29 November 2007

Confirmation of my good taste

The New York Times book editors have named Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson as one of the 5 best fiction books for 2007.

I only mention this because it confirms my good taste. I wrote about my experience with the book back in early September.

I thank the Amery (WI) Public Library for making it available to me. I thank Graywolf Press in Minneapolis for publishing it. And I thank all those teachers who helped me learn to read and to like books.

From the New York Times: The 10 Best Books of 2007

  • MAN GONE DOWN By Michael Thomas
  • OUT STEALING HORSES By Per Petterson; translated by Anne Born
  • THE SAVAGE DETECTIVES By Roberto Bolaño; translated by Natasha Wimmer
  • THEN WE CAME TO THE END By Joshua Ferris
  • TREE OF SMOKE By Denis Johnson

  • IMPERIAL LIFE IN THE EMERALD CITY: Inside Iraq's Green Zone By Rajiv Chandrasekaran
  • LITTLE HEATHENS: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression By Mildred Armstrong Kalish
  • THE NINE: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court By Jeffrey Toobin
  • THE ORDEAL OF ELIZABETH MARSH: A Woman in World History By Linda Colley
  • THE REST IS NOISE: Listening to the Twentieth Century By Alex Ross

23 November 2007

Colorado mystery

I was in the Denver airport. I had over an hour until my plane left and I'd read the New Yorker I'd brought along.

I found my way to the Hudson Bookseller store in Terminal C and bought a copy of The Sign of the Book. It's by John Dunning [at right], a Denver resident. "How appropriate," I thought.

Years ago, I'd read a couple of Dunning's mysteries. They are set in Denver and involve "cop-turned-bookseller Cliff Janeway." Bookseller in this case does not mean someone like the clerk at the airport Hudson's. It means someone who deals in rare and obscure books for collectors. (See the link to Dunning's Old Algonquin Books.)

Anyway, there weren't many Dunning books, and I never became a fanatic about them. (I don't remember why at this distance.)

Well, this one was extraordinary and compelling.

I had gotten up early on a Saturday in a Denver motel, taught a workshop for teachers all day, and then had over two hours at the airport before flying home. I was a little tired.

But, once I started reading at departure gate C22 it was difficult for me to stop. A couple times during the flight home, I did put the book down and close my eyes for attempted naps. But before long I was reading again.

Once I got home, I discovered that Nancy had had a flat tire on her way to pick me up, and I had another 45 minutes to read. By the time I did get home, it was nearly midnight and there was no way I could keep reading.

But the next night I did read more and didn't finish only because the suspenseful finish was "in sight" and I wanted to be able to get to sleep. I took time to finish the next afternoon.

The Sign of the Book was just the kind of thing I wanted to read just now. The pace of the action, the amount of detail, the intriguing asides, the near absence of unbelievables, and the clarity of narrative were just right for me.

So, if you read it, let us know how it fit you.

13 November 2007

Comic book wannabe

Eugene, OR: I read another graphic novel wannabe between spending time with my mother, working on the test bank for the new edition of Chip's textbook, and preparing materials for Saturday's workshop in Denver.

I decided along the way that Janet Evanovich's books could be animated or transformed into comic books. I read Eleven On Top. There's not a lot to distinguish it from the Evanovich book I read earlier.

Stephanie Plum, the central character, runs through cars and jobs just as fast in this book as in the other one. She is still unable to say "I love you" to her main squeeze, Joe Moreli. She still flirts with her employer of last resort, Ranger. She still loves her old neighborhood in Trenton, New Jersey. And she still tolerates her family (even her dad, who is all but invisible).

I kept trying to imagine what Stephanie Plum's comic book or cartoon charachter would look like. I don't think she would look like Sandra Bullock, who is featured on the front of the Stephanie Plum Forum. Maybe the character should be based on Evanovich herself [at right].

See: The Stephanie Plum Forum Site

10 November 2007

Swedish mystery (again)

The street on which Kurt Wallander and his daughter Linda shared an apartment in Before the Frost. Photo by Simon Hämmerle

I picked up two more Henning Mankell mysteries at the Northfield library to take along on my trip to Oregon. I started Before the Frost before I left, but it was a big hardcover, so I didn't pull it out during the flight west. I finished in Eugene while taking breaks from writing an instructors' manual and spending time with my mother.

This Mankell story is mainly about a police recruit named Linda Wallander. In this fictional Swedish world, Linda is the daughter of Kurt Wallander, detective inspector about whom Mankell wrote half a dozen other mysteries.

This story is pretty good, although the main characters are so flawed they seem real. Now, I am pretty sure that there aren't any perfect families, but I'm glad I'm not part of the Wallander family. Father Kurt unpredictably veers from ignoring anything his daughter says to telling her to present her theories at a case conference in police headquarters. Daughter Linda goes from being thoughtlessly cautious to being dangerously venturesome.

And most of the other characters -- especially the crazy bad guys -- aren't any more predictable. Now with crazies, that's understandable. But with an experienced investigator and a rookie just out of the police academy, such behavior is unexpected. Unless these people are real humans with a history we don't know much about. Mankell seems to have created those characters in this book.

He's also created a convoluted plot full of violence and mystery.

Overall, it's a long book full or realistic characters, and it's good reading. I liked this one better than the first Mankell's books I read a couple weeks ago.

If you other ideas, write and tell us.

From Swedish TV, three actors who play major characters in Before the Frost: Ola Rapace (plays dectective Stefan Lindman), Krister Henriksson (plays Kurt Wallander), and Johanna Sällström (who plays Linda Wallander).