It's been really hot around here, so in lieu of going into the actual steaming hot world, I've elected to immerse myself in the world of books. This is a standard pattern for me. When I was a kid, my mom had to shove me out of the house in August if she wanted me out. Otherwise I was content to lie on the floor and read until it cooled off a little.
#30: An Episode of Sparrows by Rumer Godden. Dirt is missing in the enclosed park area of the nice part of the neighborhood--but who is taking it? The story of Lovejoy, a girl abandoned by her mother; Tip, her friend and protector; and the garden they try to make in the area left in the ruins of a bombed out church. A story of looking for family and reaching for dreams. Dreams that are finally made possible by a semi-invalid woman named Olivia, who has a heart for the poor "sparrows" living and growing up on Catford Street.
**** out of 5
#31: A Carribbean Mystery by Agatha Christi. Hey, it's summer! What's better than a little murder on a hot night? Miss Marple has been sent on vacation to the West Indies by her loving nephew, but even there, murder follows. (You know, a good rule of thumb would be if you arrived somewhere and Miss Marple showed up? You should leave.) Major Palgrave, an old widower who has a thousand boring stories, including one about a murderer, dies. Was it really just his high blood pressure, or was it poison? Next comes the maid who questions the medicine. Is the hotel owner's wife crazy, or is she next? Rating is hard--I love it, for what it is.
***1/2 out of 5
#32: Plainsong by Kent Haruf. Hooray! A new author for me! And one that I really like! Holt, Colorado. Tom Guthrie and his two boys (Ike and Bobby) are part of a disintegrating family--losing their wife/mother to escalating depression and dysfunction. Victoria Robideaux is 17 and pregnant--and kicked out of her house. The McPherons are 2 old bachelors who have lived alone all these years. Maggie Jones is a schoolteacher with a father suffering from dementia. The novel is the story of how these disparate characters search for connection, relationship and meaning, and patch together a kind of family.
I like books where the sense of place is important--it's why I liked Staggerford by Jon Hassler, Empire Falls by Richard Russo, and The Fall of the Year by Howard Frank Mosher. And all of these guys raved about Plainsong.
****1/2 out of 5
33. O Pioneers! by Willa Cather. I'm a big Willa Cather fan--she's another one of those authors for whom place is important. In her case, it's the Nebraska prairies. Her writings always make me realize what I don't have--a pioneering spirit. Alexandra Bergson is the daughter of a Swedish immigrant who came to make his mark being a farmer in Nebraska, but died before he could see it happen. The burden falls on Alexandra--who sees what can be and has the stamina and brains to make it happen. Love, greed, murder, failures and triumphs are all worked into a very short novel.
***1/2 out of 5
#34: Travels with My Aunt by Graham Greene. Henry Pulling, a retired bank manager whose hobby is growing dahlias, meets his Aunt Augusta at his mother's funeral. Or at least he thought she was his mother. He's pulled into Augusta's anything but boring life--a life peopled with men of all types whom she has loved and left. Always on the lookout for the true love of her life--a war criminal Visconti--she forces Henry into a choice--life on the edge, a life with flavor and danger, or a life so safe and predictable as to be stultifyingly boring.
Not my favorite Greene, but I did laugh out loud at several points.
*** out of 5
35. The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh. A short novel about a pretty unscrupulous Brit (Dennis Barlow) in Hollywood. Waugh called this book "a little nightmare" written after a short stint of living in Hollywood. An acid pen writing about the artificiality of Hollywood and the funeral industry. Good, but not something for everyone, certainly.
*** out of 5
#36: Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man by Fannie Flagg. This was Fannie Flagg's first novel, and it is more than creditable. As I've said in other entries on Flagg, she's not Pulitzer material, but for a hot summer day--she's a winner. The book is told as a series of journal entries by protagonist Daisy Fay Harper. She's 11 years old at the beginning and we follow her until she is 18. She and her parents move to Shell Beach Mississippi, to run a diner. The books follows the life of Daisy as she makes new friends, lives through a murder attempt, watches her parents divorce, helps her daddy with a resurrection scam, and on and on and on until she becomes (unexpectedly) Miss Mississippi--her ticket out.
Characters were good--the bald Vernon Mooseburger, crop duster Jimmy Snow, albino Ula Sour, black mortician Peachy Wigham, leader of the junior debutantes Mrs. Dot, and spoiled rich girl Kay Bob Benson. And some of the vignettes were laugh out loud funny (most notably the Christmas play write up when Daisy Fay is in the sixth grade).
Great for a summer read.
***1/2 out of 5
Now in process? The Laughing Sutra by Mark Salzman.