Friday, March 30, 2007

Plum Lovin' by Janet Evanovich

I like Evanovich's Stephanie Plum books. I have read them all and some of them were laugh-out-loud funny. I was certain to recommend them to library patrons who were looking for something light and fun with a little sexiness to it--you know what I mean, you get to go on the date but don't have to stay overnight.

So, that is where I stand on the previous twelve numbers novels. Then this one pops up and I put a hold on it at the library, but I was surprised that there was no number in the title. Previous books all had numbers. When I got the book I saw on the cover a subtitle, "A Stephanie Plum Between-the-Numbers Novel."


Now we are talking here about an author who had made it, big time. She is one of those lucky few who are rich, rich, rich from her words and I would never begrudge her that, but I think she then owes a little respect to her loyal fans as payback. This book is not that good.

First off, it is short, 164 pages to be exact. If I had bought it, which I didn't, it would have cost me $16.95. That is a lot of money when you are guaranteed a huge audience--this book made number one on the New York Times Bestsellers list. If it had been a first book it would not even have made it out of the slush pile in an agents office.

You think I am being harsh? There is a man in this novel who gives people, including himself, rashes. It is never explained how or why, it just happens. A mysterious man, Diesel, shows up to get Stephanie's help as a relationship expert. Huh? And Diesel seems to have some kind of "magical" powers that let him appear and disappear at will, and maybe turn people into toads. There was not a single fully developed character in this novel and if I had not read the previous books in the series, I would have given up in disgust.

The two main men in Stephanie's life have tiny cameo roles in this book so even the sexual tension of her regular novels is pretty much gone, although the author tries to keep it up with the handsome and dimpled Diesel. Sorry, I just didn't buy it. There is a scene where a bunch of woman watch porn, just not good enough, even though Stephanie's grandma is there, and she is usually good for a hoot.

I read this, it was quick, I got it from the library so it didn't cost me anything, it filled in one hole looming in the series, which was to get Stephanie's sister married--but really, this was hardly worth the paper it was printed on. If these in-between novels become the norm, I think Evanovich will lose me as a series reader.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Delights & Shadows by Ted Kooser

The thing about reading poems is that you don't get the payoff until the end, as it should be. Then you have to go back and start over to see what got you there. So, you read each poem at least twice. Ted Kooser's poems are worth the time. He believes in poetry that people can understand and in this Pulitzer Prize winning book, that is very evident.

I think one of the things that attracts me to Kooser is that he writes about plain old everyday stuff. Plates left to him by his aunt, tying a necktie, a peg board painted with the shapes of tools, and garage sales. What a pleasure to read about things I can relate to. I feel I may well have seen the same old man at the garage sale down the street, that is how immediate these poems are to me.

Here is a sample of one of Kooser's poems:

Just now,
a sparrow lighted
on a pine bough
right outside
my bedroom window
and a puff
of yellow pollen
flew away.

Wow, see what he did there, he made an ordinary sparrow extraordinary by metaphorically turning it into a puff of pollen. It is beautiful!

This is another book of poetry that lends itself to readers who are not sure they like poetry but want to try some. And a note that might make them sing even more--read them aloud. It really makes a difference when you hear them.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Journal of a Solitude by May Sarton

Even though this is a short book, 208 pages, it took me a long time to read it and I read two other books while reading this one. Sarton said things I wanted to ruminate on for a while before reading on. The copyright date is 1973, and the books is slightly dated due to its age, but it has mainly stood the test of time. I understand that this book was required reading for a lot of classes on feminism and well so. Sarton was a feminist and a lesbian and an artist. Journal of a Solitude explores all of those things and more.

Sarton lived alone in a house in New Hampshire where she wrote and gardened and contemplated the joys and sadness of solitude. I think some of my favorite parts of this book are when she talks about her gardens and the animals she lives with and the people who live around her. Of course that is what makes a life.

When she talks about the joys of solitude she is very convincing that the only way an artist can truly achieve something is to live alone enough to explore solitude and the way the mind works when it is alone and unencumbered by people. She whines quite a bit when she feels she is on a writing roll and is interrupted by people, even those she loves.

Throughout this book she studies her relationship with her lesbian partner--they see each other occasionally--and by the end makes a decision about that relationship. She also looks at the way her art is accepted by the public since she essentially came out in a previous novel. This all from a woman who is 59 while writing this journal. Yeah for her!!

I am surprised I didn't read this book earlier, in college or on my own. As someone who considers herself to have an artsy bent, it seems a natural, but I must have missed it. I am glad I finally got to it and Sarton intrigues me enough that I will find some of her poems to fill in the blanks there.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Keeping it short--meme

1. Short Stories? Or full-length novels? I love novels, but about five years ago I decided I was meant to be a short story writer, so I immersed myself in them. I still read Glimmer Train lit magazine every quarter and any short story books that catch my eye. Below you will see a review of Jim Thompson's book of short stories which was terrific.

2. And, what's your favorite source for short stories? (You know, if you read them.) Like I mentioned, Glimmer Train and I do read quite a few online. Plus, I'm a retired librarian. I get probably 90% of my books from the library.

America's Greatest Unknown Poet by John Lehman

My writing life has turned from short stories to poetry. Probably not the popular choice in most people's worlds, but it is working for me. Hence my reading life is changing a bit. I am reading more poetry and poetry how-to books than ever before.

I knew of Lorine Niedecker because she is a Wisconsin poet and living in Wisconsin I was bound to hear about our arguably most famous poet, but I never really read much of her work. I decided to remedy that by reading America's Greatest Unknown Poet: Lorine Niedecker Reminiscences, Photographs, Letters and Her Most Memorable Poems by John Lehman.

Lorine spent most of her life in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, living in a swampy place that flooded regularly called Blackhawk Island. Her poetry is totally influenced by place. She writes of floods and fish and green places. Her style is all about condensing everything down to its tightest form. Most of her poems are very short and require the reader to fill in a lot of what is missing by relating to their own lives.

Niedecker carried on extensive correspondence with some famous poets of her time, she was born in 1903 and died in 1970. She was published and her work well regarded in poetry circles, but in Fort Atkinson she was the woman worked scrubbing floors at the local hospital. Few knew of her other life of letters.

Many of her poems would make you think of haiku, but even more trimmed. They look simple, but are really not. She cared about sound and images and, I think, surprise. Here is one of my favorites:

Popcorn-can cover
screwed to the wall
over a hole
so the cold
can't mouse in

That poems seems perfect to me. I think I will read more of Niedecker's work hoping some of her brevity rubs off on me.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Books and movies

I am in the middle of three books. None of them are particularly long, but they are books that I have to think about, so I read a little and then put the book down to consider. Makes for good reading, but slow blogging.

My book group met this past week and I think that the consensus was that we liked The Bright Forever by Lee Martin.(see review below) It is a book that is hard to come right out and say you liked it. It is filled with marginal people doing bad, possibly immoral, things. Yet there is an overriding theme that we don't really know our neighbors and if we really did know them we might not like them. I was really glad that we talked about this book because it got me to sort out my feelings about it.


I think that people who read tend to like movies too. Last night we watched The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.I wanted to clap at the end of this movie. This is a movie about redemption and grace. That sound religious and that is not where I am coming from. Rather, I think we can all be redeemed and find grace as human beings when we recognise our shortcomings and forgive ourselves. That is a huge oversimplification of the movie, but it starts to touch on the themes.

The movie critics mainly liked this movie, but made much of the abuse of the dead body of the title character. I wasn't bothered by that. I thought the scenery was beautiful and the acting wonderful There were certainly some stock characters, but aren't there always? The movie is directed by Tommy Lee Jones and he is the main character. I like him. He seems to fit the stark landscape in the borderland that we are taken through on the journey to return Estrada to be buried in his homeland. The movie can be confusing at first with time and space jumps that take awhile to fix in your head, but once you understand what is going on, it is a wonderful ride. Two thumbs way up and they are both mine.

Friday, March 09, 2007

late wife: poems by Claudia Emerson

If you don't read poems, and you want to start, Claudia Emerson's Pulitzer Prize winning book would be a perfect jumping off point. She writes in the narrative style and her poems are very accessible. They are also beautiful. The final poem in this little book is about her current husband buying a turtle from some boys who are teasing it, some might say torturing it. After they buy it, they let it go. Listen to these lines: We were/already forgotten, then, like most gods/after floods recede, after fevers break. This is just a short sample of the wonder she creates.

The book is setup in three sections: the old relationship and her divorce, being alone and ruminating on the past, and her new relationship and living with the ghost of her new husband's dead wife. While each poem stands alone, the books is also a story of love lost and reclaimed.

The natural world plays a big part in these poems and I really liked that, it makes them easy to relate to.

Poetry is a hard sell these days, too bad. For people who read a lot and maybe write, poetry shows how language can stretch and bend and find exact moments in time that need to be savored and studied over and over. Certainly dipping into poetry anthologies is one way to go, but sometimes it is imperative that we stick with one poet to see where he or she can take us. Claudia Emerson takes us deep into her life and gives us something to compare ourselves to.

This is a five star offering.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Auggie Wren's Christmas Story by Paul Auster

A friend of mine talked about this book and the movie Smoke (which was based on this book) in his blog. I was intrigued because I trust his taste and because I am always looking for Christmas books for my book group. My group has been meeting for almost two years and mostly we are about the books and a little bit about the dessert that someone brings. In December though, we are about the food, and a little about the book. We did A Christmas Memory by Capote a couple of years ago and this past year A Christmas Carol by Dickens. Then we ate something delicious and talked about shopping we had left to do.

Even though this is a very short book, 35 pages, it is catalogued in my library system as an adult book. It is so short, in fact that it is hard to say much about it without ruining the charm of it. Best to say that it is about the pleasures of story and about how people see the world. I hate sounding so cryptic, but I was quite taken by the pleasures of this little book and would hate to spoil it for you.

If you are not in a Holiday reading kind of mood right now, put it on you TBR list and read it next December when the season is upon us again.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

In the Palm of Your Hand by Steve Kowit

When I was in the fourth grade I won a poetry contest. The prize was a quarter and the poem began something like this: Flutter flutter butterfly. I suspect it went on in this way and probably rhymed.

In high school I won a countywide poetry contest. I receive ten dollars and a copy of a book by a local poet. I remember the poem and it was very bad. I was also co-editor of the school literary magazine and as such got a lot of my own stuff in it.

In college I won some other contest and as an English major took lots of creative writing classes and even published a chapbook of my poems for a class.

Then I stopped writing poetry. And now I wonder why. Beyond the usual too busy, too this, too that, I think I considered poetry to be self-indulgent and maybe only for kids. I know better. I love Yeats and Elliot and Adrienne Rich. I know people make a lifetime of study of the art and craft of poetry, yet the kernel of that feeling remained, as if I should be embarrassed to be writing poetry, to be wasting my time.

About a year ago a friend of mine encouraged me to try poetry again. Low and behold, unlike my foray into novel writing, or my minor success at short story writing, here was something I was actually good at and enjoyed doing.

Not one to do something without studying the hell out of it, I started getting books from the public library. Steve Kowit's In the Palm of Your Hand proved to be one of my favorites. It is easy to understand, has fun exercises to get the juices flowing and covers a huge amount of material. It has made me a better poet, no question about it. So much so in fact that I just put my order in at Amazon for a copy of the book. I want to read it again and to have it available for reference. So, since one of my reading goals for the year was to read books that have been languishing on my home shelves, and since I just bought this book, does this count as a booked owned, or as a library book? I think I am counting it as a book owned.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Bright Forever by Lee Martin

The Bright Forever is an interesting book because I am not sure if I liked it or not. It is well written and a compelling read, but I felt, after reading some chapters, as if I needed a shower.

There is a premise here that no matter what we think we know, our friends and neighbors are unknowable in their deepest dark heart of hearts. I can certainly buy into that. But there is a sordid quality to these characters that kind of made me cringe sometimes and I guess I believe better of people. Maybe that's the thing for me, as much as I like serial killer novels and there ilk, Martin's book was so realistic that it was hard to take at times.

It is set in a small town in Indiana where everyone would say they know one another very well. Then a little nine year old girl from the town's most prominent family goes missing. The novel jumps between points of view, from an odd bachelor math teacher to the brother of the missing girl to the wife of the most likely suspect. These are people who could live down the block from you. I kept thinking of the Beetles' song, All the Lonely People and Elinor Rigby who kept her face in a jar by the door. I think that gives you an idea of the tone of this novel.

I am not against reading the end of a novel early on to make sure that the characters that I like are still alive. I know, I know, to some of you that is a sin, but it doesn't spoil a book for me. That said, I would never tell the end of a book to someone who might read it. All I can say then is that the end of this book surprised me and I think that this book will stick with me for a long time because of the end.

My recommendation is to get this book if you have kind of a strong stomach. If you are looking for a book group selection, I think this would be great. My group will be talking about it in a couple of weeks.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Summer book

It has been snowing and cold here in Wisconsin for what feels like forever. So here is a picture of my garden in high summer.

I was trying to think of books that were set in summer that made me feel warm. Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver comes to mind as one of my favorites. Can you think of any more?

Book Meme

If it seems as if I have abandoned this blog already, I can assure you I have not, just that I am reading four books at once and it takes longer to finish them that way. In the meantime, Bookish Kitty's blog had this meme, free for the taking, and I thought I would fill it out and put it out there to show the gaps in my reading education and that I have a definite bent for modern literature. Back soon with a few book reviews.

Look at the list of books below:
* Bold the ones you’ve read
* Italicize the ones you want to read
* Leave blank the ones that you aren’t interested in.
* If you are reading this (and haven't participated yet), tag, you’re it!
**If there are any books on this list that I didn't italicize and you think I should read, let me know in comments!

1. The DaVinci Code (Dan Brown)
2. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
3. To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
4. Gone With The Wind (Margaret Mitchell)
5. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (Tolkien)
6. The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (Tolkien)
7. The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers (Tolkien)
8. Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery)
9. Outlander (Diana Gabaldon)
10. A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry)
11. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Rowling)
12. Angels and Demons (Dan Brown)
13. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Rowling)
14. A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving)
15. Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden)
16. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Rowling)
17. Fall on Your Knees (Ann-Marie MacDonald)
18. The Stand (Stephen King)
19. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Rowling)
20. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)
21. The Hobbit (Tolkien)
22. The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger)
23. Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)
24. The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold)
25. Life of Pi (Yann Martel)
26. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams)
27. Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte)
28. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (C. S. Lewis)
29. East of Eden (John Steinbeck)
30. Tuesdays with Morrie (Mitch Albom)
31. Dune (Frank Herbert)
32. The Notebook (Nicholas Sparks)
33. Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand)
34. 1984 (Orwell)
35. The Mists of Avalon (Marion Zimmer Bradley)
36. The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett)
37. The Power of One (Bryce Courtenay)
38. I Know This Much is True (Wally Lamb)
39. The Red Tent (Anita Diamant)
40. The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho)
41. The Clan of the Cave Bear (Jean M. Auel)
42. The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini)
43. Confessions of a Shopaholic (Sophie Kinsella)
44. The Five People You Meet In Heaven (Mitch Albom)
45. The Bible
46. Anna Karenina (Tolstoy)
47. The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas)
48. Angela’s Ashes (Frank McCourt)
49. The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck)
50. She’s Come Undone (Wally Lamb)
51. The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver)
52. A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens)
53. Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card)
54. Great Expectations (Dickens)
55. The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald)
56. The Stone Angel (Margaret Laurence)
57. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Rowling)
58. The Thorn Birds (Colleen McCullough)
59. The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)
60. The Time Traveller’s Wife (Audrew Niffenegger)
61. Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
62. The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand)
63. War and Peace (Tolstoy)
64. Interview With The Vampire (Anne Rice)
65. Fifth Business (Robertson Davis)
66. One Hundred Years Of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
67. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (Ann Brashares)
68. Catch-22 (Joseph Heller)
69. Les Miserables (Hugo)
70. The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)
71. Bridget Jones’ Diary (Fielding)
72. Love in the Time of Cholera (Marquez)
73. Shogun (James Clavell)
74. The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje)
75. The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)
76. The Summer Tree (Guy Gavriel Kay)
77. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith)
78. The World According to Garp (John Irving)
79. The Diviners (Margaret Laurence)
80. Charlotte's Web (E.B. White)
81. Not Wanted On The Voyage (Timothy Findley)
82. Of Mice And Men (Steinbeck)
83. Rebecca (Daphne DuMaurier)
84. Wizard’s First Rule (Terry Goodkind)
85. Emma (Jane Austen)
86. Watership Down(Richard Adams)
87. Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)
88. The Stone Diaries (Carol Shields)
89. Blindness (Jose Saramago)
90. Kane and Abel (Jeffrey Archer)
91. In The Skin Of A Lion (Ondaatje)
92. Lord of the Flies (Golding)
93. The Good Earth (Pearl S. Buck)
94. The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd)
95. The Bourne Identity (Robert Ludlum)
96. The Outsiders (S.E. Hinton)
97. White Oleander (Janet Fitch)
98. A Woman of Substance(Barbara Taylor Bradford)
99. The Celestine Prophecy (James Redfield)
100. Ulysses (James Joyce)