Friday, July 3, 2015

Book Club: season whatever-this-is

Previously on Book Club, we saw our faithful readers devouring works of science fiction, memoirs, and classics.

In recent days, the randomness has continued, with the only trends being:

- Books that satisfied various Book Bingo requirements (two of us are Bingo-ing fanatics)

- This Western genre thing we’ve been doing recently

Here's our list since the last update:

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak  

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt   

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury   

Shopgirl by Steve Martin

White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

Songbook by Nick Hornby

Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey

Shane by Jack Schaeffer

Some of them I loved, loved, loved. (The Book Thief, The Sisters Brothers, and Shane... I'm looking at you.)

Some of them I liked quite well. (Songbook and Fahrenheit 451)

Some of them... I made it through. (Shopgirl [I wanted to like it, really, I did] and White Tiger [the narrator just wouldn't shut up!] and Riders of the Purple Sage [which I liked better when I read it back in library school])

On our next episode... the group discusses Hondo by Louis L’Amour. 

The suspense builds... How will L'Amour's writing stand up against Grey's prose? How will his plot compare with the perfect tension of Shane?

Tune in next time...

Friday, June 26, 2015

Spies & lies

All the Old Knives by Olen Steinhauer
3 terms: twisty, quick, clever

Think: Gone Girl. Then add international spies.

And that’ll give you this tantalizing little espionage thriller—a book I challenge you not to race through.

This story has the highest number of lies-per-page of anything I’ve read in recent history. The thing’ll keep you guessing.

The set-up is this: a man and a woman—ex-lovers—meet for dinner, some years after the woman left the CIA, where they had both worked as spies. So they’re both adept at the lying, spying game, but wow! it gets pretty intense there. As they talk about the old days, this isn’t your usual story of exes reliving the past.

And the book is short—just 304 pages. So if spy books aren’t exactly your thing, you’re only in for a short time, and it’s totally worth it.

Twists and betrayals and surprises and “Who’s the good guy here?” 

Perfect for a stormy summer day. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Flight the Wright way

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough

3 words: triumphant, character-driven, family

David McCullough is one of my guys. Two of his books appear in my blog banner, which I realized only when I was reading his latest, about the Wright brothers.

(courtesy of Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division)
Me and Wilbur and Orville, we go back a ways, too. 

For years, I’ve gotten all misty-eyed and boring at cocktail parties* every December 17, because I regale anyone within earshot with the news that it’s the umpteenth anniversary of the first powered flight. 

I say the words “Kitty Hawk” and “Kill Devil Hills.” 

I say the words “muslin-covered wings” and “wind tunnel.” 

I speak in awestruck tones about seeing the Wright Flyer at the Air and Space Museum.

I’m seriously the life of any party.

So this book had me all in a flutter. The flutter was worth the while.

McCullough is a wonderfully comforting writer, who is a master of his craft. His sentences just flow.

The other thing that makes him comforting is that he tends to tell the heroic stories, in a tone that’s relatively wart-free. He’s not out to tell how the Wright’s competitors tried to make them out as mean-spirited moneygrubbers whose protection of their patents bordered on the obsessive.

No, this book is about their hard work and their triumph. And it’s very much about their personalities and their family.

Neither man married, and they lived with their father and sister. Which sounds kind of horrid, except that it sounds like they had rather a happy home life.

And they were quiet fellows who largely kept to themselves, at least until fame struck.

So there are quiet, wonderful moments like this one, when Wilbur was about to take off on a demo flight in France:
“Finally, at six-thirty, with dusk settling, Wilbur turned his cap backward, and to Berg, BolĂ©e, and the others said quietly, ‘Gentlemen, I’m going to fly.’” (p. 170)   

Reading those words made me stop and clap a hand against the center of my chest and do the heartstruck look.

So, yeah.

McCullough is a pleasant, talented author, and he’s writing about these quirky fellows whom he finds pleasant and talented himself, so it’s a whirlwind of goodness.

And despite the theme of flight, McCullough keeps it down to earth:
“Their nephew Milton, who as a boy was often hanging about the brothers, would one day write, “History was being made in their bicycle shop and in their home, but the making was so obscured by the commonplace that I did not recognize it until many years later.’” (p 113)

Warm, heroic, and stoic.

*I avoid cocktail parties like the plague. But anywhere else I am, I bore people with this December 17 business. Avoid me on that date.