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Monday, December 19, 2011

Review: 'The Train of Small Mercies'

1968 just about broke America's heart with assassinations, riots and war protests. After Robert Kennedy was killed in Los Angeles, apparently on the brink of winning the Democratic nomination for the presidency, tens of thousands mourned the loss of promise and felt sorrow for his pregnant widow and other family members.                                                          

The funeral train that carried RFK's body from New York to Washington, D.C., for interment at Arlington National Cemetary became one of those great national events when people come together. It is possible that 2 million people waited along the tracks of the route to pay their respects. For photographs of that journey, there is a poignant archive of Paul Fusco's work.

David Rowell uses the train's voyage as the focal point of his first novel, The Train of Small Mercies, and through the stories of many characters presents a narrative of quiet hope that arrives when least expected. It is not always evident along the journey that any of the characters will see hope, and not everyone has a happy ending. The climax of many characters' stories is melodramatic, especially for two cases when things go drastically wrong at the end.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Liebster Blog Awards: The Winners

Cannot believe I let more than a month go by before fulfilling my obligation in the Liebster Blog Awards. The main point is to pass on the award to five other recipients to spread the word about other book blogs you enjoy.

Here are my winners:

Stu Allen of Winston's Dad, a blog that celebrates fiction translated into English. Stu is not only widely read in world fiction, and brings many deserving authors to my attention, he also has excellent taste in music and film, and as a fellow dog lover always has my highest esteem.

One book blogger who blows me away with his discernment and enthusiasm for excellent writing is the wordish celebrator behind Rob Around Books, whose site always makes me want to turn into a whirling dervish of a reading machine.
Author, smart reader and all-around wonderful fellow David Abrams has a blog I rely on. If you haven't seen The Quivering Pen, please do.

We have similar taste but aren't always reading the same thing, so I enjoy Col Reads for both new and classic choices. Plus, she's also a Europa Challenge blogger. Speaking of ...

I was one of the first to sign on the the Europa Challenge, as it is one of my favorite imprints. How many reviews have I contributed? You're right. But I haven't given up trying to get there and I still want everyone else to discover the incredible range of books through this blog created by two colleagues I hold in the highest admiration: Marie of Boston Bibliophile and Miss Liberty herself.

Winners, I hope you have the chance to pass on the peer appreciation as well.

Thank you again to Emma Hunneyball of In Potentia, another book blogger who I hope you're reading for her lovely insight.

Review: 'Serious Eats'

Ed Levine
Coookbook/Food Guide
November 2011
Clarkson Potter
ISBN: 978-0307720870                                                                    

Part cookbook, part traveling guide, Serious Eats is all food love. Created by the people behind the popular website, this self-style comprehensive guide does a quick decent job of rounding up where to go to find the best good grub and how to go about making it yourself.

The introduction by Ed Levine is a quirky celebration of all things food, but not "foodie", in appreciating great meals, good ingredients and no stuffiness.

Featuring real-world descriptions and gorgeous photography by Robyn Lee, the guide has a defense of oatmeal in the breakfast chapter, pages upon pages of pizza oven investigations, and a burger section that includes discussion of regional variation and bun choice -- as well as acknowledging that American cheese is important to a good burger.

Although more an addition to a well-stocked home culinary library than one of the essential cookbooks, Serious Eats does provide opportunities for fun browsing sessions.

©2011 All Rights Reserved CompuServe Books Reviews and reprinted with permission

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Discovering more: Clarice Lispector

My introduction to Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector was the unfortunate volume, I'm a Box, by Natalia Carrero. In it, an earnest, inquisitive young woman discovers Lispector's writing and tries to become her biggest fan girl in this debut work of fiction. The text itself shies away from calling this a novel and that's an honest assessment. There is no narrative structure, no plot, no conflict outside young Nadila's wishes to be a writer as good as her role model.

In the closing pages, another reason for seeking kinship with the writer is revealed but, as with everything else in this work, nothing comes from it.

Just writing that someone is important to you and quoting from that person doesn't carry much weight. The narrator says she has learned more about herself from the experience of doing this writing, but what that was remains abstract. Lispector wrote abstract pieces herself, in addition to journalistic pieces, but the allure of her work isn't made clear in I'm a Box.

Communicating how she has grown in self-knowledge, and what that might mean to her future, or communicating why Lispector should be read today would have made for a successful work. What is communicated is the earnestness and sincerity of the writer's quest, but the results of that quest remain out of reach.
Fortunately, I discovered this morning that there may be more to Lispector's work. Volume 199 of The Paris Review includes two very short stories by Lispector, One Hundred Years of Forgiveness, and A Story of Great Love.                                                     

One Hundred Years is a quick remembrance of something the narrator did as a child -- steal single roses from gardens and, later, berries. How the idea to suddenly steal a beautiful rose, to possess such beauty for herself, and how both roses and berries are beautiful and nourishing for a fleeting time, give this very short work a gravitas that goes well beyond what a young girl does on impulse.

A Story of Great Love works similar magic in the tale of another young girl who loves the hens in her yard. Told in third person, this short story also reveals a greater truth through the prosaic circumstances of what inevitably happens to chickens. When it comes to both domestic fowl and their keepers, Lispector writes, "A hen is alone in the world."

Just as Lispector's two short stories go from the simple and everyday to greater truths, my reading experience here has shown me once again a greater truth: Sometimes an introduction is not the best way to judge what a writer, or any other person, has to offer to make my world richer.