Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Book Shark

My grandfather would live with us each summer during our childhood, trading the heat and humidity of rural Tennessee for the heat and humidity of suburban Chicago.

He would spend the entire summer sitting in a green metal chair in the backyard, reading dime novels (all westerns) and chewing tobacco. To my knowledge, he never owned a car or held a steady job. He was much older when my mother was born, already the father of grown children and grandchildren. I always heard him described as an itinerate carpenter. A modern-day Joseph perhaps?

But, he could read. Could he read! In my mind he was one of the first speed readers. I'd be in the air conditioned house attempting to plow through a Nancy Drew mystery and he'd be finishing a western novel each and every day! I'm not talking thin volumes either. Of course, he didn't do anything else but read so perhaps it wasn't a stretch.

l always remember a tradition of reading in our house. My mother read the latest best sellers, My Brother's Keeper comes to mind. She had my father build a bookcase in the living room that she filled with volumes and volumes of Reader's Digest books. My father usually held down two or three jobs which meant reading was a luxury for him. In fact, I can't remember my father ever reading a book for pleasure.

We discussed the habit of having more than one book going at the same time, usually in different areas of the house. In summer reading is slowed to a crawl as fair weather tasks eat away at the time alloted for reading. Unlike our grandfather, we all seem to be extremely busy and motivated.

When winter comes the load of outdoor tasks is lifted and the level of reading shoots up, becoming voracious at times. It feels like I'm trying to make up for lost time.

This fall is no exception and I've plowed headlong into a stack of books.

Some were cracked open for the first time and some had been started at some point during the summer and left with a marker to hold the spot where I left off. Here's the stack of books that I've torn through since the weather changed.

I gave fiction another chance and was disappointed.

A Painted House by John Grisham
An easy read, due in part to the fact that it's a large print edition. Senior citizen variety. As I neared the end of the 562 page book I began an internal conversation.

"Certainly he's going to tie this story up into some kind of message, or at least a sensible conclusion."

I was wrong. The book just ended, leaving me floating in expectations.

Last Man Out by Melissa Fay Greene
A gritty look at the Springhill mine disaster of 1958. The mine suffered a "bump" (underground earthquake) and miners were killed or trapped. The story is based on eyewitness accounts and psychologists studies of the rescue operation and the aftermath.

Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt.
What can I say? It was a Pulitzer Prize winner. I don't get to vote for that award. Frank's father is drunk, again...... they have nothing to eat, again...... his mother has lost another child, again. Frank has miraculous survived that childhood to write about it. Depressing. I knew impoversihed children growing up, sons and daughters of alcoholic fathers and mothers. I'm not quite sure why anyone would want to revisit these scenes unless it's to exorcise demons.

Reason for Hope
by Jane Goodall.
This woman was one of the science superstars in the 1970's along with Jacques Cousteau and Carl Sagan. I loved her TV series and her book explains how she landed in the position of being the world's expert on chimpanzees. It's interesting to note that she takes exception with the reductionist tendency of science, the thought that everything can be reduced and explained by it's lowest common denominator, robbing us of mystery and wonder. Her writing makes you feel like you're in the room having a conversation. Unfortunately the end of the book degenerates into a Kumbaya-fest.

Confederates in the Attic, Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War by Tony Horwitz.
What a strange premise for a book. Tony Horwitz is the great-grandson of a jew who fled Czarist Russia. After returning to the U.S. after nine years abroad he becomes involved with hardcore Civil War re-enactors, travels across ten states to historical battlegrounds and writes a book about his adventures. It's interesting, funny, enlightening and informative.

I can hardly slog through a page of this one:

Doris Kearns Goodwin is an expert but this book is impenetrable. Are you interested in listening in on every conversation Abraham Lincoln ever held with these men? Are you interested in every conversation his rivals ever engaged in? Neither am I.

Here are the two books I am currently leap-frogging.

Broca's Brain by Carl Sagan
The world of science has turned itself inside out at least 4 times since Sagan wrote this in the 70's but it holds up well. He was a fascinating man.

Mother of Pearl by Melinda Haynes.
Fiction again. I thought I swore off this stuff but this is interesting because Haynes writes with a fascinating combination of words. Here's a sample:

"So there inside that borrowed Ford truck while the rain beat down and they headed home, they cried with a sound like the wail of the Holy Rollers. Cried in rhythm with the worthless wipers slapping on glass like floppy shoes going nowhere."

Yeah, that's what I'm talking about. Throw a few pages of the dictionary in a blender and see what you can come up with.

I'm three-quarters of the way through this book and all I can say is she better wrap this up and make some sense out of it or I'll swear off fiction forever!

Do your reading habits change during the seasons? What are you reading? Have you read any of these books? I'd love to know what you think about them.


Diva Kreszl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Diva Kreszl said...

My love of reading is an integral part of my life, always has been. I tend to read lighter fare in the summer, something eeasy to pick up and put down. The rest of the year I love to read things that are thought provoking, mostly non fiction.

Farmchick said...

I have to say that "Mother of Pearl" is one of my favortie books. Loved that writing. I am currently reading the "Twilight" series. Teenage fiction lit, but I am enjoying the storyline. Have you ever read the book, "The Witching Hour" by Anne Rice? One of my favorites.

Farmchick said...

I forgot...."Thirteen Moons" by Charles Frazier (of Cold Mountain fame) is wonderful.

Lisa D. said...

Hahaha! I read Angela's Ashes and A Painted House and I loved them both. I haven't read Carl Sagan's book, but that is one I would like to read.
Reading was always a big part of our family life. My parents, my grandparents, my husband, and my children - we all love reading.
My reading habits are not so much seasonal, but I need to know I have a couple fairly free days to read a book. If it's a good book I can't put it down until it's done. And then I need some time to live with that book. If it's a good one, then I feel I'm a part of the story and I need a few days to grieve the end of the story and say goodbye to my new friends.

scmom (Barbara) said...

As a Catholic, I laughed my butt off at some of the scenes in Angela's Ashes. I know, hard to believe. Maybe you have to be a Catholic. I've read it several times and it always makes me feel rich as Croesus.

I just started Time of My Life by Allison Winn Scotch. I've never read anything by her before, but it got good reviews.

martina said...

I've read Painted House and loved it. Angela's Ashes was extraordinarily depressing.
Now I'm reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog which is a hard read. It was translated from French and some of the grammar/words just don't fit right. The other book I'm reading is Gourmet Rhapsody,same author/same translator, much better reading.
Did you read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society yet?

chocolatechic said...

I rarely have time to read anymore, but when I do, it is in the winter.

Jenni said...

I love fiction. Well, I love *good* fiction anyway. Fiction can sometimes communicate great truth better than simply listing facts. Is there any fiction you can remember enjoying? If I knew your favorite fiction, maybe I could suggest some more books you might like.

I second the recommendation of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. You seem to have a thing for historical non-fiction, and this book has a lot of history wound through it. It's an epistolary novel written as a series of letters. I usually hate that, but it worked here. It's more like reading first person accounts of the occupation of Guernsey during WWII. I found it both charming and fascinating.

Mary Rex said...

I have just finished The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and I also found it charming and fascinating. I will send you my copy Suzanne, I think you will like it.
Have you read The Glass Castle?

LydaBabes Going Ons!!!! said...

Am reading two chapters a nite. Have your read Glass Castles by Janette Wall. Very good. tells how if you have the determinations you can survive any thing. Set in the West Virgina hills. Of course all the books on True Blood. Am into Vampires right now. How to marry a millionaire Vampire....is really good and funny.....Started the book on Abe Lincoln and Mary Todd's marriage. It is a book you have to focus on....so it will get done later. And the Books about the TV series Bones. I can't think of them right now. But good suspense books. And all of Evonovitch books. They are funny.....There are so many and not enough time. I hate it when an author just hurrys up and finishes a book. Makes me mad. I read Confederates in the Attic. It was great....I'll have to look into some of the ones you mention. I read alot in the summer sit in my swing and listen to the birds and read.......

Adele in Northern Minn. said...

I haven't read any of these books, but a couple of them interest me. I just finished "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver, and very much enjoyed its thought provoking ideas. I grew up where we raised most of our food or hunted and fished for it, so it had a familiar ring.
I read some every night, usually "cozy" mysteries, Susan Wittig Albert, Diane Mott Davidson.
I read all of Zane Grey as a teenager, and have read all of Louis L'amour. But I also read books about people traveling abroad, especially if they are good at describing scenery and food. I read cookbooks too! I have in my library collections by several authors, which I reread every year. It's like visiting old friends and familiar places.

Kat said...

I'm slogging through The Hakawati by Rabih Alameddine. I can't handle it. Too many stories, too many characters (some even have the same names), and too much jumping around in time and veracity (myths and recollections).
Further troubling, sometimes when he makes a jump there will be a mark in the text to indicate a transition and other times the next paragraph just starts up at a new time and place without warning.

Karen Deborah said...

I love to read. I'm with you about how many books that win prizes are sorely lacking. I tend to ride on my friends coattails for books. I let them preview and then read. My favorite way to find out about a good read is either from Debbie at Wisteria & Roses, she has great taste in books, or Kerry. I have a list right now of some that I am trying to get from the library. Usually there are several stacks next to my bed, and on the desk and well just about every where.
Lately I have been reading health books, and cooking techniques. I'm learning how to make sourdough bread, so books galore about that.
Humm and that is maybe more than you wanted to know. I am a bibliophile.

Kitty said...

I haven't read any of the books you mentioned. I mostly read fiction and especially like historical fiction (I also thought Thirteen Moons was very good). I just finished a couple of books by Madeleine L'Engle: A Small Rain and A Severed Wasp, both of which I enjoyed. Right now I'm reading The Florabama Ladies' Auxiliary & Sewing Circle by Lois Battle. A quick read, but entertaining. Next in my stack is Antonia Fraser's Marie Antoinette. I tend to alternate between "fluff" and then something a little more involved. Reading is entertainment for me so I don't gravitate towards things that are depressing. I like a book that can really paint a picture with words (loved The Secret Life of Bees--the characters were so alive). Sometimes you just hate to see the story end.

lifeinredshoes said...

I quite enjoyed, A Painted House, but I had just finished the gut wrencthing, Fall On Your Knees, and it was a nice reprive.
I like fiction, just finished, Velva Jean Learns To Drive, good, not great.
I also read in the colder months, summer is too busy.
I like what you have to say about Frank McCourt.
Loved Glass Castle, and she has a new one out.

rebecca homecca said...

I'm so glad I'm not the only one to have trouble with Team of Rivals! I was so excited for that book and then I started reading it.
Painted House and a couple of others I enjoy until the end. And then I am left going, What was the point of all that??
I didn't realize it was the changing of the seasons, but I have been reading like crazy too. It's true, summer activities take up too much time for reading.

Cottage Rose said...

Hi Suzanne; When I was younger I did not care for reading,,, now that I am older I love to read.. I love to read Laura Childs and now I found a new one I am like,, Jennifer Chiaverini,, she writes books with a Quilt in mind,, and I love to quilt,, the one I am reading now is about the Civil War and how Quilts played a roll in the slaves making their way north to freedom... love it.... I love books about History too.. ok this is long enough.... have a great week...


The Belangers said...

I promise there is good fiction out there! Promise!

The Belangers said...

and I have to suggest 'water for elephants'. it was ammmmaazing!

J'Ollie Primitives said...

"Water For Elephants" was an excellent read. Unfortunately the author's other books were a big letdown.
I usually stick to the oldies; Dickens,the Brontes, etc.
Would read all day if I could.

Vee said...

Why is is so interesting to see what a friend is reading? I am having trouble with fiction myself and am now reading "Recovering from the Losses of Life" and "Wordstruck." Both are rereads so that must mean I needed some comforting. I actually like the phrase you shared from that last book and your comment about tossing some dictionary pages into a blender cracked me up.

StitchinByTheLake said...

I'm definitely a fiction reader and have fallen in love with my Kindle because I can store my favorites and reread them, or parts of them, at will. I'm also ecletic in my fiction tastes but my all time favorites are the Clan of the Cave Bear Series by Jean Auel - they intrigue me because it seems to me that people just might have lived exactly like that in prehistoric times. blessings, marlene

lifeinredshoes said...

You've been away for 2 days, are you reading?

Anonymous said...


Chris said...

Mysteries and histories, that's all I read. If I do read a novel it is a very rare occasion, one that makes my friends run out and buy the novel. They figure it has to be good if I read it. Actually, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is one novel that I read all the way through and enjoyed.