Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Shelfy Selfy

Not sure how much longer I am going to do this because most of the rest of my books probably wouldn't interest you. They are picture books or biographies or literary story collections, journals I have stories in or straight novels. Anyway, I have only read two of these books: STRAIGHT MAN by Russo and ROSEANNA by Sjowal and Wahloo. I love both of those writers but STRAIGHT MAN is Russo's funniest book, especially for those who are college teachers.

I have skimmed THE NOIR THRILLER, which was fun. I have tried to read ADELE by Slimani and found it too dark. I just bought the Pochoda book. Phil always said COME CLOSER by Sara Gran was too scary for me. I loved DOPE by Gran but haven't read any of the Claire DeWitt books.

I still might try it. The Nesbo I picked up in Florida just a few months ago but it seems more like years now. And DEEP WATER by Highsmith has been recommended by Megan and Phil but I don't seem to get to it. DODGERS I picked up free at Bouchercon. Phil liked it but I haven't gotten to it. Let's face it, Phil was the better reader, especially after he retired and before he was too sick. Who is the better reader in your house?

Monday, June 29, 2020

Still here

I had forgotten that back in January I agreed to read and write a short introduction for a Canadian reprint of a book from the fifties entitled I AM NOT GUILTY, Frances Shelley Wees. Last week the book arrived along with a catalog, mentioning my introduction. Had forgotten all about it after so much time had passed.
Wees, a Canadian, was better known for her novel THE KEYS OF MY PRISON, also published by Vehicule Press. This task came my way via Brian Busby. So I am knee deep in that, trying to find something interesting to say beyond a plot summary.
Watching DEAD STILL, about a Victorian photographer who photographs the dead. Sound familiar? So far I haven't really gotten into it. I am kind of in a lull, having finished several viewing projects.
Read THE OTHER MRS. by Mary Kubick. Still working on BORN A CRIME by Trevor Noah. Also reading some short stories from Sarah Weinman's first anthology of domestic suspense.
Watched the Spike Lee movie DA FIVE BLOODS which was rather spoiled by the NYT opinion piece by Viet Nguyen who scolded Lee for being attuned to the problems of black soldiers, but oblivious to the ones of the Vietnamese. Nguyen had spent his whole life watching US Vietnam films that use the native Vietnamese as victims or murderers or servants and not real people.
Sad week. This virus has us by the throat! This needed to be handled at a federal level not state by state. Great piece on Michigan gov, Gretchen Whitmer in the NYT magazine.
How about you?

Friday, June 26, 2020

FFB-City of Nets, Otto Friedrich

Not quite finished this history, but it is long. And really great. If you are interested in Hollywood in the forties, this is the one to read. It begins with the influx of talent (composers, directors, actors) flooding into the country following Hitler's aggression in Europe in '39 and follows the story up to the Cold War, the McCarthy Hearings, etc.

It is not a celebrity gossip book although there are lots of juicy stories in it. It details the union struggles, the writers who came seeking a paycheck they could count on (Faulkner, Dreiser, Hemingway, etc) the composers whose talent was extremely misunderstood by the studios, how the war affected both the content and cast of Hollywood, the goofiness of many of the studio chiefs in handling and mishandling talent.

City of Nets is the work of a gifted historian and writer. Highly recommended

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Another Shelfy

A PRAYER FOR THE DYING is a terrific account of another plague if you have the guts for it. A doctor returns from duties during the Civil War and finds his entire small town is dying from a disease. He has to decide who to treat and how. Great book. Told in poetic language. O'Nan has said he alternates short books with long ones and this like Last Night at the Lobster is a shorty. I have most of Woodrell's books but this is one (Tomato Red) I haven't read. Winter's Bone is my favorite. Two books from Hard Case Crime, both with Jason Starr.

I don't hear much from HCC anymore. Are they still publishing? The Awakening, read it for a course. And, of course, it is a classic. Memento Mori, now I know I read this on a Muriel Spark binge, but I have little memory of it. It seems like it's about a person who makes unpleasant phone calls to a group of friends. Seems like it's worth reading again. Name of the Game is Death, Dan Marlowe. A terrific noir. Pretty terrifying if I remember it. Woman on the Roof, Helen Nielsen, never took it out of the plastic cover. I bought it when I was supposed to be on a panel about forgotten female writers. I think I ended up not going to that conference so I never read it.

Have you read any of these?

Also: DNR can mean a range of things, which I didn't realize. For instance, if you come off of a ventilator, putting you back on one constitutes resuscitation. This may differ from state to state or even hospital to hospital, but check it out before putting that bracelet on a wrist.

Monday, June 22, 2020

I'm Still Here

A kind friend took me to a nursery where I bought some coral bells, astilbe (?) and begonias for immediate color. I didn't overdo it. It is too late in the season to do much.

Had two sets of friends over for early dinners (all takeout) and this is enough to buoy me for a day or two. And my son and his family came over yesterday. I ordered middle eastern food, which they picked up. A very nice day. Kevin is almost as tall as his father. He's quiet but not in an angry way. He does get tired of hearing about the President and Covid-19, I am sure. We are a very political family. It seems hard to talk about anything else. Hoping this will not be the defining time of his life the way Viet Nam is for me.  Does each generation have that moment: a war, a depression, a crisis of some sort.

Reading Richard Ford's book about his parents (Between Them). Finished Eight Perfect Murders (Swanson), which I liked, but he did lean awfully heavily on other writers' work. I know that was the point of it, but still. Reading Born a Crime (Trevor Noah) for my book group. Still working on City of Nets at lunch every day.

Rewatched The Last of Sheila, which I don't think held up that well. Finished Srugim, which I am very sorry to be done with. Watching the documentary on Lennox Hill Hospital and the one about Babies (both Netflix) Was disappointed in the first episode of Grantchester, but the second was better. Looking forward to Perry Mason although the reviews are so-so.

Sometimes as I type this I see that I need an awful lot of stimulation. I don't even list the podcasts I listen to. Am I a greedy consumer of stimuli? Not sure. There are very few minutes in my day when something is not going in my ear or eye. How about you? And there is always the fact that I don't drive and am alone. I wonder how others in my situation fill their days?

Friday, June 19, 2020


Henry Stuart is a sixty-seven year retired professor living in Idaho when he is diagnosed with tuberculosis, a disease the doctor tells him will kill him within a year. A widower with two adult sons, he decides to go live in a more temperate climate and chooses Alabama. The novel is set in the 1920s and his only means of travel is a long train trip. He arrives in Fairhope, AL four days later. He has purchased ten acres sight unseen and lives in the barn while he decides what to do about a permanent home.

Much of this book describes how Henry builds his house. And how he gives up things like reading to make  himself tougher. There is a lot of Thoreau in Henry Stuart. The reader also gets a lot of philosophizing and very exacting accounts of how he fixes things and how he builds that house. We meet his neighbors although not enough to feel we really know them. Our time with them too often reminds of stock scenes from Little House on the Prairie or The Waltons.

This novel is somewhat based on a true story although the real Henry was called the Philosopher of Tolstoy Park rather than the Poet. There is much discussion about Tolstoy.

I feel pretty ambivalent about this book. I like the idea of trying to live simply, but don't understand why Henry insists on being a hermit for much of the book. Is it just to emulate Thoreau? Why does he give up reading and writing and focus solely on his tasks and nature. I think you need to be an especially gifted writer to make this sort of book work. And I am not sure Sonny Brewer is so blessed. But I am not sorry to have read it. There was enough here to make it worth my while.

Thursday, June 18, 2020


I would like to plant some new perennials here. Something with some color. It is mostly shady from a big red maple and oak but gets some sun late in the day. Any ideas in case I still get to the nursery this year. BTW there is more room than this photo shows although I don't want something that spreads too much.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Shelfy Selfy

This is my worst bunch yet. I have only read two of these: POISONWOOD BIBLE and HOUSEKEEPING. Both of which I love. I tried to get Phil to read POISONWOOD for years. But once I told him it was about a missionary and his family in Africa, I lost him every time. It is truly a brilliant book and Kingsolver, a brilliant writer. I think it is one of my book group's favorites too. Also HOUSEKEEPING, about a semi-deranged by well-meaning women taking care of her two nieces. Another great writer. When we were in Paris she was speaking at Shakespeare and Company and so many people wanted to hear her that they put a speaker out on the street.
I have started BRIGHTON several times but something always gets in the way. Same with the rest of these. I would not still have them if I didn't know they were well worth reading.
Now I bought CALL ME BY YOUR NAME after admiring the movie. And I have yet to open it up. Same for PNIN by Nabokov which was recommended by more than one person.
I still haven't learned how to schedule so this may go right up.
What percentage of the books on your shelves have you read? Ballpark. What makes up read some right away and others-never?

Sunday, June 14, 2020

I'm Still Here

On my walk, I find all kinds of signs and call-outs to what's going on. The sidewalks are filled with chalked messages, windows hold signs offering thanks, there are fairy gardens at the base of so many trees.

This rock, which is really tiny, says Doctors Rock. And they do. I would like to watch LENNOX, which is about doctors on Netflix but I am too scared because you know they will have patients with cancer.

Things are sort of the same every day, every week. I often feel like I am marching in place and will it ever end. A really good friend went to have a hip replacement last Tuesday and is now on a ventilator and has an embolism. This was in Georgia. They send you home the next day with nobody checking in on you. Do they assume his wife (and his wife has a Ph.D so she's a smart woman) will know that his oxygen level is too low (80) without giving her a way to check it. Don't get me started. Who said that all the time on TV?

I found out I have the downloading service Hoopla through my library and downloaded an audio book. (EIGHT PERFECT MURDERS) The choice was not great but it's free. They also have movies and print books. Between that and Kanopy you would think I had enough to watch. I am insatiable. Really looking forward to the dark version of Perry Mason coming soon.

Also finished listening to NOTHING TO SEE HERE by Kevin Wilson and finished reading the very strange POET OF TOLSTOY PARK (Sonny Brewer).

Working my way through SRIGUM and now I understand what Ultra-Orthodox Jews are. It took them two and half seasons to explain it to me. Also spreading out RAMY, which I love. Muslims, maybe I will study them. The acting on this show along with the writing is terrific.

But if they have an online course on Judaism, I would like to take it. Because I grew up in a mostly Jewish neighborhood, and a lot of my friends have always been Jewish, I think I would really find it interesting. More about Jewish culture than the actual Torah though. Although I would like to understand what the men, especially, are always studying. I think it is more commentary from famous rabbis over the centuries than the actual Bible. I read the entire Bible in high school so I have some grounding there.

About to start another Maigret. I can always find one to download for $1.99 on amazon.

Beautiful weather here. So much trimming and weeding though. And I pulled out a lot of stuff that I hope is weeds. None of my friends are gardeners except the woman in Georgia. Usually she is back here by now.

Thanks to the friends who do not forget me. I am blessed.

I am babbling. I can't figure out how to not publish this right away. Sorry.

And what's up with you?

Friday, June 12, 2020


Patti Abbott, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. (from the archives)

I first read DINNER AT THE HOMESICK RESTAURANT when it came out more than 30 years ago and my reading of it then and now are quite different. I found the family quirky then. I find them sad now. As we grow older, things seem more set in stone and a dysfunctional family seems unlikely to change.

It is the most critically acclaimed and beloved of Tyler's books and is often compared to AS I LAY DYING.

All the members of the Tull family are dysfunctional. Beck, the father, deserts his family and for most of the book, we believe he is the primary cause of all their troubles. We don't understand why until the very end and share the frustrations and puzzlement of his wife, Pearl with his actions.

Pearl is run into the ground supporting her family and is seldom up to coping with them. Only a brave writer would give a woman so beset by financial problems such unlikable traits. She resorts to various verbal abuses that scar the children. Cody, the eldest, develops such severe hangups over his father's desertion and his mother's display of favoritism he becomes emotionally estranged from the family. His resentment of his younger brother and the action he takes to ameliorate his pain is painful to read. Jenny grows up scattered and remote despite her profession. Ezra, the most sympathetic character of the book and owner of the "Homesick Restaurant" shares this beaten down quality.

There are few acts of heroism in this book and, in fact, few big scenes. Its success can be pinned to the small accretion of details and words that give the Tull family life. You may not either like or dislike any character in this book, but you will believe they exist. And although you may not want to eat dinner with them, you can
 picture them in Baltimore even now.

This is one of my favorite Anne Tyler novels. I haven't read one in a long time though. Maybe it's time now. 

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Shelfie Selfie

BOB THE GAMBLER: The story of the Barthelme brothers, Stephen and Frederick not Donald, who inherited a sizable amount of money and went down to a river boat and lost it in an afternoon has always fascinated me. This is not the memoir of that stunt but Frederick's tale of a gambler, which I also found interesting. Do you have a favorite tale of a gambler?

Of course, THE LAST GOOD KISS is a classic, but I have not read it. It has the most quoted first line in crime fiction though. "When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a spring afternoon." I thought "bulldog" was a colorful term for a guy on the next stool, but the next line clears that up "The dog slumped on the stool beside him like a tired little buddy, only raising his head occasionally for a taste of beer from a dirty ashtray set on the bar." Talk about a colorful image.

1984-we read this in my book group, I think. It's an awfully glum book and too much of it came true. It was the play my high school did my senior year and I played what is a man in the book.  It was a Christian high school and the lead actress, Rosemary Camilleri was not allowed to kiss boys so they had to cut that from a scene. See, they should have cast me in the part. I would have been able to fulfill my role's requirements.

EARLY ORGANIZED CRIME IN DETROIT, James Buccellato. Jimmy was a Ph.d student of Phil's and this is a real interest of his. This was not his dissertation though.

THE PIANO LESSON, another book we read in my book group and I saw this play of August Wilson's as well as FENCES, and one or two others. There is a good documentary on August Wilson on Prime right now. Wilson wrote a play about black folks for every decade of the 20th century. THE PIANO LESSON won the Pulitzer Prize for drama.

AN UNQUIET MIND: Kay Redfield Jamison, a book on mental illness I read for CONCRETE ANGEL. It was books on mental illness for CONCRETE ANGEL and books on photography for SHOT IN DETROIT.

WONDER VALLEY, Ivy Pochoda -Phil enjoyed this and although I just bought her new book I have not gotten to this or VISITATION STREET, which also sits on the shelf.

DEAR LOS ANGELES, ed by David Kipen-can't remember who gave this to me but I haven't even opened it. Some day.

TRANSCRIPTION, Kate Atkinson, I have read all of Atkinson's books except this one. It's about spies and that is just not my favorite genre. Maybe some day.

Read any of them? 

Monday, June 08, 2020

Still Here

These beauty bushes are not long for the world. Although the robins who have "sheltered" in them are also fleeing. We had an uneasy relationship so I am glad for that. I need to clear all the weeds out of the cracks now. I sprayed them with vinegar and salt but still have to excise what's left.

I was invited out to dinner last night, which was oh so nice. So tired of cooking every night and ordering out for one just never seemed worth it. I am managing to get to see people several days a week on my porch which is nice. We have had great weather lately. Really hope this is resolved before we head back into indoor weather.

Watched the movie, VAST OF NIGHT on Prime and it was terrific. Science fiction like was made in the 1950s. Still enjoying RAMY on Hulu and SRIGUM on PRIME. Reading THE POET OF TOLSTOY PARK for my book group. Also listening to MY MAN JEEVES on fm.libro. Still working on CITY OF NETS, which is lots of fun if you like movie history.

My brother called to say that Ancestry.com reconfigured something and that the man we thought was my father is not. Glad I didn't contact those supposed half-siblings. Jeff (my brother) has a new candidate, but this guy never had kids and died long ago. I guess I will never be certain of any of this. I am waiting for my brother to give me an address from the 1940 census and see where that leads.

Friday, June 05, 2020

FFB-Strangers on a Train, Patricia Highsmith

Patricia Highsmith was 29 when this, her first novel, was published. It's hard to believe it's a first novel because  not only is it polished it also has the misanthropic outlook of a older, more jaundiced, writer. I listened to this book through fm libro where the profits go to a local bookstore of your choosing. It was read by Bronson  Pinchot who did a great job.

I'm sure you know the plot from the Hitchcock movie if not the novel. Two men meet on a train. One is the spoiled son of rich parents, the other is an up and coming architect (in the movie he's a tennis player). The spoiled son, Bruno, gradually gets the architect, Guy, to confess he's in a loveless marriage and eager to be rid of the woman who is recently pregnant by another man. Bruno introduces the idea that they should each murder the person standing in the way of other man's path to happiness. (Bruno has a father he can't abide and who sees through his son's profligate ways).

Guy basically forgets the man and his idea until his wife is murdered at an amusement park. Then the game is on and he must either shake off Bruno, eager to have his part of the bargain met somehow or murder his father.

After finishing the book, I watched the movie. Each had certain strengths. This was one of Hitchcock's best films. It's much more fast- paced than the book and he uses so many interesting techniques to fill you with dread. Making Guy a tennis player provides for one of the best scenes too. However the book looks into each man's psychological makeup more fully. Both mediums are very good and worth investigating. Robert Walker, in particular, makes a perfect Bruno. He died not long after this film from a bad reaction to a drug. He was 31.

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

First Wednesday Book Review: Hidden Valley Road

Robert Kolker follows up his investigation of disappearances on Long Island (Lost Girls) with another riveting story.  Hidden Valley Road examines the Galvin family of Colorado. Mimi Galvin gave birth to twelve children over a twenty-year period. Ten boys were followed by two girls. They were a family that seemed to flourish and shine in their community until the boys hit their teen years and, over time, six of the ten boys exhibited signs of mental illness.

When the boys first showed signs of schizophrenia, (1960) it was in an era when a cold mother was blamed for the condition. Donald, the oldest, would spend the rest of his life in and out of mental hospitals. This would also be the fate of five of his brothers, two of whom died of related issues.

Kolker has done a terrific job of incorporating the research and treatment of this mental illness over the last half century with the story of the Galvin family. Although it's clear the parents made mistakes in their handling of the boys, it was genetics that really explained the ailment. Brain studies of the afflicted compared to the more normal children showed stark differences.

And the information culled from this family is being used (much as what happened with Henrietta Lacks) to fuel further research into the illness. When I heard Kolker interviewed by a bookstore via zoom, many of the family members called in, supporting his attempt to tell their story and to give it value. It has to be of some comfort to them.

For more reviews, visit Barrie Summy

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Selvie Shelfy

Sorry these are hard to read and the top three were actually Phil's but I am finishing off a shelf. The Armchair Detective is lots of fun Probably some of you have it. It has very varied list like Edgar Award Winners, and Julian Symons 100 best crime stories. It was published in 1989. Julian Symons wrote many mysteries but I cannot recall one showing up on FFB. I remember reading them with pleasure too. Remember Robin Winks, he's got a list in here too.

Funniest thing: they ask mystery writers to list their favorites and here's what Patricia Highsmith said. "Since I do not enjoy reading mystery books (therefore almost never do) I'm not the person to ask for a favorite list. ...a list would be 100% phony on my part. Sorry I can't be more of help toward your book."

The next book is Susan Sontag's ON PHOTOGRAPHY, which I read for SHOT IN DETROIT.
Next is a book given to me by James Reasoner. Horace McCoy's I SHOULD HAVE STAYED HOME. I haven't read it. It looks too fragile for my style of reading. But I love having it.
Two Jean Shepherd books which I reread when I need a good laugh. I had a third one with Fig Newton in the title, which I can't find.
Always meaning to read Gene Kerrigan's THE MIDNIGHT CHOIR, an Irish crime novel which is always mentioned in reviews of Irish crime novels.
Another Flannery O'Connor book. Read probably forty years ago.
And finally Chandler's THE SIMPLE ART OF MURDER which is an essay and some short stories.

Monday, June 01, 2020

Still Here

Usually unrest tends to help law and order candidates, I think. This is how we got Nixon. Still one can hardly blame the protestors. Except how many in the crowd are coming from various groups eager to cause trouble. Lots, I think. Just when you thought things couldn't get worse...

Anyway this one of our six beauty bushes, which are very pretty although right now they are home to robin nests and the robins are determined to save their babies from the marauding home owner. Some similarities here.

Enjoying HOW MUCH OF THESE HILLS IS GOLD and CITY OF NETS, about Hollywood in the forties. Two California books. Also listening to STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, read by Bronson Pinchot and he is very good. Anyone remember him from PEFECT STRANGERS.

Enjoying RAMY, about an Egyptian-American and SRUGIM about young Jewish people In Jerusalem. Amazing how we can get these shows from everywhere now.

So what is new in your part of the woods?