Saturday, June 30, 2012

Oprah Book Club 2.0: First Book Selection is "Wild" by Cheryl Strayed.

Oprah is resuming her book club.  The first pick is Wild by Cheryl Strayed. Wild is a terrific book.  Check out my review here.  It is definitely a title to put into your beach bag for a good summertime read.

Condolences to Guy Clark.

Artist and songwriter Susanna Clark died this past week.  My condolences to her husband, Guy Clark, family and friends.

I like to imagine Susanna Clark rolling up to the Pearly Gates in a limo, with the windows rolled down.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Recommended Reading: "As the Crow Flies" by Craig Johnson.

I'm a big fan of Craig Johnson's mystery books featuring Sheriff Walt Longmire. As the Crow Flies is another great addition to the series.  As with the previous Longmire stories, As the Crow Flies hits that sweet spot, the correct mix of 1) a good story with the right level of suspense, 2) characters that are engaging, and 3) an interesting location and ambiance.

In this, the eighth book of the series, Longmire and his friend Henry Standing Bear are on the Cheyenne Reservation.  While looking for a good location to hold Longmire's daughter's wedding ceremony, they witness a young Crow woman fall off a cliff to her death.  Both men get involved with assisting the tribal police in investigating the tragedy:  is it suicide or murder?

As the Crow Flies is a very nice mystery which struck hard on one of the key elements that, for me, marks a good book: I was sorry when it was over.

Photo:  Sunset in Arizona, near the Mexican border.

Monday, June 25, 2012

"Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman" by Robert Massie Wins Andrew Carnegie Award for Excellence in Literature.

Robert K. Massie's fascinating biography of Catherine the Great won the first-ever Andrew Carnegie Award for Excellence in Literature in the nonfiction category this weekend at the American Library Association conference.  I recently finished reading this book and recommend it strongly.  Catherine's story, her rise to power, and what went on in the mid-1700s at the Russian court is absorbing - and often astounding -  to read, and Robert Massie tells it all in an engaging manner.

The Carnegie Award for fiction was given to Anne Enright's novel The Forgotten Waltz.

Photo:  Olbrich Gardens June 2012.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Life's Odd Coincidences: Reading "Wesley the Owl" by Stacey O'Brien.

This morning I picked up a book called Wesley the Owl:  The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl by Stacey O'Brien.  "Books about animals always end one way," I thought, "the animal dies.  Let's get this over with first."

So I flipped to the back of the book, opening it randomly and landing on page 215.  I scan the page and, no lie, this is what I read:
The one thing I hate about animal stories is that after you've almost read the entire book and you really care about the animal, they go and tell you all about how the animal died.  In fact, I often read the end of these books first so I can at least brace myself for the inevitable.  So you should stop reading now if you don't want to hear about Wesley dying.  But I need to tell you.

Wow!  I am on the same page, as it were, as this author.  I've read to the end of Wesley the Owl, and am eager to start at its beginning.  Thanks Stacey O'Brien!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Four Books for the Beach.

It's summer time.  Are you going to the beach? a cottage? are you taking a drive across America or a stay-cation? Whatever you do, you'll need something to read. Here are four recommendations:

City of Thieves
When someone asks me for a book recommendation, this is always the first title I suggest.  You should read it, too.  You'll like it.

Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead
Out in paperback this summer.  If you are tired of the typical private-eye story, check out Claire DeWitt.

Beat the Reaper
A wild story.  Perfect vacation reading.

Love Warps the Mind a Little
Everything a novel should be.  A wonderful book.

Two bonus recommendations:  The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles and Wild by Cheryl Strayed.   

Have fun!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

New Book From Jess Walter: "The Beautiful Ruins."

The Beautiful Ruins is the new novel from Jess Walter, author of Citizen Vince, The Zero, and The Financial Lives of the Poets.  You can check out a NYT review of The Beautiful Ruins here.  Reviewer Janet Maslin writes, "[T]hink of 'Beautiful Ruins' in terms of its most powerful figure:  Elizabeth Taylor.  She does not appear anywhere in the book except in one snapshot . . . But she is only one or two degrees of separation from most of the vividly etched characters.  And the repercussions of her notoriously erratic behavior change the lives of all of them."  Sound intriguing.

I am definitely going to read The Beautiful Ruins, having greatly enjoyed Mr. Walter's previous books.  My review of The Financial Lives of the Poets is here.    

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Art and Art Books

Chicago River

Just returned from seeing the Roy Lichtenstein retrospective at the Chicago Art Institute.  It was great.  The show runs until September 3, so check it out if you have time.

And to further feed your appetite for art, take a look at this list of top ten art books compiled by Michael Bracewell for The Guardian.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Recommended Reading: "The Rules of Civility" by Amor Towles.

When The Rules of Civility was published last year it received a lot of good reviews.  Nonetheless, I put off reading it.  The plot summary didn't sound appealing.  Perhaps the black-and-white photo on the book jacket of a well-dressed young couple drinking cocktails in a garden contributed to this in some way.  I haven't been in the mood to read about the problems of posh, upper-class white people.  This past week, however, I finally broke down and read it.  And loved it.  My preconceptions about the story were completely wrong and I found The Rules of Civility an engaging and absorbing read.

Author Amor Towles takes a concept that sounds a bit like a routine romance novel and turns it into a sophisticated story about choice and chance.  Set in New York City in 1938, the protagonist is 25-year old Kate Kontent.  Kate grew up in Brooklyn, the daughter of a Russian immigrant.  She lives in a boarding house and supports herself by working in the typing pool of a law firm.  Kate is smart, well read, attractive, and hard working.  While out with her friend Eve Ross on New Year's Eve, the women meet the handsome Tinker Grey, a man who looks decidedly upper class.  "You could just picture his forebear at the helm of the Mayflower" according to Kate.  Eve calls "dibs" on Tinker.  However, which of the two women he prefers remains to be seen as the book unfolds and more unanticipated events shape all three lives.

Sure, the plot sounds like a vehicle for a weepy movie featuring Betty Davis, but trust me:  in the hands of Amor Towles this is an absorbing, contemporary story.  And appropriately enough for a novel concerning wealth and society, everything about the quality of writing in The Rules of Civility is first class.  Tracking both Kate's social life and career ambitions, the story moves along with the speed and ease of a powerful luxury passenger train, with witty dialogue and sharp observations.  A very good book.  I am so glad I finally read The Rules of Civility.   

The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
Viking Press