Saturday, May 23, 2020

#18 More Covid-19 Reading

#18 More Covid-19 Reading

So, what's been good stuff to read since the last time I checked, about 6 weeks ago. Goodness knows we all have time and apparently some money to spend on reading. Longs Peak Book Company, my used book business, has sold about 50 books in the past 10 weeks since this started. The four books I want present begin with the latest from novelist Don Winslow, Broken, his collection of 6 novella length stories that cover the western US with a stop in New Orleans in the book title story for a revenge fest involving an obsessive cop, his brother and mother and a very bad small-time drug dealer. The other stories capture the LA to San Diego cop culture, two characters in Hawaii and a return to El Paso. The stories are dedicated to and written in the style of Steve McQueen, Elmore Leonard and Raymond Chandler and there's not a loser in the 6 pack.

I have begun reading The Overstory by novelist Richard Powers and can't recommend it too highly. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 2019 and finalist for many other awards, the novel introduces its characters through separate short stories that tie the characters to a love of trees. This plays out in the body of the novel as these characters meet, fight deforestation, and develop their individual, extraordinary skills. The book is long, over 500 pages, but spectacular.

A new book that I got as an Advanced Review Copy (ARC) that will be published June 2 is Martha McPhee's novel, An Elegant Woman.Taken from her family history and recollections of neighbors and friends, McPhee presents her great-grand-mother and two daughters leaving a central Ohio town, her philandering husband in the early years of the 20th century to travel by train west to Montana and stake their claim. It's never easy for Glenna, the great-grandmother and her daughters, Katherine, the beautiful one and Thelma/Tommie/Katherine, the hard working one as Glenna basically abandons the girls for long periods as she works for suffrage and teaches at a string of one-room schools across the west. The girls make a decision on their futures that sends one to Hollywood, the other to nursing school back east and what will become a life as An Elegant Woman.

What with no authors doing signings, speaking tours, bookstores are working hard to stay afloat as are most every other small business.The Mysterious Bookshop in NYC solicited recommendations for weekly columns of a Who's Who of mystery writers-- DeMille, Connelly, Patterson, Perry, Sallis, etc. They individually listed the 5 books that most influenced them in writing and it was a lot of the expected-- Christie, Highsmith, Chandler, etc. But occasionally someone posted an author and title I'd never heard of. But the good old Loveland Public Library came through. Maybe they still have a few books that I recommended buying over the past 30 years. One that was new to me was Gene Kerrigan's "The Rage", set in Dublin of the 2010 period when the Irish Golden Dragon deflated. Garda Inspector Tidey connects an old, unsolved murder of a low level gangster with the current murder of a wealthy banker. A recently released prison convict is working with his brother and several others to pull a faultless armored car robbery. The cases coincide making Tidey's life hell and displaying excellent writing. Kerrigan is for those readers of Bruen, Rankin, Declan Burke, Malcolm Mackay and Adrian McGinty. Read and Enjoy!

Monday, April 6, 2020

#17 COVID-19 and Reading

#17     Covid-19 and Reading

So what's a YOLD guy ( Young Old--between the ages of 65-75) gonna do when in shut-down, confinement, stay-at-home going into a fourth week? Well, he can exercise so it's a 1-3 hour hike each day, he can do chores like spraying under the deck to kill carpenter ants, and he can digitize the last 5,000 35mm color slides dating back to 1977. And he can read, even if the library is closed. I mean I have 1880 books that are not converting into sales, so why not read some. What's been good as a Covid-19 read?

Four books for enjoyable reading begin with an ARC(Advanced Review Copy) of a book that will be published 04/14/2020." The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Race, Wealth, and Power" by Deirdre Mask is her debut and it presents a deeply researched history of the power of street names, location, as well as how street layout was determined. She reviews the Roman and early English developments on grid layout and ad hoc arrangement that is totally confusing and then looks at the power of naming and numbering streets and buildings in Vienna, Philadelphia and South Korea. Particularly interesting is her view of power following the Nazi rise in street naming in Berlin and what followed the defeat to those names. She explores this same issue in post-revolutionary Tehran , post Civil War Florida, St. Louis and South Africa following the end of apartheid. The book ends with a look at the effect of street names on homeless people. This book is all a reader would want to know on an obscure subject.

"Sports Illustrated Fifty Years of Great Writing" is exactly as billed collecting the best of 1954 to 2004 for a Fiftieth Anniversary Big Book. This is not for reading cover to cover but more for dipping in and reading an essay or two. And it's not presumptuous to say every reading will expose a great writer like Frank Deford, Roy Blount Jr., Robert Creamer, Dan Jenkins, Roger Kahn, Budd Schulberg, Thomas McGuane and George Plimpton. But who would have expected authors like John Steinbeck, William Faulkner, Wallace Stegner, and Jim Harrison contributed to SI? This is a book to cherish for the long haul especially with no live sports on the horizon.

A third book was a re-read especially after attending a February Loveland Symphony Orchestra 250th birthday salute concert to Ludwig Beethoven. I re-opened Edward Dusinberre's "Beethoven for a Later Age: Living With the String Quartets" and enjoyed the book all over again. Dusinberre, the first violinist since 1993 of the world-class Takacz Quartet , now based in Boulder at the University of Colorado, blends his story from audition to the quartet to working with three other fantastic musicians, originally from Hungary, as they learn and perform Beethoven's string quartets, deal with a brutal travel and performance schedule, illness and death. This real life view of an elite musical operation is matched with Dusinberre's vivid re-telling the drama in Beethoven's life as deafness took over, Napoleon's armies repeatedly entered Vienna, and no one would pay Beethoven the agreed upon money for his compositions and concerts.This book is really special if you enjoy classical music.

The fourth book is a new classic and a most timely book, "Station Eleven" by Emily St. John Mandel. This book , a Finalist for the 2014 National Book Award, is a time-shifting tale that begins with the death by heart attack of a famous film actor on the Toronto stage of King Lear as witnessed by a child actor, nine year old Kirsten and Jeevan, a paramedic who tries unsuccessfully to resuscitate the actor. Their three stories intertwine as a worldwide pandemic begins that night from a Georgian Flu and The Collapse of civilization follows. Fifteen years later Kristen is travelling what's left of the coastal areas of the Great Lakes in Michigan with a troupe of musicians and Shakespearean actors in their horse-drawn caravan as their stories again intertwine in very surprising ways.In some ways this is a difficult book to read right now, but the author is a terrific storyteller.



Sunday, February 9, 2020

#16---Late 2019, Early 2020 Stuff to Read

So the last few months have been very conducive to some serious reading and you might be wondering, what's worth the effort? "Backstage Past" by entrepreneur and promoter Barry Fey fills the bill. Fey (1938-2013) lived a much bigger than life, fighting constantly with SOBs like Bill Graham while introducing acts like Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix' last US concert, U2's Under a Blood Red Sky at Red Rocks, etc.This book captures that rock history from 1965 to 2000. Fey was no stranger to controversy and he tells his side vociferously, profanely and usually humorously. He provides lists of musicians, politicians, and business people he hated and loved as well as hundreds of photos of the rock legends that played his concerts, ate his barbeque and steaks and made him a legend.

JP Gritton's debut "Wyoming" is equal parts Daniel Woodrell, Annie Proulx, and Frank Bill and that's very good. It’s 1988 and Shelley Cooper is in trouble. He’s broke, he’s been fired from his construction job, and his ex-wife has left him for their next door neighbor and a new life in Kansas City. The only opportunity on his horizon is fifty pounds of his brother’s high-grade marijuana, which needs to be driven from Colorado to Houston and exchanged for a lockbox full of cash. The delivery goes off without a hitch, but getting home with the money proves to be a different challenge altogether. Fueled by a grab bag of resentments and self punishment, Shelley becomes a case study in the question of whether it’s possible to live without accepting yourself, and the dope money is the key to a lock he might never find.

Timothy Egan's latest "A Pilgrimage to Eternity" is equal parts travelog and philosophical, theological and psychological study as he walks, buses, car rides but never flies on the Via Francigena, a 1,000 mile journey from Canterbury Cathedral, England through France and Switzerland to Vatican City. Pilgrimaging by himself except for short stints with his son, daughter and wife, Egan faces his difficult history with the Roman Catholic church while he faces death in his family. The book is a fascinating trip through history and current headlines as Egan faces mortality, splendor, fellow pilgrims and a possible visit with the Pope.

The final book under consideration is one with some current controversy. "American Dirt" by Jeanine Cummins was read as an Advanced Review Copy several months before publication. I would recommend it unreservedly as a novel of great writing and current impact. Lydia Quixano Perez owns a small bookstore in Acapulco, has an 8 year old son Luca and is happily married to journalist Sebastian. The opening pages of the book are absolutely stunning as her life changes forever and she must escape with her son, walking and riding The Beast, railway boxcar roofs from Acapulco to Denver while their lives could end instantly. This is one book that demands non-stop reading! 

So to the controversy-- author Cummins was to be in Denver a week ago for a reading at the Tattered Cover bookstore and I was ready to drive down. She had received an Oprah's book club choice and many other accolades pre-publication, a big forward payment, etc. but the week before her publisher had cancelled the balance of her national tour because of fear for her safety. She was criticized for writing this book-- a research and writing project that took 4 years of her life-- as she wrote , not as a Mexican national, but as a white woman(with a Puerto Rican grandmother) and had received all the adulation. My sense of this is just as Shakespeare wrote about women-Juliet,the daughters of King Lear, Portia and Jessica in the Merchant of Venice,etc., Cummins had every right to research and write her book and if political correctness enters 2020 and her safety and the publication of her book are jeopardized, it's one more bad thing.   (I step down from my Soapbox). Enjoy!

Saturday, November 9, 2019

#15--Second Half Wrap-up for 2019- new Sallis, Krueger and other really good stuff to read

In addition to selling, moving from our house of 26 years into another Loveland patio home this summer which involved a lot of recycling, selling stuff, and getting rid of unnecessaries as well as packing Longs Peak Book Company into 105 banker's boxes weighing 40 to 60 pounds each and moving all of that up 10 steps and down 16 into the new house, I've been reading. And what's worthy of your and my time and effort?

As I've said before, any year that brings a new book from James Sallis is, by definition, a good year. Sallis, author of the cult novel Drive and many other books of mystery, translation, poetry and essay brought two into 2019. Difficult Lives, originally published in 1993 and now republished with Hitching Rides are Sallis' seminal essays celebrating and explaining the earlier giants of noir fiction Chester Himes, David Goodis and Jim Thompson who,it could be said were Sallis' creative "fathers." These giants of fiction are joined with contemporary noir writers,some well-known, some unknown in the second half of the book, Hitching Rides. Sallis wrote introductory essays for novels by James Lee Burke, Patricia Highsmith, Paco Taibo, George Pelecanos, Charles Willeford and Shirley Jackson as well as Gerald Kersh, Boris Vian, and Jean-Patrick Manchette. Read this and better understand Noir.

Sallis' new novel for 2019 Sarah Jane is a tour-de-force as told through the eyes and voice of a young woman who lives in the rural South, had a tough childhood and made some bad choices that led to a court-ordered military stint. Then she's back waitressing, recovering from a bad marriage, and learning about law enforcement when she's thrust into the role of sheriff when her boss disappears. As she goes through her daily business she investigates the mystery of this and the impact on the community and her.

An Advanced Review Copy(ARC) I received and read will be published 02/04/2020 and is entitled A Good Neighborhood by best-selling novelist Therese Anne Fowler. An ecology professor at a North Carolina university lives with her bi-racial son in the title neighborhood and all is good as her son finishes his high school career and prepares to go as a scholarship student to California to continue his study as a classical guitarist. New neighbors move in to a scrape-off, mcmansion next door with a in-ground swimming pool that threatens the roots and life of the professor's beloved, historic oak tree. Then the teenage daughter of the new neighbors begins a relationship with the boy next door and modern life and culture intercede.

William Kent Krueger offers another winning stand-alone novel apart from his Cork O'Connell police-procedural series and his previous award winner, Ordinary Grace. This Tender Land is set in 1932 south-central Minnesota as two white brothers, 8 year old Odie, the book's narrator, and 12 year old Albert are orphaned and sent to the Lincoln Indian Training School, which is equal parts concentration and labor camp for area farmers. Their horrible experience with the woman who runs the school and a sadistic teacher forces the boys to escape with a Sioux boy and a 4 year old girl whose mother was killed in a tornado. The plan is to take a stolen canoe down the Gilead and Minnesota Rivers into the Mississippi and get to St. Louis where the brothers have a relative who might care for them. If this sounds like Huck Finn, it is intentional but carried off brilliantly by Krueger who peoples the book with fascinating characters and detail about life during the Depression.

My final book under consideration is The Push:A Climber's Journey of Endurance, Risk, and Going Beyond Limits written by world-class mountain climber, Tommy Caldwell. Having seen the multi-award winning movie Dawn Wall several times and met the climber-author Caldwell, I felt compelled to read his memoir about his life before, during preparation and the actual climb and afterwards.And I'm very glad I did! This book goes so much beyond the film to explore his life, psyche, training, challenges, triumphs and failures. Actually, the movie, first and the book,second make a great package as Caldwell and some assistant writers and editors really lay out the challenge of attacking something no one ever thought was possible and working for 7 long years to plan, attempt, fail and eventually succeed. This book is THE REAL DEAL!!!

Thursday, May 23, 2019

#14-- So, what's good in 2019?

During the past 5 months I've had opportunity to read about 10 books, some read about 50 pages and closed and seven read to conclusion. Life's too short to read more than 50 pages if it's a struggle and since no one's paying you to complete the book, close it and move on. You've got my permission.

The 7 that I read start to finish are a mix of fiction and non-fiction so let's get cracking...covers. Two by novelist Lou Berney are definite keepers. November Road won a bunch of awards and was included on many Best of 2018 lists as Berney introduces Frank Guidry, a lieutenant and fixer for New Orleans crime boss, Carlos Marcello. Guidry is sent to Dallas in October 1963 to take care of a small task, but after November 22 and the Crime of the Century-- the murder of JFK, Guidry sees that members of Marcello's gang are turning up dead and he will be next. He takes off for Vegas and an acquaintance who hates Marcello and might protect him, but he runs across a young woman with a broken down car, two daughters and a dog alongside the road. Guidry plots how he can use this situation to mask himself as a "family man" from his hunters by promising to get her a new car in Vegas so she can continue her escape to California from a bad marriage in Oklahoma. Love intercedes but the inevitable does as well.

An earlier novel of Berney's, The Long and Faraway Gone, another award winner including an EDGAR, introduces Wyatt, a private investigator in Vegas, who returns to his hometown, Oklahoma City, where 25 years earlier in 1986, he was the lone survivor of a movie house massacre in which six of his co-workers were shot by robbers. The case he's sent to investigate keeps pulling him back into the movie house murders while his path crosses a woman who lost her older sister to a kidnapper at the state fair that same year. Can their two investigations help them heal or is this another disaster about to happen.

Bruce Berger, a concert pianist and essayist in the style of John McPhee, Mark Twain and Joan Didion, offers his best in a collection titled A Desert Harvest: New and Selected Essays. These are some very short, a page or two, while others are 28-30 pages long. What unites them are Berger's writing style which is excellent and the location of them-- the American Southwest and the Mexican Baja region. These are not current, they are set 20 to 40 years ago and capture a place in time that was not as currently glitzy and tourist obsessed.

One of the best novels I've read in a long time is a debut effort and another EDGAR winner  James A McLaughlin called Bearskin. Rice Moore has re-located from the Arizona deserts to Appalachia of western Virginia as he has escaped Mexican prison and the drug cartel that put him there. He now has a new name and a job as caretaker of a wilderness preserve repairing fences, cabins and counting species in the old growth forest. But bear carcasses in his forest introduce him to local law,poachers and local toughs, motorcycle gangs and some very bad people from his past as well as a university professor who was his predecessor at the reserve..

Black Klansman: A Memoir by Ron Stallworth is his story set in 1968 when he was hired as the first African American police officer in a very segregated Colorado Springs. He served his rookie time in records and property but came into his own when he was asked to go undercover into the Black Power community. He expanded his role in police work when he became involved with the Ku Klux Klan that was seeking to expand in Colorado Springs and especially at the military bases in the area. The book reads very matter-of-factly about his work which was sensationalized in the Spike Lee film last year. When asked about his role in creating the film, author Stallworth rolled his eyes, smiled and said nothing, since his book stands on its own.

If you ever read James Grady's debut novel Six Days of the Condor(1974) or saw the Pollack/Redford movie, you might have wondered what happened next to Malcolm aka Condor. Grady has answered your question with the recently published Condor: The Short Takes which collects 5 Condor stories previously published in fairly obscure journals and adds a lengthy novella about Russian entanglements with Condor.

And the final book I enjoyed in my five months of reading is the final book by author Philip Kerr, Metropolis, the 14th in his great Bernie Gunther series. The book also is the introduction to Bernie Gunther as he is taken from regular police work onto the Murder Wagon as a serial killer is murdering prostitutes and scalping them. The police are befuddled as killings of World War l veterans and amputees begins to spread in 1928 Berlin as well and Hitler is moving into the political scene and Berlin is wide open to all deviant behavior. Kerr will be missed.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

#13 Year-end wrap-up: Read Something Good in 2019

#13           Year-end wrap-up: Read Something Good in 2019

So the dark, cold days of December being a reason to drink apple cider and bourbon, eggnog with bourbon and pretty much anything else with bourbon is also a reason to Read, Read , Read.So what's been in front of my eyes since late summer? Several new books from a favorite author William Shaw are worthy of your reading time. "Sympathy for the Devil" is the fourth Breen & Tozer police procedural in a series that places these two police officers in Swingin'London of the mid-1960s, the times of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. It's 1969 and Brian Jones body is mysteriously found in his swimming pool and a prostitute, Julie Teenager, is found horribly murdered in her apartment elevator shaft. Cathal "Paddy" Breen is working the second case while his girlfriend, Helen Tozer, is in her ninth month of pregnancy and very frustrated that she can't be out doing police investigation, especially in the first case.The story captures the times most vividly as drugs, rock 'n roll lead to fame, money and sordid living.

A second book in a second series that Shaw has going is also a winner. "Salt Lane" is the first in series that presents Detective Sergeant Alex Cupidi transferred for cause from the Metropolitan Police in London to the southern coast near Kent. She was introduced in "The Birdwatcher" which is excellent but really comes into her own in this book. Her teen daughter is still not in love with rural England and Alex's strong-willed mother has moved down to help out. A drowning of a foreign man in a slurry tank is deemed a murder that sends Cupidi and her rookie constable Jill Ferriter into illegal, migrant laborers working in orchards and farms. A second murder resurrects some of Cupidi's past mistakes and liaisons to offer her help.

Another series that I enjoyed these past months are the three books by LA author Joe Ide that introduce and develop Isaiah Quintabe, a 26 year old black man living and working in East Long Beach. The three books--IQ, Righteous and Wrecked- are a unit as IQ works as a private detective in his community accepting ugly sweaters, live chickens, whatever his neighbors can pay to solve petty and big crimes and losses. IQ works by observing what others miss and by logically thinking through the facts and conjecture. He lost his older brother in a traffic accident and as the three novels develop, he investigates this as a murder while he gains a partner, Dodson, and a female friend. This is a series not to be missed by lovers of Sherlock Holmes and Watson..

Two standalone novels that I enjoyed are "The Dark Lake" by Sarah Bailey and "The Bomb Maker" by Thomas Perry. Bailey's debut is set in the Australian Outback about 4 hours from Sydney in a well-established agricultural community, Smithson. A body is discovered in a lake near the high school where a popular drama teacher debuted a play based on Romeo & Juliet.The body is the teacher, Rosalind Ryan, who was a very glamorous and successful student at the high school 10 years before.And investigating the murder is Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock, who was a classmate and admirer of Ryans back in the day. Suspects are plentiful both from the past and the present as DS Woodstock works through a very uncomfortable case.

Perry's "The Bomb Maker" is a stunner as an un-named  man creates incredibly complicated  mixes of chemicals to build huge bombs and plants them around Los Angeles. His first effort kills 7 of 14 members of the police bomb squad and he has many other locations, ways to hide, control and detonate bombs in the valley. Complicating his work is his unexplained alliance with an un-named terrorist cell that wants to attack LA. Combatting this is a free-lance investigator  who is brought back by the LAPD to manage the bomb squad and forms more than a working alliance with a young woman who is on the squad. Characterization may suffer somewhat but if one wants very high octane adventure and massive information on making and dismantling bombs that can take down square miles, this is the book. Happy New Year! and Happy Reading.


Saturday, August 18, 2018

#12 A Summer's Reading

#12 A Summer's Reading

One of the great rewards of retirement is plenty of time for reading, especially when and where one wants to read. It's been kind of toasty this June through August in northern Colorado so the afternoons are a great place, after morning chores and 2 hours of  racquetball to settle in for some serious reading. This is the pattern which sets up well for a half-hour-no more, no less-resting of the eyes, nap. So what's been good?

In non-fiction, seriously read upstairs in the living room, I've enjoyed Ali: A Life, a mammoth recording of Muhammed Ali/ Cassius Marcellus Clay, jr.'s life from his ancestors to birth in 1942,  through schooling in Louisville KY to the 1960 Rome Olympics, and professional career that should have ended in 1971 but went for 61 professional fights until a 1981 loss and a 1984 diagnosis of Parkinson's Disease and death in 2016. Eig researched Ali thoroughly talking to over 400 people around the Champion, and his book reads very smoothly covering the years and events of the Civil Rights era, the Vietnam war, Black Power movement and Elijah Muhammed and the Nation of Islam in Chicago,etc. But Ali was tough on women, his wives and many hangers on. That was a part of him that was less than successful.

Two books by Simon Winchester, a Brit now living in the US, were also very entertaining and challenging. The Surgeon of Crowthorne (also published as The Professor and the Madman) is the story of  Dr. W C Minor, a surgeon in the US Army during the Civil War, who after leaving service a broken man, travels to London and murders a man, is sentenced to an insane asylum neighboring Windsor Castle and the Queen for life. End of story? No, his story in England crosses that of an Oxford professor who was instrumental in the creation of the multi-volume, multi-year project, the collection, verification and publishing of the Oxford English Dictionary. Their lives crossed as Minor contributed the largest collection of words and sources to the dictionary and he and Professor Murray became friends.

The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World, his latest book, presents the fascinating tale of how life has been impacted by accuracy and precision. Beginning with the early years of the Industrial Revolution in 1776, Winchester introduces the leaky steam boiler and driven piston of Watts steam engine as being hopelessly inefficient. Another Englishman, Henry Wilkinson, modified his cannon-boring equipment to drill the first precision piston engine that really began the revolution. Winchester follows with the parallel histories of the establishment of the Rolls Royce Silver Phantom and Ford Model T as two sides of precision engineering and manufacturing diverging as to cost and comfort.Winchester also explores the development of GPS, smart phones, jet engine blades, the Hubble Space Telescope, the LIGO gravity wave apparatus and the future to humanity of Precision. This is very interesting stuff.