“Like I said from the beginning, it doesn’t matter to me who’s the No. 1 starter and who’s the No. 5 starter,’’ Lester said Sunday in anticipation of his Game 3 start. “We all have equal importance to this team when it comes to winning. I just try to go out and execute pitches. Hopefully I can go deep in the game and give the bullpen a rest and give it to [Jonathan Papelbon], and anytime you get to Pap with the lead, we’re doing pretty good.’’ — That’s pitcher Jon Lester, quoted by the Boston Globe’s Tony Massarotti. Boy will we all be glad to see Lester on the mound, as well as the friendly green of Fenway.
I haven’t entirely forgotten about books, though — in fact my recent reading and my Red Sox in the playoffs obsession merged for awhile there as I read Dennis Lehane’s new novel, “The Given Day.” It’s historical and it’s epic and Babe Ruth shows up a couple times, in his last year with the Sox (the book is set in 1918-1919 — I wonder what it says about us as a society that the trade of the Babe to the Yankees is far better known to New England schoolchildren than the Boston police strike which is the climax to the book?
Some stormy weather meant my employer was closed for a couple days this week — and I got to read, when not evaluating storm preparedness and/or keeping the dog amused. Since I happened to post some reviews of this recent reading on Library Thing, I figured I might as well post them here:
The Open Door by Elizabeth Maguire
A slim, engaging novel about real people — primarily Constance Fenimore Woolson, who has gone down in history as a minor writer who pursued Henry James. According to this book, she was a lot more and I’d like to believe this version, if only because she seems like a remarkable, determined and admirable woman. It was especially interesting to read this fairly soon after reading “The Five of Hearts” by Patricia O’Toole, which includes several of the same people, especially Clarence King.
It may or may not be relevant, but the novel does deal with the main character’s awareness of and acceptance of mortality — and the author reportedly completed it just before she died of ovarian cancer at a way-too-young age.
The Whiskey Rebels: A Novel by David Liss
Historical hindsight tends to carry the air of the inevitable. Because we’ve all known so long about the American Revolution and worshiped the wisdom of the Founding Fathers, we assume it was meant to be, that fate decreed our nation would turn out the way it has.
Historical fiction is a useful reminder that these developments were not so inevitable, and that our history turned on human actions, decisions, chance, opportunity and intelligence. “The Whiskey Rebels” is a fine addition to the American story. The novel takes place in a mostly unexamined period, immediately after American independence had been won but the course of the young country was not yet determined. Continue reading
Reason No. 416 why working in a library beats working at a newspaper: Hurricanes mean LESS work, not MORE work! In fact, Tropical Storm Fay was the perfect storm — a nothingburger in effect that gave us two days off work, ie. two extra days of reading time. And I took advantage of it. First, I read The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, a historical YA book about a black kid in Boston in the 1770s. He’s the subject of some weird experimentation; it’s a good read though I have to say I think it’s a tad … sophisticated? Not sure of the right word but I don’t know how many kids would get into it. Then again, kids get into Philip Pullman and lots of other pretty complex stuff so maybe I’m selling them short.
Yesterday I read Disarmed by Gregory Curtis, a history of the Venus de Milo — what a great nonfiction read and a very interesting comparison to a book I recently read called The Linguist and the Emperor. Both dealt with antiquities unearthed by the French in the early 19th century but that’s about all they have in common. The Linguist and the Emperor (which is about the deciphering of the Rosetta Stone, sort of) was a mess. Disarmed was a treat. I can’t wait to read Curtis’ new(er) book, The Cave Painters. He’s got a real talent for making a story understandable and putting it in historical context without getting bogged down or jumping around so much that the narrative becomes incomprehensible (see: The Linguist and the Emperor).
I really have been reading a lot, or at least I was until we got cable and the Tour de France took over my waking, non-working hours. But I can see the end and the stack is piling up. I read Dominion by Calvin Baker, who will be appearing at the Key West Literary Seminar in January. It was a little outside my normal reading, which is the best kind (it’s the reason I joined a book group years ago although that fell by the wayside when I was pursuing my master’s). I read Women and Ghosts by Alison Lurie, a slim book of short stories that I think I might have read before, unless that was an effect of its eerieness. It reminded me how much I like her, and how much I need to read The Last Resort even though I have a strange fear of reading about places I know and love. (Haven’t been able to make myself read Tracy Kidder’s Hometown yet, either, about Northampton, Mass., where I was born.) I read Sacrifice by Eric Shanower, the second volume in his Age of Bronze series of graphic novels about the Trojan War — it was as good as the first, though it does suffer from that effect of many of the guys looking the same; you can distinguish them by their headbands, though. Over the Fourth of July weekend, perhaps influenced by the reintroduction of cable television into my brain, I found myself craving brain candy so I read The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory (author of The Other Boleyn Girl and numerous other works of Tudor Trash). I gulped that down in a day and a half so maybe I’m not over my Tudor thing entirely; plus it was fun to hear from/about a couple of the lesser-known Henry VIII queens (Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard, or Nos 4 and 5 if you’re counting). And just today I finished Dreaming Up America by Russell Banks, which I’ll be reviewing for Solares Hill shortly. Whew.
I’ve now read the entire published works of John Wray — in other words, I finished his other book, “The Right Hand of Sleep.” Like “Canaan’s Tongue,” it’s a historical novel but set in a very different time and place — this time, it’s an Austrian mountain village in 1938, aka the time of the Anschluss. Wray’s mother is Austrian and he spent a lot of time there growing up and it’s astonishingly surehanded and mature for a first novel. This guy is that good.
A recommended read from Maggie Nelson, one of the New Voices at this year’s Key West Literary Seminar, was John Wray and over the weekend I finished his second and most recent novel, Canaan’s Tongue. Thank you, Maggie! Wow. The book is one of those written in multiple voices, set during the Civil War, about a gang of criminals engaged in an abhorrent enterprise known as the Trade — stealing slaves for re-sale; the slaves co-operate because they think they will eventually be rewarded with freedom. Instead, they’re murdered.
Wray’s first novel, “The Right Hand of Sleep,” is also historical, this one set in Austria in the 1930s. And he seems to be an interesting fellow — according to this interview, he wrote that first novel under some interesting living conditions.
I’ve always been an admirer of graphic novels — but, I must confess, mostly in concept. I’ve read some shorter pieces, like the ones published in the New York Times Magazine on Sundays, but never an entire book. Until last weekend, when I got hold of A Thousand Ships, the first volume in Eric Shanower’s projected seven volume Age of Bronze, a history of the Trojan War.
I’m on a historical fiction kick anyway, because that’s the theme of the upcoming Key West Literary Seminar, and the latest in this series, the third volume, got a boffo review on Salon, one of my favorite sources for new titles. So I tracked down the first volume through interlibrary loan and it really is that good. Continue reading