David Mitchell’s Slade House

Slade House

My experience with David Mitchell to date is limited to The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet which I read earlier this year.  It’s shameful but I have yet to read Cloud Atlas, even though it’s sitting in my TBR pile along with Black Swan Green and number9dream.

Thousand Autumns was a dense, atmospheric historical that, while I thoroughly enjoyed it, I would not categorize as “light” reading.  Slade House couldn’t be more different.  It skips along at a goodly clip and you could easily read it in one sitting.

So this is what Mitchell’s twist on the haunted house tale looks like:  Every nine years, a small door appears in Slade Alley (itself located in a small English town), beckoning certain people to explore what lies on the other side.  What these people find is initially enticing, offering up to each person something missing but badly desired:  For the first victim, Nathan, a high-functioning, autistic boy, who enters Slade House along with his mother, it’s the promise of a friend who finally gets his quirks and differentness; for the divorced police detective who stumbles upon the alley door nine years later while investigating the disappearance of Nathan and his mother, it’s the promise of a roll in the hay with the young widow who seemingly inhabits Slade House; another nine years along, six, paranormal-obsessed college students, having heard the rumors about Slade Alley and its mysterious disappearances, want nothing more than to see a ghost or two.  Unfortunately for all these poor folks, once you enter Slade House you’re doomed to die there.  I was going to insert a “Hotel California” reference here but David Mitchell himself beat me to it, dang it!

I read innocently along, lapping up the spookiness through the first three segments of the book, then happened to stop and read a couple of reviews by some folks that, like me, had received ARCs of the book in advance of its publication.  Oops.  Turns out I picked up David Mitchell’s Slade House not realizing that it’s a sort of companion piece to The Bone Clocks, a book I have yet to read.  As I kept reading with this new knowledge, it became apparent that, while the book functions just fine as a stand-alone, I probably would have gotten even more meaning out of it had I read The Bone Clocks first.  So . . . now I’ve ordered The Bone Clocks from Amazon so I can throw it in the TBR pile with the other Mitchell books.  Sneaky, David Mitchell, luring me in with what I thought was a one-off, only to find that you really wanted me to read The Bone Clocks all along!  I did catch the blink-and-you-miss-it connection to Thousand Autumns though, and 1,000 points to anyone else who spies it.

NOTE:  Slade House is expected to be released on October 27, 2015.

Full Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided to me by Random House Publishing Group – Random House via NetGalley. I would like to thank the publisher for providing me this opportunity. All opinions expressed from here forward are my own.

A Baker’s Dozen (Plus One) of My All-Time Favorite Books: Part I

Time to trot out a list of some of my very, very favorite books ever, those closest to my heart, the ones that knocked my world ever so slightly off its axis.  You may like them, you may not, but you should at least give them a try.  Some are obvious choices, some are hiding just beyond that tree over there, but each one of these, at the time I read them, stirred up something deep inside me that I couldn’t always quite name.  Stand aside and welcome the first three on the list (in no particular order):

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

A Constellation

This is a VERY fresh addition to my list, but a most deserving one.  You might think that a novel taking place in the recent history of war-torn Chechnya couldn’t be anything but a complete downer, but you’d be wrong.  Set in depressing circumstances, yes, but Anthony Marra’s 2013 debut novel punched me flat with the darkly funny, warped humor of its characters.  This particular exchange caused me to choke on my wine:

“’Let me tell you a story,’ the brother said, holding his cigarette like a conductor’s baton.  ‘When I was a child I had a pet turtle, whom I named after Alu because they shared a certain – how can I put it – bestial idiocy.  Once I went to Grozny with my father and five of my brothers for the funeral of my father’s uncle, and we left so quickly I hadn’t the time to provide the food for Alu the Turtle.  My brother, Alu the Idiot, had a fever and stayed home with my mother.  In a moment so taxing on that little intellect that steam surely shot from his ears, Alu the Idiot remembered to feed my turtle.  He caught grubs and crickets, likely tasting them before he gave them to my beloved crustacean.  Since then Alu the Idiot has grown into a Gibraltar-sized hemorrhoid, but when he was a child he used the one good idea his life has allotted him to feed my turtle, and because of it, you get a second favor.’

‘Turtles aren’t crustaceans,’ she said.

‘Excuse me, half crustaceans.’

‘They’re full-blooded reptiles.’

The brother gaped at her.  ‘You should hear yourself.  You sound ridiculous.’

‘A turtle is one hundred percent reptile,’ she said.  ‘I imagine even Alu knows that.’

‘Don’t insult me.  Everyone knows a turtle is a crustacean on its mother’s side.’

‘Explain that to me,’ she said, shifting in the seat as the car spun in circles.

‘A lizard fucks a crab and nine months later a turtle pops out.  It’s called evolution.’

‘I hope your biology teacher was sent to the gulag,’ she said.”

If you don’t think that’s hilarious, you should just stop reading right now, since you were obviously born without the funny gene, and you and I will not get along . . . ever.  Who thinks up a conversation like that?  Anthony Marra apparently.  He’s an acrobat with dialogue and, unbelievably, you find yourself wanting to hang out in Chechnya with these folks.  As Meg Wolitzer put it in her review for NPR, “The main characters are vivid and real and stuck, and I guess I wanted to be stuck along with them.”  I could have stayed stuck for the rest of my life, and I was truly, truly bummed when I turned the final page and found there were no more pages.  Marra, you have ruined me for anything else.  Ruined me, I tell you!!

As I read this book, I couldn’t help but wonder how Anthony Marra was going to follow up this masterpiece.  Would he go all Harper Lee, or Margaret Mitchell, or John Kennedy Toole on us, having shot his wad with the first book?  (Yes, I know Harper Lee finally did publish again . . . albeit controversially.)  Evidently not, since his next offering, a collection of short stories called The Tsar of Love and Techno just hit book stores this month.  Believe me, it’s on my short list to read soon.



Neal Stephenson, how do I love thee?  Let me count the ways.

An attorney I work for (I’ll call him Bon . . . as in Scott) and I have a long-standing disagreement about Stephenson.  Bon’s favorite is Snow Crash while mine is Cryptonomicon.  He does not like Crypto one bit, says he’s tried to read it a couple of times and couldn’t finish it.  Snow Crash may be more accessible, I’ll give him that.  Crypto is a massive tome totaling over a thousand pages, is intimidating just to look at, and even the name is a little daunting, but oh, once you crack it open!  (Hell, even I was intimidated the first time I saw this book, and I love a good, fat fatty of a novel!)  Shifting between World War II and the present, and with Alan Turing making a cameo appearance (and by the way, go stream The Imitation Game for an in-depth look at Turing; go do it right now, I mean it! You can come back to this later!), this dense saga is a techno-nerd’s dream, but you don’t have to be a nerd or a techie to enjoy it.  You just have to get past the intimidation factor and give it a good, long chance.  Stephenson’s brand of intelligent, snarky humor helps tremendously and, just like Anthony Marra, his flair for dialogue makes my mind reel.  Even though this list is in no particular order, Cryptonomicon lands squarely in my Top Five Books of All Time.

Desert Solitaire

Desert Solitaire

It’s been a good twenty years since I read this, and it’s long overdue for a re-read.  Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire:  A Season in the Wilderness sparked my now decades-long love affair with hiking and natural places, although this isn’t a book about hiking per se.  Desert Solitaire chronicles Abbey’s three seasons as a park ranger in the Four Corners region of the American Southwest.  Abbey, in all his curmudgeonly glory, managed to turn me into a die-hard tree hugger in my impressionable twenties, and while my environmental sensibilities aren’t quite as fervid or radical as they once were, I still give thanks to Edward Abbey each time I head down the trail.

No way in hell my entire Baker’s Dozen (Plus One) list will fit into one blog entry, so I hope that I can entice you back for Part II in a few days.  Peter Matthiessen, Ayn Rand and Lee Smith are waiting in the wings!

Colum McCann’s Thirteen Ways of Looking

More short stories. The last two books I finished were short story collections and I wasn’t sure I wanted to move on to another. “Shit,” I said, “it’s Colum McCann. You know you’re going to love it.” And I did.

Thirteen Ways of Looking

In “Thirteen Ways of Looking”, the title novella, an elderly, retired judge reflects back on his life during the course of what, unbeknownst to him, will be his last day on this earth. He’s insightful, he’s funny in that funny, old-man kinda way, and he is one rich character! I felt like he was going to totter right off the page with his walking stick and right into my den. I found myself wishing he actually had but that would have really freaked my dogs out! Security cameras record each moment of that final day: Hidden cameras in his home (installed by a son intent on catching the live-in help in something illicit) capture his morning rituals, cameras located in the common areas of his apartment building and on the street paint a picture of his daily, noon-time foray, and the video system at Chialli’s (his usual lunch spot) pieces together his final minutes and seconds. As Judge Mendelssohn takes stock, it feels as if we also have a video link directly into his brain: We’re party to every thought, every memory, every tangent his mind takes, right up until the moment of his demise.

While Judge Mendelssohn is one immensely likeable old dude, his son Elliot is another matter altogether. In the most heartbreaking vignette of the story, Elliot, self-absorbed, self-important asshole that he is, joins Pops for lunch but then spends nearly every minute on his cell phone.

A writer is commissioned to write a New Year’s Eve-themed short story in “What Time Is It Now, Where You Are?” and McCann takes us both into the story the author writes and into the author’s mind as he writes it. It’s absorbing insight into the way a writer thinks, how he inhabits his characters, asks the questions they would ask.

“Sh’khol” is every parent’s nightmare. What happens when you turn your back for that one second (or hour . . . or hours in this instance), when you allow yourself to lapse into inattention for just a little too long? And when the child has special needs, the agony is compounded.

In “Treaty”, a septuagenarian nun realizes that the man who once held her brutally captive has become a proponent of peace.

McCann is a hell of a writer, a true literary heavyweight. He’s one you read for the sheer joy of the way he works the language. It seems effortless from our perspective, but if fiction writing is at all autobiographical, then I think McCann is telling us in “What Time Is It Now, Where You Are?” that writing is anything but easy. Still he makes it look that way. He has a true gift for expressing the inner workings in each of his characters minds: the searching, the questioning, the whys and wherefores, the answers we’re constantly looking for and only sometimes finding, the sheer humanness of just being human. He makes me jealous that I don’t have that gift, dammit!

As an example of the utter realness of McCann’s writing, I keep going back to a passage from “Thirteen Ways of Looking”, as Judge Mendelssohn assesses his lunch-time waitress: “Genuine it seems: she’s not just blowing smoke, like half the waitstaff seem to do every day, their mundanities, nice to see you, have a good day, are you still working on that, sir? I’m eating, young lady, not working.” McCann absolutely nails the laissez-faire attitude of many young people today in this one musing of Mendelssohn’s, and Mendelssohn’s attitude towards it. I have to say that attitude is a pet peeve of mine too, and I’m not nearly so old as Mendelssohn. It’s like when you tell your server, “Thank you”, and they shoot back, “No problem.” Of course it’s “no problem”. It’s YOUR JOB! Whatever happened to “You’re welcome”? Where is Emily Post when we need her? But I digress.

McCann will probably rack up tons of awards and accolades for this collection and deservedly so. These are stories you keep thinking about and reflecting on long after you’re finished. For the title novella alone, I give this collection 5 stars. This one made me want to sing, y’all!

Have you read it or planning on reading it?  Let me know what you think.

A review copy of this book was provided to me by Random House Publishing Group – Random House via NetGalley. I would like to thank the publisher for providing me this opportunity. All opinions expressed are my own.

Just a few minutes here and there!

I usually have my nose stuffed in three or so books at any one time:  one physical book, one or two Kindle books and one audiobook.  Right now, I’m reading the trade PB of 52 Loaves:  A Half-Baked Adventure, by William Alexander; Colum McCann’s Thirteen Ways of Looking (which just dropped today from Random House) on Kindle, as well as a horror, short-story anthology, Suspended In Dusk, edited by Simon Dewar (also on Kindle); and finally, on audio, the second installment in Marcus Sakey’s near-future Brilliance Saga, A Better World, narrated by Luke Daniels (love me some Luke D.!).  I’ve just finished Furiously Happy:  A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson (aka The Bloggess) but wish it had been about a thousand pages longer.  It deserves, and will get, a blog post all its own.

52 Loaves  Thirteen Ways of Looking  Suspended in Dusk  A Better World  Furiously Happy

The audiobooks carry me through my one-hour long commute each day (one-way!) and the Kindle editions keep me going through endless miles on the treadmill.  The actual books and the Kindle versions compete for the remainder of my reading hours . . . or minutes or seconds!  All depends on when I can squeeze in a few more word-filled moments throughout my day.

If I had a nickel for every time someone has whined to me, in the most high-pitched, nasal tone she can muster, “I love to read but I can never find the time” . . .  Believe me, if you truly want to read you will make the time.  Besides the drive time and the gym, I also squeeze in a few pages while I get ready for work in the morning, on my lunch break, while the Hubs watches something loud and obnoxious on television (i.e., war movies, more war movies, and oh, did I mention war movies?), and lying in bed at night waiting to fall asleep.  It’s not that difficult if you put your mind to it . . . unless you have kids – then I know the challenge is truly amplified for you and your priorities are where they should be, with your kids.  Sure, I would much rather have a solid, uninterrupted hour or two (or three or four or five!) to really dig in and lose myself in whatever I’m reading but that’s not always realistic.  I’ve learned to appreciate the time I can get, when I can get it and to make the most of it!

Hello World!

So, first blog post EVER! Why am I doing this? I read and I love to talk about what I read. So join a book club, you say, if you want to discuss your reading choices.

Tried that. Didn’t like it so much. The reasons why would fill up an entire blog post on their own so I won’t bore you with that here. Maybe later . . . in another life.

My mother is the only person I know who reads as much as I do and who just as thoroughly enjoys talking about what she reads. We have our own little book club of two and we hash out what we’re reading on the phone everyday as I make my tedious one-hour commute home from work. We’re not always reading the same books at the same time, but we talk about them nonetheless. She gives me her reading suggestions and I return the favor.

So why don’t you write a little memoir about that, you say? Well, I think Will Schwalbe already did something similar with The End of Your Life Book Club. Only difference is my mom’s not dying, at least not yet!

But Mom won’t be here forever and I can barely get my husband to crack open a book, so I decided to do this for myself mostly. I can talk here ad nauseum about the books I love and the books I didn’t love. If no one ever reads this little blog, so be it. That’s fine by me. But if I manage to turn one person on to a book, author or genre they might not otherwise have discovered or tried, then I’ve done my good deed for the day.

I may also have a slight case of bibliomania. I have way more books than I’ll ever be able to read in the near (or even far) future, yet I keep buying more. I get grouchy if I don’t get to read at least 30 minutes or so a day. I honestly don’t care if I never turn on a TV again (except for football – Go Carolina Panthers!).

I’m no literary expert, but I know what I like and what I don’t like, what works for me and what doesn’t. This isn’t rocket science or quantum physics. It’s just me talking about the books that make me want to sing, the ones that I get a good laugh over and the ones that I want to flush down the toilet. I welcome your comments. Your opinions may differ. That’s okay. No one ever said we have to like the same things. But I do believe we have to respect the opinions and ideas of others and agree to disagree sometimes.

Don’t expect to read about new releases all the time, although I will spotlight those as I do receive ARCs from various publishers. I delve deep into the past with my reading choices too. In fact, I spend most of my time futilely trying to catch up on my “to be read” stack, so unless I’ve received something new directly from the publisher for review purposes, you’ll find yourself reading my musings on the dusty piles cluttering every corner of my house more often than not. No matter. A good book recommendation is a good book recommendation regardless of the copyright date of the thing.

And I reserve the right to blather on about any other subject that comes to mind if I choose. It is my blog after all. Some days I may want to gush over the wonderful creatures that are the two American Saddlebred horses that I ride and show, or I may want to talk about my dogs, or God forbid, politics! I also cuss like a sailor and I apologize in advance if my salty language creeps in from time to time. I’ll try to keep it clean, but I’m just giving you fair warning now. If you are offended in anyway, do the sensible thing, the thing that reasonable people do, and just exit out of my blog and move on to something more to your liking. Don’t fill up the comment section with reasons why my blog shouldn’t be allowed to continue to exist. Just move on and hang out with people that suit your sensibilities. As I said above, opinions differ and I believe you should respect those differing opinions, not try to eradicate them from the face of the Earth!

With that said, this blog is officially a reality. Welcome, and I hope your life is filled with good books and good company!