Category Archives: what’s on your bedside table

Jack’s Monday Book on Wednesday

My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff

Just to confuse everyone, Jack’s Wednesday blog post is the Monday book – –

The first thing to say before I get going is that we already knew that this book is set in the offices of the agency that handled the launching of Wendy’s best seller, ‘The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap’. Although the agency isn’t actually named in the book it’s a very open secret which New York literary agency it is. We are both, therefore, familiar with the rather old fashioned but cozy interior and the amazing collection of books lining the walls.

This is really at least two intertwining stories and I’m not sure that’s done terribly well. One is very much about the culture and characters of the agency itself, while the other is focused more on what’s going on in Rakoff’s life.

The first half of the book is mainly about her success in finding a job at what she refers to simply as ‘The Agency’, discovering how hard it is to live frugally in New York, getting to know her co-workers and being groomed by ‘The Boss’. I have to admit that I found that strand of the book unnecessarily gloomy and dark, as that’s certainly not what we experienced on or visits to the place. Something else that emerges in this early part of her book is the impression that the only famous author represented by the agency is JD Salinger, which is simply not true.

Her main job is to send form letters to fans of Salinger, who refuses to engage with them and is somewhat reclusive. She eventually strikes up something of a relationship with him on the phone and is finally on first name terms with him (Jerry and Joanna).

For me, the book really only takes off about halfway through when we begin to discover what’s going in Rakoff’s personal life. This strand is all about the self-discovery that anyone over the age of thirty will find excruciatingly familiar. It’s all about growing, maturing and making difficult decisions about what you want to do with your life.

The book ends with a jump forward to a married Rakoff with a husband and kids and a successful career as a novelist, poet and journalist.

I didn’t find this book disappointing overall, but I did find the beginning a bit heavy going.

6 out of 10 from me!

PS – it’s The Harold Ober Agency and Wendy’s agent doesn’t work there any more – – –

 

 

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Jeanne Powers’ Monday Book

Billy Feather BrainedFeather Brained:  My Bumbling Quest to Become a Birder & Find a Rare Bird on My Own by Bob Tarte

Let me start out by saying I am a not a birder.  I can identify cardinals, robins, blue jays, and woodpeckers—providing the latter are pecking on wood when I see them.  That’s about it.  I thought birders must be born, not made.

Then I read Bob Tarte’s book Feather Brained. Bob was not a natural birder.  At the tender age of nine in an effort to be cool, he set out for the park armed with a second-hand book on birds and a set of opera glasses. Let’s just say that first foray was less than successful.

A mere twenty five years later, Bob was ready to strike out again.  This time the impetus was due to an even rarer find: a red haired lady named Linda with a love of life in general and nature in particular.  He gets identification books, listens to recordings of bird song, and joins online birding groups where alerts are posted so members can rush to an area and maybe, just maybe, spot a bird for their life list. It becomes Bob’s mission in life to spot such a bird so he can alert the group and be the hero for once.

The phrase “easier said than done” springs to mind at this juncture.

As with his earlier books (Enslaved by Ducks; Fowl Weather; Kitty Cornered), Bob writes with a self-deprecating humor.  Comparisons to Charlie Brown and his little red haired girl will not go amiss, although Bob also has to deal with Churchill’s black dog of depression.  His eye for detail and description is as keen as ever, even when prowling around a sewage pond for rare birds.  He’s accompanied on many of his expeditions by Bill Holm who, as Bob explains, “didn’t particularly like birds, but he liked them more than he liked people.” Bob’s strength as a birder is to identify birds by their songs, so he depends on Bill to spot the birds, point out his errors, and make unmerciful fun of him for being so wrong.  Even though some of the episodes border on slapstick in Bob’s recounting—I laughed out loud as he and Linda risk life and limb to check out an osprey’s nest built on a train trestle—the book was a wonderful look at how birders can indeed be made, not born.  I found it reassuring as Bob misidentified wrens, grew frustrated at distinguishing calls, and sulked at birds that wouldn’t show up where they were supposed to be.

But above all else, Feather Brained is a romance. Oh, sure, Bob learns to love birds and birding, but it is his love for Linda that shines through the pages.  They would seem to be polar opposites:  Linda is the free spirit who lived happily in a small trailer in the woods while Bob enjoys creature comforts like electricity and running water. Where Linda sees rainbows, Bob sees dark clouds with tornado potential.  Love conquers all, however, and throughout the book Bob’s devotion never waivers, not through feeding mealworms to orphaned starlings, chipping away ice for the ducks, or being pelted with soggy monkey chow by a cantankerous parrot.  It must be true love.

And, hey—maybe I’ll take another look at that bird book I have in the basement.

 

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Erica Susan Jones’ Monday Book

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
The Age of Innocence againWhen I was a teenager, Penguin produced a range of classics for a pound a book. I’m not sure how mid-90s money translates across the Atlantic, but for this reader who’d only very recently discovered the joy of bookshops it was a revelation.
All of a sudden I went from being able to afford a book a month to what felt like an unlimited supply of new reading material. No matter that some of the classics I bought were as inaccessible to a teenage girl as A Clockwork Orange is to most human beings, I suddenly had the ability to visit a bookshop and buy more than one book. I browsed, I bought, I read.
Among these purchases was The Age of Innocence. If bookshops inspired my love of reading, it’s this book that opened my eyes to the possibilities of what books can hold. This book grabbed me, shook me, chewed me up and spat me out the other side, leaving an exhausted woman wondering what I could possibly read next that could ensnare me in such a way.
All this in what many misinterpret as being just another society love story.
In some ways that interpretation is correct. The main strand of the book is Boy Meets Girl, but the setting of that introduction (I don’t just mean 1870s New York) and the subtle storytelling are what make it so much more than a story of love versus responsibility. After all, this was the first Pulitzer Prize-winning book by a woman.
The Age of Innocence is the book I recommend and/or gift the most, and I’m currently re-reading it for a book club. For some, like teenage me, I fully expect them to comment on the love story, but I’m also looking forward to the other aspects they question: the freedom, or otherwise, of the different women; the rules that constrict our hero’s choices; and maybe even the impact today’s societal conventions have on our own lives – we’re technically more free than the characters in the book, but how much do we bind ourselves in our attempts to fit in?
Edith Wharton writes with intelligence and humour, encouraging her readers to question the sense of that world and its hypocrisies, and while her focus might have been a few centuries ago The Age of Innocence is as relevant now as it was then.
dolly readingErica Jones is a bookshop blogger, owned by a rescue cat called Dolly.
Feel free to either link to my blog as a whole or to this post: http://www.thebookshoparoundthecorner.co.uk/2014/02/the-little-bookstore-of-big-stone-gap.html

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Janelle Bailey’s Monday Book

518IrDgn2hLAs an English teacher for 25 years, I assigned a lot of reading to a lot of kids! One of them from a few years back recently messaged me on Goodreads to start a conversation about her own reading and mine; she also made a recommendation to me of something she’d really enjoyed. I saw it as not only fair but wonderful, to have a former student “assign” me some reading.
The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne was the book she recommended, and I am not disappointed to have taken her up on it, even though Lee Child’s cover blurb of “sensationally good psychological suspense” may have made me less likely, rather than more, to pick it up on my own.
The main character, Helena, is the product of an unusual–criminal, even–pairing. Her father kidnapped her mother at age 14 and literally “took” her for his wife; they lived together in seclusion in the northern woods of the UP (that’s the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, north of Wisconsin) and had then raised Helena there. His parenting practices are extremely questionable, yet Helena sure has little for comparison, given the circumstances. Her mother is not a lot better at it, given her young age, inexperience, and limitations placed on her by her “husband” and their lifestyle.
The novel begins, though, many years later, when Helena’s father escapes from prison. And oh, what tangled ways it moves from there, both in the current search as well as the revealing of the back story of Helena’s childhood and upbringing, chapter by chapter working through both time periods and also braiding in allusive excerpts to Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale by the same title.
While some elements are completely dark and violent, others are homey, even–such as how Helena makes her living (I’ll let you learn for yourself by reading the book), and it doesn’t dwell but moves; it’s got a good share of hope and forgiveness and light.
Whether you are one who’d grab the first thriller you saw or one who would not…possibly at all, I think you’ll find the good writing and great storytelling here to be well worth your reading time.

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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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The Monday Book

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

I should have.jpg

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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