.....seriously, did you think I was just sitting around watching TV or something?
#11: True Notebooks by Mark Salzman. We read one of Salzman's novels in book club last year, so when I saw this non-fiction book by him at Half Price Books, I just had to pick it up. This is the author's story of working with kids in a writing program in one of California's juvenile detention centers. Heartbreaking and eye-opening. He doesn't sugarcoat what the kids have done, but he also shows us their humanity, which a lot of us (including ME) would be more comfortable denying. He has no solutions and doesn't act like he does. A funny, touching, harrowing look inside a place most of us will never see. 4 stars out of 5.
#12: Welcome to the World, Baby Girl! by Fannie Flagg. I adore southern literature good, bad and in-between. I'd say that Fannie Flagg falls somewhere into the top part of the in-between part. This is the story of Dena Nordstrom, an up and comer in the network news game, just as the trend moves to a more tabloid style news product. She's a hard driver, with health problems, busy running away from the past she barely remembers. She learns the hard way to value place, family and friends. And if you don't love the psychiatrist who falls in love with her, you have a heart of stone.
I loved it, but it's not great literature.
#13: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson.The sometimes pedantic, sometimes hilariously funny story of Bryson's decision to hike the Appalachian Trail. He is at his funniest when telling personal exploits. He's at his worst when hammering us over the head with the incompetency of the National Park Service, the Army Corps of Engineers, the government in general, and Southerners in specific. Fortunately, he considers himself largely incompetent as well, which is his saving grace. But when he's funny, beware! Don't be drinking a Diet Coke or anything while reading. You'll either have to clean off the book pages or send yourself into a coughing fit. Yeah, parts of it are THAT funny. I'll never be able to think of bears in the same way.
#14: The Staggerford Murders by Jon Hassler. Hassler is my hero--an author whose every book I have enjoyed, even as I realized that some were better than others. The is a book that contains 2 novellas, only one of which is really about murder. In the first one, the guys at the hotel piece together the solution to an old murder--aided by the mistaken confession of Dusty the garbageman.
The second novella is the story of W. D. Nestor, an aging farmer, who lives with the memories of a wife he loved, but never told. He lives with his daughter and son-in-law, but is unhappy with that situation. Easily the darkest, most bitter of anything by Hassler that I've read.
#15: Literary Giants, Literary Catholics by Joseph Pearce. A book of collected essays and reviews about the works of "literary Catholics"--largely Chesterton, Belloc, Lewis, Tolkien, Roy Campbell--but with entries also on Maurice Baring, Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene and some miscellaneous essays on other topics at the end. Too repetitive, but it did give me some more ideas about things to read.
#16: Salt of the Earth by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. An interview with Peter Seewald from 1997--lays out his background and relationship with John Paul II. Then goes on to talk about the problems in the Church and his hopes for the future. What is staggering to me is the breadth of his knowledge and mind.
#17: Stories for a Woman's Heart compiled by Alice Gray. Now, see, the prideful part of me started to leave this book off the list, and just not tell ya'll about it. It's a sort of "Chicken Soup for the Soul" book--just a collection of little feel-good stories. But, you know, sometimes a book like this is just the right thing. When you're sitting in a chemotherapy infusion room with a 79 year old friend, it's the right thing to read. When you have had all the sorrow you can handle for a day, it's the right thing to read. When the world seems awfully dark, it's the right thing to read before bed. And yes, I like the jokes in Reader's Digest, too. So there.