Thursday, April 15, 2021


Sorry this one is up a day early.

THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak was chosen by my book group as their April selection. (In 2009)

When I learned it was a YA book, I groaned.
When I learned it was about the Second World War in Germany, I groaned again.
Then I found out it was about a ten-year old girl orphaned and sent to live with a foster family. Jeez, I thought. Can't we ever read a happy book?

THE BOOK THIEF was not a happy book. But it was a highly original book-much more so than most adult novels I read. I don't even understand why someone classified it as YA. Is every book with a YA hero classified as YA? But this is a book teachers might choose for teens. I think my grandson read it in seventh grade.

The narrator in THE BOOK THIEF is Death and he tells the story from the standpoint of someone overwhelmed with his mission during the war. Death has his hands full.

But THE BOOK THIEF is even more the story of a young girl who loses her family and is sent to live with a foster family in a small German town. She can't read at first but values books greatly and collects them in whatever way she can. Her foster father reads to her every night from the improbable books she finds or steals. The family is kind, both to her and to a Jewish man fleeing the Nazis who is hiding in their basement.

This book certainly humanizes the German people. We watch them starve, freeze and die. Certainly its portrait of Nazis is acute. But with THE READER and this book, the trend is now to understand the Germans were victims of Hitler and fascism too. Maybe it is time to think about this.

It's really hard to do that though, knowing the smell of gassed bodies was mere miles away. Still, THE BOOK THIEF is a book worth reading.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Jean Thompson's "The Widower" from her collection Who Do You Love?

This was s National Book Award Finalist in 1999. It's not hard to understand why. Thompson writes gorgeous short stories. She has several other collections as well as a few novels.

A young couple is looking for their first house. A contender, at their price  point, is the home of a widower. Unlike most homeowners, he hangs around as they look through the house, both pointing out its good features but calling attention to others. A doctor, he has recently lost his wife. Over the course of the story, he will give husband man three stories of how his wife died. They vary especially in his feelings toward the event. Was it a long happy marriage or was he glad to be rid of her? 

A heart attack drops the price of the house and the couple buy it. The widower still stops by to see what improvements they are making. The wife is tolerant of this but the husband finds it irking--perhaps because it makes him doubt their ability to have a long and happy marriage. Great story. Great writer.

Kevin Tipple

Jerry House 

Richard Robinson 

George Kelley 

Todd Mason 

Matt Paust

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Willie Vlautin's Virtual Book Tour


Willie Vlautin's virtual book tour for The Night Always Comes lands at City Lights Bookstore in S.F. tomorrow and Megan will be interviewing him. Here is the link. It is free but you have to register.

You can also catch him at other book stores.

Once registered you will get information on how to link up. These links usually work well. 

I read the book a few months ago and enjoyed it as I have all of his books. One of the few writers who writes about everyday people. 

Monday, April 12, 2021

Still Here

 Reading LUSTER, which has to have some of the best reviews of a debut novel I have ever seen. It is the story of a young Black woman who gets drawn into a white family who've adopted a Black child. The writing is extremely sharp, you feel like every word has been honed--perhaps too much at times. But I certainly am in awe of such a prodigy. On her cover picture, she looks about 25. It is not my kind of book exactly. Do you feel like you have a particular kind of book that is likely to speak to you? Maybe she is just too young but Rebecca was very young and that books speaks to me. Maybe she is too much of this time and place. I am not sure but although I certainly admire Leilani's use of the language and her complex thoughts, it is not a book that draws me in. 

Enjoying Happy Hour, a five-hour Japanese movie on Kanopy. They have broken it into three parts and it concerns four 37 year old women in Japan in 2015.I get Kanopy through my library as well as Hoopla.

Finish Shtisel, which I really enjoyed and they were kind enough to provide some happy endings. Also watched This is a Robbery, a 4-part doc on Netflix about the robbery of the Isabel Gardner Museum in the nineties. Somewhat overly long. Three parts probably would have been better. Also the magnificent Ken Burns doc on Ernest Hemingway.

Also plugging away at the Mike Nichols bio, which is very well done. 

We celebrated Josh's birthday this weekend. Nice to be together without masks since we all have had our shots. Interesting learning how gym was conducted in Kevin's virtual school. Virtual gym turns out to be his Mom filming him doing various things like sit-ups and playing catch. How much this generation is losing with this pandemic going on and on. Half of Michigan has just given up on any sort of social distancing. And you can guess who they voted for. 

How about you?

Friday, April 09, 2021

Classic Faces

Kevin at 3, classic look at what I can do with clay.

Kevin at 14, classic teenage exasperation.



(From the archives)

Ed Gorman: Loser Takes All, Graham Greene

I mean no disrespect when I say that I imagine Graham Greene conceived of Loser Takes All (one of his self-described "entertainments") as a film before he decided to write it as a short novella. It's big and colorful and hangs on two cunning twists that neatly divide the piece into curtain act one and curtain act two.

The story concerns the honeymoon of Mr. Bertram and his bethrothed, Cary. They are planning to go on a modest short vacation when fate, in the the person of Dreuther, an incalculably rich man for whom Bertram is a lowly assistant accountant, intervenes. Bertram solves an accounting problem that nobody else in the incalculably vast corporation can figure out so Dreuther rewards him with the promise of a honeymoon on his yacht and nights of glamor in the casinos of Monte Carlo... Cary is thrilled.

Well, they go to Monte Carlo but soon learn that Dreuther has forgotten his promise. They are left to make do with their pitiful finances. They can't even pay their bills. Then Bertram, a math whiz, goes to a casino and tries out his own system for winning. And even more than that he begins to see how he can bring down Dreuther...

The rich men of the Fifties are perfect matches for the Wall Streeters of today. Their greed and lust is literally without bounds. Greene creates four distinctive scenes of black comedy when dealing with them. But even more, at the point when Cary sees her new husband change because of his winnings, Greene begins to examine the morality of greed. He also, in the midst of the action, gives us a painful subplot about adultery.

I was re-reading William Goldman's Adventure's In The Screen Trade the other day and found this salute that I'd forgotten: "I think Graham Greene was the greatest novelist in English this century."

If you read Loser Takes All, you'll begin to see what Goldman was talking about.


Wednesday, April 07, 2021

First Wednesday Book Review: REMAINS OF THE DAY Kazua Ishiguro

I read this book when it debuted in 1989 and I also saw the wonderful movie with Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson on its release, but I decided to listen to it again on audio. The wonderful Simon Prebble read it and sounded so much like Anthony Hopkins I had to check and recheck. After reading this book in '89 I read NEVER LET ME GO in the early nineties, which is my very favorite of Ishiguro's books and one of my favorite books of all time. His new book KLARA AND THE SUN also sounds wonderful and I may have to buy it right now.

REMAINS OF THE DAY is the story of a butler, one that heads a very large staff for a very prominent English gentleman. He takes his position so seriously that he allows his father to die in an upstairs room alone while he handles an important affair for his employer. Although Stephens seems like a highly intelligent man, he gets most everything wrong in this story. He puts so much faith in his employer that he believes following the lead of Germany in the 20s and 30s is the right step. He fires housemaids because they are Jewish, he allows a possible romance with the housekeeper to go off course. In fact, he often treats her dismissively. And most of all, he doesn't understand that he is not irreplaceable, that he is just a small cog in a wheel that he can never have a hand in turning. The most superficial tasks in running a house become his entire world. And so he misses what he might have had and instead supports a Nazi supporter for the duration. He has constructed his life around performing tasks at the highest level. This gives  him far more pleasure than it should.

This is an unusual book for a young man to have written because it is filled with tips about the life and duties of a butler. You feel sorry for what Stephens has lost but understand that his father, a butler before him, has made the man. But you also despise often his behavior and pomposity. A very complex character.

Highly recommended. 

For more First Wednesday reviews, see Barrie Summy.

Short Story Wednesday: "Snuff" from the 2014 The Best American Mystery Stories ed. by Laura Lippman

 Jodi Angel "Snuff"

 Every once in a while you get a story where the detail is so specific and so well rendered that you feel you are with the characters. In this story a brother calls his sister to give him a ride home. He has been watching a snuff film that he is way too young to have seen. (No one should have seen this one). Begrudgingly she comes to get him, questioning what he is doing way out in the country. On the way home, they hit a deer. They stop the car, not knowing at first what they hit. The deer is already dying but when the sister puts her hand on the animal, she feels something moving around inside. The two try to save the baby but, of course, fail. 

Now this isn't much of a plot, but what makes it really work is how well the writer describes everything they see and do. You not only feel that the author must have experienced this, but you wonder how she was able to take in the details so exactingly. The details of what the night was like, what the road was like, what the car was like, the things they did to try and save the baby. And, of course, that snuff film plays with the brother's emotions as he watches his sister fail.  Excellent. 

Jerry House

Tracy K 

George Kelley