Friday, June 26, 2009
I’m really quite adoring of Craig Johnson. I mean, truly. It appears he cannot write a bad book.
When I saw reviews of this one in review journals, they had stars next to them, and one was in a box with a star (high praise, indeed)—and I averted my eyes so the plot wouldn’t be blown. (I swear: some reviewers tell as much of the story as doggone movie trailers do. Why bother with the book/movie after learning too much too soon?)
Here we find Walt Longmire in a funk once again—he misses his daughter, who has returned to her life out East; he is facing a challenge in the upcoming election for sheriff; and he suspects the innocence of the woman transferred to his jail.
So he decides to take action in finding out the true story behind the jailed woman’s claim that she killed her husband, which takes him on an occasionally amusing, occasionally gasp-worthy, undercover mission to the next county.
Walt’s on his home turf here—near the ranch where he grew up and which he still owns but rarely visits. It’s located in a mean little place that seems to be peopled with plenty of wretchedly nasty folks—and a few decent people with interesting flaws. I can see these secondary characters, and that doesn’t always happen.
For fans of Walt’s friend Henry and undersheriff Vic (and those who enjoy the tension between her and Walt), we’ll have to wait until the next book to see a little more of them. I think both are terrific, but it was kind of nice to see Walt going it alone a little bit more in this book.
And Henry did what needed to be done: he set up Walt to exorcise his demons again in this book, in an episode I saw coming but hoped (did I really?) could be avoided. (All that testosterone. In a novel, it’s a very good thing.)
In this 5th book in the series, Johnson’s keeping it real. Walt’s narration is as wry as ever. Here’s one sentence about Walt traveling with his dog, which made smile right out loud:
"I locked the car, set the alarm so that it wouldn’t go off with movement inside, took a deep breath, and told Dog not to play with the radio; it was our joke—he knew he could play with the radio if he wanted." (p. 51)
Walt’s voice is the most delightful I can name. Truly unbeatable.
Friday, June 19, 2009
First, here are two I cannot recommend:
A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis
Warning: This is a brutally honest book, and Lewis does not pull his punches. His grief was so raw as he was writing, that it is agonizing to read. I confess that I was rather traumatized while (and after) reading this book. Lewis gives us some difficult truths about Christianity and life after death—and I believe he is trustworthy— and it’s not comforting. It just isn’t.
This book looks innocent: it’s a slim volume by a man best-known for The Chronicles of Narnia. But I tell you: steer clear unless you have a stout heart. He does not aim to comfort.
Letting Go with Love: The Grieving Process by Nancy O’Connor
This book made me mad. (I’m using polite language here. It really actually made me something rather stronger than “mad,” but I’m refraining from using the language that nearly aches to burst forth.) Here’s why: I turned to the section about losing a parent, and the author suggests that since losing a parent is not as difficult as other losses. Hmmph. I put the book down right there and hauled it back to the library directly. So there.
Now, on to the good ones:
On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler
Calm, soothing, and reassuring. This book is beautiful. Kubler-Ross is famous as the author of the book On Death and Dying, which introduced the now well-known five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The authors explain the importance of mourning, crying, and anger—and how, without them, a person cannot heal after the loss of a loved one. This information alone is terribly comforting.
They acknowledge that the stage of “acceptance” does not mean that a person “is OK” with a loss, but instead that one accepts that life will never be the same. And they describe the way one may be “haunted” by a loss—by having traumatic memories of a loved one’s suffering, for example.
Every word is true, every word is thoughtful, and every word is kind. This is a good book. It is my top book recommendation on this topic.
When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold S. Kushner
In this wonderful book, Rabbi Harold Kushner addresses the sense of perplexed abandonment and anger that a person feels upon experiencing a loss. He writes from experience: his son had a debilitating medical condition that cut his life very short.
The main strength of this book is that it helps make sense of the senseless.
Kushner posits that when bad things happen to good people, we are faced with a conundrum:
either God is all good, or God is all powerful—but God cannot be both.
If God were both all good and all powerful, how could such terrible things happen? It doesn’t make sense. Kushner’s suggestion is that God is indeed entirely good, but is not always all powerful.
This can be a difficult idea to swallow, especially when a person of faith considers all she has been taught about God’s omnipotence. But when our feeble little selves are faced with situations that make absolutely no sense, what else can a person do? I’ve determined that it’s more comforting to believe that God is loving and unable to help in all situations, than to believe otherwise.
What to Do When a Loved One Dies: A Practical and Compassionate Guide to Dealing with Death on Life’s Terms by Eva Shaw
This book’s title is accurate; the book is both practical and compassionate. Thank goodness for such books.
It is filled with information that I found helpful and comforting—about how to approach holidays and anniversaries, what to expect during the weeks and months following the death of a loved one (with specific sections that deal with the loss of a parent, child, spouse, etc.), and suggestions for actions one can take when dealing with grief.
This book also includes information about all kinds of topics such as making funeral arrangements and preparing for the loss of a loved one who has a terminal illness. (Though, frankly, I confess that it never occurred to me to read a book about these things during such a time, when one is flailing merely to make it through each day.)
This book has a detailed table of contents, which I really appreciate; it allows a person to go directly to the topics that are most relevant.
The things that I find most comforting about this book are its honesty about what to expect, its gentle tone, and its simple statements that match exactly what I have been experiencing. Especially when one reaches the point at which others think one should be “over it,” it can feel terribly lonely; reading this book makes me feel understood and accepted.
Healing the Adult Child’s Grieving Heart: 100 Practical Ideas after Your Parent Dies by Alan D. Wolfelt
A gentle, comforting guide that offers simple, distinct things a person can do when grieving the loss of a parent. Not all tips are right for all people, but there is plenty here to help a person who is mourning.
These steps allow (encourage) a person to move through grief in a healthy way—acknowledging it and letting it happen. This book is helpful in suggesting specific things a person can do, but it also provides a gentle way to learn about the importance of actually mourning a loss so one can learn to live with it.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
"One of my favorite sci-fi authors (Sharon Lee) has declared June 23rd Fantasy and Science Fiction Writers Day.
As she puts it:
So! In my Official Capacity as a writer of science fiction and fantasy, I hereby proclaim June 23 Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Day! A day of celebration and wonder! A day for all of us readers of science fiction and fantasy to reach out and say thank you to our favorite writers. A day, perhaps, to blog about our favorite sf/f writers. A day to reflect upon how written science fiction and fantasy has changed your life.
So … what might you do on the 23rd to celebrate? Do you even read fantasy/sci-fi? Why? Why not?"
And here's my answer:
Well, I've got a busy day on the 23rd, so I'm unlikely to do anything to celebrate SF and Fantasy Writers Day. Honestly! Who has the time?
But I digress... The question, before I got all snarky on it, was actually about science fiction and fantasy. And while I don't think of myself as much of a science fiction and fantasy reader, I'm intrigued when I think about "my most favoritest books ever," and the list always includes quite a few science fiction books. For example:
Saturday, June 13, 2009
The Booking Through Thursday question this week is:
"There are certain types of books that I more or less assume all readers read. (Novels, for example.)
But then there are books that only YOU read. Instructional manuals for fly-fishing. How-to books for spinning yarn. How to cook the perfect souffle. Rebuilding car engines in three easy steps. Dog training for dummies. Rewiring your house without electrocuting yourself. Tips on how to build a NASCAR course in your backyard. Stuff like that.
What niche books do YOU read?"
The stuff I love that might be considered "niche":
- quilting books (patterns, how-to, etc.)
- knitting books (ditto)
- gardening books (design, how-to)
- cookbooks (I'm not a regular reader of cookbooks, but sometimes I got through phases when I check out lots of them from the library and troll for new recipes)
- frugal-living books
- personal finance books
Friday, June 12, 2009
First, I need to tell you what appears at the end of this book, because I discovered it too darn late. The author provides a suggested playlist, which contains one song for each chapter of the book. I wish I’d’ve known! Lots of Elvis, of course, and also plenty of the Doors, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, CCR, and the Stones. OK. So now you know. Check out the playlist first.
This book’s approach is rather similar to the style of Adam Braver’s novel November 22, 1963: a story about real people—one of them the President of the United States—and here, also some fictitious people, over the course of a short period of time—a day or a few.
In this book, we have two wildly well-known paranoids meeting in the Oval Office—President Nixon, who once famously walked on the beach in dress shoes, and “Elvis the Pelvis,” whom the Ed Sullivan Show filmed above the waist only because of those gyrations. It’s one of those “Truth is stranger than fiction” moments. I’d’ve thought this book was pure fiction, except that I had read about this incident: Bud Krogh (on whom I have an enormous crush) writes about the actual event on his web site. (I tell you true: this is a link to check out.)
Lowy fleshes out several secondary characters and weaves their stories throughout the book (including an intriguing story line about a soldier involved in the My Lai massacre), but the part of the book that I liked best were the narrative threads about Elvis and the presidential aide who was to encounter him. (And to think this type of thing was happening in the Oval Office during my formative years. Egads.)
Friday, June 5, 2009
Buddy Holly: A Biography by Ellis Amburn
The Buddy Holly reading spree rages on. And today we have the book I liked best of the bunch. Here are the reasons why…
This book covers Buddy’s life in a way that feels comprehensive and satisfying. There are plenty of details about his teen years, background information about the recording of most of the songs, good coverage of the various tours, and interesting aspects of Buddy’s relationships with his family, friends, fellow musicians, and fans. The coverage of the Winter Dance Party tour is excellent, also. And the book’s got endnotes (love it!) and a good index.
The author interviewed hundreds of people, and it shows. In the Acknowledgments, he particularly thanks Maria Elena Holly (Buddy’s wife), Larry Holley (his older brother), Sonny Curtis (of the later Crickets), and Niki Sullivan (of the early Crickets) for their willingness to be interviewed in-depth. Here Buddy emerges as a real human being who felt conflicted about the disconnect between his religious upbringing and rock ’n’ roll, loved waterskiing, and had already begun to expand his career, at the young age of 22, to include producing records for artists he discovered and encouraged.
Buddy proposed to Maria Elena on their first date, and he meant it. He was a young man in a hurry. (He reminds me in this way of JFK, who also seemed to have that same sense that time is fleeting.) Ironically, in part, it was this hurriedness (combined with the dreadful bus trip that was the Winter Dance Party) that led him to charter the plane in which he died. Doggone it all. Author Amburn truly makes a Midwestern winter sound like an ice-cold-freezing version of hell itself, and a person really cannot blame those young men for wishing to flee from their umpteenth bus (they kept breaking down) of the trip, and to get their laundry done before the next show. Since reading this book, I have been haunted by guitarist Tommy Allsup’s words to the others on the bus when he delivered the news of the crash (which they heard only upon their arrival in Moorhead): “Boys, they didn’t make it.”
Oddly, it was while reading this book that I felt like Buddy Holly had never died (even though this event takes place on page 259 of a 422-page book). Thus is the author’s skill at making him a real person, and at revealing Buddy Holly’s influence on later generations of musicians.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
“This can be a quick one. Don’t take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you’ve read that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes.”
Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank
Young Men and Fire – Norman Maclean
A Wrinkle in Time – Madeleine L’Engle
Time and Again – Jack Finney
All the President’s Men – Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein
A Night to Remember – Walter Lord
Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
The Sparrow – Mary Doria Russell
The Beekeeper’s Apprentice – Laurie R. King
In the Lake of the Woods – Tim O’Brien
The Killer Angels – Michael Shaara
Happy All the Time – Laurie Colwin
Authentic Happiness – Martin Seligman
The Mystery at the Ski Jump (Nancy Drew mystery) – Carolyn Keene
Daddy Long Legs – Jean Webster
There's a surprising amount of nonfiction in the list, plus some childhood favorites.