Sunday, October 31, 2004

To my faithful readers: Blogger has responded to my questions about the flakiness of the template and my complaints that my blogs keep changing and vanishing. They say that they're having problems in this area, and they're working on it.

Canoeing Redwing Bay on the Charles River

I did not expect to spend today's gift of an extra hour deep in sleep. I had hoped I'd wake up at my usual time so I could spend the extra hour reading and blogging. Maybe next year!

Yesterday afternoon I finished How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff (previously discussed in my October 25 entry). Its ending had its grisly aspects, and Rosoff was unsparing in the graphic details. Yet, the book's conclusion was positive, hopeful, and satisfying. The discussion of Daisy's and Piper's survival in the countryside will definitely keep teenage (and older) readers rivetted. The interest the novel has stimulated in adult circles is gratifying to me because I have always believed that some of the best writers write for children and young adults. Do you have a favorite YA or children's writer whose books you seek out?

Tom Wolfe's I Am Charlotte Simmons will be available in bookstores on November 9. (Its publication has been delayed because of the election.) The New York Times gave what amounted to a lousy review late last week, but for Tom Wolfe fans, there is a terrific, lengthy article about him in today's New York Times Magazine. I'm really eager to read the novel, based on the interviews with Wolfe that I've seen so far. He spent years researching the book, spending week upon week on college campuses, investigating the private lives of today's college students. Wolfe is such a character and so intensely alive; he's a fascinating speaker. And he's 76 years old no less! And here's a link to an audio New York Times interview with Wolfe. Please note: The "lousy review" link is not working--you can read Michiko Kakutani's review by going to the "audio New York Times" link.

I realize I included many New York Times links here, but I've had difficulty locating any other relatively recent Wolfe interviews. I heartily recommend signing up for the Times if you haven't already. I consider it the best of the online newspapers, with the possible exception of the completely nonpartisan Christian Science Monitor, which is excellent for international and national news.

Friday, October 29, 2004

If you're as overwhelmed by the numbers of new Fall books as I am, you may appreciate this list of hand-picked "bests" at the Washington Post.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

I'm focusing today on Muriel Spark. I find it curious that I've never read one of her books, not even The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. (But the movie was good!) I think I've been influenced by a comment my mother made years and years ago that she didn't like her books. When she said it, her mouth turned down as if she'd just swallowed something sour. In those days we tended to have similar impressions of authors, so I dismissed Spark out of hand.

Although today I've found I like many authors that my mother didn't, I still haven't sampled any of Spark's stories or books. Over the past several weeks, I've come across a number of reviews of The Finishing School, her latest, which is more of a novella than a novel. I have it with me and it looks as though it could be consumed in an evening. Of it, Carolyn See in The Washington Post writes, "Muriel Spark is like the fabled butterfly in the Amazon jungle who flicks a beautiful wing and provokes a storm on the other side of the world. She's less a queen of special effects than an empress of literary sleight of hand. When she writes -- as she does here -- of a louche and off-the-cuff "finishing school" and mentions, in passing, that "its various swimming pools looked greasy," we instantly get it. Half a sentence, and we get it." (Please note: To reach the Washington Post and New York Times reviews, google "Finishing School Spark Washington Post." If I post the link, it won't take you there, unfortunately.)

I've been impressed that the reviews have all been very good and I wonder why. Most books inspire a mix of positive and negative reviews, even those that later prove to be classics. So, I wonder, why is everyone favorable toward this one? Is it admiration for the fact that at eighty-six years of age, she can still write a decent book? Most fiction writers retire their pens before their eightieth year. I've always assumed it's because they're coping with difficult health problems, or they have an inkling they're not as sharp as they used to be, no pun intended. And I've wondered if good writers, the really good ones, stop because they know they cannot write as well as they used to and don't want to end their careers on a downward slope. Something tells me that Muriel Spark does not worry about such things. It'll be fascinating to see what she does next. I'm off to read the book!

I'm hoping against hope that later today I'll be able to devote a post to Muriel Spark. I'm so distracted by the election hullabaloo that it's taking me longer to do my daily load of work. Would love to hear if my readers are experiencing anything similar.

Monday, October 25, 2004

I have not updated my "Now I'm Reading" list because I have had terrible karma whenever I attempt to edit the template of my other blog. I have lost half the template three different times in the past few days. This has happened after I have successfully made small changes and have republished and everything looks great. So, I'm not messing with templates for a while. Text is not aligning to the left properly either. Go figure.

So, what am I reading now? I'm mesmermized by How I Live Now , a new YA novel by Meg Rosoff. It has received an enormous amount of attention from book critics recently. Yes, the adult world has taken notice! The voice of the protagonist, a fifteen-year-old American girl, is so arresting that nothing has made me stop turning the pages.

While the world is in total chaos and war is imminent, she is sent by her father and stepmother to live with her cousins in England. No, this is not an historical novel. Terrorists set off bomb after bomb in London, rumors besiege the countryside (Has smallpox killed millions or is it just hearsay?), and the cousins find themselves at home on their own in a bid for survival. I'm halfway through, and I'm not at all sure what the author is trying to say, but the voice carries me along as if I were coasting on a raft in a river with a commanding current.

Rosoff lives in the Boston area and is now struggling through treatment for breast cancer. The Boston Globe recently printed this article about her, though I'm not at all sure it is still available.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

The beauty and peace of the Bradley estate, a Trustees of Reservations site that's just up the road from us. (Check out the incredibly beautiful photos of Massachusetts at the Trustees' website.) In the winter, Sophie and I traipse the acres and acres of meadow and wooded trails. We'd like to go in the spring, summer, and fall, but the ticks that cause Lyme disease are swarming here. I could manage it safely, but Sophie, the two times that I've tried to take her in the fall, comes home loaded with the nasty little things. Lyme disease is endemic around these parts, many dogs in the neighborhood have had it, and I certainly don't want Sophie to get it. It has caused permanent lameness in several dogs we know. There is a vaccine, but, according to what I've gleaned from our vet's records, it's only about 50% effective. Not good enough for my standards. So the Bradley estate is off-limits til December.

I have book news to post, which I'll sneak in later today.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

I came across an amusing article today by P.B. Kerr, the British author of a current hot children's book, Children of the Lamp: The Akhenaten Adventure, about his promotional travels in children's schools across the U.S.

As far as my own reading adventures are concerned, I picked up The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek, the Austrian woman who has just won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Evidently the Vatican is all in a flap about her winning the prize. I haven't gotten to the bottom of that story yet, but I assume other book blogs are covering it thoroughly. Check out Catholic Online to find out why the Catholic hierarchy is going so ballistic.

Since Sammy's Hill by Kristin Gore has arrived at the library, I don't think I'll be able to finish The Piano Teacher by its due date. Problem is, I won't be able to renew it because of all the people waiting to read it.
A sweet little ditty came my way today...

Day after day did Milly Green
Just follow after Joe,
And told him if he voted wrong
To take his rags and go.
Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, 1893

Monday, October 18, 2004

Mobylives is back! After "the sabbatic of indefinite length," the best literary blog on the web has returned with lots of news and fascinating commentary. I know people count other book blogs as their favorites, but as far as substance and originality are concerned, Mobylives has them all beat. Starting late last year, Mobylives stopped posting, and it wasn't until a New York Times article praised it in a review of great literary websites that Moby finally rose to the surface. Thank you! It's so much work to produce a blog with daily postings of such depth and length, that I'm nervous Dennis Loy Johnson, the creator and writer, won't be able to stick with it. How much income can it generate? Perhaps the blog assists him in getting other paying work. I do hope so.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Rain or dark clouds have spoiled the peak foliage moments in every single area of my habitat this year. The view from my bedroom window has not peaked on a sunny day for the past three years. This pic from last year, despite the lack of sun, gives a hint of what the color can be like.

Chris Bohjalian is in town this week, talking about his latest book, Before You Know Kindness. Although I wouldn't describe myself as a bona fide fan of his, I think he's a great novelist and have enjoyed his books. What I appreciate most is his sympathy for all of his characters, regardless of their circumstances. I also love the way he creates a scene. He's a master with dialogue, and he always paints the setting with just enough detail to produce rich images. Bohjalian also writes a thought-provoking weekly column for the Burlington Free Press. The link will bring you to the column's archives.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

I am not going to bore you by listing the National Book Award finalists, but I am going to express my surprise that I have scarcely heard a peep about any of them up until now. When the list was announced yesterday, I immediately "amazoned" the novels. The plot descriptions and discussions did not tantalize me one bit. In fact, the only one that seems remotely interesting is The News from Paraguay by Lily Tuck. Judging by the fiction list, it seems that the judges were interested in literary fiction that is away from the mainstream, selecting titles that appear to be long on artistry, perhaps a bit short on plot. Your thoughts?

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

A Little Marsh Music

I stumbled across a book that I'm going to have to investigate. Longtime readers of this blog know my predilection for novels set in New York City. The premise of The Dog Walker by Leslie Schnur is irresistible: a youngish woman and pooch-ambling pro can't help herself from exploring dog owners' apartments in the big city. It's a romantic comedy of sorts, or maybe out of sorts, since the reviews haven't been all that glowing, to put it mildly. Even Publisher's Weekly, which tries to say something positive about any book it decides to review, mentioned the labored effort of this first novel. So how did it get published? Check out Leslie Schnur on the Barnes and Noble website "Meet the Writers" section. The answer? Schnur is a publishing executive. I would include the link, but it is soooo very long. In any case, I've ordered The Dog Walker from the library and the fact that it is poorly written doesn't deter me from a book about New York written by a New Yorker.

If you have a favorite novel set in New York, please share it!

Sunday, October 10, 2004

The marsh has been at peak foliage this weekend, but the sun has been behind clouds most of the time, ruining the choicest photo opps. Since I spent much of the day clearing away clutter and mastering other minor home improvements, I had no time to read. I did hear about Kay Redfield Jamison's new book, Exuberance:The Passion for Life, which I'm eager to get a hold of. Her books about the brain and the physiological component of the emotional world fascinate me. I loved An Unquiet Mind, her book about bipolar disorder, which is part memoir, part straight nonfiction.

Friday, October 08, 2004

An excellent article in the New York Times today about Elfriede Jelinek, the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Jelinek is an Austrian novelist and playwright, a feminist, and a harsh critic of the right-wingers in Austria who have political power these days. I'm eager to read her work, particularly her novel Women as Lovers, and I've ordered it through inter-library loan. The Minuteman Library Network system, with nearly a hundred libraries, includes less than a handful of her novels. It's hard to imagine why exactly she was selected for the prize; the decision usually has its political aspects. However, she is the first woman to win since 1993.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

I am so psyched that my blog is back, though with a new template and, can you believe at long last, comments! I've been over at Typepad since Sunday, trying to reconstruct "Musings" over there since half my template vanished when I made one infinitesimal change to the Sidebar. But I'm back at Blogger and since Blogger offers so many more options, I'll stay here and cancel Typepad. I am concerned, though. When Blogger becomes a paying site, it looks like the features I have at my fingertips here may cost up to $15/month. Ouch.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

One year ago today I wrote my first post on this blog. I wish I had readers to celebrate with, but I'm sure that when I went on hiatus this summer, I lost many. When one has a blog, one must never, never just stop posting, because people vanish. Actually, I'm not sure everyone has disappeared, but it would stand to reason. As soon as I can get Blogger to tell me why my comments are not appearing, I'll get an idea if anyone is still visiting.

So, in book news, I can report that Judy Blume is winning a lifetime achievement award from the National Book Foundation. I can't believe I've never read Are You There, God? It's Me Margaret. I remember distinctly when it came out and how Blume was assailed for being unliterary. Yet today her book is considered by the loftiest critics and specialists who write about children's lit to be one of the most esteemed modern classics. I find that so interesting, that opinion has changed so drastically over the course of 25, or is it 30 years since it was published? I ought to go look it up right now, but I've got to do the dinner thing and I still have a bed to make up.