Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Lucy's Review Fall 2009

Spirit of the River welcomes Robin Cody
CCC Performing Arts Center
16th & Franklin, Astoria
Saturday October 3rd beginning at 7:00

Celebrate the “Spirit of the River” with a festive evening of music, poetry, dance, spoken word, and fine art on Saturday, October 3rd at the Clatsop Community College Performing Arts Center in Astoria.
The evening begins with hors d’oeuvres, music and a silent auction of works by favorite regional artists at the Josie Peper building, next door to the PAC on Franklin St. The performance starts at 8 p.m. at the PAC, at 16th and Franklin. This third annual event benefits Columbia Riverkeeper and the opposition to liquefied natural gas (LNG) on the Columbia River.
Award-winning Oregon author Robin Cody is this year’s featured guest. Cody canoed from the headwaters of the Columbia to its mouth at the Pacific Ocean and in 1995 was winner of the Oregon Book Award for Voyage of a Summer Sun, an account of his Columbia River paddle. In 2005, his fictional book set in Oregon, Ricochet River was selected as one of top 100 literary works produced in Oregon in the last two hundred years. Cody has won national awards for his essays and articles and lives in Portland. Of the river, our region, and his relationship to it, Cody says: Mom graduated from Astoria High with "The Tall Firs" of basketball fame. Dad had his fatal heart attack while fishing near Buoy 10. My sister Sue lives in Astoria and works at The Daily Astorian. Her daughters -- Leslie and Brooke Duling -- bleed purple and gold, and I've been all over this river. One summer -- all summer -- I canoed 1,214 miles of it, from the Canadian Rockies to the West Boat Basin. Rivers have spirit, you know. Rivers will give you a bad time of you get cocky. Rivers can lift you when you're down. The Columbia River from Bonneville to Astoria has waaaaay lots of spirit, and is sometimes wild. The wilder the better, if you ask me. The idea of a liquid natural gas terminal on the lower river -- just the idea of it -- is like a fart in church.
On that note, don’t miss this year’s Spirit of the River event! Lucy’s is honored to “person” the book table and offer river revelers the opportunity to purchase Robin’s books. Part of the proceeds will go right to Riverkeeper.

It’s a huge fall season for book lovers. A lot of titles I have been waiting for in paperback are coming in, and an unprecedented number of beloved authors have new hardcover releases just out or coming soon. Highlights for yours truly include a new John Irving novel, and Michael Chabon’s forthcoming essay collection. Life is good.

An Unbelievable Fall for New Releases!!!!!!!

I’m pretty sure I shared with you the post-Michael-Chabon-talk giddy high I was on last fall, but perhaps not my long and failed quest to find the text of the talk he gave. I can’t be sure it will be there, but I’m strongly hoping that Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son will contain it. I can’t wait to read this collection of essays by one of the modern masters of the written word (in my humble opinion of course)!
At long last, after an 11-year hiatus, the supremely gifted short story and novel writer Lorrie Moore returns with the novel A Gate at the Stairs. As Jonathan Lethem succinctly puts it in the Times Book Review, this “is reason enough to start Google-mapping a route to the nearest surviving bookstore.” Moore exactingly tackles class issues – from the micro- of neighboring farmers, to the macro- of the post-9/11 world.
See you when I see you, that is, don’t bug me ‘til I finish the new John Irving. I’m sort of beside myself with anticipation for Last Night in Twisted River. According to the publisher comments: In a story spanning five decades, John Irving’s twelfth novel depicts the recent half-century in the United States as a living replica of Coos County, New Hampshire, where lethal hatreds were generally permitted to run their course.
It seems like everyone is writing a book about eating, and food, and where our food comes from, and all the implications of all of that. So, I’m not sure why the incredible, eclectic novelist Jonathan Safran Foer has chosen to jump off this crowded cliff. That said, I’ll grab Eating Animals and dig in as soon as it comes in, as since I read a pre-publication excerpt of Everything is Illuminated in the New Yorker, I have worshipped at the altar of Foer. From the publisher: On the brink of fatherhood, facing the prospect of having to make dietary choices on a child’s behalf, he visited factory farms in the middle of the night, dissected the emotional ingredients of meals from his childhood, and probed some of his most primal instincts about right and wrong.
My daughter is going to be really jazzed when I bring home Sherman Alexie’s new short story collection, War Dances. I have to share my favorite-ever author photo of the great Alexie – he laughs with abandon, but if you’ve read him you know his incredible humor is the needle that stitches together quilts of incredible sorrow, rage, and love.
(I didn’t write the following – it’s the publisher synopsis! But I know nothing of the book except that I LOVE David Byrne….) Since the early 1980s, David Byrne has been riding a bike as his principal means of transportation in New York City. Convinced that urban biking opens one’s eyes to the inner workings and rhythms of a city’s geography and population, Byrne began keeping a journal of his observations and insights as he pedals through metropoles from Berlin to Buenos Aires, Istanbul to San Francisco, Manila to New York. Bicycle Diaries also records Byrne’s thoughts on world music, urban planning, fashion, architecture, cultural dislocation, and much more, all conveyed with a highly personal mixture of humor, curiosity, and humility.
It’s been Ta few years since Barbara Kingsolver’s last novel. In The Lacuna, Kingsolver explores new emotional ground and new geography in the journey of Harrison Shepherd from the Mexico City of artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo to the America of Pearl Harbor, FDR, and J. Edgar Hoover.
Tracy Kidder’s Strength in What Remains is now available. Kidder tells the unlikely story of Deo, a Burundian medical student and genocide survivor who, through determination and some luck, attended college and medical school in the U.S., then worked for Partners in Health, the worldwide global health organization founded by Paul Farmer, the subject of Kidder’s prior book Mountains Beyond Mountains. Deo has since founded a medical clinic in Burundi, which was always his dream.
Stieg Larsson’s explosive hit mystery The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo now has a follow-up, also translated and published post-humously. The Girl who Played with Fire will surely make Larsson’s many fans swoon, as the intense, quirky hacker Lisbeth Salander takes center stage.

Brie’s New Release Picks…

In his latest book Zeitoun, Dave Eggers (What is the What, McSweeneys) has found the perfect subject in Syrian born Muslim Abdulrahman Zeitoun to depict the ills of our times. As Hurricane Katrina headed for New Orleans, Zeitoun stayed to protect his property. Distributing aid after the storm, he was arrested for suspicion of terrorism leaving him unable to contact family or prove his innocence. Eggers spent three years with the Zeitoun family researching the story on these mistreated citizens and discovering more little reported, excruciating realities of post-Katrina life. The proceeds from this book will go to non-profit group The Zeitoun Foundation and will be spent on cultural revitalization in New Orleans. The fun stuff now... in The Wild Things, Eggers taps his never-ending imagination to create a sort of back-story for Maurice Sendak’s beloved book Where The Wild Things Are.
At long last, John Twelve Hawks (Traveler, The Dark River) is releasing the final book The Golden City in his Fourth Realm trilogy. How to quickly explain the intricacies of this series? When reading you may experience subversive politics, oppression, futuristic science and technology with a heart-pounding plot that keeps all synapses firing. My friend Hal would call this trilogy a hotdog of literature!
Tucker Crowe is a washed up musician raising his son and living in rural Pennsylvania staging a comeback album – Juliet, Naked – and unexpectedly finds love. Nick Hornby (A Long Way Down, About a Boy) returns blending humor, heartbreak, love and music into one juicy novel.
I thought Aravind Adiga’s debut novel The White Tiger was fantastic and am excited to read his new book Between the Assassinations. Set in Kittur, India during the years between Indira and Rajiv Ghandi’s assassinations, these stories are connected by place and time. Adiga writes with a biting wit and keen observation, shining a light into lives very different from ours in the western world.
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (Zoli, Dancer) is getting rave reviews as one of the best novels this year. Let the Great World Spin has a promising beginning with Philippe Petit (Man on Wire) walking a high wire between the Twin Towers in 1974. Four very different stories spring from witnessing this event which McCann weaves into one larger novel that focuses on the theme that we are all connected in both mundane and mysterious ways.
Fans of Jim Lynch’s debut The Highest Tide will be happy to know his latest novel Border Songs is available. Small town antics and international politics collide north of Bellingham, Washington, at the Canadian border. Smugglers of a variety of contraband are in danger of the Border Patrol’s newest employee Brandon VanderKool. Although Brandon seems harmless for all his height, severe dyslexia, and obsession with birds, he has a knack for catching smugglers. Neighbors from both sides of the border including a mysterious masseuse, a green card holding cancer patient re-enacting all of Edison’s experiments, and dairy farmers populate Border Songs with vigor and comedy.

Books I’ve Loved this Summer… Laura

My surprising and awe-inspiring top pick this summer is Nicola Keegan’s first novel Swimming. Olympic swimming sensation Philomena Ash is one of the most interesting characters I’ve ever read. Pip springs out of a small town in Kansas to take the international swimming world by storm, but her interior life, marred by family tragedy, is the real starting block for her personal transformation. Keegan channels this young woman in astounding and unique ways.
I guess most people will agree with absolutely everything or nothing that Alfie Kohn writes. I find myself in the former group. I keep quoting from the fine essay collection What Does it Mean to be Well Educated? in such a wide variety of contexts that though he mostly addresses the education community here, parents, students, and interested citizens of the world will glean much from Kohn’s unique perspectives on standards, achievement, rewards, and motivation.
I finally sat down with The Worst Hard Time, by Timothy Egan, and I stayed sitting for a long time. There was so much about the middle of our country, the plains, the Dust Bowl, Depression politics, farming… so much I had no idea about. Egan is a beautiful writer who makes the political personal, and weaves a particular historical time, place, and people into a can’t-put-down page-turner.
I moonlight as an elected school board member, and there is always discussion (because we always seem to have to eliminate programs) regarding the value of the “extras” – shop class, for example – as compared with straight academics. A must read is Matthew Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work. Crawford is a philosophy professor and motorcycle mechanic, with strong opinions on what is wrong with the relative values placed on high prestige white-collar work vs. the work of the hands. It’s a fascinating, well written, deeply felt philosophical treatise.

To reread or not to reread: that…is the question. Laura

While we were in Maine, the Bridgton library hosted a talk with awesome children’s author Andrew Clements. He gave a wonderful talk about his life as a writer to a packed house, and one thing in particular he said has stuck with me. A young person asked him the impossible question, what’s your favorite book ever? Charlotte’s Web was his answer, but the interesting part was that Clements suggested that E.B. White’s masterpiece is a book that one should read every five years for his/her entire life, and that with each reading a completely different experience would unfold. This made complete sense to me! It got me thinking. I don’t reread books, because I can never catch up on my list of haven’t-reads! And yet, books I yearn to read again began popping into my head.
I often recommend Hermann Hesse’s masterpiece Siddhartha to graduating high school students. I read it when I was eighteen, and while I have zero memory of the details (this should surprise no one who knows me), I remember that upon finishing I immediately started again. I was transformed and inspired by this fictional account of a young Indian mystic’s coming of age, but gosh darn it, I can’t really remember why! So, a strong #1 on the reread list.
It was many years ago that I read John Nichols’ The Milagro Beanfield War. It seemed so subversive then, that the “little” people had the last laugh on the corporate interests disregarding their lives (think southwestern water rights squabble turned epic). Now no matter who we are, we are probably those “little” people in one context or another, as those corporate interests have grown so monstrous. The book ended up comprising the first of a loose trilogy, and I never quite fell in love with the other two, but Milagro will forever have a huge, warm place in my heart.
I have a personal list of books about war that perhaps aren’t the standard ones – Brian Turner’s poetry collection Here, Bullet, David James Duncan’s The Brothers K, and John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany. Irving’s coming of age epic, like these others, makes our government policies personal, as characters we grow to know and love are affected by the wars of their eras. I have read Owen Meany a couple of times but would read it again in a heartbeat.
Maybe this seems sacrilegious but I’m going to say it. I miss the old Isabel Allende! More recently I have loved her memoir Paula, but recent novels have not held a candle to The House of the Spirits or Eva Luna. Rereading the great South American writers in their primes seems like a project worth doing. I would read the above, as well as One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera. Then I could spend another winter, after my Latin writers’ summer, rereading John Steinbeck’s American epics The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden. Alas, what will I do about all the new releases?

New Fall Paperbacks

Julia Child: A Life: The cover photo of Julia in a burst of laughter is worth a thousand words. For the already or newly minted Julia-philes, Laura Shapiro’s award-winning biography is here. Julia’s own My Life in France is also highly recommended by my good friend Jane, the best cook I’ve ever known, and of course, Julie and Julia, Julie Powell’s memoir and the basis for the movie, is in paper as well.
You may know Isabel Fonseca for her incredibly thorough, brilliant history of the Roma people (Bury Me Standing), but I’m here to tell you she is brutally skilled at the marriage-on-the-brink novel as well. Attachment, which I put on my list after reading the NY Times review last year, is here in paper.
Terry Tempest Williams’ latest book, Finding Beauty in a Broken World, draws on her experiences in Italy, Rwanda, and home, finding common connections between humans and the natural world. Her writing, as in the past, promises to be expressive and exquisite.
I live with two parrot people, so Alex and Me, as well as Of Parrots and People, have been on my radar. You’re probably familiar with Irene Pepperburg’s 30-year long study of animal intelligence through her relationship with the African Gray parrot Alex. The book is made more poignant by Alex’s recent death. The latter title is Mira Tweti’s exploration of the strange unlikely relationship between these two species.
Brie loved this new paperback: Narrated in turn and perspective by two sisters, Julia Glass’s (Three Junes) novel I See You Everywhere is one of the best I read this summer. Strong individuals both, Louisa and Clem struggle with the love and rivalry that makes up sisterhood. Spanning 25 years, I See You Everywhere asks the question: can anyone really see another person as they truly are, or do we only see each other’s definition in relation to ourselves? Glass’s beautiful prose effectively portrays the complexities of family relations.
You’ll need to be patient until November for Thomas Friedman’s Hot, Flat, and Crowded. Friedman is the master of connecting us to the world through policy and politics. When I get the chance to read him, he strikes me as someone with common sense, and a vast comprehension of the big picture, a rare and valuable combination.
David Sedaris’ latest, When You are Engulfed in Flames includes his future classic story about quitting smoking. For his cult and not-so-cult following, it’s a worthy collection. Fans of Sedaris will find Sarah Vowell’s new book The Wordy Shipmates’ October release a happy occasion. Vowell’s brand of historical exploration focuses this time on the Puritan experience – both its historical and cultural relevance, and in classic Vowell style, its oddities.
I haven’t read Sarah Hall’s (Electric Michelangelo) work, but Brie is a huge fan, and has already brought home her copy of Hall’s new novel How to Paint a Dead Man. The Guardian calls Hall “one of the most significant and exciting of Britain’s young novelists.” Here she explores the lives of a dying painter, a blind girl, a landscape artist, and an art curator through five decades.
Toni Morrison never falters. Her novels continue to challenge and illuminate with their intense beauty and portrayals of people deep in struggle. I’m looking forward to reading A Mercy, which continues Morrison’s lifetime exploration of what lies beneath the surface of slavery, and within the relationships between mothers and daughters.
Nam Le’s collection of seven stories herald the presence of a stellar new voice. Born in Vietnam, Nam Le’s stories span the entire world. He is the winner of the Dylan Thomas Prize, and The Boat is a New York Times Notable Book.
I know, everyone is writing about food. But read Wendell Berry about food. This farmer has been extolling the virtues of local agriculture and what it means to grow, eat, buy food, for five decades. Berry is much more than a locavore or an analyst of trends; he is a philosopher, and one of the great moral voices of our country. Add a reverent introduction by Michael Pollan, and Bringing it to the Table is required reading.
Linda Hogan is the beloved author of the Pulitzer Prize winning Mean Spirit, and Dwellings: A Spiritual History of the Living World. Her latest novel, People of the Whale, explores the life of a Native American man returned from Vietnam to find his tribe in conflict over the decision to hunt a whale. Hogan once again addresses the most difficult Native issues with a reverent sense of spirituality and grace.