14 October 2006

Guilty Pleasure

Last Thursday, I drove a bit over 300 miles to Beloit and Rockford in order to have lunch with a colleague near Edgerton, Wisconsin, see granddaughter Jaime and her parents, and pick up David to bring him home for mid-term break. I was going to have time Thursday night and Friday morning in Beloit, so I grabbed the third of C. J. Box's murder mysteries.

Nancy had "discovered" Box's books in a West Yellowstone bookstore, and the first two were pretty good diversions. They aren't great literature, but Box created some interesting characters and not everything works out well at the end of the ambitious and violent plots.

The "star" of these books is a Wyoming game warden who works in the north central part of the state. He's a straight arrow and a good guy, who is human enough to be tempted to respond in kind to the real evil he confronts. The plots have seemed realistic and authentically western. Dick Cheney would recognize these people and events, although he probably wouldn't like the political sentiments that are implied.

This book is Winterkill, and the plot centers on the actions of frustrated, crazy, and incompetent bureaucrats (mostly U.S. Forest Service and FBI in this book). Other players include a tribe of anti-government activists, a couple of corrupt judges, and a violent hermit with a conscience. The stories are so well-told that I was entranced. At one point, I was so wrapped up in the action, I was late meeting David after he turned in his last paper before break. I could hardly wait to get home so I could finish the book.

Now, I always feel a little guilty reading books like these. Shouldn't I be reading something more substantial? something deeper? Something like Old Jules that raises significant questions like the one Dan Conrad raised below?

Then I thought about alternatives to reading things like Winterkill. TV? Radio? Writing things myself? Surfing the Internet?

I almost never get as wrapped up in a television show as I get wrapped up in a book. These days I watch TV with a computer on my lap so I can look things up or play a game in those great gaps between those moments when paying attention is necessary. Radio? I drive with the radio on and rarely remember what was on. Books are still incredible. Even those action/adventure/mystery books that fall far short of being fine literature. If you want a good diversion and and action-filled (and violence-filled) story, check out C. J. Box's books. The first one was Open Season. The second was Savage Run. This one was Winterkill. It probably works best to read them in sequence, but it's obviously not necessary.

09 October 2006

The Master Butchers Singing Club

The little cabin on Little Blake Lake is a place for reading. I read another book there over the last three visits. The vistas, the critters, and the solitude all beckon me back to Sidetrack, but the reading opportunities, away from the distractions of everyday living, are equally attractive.

On Sunday, I finished The Master Butchers Singing Club by Louise Erdrich. The book is a couple years old, but I just got around to reading it. I mostly enjoyed the experience.

The characters within the novel are wonderfully drawn and most of the stories are well-told. Delphine and Eva strong, determined women in search of themeselves, Fidelis and Cyprian, men escaping from their World War I experiences and themselves, and even Fidelis' sons, immigrants' children, are all exciting people. Episodes in the book are intriguing tales.

But this book is bigger than the collection of stories it consists of. It is rather like this book is the core of a whole series of novels, which are as yet incomplete. There is the one about Delphine and Roy (her presumptive father) and Delphine's search for her mother. There is another novel about the connections between Delphine, Fedelis, Eva (Fidelis' first wife), and the four sons of Fedelis and Eva. There is another novel inside this one about those children growing up in North Dakota and being divided by a mother's death into groups of brothers who fought on opposite sides of World War II. There's another novel about Cyprian Lazarre, another man in search of himself. These all could be novels, but they're not. Maybe they will be. Maybe other stories in this book will be novels. I'd like to see them. I don't know that I'd like them, but they'd be worth reading. In other words, I'd expect them to be a lot like Erdrich's other books.