Our Little Secret by Kevin Flynn and Rebecca Lavoie is the story of the murder in 1985 of Danny Paquette. By all accounts he was a hard worker and a skilled welder, and he had a work ethic that wouldn't quit. But he was also a child molester and tortured a young girl: he burned animals to death with his welding torch and told her she was next if she told anyone "our little secret." He routinely beat up his girlfriends.
So when his 15-year-old step-daughter told the captain of her high school soccer team what he had done to her and her fear of the man, Eric Windhurst took his rifle and shot the man dead. Eric was only 17 and this deed haunted him until the day 20 years later when he was caught by the dogged work of the local police chief and the New Hampshire State Police.
Although he had told a number of people what he had done and the rumors of this murder were widespread in town almost no-one felt the need to bring the crime and the rumors to the attention of the police. Two people sent anonymous letters telling the story but what can the police do without any evidence or eyewitness testimony?
The town where the murder took place is Hooksett and the town where the murderer lived is Hopkinton. Both are on the corridor between Concord and Manchester.
Flight School (2014) by Lita Judge. This is one of my favorites of the books Elaine and I read this morning. It's about a Penguin who comes all the way from the South Pole to a flight school in what appears to be Florida. He was hatched to fly! He has the soul of an eagle! So, despite misgivings the flight instructor and his aide, Flamingo, admit Penguin to the class. But when the other birds take off on their first flight, Penguin ends up swimming instead of flying. He is leaving in despair when Flamingo has an idea how to help him. Will Penguin get to fly like an eagle?
I liked this book so much I sent a copy to my sister, who runs a real, actual flight school, Don's Flying Service, at her airport. I don't think she has ever had any penguins enrolled.
Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue (2006) by Anna Harwell Celenza is in a tie for my favorite this morning. It's a picture book telling the story of how band leader Paul Whiteman put an ad in the paper saying he was giving a concert in five weeks that would feature a concerto by George Gershwin. George phoned Paul in a tizzy. Only five weeks to compose a classical concerto - he had never composed classical music before. "You can do it," said his friend, Paul, and indeed, he did. It was comprised of foxtrot and ragtime rhythms, blues and Klezmer tunes, and an undeniable feel of the city of Manhattan. Ira, who wrote the lyrics for George's famous tunes, came up with the title, Rhapsody in Blue.
We listened to the music as we read the book.The illustrations are by Joann E Kitchel.
We both loved Gloria Whelan's Queen Victoria’s Bathing Machine (2014) with illustrations by Nancy Carpenter. One hot summer day Queen Victoria looks out the window and says, "I wish I could jump in the ocean and swim." Her lady-in-waiting faints dead away at the very thought of any of her subjects seeing more of the queen's person than her hands and her face.
But Prince Albert, who in real life was a brilliant engineer along with his many other talents, comes up with an idea. A bathing machine which Victoria can enter fully clothed and from which, after she changes into a bathing costume (see cover), she can emerge between curtains and submerge herself into the sea. It works perfectly until some sailors in Her Majesty's Royal Navy spy what they think is perhaps a flatboat floating off the coast . . .
The remaining three books were very good but not quite as special as these first three.
The Short Giraffe (2013) by Neil Flory is about the difficulties Boba the baboon is having taking a group portrait of giraffes. Geri is so short his head hardly appears at the bottom of the photo. The other giraffes think of various ways to raise Geri so that she appears the same height as they, but stilts and springs and filling Geri with helium don't work very well.
And then Boba has another idea. Cute illustrations by Mark Cleary, and a sweet but not overdone lesson in helping others.
Here Comes the Easter Cat (2014) by Deborah Underwood, illustrations by Claudia Rueda. This book is about a cat with Easter Bunny envy. Why, he asks, can't he, a cat, deliver Easter Eggs and be beloved by millions of children and have plush toys made to look like him? So he gathers eggs to give to children, but then he needs a nap. (He has had only 7 naps that morning and it's clearly time for another.) Then he meets up with the Easter Bunny, who is exhausted from his work delivering eggs and Bunny has an idea. A brilliant idea . . .
Oliver’s Tree (2014) by Kit Chase. Oliver is an elephant and as the story opens he is playing hide and seek with his friends the bunny and the owl. They both hide up or in a tree, but when Oliver tries it he finds the trees either too tall to climb, or too short to hide him. After a disastrous attempt to climb and hide in a low-branched tree, he falls asleep on a tree stump, exhausted. And that's when his friends get an idea how they can help their friend get the full I'm-in-a-tree experience.
Technorati Tags: Anna Harwell Celenza, Deborah Underwood, Don's Flying Service, Flight School, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, Gloria Whelan, Here Comes the Easter Cat, Jazz, Kit Chase, Lita Judge, Marlboro Airport, Neil Flory, Oliver’s Tree, Queen Victoria’s Bathing Machine, The Short Giraffe
Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures should have been a five-star book for me. It's about a woman who is discovered and made a star. I love that kind of metamorphosis/rags to riches story. But it didn't gel. I kept thinking, "Just a few more pages and it will click in." It never did.
Now I've read The Vacationers by the author of the disappointing Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures. I was skeptical about the book because of my experience with Emma Straub's earlier novel. And rightly so.
I borrowed this because 1. hope springs eternal, and 2. (blushes) there were more people on the library waiting list for this book than any of the other books I had been investigating, 32. When will I ever learn?
The characters are unlikeable - I think (they are poorly portrayed), the plot is almost non-existent, there is no local color although the story is set in Majorca, and the prose is pedestrian.
However . . . I have learned that when I read a book can have a great deal of influence on how much I like it. I read The Vacationers after three very readable novels. One of them is 640 pages long, the previous library borrower was a smoker, and still I couldn't put it down. So almost anything short of Pride and Prejudice was going to disappoint when I picked this up.
For another view of the book, see the link below.
This week Elaine and I are back to our usual routine wherein I read to her and we talk about the books, the endpapers, the illustrations (we both like watercolors and collage), and whatever else catches out eye. Todays books were:
Lyle and the Birthday Party by Bernard Waber (1966) Elaine and I are both fond of the eponymous Lyle who first appeared in Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile. It's time for a birthday party for one of Lyle's human siblings and Lyle grows jealous. In fact, he turns positively green with envy and Mrs Primm decides he needs to see a doctor. She is given the name of an MD who is an expert in crocodiles but she can't remember whether his name is James Lewis or Lewis James and she calls the wrong one. Learning that Lyle, whom he does not suspect is other than a human, the doctor rushes Lyle to the hospital. Like the rest of us Lyle becomes extremely bored in bed and finds some activities that make him forget his jealousy. He soon returns home to a wonderful surprise.
Frederick by Leo Lionni (1967) Frederick is a mouse, one of five who live in a stone wall near a deserted barn and empty granary. Realizing that they must prepare for the winter, the other four mice gather straw and nuts and seeds. But Frederick just sits soaking up the sun and looking at the beautiful flowers and thinking of words. When winter comes and eventually most of the provisions are gone the other mice turn to Frederick who with his words makes them remember the warmth of the sun and the brightness of the colors of summer. A wonderful little story about the worth of poets and a nice counter to the ants and the grasshopper. (I've always been a bit of a grasshopper myself so naturally I love Frederick.)
The Boy Who Looked Like Lincoln by Mike Reiss (2003) This is a strange little book which Elaine liked more than I did. Our eight-year-old protagonist does indeed look like Abraham Lincoln, and he has done so since birth. The little beard is what does it, I think. The other kids at school make fun of him and he gets a little down. So his parents send him to summer camp, a camp for kids who look funny. There are kids who look like the Sphinx and a pyramid, the Washington monument and an automobile, a bowling ball and a toaster. Our little Lincoln look-alike fits right in and when he goes back to school he has achieved enough ego to counter the teasing from his classmates, no Venus and Apollo themselves.
It was while reading that book that we spotted a beautiful butterfly outside the windows. We have very large windows in our living room so we were able to watch it flitter back and forth until it landed on the bushes in the side yard. Neither of us knew what kind it is but we could both agree it was a beauty.
And so we went on to Mama Provi and the Pot of Rice by Sylvia Rosa-Casanova (1997) I had never heard of this book or the author before. It's a delightful story about a grandmother who makes an enormous pot of arrozo con pollo for her granddaughter who lives upstairs on the 8th floor. As she climbs the stairs Mama Provi stops on each landing and one of the tenants on that floor trades her for a bowl of chicken and rice. By the time she arrives at her granddaughter's apartment she has not just chicken and rice but bread, black beans, green salad, collard greens, tea, and apple pie as well.
The story made us hungry so we ate some of the Rainier cherries that arrived from Follow the Harvest yesterday.
Harry and the Lady Next Door by Gene Zion (1960) We actually read this book first as we are both very fond of Harry whom we know from Harry, the Dirty Dog. The lady next door to Harry's house sings. A lot. And she sings very high and very loudly. Harry, being a dog, likes lower sounds so he brings along cows and a tuba to encourage her but she drowns them out. When he brings a couple of bull frogs to a singing contest however the lady benefits greatly from their presence and wins a prize that takes her abroad for a year. Harry's tail is wagging.
We decided the lady must have sounded something like this:
Technorati Tags: Abraham Lincoln, Bernard Waber, Brunhilda, Crocodiles, Frederick, Frederick, Gene Zion, Harry and the Lady Next Door, Harry the Dirty Dog, Leo Leonni, Leo Lionni, Lyle and the Birthday Party, Mama Pravi, Mike Reiss, Ride of the Valkyries, Sylvia Rosa-Casanova, The Boy Who Looked Like Lincoln, Wagner
I check in most days to the Neglected Books Page, a blog that has many lists of neglected books and authors.
One of these is "The Most Underrated Books and Authors," from the Times Literary Supplement, in which both Philip Larkin and Lord David Cecil mentioned the then-neglected Barbara Pym. This led to the reprinting of Pym's earlier books and the publication of a few new ones.
Also from that list:
This hurts, it really does. I wanted to love The Silkworm. I liked the first Robert Galbraith mystery, The Cuckoo's Calling, and I think Cormoran Strike is a first-rate character. But this story drags, moving too slowly even for me. And I adore stories in which nothing happens (late Henry James for example.) This book is twice as long as it needs to be.
I stopped reading on page 228 of 454 pages. I know how it ends. Well, I think I know. I've figured out the Big Twist in the story and that fills in the blanks so that I can work out who done it, though I'm not entirely sure why. And I'm sad to realize I don't care.
But, on the other hand, the reviewer in The New York Times Sunday Book Review loved it. Look here.
J K Rowling in The Silkworm: “With the invention of the Internet, any subliterate cretin can be Michiko Kakutani.”
Of late we have been watching (streamed from Netflix) a TV program called numb3rs. Last night we saw the finale of Season 3 in which Judd Hirsch recited some beautiful poetry that perfectly wrapped up the story. The poem is called "The Death-Bed" and is from The Old Huntsman and Other Poems (1918.)
from The Death-Bed
Light many lamps and gather round his bed.
Lend him your eyes, warm blood, and will to live.
Speak to him; rouse him; you may save him yet.
He’s young; he hated War; how should he die
When cruel old campaigners win safe through?
But death replied: ‘I choose him.’ So he went,
And there was silence in the summer night;
Silence and safety; and the veils of sleep.
Then, far away, the thudding of the guns.
-- Siegfried Sassoon
“It is a great pity we don’t know
When the dead are going to die
So that, over a last companionable
Drink, we could tell them
How much we liked them.
“Happy the man who, dying, can
Place his hand on his heart and say:
`At least I didn’t neglect to tell
The thrush how beautifully she sings.’”
-- Bernard O'Donoghue, “Going without Saying” (Gunpowder, 1995) He's Irish, of course.
Alain de Botton is again brilliant in The News: A User's Manual. He discusses how politics, economics, and disasters are covered by the media - or rather mis-covered. He encourages more narrative in news and less "objectivity" which he points out is almost nonexistent in today's news which is usually deeply biased. A quote:
"A contemporary dictator wishing to establish power would not need to do anything so obviously sinister as banning the news: he or she would only have to see to it that news organizations broadcast a flow of random-sounding bulletins, in great numbers but with little explanation of context, within an agenda that keeps changing without giving any sense of the ongoing relevance of the issue that seemed pressing only a short while before, the whole interspersed with constant updates about the colorful antics of murderers and film stars. This would be quite enough to undermine most people's capacity to grasp political reality -- as well as any resolve they might otherwise have summoned to alter it. The status quo could confidently remain forever undisturbed by a flood of rather than a ban on, news."
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green was published in 2009 and I think it took a while to get off the ground. I mean, who wants to read a book about two teenagers dying of cancer? But there's something appealing about the young woman in this book and the story employs a minimum of sentimentality. (This is not Love Story for the 21st Century.)
After a couple of years someone picked it up and made what my teen-age informants tell me is a terrific movie. And now everyone is reading the book, including me. And I did like it. I resent tear-jerkers so I was ready to brush this book off. But it didn't make me cry. And I think it helped me to understand better the relationships that grow between parents with sick children and among siblings of cancer victims, and the challenges a terminally ill teenager faces just dealing with the people around him, including his family.
A Spy among Friends, a new biography of Kim Philby will be published in the US in next month by an author some of us have become very fond of. Ben MacIntyre has written a handful of extraordinary books about World War II spies, an Afghanistan adventurer, Neitzsche's sister, a French village under Nazi occupation, the man on whom Conan Doyle based his character Professor Moriarty, and more. Every one of them is splendid.
Now he turns his attention to the infamous Philby, who became head of Britain's Soviet counterintelligence during the Cold War. The damage he did is incalculable and the story of his rise to such an important post and his close friendship - or what seemed to be friendship - with MI6 officer, Nathaniel Elliot, is fascinating and heartbreaking. Philby was also close to James Angleton, America's head of counterintelligence at the CIA.
I await this new volume impatiently.
Also being released soon is another novel about the fictional town of Giliad by Marilynne Robinson, author of Housekeeping, Giliad, and Home. The Lila of the title is the woman, living on the fringes of the town ofGiliad, who one day walks into the church of John Ames, the major character of Giliad. She causes a great deal of controversy in the small town but eventually marries him.
This new book is Lila's story. Robinson keeps returning to the same town and the same story, looking at it from a different point of view in each of her first-rate novels.
Again, I await the publication of this novel with impatience.
We Were Liars is a novel that will appeal to readers who enjoy peeking behind the curtain at very rich, very old families at play. And at war with one another. The narrator is a 17-year-old girl who has experienced a trauma - she isn't sure what. She is trying to reconstruct what happened on her family's personal island off Martha's Vineyard during the summer when she was 15. The title is a little puzzling because neither the narrator nor any of the other characters does much prevaricating.
Inside the front cover it says " . . . if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE." Don't let that get your hopes up for a slam-bang ending. I wasn't paying rapt attention as I read the book and I knew half way through what was going to happen. Not badly written, filled with effective metaphor, and beautifully atmospheric but weak at heart.
"The good people," continued he, "know not what time and trouble it costs to learn to read. I have been employed for eighteen years on it, and cannot say that I have reached the goal yet." - Goethe
Hat tip to Laudator Temporis Acti
By Stevie Smith
Stevie Smith, “Not Waving but Drowning” from Collected Poems of Stevie Smith. Copyright © 1972 by Stevie Smith. Reprinted with the permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.
Source: New Selected Poems (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1988)
Two authors are publishing mystery series about fin de siecle Vienna, Frank Tallis, whose amateur detective is a psychoanalyst, and J Sydney Jones, whose books feature a lawyer, Karl Werthen, and the historical Hans Gross, one of the first modern forensic experts. Both series are excellent and my favorite is usually the one that has most recently had a book published.
So right now Jones' Karl Werthen series is uppermost as a fifth mystery is about to be released in July called A Matter of Breeding. Meanwhile I have re-read this fourth book, The Keeper of Hands.
The book begins with Felix Salten arriving at Werthen's weekend retreat in the Vienna Woods to ask the lawyer on behalf of his friend, Josephone Mutzenbacher, a famous brothel keeper, to look into the murder of one of her girls, Mitzi.
Salten, best known to us today as the author of the childrens book, Bambi, was, in 1901, an acerbic theater critic for a Vienna newspaper and busy writing the biography of Frau Mutzenbacher. The book was published anonymously but Jones presents Salten as the likely author. From Hungary and born Siegmund Salzmann, Salten is a member of the avant garde Jung Wien. One of the things I enjoy in these mysteries is that Werthen crosses paths with many of the dozens of famous artists and politicians and scientists who lived and flourished in Vienna at the turn of the 19th century.
Werthen agrees to take on the search for the murderer of Mitzi which the police are pretty much ignoring because of the girl's profession and the death of an important political figure at about the same time. When Werthen and Gross discover the two knew one another the significance of Mitzi's murder begins to interest other people besides her friends and the lawyer.
As is appropriate in a book taking place in old Vienna the characters pause frequently, as all Viennese citizens did, for a traditional country meal or a visit to one of the city's ancient coffee houses for a drink and a pastry, usually featuring whipped cream, schlagsahne. I can almost taste it.
Aside from Fun with Dick and Jane I haven't spent any time with easy readers. So I had not read Amelia Bedelia, a book with a title that I find irresistible. And it seemed like it was time to rectify that.
Amelia is a housekeeper who has been hired by the wealthy Mrs Rogers. As soon as Amelia arrives her employer drives away with her husband leaving a list of things to do. Dust the furniture, draw the drapes, trim the fat on the steak in the fridge.
Before she does any of this Amelia decided to make a lemon-meringue pie. Then she gets Mrs Rogers' dusting powder from the bathroom and sifts dust onto the furniture. She gets out a pad of paper and draws the drapes. She finds the sewing basket and sews some ribbon and flower trim on the steak.
Amelia is a bit literal.
When they arrive home the Rogers aren't pleased with Amelia's progress with the list. But there is a delicious smell wafting from the kitchen . . .
The book is by Peggy Parish and illustrated by Fritz Siebel. It's 64 pages long and was published in 1963.
A few weeks ago my friend, Karla, sent me a link to a youtube lecture in the TED series by Susan Cain, the author of Quiet. Her talk was about Cain's life as a young bibliophile and her attempt to change herself to fit into a career in corporate law when what she wanted to do was to work alone, doing research, writing, talking to experts one on one, and writing some more. Instead she was spending her life in meetings and giving lectures to groups of people (ironically, something like the lecture she was giving to TED.)
Karla sent me the link because, like Cain, I'm an introvert. I deeply dislike parties and usually prefer to be alone or with Wilhelm or a friend. (Karla and I used to walk together every morning and that was my idea of perfect socializing.) I discovered Cain had written this book, Quiet, and discovered there is much more to her theory and a great deal of research that backs her up.
Cain's plea for more respect for introverts in schools and workplaces is heartfelt, if falling on deaf ears. Our schools, which tried the "open classroom" some 30-40 years ago and ran from it with a headache because of the resulting dysfunctional noise and chaos, is doing it again. The typical classroom has pods of 4 to 7 desks where students are expected to study and solve problems together. Workplaces have pretty much done away with offices in favor of cubicles and the number of meetings is increasing as are techniques like large group brainstorming.
Problem is studies have shown repeatedly that these things don't work compared with individuals given time to think. Introverts work best alone and in quiet and undisturbed. Think of Steve Wozniak inventing the Apple computer alone at his desk after hours at Hewlett Packard. Think of Charles Darwin devising his theories on long walks and refusing any and all dinner invitations. And Dr Seuss - Theodor Geisel - writing The Cat in the Hat and Horton Hears a Who - alone in his studio.
She points out that the housing bubble and the Wall Street crash of 2008 was a demonstration of how introverts, who are more sensitive, more observant, and in many cases wiser than extroverts, were ignored and overlooked for promotion during the years of taking risks and overextending, years when the extroverts were able to say, year after year, "Look! This is perfectly safe! We made megabucks again this year!" and the introvert's suggestion that it couldn't last forever was swept away.
Quiet is still on the hard cover best-seller list two years after it was published, at around #15 these days. This is because it is so well written and so crammed with information. Cain has interviewed some of the most interesting introverts in the scientific and financial community. And because she has organized her book with such skill and imagination. Highly recommended.