Sunday, September 7

A Random Walk through August's Books

Due Dates: the advantage of library books!

This is the message I hate to see on my library account: "Due in 2 days. Waiting list. No renewals." Here are some of the books I've skimmed, examined, and even read this August:

Inuksuit; silent messengers of the arctic (Norman Hallendy, 2000, 0 requests). This is another of my serial obsessions. Here are some online pics of inuksuit, the stacked rock cairns of the arctic. They fascinate me. And hey, I did read quite a bit of the text. And I looked at ALL the pictures. I'm not the only one fascinated by inuksuit:

"Inuksuit have definitely struck a chord in Canada. In both the North and the South, they have become icons used to sell telephone and financial services, beer and sugared drinks. The figure adorns ball caps, sweatshirts, and coffee mugs, and is much sought after as an objet d'art."

Remember the cliche about "Eskimos" having seven words for snow? Now I've read that's unfounded word legend, but based on the list of words for caribou, I have to think they have multiple words for snow.

"When I asked a wise old hunter the name for caribou . . . I was greeted with the question: 'Which name? Is it the name of a bull, a fully-grown bull, a bull yearling, a cow, a pregnant cow, a cow with fawn, a cow with no fawn or antlers, a fawn, a fawn shedding its hair, a yearling having just left its mother, a male whose antlers are beginning to grow, a male whose antlers have not yet emerged, a caribou of late summer when there is skin on its antlers, one in early fall when it sheds the skin on its antlers, or perhaps one in late fall when its antlers have the reddish cast of blood?'"

The Art of Racing in the Rain (Garth Stein, 2008, 123 requests) Dream, dogs, and determination! A charming book that occupies a place somewhere in the "uplifting but not cheesy" section; one read-alike that comes to mind is Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. It's a moving, humane story of a family's struggles, told through the eyes of their dignified, philosophical dog Enzo. Dennis, Enzo's human, marries Eve and they have a baby girl. Dennis is a race car driver with big potential who's trying to make it into the racing circuit and still be a loving, present parent. Then Eve gets sick and everything starts falling apart.

This is a book to read when you need to stand up and cheer for someone with the quiet grit and determination to gut it out through the longest, most difficult set of circumstances. Dennis dreams big dreams and won't let them go. Enzo watches Denny apply the art of racing in the rain--balance, anticipation, patience, and the extension of the self into oneness with the car, the track, the world -- to the attainment of his dreams.

Garth Stein avoids cheap sentiment by using Enzo's philosophical, funny, doggy point of view and Dennis's dogged nature. I have never been interested in car racing, and I like cats, not dogs, but I loved this book. How's this for good writing: Mr. Stein has taken this reader inside a dog's mind, and I am convinced that now I understand dogs in a whole new way.

This book currently has 123 requests at Hennepin County Library, so it's got good buzz. Put in your hold request soon!

Peace, the biography of a symbol (Ken Kolsbun, 2008, 0 requests) Traces the beginning of the peace symbol, the story of the man who created it, and how it became a symbol understood and used around the world. Lots of good pictures from the '60's and 70's (Kent State, protests, hippie fashion) reproductions of trippy psychedelic posters, peace-symbol art, and more. An interesting story of peace, hope, and graphic design, and the place of art in dreams, activism, and resistance.

Library Mascot Cage Match; an Unshelved collection (Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum, 005, 0 requests) For library geeks and those who love them, tales of life at the Mallville Library. Based on the popular internet cartoon Unshelved. ROTFL.

The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse (Louise Erdrich), 2001, 0 requests) Oh, such a writer, such a teller of tales. How does she know so much about the human condition; how can she know so much and still write with such love? In this book, Father Damien is indeed making his last report on the ambiguous miracles at Little No Horse, a remote Ojibwe reservation. The tale spins out fantastically with plot twists and turns, a little magic, a little miracle, a lot of loss and heartache, the power of music, and the complexities of human beings.

Go ahead, just read everything Louise Erdrich ever wrote. Her non-fiction Books and Islands in Indian Country is a marvel, one of my favorite books.

Here's a little "why do we read what we read" note: if I love Louise Erdrich's writing so much, why am I only getting around to this 2001 book in 2008? 1) someone I don't like praised it highly. Silly but true. 2) the suffering of the Ojibwe people in her book is based in fact. I expect a tough read because I forget the grace and wholeness of her writing. 3) As time elapsed, it got pushed lower and lower on the to-read list.

The Open Door (Elizabeth Maguire, 2008, no requests)
(SB, Skimmed book.) An adequate book, the story of Constance Fenimore Woolson, her friendship with Henry James, and her artistic struggles. Based on the real-life Constance Fenimore Woolson, one of the most widely read American novelists of the nineteenth century, and grand-niece of James Fenimore Cooper. It didn't seem luminous to me, as the blurb proclaimed, and I didn't find anything that hasn't already been said, and better, about women artists and writers. (A Room of One's Own.) It's possible that by skimming I lost the opportunity to see the worth of the book. Still, I'm easy, and countless times I've started to skim and ended up reading a book cover to cover, caught by a well-turned phrase or an interesting development. That didn't happen here.

Traffic; Why we drive the way we do (and what it says about us) (Tom Vanderbilt, 2008, 120 requests) (SB-Skimmed Book) I would probably enjoy skimming this more slowly but I don't feel a need to read the whole book. Good, research-based information about our driving behavior.

The Bush Tragedy (Jacob Weisberg, 2008, 16 requests) Weisberg assumes the Bush presidency is a failed presidency. He's not interested in proving it, but in how exploring W's complex relationships, particularly with his parents, and his personal history and characteristics, led to his downfall. An evenhanded and compassionate analysis of George W. Bush, the man and the president.

New Moon (Twilight Saga, Book 2; 140 Requests) and Breaking Dawn (Twilight Saga, Book 4, final; 474 requests) (Stephenie Meyer)

I surprised myself by loving Twilight (Twilight Saga, Book 1; published in 2005 and has 499 requests!), Stephenie Meyer's huge teen fiction hit. It's boy meets girl with a clever twist: the perfect, unattainable boy is a vampire! Meyer created the world where this could happen, one just like our own with divorced parents, awkward, self-conscious teens, the cafeteria rules (who sits where), and the classic girl-drives-beater, boy-drives-hot-car trauma.

As fate and requests lists would have it, I haven't read Book 3, Eclipse, but I don't think it would have made a difference. I found New Moon and Breaking Dawn completely uncompelling. They moved too much into the world of vampires, and a protracted power struggle between "our" vampires and dangerous intruders. PUH-lease. If I want battles with vampires and werewolves, I'll watch Jarrett play video games. Once she moved out of the normal-with-a-twist, fish-out-of-water scenario, the whole series went collapsed like a souffle. (While the books got bigger and bigger.)

Thanks! If you read this far, I'm grateful!

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