Thursday, March 15, 2007

New books

I'm posting my latest stack of new books a little early this month. Since the plan is to hoard gift cards and vouchers until late May, there isn't any reason to wait until the stack grows a little taller: it isn't going to.

The Testament of Gideon Mack. James Robertson
This one has a U.S. pub date of March 22; the local libraries have yet to order it. I decided that ordering the paperback from the U.K. would free up lots of time being wasted on daily catalog checks.

Then I wondered why God allowed me to go on sinning in this way if he so disapproved of it. I was twelve years old, having a religious crisis over whether or not I should be watching the Vietnam War and I Dream of Jeannie on television. Gradually it came to me that I was being toyed with. Did God set traps for children? I thought less of him for that. I watched the programmes because I found them interesting: I found the world interesting. And it dawned on me that it didn't actually matter whether God liked it or not: I was going to go on doing it. The television was a tunnel to the outside, and I was halfway along it already.

Frankie and Stankie. Barbara Trapido
If ordering one book from the U.K., why not spring for another? This is another title that isn't to be found in the local libraries.

Nobody knows about housedust mite when Dinah is a little girl. So asthmatics are thought to wheeze at night because that's dream time, Freudian time, unconscious time. If you're asthmatic, it's because you're daffy. It's all in your head. Dinah's dad doesn't get asthma. He's a physically superior specimen--that's except for his terrible three-day-long migraine headaches which leave him groaning feebly in a darkened room. Otherwise, he'll always take flights of stairs three treads at a time and he goes for vigorous daylong hikes in the Natal countryside at weekends, stamping in his sturdy boots to discourage the green mambas. But he still likes to contemplate the possibility of terminal illness. He does this with spirit at mealtimes while tucking into great quantities of bread and cheese, although he always keeps his slim, boyish physique.

Queen of the Underworld. Gail Godwin
Review copy offered and eagerly accepted. It's been awhile since I've read any Godwin.

Could such a woman still exist in the late nineteen-fifties, even in rural North Carolina? Why not? Maybe I would write this existential pastorale with its O. Henry-ish ending in the evenings when I got home from my newspaper job. It was the sort of thing that might get me published in a literary quarterly, especially one of the Southern ones, which abounded in stories about trains passing and nothing much ever happening at home. My plan was to become a crack journalist in the daytime, building my worldly experience and gaining fluency through the practice of writing to meet deadlines. Then, in the evening and on weekends, I would slip across the border into fiction, searching for characters interesting and strong enough to live out my keenest questions. My journalism would support me until I became a famous novelist. Perhaps I would become a famous journalist on the side, if I could manage both.

Collapse. Jared Diamond
I bought this at Park Road Books minutes before the store closed last Thursday night; Haven Kimmel was still in the back signing autographs. I couldn't possibly check out a book like this from the library since I'll read in fits and starts over a great length of time (and more than likely never finish it).

The most visible effect of global warming in Montana, and perhaps anywhere in the world, is in Glacier National Park. While glaciers all over the world are in retreat--on Mt. Kilimanjaro, in the Andes and Alps, on the mountains of New Guinea, and around Mt. Everest--the phenomenon has been especially well studied in Montana because its glaciers are so accessible to climatologists and tourists. When the area of Glacier National Park was first visited by naturalists in the late 1800s, it contained over 150 glaciers; now, there are only about 35 left, mostly at just a small fraction of their first-reported size. At present rates of melting, Glacier National Park will have no glaciers at all by the year 2030. Such declines in the mountain snowpack are bad for irrigation systems, whose summer water comes from melting of the snow that remains up in the mountains. It's also bad for well systems tapping theBitterroot River's aquifer, whose volume has decreased because of recent drought.

The Call of the Weird. Louis Theroux
A review copy. A book for when Anne Tyler's quirky characters aren't nearly quirky enough.

I tried to think why I felt sad. The community had been founded by gun nuts and Bible thumpers. When they talked about the slide into immorality, they meant people like me and my friends: drug takers and fornicators, supporters of welfare programs and socialized medicine. George W. Bush, the born-again president, who to me seemed far right, to them was another socialist, a puppet of the New World Order. But they also spoke for intransigence, idealism, a refusal to take the world on the world's terms. There was clarity in their simple notions of discipline and justice. In a childish way, I'd like my world to be a story with goodies and baddies. Every time I used to read about a patriot group declaring themselves a sovereign country, as they sometimes did, my heart gladdened. Though undoubtedly weird, it's also a kind of maverick statement to ask a notary to witness your own personal declaration of independence. A little part of me would have liked to be the sovereign state of Louis.

The Thirteenth Tale. Diane Setterfield
Plucked this one from the library sale cart for 50 cents. Of course: everyone else has already read it.

Contemporary literature is a world I know little of. My father had taken me to task on this topic many times during our daily talks about books. He reads as much as I do, but more widely, and I have great respect for his opinions. He has descibed in precise, measured words the beautiful desolation he feels at the close of novels where the message is that there is no end to human suffering, only endurance. He has spoken of endings that are muted, but which echo longer in the memory than louder, more explosive denouements. He has explained why it is that ambiguity touches his heart more nearly than the death and marriage style of finish that I prefer.


  1. I received my review copy of the Theroux a couple of days ago.

    A departure from my usual fare, but then so is nearly every review copy and ARC/E I receive.

    And that's okay.


  2. That's a very nice looking copy of Thirteenth Tale to go for 50 cents. I shall be the last person to read that book. (If I ever do.)

    I liked the excerpt from the Godwin.

  3. FreakyBeaky1:12 AM

    I found Jared Diamond a tough read. Literary flow is not his strong suit. HOWEVER - Collapse is informative and well worth the slog. Just fight through it, that's my advice.

  4. Nice pile! I sent you an email with a Godwin anecdote.

  5. What a wonderful blog... I will definately come back to read more!! Great job!

  6. I really liked the first Diamond book, Guns, Germs, and Steel, and so the new one looks interesting.

  7. I think I now have nearly all Barbara Trapido's novels except this one! Too bad she really isn't available here in the US.

  8. What a terrific pile of books!
    I am in love with Haven Kimmel.
    I would have had a spaz if I was in a store and she was there!
    I could just see me, for lack of paper [and too cheap to buy her latest book] having her sign my bicep or something!

  9. I have a review copy of Call of the Weird too. Also not my usual fare, but it suits my other half perfectly — he may be reviewing it for me.


"I don't believe in ghosts, but I see them all the time."

Sherman Alexie cancels book tour for memoir about his mother.