Friday, November 25, 2011

New York Times Notable Books of 2011

Here is the link to the books from 2011 that the Times determined to be most worthy of your attention.

I've read only two books on the list, In the Garden of Beasts and Blood, Butter and Bones.  I've been slacking off, obviously.  In any event, Blood, Butter and Bones is an autobiography by chef Gabrielle Hamilton of Prune Restaurant in New York.   Of the two, I preferred Beasts to Blood.

Photo:  Lake Monona Abstract.  Monona, WI.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

The recipe for happiness begins simply:  Start with a good measure of gratitude for what we have.

I am thankful for all of you!  Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Crazy Ride Through the Mississippi Delta: Ranchero by Rick Gavin.

Folks, it's Wednesday.  Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the U.S., and for many of us it is the first day of a four-day weekend.  Set aside thoughts of  turkey and shopping right now and ask yourself an important question:  Do you have a good book to read?

A good book is essential for long weekends.  It's a place to retreat to, a place to hide in, a place to happily pass the time while waiting for the next activity to begin.  If you need something to read and would like something breezy and entertaining, then pick-up or download a copy of  Ranchero by Rick Gavin.

Ranchero is set in the Mississippi Delta, which has been called "the most Southern place on Earth."   The protagonist, Nick Reid, is a new resident of the area.  He previously worked as a police officer all over the mid-South (Nick's key rules: "Never tangle with an irate teenage girl if you can help it at all; and thumbs might be opposable, but they weren't meant to get bent back.").  Now he is doing some repossession work.

The story begins with Nick attempting to repossess a flat-screen t.v. from Percy Dwayne Dubois.  He ends up getting laid-out with a fireplace shovel and tied-up.  When Nick recovers from the beating, Dubois is gone, along with the t.v. and Nick's car:  a mint, calypso-coral Ranchero he borrowed from his widowed landlady.  Nick is determined to get the car back, and this mission sends him on a wild ride through the shady side of the Delta.

With the help of his friend, fellow repo man and guide to the region, Desmond, Rick concludes that the car has come into the hands of an area psychopath and meth dealer named Guy.  Rick sets his sights on tracking down Guy, with the assistance of a group of quirky characters he picks up on the way.

Although Ranchero is a light novel, many of the characters are bitterly poor, drug addicted, mean, or just plain sad.  Author Rick Gavin doesn't hide the problems of the Mississippi Delta, an area with a history of old problems - racism and poverty - and new problems such as obesity.  Gavin lays out all of this.  The book works in part because while Gavin's Nick Reid may have some wry observations about folks, he treats them all with dignity and fairness - even Percy Dwayne Dubois.

Ranchero is recommended reading.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Friday, November 18, 2011

A Good Mystery From Italy: "Death in August" by Marco Vichi.

Death in August is the first in a series of books written by Marco Vichi that feature Inspector Franco Bordelli.   This very enjoyable book is a gentle police procedural, almost - but not quite - a cozy mystery.

Death in August is set in Florence, Italy.  It is the summer of 1963, and the weather is hot, humid and miserable.  Everyone has left town for vacation; that is, every one except Inspector Bordelli.  The 50-ish, single, World War II vet is sweating it out in the city.  It's calm at police headquarters until one evening a wealthy, elderly woman is found dead in her home.  Bordelli observes the scene, concludes the death is suspicious, and the investigation begins.

Bordelli's investigation is not a heart pumping thriller or CSI routine.  He interviews people and works the case with his friend the coroner and his protege, Piras.  But the bulk of the book is really about Bordelli himself, a likable, fair, and often funny man who has an eclectic set of friends and relatives.  He reflects often upon his life and experiences in the war.  Some of these reflections are disturbing, pushing the story outside the boundaries of the cozy mystery category.  In the end, however, Bordelli's musings and interviewing solve the mystery.  And along the way, we are well entertained by the delightful book.  

Death in August was  published in Italian in 2002.  The translation into English by Stephen Sartarelli was published this year and released outside the U.S.  For U.S. customers, it is available now on Kindle from Amazon, however the book itself has not yet been released here.  As the new book was unavailable, I purchased my copy on Ebay.

However you get a copy, check out Death in August.  It is highly recommended reading.  

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterans Day

Today's post was first published on November 11, 2008.

Today is Veterans Day, a day specifically set aside to honor all those who have served in our military and sacrificed for the common good of our country.

Veterans Day began in 1919 as, of course, a commemoration of Armistice Day, the end of World War I - "the war to end all wars." The horrors of World War I have been expressed in some amazing, and well-known, literature. For example, Dalton Trumbo's 1939 classic Johnny Got His Gun. It is the story of a World War I soldier who awakens in the hospital with his mind intact, but his body destroyed, no arms, legs or even a face. Written as an anti-war piece, it is chilling and absorbing.

A famous poem from a soldier of World War I was written by a physician, Canadian Lt. Col. John McCrae. His poem, In Flanders Fields, was one of my favorite poems to read when I was a kid, browsing through my mother's books of poetry:

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe;
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch, be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Poppies have now become a symbol of remembrance for veterans. More poems of war and remembrance can be found at this link.

Thanks to all who have served, and particularly my dad, who served in the United States Navy during World War II.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Music We Like: "An Evening in the Village: The Music of Bela Bartok" by Jake Schepps and the Expedition Quartet.

Open the door to new music.

Musician Jake Schepps plays banjo.  Hungarian composer Bela Bartok (1881 - 1945) studied, collected and arranged folk music.  Bartok also wrote music with folk themes. In An Evening in the Village:  The Music of Bela Bartok, Schepps transcribes and adapts Bartok compositions for performance with a bluegrass lineup.

The recording is not a country music version of Bartok's work.  It is instead a selective number of Bartok's compositions played by banjo, violin, mandolin, guitar, and bass  - plus a cello.  (Don't you love the cello?  I do.)  There is a bluegrass vibe which sometimes bubbles, sometimes simmers, and sometimes is quiet.  The result of this translation and reinterpretation is warm and wonderful music.  

In fact, if you are assembling a holiday shopping list, put at the top of it An Evening in the Village:  The Music of Bela Bartok.  You will enjoy listening to it on snowy evenings throughout the winter. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Michael Pollan Interviewed on The Corbert Report About His New Book "Food Rules".

Amy's Food Rule No 87:  
Apple: Good.  
Apple Pie:  Better.  
Apple Pie  a La Mode:  Best.

Just in time for the eating season - that is, I mean the holiday season - author Michael Pollan has a new book available called Food Rules:  An Eater's Manual.  Pollan is the author of the best sellers In Defense of Food and The Omnivore's Dilemma and previously distilled the essence of eating into seven words:  Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.  Apparently we, the eaters of America, need more than this to drive the point home.  To that end, Pollan recently appeared on the Colbert Report  to talk about the new book.

During the interview, Pollan discusses the fact that (in the U.S. anyway) people eat for reasons other than hunger.  He says if you are hungry enough to want to eat an apple, then you actually are hungry.  And if you actually are hungry, eat an apple!

This is good advise and I'm going to check out Food Rules.  Still, rules must have exceptions.  I won't be following Mr. Pollan's apple rule on Thanksgiving day when, after the main meal is over and I am absolutely not hungry, I will still enjoy a big slice of homemade pecan pie.


Friday, November 4, 2011

Wilderness Books: Stay Inside and Enjoy the Great Outdoors.

It's fall, a season of many rituals.  For some folks, the fall hunting seasons are important annual events:  getting together with family and friends and heading out into the wilderness.

For those of us unable to get out into the wild or looking for a good read in front of the fire after a day in the woods, Philip Connors at The Guardian assembled a list of his top ten wilderness books.  Here's the link.  His list includes A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold and Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy.  The reader comments to the story have more good suggestions of books where wilderness is the theme or adds a critical element to the story, including one of my favorites of all time:  Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux.  

To a list of recommended wilderness books I'd add A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean as well as The Outlander by Gil Adamson.

The Outlander is particularly interesting.  Set in 1903, it is about a 19-year old woman who marries and lives an isolated life with her husband on the frontier.  Her marriage and husband do not turn out as she expected.  Depressed after she loses a baby, she learns that her husband is unfaithful.  Irrevocable actions are taken and the young woman becomes a widow "by her own hand."  She flees into the wilderness of the Canadian Rockies.  Her husband's two brothers pursue her, seeking to bring her back to face justice.  Her race through the mountains, efforts to survive in the wild, and the characters she meets, all make for an exciting story that is beautifully written by Ms. Adamson.  

What books would you recommend in which the wilderness is a key character?

Up-date:  For more book suggestions, check out the 2012 winners of the National Outdoor Book Awards.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Follow Me on Twitter!

Click the link to the right to follow me on Twitter for little bitty blasts about books, music, interesting reads in newspapers and periodicals, and more.

I'll follow; just give me five minutes here . . .