My favorites:

New(ish) fiction: Richard Powers The Overstory

Classic fiction: Willa Cather Death Comes for the Archbishop

Non-fiction: Philip Caputo A Rumor of War

Poetry: Robinson Jeffers, pretty much anything despite how crazy some of his poetic plots turn out

Re-read: this is tough but I'd go with Faulkner's Sound and the Fury

New (to me) writer: Chia-Chia Lin

 

 

January


Big Sur: The Making of a Prized California Landscape Shelley Alden Brooks:  A rather dry account of the land-use battles that have defined this region for over a century.  Includes the lesser-known characters like Pete Douglas and Nat and Margaret Owings along with the literary triumvirate of Jeffers, Miller and Kerouac (as if! obviously not a huge fan of his title of the area); plus Ansel Adams.  All involved in the debate of what is best for the land…the property owners whose families have stewarded the land for generations or some government entity?  Can our government be trusted with these decisions? There are no easy answers to preserving one of my favorite spots on earth.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Small Country Gael Faye:  A stark narrative of a boy struggling with his identity and forced maturation amidst the massacres and upheaval that was (and is?) Rwanda/Burundi in the 90’s.  His ethnicity, borne of a French father and Rwandan mother, further complicates the inner and outer struggles of a country at war with itself.  At first, I wasn’t impressed by the much bally-hooed lyrical prose but I was definitely sold by the end.  The narration seems to gain momentum as the civil war itself climaxes.  Will keep an eye out for more from this author!


We shouldn’t doubt the beauty of things, not even under a torturing sky.  If you’re not surprised by the cockerel’s crow or the light above the mountain ridge, if you don’t believe in the goodness of your soul, then you’re not striving anymore, and it’s as if you were already dead.


Knight’s Gambit: Six Mystery Stories William Faulkner:  Not exactly “whodunits” in the traditional sense but some good cognitive twists as we follow “Uncle Gavin” through that county no one can pronounce or even spell—Yolka-napa-tapa? Like an egg-wine-finger food.  Even though not as dense in narrative exploration as his more ambitious works, you can still tell there is a genius at work.

...women who were always ladies and men who were always brave moving in a sort of immortal moonlight without anguish and with no pain from birth without foulment to death without carrion, so that you too could weep with them without having to suffer or grieve, exult with them without having to conquer or triumph.


Emerson Among the Eccentrics: A Group Portrait Carlos Baker:  Having read his Hemingway bio, I knew to expect a thoroughly researched tome and this one was borderline exhaustive.  You’ll find everything you want to know about Emerson and his vast circle of friends from the 1830’s until his death fifty years later.  I’d recommend it as a starting point for any research involving Emerson, Fuller, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Ellery Channing, Whitman, et al.  Such a charmed circle! Actually might need to add a qualifier...after reading of the tragic death of Margaret Fuller and her husband and child shipwrecked so close to shore after a 5 week voyage across the Atlantic:

 

Possibly because of the inexperienced first mate, now serving as captain, the ship slammed into a sandbar less than 100 yards from Fire Island, New York, on July 19, 1850, around 3:30 a.m. Many of the other passengers and crew members abandoned ship. The first mate, Mr. Bangs, urged Fuller and Ossoli to try to save themselves and their child as he himself jumped overboard, later claiming he believed Fuller had wanted to be left behind to die. On the beach, people arrived with carts hoping to salvage any cargo washed ashore. None made any effort to rescue the crew or passengers of the Elizabeth,though they were only 50 yards from shore Most of those aboard attempted to swim to shore, leaving Fuller and Ossoli and Angelino some of the last on the ship. Ossoli was thrown overboard by a massive wave and, after the wave had passed, a crewman who witnessed the event said Fuller could not be seen.  Henry David Thoreau traveled to New York, at the urging of Emerson, to search the shore but neither Fuller's body nor that of her husband was ever recovered. Angelino's had washed ashore -- from Wikipedia


Three Flames Alan Lightman: A well-told story with important observations on how Cambodian women (specifically but not exclusively) are treated and the effort they have to put in to break the cycle of the three flames:  never take family problems outside the house; never forget what mother and father have done for you; always serve your husband and be respectful of him.  The book follows the lives of a drunken father, his wife, son and three daughters.  Each chapter has a distinct narrative voice telling of their tribulations as they adapt to the increased modernity of the world around them.  Starts slow but picks up in the final section dedicated to the youngest daughter who personifies the author’s own ethos.  Also, learned of the author’s founding of the Harpswell Foundation helping young women in Southeast Asia with leadership skills and education:  https://www.harpswellfoundation.org/

The night sky was the mind of the Buddha.  And it seemed that the vast expanse of time, going back to before her parents were born and before her grandparents were born and back through the generations she would never know, and then going forward in time to when her parents would be dead, and she would be dead, on and on into the future--all that unending strand of time seemed compressed to a dot.  That single dot contained everything that was and everything that would be.  She was that dot.

Another Brooklyn Jacqueline Woodson: Somewhat of a disappointment since its lyricism and “dream-like” qualities never did for me what it did for other reviewers.  I found the events of the story somewhat forced and the climax devalued.  Its most poignant moments came when it sounded like the author was talking from personal experience so a memoir-type of narrative may have worked better for me.


February


Open Season CJ Box:  A new (to me) cheese read and the 1st of a very long Joe Pickett series.  I won’t be reading those but entertaining enough to try his more acclaimed work.


Winter Christopher Nicholson: A superbly written book that chronicles a fictional event near the end of Thomas Hardy’s life. Another amazing fictional biography which would have been even more enjoyable had I not recently read a book about Tolstoy at similar times in life and sadly with a similarly toxic relationship with their wives. Look forward to reading more by Nicholson whose impromptu insights provide a darkly comedic cohesion to the events of the novel:

...wars were therefore not inexplicable outbursts of irrationality in a rational universe, but volcanic expressions of an underlying chaos.  The conclusion which necessarily followed was that a campaign to prevent war by the promotion of rationality would be as effective as an an attempt to prevent an eruption by tossing a cork into a smoldering volcano.

 
Look at the Birdie Kurt Vonnegut, Jr: Always a little skeptical of works published posthumously and it does seem that some of these stories fail to have the “zip” you’d expect…as if he was still tinkering with them.  Or that could be my imagination. Either way, good reading!


A Pocket Full of Rye Agatha Christie:  Classic Miss Marple mystery where everyone appears to be a suspect until her random arrival and good sense put everything in order…much like my grandmother, Louise Holmquist, who was a fan and why I read them for an ambience of nostalgia.


Little Boy Lawrence Fehrlenghetti: Not sure about calling this a novel as it starts as a poetic memoir and progresses into a stream-of-conscious poem.  Somewhat derivative of ‘Finnegan’s Wake’ (as the author repeatedly self-references)…but more accessible as this author reveals himself as more of a humanist than Joyce’s esoteric intellectualism.


March


The Women at Point Sur and other Poems* Robinson Jeffers:  Wow!  How did I not read him before!?!  Completely mad, poetic craziness that allows access to genius no matter how disturbing.  Amazing re-creation of a Point Sur wildness that inspires creativity in all kinds and all ages.  A place where I’ve always felt closer to another world whether it’s within me or a conduit to a spiritual one.  No matter.  I will re-visit the landscape and author as often as possible while I’m in this one.


Night Boat to Tangier Kevin Barry: At times it seems a little slow to develop but ended up coming together as an entertaining narrative, partly humorous and partly heart-breaking.  A story of two aging, mid-level Irish gangsters who spent their lives smuggling drugs from North Africa to Spain and parts unknown.  The story unfolds as they wait at a ferry terminal in Spain hoping to spot one of their daughters.  Lots of incisive passages…look forward to more!


The Unpassing* Chia-Chia Lin:  An incredibly well-written first novel will such nuanced passages as:


In the summer, the sun never really slipped away.  Even in the darkest hours there remained a low gray glow, a residue of light like a whisper.


Really look forward to more by this author.  The story of Taiwanese immigrants struggling through life outside Anchorage in a foreign society (that’s even foreign to itself) is depressing and cold and hungry; and you hope for an epiphany even in the form of a neighbor’s generosity.


The Accomplished Guest Ann Beattie: Was allured by the premise, being a houseguest so often myself.  Continue to be disappointed by her latest works.  Primarily about problems of the privileged inhabiting coastal Maine and Key West..ho-hum.  No real edge as stories but still some clever passages:


Then winter ended and spring came, and I thought, Even if I don’t believe there’s a poem in anything anymore, maybe I’ll write a story.  A lot of people do that when they can’t seem to figure out who or what they love.  It might be an oversimplification, but they seem to write poetry when they do know.
       --from “The Indian Uprising”


April


Best Plays of the American Theater (circa 1947):  Not a huge reader of plays but Covid hits, libraries close…and I have no idea which play it was that caused me to reserve this anthology but it proved to be an entertaining and enriching way to engage the world to come.  


Reading dramas is fascinating...some elucidate plot, scene, character, even central themes in a narrative aside; while others attempt to reveal through immediate immersion in dialogue and action.  A different kind of reading as you create the sets and scenes in your mind ala a muni theater.  Here goes an interpretation of what I read:


“Home of the Brave” Arthur Laurents: A very much still relevant look at war and its effects on soldiers as well as racial prejudices and how they are manifested even in cases of extreme pressure.


“The Time of Your Life”* William Saroyan: Referring to this as a play is like calling the Grateful Dead a jam band.  There is so much more to it.  Saroyan’s liner notes and descriptions read more like prose as the story follows the self-dramatic events in the lives of barflys on the Embarcadero in SF.  Sounds very familiar.  Also watched the movie starring James Cagney…perspectivacious.


“Born Yesterday” Garson Kanin: Drama set in Washington DC as a successful but shady junkyard owner [insert current political joke] tries to buy political influence.  Only to be foiled by his newly awakened girlfriend who he had ironically wanted to educate so she would pass in high society.  However she uses her education to get on without him.  Really appreciated the writing in this one but never saw it on the screen.

 

“The Philadelphia Story” Philip Barry: A clever comedy of classes where both high and low consider the virtues of the others while displaying the opposite.  Which raises the question of what is virtue?  And generates a constant flow of entertaining exchanges:


Sandy:  You don’t know yet what being under the microscope does to people.  I felt it a little coming out in the car.  It’s a funny feeling.
Margaret:  It’s odd how self-conscious we’ve all become over the worldly possessions that once made us so confident.


Movie: Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart…a lot has changed in 80 yrs. As far as movie production but the themes are timeless


“Arsenic and Old Lace” Joseph Kesserling:  Quirky and comically demented farce that comes off as pure stage comedy. The macabre actions of the characters provide their development along with piles of dead bodies and pokes at the police.
Movie: Grant, Peter Lorre, directed by Frank Capra.  Also a 60's adaptation with Boris Karloff and Tony Randall...classic.


“Abe Lincoln in Illinois”* Robert E. Sherwood: A highly-praised historical drama which is worth reading for the Lincoln-Douglas debate and his farewell speech in Springfield…which leads to my hometown bias.  Growing up, celebrating Fall meant making candles in New Salem or tree-tapping for sap at Lincoln Memorial gardens.  You could say reading this play was much like these events in my life, an adventure back in time.  Movie:  Lets just say that (Canadian) Raymond Massey is no (English) Daniel Day-Lewis, and neither would be confused for a Kentuckian…still they’re well-played.


“Watch on the Rhine”* Lillian Hellman: A fantastic look at two vastly different societal perspectives espoused by the result of WWII:  wealthy American capitalists and much less-wealthy European idealists.  When the daughter of an affluent family comes home with an anti-fascist German, all kind of mayhem ensues.  Brought up a side of the war I hadn’t thought of before … wealthy Americans supporting the Nazi war machine and even worse ideological issues.


Kurt:  It is then the corruption begins.  Once in Spain I waited for two days until the planes would exhaust themselves.  I think then why must our side fight always with naked hands?  The spirit and the hands.  All is against us but ourselves.


“The Patriots” Sidney Kingsley:  A rather straightforward and dry look at the ascendency of Thomas Jefferson to the presidency and interactions with his contemporaries:  Washington, Hamilton, Monroe and Madison.


The Decay of the Angel Yukio Mishima: The final book of the “Sea of Fertility” tetralogy which I’ve been nursing the last 2 years.  The author committed sepukku minutes after finishing the last word in the novel and while only 45 and at the peak of his literary career.  Knowing the historical background caused me to approach the end of the novel with much trepidation.  I focus on him more here because I’d prefer not to spoil anything for any reader who made it this far in an absorbing series of novels.


May


With the last of the library books returned and branches closed, reverted to a current and expanding personal library of books I feel worthy to lug around in perpetuity...


At Play in the Fields of the Lord* Peter Matthiessen:  Phew!  Still a little breathless after reading the last lines.  Even better than I remember.  The detailed descriptions of the jungle and its inhabitants bring a completely foreign world into focus.  In a way it begs comparison to Tolkien’s Middle Earth.  However, it is a real world where the Catholic missionary’s interactions with the native population provide an almost comic relief in a land of little hope and unassuming brutality.
Movie note:  Had to re-watch Lithgow, Kathy Bates, Berenger and Darryl Hannah; emulate the actions of the novel.  A good movie but too long and you see WAY too much of Berenger.


Roan Stallion and Tamar and Other Poems* Robinson Jeffers:  Another mind-blowing work but I have to say, I could quote endlessly from his shorter works as they are so vibrant with meaning and expression but the longer (and more convoluted) poetic narratives seem a bit un-focused to the point of losing some of their poignancy.  A sample of the shorter ones:

 

                       Natural Music                                                                                  Vices

The old voice of the ocean, the bird-chatter of little rivers,        Spirited people make a thousand jewels in verse and prose

(Winter has given them gold for silver                                          and the restlessness of talent

To stain their water and bladed green for brown to line their     Runs over and floods the stage or spreads its fever on canvas.

  banks)                                                                                     They are skilled in music too, the demon is never satisfied,

From different throats intone one language.                                they take to puppets, they invent

So I believe if we were strong enough to listen without             New arts, they take to drugs...and we all applaud our

Divisions of desire and terror                                                       vices.

To the storm of the sick nations, the rage of the hunger-          Mine, coldness and the tenor of a stone tranqullity; slow

  smitten cities,                                                                             life, the growth of trees and verse,

Those voices also would be found                                             Content the unagitable and somewhat earthfast nature.

Clean as a child's; or like some girl's breathing who dances

  alone

By the ocean-shore, dreaming of lovers.


In the Spirit of Crazy Horse Peter Matthiessen: An ambitious account of the continued abuse of Native American rights, the rise of AIM; and the tragic events that led up to and culminated in the death of two FBI agents and one Indian on the Pine Ridge Reservation in June 1975.  Reverberations of which are still being felt today especially in the current imprisonment of Leonard Peltier.  Although the author is well-informed as he immerses himself in Indian culture, his bias is obvious despite technically being an outsider.  His phone conversation with one of the surviving FBI agents was especially memorable as it provides quite a different perspective of not only that day but on the reservation, in general.


June


Of Mice and Men*John Steinbeck: Been a long time since I visited this one.  The story of George and Lennie is so ingrained in my consciousness it almost seems like a fairy tale…though the end reminds us it’s a novella of stark realism.  Even knowing the story so well, the tension created in the bunkhouse passage is quintessential Steinbeck (see also “Wayward Bus”) and the question for discussion can always be:  How would Lennie have fared in prison?


The Sound and the Fury*Willian Faulkner: Have always rated this in the top5 and it didn’t disappoint this time around.  Understandably, it may not be at the zenith of its popularity but this re-reading was so impressive to me, it may have to be #1.  Keep ya posted!  Here’s a sentence for ya:


Sometimes I could put myself to sleep saying that over and over until the honeysuckle got all mixed up in it the whole thing came to symbolize night and unrest I seemed to be lying neither asleep nor awake looking down a long corridor of grey halflight where all stable things had become shadowy paradoxical all I had done shadows all I had felt suffered taking visible form antic and perverse mocking without relevance inherent themselves with the denial of the significance they should have affirmed thinking I was I was not who was not was not who.
(and, yes, this took forever to get right) 


Pilgrimage Annie Liebowitz:  I bought muliple copies of this book for Xmas presents last year (admittedly because they were on a deep discount at Bookshop Santa Cruz) and ended up keeping a copy for myself.  However, I never heard anything back from the other recipients so take my comments with a grain of salt.  An eclectic collection of photos and narratives encompassing natural subjects (Niagara Falls, Old Faithful), man-made structures (Monticello, Salt Lake Spiral Jetty); and, even more wide-ranging human subjects too numerous to name (ex. Virginia Woolf, Eleanor Roosevelt, Freud, Darwin, Elvis, Muir, Pete Seeger, Georgia O’Keefe, Lewis & Clark…)  Endlessly fascinating.


July


A Rumor of War* Philip Caputo: Best account of the Vietnam War that I’ve read since Tim O’Brien (published before but in my readology).  It concerns different aspects of the war but with similarly beautiful descriptions of the landscape contrasted by the gruesome and senseless acts of war.  Very detailed and honest (it seemed to me) re-telling of the 1st year of the war from a marine lieutenant who, after a court martial hearing regarding events that took place under his command (charges were dropped), became a veteran against the war.


The Great Gatsby* F. Scott Fitzgerald: Another classic I hadn't re-read in almost 30 years and remarkable in its continued rewards.  The narrative tone is so tight you almost take it for granted. Nick Carraway may be the best 1st person narrator in fiction:


Everyone suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine:  I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known.


The Pearl* John Steinbeck: Consistently put this one in my top10.  It would be a mistake to dismiss as a simple parable. The themes, characterizations and setting; such brilliantly drawn they signify more than what's on the page:


The news stirred up something infinitely black and evil in the town; the black distillate was like the scorpion, or like hunger in the smell of food, or like loneliness when love is withheld.


the briefcase Hiromi Kawakami: Superbly written and a great eye-opener, can’t wait to read more by her.  Is it possible there’s a happy, fulfilling relationship involved?  Hard to conceive how the Japanese actually conceive given the lost and lonely loves of Japanese literature.  Ironic, the feeling of isolation on a well-populated island…inner-isolation maybe or island insularity; all themes.  The narrative follows a young woman as she develops a relationship with an older man and former mentor.  A truly amazing love story that evolves over countless bottles of sake.  Try to read this one without a glass in your hand by the end.


August


The Empty Copper Sea* John D. MacDonald: Technically started the following book first but as they made their way through Florida, I couldn’t help but think of my old friend Travis McGee.  Kinda dated plot lines since the series was mainly written in the 60s and 70s but some deeper themes are applicable today.  Maybe a little nostalgic but much more than your average detective novel.


There are days you can’t ever forget.  It doesn’t mean that anything really startling has to happen.  It was a great glowing golden day in May.  A Sunday numbered twenty-two.  There you are in the midst of life, and one of those days comes rolling at you, and it is just like one of the magical days of childhood, like the first Monday after school is out.

 

The Longest Road: Overland in Search of America, from Key West to the Arctic Ocean Philip Caputo: Wasn’t completely sold on his thematic question of “what holds America together” (ironic as I type this the day after the Capital was stormed) …deep breath…but enjoyed the breadth of landscape and perspective, some familiar and some not so much.  Highlights were the dinner with Jim Harrison and his wife, and the descriptions of Alaska.

World's End* TC Boyle: All-consuming story of Dutch and Indian settlement of the Hudson Valley...kind of, but an amazing tale encompassing all manners of life: natural, un-natural and supernatural.  The epic scope of the narrative following the Van Brunts, Van Warts, Kitchawanks and Cranes (among many others); can be a confusing task but ultimately rewarding as the threads are woven into an enjoyable yarn.  As usual, kept a pencil in hand to underline words I didn't know or were possibly made up.  Some faves:  contumacious, excrescenceomphalos, osculation, parvenu

The boy grew to manhood there on the reservation, where the light was a thing that invested the visible world with its glory, where streams met and bears roamed and the clouds held the setting sun in a grip as gentle as a mother's hand.

Paul Bowles: A Life Virginia Spence Carr:  A straight-forward and thorough account of one of those amazing artistic lives of the 20th century.  From classical music and literary compositions to smoking kif with the Beats, his and the life of his wife Jane define the artistic culture of the era.  The only detraction is the biographer self-referencing in the 3rd person in their own text but, in this case, a small price to pay for an intimate look at a luminary.

A World Lost* Wendell Berry: An amazing re-read.  Classic character study of "Uncle Andy" by his nephew.  Along the way we come across a world of ghosts:

The dead remain in thought as much alive as they ever were, and yet increased in stature and grown remarkably near.

September

The Red Hot Typewriter: The Life and Times of John D. MacDonald Hugh Merrill: Shoulda known from the title the writer had an overblown sense of self and purpose.  He does provide an account, more like a litany of life, about an author who maintained a workman-like attitude towards his craft...and provided me with countless hours of escapist bliss.

Jazz Toni Morrison:  Had this one in my library and passed it along after re-reading.  An example of a book that blew me away in my 20's but did not resonate.  Hard to say why but didn't feel involved in the narrative so any other literary merits passed me by.  Still a fan of other novels but definitely each on its own merit.

Waylon: An Autobiography Waylon Jennings and Lenny Kaye: Hard to be humble when you've carved out a career like Waylon.  Along with his hard-living cohorts; he created a sound, an image, a lifestyle. Some great stories and insights into the Nashville Sound.

October

Death Comes for the Archbishop* Willa Cather: Such an amazing read!  You forget she writes about more than Nebraska (or maybe that's just me).  A sweeping yet concise account...if that even makes sense..of two French missionaries who fulfill their calling by traversing the formidable terrain of early New Mexico, Mexico and Colorado.

He was on a naked rock in the desert, in the stone age, a prey to homesickness for his own kind, his own epoch, for European man and his glorious history of desire and dreams.  Through all the centuries that his own part of the world had been changing like the sky at daybreak, this people had been fixed, increasing neither in numbers nor desires, rock-turtles on their rock.  Something reptilian he felt here, something that had endured by immobility, a kind of life out of reach, like the crustaceans in their armour.

She advanced in a whirlwind of gleaming wings, and Tranquilino dropped his spade and stood watching her.  At one moment the whole flock of doves caught the light in such a way that they all became invisible at once, dissolved in light and disappeared as salt dissolves in water.  The next moment they flashed around, black and silver against the sun.  They settled upon Magdalena's arms and shoulders, ate from her hand.  When she put a crust of bread between her lips, two doves hung in the air before her face, stirring their wings and pecking at the morsel.

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies Jared Diamond: Attempts to answer a question posited to the author by a friend of his from New Guinea:  "Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it here but we black people have so little cargo of our own?"  Here "cargo" refers not only to consumer goods but everything from a centralized government to advanced weapons.  In answering the question, the author delves into an in-depth look at how societies developed from the earliest days of homo erectus.  A fascinating look at world development with some everyday tidbits:  the QWERTY keyboard I'm using was intentionally designed to slow down the typing process because the keys on the original typewriters would wear out too fast if the letters were in a familiar order.

Sleep of Memory Patrick Modiano: A pleasant stroll through the author's memories of Paris and the interesting women he met.  Will look for more challenging reads from this Nobel Prize winner:  ...we live at the mercy of certain silences.

Hall of Mirrors* Robert Stone: A book that mesmerized and intensified my understanding of a counter-culture when I first read it in college.  Convinced me I should move to New Orleans asap...mighta dodged a bullet there. Got even more out of it this time around (not exactly mesmerized, per se, but still plenty intense).  Follows the travels and travails of 3 primary characters:  Rheinhardt, a radio DJ for a right-wing radio station despite abhorring their politics; Geraldine, his tragic lover; and Morgan Rainey, a disillusioned welfare checker.  Offers a kaleidoscopic view of 1960's New Orleans that unfortunately resonates today.

November

The Overstory* Richard Powers: What an incredible read!  The title itself is a kind of metaphor.  The "overstory" is what happens in the human world, what we see and think we know about the earth.  The "understory" is what happens around humankind that we don't recognize.  In this case, how trees communicate through complicated root systems and mycorrhizae (and a bunch of other stuff I don't fully comprehend); and how their existence interrelates to the health of ecosystems beyond capitalistic comprehension.  It's a little confusing to follow the multiple concurrent stories in the beginning...a root system in themselves...but so worth it as the plot progresses towards its climax. 

 

Then earlier this year,I'm reading the Sunday NYT and come across an article about the real-life inspiration for one of the characters and the concepts covered in the novel:  https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/12/02/magazine/tree-communication-mycorrhiza.html

Mouthful of Birds Samanta Schweblin: A bizarre collection of short stories.  Somewhat like a modern-day Poe except instead of abject terror (though there is some of that) there's a more subtle sense of the macabre, what is possible and impossible, to the point of the frighteningly literal title story.

December

The Ghosts of Belfast Stuart Neville: A thriller with stark characters amidst the similarly stark landscape of Ireland as its old heroes struggle to adapt to the modern methods of negotiating 'the troubles'.

The Friend Sigrid Nunez: Although I agree with the critical assessment that her writing style is "confident and direct", the story itself did not live up to expectations.  It was more about death and loss of a human friend than human-pet interaction. While I don't necessarily mind the subject of death, discussing it in a chatty acadamian manner makes me wanna puke.  Much like her friend's concern over losing her Manhattan flat over the dog's health.  This won the National Book Award?!?

Men at Arms Evelyn Waugh: A war book about everything but actual battle mirroring the author's initial experiences during WWII.  The characters and their lives/landscapes are developed with a clear writing style, no stunning uses of literary device, but enjoyable and comfortable.  The narrative action itself seems to end in media res, indicative of the 1st of a trilogy, not exactly an engaging cliffhanger.

Alta California: From San Diego to San Francisco, A Journey on Foot to Rediscover the Golden State Nick Neely: Such a great concept to re-trace the route of the Portola expedition of 1769...except it can't really be done which I guess is kinda the point.  It traverses San Diego-Orange-LA-Ventura-SB-SLO-Montery-SC-San Mateo counties.  Lots of informative natural and California history which would've read better if it didn't incorporate stops at Starbucks,Taco Bell, etc, along the way.  Still it was enjoyable to read about the author's stops in many favorite haunts, perhaps the most unexpected because it felt so familiar:

 

About five minutes later, I passed a wedding dress rehearsal on a bluff just above the tracks, Dos Pueblos Orchid Farm.

And one that further validates my wine club membership at Picchetti:

Tom and his colleagues had driven an hour and a half south from the Picchetti Vineyard in Cupertino on the San Francisco Peninsula to harvest this single row.  "It's real special," said Tom.  "At one point, this was the only grape grown in California, the Mission varietal.  And now it's almost extinct."  Only about 500 acres of Mission grape still exist in California, and this row in Mission Soledad is one of the oldest examples.  This was the first year Picchetti had harvested here, but for 15 years they had been making a fortified dessert wine called Mission Angelica from legacy Mission vines.

Wanna bottle? I get a discount...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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