Mary's Library

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Latest from Publisher’s Weekly

Some interesting new books are announced in yesterday’s Publisher’s Weekly, including five with red stars, which are an indicator of books “of outstanding quality” in the opinion of PW.

The Light of Evening, by Edna O'Brien. Houghton Mifflin, $25 (288p) ISBN 0-618-71867-2

This is a story about a woman in a nursing home and her ambivalence about her daughter’s escape from Ireland to 1920s Brooklyn, her life there, and her return to Ireland. “Gorgeous stream-of-consciousness” says PW. To be released in October.

The Texicans, by Nina Vida. Soho, $23 (304p) ISBN 1-56947-434-6

In the middle of the 19th century cast of characters includes the widow of a Texas Ranger who goes to live with the Comanches, an Alsatian immigrant, a Missouri schoolteacher interact to act out the history of the times. PW calls it luminous, dramatic, radiant, vibrantly atmospheric, and emotionally dense. To be released in October.

Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Knopf, $24.95 (416p) ISBN 1-4000-4416-2

Says PW: “When the Igbo people of eastern Nigeria seceded in 1967 to form the independent nation of Biafra, a bloody, crippling three-year civil war followed. That period in African history is captured with haunting intimacy in this artful page-turner from Nigerian novelist Adichie.” To be released 16 September.

Winter Birds, by Jamie Langston Turner. Bethany House, $12.99 paper (400p) ISBN 0-7642-0015-1

PW: “With this fictional octogenarian's rich reflection on her disappointing life, Christy Award–winner Turner pens her best novel in years. . . . Turner shows how even the most awkward and imperfect love, care and attention can yield meaningful results.” To be released in September.

The Assassins Gallery, by David L. Robbins. Bantam, $25 (432p) ISBN 0-553-80441-3

This thriller set near the end of WWII begins with a double murder on the beach near Newburyport, Massachusetts and focuses on the killer and the man assigned to solve the murders. PW: “Robbins . . . has an uncanny ability to provide just the right amount of historical detail without overwhelming the plot. This talent, coupled with superior characterization and a masterful, direct writing style will provide thriller lovers with one of their best reads of the year. The powerful climax deserves the term "heart-stopping.” To be released in August.

Unstarred but of interest to those of us who are in the grip of Jasper Fforde’s whimsical fiction is his second Nursery Crime mystery. His first was The Big Over Easy (2005):

The Fourth Bear: A Nursery Crime, by Jasper Fforde. Viking, $24.95 (378p) ISBN 0-670-03772-9

Most of us know Fforde from his Thursday Next series. I haven’t read The Big Over Easy but if it’s as good as this one sunds I may look into this series. The Fourth Bear stars Jack Spratt, DCI of the Nursery crime Division of the Reading [that’s reading, as in reading books] Police Department. He is “a PDR (Person of Dubious Reality), as are most of the characters Jack deals with, including the Gingerbreadman, a notorious killer, and Punch and Judy, a violence prone couple who are also marriage counselors. An alien policeman named Ashley, talking bears, a devoted group of cucumber-growing enthusiasts and an immensely powerful company, Quang Tech, add spice.” There’s nobody out there with an imagination quite like Fforde’s. To be released in August.

These books are all available at

Thursday, June 22, 2006

What I'm Reading

For the last week I've been wallowing -- wallowing -- in junk. What a treat!

To start with the worst, I'm half-way through The Devil Wears Prada (©2003) by Lauren Weisberger. Makes me want to see the movie.

And I’ve read not one but two 600-page Elizabeth George mysteries, Deception on His Mind (©1997) and In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner (©1999.) Great stuff.

Today I finished the most recent of the Susan Kandel’s Cece Caruso mysteries, Shamus in the Green Room (©2006), which has nothing to do with the theater and everything to do with surfing and not incidentally, Dashiell Hammett. Her previous Cece Caruso mysteries are I Dreamed I Married Perry Mason (©2004) and Not a Girl Detective (©2005), about a Nancy Drew fan club.

And I’m reading How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must) (©2004) by Ann Coulter. She's a hoot. But then you don't have to be a conservative Republican to recognize that outrageous she may be, but she's often absolutely right about politics.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Father's Day (cont.)

There is a certain class of books that you see men reading, but seldom women. Among them are westerns, which are having a bit of a revival these days. The two names you see most often are Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey, whose Riders of the Purple Sage (1912) is perhaps his best-known book.

Then there are the Flashman Papers. The eponymous hero, a minor figure in Thomas Hughes’ Tom Brown’s School Days (1870), is a cad and a bounder, a coward and a liar, and yet, somehow, he manages always to come out on top with another girl in another port and another medal on his tunic. Written by George MacDonald Fraser, the series starts with Flashman (©1969), and continues with Royal Flash (©1970), Flash for Freedom (©1972), Flashman at the Charge (©1973), and several more.

Then there is W E B Griffin, whose many works are almost a genre in themselves. He writes mostly about Marine and Army officers during World War II. The Corps series is his best: Semper Fi (©1986), Call to Arms (©1983), Counterattack (©1990), and others.

Griffin’s Brotherhood of War series, which Wilhelm calls the Brotherhood of the Peacetime Army, begins with Lieutenants (©1982), and goes on with Captains (©1983), Majors (©1983), and so on.

Any of these would make a dandy Father’s Day gift.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Father's Day (cont.)

Mysteries can be flip, hilarious, cerebral, weird, gory, formulaic, cozy, informative, noir, or nostalgic. Different dads prefer one or another of these sub-genres, so here’s a suggestion for each category.

Flip – Kinky Friedman’s series

Hilarious – Carl Hiaasen, especially Stormy Weather (©1995)

Cerebral – Dorothy L Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey series

WeirdThe Bride Wore Black by Cornell Woolrich (©1940)

GoryLA Confidential by James Ellroy (©1997), which makes the movie look tame, by the way

Formulaic – Agatha Christie or Ngaio Marsh

Informative – Emma Lathen’s John Putnam Thatcher series, especially Murder Against the Grain (©1967) or A Stitch in Time (©1968)

Cozy – Robert Bernard’s stand alone books set in England, such as Fete Fatale (©1985)

Noir – Raymond Chandler, of course

Nostalgic – The Thin Man series by Dashiell Hammett

Tomorrow, the male equivalent of chick lit.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Father's Day (cont.)

My dad used to read fiction and biography and politics and a little science, but his favorite genre was history. If he were alive today I think I would give him for Father’s Day Simon Schama’s new book, Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves, and the American Revolution (©2006.)

From the jacket: “Rough Crossings turns on a single huge question: if you were black in America at the start of the Revolutionary War, whom would you want to win? In response to a declaration by the last governor of Virginia that any rebel-owned slave who escaped and served the King would be emancipated, tens of thousands of slaves – Americans who clung to the sentimental notion of British freedom – escaped from farms, plantations, and cities to try to reach the British camp. This mass movement lasted as long as the war did, and a military strategy originally designed to break the plantations of the American South had unleashed one of the great exoduses in American history.

“With powerfully vivid storytelling, Schama details the odyssey of the escaped blacks through the fires of war and the terror of potential recapture at the war’s end, into inhospitable Nova Scotia, where thousands who had served the Crown were betrayed and, in a little-known hegira of the slave epic, sent across the broad, stormy ocean to Sierra Leone.”

Tomorrow, murder mysteries Dad would enjoy.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Origin of Father’s Day

I’ve been reminded by a savvy citizen of the Inland Empire that Father’s Day began here in Spokane.

Sonora Smart Dodd created the holiday in 1909 to honor her father, a Civil War veteran, who raised his six children alone after his wife died.

For the lowdown see this article from the Encyclopedia Britannica online.

Father's Day (cont.)

Henry Petroski is an engineer who teaches at Duke University. I’ve been reading his books for some time now and I’ve never been disappointed in his ability to mesmerize his reader with the details of the way things are put together.

I can remember a snowy day some years ago at a bed and breakfast in Bellingham, Washington, being entertained by someone reading aloud at the breakfast table from Pencil A History of Design and Circumstance (©1992.) Another of my favorites is Remaking the World: Adventures in Engineering (©1997.)

Petroski's most recent book is Success Through Failure: The Paradox of Design (©2006.)

Any of these would make a fine Father’s Day gift.

Tomorrow, something for the father who's an avid reader of history.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Father’s Day

I have some suggestions for books to give Dad for Father’s Day. Patrick F McManus, a Spokane area author, has been writing a column for Field and Stream and collecting his hilarious columns into books since 1978, when he published his first book, A Fine and Pleasant Misery.

Now I don’t do much hunting and fishing, but McManus is so droll, his characters are so outrageous, and the situations he describes so ludicrous – well, he has on occasion had me in tears of laughter. Dad will love it.

McManus has just written the first of what will be a series of mysteries about Blight County, Idaho, called The Blight Way: A Sheriff Bo Tully Mystery (©2006.) Wilhelm finished reading it the other night and he gives it about an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10, which from Wilhelm is high praise.

You can get a signed copy down at Auntie's.

Tomorrow: something for the dad who's an engineer wanna-be.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

What I'm Reading

Yesterday in Spokane was one of those perfect cat-in-the-lap, tea-drinking, listen-to-the-rain days when reading is the only possible civilized pastime. I picked up the Kathryn Hughes biography, George Eliot: The Last Victorian (©1998) which I put aside a couple of weeks ago and suddenly it grabbed me and held tight.

What a complex creature was Mary Anne Evans/Marian Lewes/George Eliot/Mrs Cross. She had a new name for each part of her life, from dutiful daughter to journalist to wicked woman living in sin to novelist to (finally) married woman.

Like so many great writers she had a spouse who protected her from a clamoring public and from unfavorable reviews of her books. The world tends to lament that George Henry Lewes was married and could not get a divorce so that George Eliot in order to live with him cut herself off from “society.” But I think it deepened their love for one another. It freed Eliot from the time-wasting round of calls and shallow female chit-chat that was required of most women of her day.

We are going to the Civic Theater today to see "The Music Man," but this evening I will likely finish the Hughes book. And then I'll move on to one of Eliot's novels instead of William Makepeace Thackeray's Barry Lyndon (1844), which I should be reading for my not-trollope group. (Sorry, y'all.)

Friday, June 09, 2006

Henry Adams

I’ve just acquired Garry Wills’ new book, Henry Adams and the Making of America (©2005.) Adams, who is best known for The Education of Henry Adams (1907) and Mont Saint Michel and Chartres (1904), is, in Wills’ mind, the greatest historian of the 19th century and the inventor of “the study of history as we know it.”

I’m not sure I’d go that far, but having read much of Adams’ work I have to agree that the man could write and that his insights into the origins of our democratic system remain as fresh today as when he wrote The History of the United States of America during the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson and The History of the United States of America during the Administrations of James Madison (1889-91.)

Wills calls this “the non-fiction prose masterpiece of the nineteenth century in America. It is a work that pioneers the new history coming into existence at the time. It offers archival research on an unprecedented scale in America, and combines it with social and intellectual history, diplomatic and military and economic history. This wealth of material is deployed with wit and a sense of adventure.”

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Wagner in der Wildnis

Wilhelm and I spent last weekend at the DC Wagner Society’s yearly seminar in Cacapon, West Virginia.

Jeffrey Swann, the pianist (and Wagner nut), and Simon Williams, the drama professor from Santa Barbara (and Wagner nut), lectured about (yup) Wagner. These guys speak at Bayreuth fairly often, so we’re fortunate to get them to come to talk to us every year.

This sixth opera weekend was devoted to“Parsifal.” In the past we’ve studied each of the four operas in the Ring and “Meistersinger.” Next year we will do “Lohengrin.”

As always we've come home full of enthusiasm, so I’m now re-reading Wagner without Fear – Learning to Love – and even Enjoy – Opera’s Most Demanding Genius (©1998) by William Berger.

In my opinion, this is the best book for the novice Wagnerian, but it also has a lot to say to the veteran. I’ve been listening to a CD of “Parsifal” and reading along in the orchestral score, something I strongly recommend to anyone attempting to make sense of Wagner.

It takes some study, but as Mark Twain said, Wagner's music is better than it sounds.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Never Discovered Classics

How is it that a book Byron said affected him very much and that Sir Walter Scott read three times is almost unknown today? With so much dreck being published it puzzles me why these excellent books go out of print and are forgotten.

Today’s example is a book by John Galt called The Entail (1822.) It’s about a Glasgow merchant whose obsessive greed victimizes his family members one by one.

When he dies his widow emerges as a matriarch of “unflagging resource.” Although she too is focused on wealth and possessions, with her the obsession is “softened and humanized.” There are some unforgettable characters in this novel, and greed is a classic theme. It's been compared to Dostoesvsky; it’s well worth your while.

Monday, June 05, 2006

1001 Books

A while back dovegreyreader bought 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (©2006), by Peter Boxall. She went through this list and counted the books she had read. I think she came out having read about half of them.

I recently did the same thing. Here are my statistics:
Books I own – 306
Books I’ve read – 300

Most of my hits are in the early part of the book, the pre-18th through 19th centuries. (I’ve told you before I live in the past.) Assuming the 20th century books Boxall lists are of similar quality to the earlier ones, I have a ready made reading list for the next 30 years.

A few of the titles? Reveries of a Solitary Walker (1782) by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. (I had never heard of it before.) The Island of Dr Moreau (1896), by H G Wells (he who married his cousin.) Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936), by George Orwell. The Bell (1958), by Iris Murdoch. Dictionary of the Khazars (1984), by Milorad Pavic, which was published in male and female editions. (No, seriously.) Amsterdam (1998) by Ian McEwan.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

A Plum from Plum

At the age of eleven or thereabouts women acquire a poise and an ability to handle difficult situations which a man, if he is lucky, manages to achieve somewhere in the later seventies.
-- P G Wodehouse

Friday, June 02, 2006

Leave It To Wodehouse

Pelham Grenville Wodehouse wrote some of the funniest books in the English language. Ask anyone who has read one of them.

Sarah gave me one of his books a couple of years ago, my first. I grabbed it when leaving for the doctor's office to read in the waiting room. Well!

I was trying so hard to stifle my laugh I was gagging and the tears were running down my cheeks when a nurse came out to ask if I were ok. Such a combination of hilarity and embarrassment I hope never to experience again.

If I remember correctly that book was Leave It to Psmith (1923.) In any case, that’s a good place to start. As is any of his other hundred or so books.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Reading the Encyclopedia

My online pal, Lisa, has recommended some darned good books, among them today’s book, The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World (©2004), by A J Jacobs.

Jacobs is an editor at Esquire, and his book is about his adventures whilst reading the Encyclopedia Britannica – the entire thing, from a-ak to zywiec.

Years ago my Uncle Bill read the World Book Encyclopedia. Gratifying as that might have been for Uncle Bill, it was pretty hard on the rest of the family as the months went by and we listened to descriptions of the Antilles, world currencies, the Hapsburg dynasty, oospores, and the Thirty Years War.

I think it was from Uncle Bill that I learned the meaning of syzygy. I no longer remember what syzygy is, but there was a brief moment in about 1953 when I wowed the entire Long Plain Elementary School third and fourth grades with the depth of my astronomical knowledge.

Jacobs has a lighter touch than Uncle Bill and a charmingly self-deprecating sense of humor. His decision to prove how smart he was by joining Mensa, his attempts to incorporate his new-found knowledge into his daily conversations, and his ill-fated appearance on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire are exceedingly droll.

And darned if I didn’t learn a few things. The French horn is from Germany. Softwood is often harder than hardwood. Catgut is made from sheepgut. (Whew! Miss Woodhouse was really glad to hear about that.) Starfish are not fish. And Charles Darwin, Henry VIII, Edgar Allan Poe, Sergey Rachmaninoff, and H G Wells all married their cousins.