Category Archives: out of things to read

The Monday Book-turned-Movie: CLOUD ATLAS

Cloud-Atlas-Actors-Different-Characters

I know, I know, you’re very disappointed in me. But I’m on a crochet deadline, and was  looking for Netflix background–less Netflix and chill than Netflix and hook, but there you go.

So I watched Cloud Atlas because the book by David Mitchell had intrigued me but we sold it before I could rad it. And three hours of movie lets one get a powerful lot of yarn moved into correct position.

The thing about this movie is it was able to add something the book wasn’t: jokes about who was playing what part.

For those unfamiliar, Cloud Atlas is pretty much based on the idea that no matter what century it is, people are behaving pretty much the same. There are good guys, bad guys, hustlers and altruists, and it all moves around in a big circle.

The funniest part is, the hunk hero from 2143 or so is the matron of an evil nursing home from 2012. That part cracked me up. Although the fact that “soylent green is people” was a funny line in 2012 and a real thing about food in 2143 was a bit sobering.

Cloud Atlas runs from the 1800s, when on ships running from Jamaica a bad guy is trying to poison a nice guy who saves another nice guy from getting beaten to death, through the 1970s when corruption in the oil industry is getting nice people killed, past 2012 when it’s the publishing industry and nursing homes that get the scrutiny, into ethical futurist questions in 2100 and 2300 (after the fall a few winters, if that tells you anything) when Earth is back to barbarism. If you don’t take it too seriously, it’s a good film. If you start to ask questions about how people know certain things or can gain access to certain places, forget it. This is a shallow, bright ride.

But it is a ride with some breadth, as the 2100s are shoot-em-up thriller, the 1970s are detective novel, 2012 centers around money, and 2300s is eat or be eaten with a few surprises thrown in. It was as bright and breezy as the afghan I was crocheting while watching, and less knotty if one didn’t ask too many questions.

For escapism or background noise, Cloud Atlas works well. For serious thought fodder, one doesn’t need two hours and 51 minutes of star-studded cast to know that everyone is pretty much after something, for good or ill, and that we recycle stock characters in the parade of our life. History repeats itself because we don’t learn the lesson the first time. Just ask Charlottesville.

 

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The Monday Book – Paradise to Puddledub

Jack’s guest post is the Monday book this week –

Paradise to Puddledub – Wendy Welch (Lyngham House 2002)

As  you can no doubt understand this isn’t so much a book review as a book description. It’s not a marketing ploy either; the book in question is out of print!

PtoP

This was the first complete book by my wife Wendy to be published. She had contributed academic articles before this to specialist journals and story collections, but this was all her own writing. For some years she had written a weekly column for a newspaper based in Maryville Tennessee and she continued to do this after moving to Scotland. Paradise to Puddledub is a collection of some of the stories that were published in the paper during that time.

Immediately prior to moving across the Atlantic she had lived in the tiny Newfoundland hamlet of Paradise near St John’s in Newfoundland where she studied for her PhD in Ethnography. After moving to Fife and getting married she became curiously fascinated by an equally small hamlet there called Puddledub (the joke is that the Scots word for a puddle is ‘dub’ – so the name should really be either Puddlepuddle or Dubdub!).

Of course I was very much part of the critiquing and proof reading at the time the book was being written, so it was intriguing to stumble across a copy as we were tidying a few days ago. It has been my bed-time reading since then. Many of the stories in the book describe events that I was part of, and quite few have been retold at gatherings over the years.

I suppose my only reservation is that most of the columns had to conform to a fairly strict word count because they were written originally to fit half of a newspaper page. That means that there’s more to most of the stories that there simply wasn’t room for. There’s a healthy writing discipline to that, but…

The events described range from the hilarious to the poignant and occasionally horrifying. From my first attempt to eat fast-food in a British car going round a roundabout, to the kids in an Edinburgh housing project getting to grips with a performance during the prestigious Edinburgh arts festival, not to mention the heroic librarian ‘keeping calm and carrying on’!

If Wendy happens to read this guest blog, I’d like her to consider re-publishing the book, but with some of the pieces filled out to include all of the story.

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Filed under book reviews, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, out of things to read, publishing, reading, Scotland, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, what's on your bedside table, writing

The Monday Book: JESUS LAND by Julia Scheeres

Scheeres was the bio child of a white family that adopted two black boys, one older than her, one three months younger. So if Mommy Dearest met Hell House, their love child would be her memoir.

She chronicles growing up in an uber-Christian family where hymns were blasted into bedrooms to wake them up, but at night her older foster brother snuck into her room and made her have sex. That kind of thing.

The details in the book are not salacious, rather sparse and that makes them all the more impactful. When Julia and her little brother David (whom she adores) get sent to an Evangelical reform school, her depictions of what’s happening are heartbreakingly hysterical. I found myself laughing out loud, closing my mouth again on a sob. She’s ruthless and without self-pity in describing the place, but she’s also very good at passing up the easy joke to get to the core of the matter.

For instance, when she writes about the kids being given a week off school to lay the foundation for a baseball diamond, the result is pure comedic gold as well as a deep insight into human nature. It’s hot, shirts are sticking, water is pouring over t-shirts, boys are stripping down…. And the staff realize too late they’ve got a lust pit accompanied by Christian rock music.

Even though she’s merciless about what it was like to be in her home and that school, Scheeres isn’t dissing Christianity. She doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about “true Christianity is this,” she just writes out what happened and moves on. Readers can figure it out for themselves pretty easily. Her acknowledgements leave out her mom and dad (whose names are never used in the book, either) but in her book group questions at the end, she refers to her two older sisters as “powerful examples of laudable Christians.” She’s not out to get Christianity, or even her parents, and her story is even stronger because she just tells it without saying “You know this means my parents were hypocrites, right?”

No easy punchlines, and the reading vibrates between easy and intense, but the underlying humor and love between brother and sister come through. So do the racist and Christianity-over-kindness mixed-up overtones.

This book was written before the country divided into Trump as What’s Wrong with American Christianity Today versus God’s Chosen Man for the Hour. But it really makes the points one might be considering along those lines.

What does Christianity look like when it’s about saving souls no matter how bad it hurts, when it’s about preserving a way of life that allows Othering, when it ignores what doesn’t fit into its prescribed boxes as unable to be happening? Scheeres has written her memoir about these questions, by never overtly stating them.

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The Monday Book Auction

Things are a bit busy around here these days. Jack and I are making room in the bookstore by holding a book auction online. We’re selling off some prolific authors, some mystery series, a few groups of “mindful living/hippie interest” foodie titles, and some odd lots ranging from a baker’s dozen to 100 fiction and non-fiction titles.

If you’re interested in being added to the auction, which started yesterday and closes this Sunday July 16, please go to LITTLE BOOKSTORE BOOK LOTS on Facebook and ask to be added. A description of how the auction works, plus how postage is handled if the books need to be mailed, is at the bottom of the page. Have fun!

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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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The Monday Book: EVERY HOUSE NEEDS A BALCONY by Rita Frank

This book came into the shop, and I’d seen somewhere online that it had been nicknamed “The Israeli Kite Runner.” So I took it downstairs to our flat and made it my bedside book.

Hmm….. on the one hand, it’s very atmospheric, makes you feel the Haifa poverty and inner city activity of the time period (post-WWII). On the other, translated books have that one-step-removed feel, and this novel has that in spades. It feels like reading from behind a curtain.

The story centers around a woman who decides to marry a guy from Barcelona, both Jewish, different classes, dealing with a lot of the ethnic and economic and political effects of the day. Marriage strains, sick babies, family members who aren’t cooperating, etc. If it weren’t for being set in Haifa, it would be an Aga Saga. But instead, it’s kind of an atmospheric time piece. Maybe even a peek behind the curtain.

I love character-driven books best of all, and this one isn’t. It’s setting-driven, and I have to admit that works really well. I didn’t care about the people, but it was like watching a television instead of reading in terms of the filled-in living details and little tossed-on-top nuggets of unexplained culture. It’s written from the inside, and those of us on the outside can learn a lot just from watching the casualness of the unexplained as it appears.

It’s not a book in which a lot happens action-wise, at least not most of the time, but it’s a great depiction of how time, place, and money can rock a marriage. Any marriage, any time, any place.

Four stars, shall we say?

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The Monday Book: I BELIEVE YOU by Jeanne Grunert

grunertJeanne Grunert requested a review of her self-published book I Believe You, a family crime thriller. Requests to review books are not uncommon, but hers had a nice benefit: she’d send three copies of I Believe You to the bookstore and sales would go to the Appalachian Feline Friends.

Well, heck, yeah….

But then one fears reviewing books on a benefit basis because what if you don’t like it?

Not to worry this time. Unlike many self-published authors, Grunert is a master not only of writing, but of editing and graphic design. Her book is visually pleasing, well-formatted, and lacking in those extraordinary typos that make people want to take pot-shots at self-published authors.

And then there’s the story line…. put a close-knit dysfunctional family into a company business, add the mysterious death of the protagonist’s wife, and go. Grunert has some really nice turns of phrase in the writing, like this:

“Tibor Majek entered rooms like a tornado ripping across the plains.”

But mostly the story is told through dialogue rather than description. It moves quickly, with just enough characterization to make you care but not enough to slow the action. You sympathize with the bereaved David and his sons, get a kick out of his interaction with his sister Eva (who is keeping the house afloat via her maid service) and watch the elusive woman Turquoise slowly land like a butterfly in their midst.

For all that it’s a thriller, the book turns less on unexpected whodunit than on the development of why. You know me, gentle readers: character-driven plots are my thing. So I can totally say I believe in I Believe You.

And we have three copies here if you want one. I probably should have asked Jeanne the price….

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