Tag Archives: books

VILLAGE BOOKSTORE

Curling up with a Good Book…and a good dog too.

Just a final wrap-up note note about the Minnesota visit. Grand Rapids, population just over 11,000, has a bookstore I’ve come to love over the years for its attention to Nordic Noir. Unfortunately the Village Bookstore is located in a small, and generally failing, mall, so its days may be numbered. But while it is here I am availing myself of the luxury of selecting a healthy stack of probably-want-to-reads, hunkering down in a comfy chair, and making the final selections—usually most of them. You simply cannot duplicate the pleasure of that touchy-feely perusal on line. And I am a stack of books richer for having experienced it. Can’t wait to go to bed tonight and continue tracking the murderer loose in Larvik, southwest of Oslo, with my detective friend William Wisting and his journalist daughter Line (The Hunting Dogs by Jorn Lier Horst). I do order more books than I should on line just because it is so easy—but what if we all do that so much we forever lose our access to real honest-to-god places that exude the love of books and need to be among them? Shop at your local bookstores…independent and B&N…or they’ll disappear and this will be a blander poorer world for the loss.

Title Quote: “She’d become an English major for the purest and dullest of reasons: because she loved to read.” Jeffrey Eugenides, The Marriage Plot.

 

NOAH AND EGGERS. LIGHT TOUCH WITH A DARK EDGE.

Holiday. Reading. Leaving just enough time for sleeping, eating, blogging, visiting, and buying shoes.

Remember my ever-so earnestly focused reading list on Wyoming, Utah, and points east in Asia. All thoughtfully planned and well-intentioned, and all of which I dedicatedly pursued until…reaching my destination in the north woods and official vacation time.

First night here I picked up Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime. Perfect choice. I’m a fan of Noah’s and have some small knowledge of Johannesburg so the book was engaging on both levels. Noah probably isn’t a great writer but he’s better than just good, mostly because his comedic charm shows through often, and because he appears to have been pretty forthright in relating the good, bad, and ugly of his circumstances and his response to them. Life is tough in the townships and suburbs of Jo’burg for everyone and for a mixed-race kid who didn’t really fit within the Coloured community there were some additional snags. If you enjoy Noah’s show or standup routines, you’ll love this book.

I’ve moved on now to Heroes of the Frontier by Dave Eggers (remember A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius?). The official hype says this is “the darkly comic story of a mother and her two young children on a journey through an Alaskan wilderness plagued by wildfires and a uniquely American madness.” I am pretty sure this is a seriously good book. Even this far along I know Josie and her kids, Paul and Ana, are people with whom I want to share a journey. Eggers has introduced them as utterly charming, more than a little peculiar, and reluctantly adventurous (with the exception of tiny Ana who’s an unadulterated adventurer). I finished Bill Bryson’s The Lost Continent a couple of weeks ago, enjoying Bryson’s travelogue snide and often hilarious descriptions of American sights and ways immensely. Eggers is even better at describing our American strangeness in a way—is it because he’s more subtle or ironic or maybe it’s attention to the odd details that are everywhere? Don’t know…but I love it.

Is there anything in the world better than a book? No, there is not.

 

 

“YOU ARE JUST TOO WORDY,” I say, to myself.

 

Being too wordy usually means throwing way too many many unnecessary words into one written piece. Like that. I suppose it could also mean always wanting to write—all those words you’ve absorbed over the years trying to get out? In my case, it appears to be both. Apparently I have too many adjectives and adverbs clogging my system and they escape onto every screen or page whenever there’s an opening. And then there’s the problem of nothing seeming real to me until I’ve written it down. Talking doesn’t help. I am not very articulate. Only writing eases the word bloat.

What to blame for this surfeit of words? Books of course; there are never too many to read or buy or touch or view or ponder or desire.

I have been writing a book. Or rather the first third of a book. Right now it’s being reviewed by my literary friends. Then it will go to a professional reviewer. After that, I’ll weep, edit excessively, and determinedly move on to write new chapters. Writing this seriously has been the most painful and pleasurable thing I’ve ever done. It took me well into my UCLA certificate program to gather the courage to approach this with earnest intent. I’ve finished the program…that old “I’m a writer” rubber is hitting the road. Wish me luck.

Meanwhile it is time to start blogging about my upcoming 2017 trips. From whence I derive the most joy. Blogging is brilliant, especially when fairly casual. Writing about travel, writing about books, sometimes about grandchildren and new recipes! In the future blogging about my history and my age. What could possibly be more fun than the latter? Blogging as I do it is ‘writing lite’, the best of all worlds if one is lazy and wordy.

This post is the first of a series about the reading I’m doing (or sadly, in some cases, just planning to do—but won’t) for my summer/fall 1) Road Trip and 2) Another Big Big Trip to the other side of the world…and farther.

At this point in time I’m in that stage when the outlines of the trips have been determined, and in the case of the international trip, the airline tickets purchased. That’s where my reading list is focused. It makes a great deal of difference to my engagement with and excitement about all of the places along the way if I have some knowledge of the history, geography, culture and customs. So I know the whats and whys and whereofs of all that’s about me. I’m not talking about scholarly research or needing in-depth knowledge—although I always mean to try for a little of that—I’m simply talking about a good history/adventure story/novel/murder mystery or two or three.

The countries to explore through words and in person: New Zealand, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Nepal, India. Not so many really but of such world-impact that hundreds of books could not cover them. Particularly India, but also Southeast Asia’s Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar. Nepal because I can. New Zealand because travel buddy, Teresa, who’ll go adventuring in Vietnam with me, lives there.

The Book Worm Chronicles start here:

I read The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen last year. It is quite possibly the best book I’ve read in a very long time. He has two new books of essays out which I will order the minute I post this. Teresa, who was not born until some years after the Vietnam War ended, is as in love with The Sympathizer as I am—and as it should be. Without some knowledge of what’s gone before how should we consider ourselves responsible citizens? A rhetorical question of course with history nearly banished from all education.

Finished Around India in 80 Trains by Monisha Rajesh last night. Delightful, especially since I plan to spend much of my 10 or so days in India on trains. It is great fun to read, although naming and riding on 80 trains for one short book got a little heavy on the naming angle, while I would have liked just a few more details about the various stops…still she accomplished a major task, the kind of thing I would like to do, and she’s a good writer and good person with whom to go train-about.

Enough for one post. I’ll return with many more books and my progress reports. If you have suggestions please let me know.

 

 

AVOIDING THE REAL WORLD? NOT REALLY

20161113_172142Here’s what I’ve been paying attention to in my world to avoid the nonsensical but-far-from-funny farce of Washington DC. A MOOC about history and constitutional issues in the Muslim world; books about the controversial Mitford Sisters in the war years and about troubled detectives and dastardly deeds in darkest Scandinavia; a Netflix series, The Crown which is the most enticing period drama this year, almost better than Downton, about the world as lived by Queen Elizabeth in the early years of her reign and…finally…movies. All chock full of a real world far less tawdry than our current DC drama.

Three movies have stood between me and despair. Enticing, thoughtful, heartwarming movies. Let’s begin with Moonlight because it is surely Oscar material and also the most difficult to describe. I’m sure it’s clear, or at least will be when you read this, that I am about as far from an informed movie reviewer as one could get—on the other hand I do love them and I go on this annual winter movie binge so why not share some thoughts?

Moonlight is basically about a black kid growing up in the Liberty City ghetto of Miami. A Gay Black Kid. And we all know if there’s one nasty prejudice that’s been shared by all races, colors, creeds, it’s homophobia. It’s not an easy story but so immediate, so hating, so loving, you come away profoundly affected, not the least because the acting is absolutely top form.  I’m attaching the link for the excellent NYT review so please read it. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/21/movies/moonlight-review.html?_r=0

I want to share some thoughts that may or may not make sense. Moonlight is a coming-of-age story in the best and deepest sense of the word. A vulnerable gay kid growing up under the most bleak of circumstances. What struck me rather forcefully is that because this film is not about a black kid growing up gay and there’s an accompanying story with white people around, and it’s not about the great divide between blacks and whites, and it doesn’t give us any messages about race—it becomes this moving, thoughtful, beautiful, gay-kid-growing-up story. It’s so tender and personal and insightful with all of the characters, places, situations. So how to say this: To Me: because it all takes place within the black American world it simply becomes about this kid and his story. Like Boyhood plus. I loved this film. Second film in a row on Sunday and I never moved a muscle—almost shed a tear now and then but it’s not really a sentimental film either. It’s just really really fine moviemaking.

Queen of Katwe. Here’s where I can do some travel name-dropping. I’ve spent a few days in Kampala, Uganda with my friend Jill so of course I took this all very personally. I admit to not seeing slums quite as dire as Katwe but did see a variety of situations from comfortable middle-class to pretty grim housing situations. Queen of Katwe is the classic feel-good story. Poor kid makes good under the most difficult of circumstances. What makes it most interesting is that it takes place in the Ugandan slums of Katwe (whose fascinating history you might want to check out on Wikipedia), and that everyone except the two stars (Oyelowo is British Nigerian and Nyong’o is Kenyan Mexican) is Ugandan. No whites of African or European origin are thrown in for good measure and middle class Ugandans have major roles as well as the dispossessed of Katwe. So I loved this film too. It’s not quite as powerful as Moonlight but it made me happy—and that’s okay once in awhile. And of course the actors, both Hollywood and local, are brilliant. David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong’o…need I say more. Also Madina Nalwanga, not a name yet but really fine.     http://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2016/10/05/496425623/photos-theyre-  all-kings-and-queens-of-katwe

A Man Called Ove. Okay so I felt very much at home here. Old cranky but good-hearted Swedish guy (old cranky Swedish guys are a lot like old cranky Norwegian guys) has life tragedies of the universal sort: fired from his job, deceased wife to whom bad things had happened, annoying neighbors, a deep desire to kill himself—well maybe that latter isn’t universal but you see where I’m going. May as well say this up front, It’s a solid film of the sentimental sort but…of course…I enjoyed it especially because It Is Scandinavian. And there were a lot of old white people in the audience that looked just like me—not like the evil-voter kind of old and white! It’s a nice film, but maybe one you don’t have to see right away, although don’t miss it forever unless you really dislike cranky old white guys—oh dear, we have a new government full of them don’t we? Ove is much smarter and nicer than that though.

 

PLACES…I Have Known

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I finished two books week before last; they appeared to be quite different at first but upon further consideration, and for purposes of including them in the same review, I’ll focus on their commonality which is, for me, that they are both about places I love—the Bay Area and the North of the World. It seems, again…for me, that all stories wind up being as much about the places in which they occur as about the occurrences themselves.

The American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst is a well-told tale of Hearst’s revolutionary years, her home territory of San Francisco, California and, to some degree, the whole U.S. during the mid-Seventies. Jeffry Toobin is a great documentarian, building his stories around big events or institutions that define and are defined by the times and places where the actions and moods of the country as a whole are playing out. This story of California in the 70s doesn’t disappoint.

In contrast, 60 Degrees North: Around the World in Search of Home by Malachy Tallack is a lyrical, almost dreamy, travelogue that invites us along as the author contemplates the meaning of home on an improbable journey around the world at the 60th parallel. Tallack is a fine writer and all the ingredients for a great piece of travel literature are here—personal reflection and story, physical description laced with history from places along the 60th parallel. In fact the idea of 60 Degrees North is just so intriguing, and the author and his surroundings so interesting, that the ending let me down just a little. It seemed like he was a little tired of the whole project by the time he reached Scandinavia. Nevertheless it was a fine journey….

I loved traveling to the Bay Area and around the 60th parallel with Toobin and Tallack; they’re all places I’ve experienced on a deeper or slighter scale. I lived in San Francisco from 1989-1992, more than ten years after the days of the  pseudo-revolutionary activities of the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), but the sense of San Francisco as a place where everyone somehow ‘fit’ and where possibilities for the human condition to improve was still strong. It’s a place of richly potent layers of the belief that all things are possible—from laughing and rebuilding in the cracked face of the big quakes to gold-rushing dreams to the summer of love to Berkeley marching and Alice Waters bringing the farm to the table.

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 I moved to San Francisco just before the big earthquake of ’89, and the Mission was homeless/artist/refugee/gay heaven and Silicon Valley in Mountain View seemed quite a ways out of town. I took BART everywhere, frequently visiting dancers or potential donors connected somehow with the small black-box theater I was managing so I knew something of the small towns around the area. In other words, as the goofy SLAers drove from hideout to hideout I could visualize those streets and neighborhoods! Of course the random bombings and Berkeley in its radical heyday were in the past but, in my time there, the biggest anti-Iraqi war, anti-Bush peace march of which I know took place and I marched as a volunteer of Global Exchange, directed at that time by Medea Benjamin, one of my woman-warrior heroines. When I go back now to hang out with my granddaughter that rich Bay Area history is ever present and it all still looks familiar and I’m so happy to have been part of it all even for a little while.

Being introduced to Patty Hearst and the characters in her story including her fellow SLA pals or her lawyer F. Lee Bailey (a real jerk) by Jeffrey Toobin was fascinating but I certainly did not come away feeling either warm and fuzzy, admiring, appalled or much of anything for her or any of them. I always sort of admire the rebels whoever they are but there wasn’t a lot about the SLA to admire. They were mostly insecure misfits, rebels without a coherent cause. Patty did what she did and now raises show dogs. Damn, I wanted my revolutionaries to be more substantial than that. All in all a great account of a time and place.

It was one of those lovely ‘sick’ days when I finished these books, switching back and forth between the bed and the couch and between books, which took me from San Francisco to traveling the 60th parallel with Malachy Tallack—and what a great name he has!  Tallack begins in Shetland, the home he loves very deeply and yet feels compelled to escape…and does over the years for a variety of reason…personal searching longing reasons. Shetland lies directly on the 60th parallel, signifying the edge of the serious north and, it turns out, for Tallack offering a logical path around the world…always in search of home but also always exploring the world as experienced along a distinct line separating hardy northerners from the rest of the human race.

Reading travel/adventure literature is like being along on an intimate journey with the author, from the cranky brilliance of Theroux to the thoughtful historiography of Frazier. I am completely enamored of these guys and so many others; not quite so much so with Malachy Tallack. I’ve been trying to figure this out because I love this book and I do like Tallack but I never felt I knew him well enough to be sure he would be one of those perfect companions who shares exactly the right amount of information and degree of closeness you want for the road.

Tallack’s route around the 60th takes him from Shetland to Greenland to Canada to Alaska to St. Petersburg, backtracking to Finland, Sweden and Norway, and finally, ‘home’ again to Shetland. Even though I kept wanting some undefined ‘more’, the language almost more than made up for whatever might be missing. Tallack does have a way with the descriptive phrase. “Silvery lakes appeared, then were gone – rumours among the trees.” “…just the air fussing among the branches.” “Mount Redoubt, fifty miles away, towered above its neighbours, a scarf of cloud wrapped around its middle.” But I wanted some of the mundane as well, how did he get from here to there, how was he financing his trip, how long did it take…just a little more of the infrastructure, please.

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It’s a beautiful engaging haunting-in-a-way book. I was right there for the wanderlust of it all, enjoying every bit of the poetic and personal ramblings of the author. Perhaps the ‘more’ is just that I wanted big stories about virtually each mile of the way. An impossible task of course without unlimited money, time, patience. There are after all big wonderful rich stories documenting practically every mile of any one of Tallack’s stops along the way including Maple Leaf Rag: Travels Across Canada by Stephen Brook; or doubling down in Russia, specifically Siberia with Travel in Siberia by Ian Frazier and Midnight in Siberia by David Green. Greenland: The End of the World which I’ve talked about recently offers a view of the southern tip of Greenland where the 60th parallel crosses—and I just visited.

The truth is 60 Degrees North is a wonderful read, enlightening, entertaining, and enjoyable enough to make me whine about there not being another thousand pages of it. Better yet I want to go on that same journey. I absolutely love the idea of following lines of longitude and latitude around the world. If I won millions in a lottery tomorrow I could still do that…if I hurried.

 

“WORDS” takes a holiday

MY STARTER LIBRARY ... QUITE A FEW YEARS AGO.
MY STARTER LIBRARY … QUITE A FEW YEARS AGO.

Starting yesterday Platform of Words… must take a week or two off to regroup. To return around New Years with the lists and resolutions for 2015. Such as: all the movies, documentaries, shorts to see before the Oscars (some guesswork at this point but you have to start somewhere); which, and in what order, Norwegian, Russian, Mongolian and Chinese authors and books to read before Big2015Trip (B15T); and, ditto, books about Scandinavian immigrants and the settling of Minnesota and South Dakota to go with my writing classes and The Book.

Then there are the little projects like any new Scandinavian/South Africa crime novels from favorite authors and trying to hang on to a beginning knowledge of contemporary poetry and how to write succinct but meaningful entries in my journal that will be found worthy of a read by some future great-grandchild in some future decade.

Finally there is the really really big ongoing project of how to better organize my blog life so posts get more dependably readable and relevant.

Oh yeah, almost forgot. There are all those Netflix series (House of Cards, Wallander, Annika Bengtzon) to keep up with or catch up on when I don’t want to do any of the above and then there’s Downton Abbey for winter Sunday nights.

And some MOOCs. Signed up for three or four. I did. Really.

Right now it’s all confusion and stress because I haven’t made the requisite lists yet. And the too-muchness of my too-many endeavors is apparent. The only justification for all of this is that I am old and there’s a lot still to do. And I am never ever bored this way.

I’ll be back when it’s all figured out. AGAIN.

A Book Day but First the Morning Travel Report

Since we're going to Russia, seems appropriate to refer to ourselves as Fellow Travelers! ANYWAY, HERE WE ARE ABOUT 100 YEARS AGO. I might be the one with the Minnesota t-shirt.
Since we’re going to Russia, seems appropriate to refer to ourselves as Fellow Travelers! ANYWAY, HERE WE ARE ABOUT 100 YEARS AGO. I might be the one with the Minnesota t-shirt.

The Big 2015 Trip is on my mind. Fellow Traveler Beth and I got together Thursday night to eat better-than-average cheese sandwiches, ingredients Whole Foods all the way (except the Mayo, hate WF Mayo). After all, sophisticated world travelers like us cannot dine on Wonder Bread and Velveeta alone.

We are going to do this. Siberia, Mongolia, the long train ride. Yes. We decided. We drank champagne. Here’s to us.

Sunday is a Word Day, writing about books and other conveyers of words. I’ll get to that in a minute. Meanwhile here’s the almost final outline of the Big 2015 Trip or B15T for short. Maybe not.

Beth and I will meet in Stockholm after my Norwegian sojourn. Ferry and train to St. Petersburg and then about  2 1/2 weeks of Russia, Mongolia and China. That is certainly not much time to take in the world’s biggest countries by land size and population but we do the best we can. We also throw in the country that produced one of the greatest warriors of all times, Genghis Khan, who actually ruled much of those other two big powerful places for awhile.

I think a certain amount of reading is in order for us to even scratch the surface of this huge enterprise; huge in concept at least if not so much in actual time on the road.

Reading a certain amount of history is the obvious way to start. I will reread “Catherine the Great” by Robert Massie I think for starters.

However, considering that Russia was the American nemesis in terms of equality of power and influence for a long time (and who knows about the future?) and that China is rapidly overtaking us in so very many ways for that Number One spot of who is the biggest, baddest, boldest kid on the block, some serious contemporary views are in order as well.

How about “Nothing is True and Everything is Possible” by Peter Pomerantsev (Russia) and “Age of Ambition” by Evan Osnos (China). Hot off the Barnes and Nobel shelves. Remember Amazon makes everything very easy but they aren’t really book people anymore. I think I talked about these books before. Sorry. Hopefully both will be so good they’re worth mentioning twice.

I started to write a comment about saving a rereading of “War and Peace”  for the actual train journey (yes, I did read it once upon a time AND saw the movie). So then I googled greatest Russian novels and have been perusing those lists for the last hour or so. I am happy to say I’ve at least read four of them including a particular favorite called “Quietly Flows the Don” which apparently is a four-volume epoch out of which I’ve read one book so not sure that counts. Anyway I enjoy Russian literature, or did. So I will take at least two or three big fat drama and history and angst-filled novels for the train ride.

Enough for now. I think I’ll try to make the book-Christmas-tree which I saw on Facebook.

WORD DAY and More of ‘Where I Left My Heart…’

Bob, my poetry guru, came out to Kerouac's town when I lived there.
Bob, my poetry guru, came out to Kerouac’s town when I lived there.

 

Sundays are intended to be ‘Word’ Post Days, meaning writing about/or from books, newspapers, classes and sometimes the ‘newish’ media. There is a lot to write about today; the Times Book section has a Russian theme and, since Russia’s on my travel agenda, I am sure there are books there to consider, even order. Also, along those exciting lines, Netflix is launching a new Marco Polo series available December 14th and, since Beth and I will be loosely tracing the explorer’s route next summer, that’s something to look forward to instead of just waiting for the new season of Downton Abbey on January 5th…although PBS has lots of Downton Abbey replays and teasers on most of the day today. AND last but not least, Aljazeera has some Marco Polo hours tonight. Their version is probably more news-oriented than Netflix’ will be and it is very good.

What a nice morning, not even 10AM and I am already feeling much enthusiasm for the world of books and media. And life in general I should add.

There is a little guilt over restarting “The Goldfinch” last night before digging into the Norwegian novels but it is just so damn good. I put it aside before a trip and now am back into it and much in awe of its storytelling—Goldfinch truly deserved the Pulitzer Prize for fiction which it won a year or two ago.

The intent for today’s post however is to talk about my favorite MOOC so far, Modern and Contemporary American Poetry or ModPo as it’s affectionately known. Haven’t turned on the TV for three days (except for one hour of a Netflix Swedish detective). When I feel the urge to plop down on the couch and hit the on button, I instead plop down on my big comfy desk chair and click on Coursera and scroll for the poet people. There they are, the funny professor and those bright and endearing students I’m coming to know. I have the same feeling as I do when I sit down for a visit with Frank and Clair or Piper and her buds. Although, come to think of it, Amri Baraka’s “Incident” has all the mystery of House of Cards’ double dealings and Ted Berrigan seems like a character that could have somehow walked on stage in Orange is the New Black.

 Okay. So I am name-dropping here, proud of the fact I know the names of some actual poets. Thanks for the introduction Bob, this is fun.

It is exciting and invigorating to be learning something new. I keep saying that but it’s true. Am I going into deep and meaningful study of modern and contemporary poets? Well no, but maybe like Bob, I’ll keep taking this class over and over and wind up on the other side an informed and regular reader of poetry.

The big Thanksgiving weekend discovery has been a light bulb moment about why I have liked what little I’ve read in the past of the Beats. It’s the Geography of course. They are everywhere around this country, their lives are one big road trip—which I knew in a way but never linked it with my own love of road trips and PLACES. Kerouac’s “October in the Railroad Earth” has probably been read more times than anyone except Frost (I don’t know that of course!) but it is forever wonderful—at least to anyone who has lived in and loved San Francisco. Can’t resist including a little of it here. Google a site to listen, the background music in his most famous reading does add.

A little bit of “October in the Railroad Earth” by Jack Kerouac

There was a little alley in San Francisco back of the Southern Pacific station at Third and Townsend in redbrick of drowsy lazy afternoons with everybody at work in offices in the air you feel the impending rush of their commuter frenzy as soon they’ll be charging en masse from Market and Sansome buildings on foot and in buses and all well-dressed through  workingman Frisco of Walkup?? truck drivers and even the poor grime-bemarked Third Street of lost bums even Negros so hopeless and long left East and meanings of responsibility and try that now all they do is stand there spitting in the broken glass sometimes fifty in one afternoon against one wall at Third and Howard and here’s all these Millbrae and San Carlos neat-necktied producers and commuters of American and Steel civilizations rushing by with San Francisco Chronicles …                                          Please.  Go to YouTube and listen.

I am so happy to have lived in San Francisco for a little while, a city where just a small piece of a poem or song can evoke so strongly the air and sound and smell and look of a place.

Well, I was going to talk about my ModPo discovery of the New York School but this is too long so that will have to wait until Thursday.

 Sunday is Word Day. Worship at the altar of books and poems and stories in whatever form.

Can’t resist some more old San Francisco photos from when I lived there.

My funky little Mission apartment.
My funky little Mission apartment.
The corner store where the guy sold us single cigarettes. Pretty much the extent of my illegal drug dealing.
The corner store where the guy sold us single cigarettes. Pretty much the extent of my illegal drug dealing.
Robert and Marsha came out for a little Left Coast atmosphere.
Robert and Marsha came out for a little Left Coast atmosphere.
A favorite market.
A favorite market.
Loved it. Loved it. Loved it.
Loved it. Loved it. Loved it.

 

Nordic Novelistic Noir by an American

 

P1070379 (2)I just this moment finished a VERY GOOD BOOK. Norwegian by Night by Derek B. Miller is not easily definable; it’s a crime novel but only barely; the emphasis is really on story and character, and in no small way on culture and society. And just for good measure there is all sorts of sly humor peaking through everywhere.

Here’s the plot. An elderly Jewish Korean war veteran from New York moves to Norway with his granddaughter and her husband. He is witness to a crime and winds up on an intense if somewhat idiosyncratic journey through the Norwegian countryside with a small boy he calls Paul.

So yes, a slightly unlikely scenario but it all comes off as quite plausible. Thanks in no small part to the character of Sheldon, the elderly Jew who happens to be former Marine sniper. Miller has created a larger-than-life cranky old guy, in turn funny, caustic, possibly delusional, and surprisingly loveable. The silent little boy, pawn of the Serbian/Kosovar crime world, also has a huge presence and personality for someone who never speaks. While the granddaughter Rhea and her Norwegian husband Lars are interesting and endearing in their own ways, they are never primary players.

The other essential character, Sigrid, the police chief inspector, is too wonderful not to appear in more books. She’s a no-nonsense plain-speaking cop with a grand sense of the ironic. I have no reason to believe that Miller plans to become a regular purveyor of Nordic Noir. He is originally from Boston but he had been living in Norway for some time now so he might be prepared to give us more of Sigrid. Actually I hope he gives us more books this good whether they include Sigrid or not.

 

Aspiring to Bookishness

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One of my prize possessions is an Alden’s CYCLOPEDIA OF UNIVERSAL LITERATURE, all 20 volumes in good condition. The first volume was published in 1885, the 20th in 1891. Cousin Vivian on my mom’s side of the family got it with her mother’s things and gave it to me—the family bookworm. It sat in a box in my closet for a few years until I investigated and discovered this treasure. I say treasure because to me something called a Cyclopedia of Universal Literature has to be a wondrous thing, well worth owning, touching, reading, and exhibiting among my eclectic assortment of Swedish murder mysteries and presidential biographies.

Volume 1 opens with Ezra Abbot who is immediately followed by three two-t Abbotts: Jacob, John S. C. and Lyman. Volume 20 ends with Johann Heinrich Daniel Zschokke.

If one, who purports to be a writer or at least intends to become one, owns such a sampling of the important literature of the world, surely it is incumbent upon that person to read each and every entry in all 20 volumes.

So let me begin. Maybe one author a day beginning with Ezra Abbot. Mr. Abbot, a northeasterner, lived from 1819 until 1884. He held various teaching positions until being employed by Harvard in library and professorial positions, and becoming an American authority on bibliography. My intention is not be flippant but Mr. Abbot’s two pages do appear to be a tedious start to my honorable project.

Ten minutes later…finished entry one, an explanation of how “The Bibliography of a Future Life” is to be structured. Tomorrow’s entry is four pages. I can do this. A glimpse into the literary mindset of the Nineteenth Century can only make me a better writer/person/mother/grandmother/employee/citizen/cook/driver. Otherwise why would I bother? Except to begin yet one more project to eventually wind up on my guilt shelf with its many unfinished companions.

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