Wednesday, December 31, 2008

My Ten Best Reads of 2008

This started out as a list of five, but I could not decide. The stars indicate the best three, but these were all truly outstanding books.

The Sea by John Banville

America America by Ethan Canin

***Iris: The Life of Iris Murdoch by Peter J. Conradi

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

*The Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo

The Elected Member by Bernice Rubens

The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie

Kusamakura by Natsume Sōseki

Terrorist by John Updike

**The Twyborn Affair by Patrick White

Happy New Year and great reading to all of my faithful readers.

--Chiron, 12/31/08 -- 2hours, 40 minutes to 2009 (it has GOT to be a better year!)

Fine Just the Way It Is: Wyoming Stories 3 by Annie Proulx

This Christmas present was an immediate choice for my last book of the year. Annie Proulx’s prose is clear, sharp, and witty. An example of her vivid prose can be found on every page, but one line that stands out was in a humorous story about a traveling salesman, “Family Man.” In describing the wandering philanderer’s wife, Proulx wrote, “She seemed soft and sagging, somehow like a candle standing in the sun” (17). Dozens of lines like this are underlined in my copy.

This collection of “Wyoming Stories” differed from earlier collections in several respects. Most were about tough, hard-working men and women desperately attempting to scrape together a life out of the hard scrabble soil and sagebrush of the Wyoming wilderness. However a couple with new wrinkles appeared. Two stories featured the Devil planning renovations in Hell and playing mischief with an ornithologist. These were pretty funny in Proulx’s understated sort of way.

Another featured a tough, outdoorsy woman who breaks up with her adventurous, boyfriend who can stay in any one place to long. She decides to take a hike over the mountains on a closed trail. Gradually, Caitlin comes to terms with her decision to break up with Marc.

The stories with the most power involved homesteaders fighting weather, wolves, coyotes, and falling crop and cattle prices. Seemingly minor accidents had permanent, disastrous effects.

An excellent addition to Proulx’s oeuvre, this third in her series “Wyoming Stories” will not disappoint. Five stars

--Chiron, 12/31/08

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Rumi: The Book of Love: Poems of Ecstasy and Longing Translation and Commentraies by Coleman Barks

I have been dipping into this volume of Rumi’s more obscure love poetry at night in the quiet moments before I turned out the light. This volume was an anniversary present from my wife back in April. I decided to finish it tonight.

These poems are exquisite, profound, simple, lovely, enchanting, mysterious, warm, and full of surprises. I could probably list another dozen adjectives if I thought long and hard enough!

Barks has written 22 short essays or meditations on different aspects of love and then provided anywhere from 6 to 14 poems to illustrate the points. My favorite was Chapter Five, “Escaping into Silence.” He challenges the reader to “try a day of silence with someone. Just one day!” (32). One of the poems he uses here, “The Waterwheel,” is also one of my favorites.

“Stay together friends.
Don’t scatter and sleep.

Our friendship is made
of being awake.

The waterwheel accepts water
and turns and gives it away,

That way it stays in the garden,
whereas another roundness rolls
through a dry riverbed looking
for what it thinks it wants.

Stay here, quivering with each moment
like a drop of mercury.

This marriage be wine with halvah,
honey dissolving in milk.

This marriage be the leaves and fruit
of a date tree. This marriage

be women laughing together for days
on end. This marriage a sign

for us to study. This marriage
beauty. This marriage, a moon

in a light blue sky. This marriage,
this silence, fully mixed with spirit.”

On Saturday, January 3rd, we are going to try and go as long as we can without making any sounds. We will turn off all our phones, no TV or radio, no micro wave, no timers or drawers opening – just pure and complete silence as long as we can.

If you think you are in love, Rumi will confirm it. If you are not in love, Rumi will confirm it. If you want to know and understand love, Rumi is the vehicle, the candle, the gentle breeze that will lead you to understanding.

Here is one more poem from Chapter Four, “Sudden Wholeness” (30).

“A thousand half loves
must be forsaken to take
one whole heart home.”

--Chiron, 12/30/08

Goodbye, Columbus by Philip Roth

Roth’s first novel is another book I read years ago and did not like. I also remember seeing the film with Ali McGraw (which was released ten years after the book), and I didn’t really like it that much either. But I was a vastly different person 40 years ago than I am now.

Still, I am only lukewarm about this dated tale of a poor boy from the city who falls for the rich girl from the suburbs. The affair ends disastrously when her mother finds her diaphragm. Brenda left it in her drawer at home when she returned to Boston for college. I think she wanted her mother to find it as a convenient way to end the relationship with Neil. Been there, had that done to me! Maybe that is why I did not like it.

I am sorry I waited so long to rediscover Roth. His recent books have been spectacular. His newest novel, Indignation, found its way under a Christmas tree, so I am looking forward to that.

This volume also some early short stories by Roth, but I am saving those for another day. Three stars

--Chiron, 12/30/08

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Stranger by Albert Camus

I read this book years ago, when I first began to explore rationalism, and I liked most of it, except for Camus’ idea that nothing matters and nothing makes any difference. The idea of an afterlife is irrational in my view, but I believe we each create our own meaning and purpose to life. Our lives can be as rich and meaningful as we choose to make them.

For me, the crucial sentence is in the last paragraph on page 122: "For the first time in a long time I thought about Maman. I felt as if I understood why at the end of her life she had taken a “fiance,” why she had played at beginning again. Even there, in that home where lives were fading out, evening was a kind of wistful respite. So close to death, Maman must have felt free then and ready to live it all again. Nobody, nobody had the right to cry over her. And I felt ready to live it all again too."

Powerful stuff. Mersault's mother lived her life. Her last years were happy and comfortable. Why should anyone regret that life with tears? As Camus wrote in his posthumously published note books, A Happy Death, “Your duty is to live and be happy.” Profound and deceptively simple.

This is a new translation by Matthew Ward. What I did not know, was that Camus intended to write this novel in “the American style” -- mostly adjective free and a simple subject-verb-object structure. I enjoyed, and had a much better understanding, this time around, and I am glad I read it again as we come to the end of 2008. Five stars

--Chiron, 12/29/08

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

A friend from grad school, Charlie, loved Italo Calvino. He talked about him all the time and dropped references in the oddest places. So, Calvino has been on my reading list for quite a while. I decided to start with Invisible Cities, because that was the title I remember Charlie mentioning the most.

Calvino has been described as a fabulist, or writer of fables, which by definition, impart some moral lesson to the reader. The word fabulous has the same root and implies a wildly imaginative story. Both these ideas are present in this novel.

The story has Marco Polo, the well-known world traveler of the 13th century, visiting Kubla Khan (which he did). Khan had sent emissaries all over the known world to collect stories, objects, and descriptions of the cities he sent them to visit. Khan kept a map of these places, so that, according to Calvino, he could “possess his empire.” Marco knows he must do something different to set himself apart from these common, ordinary travelers.

He begins relating a list of cities he has visited with all their peculiarities. Each has a different name – many with women’s names – and each has some important defining feature. MINOR SPOLIER ALERT! Polo admits, about two-thirds of the way through his tale, that all the cities he describes are Venice.

Curiously, his tales are full of anachronisms – airplanes, trains, tobacco, telescopes, electricity, and so forth. Another curiosity is the organization. Calvino has divided the novel into nine unnamed parts. Each part contains five named and numbered chapters. In parts one through eight, the chapter numbers descend from five to one. In part 9, the pattern is this: 5, 4, 3, 2, 5, 4, 3, 5, 4, 5, ***. Interspersed among the city stories are fragments of conversations between Polo and Khan.

The moral? The story most definitely has one, but I won’t spoil that. This novel has peaked my interest in Calvino, and I have going to do some research and find some more titles to explore his fascinating world. Four stars

--Chiron, 12/29/08

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Flying at Night and Sure Signs by Ted Kooser

These two collections are interesting. Someone described them to me as a reminder of Billy Collins, my favorite poem, and I am afraid I have to disagree. The poems do capture simple moments, and “snap photographs” of images, as Collins does, but there is a little less humor, and a bit less easily flowing language. Furthermore, many of the poems while not depressing, are sad. “Abandoned Farmhouse,” for example, recounts the shades of lives lived in an old house. Several recall moments of remembering at a funeral or a cemetery.

I liked these poems, though; the simplicity of language and ideas was pleasing. One good example is “Daddy Longlegs” from Flying by Night:

Here, on fine long legs springy as steel
a life rides, sealed in a small brown pill
that skims along over the basement floor
wrapped up in a simple obsession.
Eight legs reach out like the master ribs
of a web in which some thought is caught
dead center in its own small world,
a thought so far from the touch of things
that we can only guess at it. If mine,
it would be the secret dream
of walking alone across the floor of my life
with an easy grace, and with love enough
to live on at the center of myself. (108)

Another short poem from the same volume, and which is probably my favorite, is “At the Center”

In Kansas, on top
of an old piano,
a starfish, dry
as a fancy pastry
left sitting there
during a wedding,
spreads its brown arms
over the foam
of a white lace doily,
reaching for water
in five directions. (122)

Most of the poems in Sure Signs can also be found in Flying, so start with that, because it also contains about 40 poems from One World at a Time, including the two I mentioned here. Four stars

--Chiron, 12/28/08

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Forgetting Room by Nick Bantock

Years ago, I read Bantock’s Griffin and Sabine tetralogy and was thoroughly enchanted by their long-distance courtship. The drawings and postcards and letters provided an air of mystery and a sense of peeking into the private lives of Griffin and Sabine. I lost touch with Bantock, until I came across this volume at a used book sale.

I read it in one sitting – interrupted only by a steaming bowl of Southwestern Stew my wife made last weekend. The Spanish connection was mildly eerie.

This book tells the story of Armin Hurt who travels to Rondo, Spain to dispose of his grandfather’s house, which he inherited on the old man’s death. He was close to his grandfather, but when Armin’s family moved to Chicago, they lost touch. Grandfather put a game inside the house with clues, so Armin could, in the words of Rafael’s will, “find his belonging.”

Enchanting, absorbing, full of surprises and neat tricks of the mind, spirit, and body. Bantock has at least two other books, and I must find them. Five stars

--Chiron, 12/27/08

Birchwood by John Banville

John Banville writes exquisite, lyrical prose, while telling an enthralling story. This novel, set in Ireland in the days of the potato famines, is divided into two parts. Gabriel Godkin returns to his ancestral home after the death of his father, and while cleaning up the broken glass and repairing windows, he begins to recall his childhood. As part two begins, the young Gabriel has run away and joined a circus in an attempt to find what he believes to be his lost twin sister. Eventually, the story comes full circle and he returns to Birchwood.

At first glance the two parts of the story seem disjointed, but Banville ties things up neatly at the end. The reality I envisioned in part one, clashed with the reality in part two, but the brief part three resolved all these threads into a neat package.

This is my second Banville (after the Booker prize winning, The Sea). I have four more of his books, so I will be working my way through them in 2009. He has written 13 titles in all, so I will have to track down those others.

If you have never read Banville, start with The Sea. You will be hooked. Five stars

-Chiron, 12/27/08

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Onitsha by J.M.G. LeClézio

The 2008 Nobel Prize winner for literature was a complete surprise. I had never heard the name or any of his novels. I checked with a colleague from France, and she had heard of him but had read only one of his novels. Onitsha appears to be the only work translated into English.

The story tells of Maou and her son Fintan who travel to Nigeria to meet up with Geoffrey, Maou’s husband and Fintan’s father. They arrive as the British colonial system is collapsing – Nigeria is about to be plunged into civil war.

This marvelous novel has a couple of peculiar features which make it unique and absorbing. First, it is almost entirely told through description. The author limits dialogue to only a few lines at a time, and only on rare occasions. The description, on the other hand, is so rich it defies its own description.

For example, when Fintan first sets foot in the village of Onitsha, he surveys the scene from the veranda of the family home. “At sunset the sky darkened to the west, towards Asaba, above Brokkedon Island. From the height of the terrace Fintan could survey the entire breadth of the river, could see places where the tributaries – Anambara, Omerun – joined the river, and the large flat island of Jersey, covered with reeds and trees. Downstream the river inscribed a slow curving line to the south, as vast as an arm of the sea, with the hesitant traces of small islands, like rafts adrift. The storm swirled. There were bloodied streaks in the sky, gaps in the clouds. Then very rapidly, the black cloud went back up the river, chasing before it the flying ibises still lit by the sun” (47).

Page after page the reader rides along the river in a pirogue, or walks through a grassy field, or struggles through jungle growth.

The other peculiarity involves Geoffrey’s obsession with a legend of a young queen of Meroë, who led her people to the interior of the continent to find a new land to begin their civilization anew. This portion of the story has been set into a slightly different font, and the legend becomes entangled with Geoffrey’s dreams.

The impassioned Maou causes trouble among the colonial community, and Geoffrey is forced to take his family back to Europe. They try and erase the memory of Onitsha, its people, myths, and the legend of Meroë, the last descendent of the Pharaohs. But too much of Africa and its legends has penetrated the family. It will remain with them forever.

LeClézio’s novel intertwines, colonialism, legends, and the destructive force of white invaders. I surely hope more of his work will find its way into English translations. I only hope a more professional publisher will pick up the task. This was a poorly printed, poorly bound book by The University of Nebraska Press. Five stars

--Chiron, 12/24/08

Saturday, December 20, 2008

All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

When this novel came out in paperback in 1993, amid a lot of hype, a copy quickly found its way onto my TBR shelf. However, a bookmark in page 20 evidenced the early invocation of the “rule of fifty.” When it showed up on a reading list for a graduate English class, dismay overcame me, but I figured a lot of time had passed, and maybe a different attitude would prevail.

Unfortunately, this was not the case. These characters are boring. They have boring conversations about horses, which I neither care about nor understand. To make matters worse, the characters conduct conversations in Spanish, which sometimes go on for pages. Maybe one in five lines could be resolved through context clues or actions. A simple Spanish dictionary was not much help. The “rule” was not an option this time, so page after page I suffered and slogged.

Then I arrived at page 227 (of 302), and a fascinating conversation between John Grady Cole and the duenna of the hacienda “La Purisima” began. The entire thing, to page 241, had only an occasional word in Spanish. The woman provided a great deal of background of the Mexican characters, and answered quite a few puzzles of the plot. Towards the end of this conversation, several lines of Spanish appeared, but this time several context clues permitted an understanding.

The question of why Cole and Rawlins went to Mexico is still a mystery. Why the duenna bailed these cowboys out of prison, and gave them money and horses to get home, is likewise unresolved.

Clues as to the time of these events were also confusing. Sometimes, it appeared to be the 1990s, and other times the 40s or 50s or 60s.

Recently, I read McCarthy’s novel The Road, and I thought it was a great read, so I intended to try his Horses again. But the rule of fifty is an excellent guide. More often than not, my instincts prove to be accurate. 2 stars (only for pages 227 to 241)

--Chiron, 12/20/08

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Elected Member by Bernice Rubens

Bernice Rubens was awarded the second Mann Booker prize in 1970 for The Elected Member. Assembling a complete collection of every award-winner since 1969 was fun. A few titles were tough and had to be ordered from England, but as this novel shows, it was well-worth the effort.

Rubens tells the story of a Jewish couple who immigrated to England from Lithuania. They had three children, a son, Norman, and two daughters, Esther and Bella. Norman was a brilliant child, learning a dozen languages by the time he was ten. He was headed for a brilliant law career until circumstances caused his fall into insanity. With his wife, Sarah, dead from cancer, Rabbi Zweck was forced to cope with his son’s mental illness alone with Bella. Esther had left the family home after a dispute about her marriage plans. All these characters have secrets, and in a series of skillfully unfolded flashbacks, we begin to piece together the struggles this family has endured.

The intensely detailed characters make this novel more than deserving of the then newly-founded prize. The descriptions of Norman’s illness are frightening, sad, and gripping. Only the week of finals grading delayed my finishing this novel until today.

Rubens is a writer I will seek out for other titles. She was able to infuse episodes of real humor among those of tragedy and sorrow. One example is when Mrs. Goldberg comes into Rabbi Zweck’s shop after witnessing Norman’s removal to a mental institution. Abie, as Sarah called her husband, does not want to talk to Mrs. Goldberg out of embarrassment, but as she silently enters the shop, makes a purchase, and opens the door to leave, Abie suddenly wants to talk to her. She immediately turns around, sits down, and spends the rest of the afternoon consoling her friend.

Rubens used quite a few Yiddish words. Some could be figured out from the context, but a few could not. I wonder if a Yiddish dictionary is available.

An interesting aspect of the novel was figuring out who the “elected member” was and for what purpose. As the lives of the family members are laid bare, the answer to this puzzle becomes evident.

The Elected Member was one of the more difficult Booker Prize titles to locate, but if you can track down a copy, you will not be disappointed. Five stars

--Chiron, 12/14/08

Monday, December 08, 2008

The Bride of Anguished English by Richard Lederer

This was the wrong book to read after grading about 80 research papers from four sections of Freshman Composition.

Students these days do not read. The first day of every class i have them fill out an index card as a sort of ice breaker. One of the questions is "What was the last book you have read for fun?"

The last semester or two, more than half have said they do not read or hate to read. Another third reads car, hunting, or fashion/gossip magazines. A precious few read a real novel, and it shows in their writing. They simply have no feel for the language. The humor in this book would be completely lost on them.

Here is an example from a late paper I graded today. "The war in Iraq has caused more warfare than any war we have ever fought in or not." Going over the paper, I read her that sentence and asked her if it sounded okay. She shrugged her shoulders and said, "Yes."

So I was not in any mood to laugh at these sorts of things.

That aside, many, many of the slips he lists I have heard on the Internet or from colleagues down the hall. Some had the feel of written jokes. For example, a student explains his report card as being "under water" -- "below 'C' level."

Maybe next semester will be better. Probably not.

--Chiron, 12/8/08

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Orpheus Lost by Janette Turner Hospital

Hospital is an Australian writer who now teaches at the University of South Carolina. She received the Patrick White Award for lifetime literary achievement. I met her at the American Library Association's annual summer convention in Anaheim, California.

Orpheus Lost is one of several “Post 9/11” fictional accounts surrounding or influenced by those events. Hospital has done an excellent job of capturing the mystery and the fear engendered by our government’s reaction to the attacks. The clandestine operations, kidnapping, torture, murder, and other horrific acts our country has perpetrated following 9/11 are all described in chilling detail.

The novel begins innocently enough with the meeting of two scholars in Boston who both study music. Leela from South Carolina, and Mishka Bartok from Sidney, Australia hit it off immediately. They seem destined for each other. The first section of the book detailing their meeting and growing relationship is musical, calm, and beautiful.

However, both have dark secrets, and the story quickly descends into a maelstrom of horror. The novel ends with a crescendo, but if the story has any flaws, the end happens too quickly. At 353 pages, another hundred pages could have easily detailed the resolutions. I wanted more of the story in the last 80 pages or so.

Hospital’s prose is absorbing and deceptively simple. She draws readers into the story with interesting, likable characters. What happens to them has happened to way too many people over the last eight years. We can only hope change is coming.

--Chiron, 11/30/08

Friday, November 14, 2008

Blue Bicycle Book Shop, Charleston, SC

My annual visit to Charleston always includes a visit to the Blue Bicycle, and this year was no exception.

Sometimes a first visit is not quite as good as I remember, so the second visit is a disappointment. Not so this time! It was not long before we had a stack of some interesting books on the front counter.

I found a title I needed in my "All About" series from Random House. These books are a fond connection to my early days of reading in the 50s. I also found a copy from 1957 of Otto of the Silver Hand by Howard Pyle. The wonderful illustrations came back to me as soon as I opened it. My collection has a recent paperback, but it is not the same as the small hardback with dust jacket.

Blue Bicycle boasts over 50,000 volumes, and we could have picked up quite a few more. It is a good thing we didn't because the ones we did buy put our suitcase 15 pounds over the limit!

Every visit to Charleston must include a visit to Blue Bicycle!

-Chiron, 11/10/08

Monday, November 10, 2008

Independence Day by Richard Ford

This review departs somewhat from my original format, in that I reveal more of the plot than usual. I read this book for a class I am taking for my MFA. I have pasted the analysis I wrote for the class.

Independence Day, by Richard Ford is the story of Frank Bascombe who decides on a father and son bonding trip over the 4th of July weekend. An interesting story, with lots of engaging, even if long-winded, characters.

Frank is an exasperating character. His marriage has failed, he has abandoned careers as a sportswriter, a short story writer, and after an attempted escape to France, he returns to try his hand at real estate sales in his home town of Haddam, NJ. During the period of about a week covered by the novel, Frank recalls, and has glancing encounters with, several acts of violence. A son has died years before, a colleague was brutally raped and murdered in a house she was showing in Haddam, and he arrives at a motel shortly after a tourist was shot and killed. Finally, the climax of the novel involves an attempted suicide by his son Paul who deliberately stands in front of a baseball pitching machine and is hit in the face by a baseball traveling at 75 MPH.

Frank doesn’t know what he wants. His marriage is over, but he clings to the hope he and his ex-wife will get back together by moving into the house they shared when married. He is trying to revive a failing romance with Sally, and most importantly, he is trying to rescue his son who is acting out as a result of the divorce and disapproval of his mother’s remarriage.

The “existence period,” Frank frequently references, is his way of “going through the motions.” The acts of violence are signs of how precarious life is in Frank’s view, and his helplessness in dealing with his son all point to the lost nature of his life. Frank Bascombe is not “independent” and he never will be. His life is entangled in false starts, false hopes, failures, and lack of a clear plan for his life and a relationship with his son.

The final paragraphs tell us Frank’s future will mirror his past. Ford writes, “There is, naturally, much that’s left unanswered, much that’s left till later, much that’s best forgotten. Paul Bascombe [his injured son], I still believe, will come to live with me for some part of his crucial years. It may not be a month from now or six. A year could go by, and there would still be time enough to participate in his new self-discovery.” The last sentence is also telling. I feel the push, pull, the weave and sway of others.”

Frank is floating in water way over his head. He does not know where he is headed, and barely where he has been, since he does not seem to have picked up much from his past life. Life, for Frank is an Independence Day parade, and all he can do is watch it go by. Four stars

--Chiron, 11/08/08

Friday, October 31, 2008

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

In his 1823 play, Almansor: A Tragedy, Heinrich Heine wrote: “Wherever they burn books they will also, in the end, burn human beings.”

Book-burning is the practice of ceremoniously destroying books or other written materials. In the last 50 or so years, we have seen phonograph records, video tapes and CDs added to the pyre.

Book-burning generally is motivated by moral, religious or political objections to the material, or, more specifically, the ideas the material contains.

Book-burning can have a profound effect on culture, especially when the works destroyed are irreplaceable and their loss results in severe damage to a people’s history and heritage. Book-burning — indeed, book-banning — has become a symbol of harsh and oppressive regimes.

China’s Qin Dynasty burned books and buried scholars during in the second century bce. Four destructive fires at the Library of Alexandria spanned 700 years. The late 17th century saw the destruction of Mayan codices by Spanish conquistadors and priests. The 20th century was marked by Nazi book-burnings of the 1930s and the destruction of the Sarajevo National Library in 1992.

However, burning is not the only method of destroying cultural artifacts. In our country, school and public libraries are under constant assault by elements that would force their views on the majority in absolute contradiction to our First Amendment freedoms.

Fahrenheit 451 tells the story of an oppressive society in which books are forbidden objects, and firemen are required to burn all books they encounter.

It’s not without irony, then, that Fahrenheit 451 has been the object of book bans itself.

Dawn Sova writes of it in Literature Suppressed on Social Grounds. She states the reasons for its banning have included the mention of hell, and the words “damn,” and “abortion.” Also, objections were raised to the reference of a “drunk man” and “cleaning fluff from the navel.”

Such oppression helped set in motion the establishment of the American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee, Young Adult Division. All this happened in 1967. But as recently as 1992, students in a California middle school were issued copies of Fahrenheit 451 with all the above-mentioned offending words blacked out.

Parents have the absolute right to control what their children read. They do not have the right to control what other people’s children can read.

Frequently, supporters of free speech will raise objections, censored copies will be removed and removed books will be re-shelved.

Following such an outcry, the expurgated copies of the book distributed in California were replaced with the original version.

Libraries are temples of democracy, and librarians are the priests and priestesses. They guard information. As the great English essayist, Francis Bacon, wrote more that 400 years ago, “access to information is power.”

We must take Heine’s dictum and Fahrenheit 451 as a warning. Overzealous individuals who would control ideas really want to control our minds. Read it, Waco, and decide for yourself.

--Chiron, 10/31/08

The Emotional Lives of Animals by Marc Bekoff

The second read for this year of my book club was picked by a Buddhist/vegan/animal rights activist friend of mine. I was not sure at all I would enjoy it, but I did. This thoroughly enjoyable read was informative, if a bit repetitious at times.

Anyone who lives with a dog or a cat or has grown up on a farm is well aware of the intelligence, memory, and emotions expressed by animals. Bekoff’s book is loaded with anecdotes from ethologists (researchers in animal emotions) as well as lay persons. As he says, “the plural of anecdote is data” (121). Many of his anecdotes closely match what we have observed with our pets at home.

Bekoff shows how animals and humans share brain structure and chemistry. He posits that our emotions have evolved along with our physical structure. To my surprise, Darwin also speculated about animal emotions, and he believed they evolved along with physical structure.

One chapter ends with, “if we try to learn more about forgiveness, fairness, trust, and cooperation in animals, maybe we’ll also learn to live more compassionately and cooperatively with one another” (109).

This read has not made me a vegetarian, but it has made me more conscious of products I buy. I simply like meat too much to give it up completely. However, I try and buy products not tested on animals, free-range chicken, and organic, hormone and antibiotic-free milk and eggs. It is a first small step.

The most interesting question Bekoff poses is, would you treat your family pet the same way you would treat the animals in your lab, on your farm, or in the wild? I suspect almost everyone would answer with a resounding, “No!”

--Chiron, 10/31/08

Sunday, October 26, 2008


I am still here! Not lost, dead, or hospitalized! I am in a very busy period with grading, studying, and planning the school's student literary magazine.

Things will begin to loosen up this week, and I will have a couple of new posts by next weekend.

-Chiron, 10/26/08

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Twyborn Affair by Patrick White

Patrick White has been one of the great discoveries I have made over the last couple of years. I now own copies of all his books, and I am working my way through them. Each book I read increases my admiration for this Nobel-Prize winning author. The Twyborn Affair was no exception. The splendid prose, the fascinating characters drawn with precision and a breathtaking depth, so absorbed my consciousness, I missed clues leading up to the climactic ending that exploded in the early days of the blitz of London.

This novel tells the story of three characters: Eudoxia, married to an elderly Greek aristocrat with delusions of grandeur; Eddie Twyborn, the son of a respected judge in Sydney, who takes a job as a hired hand on a farm in the outback; and Eadith, the mysterious madam of a posh brothel in London of the 1930s.

These three characters spin their lives in various directions, but the stunning conclusion brings them together. Eddie’s mother, Eadie, also plays a role in the ending.

As I have said before, White’s novels are thoroughly enjoyable, but the prose requires close attention and a second read. Once I get through all his novels, I will most definitely start all over again.

If you have never read anything by Patrick White, I urge you to remedy this major gap in your reading experience. Ten stars! No kidding.

--Chiron, 10/16/08

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Physics for Future Presidents -- The Science Behind the Headlines by Richard A. Muller

My book club selected this for the first read of the new year, and I am glad and sad to have read it.

First my glad side: considering the last eight years have seen a rejection of science in many areas, not to forget the general demonetization of intellectualism, this volume shows in a clear and concise manner, scientific explanations of important issues of the day. The best sections were on terrorism, nuclear weapons, and nuclear power. Muller taught me a lot about these issues. I was on the fence about nuclear power, but his statistics and logical discussions of the real dangers has caused me to lean somewhat in favor.

The section on space was the thinnest, and added nothing to my knowledge of this subject. Over all, the book was written at about a 10th grade level. The “Presidential Summaries” at the end of each chapter, were at about a 9th grade level. The reading level was glaring, and sometimes this came across as condescending. I sure hope the next president can at least read at a college level!

The book grew out of course the author teaches at UC-Berkeley, which makes the reading level even more glaring. Perhaps he has the current president in mind. Bush 43’s dictum, early on in his presidency, that all position and policy papers be no longer than 2 pages and his admission that he does not read newspapers, make me want to vote for an intellectual – not someone I’d like to talk sports with over a beer. 4 stars

--Chiron, 9/25/08

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Yesterday's Weather by Anne Enright

Anne Enright won the Booker prize in 2007. I had never heard of her, so when this volume came to my attention, I decided to read it first. Partly because it has been a while since I have read any short stories, partly because I am working on a short story now for my seminar in fiction, and partly because I did not want to begin by reading Enright's prize-winning novel.

The best I can say about this collection is the stories are uneven. Some of the more conventional ones are memorable, but the stream of consciousness ones are, as the English say, rubbish. This is not to say I am sorry I read the collection -- there are plenty of good stories.

I especially liked the ones about relationships, for example, "Until the Girl Died" and "Here's to Love." Most of the stories are short -- 3-5 pages -- and perfect for those odd moments in the doctor's office or between groups of deplorable essays I had to grade last weekend.

Now, I am looking forward to Enright's Booker novel, The Gathering.

--Chiron, 9/14/08

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Time in Xanadu by Lars Gustafsson

Readers might recall my disappointment with two volumes of poetry by Gustafsson earlier this year. This volume was recommended by Amazon, and I decided to take a chance. This is a nifty volume of poetry published by Copper Canyon Press. I subscribe to their catalogue, and, if I had noticed they were the publisher, I would have waited and bought it directly from them.

This collection of poems is really rather good. The poems still have that sparse, Scandinavian style, but there are plenty of touches of humor, as he juxtaposes profound insights with ordinary images, events, and ideas. Here is a good example:

“…it’s nice sleeping with cats
in bed, somewhere down
in the foot area just where the toes
cautiously peep out into a nocturnal world
like watchman on the wall
of a very old city
Sleep City on the Plain of Dark.
The cat then at a suitable distance
but in a kind of understanding
with the toes, these ten watchman
against the dark, chaos, the void,
and the sound of the distant train.” (73)

Anyone who sleeps with a pet – cat or dog – can recognize the images here. Settle in after turning off the lights, wiggle and slide under the covers. A foot comes near the soft, still body of a pet, and then the warmth they exude touches the toes, the feet, and travels up the leg. Wonderful stuff.

This is one of those books that requires an immediate, slow, second, or maybe even a third read. One at a time, moments before the light goes out.

--Chiron, 9/10/08

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

The novel got a lot of buzz when it came out, and this was compounded when Oprah choose it for her book club. Normally, I am skeptical of over-hyped novels, but my wife read this, and she knows what I like.

This epic novel of three generations of a Greek family begins with a brother and sister escaping from the ethnic cleansing of Greeks by the Turks living in Smyrna in 1922. They came to Detroit, after marrying on the ship from Athens, and began the long journey narrated by their grand daughter, Calliope.

Calliope is one of the nine muses – daughters of Mnemosyne and Zeus – and she is associated with epic poetry. Aristotle tells us that an epic is a long narrative poem about the travels and adventures of a hero. The call on the muse is first, and here the muse tells her own story. The epic also contains a catalogue of heros and heroines, and Eugenides has certainly filled his story with those. The epic simile (an extended metaphor) is next, and Middlesex abounds in those. Here is a fine example, "I’d never been this close to the Obscure Object before. It was hard on my organism. My nervous system launched into “Flight of the Bumblebee.” The violins were sawing away in my spine. The timpani were banging in my chest. At the same time, trying to conceal all this, I didn’t move a muscle. I hardly breathed. That was the deal basically: catatonia without; frenzy within" (326).

Finally, the epic question posed by the author, answered by the story: Calliope or Cal?

Joseph Campbell, author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, builds on Aristotle, by adding elements of the hero’s journey. The call to adventure was Calliope’s need to fulfill the destiny of her grandparents who planted the seed of Calliope’s misfortune when they decided to marry. She had many helpers in the Greek community, which insulated her family from the changing environment of the New World. She embraces atonement with her father when she returns (another element of the hero’s journey) and plays the role of her father. The trip to New York and the visit to the “Sexual Disorders and Gender Identity Clinic” is a descent to the underworld where Calliope must confront the terrible secrets of her family's past while embracing her future.

Lest I reveal too much more of the plot, I will let the reader discover more parallels with Campbell’s theory. But this is a must read. The descriptions are vivid, the poetry of the story is enchanting. Calliope tells her story, siren-like, and pulls the reader onto the rocks of disbelief. But in the end, Calliope is the hero of this story. Cal does come back, and his life is made better by the elixir of self-knowledge and realization of his place in the world. The ending is sweet without being sappy. Five stars.

--Chiron, 8/30/08

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Raw Shark Texts Steven Hall

This first novel appeared to be some version of experimental fiction. I kept a firm hand on the “Rule of 50,” and now I am activating the rule.

At first, this seemed like an interesting premise, but it quickly disintegrated into the ravings of a psychotic goof ball. Think of Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now, only add steroids, acid, primo hydro hemp, crack, and speed. I did not care in the least about this character or what was happening to him. ½ a star.

--Chiron, 8/11/08

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Excellence Award!

Many thanks to my dear niece and friend Bibliolotrist over at nominating my blog for an excellence award. After looking at her nominees (all of which I have listed below) I am not sure plain old RabbitReader belongs in such august company! I confess I am a Luddite when it comes to reading book reviews on the Internet. I cling to the old fashioned paper journals and book reviews that arrive in my mailbox weekly – always with a tingling sensation of what new books and authors I might find.

However, I have bookmarked all these, and I will give them a go.

Lots of interesting posts on topics not well-covered in the main stream press.

The Erasmus quote is all over my home and office. I ran my mad money account down to 63 cents yesterday to buy a novel by Paul Scott for my Man Booker Prize collection.

Wow! You sure put my paltry 75+ books a year to shame! Teaching six classes for 30 weeks out of the year, plus three more for an additional seven weeks, really puts a crimp in my reading! Can you guess how many essays I grade in a year?

Great short reviews, the same kind I favor and write, although lately, I have been getting a bit longer-winded. Great visuals, too. I need to get off Blogspot or find some other way to jazz up my site.

Love the question approach to reviewing. I always tell my students reading and writing should raise questions in their minds or they are not really reading and writing.

Another great site. I loved the “hangman” game.

Well, these sites are all great, but I guess I do not have the time to devote to mine, so I appreciate every one of you, and hope you will come and visit me once in a while.

I have my favorites, and they certainly do not need any endorsement from me. In no particular order, here they are:

The New York Times Book Review (Weekly -- Sunday) – The grand old lady of book reviews. I have nearly every issue back to 1970 in my office closet at home.

The New Yorker Magazine (Weekly -- Monday) – Another old reliable. I have discovered too many authors to list them all, but Patrick White, Lars Gustaffson, James Salter, and Anne Beattie come to mind. That closet also bulges with every issue back to the 70s, and about a hundred or so I have found at yard sales from its founding in 1925 to 1970. A great source for obscure and serious fiction, poetry, biography, and non-fiction. I also love the cartoons, the profiles, and the articles on current events.

The New York Review of Books (Bi-monthly) – Quirky with long erudite reviews that many times cover five or six related titles, or a review of significant works by a single author, or long articles about art, history, current events. Lots of great advertising, too by small and independent presses.

The Times (London) Literary Supplement (Weekly – Sunday) An expensive subscription, but more than worth it. This keeps me up to date on publishing in the rest of the English-speaking world. The peculiar columns are also a hoot as only the British can produce. Even the letters are worth my time. Each issue devoted to a particular topic, although fiction and poetry are there every week.

The Atlantic Monthly – One of the best written magazines available. Lots of good reviews, but more non-fiction than fiction. The articles are in-depth studies of current affairs and trends. Good poetry, too.

So, Bibliolatrist, thanks so much again, and we will see each other on the web.

--Chiron, 8/10/08

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Holiday by Stanley Middleton

One shelf of my library now holds a nearly complete collection of Booker Prize-winning novels which date back to 1969. The short list for the 40th award for 2008 has just been announced, and Salman Rushdie’s The Enchantress of Florence is there. I have never been disappointed in the Man Booker Prize, awarded annually for English-language novels from the British Commonwealth and Ireland. This 1974 prize winner bears a striking resemblance to the 2005 winner, The Sea by John Banville, so I catapulted it to the top of my TBR list.

This was a tough read. The style is difficult, largely due to strange word order and comments dropped at the end of a line of dialogue. It took a while to become accustomed to this strange wording, but the story was absorbing; however, it was nothing at all like Banville’s “elegant and lyrical language so rich it takes the breath away” as I wrote in my review of The Sea. After about 100 pages, comfort set in, and it was no longer a problem. There were occasional flashes of brilliance, for example: “The sun-bars angled down packed wild with dust-specks so that the air danced alive with energy between the areas of dim cleanliness” (2).

Perhaps Middleton has matched his language to the confused state of mind of the main character, Edwin Fisher, who has escaped from his wife, whom he now detests. Before leaving, Edwin seemed genuinely to have tried to smooth things over and save his marriage – at least from his version of the story told in a series of brief flashbacks. Like the character in The Sea, Edwin travels to a seashore vacation resort of his youth to grapple with a life-changing event, but Edwin also has to contend with the memory of a stormy relationship with his father.

The ridiculously formal meeting of Meg and Edwin at the end seemed too contrived to be realistic. I did not get the impression that this meeting was “in character” for either of them. Placing this novel in time was difficult, assigning an age to the characters even more so. This might all be attributed to a setting in the middle to late 50s. An annoyingly intrusive father-in-law seems to sympathize with Edwin, but his condescension should have caused Edwin to send him packing.

The novel was also peppered with words and phrases I have never heard. My library contains a lot of British fiction – old and new – and this is not usually a problem for me. One intriguing word (biro, biroing) appeared quite a few times. After three, I surmised it was some sort of writing instrument, but I could not be sure. It was not in my large Random House Dictionary, nor was it in the O.E.D. 3-1/2 stars because I had to work so hard without much reward.

--Chiron, 8/9/08

Friday, August 08, 2008

Love Poems edited by C.N. Edwards

An excellent collection with lots of old favorites and plenty of new names and voices, this is an all-occasion volume. Shakespeare, Marvell, Emerson, Rilke, and Poe are well-represented.

Included are marvelous illustrations. Lots of Pre-Raphaelites, some modern (the "The Kiss" by Klimt on the cover is a good example).

Some of my favorites are the real short ones. For example, this one by Ranier Marie Rilke, “Time and Again”:

“Time and again, however well we know the landscape of love,
and the little church-yard with lamenting names,
and the frightfully silent ravine wherein all the others end:
time and again we go out two together,
under the old trees, lie down again and again
between the flowers, face to face with the sky.” (148)

Buy a copy and dazzle your lover. 5 stars

--Chiron, 8/8/08

Sunday, August 03, 2008

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame; Illustrated by Robert Ingpen

2008 is the 100th anniversary of the publication of this classic of children’s literature, and I have never read it. This wonderfully illustrated edition fixed that up nicely!

This collection of tales about Rat, Mole, Mr. Toad, Mr. Badger, Otter, and all the characters that inhabit the river and "The Wild Woods," is nothing less than enchanting. My favorites are all of them, but I especially liked "Dulce Domum." In this tale, Mole smells an old house he lived in long ago. He is traveling with Rat, who neither smells nor understands Mole's reluctance to continue. The ever patient Rat consoles his friend, and together they retrace their steps and find the old house. The spend the night, even entertaining a group of mice who are out caroling.

If I had to pick a favorite, it would be "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn." Determined to find a lost baby otter, Rat and Mole paddle a boat upstream, and find the lost boy after following some mysterious and haunting music. When they find him, he is alone except for some cloven hoof tracks in the sand. Here is a passage typical of the pastoral style of Grahame:

"The line of the horizon was clear and hard against the sky, and in one particular quarter it showed black against a silvery climbing phosphorescence that grew and grew. At last, over the rim of the waiting earth the moon lifted with slow majesty till it swung clear of the horizon and rode off, free of moorings;" (119)

A relaxing, comforting, delightful read. I am sorry I missed this as a child. Perfect for a hot summer's day. 5 stars.

--Chiron, 8/3/08

The Essential Dalai Lama: His Important Teachings edited by Rajiv Mehrota

The writings of the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, form an important part of my philosophy collection. His simple, smooth style relaxes the mind while challenging the intellect. Samples from all his works are here, and I highly recommend this as an introduction to his philosophy.

At one time, there were several individuals I loathed with a seething passion for what they had done to me, to my loved ones, or to my friends. Reading his book, The Art of Happiness, showed me the folly of the energy wasted on hatred. For that simple lesson alone, I owe him a debt of gratitude. Now, I hardly think of those individuals at all. In fact, as I sit here typing this, I doubt I could name all six of them.

Anyone can read this most accessible explanation of Buddhist perspective. There is no need to convert; in fact, Buddhists discourage conversion, believing, rightly so, that Buddhist principles can fit into any philosophy of life, religion, or world-view without disturbing anything in the process. This volume contains perspectives on the teachings of Jesus. 5 stars

--Chiron, 8/3/08

A Family of Poems selected by Caroline Kennedy; Illustrated with watercolors by Jon J. Muth

I bought this book solely because of the illustrator. My library has several of his books, and my favorite is The Three Questions, based on a short story of the same name by Leo Tolstoy. His watercolors are nothing less than enchanting and match perfectly the text.

After enjoying the paintings, I turned to the poems. Numerous favorites by Frost, Lear, Carroll, Neruda, Yeats, Nash, and Langston Hughes are here. Lear’s “The Owl and the Pussycat” may have been the first poem I memorized.

Once, I was in Paris, France riding the Metro, when a shabbily dressed man stood up and began reciting poetry by Verlaine. When he was finished, he walked around with a cup and a few people dropped in some coins. I thought this was a splendid idea, so I stood and recited "Owl." I got some applause and bowed. One man offered some coins, I laughed and thanked him, but he insisted. I bought a crepe with apricot butter on the street that night, and it was the best I ever tasted.

This book of poetry will take all readers back to their childhood. 4-1/2 stars because she left out “The Duel” (The Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat) by Eugene Field.

-Chiron, 8/3/08

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Terrorist by John Updike

Updike is one of my favorite authors of all time. I have 323 books by, about, or containing a work by him and literally thousands of magazines in which he has appeared. The fact that I have not read anything, except magazine appearances, by him in a while desperately needed remedying. I will not be away so long again.

No one writing today can fashion and shape language the way John Updike can. To me, he is The Master wordsmith of the last fifty years. His essays, his book reviews, his poetry, his short stories, and his novels spin webs of incredible beauty with deep insights and characters as finely drawn and accurate as any ever written. His prose is so graceful, the reader is carried along to places never visited, to characters never met, to situations unimaginable, with the ease of an early morning walk as the eastern sky grows pink and a soft breeze cools the face.

Terrorist is such a story. The reader is taken on a ride in a truck driven by a misguided, manipulated young man, who is determined to wreak vengeance on people he does not know, because he has been convinced the strangers he kills have stolen his God.

Early in the novel, the third-person narrator reveals something about the angry young man. Updike writes:

"Ahmad knows it is a sin to be vain of his appearance: self-love is a form of competition with God, and competition is what He cannot abide. But how can the boy not cherish his ripened manhood, his lengthened limbs, the upright, dense, and wavy crown of his hair, his flawless dun skin, paler than his father’s but not freckled, blotchy pink of his red-haired mother and those peroxided blondes who in white-bread America are considered the acme of beauty?” (18).

In the unlikely event that nothing else happens while reading this novel, it will force any one with a shred of heart or soul to closely examine our culture, what it values, and how we treat each other.

Updike also anoints unlikely characters as heroes in the epic sense -- disillusioned, semi-failed, lost souls searching for some light at the end of the dark tunnels which are their lives. At first, these individuals seem to be mere dressing, a bit of bright ribbon on a dull coat or shirt. But Updike brings them along with the reader, and in the end they all find something, even if it was not what they were seeking.

In the early pages of the novel, I felt a bit frustrated because of the many Arabic words and phrases which were not translated. Only a few could be worked out from the context; however, as I read on, I realized Updike was deliberately wrapping Islam in a shroud to keep it as mysterious as it is in real life. How can we understand the anger, the hatred of the fanatical jihadist who believes in a God that will welcome a martyr with 72 “houris” at the instant of death. They believe this God is as close to them as the veins in their necks.

I don’t pretend to understand any of this after reading Terrorist, but I could feel the anger, the hatred, and the devout belief in a religion that promises the best of everything after a life that offers the worst of everything. This is the same message which fixed the grip of the Catholic Church on the hapless, ignorant peasants of the Middle Ages. The scary thing is these characters are not ignorant and not hapless. Perhaps that is the greatest danger of all. A perfect novel! Unqualified five stars.

--Chiron, 7/27/08

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Fire in the Blood by Iréne Némirovsky

Iréne Némirovsky was born in Russia, but her family fled to Finland after the Russian Revolution in 1917. From there, they emigrated to France where she lived until she was arrested by the Gestapo in 1942. She died at Auschwitz in 1943. She published nine books between 1928 and 1937. She was working on Fire in the Blood when she was arrested. Her notes and manuscripts were scattered among her family members, and this novel has finally been assembled for the first time.

My first experience with Némirovsky was Suite Française -- a great story of rural villagers trying to survive the early days of the German occupation as refugees streamed through their land trying to reach free France. Originally planned for three parts, it was never finished. I was hoping Fire approached, even slightly, the power of that narrative.

I have not been disappointed, and I would even say my expectations have been exceeded.

Fire is a story of an insular French village in the days between the World Wars. Anyone who has ever visited the French countryside will instantly recognize the slow, measured pace of life. “The farmers around here don’t gossip and would rather walk through fire than get involved in other people’s business” (74). When tragedy strikes a newly married young man, it is marked up as fate, an error of judgment, or simply an accident, and the reader only gradually hears the quiet murmurs as the truth is passed from farmhouse to tavern to kitchen.

The story is narrated by Silvio, a retired gentleman farmer who, because he has no wife and no heirs, has gradually sold off his land and now lives alone, except for an occasional visitor and the company of his housekeeper. One night he writes,

“I was desperate for her to leave, as if I were expecting someone. And, in fact, I was: I was expecting my youth. Memories of the past would return to us more often if only we sought them out, sought their intense sweetness. But we let them slumber within us and, worse, we let them die, rot, so much so that the generous impulses that sweep through our souls when we are twenty we later call naive, foolish…Our purest, most passionate loves take on the depraved appearance of sordid pleasure” (105-6).

Prose like that is not nearly common enough. How can anyone not let the mind wander back to days of care-free youth when there was fire in the blood?

The secret visitor that Silvio awaits comes barging in to turn upside down this quiet little place. Although I guessed part of the secret early on, the end is a stunner, and the full story really took the wind out of me.

All the characters are searching for their own form of happiness, some in the past, some in dreams of the future. Practically every page has the word happy, happiness, unhappy, or some other variation on that theme. Silvio says, “I don’t want to get involved in your problems…all I want is a quiet life” (84-5).

Only a few works of Némirovsky’s have been translated, but I am going to keep a weather eye out for any more that come along. She is a hidden treasure waiting to be rediscovered by all fans of serious fiction. Five stars

--Chiron, 7/24/08

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Lost Estate (Le Grand Meaulnes) by Alain-Fournier

I never heard of this novel nor this author. After completing a survey for a publisher, they offered me a free Penguin Classic edition for my time. Of the six books on the list, I already had five, so I took this one. It was a lucky draw, because this is definitely an interesting novel.

Alain-Fournier (Henri Alban) was born in France in 1886. His parents were teachers, and he received a fine education. Le Grand Meaulnes was published in 1912, and he was killed on the Meuse in 1914. A second novel was published posthumously.

François Seurel is a student at his parents’ school when Augustin Meaulnes, a tall, handsome boy arrives. The two form an instant bond. A few days after his arrival, Augustin tries a practical joke which goes awry, and he is lost far from school. He stumbles onto an estate in the midst of preparations for a wedding. He is welcomed as a guest and given a costume. He glimpses a beautiful young girl and immediately falls in love. At the last minute, the wedding is canceled, and the guests disperse. Augustin’s horse and cart have disappeared, so he accepts a ride back to school and stumbles in late one night -- three days after he left the school. He is reticent about his adventures, but eventually he tells François all the details, including his plan to return to the chateau and find the beautiful maiden and marry her.

At first glance, this seems to be a “Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy reunites with girl” story; however, this is only the beginning of the tale. It also seems to be some sort of dream or hallucination, but it is all too real.

An informative Introduction by the acclaimed New Yorker writer, Adam Gopnik, warns the reader of “roller coaster turns of the narration, at what Dr. Johnson might have called the improbability of the incidents and the extremity of the experiences” (ix). He is right about that, I found myself scratching my head on more than many occasions. But the prose is so detailed and so visual, as Gopnik later writes, “Once read, Le Grand Meaulnes is forever after seen” (x). The twists and turns of plot are a small price to play for 223 pages of magical, lyrical prose.

Meaulnes is a wonderful character, a little bit of Holden Caulfield in his rebelliousness, and a little bit of the dare-devil Phineas from Knowles’ A Separate Peace, while François neatly fills the role of Gene from the same novel.

Lots of other interesting characters populate the story as well. Frantz, brother of Yvonne, the beautiful maiden, suffers from “extravagant fantasies.” François refers to his mother as “Millie,” and a mysterious gypsy arrives to complicate Augustin’s plans to find Yvonne.

The story is more than interesting -- I was so absorbed I read it in a little more than two afternoons. This not to say it was an easy read. There are lots of passages which require savoring. Sometimes I found my mind wandering in the gardens and woods, so I had to stop, retrace the words, and pick up again. I was drawn into this story in an almost magical way -- as though while staring at an impressionist painting, I felt myself bathed in the light amidst the haystacks.

Adults seem to have limited authority in Alain-Fournier’s world, perhaps because he was still a young man when he was killed in World War I. The insanity of war! What might he have written had he lived to full maturity? Four stars because the ending was too sudden, too final. I would rather the story be extended another 200 pages.

--Chiron, 7/21/08

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Some Church by David Romtvedt

A cup of tea, a warm scone, a cat purring softly beside me, and a slim volume of verse – right out of the 19th century! This is a wonderful collection of poems! Most are sweet, some slightly sour, many with humor, and none with the angst and anger that permeates much of modern poetry. Romtvedt has written an almost perfect little book of poems. There were none here that I did not like.

He uses reflection and observation to create his little stories in verse. An example of what I mean is in “Buddha with a Cell Phone”

The dark sky opens and it starts to rain. I go outside
to stand in the stream, the longed-for gift of water
where it hasn’t rained for so long. I shout and dance
with the dog, who puts his ears back and licks my nose.
When we come back in, he shakes and I do too,
a few drops flying off my hair. I notice the Buddha
sitting on my desk. He’s a rubber Buddha
in a yellow robe. If you squeeze him he squeaks. (5)

Not in the class of Billy Collins, but Romtvedt is mighty close. This is the kind of poetry I aspire to write myself: fun, insightful, clever phrases, and detailed observations. Four and a half stars.

--Chiron, 7/20/08

Saturday, July 19, 2008

March by Geraldine Brooks

Near the end of the first chapter, I nearly flung this book against the wall in disgust. How could an Australian immigrant tell such a fetid, disgusting story about the most horrible episode in American history -- slavery. More importantly, how could such a tale of happy, well-cared for slaves win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction? My own disbelief in the answers to these two questions is the only thing that kept me reading.

When I finished, my disgust was even greater -- for an entirely different reason. I continue to marvel at the brutality, the horror, the inhumanity of one human being against another, simply because of skin color. After Cold Mountain, after Mudbound, after The Life of Frederick Douglas, after slave narratives I have read, I simply cannot get my mind around the capacity of sentient human beings for torture, murder, rape, and mutilation.

What started out as a pleasant little tale about Mr. March, who built his fortune as an itinerant peddler in Virginia in the 1840s, quickly descended into the maelstrom of slavery in the antebellum, and Civil War-ravaged, South.

I can’t help reflecting on the death last week of Jesse Helms. Some allegedly good people of North Carolina voted this man into Congress and Senate election after election, despite his openly bigoted and racist views. Then I remember Strom Thurmond, David Duke, and others too numerous to list. Unfortunately, no one, who shares the views of these despicable individuals, is likely to read this novel, or if they did, would they be moved by it in the slightest. I can hear them now, “Propaganda!” “Nonsense!” and “Bull shit!” Even more ominously, “Who cares?” and “Get over it.”

I hope we never forget.

The first two-thirds of the story is a first person account told by Mr. March (of Little Women fame), who leaves his family to join soldiers, as a chaplain, and heads south as the Civil War begins. March recalls his adventures as a young man in Virginia. These memories startlingly return to him following a battle in the early days of the war. Confederate troops rout some Union soldiers, who cross a river and come to Oak Landing, a plantation March once visited on his travels. Although the place is physically changed, Grace, one of the slaves he knew then, is still there, caring for Mr. Clement, the owner of the plantation and Grace.

Loosely based on the absent father in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, Brooks also drew on real life experiences of Alcott’s abolitionist father, Bronson, recounted in his letters and journals. In an afterword, Brooks explains the shift in time from the journals to the novel. LMA sets her story in the early days of the war, but Brooks advances her novel about a year.

March struggles with ideals and principles, while desperately trying to do some good in the chaos of the retreat near Oak Landing. Sometimes his principles work; sometimes they don’t, but his mixed results are overshadowed time and again by tragedy.

It is hard to believe the horror that must have been the Civil War, but Brooks does a masterful job of telling this story in a 19th century voice complete with semi-colons. March compares favorably with the tone provided by Ken Burns’ quoting of letters and diaries in his marvelous documentary on the Civil War. In one typical passage, Brooks writes,

“I found her in the pleasance, pacing the muddy brookside, ruining what I knew to be her last pair of decent boots. I saw to my dismay that the storm had not yet broken. I had learned the meteorology of Marmee’s temper: the plunging air pressure as a black cloud gathered, blotting out the radiance of her true nature; the noisy thunder of her rage; and finally relief of a wild and heavy rain – tears, in copious cataracts, followed by a slew of resolutions to reform. But the dark cast of her expression told me we were still within the thunderhead, and as I approached she confirmed this by raising her voice to me” (130).

Nineteenth century novels are always a favorite of mine, so I was at home in these pages. Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and, a runaway slave, who I suspect may have been Harriet Tubman, all make cameo appearances.

Not as intense as Mudbound by Hillary Jordan, but a great story, I read it in about two afternoons. As the story sped to the end, I could not put it down. This story needs to be remembered, and everyone should read it. Five stars.

--Chiron, 7/19/08

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe's Hidden Mysteries by Lisa Randall

In his best selling book, A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking quipped that a friend told him each equation in his book “would halve the sales.” Fortunately, Lisa Randall collected hundreds of equations as endnotes, so I could happily ignore all those superscript numbers and only worry about the asterisks which took me to the bottom of the pages.

Wow! Warped Passages is for serious amateurs with an interest in esoteric science. At one time, I read a lot more of this stuff than I do now, so I will admit to being a little rusty. The interview I heard on NPR mentioned string theory, which I find endlessly fascinating, if not entirely understandable. Randall’s fluid prose added to my knowledge there, but I was lost when she started talking about “branes.” She defines these as “A membrane-like object in higher-dimensional space that can carry energy and confine particles and forces” (460). Branes are an extension of string theory, and the idea is that they hold the key to extra dimensions in space. Maybe all those UFOs have found a way to pass between branes and enter our plane of existence. This gives you some idea of what I was up against. Still I slogged on, and I am glad I did.

I know I will come back to this book in the future, because it makes an excellent reference work. A handy glossary and summaries at the end of each chapter are extremely helpful. Her line drawings were also good for illustrating some of her ideas. Fascinating reading and more than worth the extra effort! Four gold stars!

--Chiron, 7/17/08

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Poetry of Robert Frost Edited by Edward Connery Lathem

The poetry of Robert Frost has always been fascinating, but beyond a handful of poems frequently anthologized, most of the rest of his work was a mystery. A complete collection of his work has long been on my list of books to acquire and read, and I have finally accomplished both.

It is astounding that most of the well-known Frost poems were written in the second and third decades of the 20th century. Also, his poetry seems heavily influenced by the Romantics in that he uses common language, ordinary people, and ordinary events, although, on occasion, his language is slightly elevated.

Many of his early poems are long, dialogue-filled stories that lean more to prose than poetry. I didn’t care that much for those, and I began skipping them after the first few, but his short poems on odd topics were wonderful. A good example of all this is:

VI. Waspish

On glossy wings artistically bent
He draws himself up to his full extent.
His natty wings with self-assurance perk.
His stinging quarters menacingly work.
Poor egotist, he has no way of knowing
But he’s as good as anybody going. (309)

This is one of those books I will go back to over and over. I have marked my favorites, but I am sure others will be added during later reads.

--Chiron, 7/9/08

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Moy Sand and Gravel and Horse Latitudes by Paul Muldoon

I had the opportunity to hear Paul Muldoon read some of his poetry at a conference in Louisville, KY. I also bought these two volumes there, but I must have gotten the wrong ones, because nothing I read even remotely resembled the humorous verse he read that night.

Paul Muldoon teaches poetry at Princeton University and is also a professor of poetry at Oxford University. Whodathunkit?

First, Moy. These poems are largely based on his experiences in Ireland and with Irish people in New Jersey. There was quite a bit of Gaelic in there, as well as names and places names that were lost on me. I would have appreciated some notes and translations on exactly what he was talking about in 2/3s of these Pulitzer Prize-winning poems.

In fact, I had the same problem in Horse. I found myself shaking my head, scratching my stubble, and wondering what it was all about. Furthermore, some of the rhymes seemed so forced as to actually be jarring. For example:

“…a knight could still cause a ruction
by direct-charging his rouncy,
when an Englishman’s home was his bouncy
castle, when abduction and seduction
went hand in glove. …” (7)

My dictionary does not include “rouncy,” so I have no way of knowing what he means.

Maybe Muldoon is trying to be cute, but when supposed cuteness causes a skritch of the scalp and not a smile, it ceases to be cute.

-Chiron, 7/8/08

Tomato Girl by Jane Pupek

Review for Early Reviewers program of

This is one intense novel. Not since I read Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons (also from Algonquin Press) have I read a story so terrible, so graphic, so intense, and so absorbing. I started to read on Sunday, but had to stop after the first chapter for an unexpected short trip for lunch with some family members. On Monday afternoon, I started over, and could hardly put it down. With 40 (of 300 pages) left, I stopped at 11 last night completely exhausted. To say this novel is a “page-turner” is to elevate the term beyond the meaning I always associated with it – an interesting, thrilling beach read where the hero gets the girl/guy, and they sail off into the sunset putting some hair-breadth escapes behind them. Tomato Girl has none of those elements.

This novel is like a vacuum – not the Hoover kind, but the absolute space vacuum that sucks all the breath, blood, and life right out of the reader. True, I could not put it down, but I did hold my breath as I turned many pages.

Eleven-year old Ellie lives with her father and mother in, what at first seems to be a “white-picket fence” existence. Only a few hints of dark clouds float in that first chapter, but the story builds like a distant hurricane that approaches the shore. Rupert, Ellie’s dad, manages a local general store. Something seems not right with Julie, Ellie’s mother, and when she falls down the cellar stairs, she is hospitalized for a few days. This is when the family unravels, and Ellie is forced to handle too much, to keep too many secrets, to witness much more than any 11-year-old ought to.

The novel is told from Ellie’s point of view, and she grows into a woman in a matter of weeks. Her decisions and choices always seem right, but somehow fate or circumstances sometimes interfere. Pupek has captured, in a consistent and completely believable manner, the mind of a young girl on the cusp of her teen years.

The only sour note for me was the character Clara, a local woman, who lives in the “wrong” part of town and befriends Ellie. This woman has magic, clairvoyance, and the ability to raise a dead chicken. She does comfort Ellie, and she imparts some important lessons, but she could easily have done all that without candles, sprinkled salt, or buried menstrual blood.

Jayne Pupek has written an incredible first novel. Definitely not for children, the squeamish, or the faint of heart, but I give this novel 5 solid gold stars.

--Chiron, 7/8/08

Friday, July 04, 2008

The Sea by John Banville

For many years, I have been buying Man Booker Prize-winning novels. This recently added title to the collection was my first by Banville, and I knew almost nothing about him. I have to say I was bowled over by this book.

The Sea is a psychological excursion through memory, first love, loss, aging, and trying not to forget. Banville has written a masterful novel, with elegant and lyrical language so rich it takes the breath away. Reading this novel will introduce at least a dozen new vocabulary words. Keep a dictionary handy!

The narrator, Max, has lost his wife, and he returns to the scene of his childhood summers to recapture his youth, perhaps even to try and start his life over again. The prose ebbs and flows like the sea – the ocean is everywhere and in every sentence. The salt air wafts off the page; the sun and sand are all around the reader -- the writing is that vivid.

The psychological insights are, at times profound, and at other times mistaken, but they are all human. Some surprises at the end also make the reader sprint to the end of the story as if trying to escape the pounding surf.

I have already bought four more titles by Banville, and I hope they are even close to this novel. Five stars, without any reservation at all.

--Chiron, 7/4/08

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Slow Man by J.M. Coetzee

J.M. Coetzee was born in South Africa and educated there, in England, and at the University of Texas in Austin. He taught at SUNY Buffalo for three years, but when he was denied permanent residency status, he returned to South Africa. He continued to teach all around the US, and in 2002 he immigrated to Australia. He now holds a position at the University of Adelaide. For further information, see the Nobel Prize website for an extensive biography:

Slow Man details the story of Paul Rayment, a retired photographer, who is severely injured when an auto strikes him while he is riding his bicycle. He has a succession of caregivers, until he develops an attachment to one, Marijana. Then Coetzee’s novel veers into postmodernism when Elizabeth Costello appears at his door, and forces herself on him. Elizabeth, the title character of an earlier Coetzee novel, is a writer, and she knows all about Paul’s life, loves, hopes, dreams, and failures.

Paul refuses a prosthesis which will give him a measure of self-sufficiency, and as he reflects on his life, Elizabeth explains his feelings and prompts his future actions. Her strange role in the novel appears to be that of Coetzee’s alter ego. She engages Paul in a series of exasperating discussions after leaving her home in Melbourne to live on the streets of Adelaide.

Coetzee seems to be examining the role of the writer in creating a character, and the way a character takes on a life of his or her own. Often writers, when explaining their process will say “characters or stories write themselves.” Here Coetzee struggles with a character and situation which is not to his liking. Perhaps he is showing how a writer handles this struggle.

If this all sounds confusing, do not let it deter any reader from tackling this novel. Coetzee’s prose is absorbing, and it will create many reactions in the reader. I found myself thinking on more than one occasion that Paul should take, or not take, some course of action. Sometimes I agreed with Elizabeth’s advice to Paul, but curiously, in the end, even Elizabeth regrets one piece of advice she gave. Maybe Coetzee wants his readers to join in the creation of Paul’s story. Or maybe not.

Four stars only because I am not sure I completely understand this novel. I think I will create a new shelf in my library called, "Needs Another Read."

--Chiron, 6/30/08

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Me of Little Faith by Lewis Black

I only purchased this book last weekend, and I had not planned to read it so soon, but with the death of George Carlin, my favorite comedian, Lewis Black has been elevated. His comedy routines and appearances on The Daily Show keep me in stitches.

This short examination of Black’s religious odyssey definitely has its moments. I read it at the airport and on the plane, and there were times I would laugh uncontrollably. Like his comedy routines, some of the jokes require long setups, and, for the most part, they are worth the effort.

His serious thoughts on religion are also worthy, though not always funny. Example:

"Each and every one of us has our own way of relating to the universe. We beseech or hosanna or meditate. Some of us feel nature is the governing principle. Some of us feel there is no governing principle.

It is what makes this country rich. It is also what undermines America. In a land that should take great joy in the differences of its people – and in the knowledge that those differences are what make us strong – we generally choose to fear diversity while wallowing in our own stupidity. For a country where so many believe in some sort of God, we seem, as a whole, to have more faith in our ignorance. We seem to find a shared comfort in our fear of those who don’t share our beliefs." (180)

A pretty serious observation for a comedian, and furthermore, his rants on religious fundamentalists and televangelists are more than worth the price of admission.

Unfortunately, a rather lame “play” Black co-wrote and co-performed with college friends, Mark Linn-Baker and William Peters, seemed to be nothing more than filler. Some seriously bad language, but he does not hit all of Carlin’s “Seven Dirty Words.” 4 stars

--Chiron, 6/26/08

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Exit Ghost by Philip Roth

For some reason, I avoided Roth early on -- it might have had something to do with the fact that I hated the film, "Goodbye, Columbus." I was less discriminating between books and films than I am now. When Everyman came to me, I loved it. This is his latest, and I do believe I am becoming a Roth fan.

This novel is the last in a series known as the “Zuckerman Books.” According to the official Philip Roth website, Nathan Zuckerman represents Roth’s “alter brain.” Roth takes the reader on a serious trip through the mind of a writer as he deals with aging and its attendant physical ailments. He reviews his life and loves and experiences. As the dust jacket tells us, Zuckerman, a modern day Rip van Winkle, returns to New York City after an eleven-year self exile in rural western Massachusetts. Three seemingly random encounters reconnect Zuckerman to his past in ways that cause him to make rash decisions.

The novel is set in the days before and after the 2004 election stolen by Shrub 43 and Karl Rove. Roth, an unabashed liberal, tells us exactly what he thinks of that election:

"That a right-wing administration motivated by insatiable greed and sustained by murderous lies and led by a privileged dope should answer America’s infantile idea of morality – how do we live with something so grotesque? How do you manage to insulate your self from stupidity so bottomless?" (97)

How true, and how did we make it this close to the end of this abominable administration?

This is my kind of novel: complex characters with complex psyches and complex motivations mull over the meaning of life, literature, writing, reading. They delve into complex relationships and sometimes come up confused. But, in the end, Nathan figures out what is real and what is imaginary, what is possible, and what is only a dream.

I will go back and read all the other Zuckerman novels. Maybe even Good bye Columbus. 5 stars

-- Chiron, 6/25/08

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

America America by Ethan Canin

Reviewed for "Early Reviewer Program" Publication scheduled for July 2008.

This is a fine novel, and a wonderful read. I had no trouble finishing it in two days. Not because I couldn’t put it down – I did frequently for a variety of reasons – but because I wanted to know what would happen. Much of what I expected failed to materialize, and I was, most often, pleased – I enjoy being misled on occasions.

But it is not a great novel, especially when I compare it to another bildungsroman I read at the beginning of this year: Richard Russo’s Bridge of Sighs. Except for the politics, the novels do share some similarities of plot. A small town, hard-working, middle class people, with children who aspire to something better. However, America has a feel of ordinariness of language.

This is a kind of All the Kings Men told through the eyes of a hard-working, intelligent young man, Corey Sifter, who is taken under the wing of Liam Metarey, a wealthy land owner in Western New York in the late 60s and early 70s. It also serves as an allegory of political elections since Nixon won in 1968.

Liam is the patriarch of a family with mining, railroad, and timber interests. He is not an ordinary capitalist, because he takes care of all his employees and their families even when times are hard. He becomes politically connected, and spearheads the campaign of a Senator from New York in a bid to unseat Richard Nixon in 1972.

Henry Bonwiller was too good to be true as a candidate. He had a pristine voting record for the working people of his state and on ending the Viet Nam War. He was tripped up by his own foibles and predilections for pleasure, which he placed above the importance of his campaign. He was, in fact, too good to be true.

All the corruption and evil of those days before Watergate came back to me, and I began making comparisons with Ted Kennedy, Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, Ed Muskie, Bill Clinton, and now, Barack Obama. We have been so many times disappointed in our leaders over the past 50 years or so, because they are human, and they do have faults, which this country seems unable to abide in its leaders. I can only hope that the next few years will not turn out as this novel does. When we invest hope in a candidate, we are hoping for a better future. When they let us down, the crash is horrific. Maybe this time will be better.

Canin has put together a fine, complicated story, but some of the characters seem unnecessarily flat. Some characters came and went, but left an important presence behind. I wanted to know more about them. Some of the characters, even though crucial to the story, were also pretty vague. The surprise of Corey’s wife at the end was pretty obvious, and almost a cliché.

But I still highly recommend America America. Maybe I am still in the clouds with Malouf. 4 stars

--Chiron, 6/24/08

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Fly Away Peter by David Malouf

Is there anything better on a lazy Sunday afternoon than a newly purchased book of a new author recently recommended by a trusted friend? Yes, if the novel in question is lyrical, poetic, and so wonderful it can scarcely be put aside for dinner.

David Malouf is of Lebanese and English descent. His family moved to Australia in 1884, and he was born there in 1934. Like one of the main characters in Fly Away Peter, he left Australia for 11 years of study in England. He returned and taught at the University of Sydney until 1977. He now writes full-time, dividing his year between Australia and Tuscany. He has won numerous literary awards, including the first International Dublin Literary prize, and he has been short-listed for the Booker Prize.

Malouf is clearly in touch with nature, as this passage illustrates:

"They were so graceful, these creatures, turning their slow heads as the boat glide past and doubled where the water was clear: marsh terns, spotted crake, spur-winged plover, Lewen water rails. And Jim’s voice also held them with its low excitement. He was awkward and rough-looking till they got into the boat. Then he too was light, delicately balanced, and when it was a question of the birds, he could be poetic. They looked at him in a new light and with a respect he wouldn’t otherwise have been able to command" (31).

In stark contrast to the nature scenes in Australia are the graphic and frightening scenes in the trenches of France during World War I. I marvel at Malouf’s ability to describe the dreadful conditions of trench warfare – the rats, the mud, the lice, the stink, the urine, the corpses, the blood, always the blood – and the insanity of war. This passage only hints at the depth of Malouf’s vision when the novel is read as a whole:

"Packed again into a cattletruck, pushed in hard against the wall, in the smell of what he now understood, Jim had a fearful vision. It would go on forever. The war, or something like it with a different name, would go on growing out from here till the whole earth was involved; the immense and murderous machine what was in operation up ahead would require more and more men to work it, more and more blood to keep it running; it was no longer in control. The cattletrucks would keep on right across the century, […] They had fallen, he and his contemporaries, into a dark pocket of time from which there was no escape" (102-3).

Throughout this madness, Jim had the birds to ground him in reality. He kept a notebook of the birds he saw and the songs he heard.

If this is any indication of Malouf’s talents and power as a writer, I can’t wait to get into the rest of his novels, short stories, and poetry. Now I can eat dinner!

--Chiron, 6/22/08

Deadwood by Pete Dexter

This concludes my reading of the novels of Dexter, a former columnist for The Philadelphia Daily News. I can't believe this is the source of the HBO Series of the same name. If you loved the HBO series, you may not like this novel; if you hated the HBO series for its darkness and constant streams of foul language, you may love this novel. Deadwood took me much longer to read that it should have – I was ambushed by ETS grading (1200 essays in 6-1/2 days) and some minor surgery.

Many of the characters are there – Wild Bill Hickok, Charlie Utter, Calamity Jane Cannary, Seth Bullock, Solomon Star, Al Swearingen – but some of these were so distorted in the series as to be almost unrecognizable. For instance, Swearingen is not nearly the mean, nasty, violent character as that played by Ian McShane, neither was Seth Bullock the upstanding, principled man played by Timothy Olyphant. The preacher was there for Dexter, but in a much reduced role. Charlie, Jane, the theater actors were the same, but I wanted to see more of E.B. Farnum, Joanie, Trixie, and something of Alma Garret and George Hearst who were completely absent from the book.

The bottom line is the book and series were a draw. I think both can be enjoyed, but I wish I had read the book first. The series would have expanded my mental picture of Deadwood in 1876. One character never mentioned in the series (as far as I can remember) was “the bottle fiend.” He was interesting, and added some contrast to the rest of the story.

If you are unfamiliar with Pete Dexter, don’t start with Deadwood. Rather begin with Paris Trout, The Paperboy, God’s Pocket, or his latest, The Train. All his work is well written, loaded with interesting characters, and are all fine reads. Dexter takes me back to my high school days when I read his columns in The Daily News.

--Chiron, 6/22/08

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (audiobook)

If faithful readers recall, I mentioned the purchase of two audio books for long car rides. One was a novel I had never read (A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens) and this one which I have read and loved. I am, as you can well imagine, an inveterate bibliophile, and I cringe at the thoughts of e-books and audio books. If you care to read my comments on Dickens, it was posted 12/26/07.

Essentially, I said it did help to pass the time, but it was not as enjoyable because of the inability to stop and savor and review especially good passages. This may be limited to a book with which I am unfamiliar.

Anna is another story entirely. The reading by Davina Porter was wonderful, although most all of the men sounded like miserly old curmudgeons. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the 38-1/2 hours (on 30 discs) it took to cover the book. The reading reminded me of passages I had underscored when I first read it.

I am not about to be in the habit of listening to audio books while driving, but I will surely try another. I also plan to go back and re-read Anna Karenina soon.

--Chiron, 6/22/08