Category Archives: what’s on your bedside table

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: MWF SEEKS BFF by Rachel Bertsche

The trouble with writing a high-concept memoir is that you have to let someone else inside something pretty esoteric without scaring them through detail or boring them with the obvious. They’re hard to write.

Rachel Bertsche, newly moved to Chicago, wants to make friends. And she finally decides to go about it the same way she did dating: literal girl-dates, 52 in a year, to see who she can find out there. She meets a lot of people. She describes meeting a lot of people. Some of the descriptions are interesting, some repetitive. Sometimes it feels like she’s caught in the mechanics of her writing. (She promised to write up every single date.)

And sometimes it’s really funny. Occasionally insightful. What I find most interesting about the book is how much the reader can project into it. “That person she’s talking to now is me.” Or “that’s how I would have reacted to that person,” etc.

Bertsche’s writing is very journalistic, combining pop psych with lived experience. It’s not my favorite style, but she gives it her all and it’s compelling. If you’ve wondered how to meet people, or why people are drawn to each other, you’ll enjoy this book.

Perhaps the thing that frustrated me the most about her memoir is how many women were in Chicago for the same reason as Bertsche, and who met with Bertsche because of it, but never discussed why: they followed their guy to his career-launching jobs, and then had to fend for themselves. In a book full of women self-empowering themselves on relationships, nobody really talked about this. Hmmm…..

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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: WAFFLE STREET by James Adams

True confession: I found this book from the movie. During my recent writing retreat in Florida, I was looking for “mindless entertainment” to fall asleep by. With my trusty laptop propped on my stomach, I surfed Netflix, and found that people who liked The Big Short tended to watch Waffle Street.

Fair enough; I wasn’t looking for much. What I got was way beyond expectations. The heartwarming story of white guys finding redemption in places they wouldn’t normally hang out (a la that Starbucks saved my life book and all) turned out to be something between a financial handbook for dummies and a quirky character sketchlist for small towns. I loved the film and the book.

A lot of the really good explanations of financial stuff (using chickens and waffles) fell out of the movie, but when you find out that James’ best friend at the restaurant was an ex-con grill cook, you have all the straight man set-up you need for the best lines ever about financial misconduct.

The book is heartwarming, sadly, but it’s also that wee bit unpredictable. Adams’ wife isn’t the sweet supportive pushover the movie makes her out to be. The restaurant owner isn’t a self-made down home boy. Throw in the crazy lady who keeps counting change to buy her favorite waffle, the evil midlevel manager who turns out to be human, and a few other stock characters who don’t quite fulfill their archtypes due to a few surprise moves, and pour syrup over the top – but lite syrup. Neither movie nor book are sticky with sentiment.

I did feel a twinge or two, reading the the book, that Adams was describing without solving. He isn’t saying “fight the system.” He’s saying “wow, look how funny the system is.”

He’s probably right about not wasting energy. Two pancake turners up for Waffle Street. waffle-street

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Baby Worries a Little Bit

Hi, I’m Baby. No, go ahebabyad; I’ll wait while you sing the lyrics of the pop tune going through your head. Really, it’s fine; I’m used to it.

Now then, thank you for the serenade but I really don’t feel like singing right now. My whole world appears to be tilting and I’m just so concerned. My housekeeping staff are getting older, and lately she’s been very unwell. He spends a lot of time tending to her, and the other day didn’t he come out of her room, scoop me up in his arms, and cry all over me? He said something like. “Baby, we love you and we’re going to make sure you’re okay.”

Well if that doesn’t frighten a body…..

They are very nice housekeepers and I’ve grown quite fond of them over the years. I’ve never had any other staff; they brought me here when I was literally a baby, and we’ve been together ever since. They understand my little needs and habitues, such as what time second breakfast should be, and how to draw the blinds to angle that afternoon sunbeam precisely onto the sofa cushion.

We like to watch cooking shows together, and until recently she and I never missed One Life to Live. Now, though, she spends her time in the bedroom, and my personal bed has been moved next to the sofa. It’s all clear to me; I shall soon have to move. That’s what he meant.

One does what one must, but I can’t tell you the conflicting emotions running through my mind at this moment. Will they be all right without me? Who will wake them up in the morning, ensure she doesn’t miss an important episode, see that he makes their evening meal on time? (He always made theirs right after mine.)

Also, although one doesn’t wish to appear selfish, who will look after me, since I must leave here? Where am I going? Will it be quiet, will it be warm? Will they be kind to me? I realize some of my little perks may have to fall by the wayside, but if one has to contemplate hardship, there’s a difference between no sunbeams and no supper.

Really, I don’t show it to the staff, but I’m very concerned. I hope the best for them, but whatever is to become of me? Being a white cat makes me “desirable,” she said the other day. Well, yes, thank you, of course. But will that be sufficient? I just don’t know….

Baby is available for adoption through Appalachian Feline Friends. Message them or Willie Dalton for information. She is six years old, spayed, and utd on all shots. She prefers a quiet life with multiple meals and no expectations of entertaining children or controlling mice.

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The Monday Book: THE FRIENDLY PERSUASION by Jessamyn West

You know how you start thinking about an old friend, and then look them up, and find they were thinking of you? This book is like that.

west-persuasionWest wrote it (and its companion volume Except for Me and Thee) more than 75 years ago, but it’s still just as funny and sweet, mostly because it’s about humans. Just humans, and how they interact, living on a farm in the Midwest as Quakers.

Well, there’s that Civil War bit, and their brush with the Underground Railroad, which is somehow more intense now reading it in these troubled years. So much should have changed by now…..

Not much has changed in human courtship, either, and the stories around love affairs (would be or actual) are as hysterical as they are accurate. If you want to just escape into a world that pre-dates Jan Karon but echoes our own modern troubles, this is a good one.

The author was a woman ahead of her time. She wrote two of my all-time favorite quotes about writing: “Talent is helpful in writing but guts are absolutely essential” and “Fiction reveals truths that reality obscures.”

That kinda sums up The Friendly Persuasion. One of the reasons people will still be reading it years from now is its poignant accuracy in describing human interactions.

 

 

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