Tuesday, July 29, 2008

This Week in Reading July 27 - August 2

More well known author names show up on the list this week. We start with the French in the nineteenth century with the other Alexandre Dumas. This one has the 'fils' after his name meaning he's the son of Alexandre Dumas, pere, the adventure novelist. In that same century Alexis de Tocqueville made quite a name when he visited the United States and explained Americans to others (and to later Americans.) The French born Hillaire Belloc became one of the best known English writers of the first half of the twentieth century.

Then there are three of the most well known U.K women who ever wrote, Emily Bronte, Beatrix Potter, and J. K. Rowling. Other British writers of note are novelist Malcolm Lowry and poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. Topping off the world tour are Italian scientist / story writer extraordinaire Primo Levi and the exquisite Chilean-American novelist Isabel Allende.

Here in America we have no less to celebrate than Herman Mellville of Moby Dick fame, James Baldwin, and a couple of extremely well selling authors whose names would mean little to those under sixty. Booth Tarkington wrote the Penrod series, which among his many other novels, got young people into libraries last century the way Stephanie Meyer does today. And Don Marquis' sketches of life as the cockroach named Archy (entertaining his alley cat friend Mehitabel), jumped around the typewriter keys of the absent newspaper columnist were not to be missed in their day.

This Week's Question: What California city is named after an author born this week?

Answer to Last Week's Question: No other author, probably, bragged as much as Ernest Hemingway. To some, he deserved to. To others, such braggadocio showed the sportswriter level of his craft which he never fully got past. In either case, his effect on novel writing in the twentieth century was indisputable and, for good or ill, many began to write as one spoke rather than as one reflected. (The picture at right was taken by this librarian and shows Hemingway's writing room at his Key West home.)

Thursday, July 24, 2008


To officially qualify as a “beach book” a title is usually thought to be something light, frothy and as easily put down and picked up again with no loss to the thread of the story. While everyone needs an ice cream cone now and then, summer is also a good time to sink into that hammock and spend with some time with quality writing and challenging themes

If exotic locales are your idea of a good summer vacation then The Darling by Russell Banks will be a good way to escape the realities of a hot, dry and expensive summer. Hannah Musgrave, a former member of the Weathermen Underground, tells the story of her life in Africa: marriage to a high-ranked Liberian official, her desertion of that life and family during a bloody revolution, and her ultimate return to Africa to find her sons. Banks very adeptly intertwines this tale told an aging 60’s liberal with the actual story of the corruption of the Liberian government and the disaster that it caused in so many lives. Russell Banks is an incredible writer and worth checking out. The library owns many of his other works.

The issues concerning cloning have long surfaced in the public consciousness and will probably continue to do so for quite some time. A fictional take on this issue is explored in Mary Modern by Camille DeAngelis. A young geneticist uses some of her father’s research and a bit of modern technology to successfully clone her grandmother. Many plot twists and strange happenings ensue in the telling of this tale including the discovery of what has been done by a deranged preacher who tries to blackmail her into cloning Jesus Christ. This is a good beach book that can’t help but make the reader forget that it’s 100 degrees outside or more.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

This Week in Reading July 20 - 26

This week ,and this time of year generally, just like late February and early March, give us many very well known writers whose births seem to be bunched together. There's an almost Stonehenge timing to things and one wonders if it's the ancient pattern of summer and harvest festivals bearing later fruit. Perhaps art follows seasonal agricultural cycles even as civilization moved to urban living. Perhaps also it's all coincidence.

Among the big names on the list who sold lots of books are Ernest Hemingway and Alexandre Dumas, Aldous Huxley, and George Bernard Shaw, Hart Crane and Cormac McCarthy. We have Carl Jung and Karl Menniger. For mystery fans there's no less than Los Angeles' own Raymond Chandler and Michael Connelly, along with John D. MacDonald. How about the biggest selling young adult author, S. E. Hinton? And that's not even half of the names you may recognize from the current list.

This Week's Question: How much are writers aware of other writers? Which author born this week boastfully assessed his literary skills with previous literary greats? "I started out very quiet and I beat Mr. Turgenev. Then I trained hard and I beat Mr. de Maupassant. I've fought two draws with Mr. Stendhal, and I think I have an edge in the last one. But nobody's going to get me in any ring with Mr. Tolstoy unless I'm crazy or I keep getting better."

Answer to Last Week's Question: Probably few people know of the author of the novel series about Quakers which began with
The Friendly Persuasion but many may know the movie. Jessamyn West grew up near Yorba Linda and was a Quaker though the novel, like most of her stories, was set in Indiana which she left at age six. She said, "Fiction reveals truths which reality obscures."

Monday, July 21, 2008

SUMMER PROJECTS - Knit some socks

Think that it’s way too hot outside to even think about knitting? Think again. Socks are the perfect hot weather project and there are tons of fun and interesting projects in The Eclectic Sole: socks for adventurous knitters by local resident, Janel Laidman. This one is full of patterns for every interest and ability level from lace to cable knitting. The Monterey sock even includes its own knit in holes! As with most knitting books Janel has used specific yarns for each project but includes the wpi (wraps per inch) so that it is a simple matter to use other yarn. Anyone see stash busting potential here?

Janel will speak at the Glendale Central Library auditorium on Sunday, July 27, at 2:00 PM. Bring your needles and favorite yarn to enjoy the talk and learn on the spot.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Some Summer Reading Suggestions

It’s hot outside, gas costs a fortune, as does everything else and vacations are either too short or non-existent. There is a solution and it’s free, portable and can be fit into the most demanding of schedules--the mini-vacation that you get when you escape into a great story. So whether you are looking for something for the beach bag or to while away the long commute now that the bus has become a favorite mode of transportation, here are some suggestions.

Louise Erdrich has long been an author that tells a great tale and that’s what you get in The Master Butcher’s Singing Club. Set in North Dakota this is an unusual story that has elements of mystery, an unsolved murder, romance and familial relationships. The author builds a story that gives a good sense of the early 1900s and small town America.

Leaping from the Midwest to far-off India, Thrity Umrigar’s The Space Between Us paints a vivid picture of the lives of two families, one upper class and the other the domestics that serve them. Told from the point of view of the women of each family the story explores the relationship between the families, the constraints imposed on them by their culture as well as issues of loyalty. Well-drawn characters combined with an exotic locale make this one a good escape for a summer’s day.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

New US Poet Laureate - Kay Ryan

California poet Kay Ryan is to be the 2008-2009 United States Poet Laureate, James H. Billington, Librarian of Congress announced today, taking over from Charles Simic in the Fall. Among speeches and readings which the Poet Laureate does for the Library Congress, Ryan mused, "Maybe I'll issue library cards to everyone." (Our favorite kind of literary official.)

Her poetry has been compared to Emily Dickinson's, and this was said by John Barr, president of The Poetry Foundation: "Halfway into a Ryan poem, one is ready for either a joke or a profundity; typically it ends in both. Before we know it the poem arrives at some unexpected, deep insight that likely will alter forever the way we see that thing."

Ryan is the author of six books of poetry, (none of which we yet have, but we'll get some.) Her most recent book. The Niagara River, is already in the Pasadena Public Library collection, accessible to both Glendale and Pasadena library card holders.

[Photo above by Peter DaSilva for The New York Times]

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Terra Cotta Soliders from a Chinese Tomb

The Tomb of 10,000 Warriors ranks up there as one of the top ten archeological discoveries according to Patrick Hunt’s Ten Discoveries that Rewrote History. Luckily for us Southern Californians who can’t make it to China, the Bower’s Museum in Santa Ana, is exhibiting, Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China’s First Emperor through October 12 2008. The exhibit will unveil 20 complete life-sized figures, the most ever to have left China, in a 120-object touring archive of rare artifacts over 2200 years old.

To learn more about this amazing discovery, check out two new books at the library,
The Terra Cotta Army: China’s first Emperor and the birth of a nation by John Man.

"A judicious exploration of the circumstances and meaning behind the terra cotta army interred with China's first emperor. (Kirkus Reviews)

China's First Emperor and His Terracotta Warriors by Frances Wood

"a tightly structured, nimble pocket portrait of China's First Emperor, Qin Shihuangdi." (Kirkus Reviews)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

This Week in Reading July 13 - 19

There's a lot of variety this week among authors from the popular to the academic. As usual, there's a Nobel prizewinner on the list which is Nigerian playwright Wole Soyinka, and one who won the Peace Prize, but is not a writer per se, Nelson Mandela. There is also poet Yeygeny Yevtushenko and philosophers Jacques Derrida and Herbert Marcuse.

There are also quite a few UK names with an influence on culture such as Thomas Bulfinch, Northrup Frye, and Kenneth Clark, along with novelists William Makepeace Thackeray, Iris Murdoch, A.J. Cronin, and contemporary Susan Howatch. Our country is represented by playwrights Clifford Odets, Arthur Laurents and Tony Kushner, along with commercial novelists, Irving Stone, Erle Stanley Gardner, and Clive Cussler.

This Week's Question: Staying with the idea of obscurity, which somewhat obscure California author born this week wrote the following: "Fiction reveals truths which reality obscures."

Answer to Last Week's Question: "Be obscure clearly" was famously written by E.B. White, the author of the children's books, Stuart Little, and Charlotte's Web, but he was also the 1959 editor of the 1918 William F. Strunk book about writing concisely, The Elements of Style, to which he added essays. The book has been referred to by writers and librarians of all kinds simply as "Strunk and White" for years.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

This Week in Reading July 6 - 12

It's hard to get back to work this week after a little time off. Many of the writers on the list right now are fantasists who skirt reality, others lose themselves in memories, some talk about getting away from the hustle and bustle, and even a president who's known not to be an overworker gives one no great incentive to be industrious. So, just sit back and pretend to work while you're reading until work itself takes over and forces you to fall into the stream of things.

The fantasists range from Anne Radcliffe and Mervyn Peake to David Eddings, Jeff Vandermeer and Dean Koontz. The last also writes in other genres, especially mysteries where he is joined this week by Donald Westlake. We also see Marcel Proust whose seven novel great work began with a simple remembered taste of a childhood cookie. Henry David Thoreau got away from it all but he did have to work at it once he got there. Other literary names this week are Anna Quindlen, Alice Munro, and Harold Bloom (who writes about and edits literature but doesn't write necessarily literarily.) And, as most weeks have, the Nobel prizewinner this week is Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.

This Week's Question: Who, born this week, advised writers to "Be obscure clearly"?

Answer to Last Weeks Question: Unlike Barbara Cartland, the famous romance novelist born this week who said "We romance writers are there to make people feel, not think", Nathaniel Hawthorne's idea of a "romance" was not a simple story of love, but a dark, complex tale with both thinking and feeling. He said "Easy reading is damned hard writing." Romanticism was the name of the nineteenth century literary and artitistic movement to which he's been associated.

Search the Book Talk archives!