Books that Sneak into Our Hearts…

Those who read know what I am speaking of when I say a book has sneaked into my heart…those who do not read…have my sympathies….

Rivers Parting by Shirley Barker (image courtesy Amazon)

I read -rather, I reread – a book over the holiday break. It is a book that I mentioned in conjunction with an essay on a much more successful book, a book that I found a combination of pretentiousness and mediocre writing. As a  contrast to that book, the much ballyhooed dreck Cold Mountain, I used the book, a historical novel about colonial New Hampshire called Rivers Parting as an example of a historical novel that is both well written and that does not pretend to false grandeur.

I first read the novel about 40 years ago ( I have shared the background about how I came to possess a copy of this work in the Cold Mountain essay linked above.) and I have read it a half dozen times since. What brings me back to this novel, that even I would grudgingly admit is a typical example of the middle brow literature that enjoyed great popularity through the middle third of the last century? The same things that attract me so often to the highest brow literature: engrossing characterization and memorable writing. Continue reading

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A Sweetness to the Soul: Which Matters – the Novel or the History?

Jane Kirkpatrick’s historical novel A Sweetness to the Soul does a fine job of giving the reader historical information about Oregon pioneers in the second half of the 20th century; it struggles, however, with whether it wants to be a novel or history….

A Sweetness to the Soul by Jane Kirkpatrick (image courtesy Goodreads)

The first book from the 2016 reading list is a historical novel from one of our many bookshelves, a book that my Carol asked me to read. A Sweetness to the Soul details the lives of an Oregon pioneer couple during the latter half of the 19th century. As with most historical novels it is long (though it covers only the lifetime of one generation) and it offers a mix of historical fact and fiction. As one would expect with a novel set in the 19th century West, Native Americans, Chinese immigrants, and Hispanics play significant roles in the narrative. Interestingly, since this novel relies on historical accuracy, there is almost none of the “traditional” sort of violence one associates with Westerns. There are, however, the sorts of natural disasters one expects for  pioneers living in a wilderness: forest fires, floods, and blizzards.

This is a novel of pioneer life, accurate and eventful, that nonetheless readers will find echoes the frontier life of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s work more than that of  Zane Grey. Continue reading

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The 2016 Reading List – Finally…

An old PSA from the sixties told us that reading was “fun!-damental” – for me, despite whatever other demands tug at my time, reading is absolute necessity….

Most dogs do not wear glasses when they read (image courtesy Reading Stock Photos and Images)

As I have written recently, my reading time has been somewhat curtailed. I have some new administrative responsibilities with the university where I teach (and my latest book to finish) and so have made the decision to shorten my reading list. I suspect I have cut the list too drastically, but better to be cautious than to overreach, I think. I also want to leave plenty of space for books I am asked to review. Then, too, I hope that I’ll be asked to review some books. :-)

So here in all its glorious brevity is a kinda sorta eclectic list of books I’ll be reading this year. As you’d expect and despite my best intentions, it’s literary fiction heavy. But it has some variety – and as the year goes on, there’ll likely be some additions. Stay tuned… Continue reading

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Rivers Run Through It…North Carolina’s Rivers: Facts, Legends, and Lore…

John Hairr’s North Carolina Rivers is part reference book, part history, part guidebook. What it is not is particularly engaging….

North Carolina Rivers by John Hairr (image courtesy Goodreads)

While I haven’t completed my book list for 2016, I will say a couple of things about it for those who have any interest in such things: it will be considerably shorter (12 books – to allow room for the numerous reviews I am asked to do and to allow me some writing time for completing my latest book), and it will focus on no particular area as the 2015 reading list did.

That said, we begin 2016 with a book I picked randomly from one of our many groaning bookshelves. In an effort to get away from my penchant for reading fiction, particularly literary fiction, I chose what I thought would be an interesting read for a dedicated fly angler: North Carolina Rivers: Facts, Legends, and Lore by John Hairr.

Hairr’s book might be thought of as part reference book, as part guide book, as part informal history of the rivers – and the river systems in North Carolina. It is trying to be all these things, perhaps, that causes North Carolina Rivers to be problematic for readers. Continue reading

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The New Southern Gentleman: Successful Failure

The New Southern Gentleman tries to use the methods of what is called “dirty realism” to examine a very different sort of character: the privileged upper class Southerner. It succeeds in doing that – it fails in igniting a meaningful discussion about how little difference there is between lower class Southerners and those whom those Southerners see as their “Betters.”

The New Southern Gentleman by Jim Booth (image courtesy of Read North Carolina Novels)

As we end 2015 – and as I prepare to change my approach to my infamous reading lists project (mainly due to circumstances beyond my control) – I have decided to indulge myself by writing an essay about my first book – the novel The New Southern Gentleman.  I have wanted to write about NSG for a long time (the novel appeared in 2002), but two factors have deterred me:

1) I am terrible at that thing so valued on the Interwebs called self-promotion. Publicly discussing my work is uncomfortable for me unless I am in a forum to which I have been invited for that express purpose. I am happy to discuss the works of others, reluctant to discuss my own. This is not the path to fame and fortune, dear reader. Avoid it if you can.

2) In the Age of Social Media, I doubt seriously that anything I have to say will make any impression on anyone other than family, friends, and my colleagues at the blogs (here and here) where I write about books and writing. This is the truth about social media: social media are primarily vehicles for those who crave and demand attention for – well, sometimes it seems for every act they engage in, every belief they hold dear, every idea they agree/disagree with. They are more like party conversations than anything else.

Again, as you may have discerned from #1, that is not I.

Still, the urge to discuss my work has welled up within me strongly enough to make me write this essay. I ask your indulgence. I’ll get back to touting other writers in my next outing. Continue reading

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Persuasion: Jane Austen Looking to the Future…

In Persuasion Jane Austen looks forward to where the novel must go – and suggests a path for her successors to follow….

Persuasion by Jane Austen (image courtesy Goodreads)

My last Austen essay – on my favorite Austen novel.

My laptop died about ten days ago. Luckily this came at the end of the academic term so I had finished my classes. Unluckily, this occurred at the beginning of my holiday vacation time. In the holiday rush of shopping, cooking, gatherings, etc., I lost the thread on writing of all sorts as is wont to happen this time of year. Coming as this did on the heels of the busyness of the end of the academic term, I now find myself woefully behind on writing that I have meant to do this month.

Thus it is that I find myself far nearer the end of the year as I begin this last round of essays on works I have read (or in this case re-read for perhaps the, oh, I don’t know, 15th time?). This does not reduce my pleasure in writing about Persuasion: indeed, it probably enhances it.

Yes, I am one of those people who saves the cherry on the sundae until last. Continue reading

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Book Review: When Giraffes Flew by Jeff Weddle

Jeff Weddle’s stories explore that interesting turf where life’s sweet ordinariness meets the sometimes sinister, sometimes scary, always striking truth: life is strange and inexplicable.

When Giraffes Flew by Jeff Weddle (image courtesy Goodreads)

Jeff Weddle’s new collection of stories, When Giraffes Flew, is one of those short story collections that is hard to describe. The stories hang together thematically and stylistically even as they range from children witnessing horrific accidents to – well, giraffes attaining the ability to fly.

The stories range in length from longish short stories (“Dog Day,” “Bonnie and Clyde,” “Showdown at the 7-Eleven”) to flash pieces (“The Night Before,” “Test Day”). Through all these stories Weddle explores how the ordinary and the strange co-exist in life and how the one can veer into the other with surprising ease. One will be reminded at times of Harry Crews, at times of Richard Ford, at times of David Lynch. Pretty good company for any writer to find himself in.

Continue reading

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