for you.

The writing is beautiful. The plot is rather Hallmarkian? A 14-year-old boy teaches a wild child to read, and she becomes a published author who goes from selling shells to drawing them and the toast of the academic world of marshes. Okay. Feel-good plot, fine. But I like character-driven books and this one turns on types and tropes.

This book was made to be a movie, so just wait for it. It might even be better as a film, being a very cinematographic plot.

That said (“I didn’t much care for this book”) I will say I’m going to hunt down some of Owens’ other works. She writes so well, maybe some of the other plots are less hokey.

A mixed thumb up/thumb down, in essence, for this bestseller. Lots of people loved it, and it’s really just that I like books where character drives plot. This isn’t one.

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Monday Book – The Rituals of Dinner – Margaret Visser

Jack gets to review the Monday book this week –

dinner

This book is both fascinating and frustrating.

Visser chose a strange way to progress her story, not chronologically as might be expected, but by topics. This results in a good deal of repetition – revisiting the Greeks, Romans, medieval Europeans etc in every chapter. Other reviewers have suggested the book could have been a good deal shorter and more readable and I’m inclined to agree.

On the other hand I found it hard to put down because of all the really interesting stuff scattered throughout. Although her specialty is literature, she is clearly a fine anthropologist as well. There are a good few references to folk motifs that I’m familiar with and was a bit surprised to find in a book about table manners. In fact, although the title suggests a fairly narrow focus, Visser ranges pretty widely around the central subject.

You could be forgiven for expecting this book to be about table manners and how to behave at the dinner table. It actually starts with cannibalism, goes through the development of tables and chairs, covers the invention of forks and spoons, deals with social attitudes in different cultures and a host of other loosely food related matters.

I think what was perhaps a bit startling for me was recognizing familiar dinner table and restaurant situations and for the first time understanding what lay behind them – everything from the placing of a knife (blade towards you and not your neighbor) to signaling the time to change courses.

The final chapter examines present day mores including the fast food culture – reflecting another book – ‘The MacDonaldization of Society’ by George Ritzer, but that’s another story – –

I have some reservations about Visser’s book, but if you don’t mind skimming here and there, it’s still fascinating stuff!

 

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The Monday Book: EDUCATED by Tara Westover

This week’s Monday book comes courtesy of Paul Garrett. Thanks Paul!

educated             Tara Westover’s memoir about growing into adulthood as the daughter of a Mormon fundamentalist is at times remarkable, at times horrifying, and in the end, bittersweet.

Growing up in Idaho one of seven children, her father was a prepper. Along with God, and Joseph Smith, his other hero was Randy Weaver whom he believed (wrongly) was murdered by federal agents at Ruby Ridge. Suspicious of the government and the Illuminati, whom he believes controls the world, he refused to allow his children to have any interaction with the outside. This meant no school, no birth certificates, no immunizations and no doctors, even when his wife and children suffered life threatening injuries working in and around the family scrap yard.

As his paranoia grew, he became more isolated and created vast stockpiles of food, weapons and gasoline in readiness for the apocalypse which he believed was always just around the corner. Of the seven children three, including Tara gathered the courage to seek a college education.

When Tara entered Brigham Young University with little knowledge of the world outside her cloistered circle, it was like landing on another planet. She recounts the time in one of her freshman classes when she raised her hand and innocently asked what the word “holocaust“ meant. She had never heard of it. The other students seemed like aliens. They drank diet soda, wore makeup and tight-fitting clothes, things her father warned were of the devil. They even insisted she wash her hands after going to the bathroom.

The decade she spent pursuing her undergraduate degree at Brigham Young and her graduate studies  (at Harvard and Cambridge) kept her suspended between two worlds; the world of civilization and that of her sadomasochistic tribe of a family that tried incessantly to pull her back into their orbit, where she was gaslit and frequently brutalized by her siblings, and where life threatening injuries, whether severe head trauma or near fatal immolation were welcomed as a gift from God. The cognitive dissonance between her new reality and her old one nearly drove her insane.

The billionaire H.L. Hunt once said of being successful; “Decide what you want, decide what you’ll give up to get it, then get to work.” Tara Westover knew what she wanted and set out to get it. By the end of the book, the cost of what she gave up was still being calculated.

Educated: A memoir by Tara Westover, Random House, NY, 2018

 

 

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The Monday Podcast

conservative liberal bookstoreSorry, team, that the blog has been so lagging of late. I’m on a heavy crochet schedule, and have two book proposals in. (More on those later, no ink on signature lines yet.)

Meanwhile, because down time is precious, my reading has been confined to after I’m in bed, and more often than not the book hits me in the face to signal nighty-night.

While crocheting, however, there is only so many streamed TV shows and movies one can watch before one feels brain cells dying, so I turned in desperation to “Best Podcasts of 2019.” And found a gem.

EMBEDDED is in-depth reporting on specific issues of timeliness. Police shootings, Trump stories (some of which are hysterical – check out the one about his golf courses), and a five-part, amazingly even-keeled examination of Mitch McConnell’s political career. The dry humor, unwillingness to express opinions, and the timelag (they recorded some information as far back as 2012) make for great deep dives. Those who want to find bias probably can, but since it could cut in any direction, I’m thinking there’s not a lot of it.

Although individual programs can be as insightful as they are diverse (the one on Inuit suicide rates in Greenland, for example) EMBEDDED does its best work in serializing. Someone on that team is doing some great advising, because the sensitivity of the four-part series on Coal in Appalachia was amazingly accurate. I felt seen. That is very unusual for a network known for elitist urban attitudes. Their coverage of “Trump County” was also even-handed, in-depth, and devoid of cheap shots.

EMBEDDED makes me feel informed, and wiser, and it delivers both with a fair sense of humor. While it won’t take sides, it does deliver jokes. No small feat in a program working not to politicize its own programming.

Highly recommended, whether you think NPR is a liberal bastion of condescension or the last remaining news source of integrity in America. I never felt condescended to in their coverage of rural – and they actually covered rural blight with equal dignity to stories of urban school closures.

Two big crocheting thumbs up for EMBEDDED; I finished an entire afghan and am moving on to the Christmas snowflakes. Heh heh. No pun intended.

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The Monday Book: VINEGAR GIRL by Anne Tyler

This week’s review comes from crowd favorite Paul Garrett –

anne tyler

Dr. Battista, an obscure researcher of autoimmune disorders, has been slaving away in obscurity, almost forgotten by his employer, Johns Hopkins University. Now he feels he is on the verge of the breakthrough he has been searching for all his professional life. There is only one problem: Pyotr, his research assistant and right arm is about to lose his visa and be forced to return to the Eastern European country of his birth. Dr. Battista is terrified that all his work will go down the tubes (pun intended? Maybe, maybe not.) without Pyotr there. He hatches a plan to save his project and his lab assistant. All that has to happen is for Pyotr to marry Dr. Battista’s daughter.

Nobody thought to ask his daughter.

Kate Battista is a tall lanky girl approaching what used to quaintly be called spinsterhood. Almost thirty with no love interest and no prospects, she spends her days gardening, working as a teaching assistant at a preschool and looking after her widowed father and younger sister. She is awkward socially and has a habit of saying exactly what is on her mind, to the detriment of her relationships with just about everybody, especially the parents of the little crumb crunchers who are entrusted to her care.

Anne Tyler’s novel Vinegar Girl (Hogarth, 2016) Is a nod to Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew as the poor and equally awkward Pyotr, along with the help of his boss try to woo the standoffish Kate.

Tyler is one of the few authors (along with Kurt Vonnegut) who can make me laugh out loud.  Her tragicomic style is on full display as the characters careen from one mishap and plot twist to the next.  The rehearsal dinner scene alone makes the book worthwhile.

Unlike in T.C. Boyle’s preachy Tortilla Curtain, Tyler avoids the controversies of the American immigration system, preferring to stick to the Shakespearian template and leave the intellectual heavy lifting to others.

This is a small volume for Tyler, but she manages to pack it full of her normal cadre of oddballs, miscues and mishaps. The story ends with an odd (for today’s audience) soliloquy on the plight of men in society.

The book’s brevity may be the only drawback, as Tyler felt the need to add an extensive epilogue. Brief or not, Tyler fans won’t be disappointed.

 

 

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The Monday Book: SIGNS AND WONDERS by Philip Gulley

Signs-Wonders-150x226-98x148I picked up this book because it had a cheerful cover and I’d spent the day finishing a big crochet project, watching Netflix documentaries on: cyberbullying, Dunblane and Sandy Hook, and sex trafficking in the US.

I wanted cheering up.

It worked; this is a charming wee collection of short stories, a la Lake Wobegon, about the sweet and sour lives of people in a small town. Mostly Quakers. A bit longer on description than dialogue, it is not a book I would normally have gravitated to, but if you want a little sweetness with a sprinkling of salt, this is your read.

Stories range from why the local spinster won’t settle to why the local pastor figured out he should go on vacation with his wife. My personal favorite was the son of an alcoholic father who spends two hours stuck with him on the top of a Ferris wheel, and rides that ride for life figuring out what kind of father he wants to be.

Sweetness and light this book carries in spades, although some of the stories (the spinster for instance) have sharp edges. Overall, if you need a break, pick up a Harmony novel. (This is the third in the Gulley series, but they don’t need to be read in sequence. I found this charming without knowing the deeper background on characters found in the first one.)

Two helium balloons up for SIGNS AND WONDERS. It offers a much-needed lift.

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Filed under book reviews, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, out of things to read, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

The Monday Book: WALKING ON MY GRAVE by Carolyn Hart

50065987_583494335446320_9215025291901009920_nThis week’s Monday book comes from Martha Evans Wiley, a fellow cat rescuer and margarita drinker. Here’s her review of Walking on My Grave by Carolyn Hart (actually a look at the whole series).

2017 Berkley Prime Crime

One of my great guilty pleasures is hunkering down with a new Carolyn Hart book, more specifically one in her Death on Demand series.  Hart’s written 26 cozies in this series, almost half of the more than 60 novels she has penned in her long career.

What I find most charming about this series is Hart’s gift for establishing a sense of place; set on Broward’s Rock, a wonderful island off the coast of South Carolina, each new book feels like coming home. Hart’s two protagonists, Annie and Max Darling, are transplants to the island having moved there when Annie inherited her uncle’s bookstore upon his mysterious death. Annie is compassionate to a fault –  her endless capacity to believe in the good in people balances well with her husband’s proclivity to be a little cynical. Her wonderful bookstore, the eponymous Death on Demand – “the finest mystery bookstore east of Atlanta” – gives Hart plenty of opportunity to show off her mystery knowledge, throwing loads of references to authors and their work, both past and present.

The latest installment, Walking on My Grave, follows much of the same successful formula that Hart has stuck with over the years. She is a master of the red herring, and it’s always fun to watch an enthusiastic Annie go head-long into impulsive schemes while Max tries to keep up with her. This time the story revolves around a rich older woman whose many heirs all have reasons to kill her – not the most original plot, but again, it’s the characters and setting that makes Hart’s work so much fun to read. She always includes a very handy guide to who’s who in the beginning, and often sprinkles sketches in the narrative to ensure that the reader isn’t left behind.

It’s not necessary to read  the series in order to enjoy it, but if you want to start at the very beginning, pick up “Death on Demand,” which sets up the setting and main characters. If you want to read just one, I recommend “The Christie Caper,” a heftier read than most of the others and a real treat for any Agatha Christie fan, or “Southern Ghost,” set in Beaufort, SC,  a wonderful trip to the old south with its dripping Spanish moss and antebellum houses.

As with any long-running series, there are some tropes – for a small island, there’s no end of people being introduced who are then murdered. Annie, Max and the gang don’t age at all, and they are curiously unaffected by any hurricanes or other weather events. But reality isn’t something I search for in a mystery, and I’m never disappointed in the adventures of Annie and Max. I’m already looking forward to my next trip to the island of Broward’s Rock.

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