Archive for the ‘Words’ Category

Summer Reading

As an English teacher, my earliest inspiration was my love of a good story. Summer is my time to approach literature as a lover of books rather than a scholar of them. While the two cannot and should not be totally separated, there is a difference in what, how, and how much I read during the summer as opposed to the school year. I also love to read good lists. I especially love lists which introduce me to something new or help me reconsider what I have dismissed, neglected or forgotten. One of the best listers of books I have found recently (and pretty damn good writer) is Michelle Kerns. Check her out at: http://www.examiner.com/x-562-Book-Examiner

In a similar spirit I offer my own summer reading list of books I have already read or plan to before September.

I love the mystery genre. I also like to start out my summer with books that are trashy, make few demands on me as a reader, and can be consumed in a few sittings. What I believe makes a good mystery novel is one centered around the pursuit of truth, understanding and knowledge. What makes a great mystery novel is one where the protagonist is deeply conflicted and flawed but a deeper, innate sense of integrity and decency overrides their flaws and allows them to struggle with good and evil in a fruitful manner. That is what is at the core of the human condition and by extension, it is at the center of the Resurrection–the greatest mystery ever.

wpid-pastedgraphic-2010-07-24-11-03.jpg wpid-pastedgraphic1-2010-07-24-11-03.jpg
The Girl Who Played with Fire
The Girl Who Kicked a Hornet’s Nest
Parts 2 and 3 in Steig Lasson’s trilogy. You probably won’t put these down once you start them. They are on the bestseller list for a reason. Worth your time.

wpid-pastedgraphic2-2010-07-24-11-03.jpg wpid-pastedgraphic3-2010-07-24-11-03.jpg
The Stranger Beside Me
Small Sacrifices
Ann Rule writes for bored middle-aged white women. These books are complete trash but you are lying to yourself if you don’t go immediately to the 10 pages of pictures in the middle. True crime, bad writing, too many words, fascinating stories. I confess.

Echo Park by Michael Connelly
One of the better American mystery writers. He won’t insult your intelligence.

Dog On It by Spencer Quinn
Fun. If you are a dog lover and a mystery lover it doesn’t get much better than a canine narrator who happens to be a police dog school drop out.

The Indian Bride by Karen Fossum
She is my favorite Scandinavian mystery writer. And not just because she’s Norwegian.

The Fourth Man by K.O. Dahl
Another Scandinavian (also Norwegian) mystery writer. This novel had a noir/femme fatal vibe going but seemed to end flat to me.

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale
Recommended to my by a mystery lover.

Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry
Seriously, under no circumstances should you ever read this alone at night. I did when I was 19 and it has taken me this long to pick the book up again.

wpid-pastedgraphic11-2010-07-24-11-03.jpg wpid-pastedgraphic12-2010-07-24-11-03.jpg
The Road
Cities of the Plain
Cormac McCarthy has become my favorite writer. I’ve recently been studying Flannery O’ Connor and the similarities in characters and the use of violence and the grotesque is striking. One difference is that McCarthy creates characters you really care about and then proceeds to let life and circumstances beat the shit out of them.

wpid-pastedgraphic13-2010-07-24-11-03.jpg wpid-pastedgraphic14-2010-07-24-11-03.jpg
The Yiddish Policemen’s Union
After avoiding Michael Chabon for years I finally was forced to read his collection of essays, Manhood for Amatuers and found myself laughing outloud at several points and nearly weeping at others. So I decided to give his fiction a shot. I started with Yiddish Policeman, got in about 70 pages and quit. It was too fussy and I wasn’t enjoying it. Summerland, on the other hand, had me from page one and I was once again in awe of Chabon’s ability to move a reader. It is allegorical without being pedantic, casual without being cheap, emotional without being overly sentimental. I’m not sure who his intended audience was (it is marketed for young adults), but the novel blends the fantastical and mythical in a way that is both dark and uplifting.

Design and Truth by Robert Grudin
The newest non-fiction book by my favorite college professor. An amazing mind. I was overjoyed when my 18 year old son picked up American Vulgar read it, and said it was an outstanding and thought-provoking book.

wpid-pastedgraphic16-2010-07-24-11-03.jpg wpid-pastedgraphic17-2010-07-24-11-03.jpg
The Violent Bear it Away
The Complete Stories by Flannery O’ Connor
I’m teaching a class on Flannery O’ Connor this summer. She is a remarkable writer. I’ve read her short stories too many times to count, but this is the first time I’ve read one of her novels. (She only wrote two). And like all her work it was disturbing, humorous, challenging, and left me haunted with images.

Raven Stole the Moon by Garth Stein
I loved The Art of Racing in the Rain (another great book for dog lovers) so I thought I would give an older novel of Stein’s a shot.  (I thought it was newer until I actually looked at the publication date.)

The Day Dreamer by Ian McEwan
One of my favorite writers.

Oh Play That Thing by Roddy Doyle
I’ve loved everything I’ve read by him.


Read Full Post »

The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy is not a perfect book.  In places; however, it comes pretty damn close.

He came forward and hazed the animals up out of the river.  They clambered out along the gravel shore and blew and craned their necks.  The old man turned, his stick on one shoulder.

Esta lejoj de su casa? he said.

The boy said that he had no home.

The old man’s face grew troubled.  He said that the boy must have a home but the boy said that he did not.  The old man said that there was a place for everyone in the world and that he would pray for the boy.  Then he drove the oxen out through the willows and the sycamore wood in the new dusk and was soon gone from sight.

A nearly perfect song from Kris Kristofferson:

Listen:  https://toomuchidiotwind.files.wordpress.com/2010/02/1-01-sunday-mornin-comin-down.mp3

Download:  Sunday Morning Coming Down

Read Full Post »

Excerpt from As I Walked Out One Evening by W.H. Auden

'O look, look in the mirror,
   O look in your distress:
Life remains a blessing
   Although you cannot bless.

'O stand, stand at the window
   As the tears scald and start;
You shall love your crooked neighbour
   With your crooked heart.'

W.H. Auden was one of the first poets I ever “got”.   Lines from his poems run through my mind from time to time.  Lately I have been thinking about what a challenge it can be to love others…Love as a concrete action rather than an abstract feeling.  And I fail, miserably, every day.  I am judgmental, impatient, easily irritated, and intolerant.  And that is with my friends.

These lines came to me mysteriously last night as I was watching Son Volt perform at the WOW Hall.  I closed my eyes as they were performing Strength and Doubt and disappeared for just a moment.  Love Your Crooked Neighbor With Your Crooked Heart drifted through my mind.  It was a moment of unexpected transcendence.

Listen to: Strength and Doubt

Read Full Post »

On the Road

A collection of insane ramblings written by a conflicted methamphetamine user?

A brilliant, classic novel of freedom and longing?

I hold both opinions about the Jack Kerouac’s novel On The Road.

RoadWhat is the feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see they’re specks dispersing?-it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-by.  But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.

41P87BKVZXL._SS400_The Flaming Lips come from the same planet as Kerouac.  I’m not sure why they are here but am comforted by their presence.

Do You Realize??

Read Full Post »

William Faulkner said the following about Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair:  “One of the most true and moving novels of my time, in anybody’s language.”  True and moving words are why I read, write and teach.  From time to time I would like to share such words free from comment and interpretation.


What I chiefly felt was less hate than fear.  For if God exists, I thought, and if even you-with your lusts and your adulteries and the timid lies you used to tell-can change like this, we could all be saints by leaping as you leapt, by shutting the eyes and leaping once and for all:  if you are a saint, it’s not so difficult to be a saint.  It’s something He can demand of any of us, leap.  But I won’t leap.  I sat on my bed and said to God:  You’ve taken her, but You haven’t got me yet.  I know Your cunning.  It’s You who take us up to a high place and offer us the whole universe.  You’re a devil, God, tempting us to leap.  But I don’t want Your peace and I don’t want Your love.  I wanted Sarah for a lifetime and You took her away.  With Your great schemes You ruin our happiness like a harvester ruins a mouse’s nest:  I hate You, God, I hate You as though You existed.


Listen to the following song from Bob Dylan’s Time Out of Mind.  He and Greene drank from the same cup.

Trying to Get to Heaven

Read Full Post »