Monday, October 27, 2008

Guest Blog - Tony Hillerman

I just checked my email and found a note from the Blogger about the death of author Tony Hillerman. If you are a mystery reader and you have never read one of Hillerman's mysteries set on the Navajo reservation in the southwest, you have missed one of the joys of mystery reading. He also wrote an autobiography, Seldom Disappointed and added the commentary to a photographic memoir of WW II called Kilroy was Here. Hillerman Country: A Journey through the Southwest with Tony Hillerman is a great addition to your reading if you have never had an opportunity to travel through this area of the United States. This book seems to be out of print but by now you know that I think the library is a great resource.

I am sorry that there will never by a new Tony Hillerman to read, but I am so grateful that he left behind books that I will enjoy reading again and again.

Guest Blog - At Home in Mitford

About ten years ago, a friend loaned me a book to read saying, “I think you’ll really enjoy it.” For some reason I never got beyond about page three and regretfully returned the book to her without having read it. A few weeks ago while visiting my sister, she handed me the same book and said, “Read this one. I think you’ll really enjoy it.” This time I persevered and wasn’t surprised that I really did enjoy it.

At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon is the first in a series of books about Mitford and Father Timothy. It is the warm and often amusing story of a Episcopal priest who at the age of sixty finds himself falling in love with his new neighbor while he is at the same time developing diabetes and feeling the effects of working hard for years without ever taking a vacation or any kind of break from worrying about the parishioners whom he dearly loves.

The book if full of interesting characters with stories of their own, but none of them overshadows Father Tim. He is a refreshingly human pastor who has great faith in God and the belief that if you will come to Him, He will lead you in the path you ought to go. Although the story revolves around a religious man of great faith, I never felt that I was being preached to. I liked his simple message that we should be looking for the Lord “down here” instead of asking if he is “up there” and that we can always count on the Lord even if his servants sometimes fail us.

It took me awhile to get into the book but about halfway through I discovered that there were lots of chores I was willing to avoid in order to curl up and read. Just what I expect of a good book. I’ll be looking for the next book in the series when I go to the library again. Fortunately or unfortunately, I am so far behind the trend on this popular series that I'll have no competition in checking the books out.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Guest Blog – The Man Who Forgot How to Read

On June 16th, I posted a guest blog about Howard Engel’s novel Memory Book. It is a mystery that takes Engel’s fictional detective through a similar experience that he had in his own life. Benny Cooperman wakes up in a Toronto hospital with no idea how he got there. He discovers that he has alexia sine agraphia.

In his own life Howard Engel woke up on July 31, 2001 and gradually realized that he must have had a stroke. He calmly woke his sleeping son, Jacob, and together they went to the emergency room of the hospital where his diagnosis was confirmed. During his slow recovery from the stroke, Engel wrote Memory Book. The Man Who Forgot How to Read came later. In this short memoir, Engel details the slow adjustment of a man whose life and livelihood revolved around reading to a world where as he said the local newspaper looked like a “Serbo-Croation version of the Globe.” He could write but he could not read what he had written. Like Memory Book, the memoir has an afterword by Oliver Sacks, MD.

I found reading about Engel’s experience interesting not because I am interested in medical conditions but because I was interested in the author. In fact Engel covers much the same ground in his memoir as he did in the novel about Cooperman. Since both books were published Engel has a new book out called East of Suez. I am looking forward to reading it when it is published in the US.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Guest Blog - Emotional Arithmetic

Last spring while living in Toronto, I read two books by Matt Cohen: Emotional Arithmetic and Elizabeth and After. At that time the movie with Susan Sarandon had not yet been released on DVD. It came out this summer, but I was unable to find it at any local rental stores or online. Thanks to I discovered that for some reason when the DVD was released, the title was changed to Autumn Hearts: A New Beginning. The new title in many ways describes what happens in the movie so is somewhat appropriate; however, Cohen’s original title holds such depth and meaning.

At the onset of World War II Melanie lived in Paris with her parents. One day when she returned home from school they were gone. When she went to a neighbor’s apartment for help, the women handed her over to the authorities. A gold star was sewn on her jacket and she was shipped to Drancy on the outskirts of Paris. Drancy was a way station where people were held until they were shipped to some of the infamous concentration camps of WW II. At Drancy, Melanie met Christopher who was about her age and Jakob. Jakob became their protector and ultimately their savior. He bribed a guard to send him when the children’s names came up to be transported to a camp.

Shortly after Melanie arrived at Drancy, Jakob gave her a notebook and instructed her to keep track of the number of people who came and went from Drancy. For example, she might have noted that 156 men and 144 women and 34 children arrived on a certain day. She kept track of their names and who they were. Jakob told Melanie that she must never forget and that she must be a witness some day of what happened at Drancy.

Eventually when the Allies took Paris, Melanie and Christopher were released from prison. Melanie was sent back to Canada where she grew into a woman who championed every individual who was persecuted around the globe. She became obsessed with writing on behave of anyone who came to her attention. She had filing cabinets full of information on people who were political prisoners. Campaigning for the release of individuals became her life’s mission. The people who paid the price for her devotion were her husband David and her son Ben.

All of this is the backdrop for the story of the reunion of Christopher and Jakob with Melanie. Christopher has become an entomologist while Jakob was rescued from concentration camp by the Russians who continued to keep him in prison or mental hospitals.

I was surprised at how many of the details of the book, I had forgotten since I read it just over four months ago. The movie does not hold a lot of the smaller details of the book but it still conveys the feeling of the book. I noticed that the viewers of the movie did not rate it very highly on, but having read the book before hand, I was very appreciative of how well the movie was made. It is set in the eastern townships of Quebec in the autumn. Visually the movie is beautiful. And with just a few flash back scenes the shared experience of Drancy is made clear. The interwoven relationships of the individuals in the story are well defined. Overall I would recommend reading the book or seeing the film. Because of the subject matter it is not a light and entertaining book. Instead it is thought provoking. Both Cohen and director Paolo Barzman evoke feelings of warmth and concern for Melanie who has carried the burden all of her life recording the arithmetic of victims of persecution.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Guest Blog - Barchester Towers

I have finally finished reading Anthony Trollope’s Barchester Towers. In the late winter, the Blogger and I watched the BBC production called The Barchester Chronicles. This series produced in 1982 was based on two novels by Trollope: The Warden and Barchester Towers. I had watched the TV mini-series when it was first shown on PBS’ Mobile Masterpiece Theatre and had off and on looked at the boxed set of DVDs somewhat wistfully. Finally I decided that I could resist no longer and bought the set of shows based on Trollope’s novels.

The Blogger and I started out watching just the first episode and then decided that we would watch the next one before stopping for the night. I think that it took us only a week to watch all 7 episodes or a total of 374 minutes of program. The series left both of us chuckling and wondering what was going to happen next among the small community of clergy from the Church of England. It was fun to see Alan Rickman in one of his earliest roles as the 'villain of the piece.' As a long time viewer of BBC productions on PBS it was delightful to see some of my old friends such as Susan Hampshire and Donald Pleasence.

As I watched the show, I began doing some reading about both the series and about Trollope. One criticism that I read of The Barchester Chronicles. was that the TV series did not give enough substance to Mr. Arabin. The comment was that he was a very interesting character in the novel. Out of curiosity, I checked the novel out from the library. I never got past all of the fascinating information about Trollope in the preface before the book was due to be returned. While on a trip to California in March with my husband, I bought a used copy of Barchester Towers at a bookstore on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley.

Since March I have carried the book on every plane and on every trip in the last six months. In between other books and when I couldn’t get into another book, I would pick up Trollope and read another thirty to forty pages. Now that I have finished the novel, I am feeling a little lost and alone. Trollope had become a really good friend. I really cared about those living in the shadow of the cathedral. The critic was right. Mr. Arabin was more interesting in the novel as were all of the other characters. I enjoyed the humor whether it was subtle or more obvious such as the arrogant Bishop and his ‘bishop-wife' named Proudie or the family of fourteen children belonging to Mr. Quiverful.

Trollope worked for many years in the postal service and is credited with instituting delivery of mail twice a day and the installation of the well known red pillar boxes. He was about forty before his first book was published and he did not like the writing of Charles Dickens at all. Or was that he did not like Dickens at all. I found Trollope so much more enjoyable than I anticipated and am ready to find out what happens in the next book in The Chronicles of Barsetshire. I am eager to find out if the characters are as vivid without having been acquainted with them before hand.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Banned Books Week

This is just a reminder that it’s Banned Books Week (and National Reading Group Month). I thought you might find a few of these articles about banned books interesting:

  • The San Juan Capistrano School District banned the Twilight series—oddly enough, it banned it for adult content and not for terrible writing.