Book Reports: Mid May 2013

My annual goal for a few years now has been to read a minimum of 8 books in a year; that averages out to one book every 6 weeks. I was getting concerned that I wouldn’t come close to meeting that goal this year. It took me months to finish 1 book: The Passage of Power.

When I semi-retired in March I exchanged driving to work every day for the bus. I hoped it would be a good way to rekindle my reading for the year. It did indeed: I’ve read 5 books in 5 weeks.

One limitation I’ve found with blogger is the difficulty of adding tables to posts. Now I’ve found Tableizer. Here is a test of it showing the books I’ve read so far this year.

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Title Author Copyright Pages Finished Rating
The Passage of Power (The Years of Lyndon Johnson) Caro, Robert A 2012 604 4/12/13 ****
Angle of Repose Stegner, Wallace 1971 569 4/25/13 *****
Zorro Allende, Isabel 2005 390 4/28/13 ***
Home Morrison, Toni 2012 147 5/2/13 *****
The Mating Season Wodehouse, P.G. 1949 222 5/5/13 ****
The Big Rock Candy Mountain Stegner, Wallace 1938 561 5/16/13 *****
  • Author: Robert A. Caro
  • Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
  • Copyright: 2012
  • Pages: 604
  • Date Finished: April 12, 2013
  • Rating: ****
  • Thoughts

My full review can be found here in my blog

  • Author: Wallace Stegner
  • Publisher: Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics
  • Copyright: 1971
  • Pages: 569
  • Date Finished: April 25, 2013
  • Rating: *****
  • Thoughts

When I first started this book, I wondered how could a story about a retired, handicapped historian writing about his grandmother from the late 19th century be at all interesting. But I enjoyed Crossing to Safety so I started reading and was completely overawed with the intense story of a well-bred Eastern Quaker woman who heads to the wild west with her husband whom she barely knows.

“Angle of Repose” is the angle on a bank of dirt at which dirt and pebbles stop rolling. In this novel we see Susan Ward and her husband Oliver start on a high slope and continue to slide until they reached their angle of repose. As the narrator says on page 211:

“What interestes me … is not Susan Burling Ward the novelist and illustrator, and not Oliver Ward the engineer, and not the West they spend their lives in. What really interests me is how two such unlik particles clung together, and under what strains, rolling downhill into their future until they reached the angle of repose where I knew them.”

There are so many layers to this story. We see Susan Ward struggling with a continued decline in fortune as the husband, Oliver, trusts people he shouldn’t. We see her relationship with her best evolve through a series of letters. Augusta’s fortunes rise and Susan’s do not. We see the stress in a marriage as the years go by and both husband and wife have struggles.

This story is based on the life of Mary Hallock Foote. Stegner came across the letters and got permission from the Foote family to fictionalize the account. The foundation from the canyon house in Boise still exists. I wish I had read this before my recent trip to Boise; next trip, I’l head up toward Lucky Peak damn to see the remains.

Jackson J Benson wrote an introduction for the 2000 release of this work; he calls it Stegner’s “masterpiece”. I know it’s moved Wallace Stegner up to my favorite authors alongside Larry McMurtry, Richard Russo, and P.G. Wodehouse.

Zorro

  • Author: Isabel Allende
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial
  • Copyright: 2005
  • Pages: 390
  • Date Finished: April 28, 2013
  • Rating: ***
  • Thoughts

Translated from the Spanish by Margaret Sayers Peden.

A fun Romantic novel. That’s capital “R” romantic; it’s not a bodice ripper. Rather it’s a telling of Diego de la Vega’s youth; recounting his birth in California, his trip to Spain for education and return to California. He learns sword fighting from a master; helps Gypsies, falls in love, becomes Zorro, all the while fighting the villain Rafael Moncada. He also has a run in with the famous pirate Jean LaFitte.

A fun summer book.

Home

  • Author: Toni Morrison
  • Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
  • Copyright: 2012
  • Pages: 147
  • Date Finished: May 2, 2013
  • Rating: *****
  • Thoughts

Wow. A story of a black Korean war veteran and his sister. It starts when they are children and witness some white men throwing a black man in a makeshift grave in a field. They had a hard, hard life and become separated when Frank leaves town to go to Korea. He sees his best friends killed in war and is stumbling through life when he returns. Although he has sworn to never return to Lotus, his home town, he does when he hears his sister, Cee, is close to death.

We see Frank grow as he processes all he has dealt with in his life.

The reading guide says this is as a hero journey story, where the hero travels far away, meets many trials and comes home a changed person. I think there is a little of that here, but not the major part of the story.

This is the first Toni Morrison book I’ve read but not the last.

The Mating Season

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  • Author: P.G. Wodehouse
  • Publisher: Harper & Row
  • Copyright: 1949
  • Pages: 222
  • Date Finished: May 5, 2013
  • Rating: ***
  • Thoughts

The next in the Jeeves and Wooster series that I’m reading in order.

A classic Jeeves and Wooster story – one I haven’t read regularly. There are many couples whose loves are torn asunder and can only be repaired with the help of Jeeves. Of course they travel to a big country house to work their magic and of course there are deceits and cross-purposes galore. Bertie’s future is in peril, for if Gussie Finknottle is allowed to continue his star-crossed ways, Bertie will have to marry Madeline Basset.
This is interesting in that Aunt Agatha is part of the story but never actually shows up in the pages until the very end; even then we don’t see she and Bertie together. It’s also interesting in that it has some actual bad words (bitch, hell, damn) which I don’t think I’ve read in other Wodehouse stories.

If you are looking for a place to start with Jeeves and Wooster this is as good as many and better than the early short stories 

  • Author: Wallace Stegner
  • Publisher: Penguin Books
  • Copyright: 1938
  • Pages: 561
  • Date Finished:
  • Rating: *****
  • Thoughts

The best book I’ve read since Lonesome Dove.

Wallace Stegner paints the portait of the Mason family to illustrate his theme of the tension between making a home and a living in one place the best you can and the restless drive to always be moving and changing to try to get beyond the now to a hoped for better future.

A second theme is that of how much easier it is to see the line of a life looking back than trying to predict the future. This theme is central to Stegner’s “Angle of Repose”

The story starts with Elsa Nogaard’s trip from Minnesota to Hardanger, North Dakota in the winter of 1905. She is only 14 and basically runs away from home to live with her uncle. She meets Harry “Bo” Mason and they end up marrying and raising a couple of boys (Chet and Bruce) while moving around the in search of Bo’s dreams of making it rich. The novel shows struggle after struggle where Bo is constantly on the lookout for the next opportunity to make it big. It may be running a hotel, a cafe, a homestead farm in Canada, or running whisky. Elsa would rather settle in one place and make a home, however humble. But after a major scene of anger and battle, she makes peace with being married to Bo and follows along.

The novel is told is ten sections detailing with various periods of their lives told from varying points of view. Stegner’s style is so realistic; I often found myself thinking “this is reporting real lives, not make believe”. The opening pages describing Elsa’s journey on the train had me hooked as surely as the description of Gus rooting out the pigs in the opening pages of Lonesome Dove.

The theme of restlessness v. settling has resonated with me recently. In my early career I moved from job to job in Information Technology to improve our stake. It worked well for me. But I never had the long term sense of accomplishment and building something of continued value until I stayed at OHSU for 13+ years.

 

About howardwthompson

I'm a person who likes to travel, read, cook, and eat
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3 Responses to Book Reports: Mid May 2013

  1. T N Billick says:

    Nice — keep posting, I've learned to trust your recommendations. I was interested in seeing your comments on the Toni Morrison novel, I've always wanted to read one of her books, but I know they are intense. Someday. — Tammy

  2. Terry Grant says:

    Wallace Stegner is high on my favorite writers list. He always gives me a feeling of such love of that barren, hard country. As an Idahoan I relate to that. If you have not yet read it, I recommend another Stegner book, All The Little Live Things. A favorite of mine.

  3. Howard says:

    Thanks Terry; that's definitely on my list. Is it a follow-up to The Spectator Birds? I'm wondering if I need to read that first.
    I usually have a huge backlog of books to read. If I maintain this pace in retirement, I may have to start looking harder at what to read.

    And Thanks Tammy! I must say: The Big Rock Candy Mountain has really stayed with me the past week; the theme of tension between staying and going keeps on coming up in life.

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