Thursday, August 28, 2008

joan of arc

by Mark Twain

Mark Twain wrote, "I like Joan of Arc best of all my books; and it is the best; I know it perfectly well. And besides, it furnished me seven times the pleasure afforded me by any of the others; twelve years of preparation, and two years of writing. The others needed no preparation, and got none."

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

murder ink: a killer collection

"Murder, let's face it, is as American as cherry pie.

That's the unavoidable conclusion one reaches after reading the Library of America's huge, bloody, fascinating, often depressing yet sometimes grimly funny anthology of 350 years of true-crime writing. . . .

. . . The anthology is almost obscenely entertaining, if one has a strong stomach and a certain mind-set, but it is also a searching look at the dark underside of American reality, at an aspect of the human condition that both horrifies and fascinates us."

Excerpt from Washington Post review of True Crime: An American Anthology edited by Harold Schecter. Haven't read it, and though I'm a crime fan like my mother before me, I'm not sure I want to. 780 pages is a lot of true crime, especially without any tea and scones to wash it down with.

Coincidentally, one of the authors in the anthology is A. J. Liebling, a New Yorker writer whose book The Jollity Building was just recommended to me by a friend last week.

Monday, August 25, 2008

becoming attached, incomplete revenge

I'm about a third of the way through Becoming Attached by Robert Karen, Ph. D. An excellent writer, he explains the theory of attachment by telling the story from the beginning, presenting a narrative of the history of child psychology and psychoanalysis. The story, with its fascinating personalities and raging controversies, is compelling. The detailed accounts of emotionally deprived children from the various studies makes for a sometimes painful reading experience.

So, to give myself a break, I'm also reading a mildly engaging mystery, Jacqueline Winspear's An Incomplete Revenge, set in England between the wars.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

the end of ramage

Finished the series the other day. Heaven only knows why I read all 18 books. The characters were under-developed, the writing was often pedestrian, and the action was repetitious. Moral questions were raised and dismissed. Guess I just love the smell of salt air and gunpowder.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

you know me al

by Ring Lardner

Still hilarious. Lardner ever-so-skillfully allows our hero, rookie pitcher Jack Keefe, to unwittingly reveal himself and his acquaintances in his letters home to his pal Al.

This book works on several levels. You can read it for the baseball, or for the humor, or just as a great piece of writing. For the baseball lover it's red meat. Jack Keefe plays against Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson, and other greats of Lardner's time. Charles Comiskey, owner of the Chicago White Sox, is a prominent character. I was happily struck by the many respects in which baseball hasn't changed since 1914.

But one needn't love or even understand baseball to enjoy the book. My old Scribner's paperback includes an introduction by son John Lardner, who quotes Virginia Woolf: "With extraordinary ease and aptitude, with the quickest strokes, the surest touch, the sharpest insight, he lets Jack Keefe the baseball player cut out his own outline, fill in his own depths, until the figure of the foolish, boastful, innocent athlete lives before us."

Can Lardner be viewed as the American counterpart of P G Wodehouse?
Discuss. :-)

Favorite quote, this one from friend AS:
[Speaking of Walter "The Big Train" Johnson, one of the greatest fastball pitchers of all time] . . . he asked me what I thought of Johnson. I says I don't think so much of him. . . . He says What was the matter with Johnson's work? I says He ain't got nothing but a fast ball. Then he says Yes and Rockefeller ain't got nothing but a hundred million bucks. (p. 57)
My favorite:
Babys is great stuff Al and if I was you I would not wait no longer but would hurry up and adopt 1 somewheres. (p. 156)
SPOILER ALERT *** Yes, Keefe has a fastball, but he's immature and ignorant, a rube, and arguably a sociopath, always blaming someone or something else for his failures, and frequently on the verge of busting someone in the jaw. Redemption comes about two thirds into the book, when little Al arrives, and it's love at first sight for Keefe. ***

with fire and sword

Book one of a trilogy of epic novels by Henryk Sienkiewicz. I haven't read this, but our daughter is a fan.

  • The Trilogy (Trylogia), comprising:
  • Book one is 1000 pages. Book two comes in 2 volumes, 900 and 800 pages. Book three is a mere 700 pages.

    Sienkiewicz also wrote the well-known Quo Vadis (haven't read that either):
    Historical novel by Henryk Sienkiewicz, published in Polish under its Latin title in 1896. The title means "where are you going?" and alludes to a New Testament verse (John 13:36). The popular novel was widely translated. Set in ancient Rome during the reign of the emperor Nero, Quo Vadis tells the story of the love that develops between a young Christian woman and a Roman officer who, after meeting her fellow Christians, converts to her religion. Underlying their relationship is the contrast between the worldly opulence of the Roman aristocracy and the poverty, simplicity, and spiritual power of the Christians. The novel has as a subtext the persecution and political subjugation of Poland by Russia.
    The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature

    Monday, August 18, 2008

    baseball books

    I recently remembered Ring Lardner's great baseball book You Know Me Al (1914) which I'm re-reading. And that reminded me of another baseball book, Bang the Drum Slowly (1956), by Mark Harris. I loved it 30 years ago; wonder how it's held up.

    I have it somewhere in a volume entitled Henry Wiggen's Books. Wiggens is the main character, a baseball player and author (or arthur) who appears in the three books, Bang the Drum Slowly, The Southpaw, and A Ticket for a Seamstitch. I vaguely remember being disappointed in the other two titles.

    Bang the Drum Slowly is also a movie starring Robert DeNiro and Michael Moriarty, made in 1973.

    Title is from the song Streets of Laredo sung by one of the ball players.

    Wednesday, August 13, 2008

    aubrey and maturin

    Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin are the heroes of Patrick O'Brian's superlative sea books. This series is not just for fans of nautical or historical fiction. PO'B's books transcend those genres (although they are excellent examples of each), and have been compared to the works of Jane Austen. But be warned: after immersing yourself in this 20-book series, you may be reluctant to return to the 21st century. And you will sorely miss some of the characters, who are as fully human and real as any in fiction.

    Tuesday, August 12, 2008

    stop, thief!

    A collector of vintage girls' series books gave this to my daughter. Love that cover art.

    Monday, August 11, 2008

    favorite mystery writers

    The best mysteries feature poison pen letters, herbaceous borders, a corpse before page 20, and buckets of strong tea.

    Agatha Christie
    , the Original and the Best

    Notable titles:
    Sad Cypress
    The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
    A Pocketful of Rye
    The Moving Finger

    She published from 1920 to the 70's.

    Dorothy Sayers
    The nine Peter Wimseys are must-reads. Written in the 20's and 30's.

    Ngaio Marsh
    Publishing from 1934 until her death in 1982. A pro.

    Josephine Tey
    The Franchise Affair and Brat Farrar , written in the 40's, are especially good.

    P D James
    Writing from the 60's to the present. See post.

    Colin Dexter
    Good old Inspector Morse. Lovable in spite of his various personal problems. The Morse books were written between 1975 and 1999.

    p d james

    She is an undisputed master of her genre. I eagerly devoured most of her novels. My favorite might be A Taste for Death. These police procedurals, enriched with psychologically complex characters, take place in the bubble of a limited group of suspects, a la Agatha Christie. It's a formula, but a very satisfying one.

    But readers may eventually tire of her hero, Adam Dalgliesh. He's been a bad influence on a generation of detectives who have striven to be as brilliant, sophisticated, cultured, and sensitive as he. But how could they possibly compete with a Scotland Yard detective who is also a published poet?!

    The following question (roughly accurate) from one of her later books was the last straw for me. As Dalgliesh considers retiring from the Yard, he wonders, "But would I then still be a poet?"

    Other creators of handsome, brilliant, politically correct sleuths include Elizabeth George (talk about relationship angst) and Deborah Crombie.

    deborah crombie mysteries

    Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James books. The first couple of these were good. After that, the relationships took over, with all the usual angst and rending of garments. I can't remember how many I read, maybe all but the last one.
    • A Share in Death (1993)
    • All Shall be Well (1994)
    • Leave the Grave Green (1995)
    • Mourn Not Your Dead (1996)
    • Dreaming of the Bones (1997)
    • Kissed a Sad Goodbye (1999)
    • A Finer End (2001)
    • And Justice There is None (2002)
    • Now May You Weep (2003)
    • In a Dark House (2005)
    • Water Like a Stone (2007)

    iain pears' "art history mysteries"

    "Art History Mysteries" by Iain Pears:
    The Raphael Affair
    The Titian Committee
    The Bernini Bust
    The Last Judgment
    Giotto's Hand
    Death and Restoration
    The Immaculate Deception

    I liked these. More refined and gentle than most contemporary mysteries. Likeable characters.

    Saturday, August 9, 2008

    little house in colorado

    Little Britches: Father and I were Ranchers by Ralph Moody

    Little Britches is the first in a series of enthralling autobiographical accounts of the author's childhood, as a rancher and cowboy in Colorado, a farmer in Maine, and a young entrepreneur and survivor everywhere. If only half of what little Ralph Moody is supposed to have done as a boy is true, he was as sharp, persistent, and resourceful as any adult. Cowboys, horses, cattle drives, and rodeos fill the first couple of books, set in Colorado. The Moodys demonstrate strong family values and the American pioneering spirit. These may be compared to the Little House books, but take place a bit later in time, and are written from a boy's point of view.

    The series contains eight or nine books. The four listed below are the best, I think. They make great read-alouds for girls as well as boys. (As Ralph gets older, some of the content of a couple of the books may be better suited to the adult or young adult, so you might want to preview them first.)

    the twilight saga

    by Stephenie Meyer

    "Like Mr. Darcy with fangs." (sm)

    No, we haven't read it. And I'm sure this doesn't do Mr. Darcy credit. But you get the idea.

    Friday, August 8, 2008

    books by Steve Hamilton

    A Cold Day in Paradise
    North of Nowhere

    Alex McKnight is a not-quite hard-boiled former MLB pitcher-turned-policeman-turned-detective living in semi-isolation on Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Lots of beer drinking and brawling. I've read a few of these, and they are something different, at least. Not entirely wholesome, unfortunately. Definitely written by a man, for men.

    currently reading

    I finished Maria Chapdelaine. More on that later, maybe. Highly recommended.

    I'm reading Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn (recommended, especially the chapter on time-outs) as well as the penultimate Ramage book. Will the author be tempted to kill off a significant character? A big difference between this series and the infinitely better PO'B series is the immunity from real harm possessed by the main characters. No one was safe in the Hornblower books, either. Ramage is just a way for a nautical fiction addict to keep from going into withdrawal.