Category Archives: Dusty Shelves

Theft by Finding

David Sedaris |  Nonfiction

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David Sedaris (Me Talk Pretty One Day and numerous others) decided to revisit his diaries, which he began in 1977.  Though the first few years were handwritten, when he printed off the digital diaries, he had 8 inches of paper to wade through!  Wow!  He decided to edit selected passages from his diaries into two books.  Theft by Finding is the first volume, 1977 through 2002.  The second volume (I cannot find the title) will cover 2003 – 2017.

I knew Sedaris had a rough start, but this book is depressing.  Drugs, poverty, and violence are much of the tale he tells.  I actually think he may have been better off if he didn’t self-edit his own diaries to create these books.  He seems obsessed with people who are differently abled ... in wheelchairs, sight-impaired, have acne scars, or who are mentally unstable.  He has an extraordinary number of stories about being approached for a cigarette or money by very angry people, and a whole trove of times he was assaulted on the streets of New York for appearing gay.

He has a proclivity for telling his life story with these depressing episodes.  About halfway though, he begins to mature, have success, and find love.  But the sum total of his relaying to us his experience of meeting Hugh is two short sentences, something like, “I met this cute guy, “ and “I think I am falling in love.”  I would have been much more engaged in this book if he were able to share more of his internal emotional experiences, and less of how he found abuse in the world.

Two-thirds of the way through (I kept reading because I AM interested in his long-term love with Hugh, and his success as a comedic and serious writer, and I wanted to read some of these entries), I realized this book was probably supposed to be funny sometimes.  Now, it is a character flaw on my part, I know.  I seldom find the written word funny.  You could read aloud to me from an amusing book and I would laugh.  But when I read the same words on paper, I don’t find them funny.  I laughed only once when reading Theft by Finding.

Theft by Finding depressed me, disappointed me, and was often confusing.  Actually, I suspect his second volume will be better, because his life will be less dire, but I don’t have the stomach for another Sedaris right now.  I even removed his newest book, Calypso, from my library list.  Sorry to say.

 

Truth or Dare

Jayne Ann Krentz |  Fiction

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I was camping for five days, so, yes, in addition to hiking, kayaking, and watercolor, I read two books.  Another blog post will follow this one!

Truth or Dare by Krentz is a fun read.  It’s a mystery, not a heavy read, but with interesting characters, especially the women.  Zoe and Ethan are recently married, and almost just as recently, acquainted!  It seems they just met in a prior Krentz novel, and married within a few weeks.

He is a private investigator; she an interior designer with strong psychic abilities.  They both bring difficult checkered pasts to this new relationship.  Other characters include Arcadia, who Zoe met when they both resided in a mental hospital (from which they escaped); Harry, Arcadia’s new love; and Bonnie, Ethan’s sister.

The writing is warm and engaging.  There are many threads woven into this narrative, and I was pleased Krentz followed them all, leaving no loose ends, but still causing me to want for more.

Truth or Dare lay on my side kitchen table, where books from friends accumulate.  I don’t know who gave me this one, but she/he has good taste! Krentz has written over 50 books.  I’ll definitely try another in a similar mystery genre (she also writes romance).

Exit West

Moshin Hamid |  Fiction

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I cannot categorize this book. Is it a love story?  Sort of, but not really.  Is it a dystopian novel?  At times, but not overall.  Is it magic?  Well, yes, magic does play a part.

We don't know the setting of Exit West.  It may be a city in the author's home country of Pakistan, but it could just as easily be in Syria or Libya or other countries.  What we know for certain as the novel opens is that it is “a city swollen by refugees, but still mostly at peace, or at least, not yet openly at war.”  It is a city where “Islam prevails, but sex, ‘shrooms and smartphones are also prolific.”  (Time.com)

In the beginning, Saeed and Nadia meet in a class and fall in love in these turbulent times. And then the war invades their city, their lives, and their love.  How might they escape through one of the magical doors to safety?  Yes, there are magical doors. At first I thought the “door” was simply a metaphor, but it is not.  You find and pay an agent, a mule of sorts, and he leads you to a hidden magical door.  You walk though this door, and you are in another part of the world.  Saeed and Nadia inhabit a number of cities in the world in this concise novel, as they try to make their way to a place of home and of safety.

The dystopian part of this novel is this:  in every city they travel to, war has broken out between the natives, called “nativists” and the immigrants/refugees.  And in every city, immigrants are beginning to take over, though nativists are violently resisting them.  I think this novel is very timely and for this reason alone, we all should read it.

Exit West is short, well-written and a novel that will make you think.  I recommend it without hesitation.  And I look forward to reading what you think of it …

My Absolute Darling

Gabriel Tallent |  Fiction

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Wow.  I heard My Absolute Darling was quite disturbing, as  it portrays the mental, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of 14-year-old Turtle by her father Martin, a survivalist.  Well, yes, it is disturbing.  Their relationship is central to the novel, and, as she loves him dearly and knows no other relationship norms, it is not a pleasurable relationship to explore.

However, I think the plot is actually not about abuse, but about how Turtle carves an identity for herself in spite of her horrendous circumstances.  She is stunningly courageous and brutally honest with herself.

Tallent's voice is astounding. His writing draws you in.  I had trouble putting this book down.  His use of language is beautiful, especially as he displays his extensive and fascinating knowledge about Mendocino flora and fauna, where the novel is set.  His apparent familiarity with guns is chilling.  I had to Google "Sig Sauer."  What I don’t know about guns can fill a novel this long.

This is a difficult read ... if you are looking for a pleasurable beach novel, choose the last book I blogged about, The Things We Keep.  If you want a compelling read that touches your heart and soul and will stay with you, read My Absolute Darling

I think a sentence from Stephen King’s review on the back cover captures this novel very well.  “This book is ugly, beautiful, horrifying, and uplifting.”

The Things We Keep

Sally Hepworth |  Fiction

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Do you know the Kincaid Grade Level Analysis?  It is a way to analyze your writing, to ensure that it is clear and easy to read.  Some good copywriters will tell you to keep your copy in the Grade 4-7 range (which means it can be read by 9-12 year olds), and even white papers and tutorials below 9 (9 Grade level can be read by the average 14 year old).  This is good advice for the choice of words, the sentence and paragraph structure, and so forth.

I want to talk about the content, however.  I believe there is a similar “grading” – at least, there is in my mind.  But it refers more to intellectual content than to the style of writing and choice of words.  Romance novels, for example, even though they may have sexual content, are written in a very simple style – and can appeal to people with quite a range of intelligence.  Political and historical and scientific tomes may represent the other end of the scale, requiring high levels of intelligence, concentration, analysis, and focus to read and absorb the information.  (Do you know of a scale that actually measures these differences?)

Anyway, my point is The Things We Keep falls a little too low on the “intellectual” scale for my liking.  This is the story of Anna who, at age 38, has been diagnosed with “young-onset Alzheimer’s.”  In a residential facility, she falls in love with Luke, the only other young person in the care facility.  Eve is another major character.  She is hired as the cook and cleaner in the care facility. And has her own set of secrets and difficult circumstances.  She works to keep Anna and Luke together when others feel the relationship is not safe.

The story is an easy read, and an entertaining one.  I simply had hoped for more.  I had hoped to get a better understanding of early-onset Alzheimer’s, and the disease’s progress and impact.  But instead I read a story … a nice story, an interesting story, a story that I was drawn in to and wanted to resolve … but I wanted more.  I wanted to learn more, to have the tale be, well, more “intellectual.”

This is a beach read.  That’s the best way to describe it.  It is light reading ... lighter than you might expect from such a difficult subject.  Unfortunately, there are no beaches here in the high desert!!

list.

Midwives

Chris Bohjalian  |  Fiction

I so enjoyed Chris Bohjalian's novel, The Flight Attendant (blog post in May 2018), I was quite looking forward to reading another book by him.  After struggling with Midwives for nearly a week, and falling asleep reading it, and forcing myself to open it and read the next chapter, I am admitting defeat.  I find it slow, boring, and without any pizazz or energy.

The plot sounds intriguing and strong ... a midwife, on an icy Vermont night, takes desperate measures to save an infant's life by performing an emergency caesarean on what she believes is the dead mother.  But, was the mother really dead?  Therein lies the appealing plot.

Too bad the writing wasn’t as appealing.  I’m off to something else.

The Handmaid’s Tale

Margaret Atwood |  Fiction

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At first, I was chastising myself for not reading this 1986 classic sooner.  And then I arrived at page 93, Chapter 16, when the Commander and the Handmaid have sex and I discovered that image had been carved by a wood burner into my memory.  I realized I had read The Handmaid's Tale before.  But I recalled little and was inspired to continue reading it again.

Briefly, the story — there has been a cultural and social revolution resulting in civil wars and a totalitarian society in Gilead. This is a dystopian novel of what happens to the women, especially, when roles are proscribed and freedoms removed and families broken up, and tolerance disavowed.

No surprise, Atwood’s writing is exquisite and powerful.  Our narrator, one such Handmaid, whose primary job is to bear a child for her Commander and his Wife, weaves the story of her past into the telling of her present life.  As with any dystopian novel, it caused me to wonder ... could we fall victim to such a regime; such a cultural shift?  And to what extent have we already, without realizing it?

If you haven’t read this, you owe it to yourself.  If you've read it decades ago, consider rereading.

And my burning question is ... have you seen the television series?  How is it?  Should I track it down?

 

Thunderstruck

Erik Larson |  Nonfiction

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Thunderstruck, the interwoven stories of Guglielmo Marconi, credited with the invention of the wireless, and Hawley Crippen, a physician, perhaps eventual murderer, isn't Dead Wake or Devil in the White City.  I was disappointed that the narrative lacked a strong sense of mystery and urgency. Thunderstruck read more like history than narrative non-fiction, to me.  At times it was dry and repetitive.  I began to skim the sections where Marconi is testing his wireless, after about the 15th or so iteration of such tests.  One reviewer said Larsen “was exhaustive without being excessive.”  I beg to differ.  I thought Larsen included too much detail about Marconi, his company, his competition, and his endless wireless tests.

That being said, I never once considered putting it down.  Larson's storytelling is good.  He excels at creating a whole picture of his characters ... not just what they accomplished, but their personalities, their foibles, their strengths, their loves, their obsessions.  I think he just included a bit too much in this tale.

The last 20% of Thunderstruck, the chase for the fugitives, was the page-turner part!  I do think Larson's editor should have insisted on a clearer distinction as the chapters shift in time.  The Crippen story occurs mostly ten years ahead of the Marconi story until they at last intersect. 

So, do I recommend Thunderstruck?  Yes, with some reservation.  Read Thunderstruck if you particularly like Larson, or you are intrigued by the development of modern-day communication devices, or you particularly like the social and technological leaps and bounds society encounters at the turn of the prior century. Otherwise, I don't suggest this book leapfrog to the top of your list.

The Power of Meow

David Michie |  Fiction

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This is the third book in David Michie's trilogy about Buddhism through the eyes of the cat adopted by the Dali Lama.  (No, you didn’t miss the second one – turns out my library didn’t have it. I just requested it.) His Holiness’s Cat (HHC), aka Rinpoche, Little Sister, Snow Lion and other names, is delightful!  Smart, articulate, able to read and understand human conversation, she allows us to see Buddhism through her innocent and curious eyes.  These short novels are really fun!  If I were to subtitle this book, it would be, The Power of Meow; In Which HHC Learns to Meditate. 

HHC never reveals the name of celebrities who meet with the Dalai Lama, but in this book, we meet the CEO of an American social-media company, the name of which rhymes with “litter.”  Ha ha ha.

These are quick, enjoyable, fun and enlightening reads!  However, read The Dalai Lama’s Cat first, the initial book in the trilogy, so you learn how HHC came to be the meowing voice of Buddhism principles.

The Flight Attendant

Chris Bohjalian |  Fiction

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Cassie is a flight attendant with enough seniority to work the plum international routes.  She also, to use her own words, “binge drinks” and has “binge sex.”  One might in Dubai; she partakes of both of her chosen activities and wakes up next to Alex Sokolov, his blood pooled on the bed and his throat quite emphatically slit.  Did she do it in a blackout?  If not, who did?  And why?  And why was she still alive?  Cassie leaves the scene, wiping away all traces of herself.  Thus begins a tale of intrigue, mystery, and suspense.

This is an airplane book.  If you want to pass the time, fully engaged in a mystery novel, and not hearing your flight attendant or the passenger in the seat next to you, this is an excellent book to engross yourself in.  It will pull you right along as you try to solve the mysteries along with Cassie, the FBI, and other indeterminate players.

Bohjalian has written 20 books.  His voice is clear and it seems he can tell a sharp, creative story.  I think I will try more of this author; I just requested an earlier work, Midwives, from the library.