Category Archives: reading

Kate Belt’s Monday Book: MINK RIVER

The message from Wendy contained not another cat video, but an invitation to write a Monday Book column while she labors to birth her own new book. We temp reviewers like me (I’m a reader not a writer) move everyone closer to a new book by Wendy. I get to introduce Brian Doyle to Wendy’s reading community. Win-win!

The Monday Book is Mink River. I suspect few have heard of Brian, but who can watch this eight minute clip, which also includes exquisite Oregon scenery, and not love him immediately? http://watch.opb.org/video/2365599863/

 

Brian has prolifically published five novels, books of prayers, poems, essays, children’s stories, and a fun read about Oregon Pinot Noir. Of his novels, Mink River ties with Martin Marten as my favorite. Sadly, there will be no 6th because Brian died of brain cancer last year at age 60, not long after his diagnosis. It’s a devastating loss to his readers and loved ones.

Any one, every one of his novels is worthy of the Pulitzer or National Book Award, but inexplicably he is little known outside of the Pacific Northwest.

 

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Mink River is a fictional town set on the Oregon Coast. It’s a slice of life book about life in community. It is about us, us Oregonians, Pacific Northwesterners, Westcoasterners.  We are loggers, fisherfolk, conservationists, farmers, tree huggers, artists, poets, and priests, and teachers, and doers of public works.

There’s Moses, the crow, who makes the town’s business his business. He helps save people when he can and gives them his presence when he can’t. It’s not a mystery story, but there is a mystery and Moses helps solve it. There’s a nun who is dying, and there are two men who work for the Department of Public Works, defining their job as doing good works for the public. They wander around watching for opportunities to provide assistance, such as giving haircuts. It’s also about time, in a metaphysical way you’ll just have to read for yourself. And then there is Blake. You’ll find instances of the poet William Blake throughout the story.

The book reminds me of everything I loved about my Oregon home in Portland for over 20 years. Its essence will remain with me always. Doyle has captured its flora, fauna, and people, tatting us across time in this powerfully written novel. Everything Brian wrote reflects an awe and reverence for creation and The Creator. His eye seemed to observe everything, missing nothing. He called Mink River a love song to Oregon and Martin Marten a love song to Wy’East, the original Native American name of Mount Hood. The absolutely exquisite writing flows lyrically, drawing me into Brian’s current, making me want to let myself go and float along inside the story. Brian’s disdain for punctuation contributes to this, though it made his editors crazy! As for me, I become the salmon swimming upstream to spawn, the old man climbing the mountain in search of time.

Here’s one more link, one of many tributes to Brian after his death: http://www.oregonlive.com/books/index.ssf/2017/05/brian_doyle.html

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These Boots were made for Writing?

26943464_1870425129635209_1410684589_nAbout this time last year, my friend Cami Ostman and I were tucked up four days near Naples, Florida. We’ve been friends since we were about 18, and writing buddies about ten years.

When I sold my writing cabin in Tennessee, we lamented that our usual retreat couldn’t happen, holed up with pre-made casseroles and wine, knocking out our latest narratives and reading them to each other to smooth the rough edges. Cami and I both find that drafting a book’s bones is best done in an intense huddle of anti-social time hoarding. To everything there is a season, and when writing time gets smooshed between all the other pulls of normal life, it gravitates toward the back burner. Better to start the year with a dedicated blast, upping the stakes to keep going.

Cami wondered it it were a plot for a horror novel when I sent her this message: “I’m sure there’s some nice person out there who’s read one of your books or mine, who’s got a she-shed or a rental property we could borrow for a week. Lemme ask.” But the response from Cynthia Piwowarczyk and her husband Jim sounded like heaven. She was a voice-over actor, he director of a non-profit. Two spare bedrooms, a pool in the backyard, a few blocks from a running trail around a lake, and don’t bring any wine or snacks because her husband’s job meant he had about a hundred gift basket items left over from Christmas, and they didn’t drink.

Cami messaged me: either this is set-up for the scariest movie ever, or we just hit the jackpot. Indeed we had. The worst moment of that time with the sweetest, smartest couple in the world was trying to spell their last name on the thank-you card.

We followed our usual pattern: three days of intense writing, emerging evenings to socialize (read: drink wine) and chat with the couple. And then a day of gleeful reward: Cynthia took us to the beach for the morning, and arranged to meet us in the afternoon for girl time. We got frozen ice juices, we ate crepes, we went shopping.

Cynthia and I shared a penchant for thrift stores, so left Cami in a cafe with her laptop to careen through a few big places, chatting and impulse buying and talking each other into and out of silly things.

Mindful that I’d flown with hand luggage, when I first saw the boots, I passed. But Cynthia had a good eye. The second time she saw me glancing back, she asked, “What? Those plaid waders?”

My guilty secret came out: I’d always wanted a pair of decorative gum boots, Scottie dogs or polka dots or some such. Cyndi studied the red and yellow lines of the pattern. “I don’t think it gets any more decorative than this, dear.”

So I flew home from Florida with second-hand knee-high rubber boots stuffed into my bag, dirty knickers stuffed into the boots. Security waved me through after one disgusted look. The officer changed her gloves.

And for a year, those boots sat in the back of my closet, because winter was mild and summer was dry in Southwest Virginia. They survived several closet purges and a Maria Kondo phase, because they brought me joy. Even if I never wore them, now I had a pair of cool hipster knee-highs.

Fast forward to the invitation to be writer in residence in Fayette, West Virginia from January-March of this year. As David, a long-time friend said, “You want to go where, WHEN?!”

I arrived when the weather had reached -4 just from temperature, windchill dropping it another few degrees. People were warned about freezing times of exposed flesh. No one was driving–except Amy and Shawn, owners of the flat that sponsored the residency. They took me on a scenic tour of the New River Gorge in their jeep. Nobody out there but us and one lone runner we encountered at the bottom. He stared at us like we were crazy.

And for the next three weeks, any time I stepped outside the apartment, I needed the boots. At last. I packed them more as a memento of the previous year’s week of glorious productivity, but also they were the only weather-proof shoes I owned. I tend to be a minimalist footwear girl.

So I guess these boots are now a connective theme. Next year, if I get the residency I’ve applied for in Yellowknife (yes, in the cold part of Canada) they’ll get use again. Meanwhile, they’ll sit in the back of my closet, a reminder that, to everything there is a season.

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Angelic’s MONDAY BOOK

THE STORY OF ARTHUR TRULUV By Elizabeth Berg

Angelic Salyer Veasman is this week’s book blogger. Thanks, Angelic!

truluvI attended the reading and signing of Berg’s latest release in early December 2017.  Kind of a Christmas present to myself. I purchased my book, took my line number and found a seat. I started reading the book immediately, while waiting for the event to start, but it was a week or two before I could get back to it again. I finished the book just after the New Year and thoroughly enjoyed it.  The author stated, of all of the books she’d written, this was her new favorite.  While it isn’t MY favorite of hers (that would be The Year of Pleasures), I wasn’t in the least disappointed. But, I’ve not read all of her books yet.

The Story of Arthur Truluv is several intersecting tales of loss and love, heartbreak and healing, family and friendship, aging and coming of age and the legacies we leave behind – intentional or not. While the main characters are Arthur, Maddy and Lucille, Berg’s ability to create deep, meaningful supporting characters is again wielded with her signature grace.  As with so many of her books and the lives she creates within them; you fall in love, learn to dislike, shake your head at, laugh with and care for these people.  They are easy to relate to; in some characteristic way or another they are your neighbor, your grandfather, that one teacher you had in junior high. Speaking of junior high, Maddy is in high school and I commend Berg for broaching the subject of bullying to her audience with a spare honesty that is still moving for the reader, without being imposing or cumbersome.

It’s a quick read – it wasn’t so much an I-can’t-put-it-down-kind-of-book – the story just moved forward, beautifully and effortlessly. The prose was ethereal at times, especially when it came to Arthur, who has a way of sharing his thoughts and feelings that is often poetic, floating through time and memories and  always a gentlemanly host.

Nestled within the pages of this little tome is a bit of advice or what could be considered an admonishment or even a challenge for some.  I plan to take it to heart.  I hope you do too.

Then Lucille says, “It’s so embarrassing to be useless.”

            “Why, you’re not useless!” Arthur says.

            “Yes I am.”

            “You’re just going through a hard time!”

            “Yes, I am, but also I am useless. I do nothing. I realized this was happening some time ago, everything falling off, but I made do. I had church. I read books, and the paper. I had my garden. And then . . . lights off! All the lights are off now. And I really don’t want to live anymore, Arthur. What is left for me now?  I am useless.  And so are you!”

            Arthur straightens in his chair, indignant. “I’m not useless!”

            Arthur rocks for a while. Lucille’s chair has gone still, but Arthur rocks for a while.

            “Let me ask you something,” he says, finally.

            “What.”

            “Did you ever hear anyone say they wanted to be a writer?”

            “Yes, I’ve heard lots of people say that.”

            “Everybody wants to be a writer” Arthur says.

            “Seems like.”

            He stops his rocking to look over at her. “But what we need are readers. Right? Where would writers be without readers?  Who are they going to write for? And actors, what are they without an audience? Actors, painters, dancers, comedians, even just ordinary people doing ordinary things, what are they without an audience of some sort?

            “See, that’s what I do.  I am the audience. I am the witness. I am the great appreciator, that’s what I do and that’s all I want to do. I worked for a lot of years. I did a lot of things for a lot of years. Now, well, here I am in the rocking chair, and I don’t mind it Lucille, I don’t feel useless.  I feel lucky.”

Angelic lives in Southern Missouri with her husband and their two cats and posts sporadically on her blog.

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Liz Weir’s Monday Book

So y’all know that I’m holed up in West Virginia in a gorgeous luxury flat, typing away at a new book. As I won’t be getting much else done these three months, friends and fellow writers have stepped in to cover the Monday book through March. Liz Weir is the first – a longtime friend and magnificent storyteller. Take it away, Liz!

I wonder what American readers will make of this book, gifted to me by my daughter for Christmas?

lost wordsA sumptuously illustrated, coffee-table sized book, which contains magic within its pages. Inspired by the decision of the Oxford Junior Dictionary to remove 50 ”nature” words from its pages to replace them with words such as “broadband” and “attachment” . It has been recognised that there is a connection between the decline in natural play and children’s wellbeing so for me this is a partial antidote.

In this book Robert MacFarlane decided to explore words from the wild and with illustrator Jackie Morris they have produced a beautifully crafted book which helps young and old alike reconnect with wild experiences. The illustrations in watercolour and goldleaf do perfect justice to the text. It should be pored over rather than read cover to cover at one sitting, containing as it does acrostic “spell” poems intended to be read out loud, stunning images and a richness of language often lost to many of us.

Words like “acorn”, “bramble”, “kingfisher” “heather”, words which roll off the tongue, and yet which can so easily be forgotten. Often we talk and write about conservation but unless we retain the words to describe the beauties of the natural world they can disappear from our conversation.

Apart from the delight of simply exploring its pages I intend to use the book to work with young people during creative writing sessions. While I generally try to encourage them to find the very “best” words when writing poems, Lost Words will provide an added stimulus.

Visually, it is a lovely book, and while the librarian in me might ask where folks will shelve this large tome, I urge people to acquire a copy for the sheer delight of exploring it. The author encourages readers to “seek, find and speak”. Please do!

As one who is very reticent about letting other people choose my books I realise that my daughter knows me very well. What better gift for a storyteller and lover of language, or in my opinion for anyone?

Liz Weir is a storyteller from the Antrim Glens in Northern Ireland. Visit her website.

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Packing for Residency

quote-the-first-thing-a-writer-should-be-is-excited-he-should-be-a-thing-of-fevers-and-enthusiasms-ray-bradbury-82-52-80In just over a week, I will be installed as resident writer in Lafayette Flats, a luxury apartment by the New River Gorge National Park in WV. It is a writing rather than a teaching residency, three months all expenses paid (sans food) in the top floor by myself, writing. Just writing.

I cannot tell you how much I am looking forward to this time.

In preparation to which, I have begun to pack:

1 case wine (one bottle per week, including two good bottles for sharing if WV writers want to get together, the rest cheap-and-cheerful for a glass with dinner most weeknights)

2 cases fizzy water (club soda and seltzer with flavors, the stuff of daily consumption, because burping helps ideas rise)

1 large box Trader Joe’s boil-in-bag or heat-n-serve vegetarian fare – cooking up ideas, not food

8 pair pajama bottoms, sweats, or scrubs with assorted non-t-shirts and five fuzzy cardigans – I ain’t going out except daily walks. Heck, I may not even pack a hairbrush. 3 MONTHS OF WRITING TIME!!!!!

1 box work papers, because even though they gave me a leave of absence, there is one project I have to keep an eye on. That’s okay – they gave me a leave of absence!

9 books to read, all Appalachian Studies Association’s Weatherford Award nominees

6 pair fuzzy ballerina slippers; if we’re playing truth or consequences, some days I’ll cop to not exiting pjs

1 CD of funny cat songs and 1 cat coloring book with markers, to lighten up once in awhile

All the underwear I own – because doing laundry is a time sink and it will sour in the washer anyway if the ideas are going well, and get meticulously folded should things go badly; don’t give that kind of avoidance space

My new Himalayan salt lamp I got from Beth and Brandon for Christmas – because I’ve always wanted one and it will glow in the dark during quiet nights

The card Jack gave me the day we got married, because Jack won’t be there but once a month.

My underheated mattress pad, because Jack won’t be there but once a month….

The lacy red cup stolen from a summer arts camp I taught in years ago, which I intend to leave in the flat as karmic retribution. (Actually, I did pay for the mug. Just after the swiping. It’s okay; that director knows. And I’m not stealing anything from Lafayette Flats, Amy and Shawn, I swear! Tell you the mug story sometime.)

1 nice outfit, which I will wear repeatedly to church until they assume it’s the only clothing I own, and will wear to any writing events and the reception for when I get there and such.

My harp, for when writing isn’t going well

My 8-pack of crochet hooks and a basket of yarn, for when writing isn’t going well

My plaid Wellington winter snow boots, for when writing isn’t going well

1 bottle port, for when writing is going well

My computer and back-up zip drive, because writing is going to go well

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The Monday Book

I Should Have Stayed Home: The Worst Trips of the Great Writers – Roger Rapoport

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Jack is doing the Monday book this week (Wendy will do the Wednesday post)

I hardly read novels these days, much preferring history, biography or memoirs. This collection of short stories by fifty well known authors, most of them travel writers, falls into the memoir category I suppose.

I’m sure everyone reading this has experienced a ‘journey from hell’ at some point. Rapoport was able to persuade these well-known authors to contribute their particular ones. Some are funny and others are truly scary!

The idea originated with a student essay competition run in conjunction with a travel writers’ conference and the winning entry is included here.

Among the more famous contributors are Paul Theroux and Barbara Kingsolver and this brings me to the only problem I really have with the collection. Obviously there are great many different writing styles and some appealed to me more than others.

There are stories that focus on the sheer discomfort of certain modes of transport such as a hair-raising ride through the Egyptian desert in an ancient bus with an even more ancient driver. Others are more about culture clash and these tend to be more poignant and reflective.

Perhaps my favorite was about a stay in a supposed hotel that turned out to be a collection of huts that were infested – first of all with cockroaches and then with lizards that ate the cockroaches.

The book held my attention all the way through, though, and I can definitely recommend it as a good bed-time read that can be dipped into a few stories at a time over succeeding nights.

Maybe 4 stars out of 5.

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The Monday Book: REQUIEM BY FIRE, a novel by Wayne Caldwell

requiemSorry so many Mondays have slipped past. I have started many books that didn’t make me want to finish them, this past month. And then came REQUIEM, a story so enticing it makes me go to bed early just so I can read.

The book is set in the late 1920s and early 1930s, and focuses on what the establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park did to the people it bumped.

I know these people – Jim the local boy who wants to return home and work, the successful man; his wife Nell who wants to follow in the footsteps of her overbearing mother and get the hell outta there to a place with electricity and running water; Silas the contrarian who will be carried off the mountain feet-first, one way or another; the lawyer who turns on his own people and gets over his regret. They sound like stereotypes, but these folk walk, eat, and most definitely talk like real North Carolinians.

The tension between the people who live on (and off of) the land, and the government officials, some clueless, some very clued up indeed, flows under the rest of the action. Actually, this book is less action than scene by scene contacts between people, dialogue sent against lightly descriptive background. I am a sucker for well-drawn characters having pithy, realistic conversations, and this book is that in spades. Not a fan of a lot of description myself, I nevertheless was hooked by the opening scene of the novel, depicting an act of benevolent arson.

The ending will not be given away in a spoiler because I haven’t finished it yet. This is a book to savor. I’m so glad to have found something that restores my faith in Appalachian fiction!

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