On the Night Plain

Lennon, J. Robert. On the Night Plain. New York: Henry Holt, 2001.

Reason read: April is Sibling month.

Grant Person is a curious character. When we first meet this protagonist, he is leaving his Montana sheep ranching family for somewhere (anywhere?) else. His whole attitude is one of ambivalence. If the train stops he’ll get on board. If not, oh well. He’ll go back to his parents and brother as if nothing happened. He has no clear direction other than he would head due east towards New York. He ends up in Atlantic City, New Jersey for some time then wanders home again when he learns his mother has died.
When Grant returns, he is the exact opposite. He comes home to a sheep ranch barely surviving. After his mother’s death, his father runs away. His brother with dreams of being an artist has one foot out the door himself. By himself, Grant becomes singular in his focus to save the farm. It’s a stark story with barely any color or light.

There were a lot of lines I really, really like. “A smile seemed to think about appearing on Cotter’s face but it never arrived” (p 55),

Author fact: J. Robert Lennon also wrote The Funnies which I have already read for the Challenge. He also wrote a series which I am not reading.

Book trivia: I could see this being a movie.

Nancy said: In Book Lust Pearl jokes Lennon is successful at setting a tragedy of Greek proportions on a failing sheep farm on the Great Plains. In More book Lust Pearl included On the Night Plain as an example of brothers who have loved and hated one another.

BookLust Twist: Pearl liked this one. From Book Lust in the chapter called “Western Fiction” (p 240); also from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Oh, Brother” (p 180).


Nod to November

What happened in November? I finished physical therapy. But really, PT is not finished with me. I signed up for a 5k in order to keep the running alive. As soon as I did that I needed x-rays for the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my hip and groin. Like stabbing, electrocuting pains. Diagnosis? More sclerosis and fusing. Yay, me! In defiance of that diagnosis I then signed up for a 21k. I am officially crazy.
Here are the books finished for the month of November:

Fiction:

  • A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (AB/print)
  • The Edge of the Crazies by Jamie Harrison
  • Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay
  • Beaufort by Ron Leshem

Nonfiction:

  • Gastronomical Me by M.F.K. Fisher

Series continuations:

  • No Villain Need Be by Vardis Fisher (finally finished!)
  • Mrs. Pollifax on Safari by Dorothy Gilman
  • Henry James: the Master by Leon Edel
  • I Will Bear Witness: the Nazi Years, 1942 – 1945 by Victor Klemperer

Early Review for LibraryThing: nothing. I jinxed myself by mentioning the book I was supposed to receive. Needless to say, it never arrived. So I never finished it. Ugh.


Edge of the Crazies

Harrison, Jamie. The Edge of the Crazies. New York: Hyperion, 1995.

Reason read: November is the month Montana became a state.

As an aside, I love it when a book introduces me to new music. “If Love was a Train” by Michelle Shocked is an example.

Be prepared to meet a lot of people. Jamie Harrison likes to introduce her readers to a bunch of people (kind of reminded me of Batya Gur). Jules Clement (sheriff) of Blue Deer is the main character but you’ll meet his family (sister and father). You’ll even meet an old girlfriend and her family. Don’t forget current girlfriends and arch enemies. Then there’s attempted murder victim George Blackwater and his entire entourage of family and friends (brother, wife, son, housekeeper, assistant – past and present. Don’t forget his love life, too). The introductions continue with a bunch of reporters, police officers, lawyers, doctors, coroners, personal assistants, paramedics, even the principal, a librarian, a caterer, and a banker.
But, back to the plot. Someone has tried to kill George. He has plenty of enemies but it’s up to Jules Clement to figure out who hates him the most. Is it his wife? His girlfriend? His brother? His agent? But, there is a bigger mystery at play. Who hates Jules Clement even more?

Confessional: I had a hard time pinning down in what decade Edge of the Crazies was supposed to happen. Even though it was published in 1995 the story seems to take place much earlier. An hourly wage was $4.50, you could buy a truck for $700 and a house for $30,000 and yet a couch was $1,000 “back in the eighties.” Harrison quotes a Lucinda Williams tune from 1992….
Another observation: I was surprised Jules wasn’t used to seeing his father’s name in print, especially since he is sheriff of the same town as his father. As sheriff of Blue Deer in 1972, wouldn’t Jules’s father’s signature be on a lot of things at the station?

Lines worth mentioning, “they both mulled over the educational properties of cheap fiction in silence” (p 104),

Author fact: Harrison definitely puts a little of herself in a few of her characters. In her former life she was a caterer and script reader. In Edge of the Crazies there is a caterer and script writer.

Book trivia: There was a section of timeline that didn’t sit well with me at all. Around pages 279-281 Jules goes to the Baird Hotel for lunch. The meal lasts two hours. When he returns to the station Grace fills him in on what happened while he was at lunch. After the conversation he “grabbed his coat and eyed the clock. It was 11, and he had plenty of time” (p 281). 11 in the morning? That would make lunch sometime between 8:30 and 8:45am depending on how long it took him to have his conversation with Grace. Further muddying the waters is that when Jules goes back to the hotel he sees the waitress who served him “an hour earlier.” Obviously, Harrison meant to say Jules had breakfast that lasted two hours. Although I still found it odd that the meal took two hours but he was only served his meal an hour earlier. Does that mean he sat around for an hour before the waitress served him?

Nancy said: Nancy called Edge of the Crazies a “good police procedural” (p 121).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust twice. First, in the easy chapter called “I Love a Mystery” (p 117) and again the chapter called “Montana: In Big Sky Country” (p 156).


November Pain

The running – oops – I mean the training is officially over. I don’t know where the run will go from here. I am toying with a 5k for Safe Passage next month. To hell with toys. I WILL run for Safe Passage next month! But really, I don’t even want to think about that right now since PT has ended. For now, I still have the books. The list is long because we aren’t going anywhere for Thanksgiving. Here’s to four days off with nothing to do but read, read, read. Here is what’s on tap for November:

Fiction:

  • A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (AB) ~ in honor of November being the best time (supposedly) to visit India (AB / print). Confessional: I think I would like to remove the category of “Best time to visit fill-in-the-blank.” How am I to know when is the best time to visit a country when I have never been there myself? I’m getting a little tired of saying “supposedly” the best time to visit.
  • Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay ~ in honor of Kay’s birth month
  • Beaufort by Ron Leshem ~ in honor of Lebanon gaining independence in November

Nonfiction:

  • Gastronomical Me by M.F.K.  Fisher ~ to recognize National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness month

Series Continuation:

  • No Villain Need Be by Vardis Fisher ~ to continue (and finally finish) the series started in August in honor of Idaho
  • Mrs. Pollifax on Safari by Dorothy Gilman ~ to continue the series started in September in honor of Grandparents month
  • I Will Bear Witness/To the Bitter End by Victor Klemperer ~ to continue the series started in October in honor of Klemperer’s birth month
  • Henry James: the Master by Leon Edel ~ yes, I am still reading this. Just tying up loose ends.

Early Review for LibraryThing IF it arrives (so far it hasn’t):

  • Jam Today: a Diary of Cooking with What You’ve Got by Tod Davies

If there is time:

  • Foolscap, or, the Stages of Love (fiction) by Michael Malone ~ in honor of Malone’s birth month
  • The Edge of the Crazies (fiction) by Jamie Harrison ~ in honor of Montana becoming a state in November.
  • The Caliph’s House (fiction) by Tahir Shah ~ in honor of November being the month Morocco gained independence.

 


River Runs Through It

MacLean, Norman. A River Runs Through It and Other Stories. New York: Pocket Books, 1992.

If you don’t at least know the title of this book you have been living under a rock somewhere. This has been a hit movie as well as a best selling book. It has had definite staying power since published in 1976. Comprised of three semi-autobiographical novellas the title story is the most popular and best known of the three. In fact, a lot of reviews don’t really mention the other two stories which are equally as good. Even the back of the 1992  copy I read recapped only the title story – about a family of fishermen. Father is a minister who instilled a love of fly fishing in his two sons. One son is an alcoholic while the other tries to balance a marriage with his love of the Montana wilderness. What is missing is mention of the two other stories: “Logging and Pimping and ‘Your Pal, Jim'” and “USFS 1919: The Ranger, the cook, and a Hole in the Sky.” The first is exactly what it sounds like, logging, pimping and a relationship with a logger named Jim.  The USFS story is about MacLean as a teenager working as a forest ranger. While it is a subtle detail it is interesting to note MacLean’s stories have a reverse chronology. MacLean is in his 30s in “A River Runs Through It,” in his 20s in “Logging,” and in his teens in “USFS 1919.”

What surprised me the most about MacLean’s writing was the humor that surfaced with sudden hilarity. Here are three such moments: “The light picked up his brow which was serene…as mine would have been if my mother had spent her life in making me sandwiches and protecting me from reality” (p 54) and “You have never really seen an ass until you have seen two sunburned asses on a sandbar in the middle of a river” (p 73).

Another favorite quote I just had to mention because I know people like this (don’t you?): “He was one of those who need to be caught in a lie while he is telling it” (p 36).

Author Fact: A River Runs Through It and Other Stories was MacLean’s first fiction.

Book Trivia: The movie of the same name was made in 1992 and starred Brad Pitt, among others. The third story, “USFS 1919” was made into a made-for-television movie in 1995 and starred Sam Elliot.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Montana: In Big Sky Country” as an aside when mentioning another book (p 156) and also from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Gone Fishin'” (p 100).


Nov ’10 was…

More head in the sand, tail between my legs reading for the month. While it wasn’t an easy month I am happy to say it was better than October by a long shot!

  • The Harmless People by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas ~ in honor of November being the best time to visit Africa. This was an eye opener. I will never look at people the same way again.
  • The New Well-Tempered Sentence: A Punctuation Handbook for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed by Karen Elizabeth Gordon ~ in honor of Writing month. Information I will keep in mind but, because I’m a rebel, probably ignore. Case in point – this sentence!
  • Balsamroot: A Memoir by Mary Clearman Blew ~ in honor of Montana becoming a state in November. This was more about a favorite aunt’s slow decline than about Blew’s own personal life.
  • On the Road by Jack Kerouac ~ in honor of November being National Travel month. This was, I think, my favorite book of the month.
  • The Healing by Gayl Jones ~ in honor of November being Jones’s birth month. This was the hardest one of the bunch to read. I’ve decided I don’t care for stream of consciousness!
  • Ruby by Ann Hood ~ in honor of November being National Adoption month. This was a psychological book that had me pondering life’s bigger questions. It took me a weekend to read.
  • Brothers and Sisters by Bebe Moore Campbell ~ in honor of November being the month of Campbell’s passing. Once I got passed the stereotypical characters this was a great book!

For LibraryThing and the Early Review program: Final Flight: The Mystery of a WWII Plane Crash and the Frozen Airmen in the High Sierra by Peter Stekel. This book had everything I could want in a nonfiction: truth and mystery embedded in a well told tale. It was great!


Balsamroot

Blew, Mary Clearman. Balsamroot: a Memoir. New York, Viking: 1994.

Mary Blew wants people to know about her life. She wants people to know the wilds of Montana as her ancestors found it, cultivated it, endured it, survived it. However, Balsamroot is more than about Blew’s life and the personal landscape of her people. Balsamroot is about family ties. The ties that keep generations together and what tears them apart. When Blew first introduces her daughter, Elizabeth, I am sad for them. Mary makes it clear she has lost touch with her eldest daughter – hasn’t seen her in years. She doesn’t hide the fact Elizabeth is a complete stranger to her; asking “Am I really her mother?” (p 19). It dawned on me I could be Elizabeth. I could slip away from my mother and sister just as easily. I could let years and distance come between us as. It’s as easy as all that. The stories within Balsamroot bounce around a lot. Early homesteading stories and mingled with a present day pregnancy and musings about Blew’s own attempts at motherhood. It is a running commentary on growing old from the perspective of the baffled, frustrated caregiver. Dementia robs an entire family of more than just the mind and its memories. The past and present are entwined into one beautiful story.

Favorite lines, “Or I imagined my aunt falling through the hole in her mind” (p 15), “She and I talk, in the private coded language of two women who have known each other, and most of each other’s secrets for twenty years…” (p 144), and “I’m not invisible, it’s just that nobody sees me” (p 156).

Maybe this seems too intrusive, but I would have liked Blew to include photographs, especially of her Auntie.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called, “Montana: In Big Sky Country (p 156).


Perma Red

Earling, Debra Magpie. Perma Red. New York: BlueHen Books, 2002.

Perma Red takes place in the 1940s on a Wyoming Indian Reservation where ancient customs prevail and old secrets hang heavy. Louise White Elk is a contradictory girl. Independent yet needy. Brave yet frightened. An orphan with family. Louise is also has attention of many men. The list of attendees is long: trouble maker Baptiste Yellow Knife; cousin Charlie Kicking Woman (Perma’s Tribal police officer); rich man Harvey Stoner; and mystery man Jules Bart. They all want something from her whether it be under the guise to own her or protect her. They all end up using her or abusing her. At one time or another they all get their way. It is a ruthless existence. Yet, Louise welcomes it in her own strange way. She perpetuates the vicious cycle of running away at the same time as being drawn to violent and needy men. What keeps Perma Red magical is its descriptive language. The landscape is as wild and as beautiful as untamed Louise White Elk.
Ages are vague. Charlie is at least seven or eight years older than Louise and Bapstiste is older by three years or so. The reader never gets a sense of how old Louise is supposed to be when her experiences are described as coming of age and womanly all at once.

Favorite sentences, “Louise sat down at the bar long enough so no one would recognize her broken heart” (p 43), “together their thinness made them appear stingy and dangerous” (p 64), and “I felt heavy with marriage” (p 114).

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called, “American Indian Literature” (p 23).

Strange observation – the author’s name is a footnote on every even page. I’ve never seen that before so it seems a little hubris to me.


Last Best Place

Kittredge, William and Annick Smith, ed. The Last Best Place: a Montana Anthology. Helena: Montana Historical Society Press, 1988.

When this book first arrived I took one look at it and freaked out. How in the world did I manage to order a book that is not only 1161 pages long but also is not renewable? How would I ever get through 1000+ pages in two weeks? It was ridiculous. When I did the math it equalled out to approximately 90 pages a day in order to finish it on time. Ridiculous. Ridiculous because I was still struggling through the 900+ page biography on Winston Churchill. Luckily, Last Best Place was fun to read!
Starting with Native American Indian folklore and diary accounts of expeditions through the virgin geography of Montana Last Best Place opens in the early 1700’s. It ends with a section of contemporary poetry. The folklore was probably the dullest part. I firmly believe stories like these are best communicated orally because of their repetitious nature. First hand accounts of settlers seeking new land were the most interesting.This is not a book to read all at once. Its 1161 pages encourage random readings and not necessarily in chapter order.

Favorite lines: “Curiosity, a love of wild adventure, and perhaps also a hope of profit, for times are hard, and my best coat has a sort of sheepish hang-dog hesitation to encounter fashionable folk…” (p 170).
“The situation of a man gliding over a beautiful river in a boat always has something magical about it…(p 205).

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called, “Montana: In Big Sky Country” (p 156).


November 09 was…

November was a very up and down, all over the place month. I started the month of November by worrying about breast exams and pap smears and ended it stressing about unanswered tests. I started the month worrying about Thanksgiving and ended it by wishing time with family would never end. In between I gave up my sirsy plate, rewrote an entire assessment plan, made a new friend, walked away from heartache, closed the door on an old chapter, and discovered a guilty pleasure. Speaking of guilty pleasures. For books it was:

  • Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling ~ childrens book. I read the stories about the alphabet and the first letter. Very cute.
  • Dingley Falls by Michael Malone ~ 560 pages of sexy, funny, soap-opera-like, over the top fun!
  • An Invitation to Indian Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey ~ a great reference tool for those who like Indian cuisine (yum!)
  • Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill – Visions of Glory 1874 – 1932 by William Manchester ~ 900+ page biography on part of Winston Churchill’s life.
  • The Plague by Albert Camus ~ in honor of Camus’s birth month (& a reread).
  • Last Best Place: a Montana Anthology edited by William Kittredge and Annick Smith ~ just exactly what it sounds like, an anthology about Montana.

For the fun of it I banged out Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink in one night, thanks to a Phish show. If Kipling’s book is for children I would call Brink’s book for grade schoolers…

For LibraryThing & the Early Review program I finished Ostrich Feathers by Miriam Romm. There was a lot of heart and soul poured into the writing of this book! I also read and reviewed Penelope Holt’s The Apple. While both Early Review books covered the Holocaust (one nonfiction, one fiction) their styles were incredibly different. I found The Apple to be more soul-piercing, if that makes sense.

Note: Barbara Kingsolver came out with a new book on November 3rd. It has been torture not to run out and buy a copy for myself!


November 09 is…

November is a bundle of nerves dressed as confidence. I am trying to be brave in the face of unknown in Indecision City. Thanksgiving looms large.

For books the list is short. Two of the chosen titles are monsters (each over 500 pages long):

  • Dingley Falls by Michael Malone (in honor of Malone’s birth month)
  • Empire Express by David Haward Bain ~ in honor of National Travel Month
  • Invitation to Indian Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey ~ in honor of November being the best time to visit India
  • Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling ~ in honor of November being National Writing Month
  • Last Lion: Visions by William Manchester ~ in honor of Winston Spencer Churchill

I will be lucky if I get to Last Lion since Empire Express is over 900 pages long. The other book I’m hoping to get to if there is time is Last Best Place by various authors because the best time to visit Montana is November and I’ve always wanted to go.

For LibraryThing and the Early Review Program I am reading Ostrich Feathers by Miriam Romm. I was notified in early October I would be getting it but since the book actually didn’t arrive until October 24th I have decided to call it a November book.  I also got word I will be receiving a November book. I guess I will be very busy!

ps~ I just received word my all-time favorite author, Barbara Kingsolver, is coming out with a new novel. Holy freak me out! I simply cannot wait! YAY!


Bad Land: An American Romance

Bad LandRaban, Jonathan. The Bad Land: an American Romance.

In honor of both the month Montana became a state and National Train Month I put Bad Land  on my list. It reads like a river. Some parts read like racing rapids while others slow to languid pools of near stillness. Then there are the waterfalls, where the language is cascading awe-inspiring. It was during these “waterfall” sections that I wanted to pack a bag and head west, just to see it for myself.

Raban helps you look at Montana from the point of view of the immigrant (emigrant), the artist, the ancestor, the traveler, the naturalist. Like standing back from a canvas to discover hidden colors. It’s a historical story, lyrically descriptive and informative. It’s a biography of the landscape as well as the people settled there at the turn of the century.
Favorite lines:”…mouth like a mailbox” (p 67).
“Mrs. Nemitz, scenting sarcasm, put his face on trial for a split second, but found it not guilty” (p 104).
“It’s exhilarating and scary, to lighten ship every so often, to kiss goodbye to the accumulated tonnage of ones life so far” (p 114)
“now the book is full of brittle ghosts” (p 136).

BookLust Twist: Mentioned twice in Book Lust. Once in the chapter called “Montana: In Big Sky Country” (p 156)…in which Pearl calls Bad Land  “the best book about Montana by a non-Montanan” (p 157); and “Riding the Rails: Railroad History” (p 201).