Sunday, August 16, 2020

A Mid-August Catch Up: 5 Book Briefs

Hello from the Connecticut coast! After driving up from Florida and negative COVID testing, we spent a couple of weeks with my parents and siblings in central NY. But then, in a year  that's already been completely crazy, our move to CT was delayed when the house we're renting lost power following Hurricane Isaias. We are finally here and settled, Twin A has joined us as she continues to work from home, and Daughter #1 and her boyfriend are visiting for the weekend. Spending all this time with family is one positive result of these crazy times.

I have found the Covid response in the northeast to be very different from what we left in Florida or encountered in North Carolina during our 36-hour stop. With very rare exception, everyone in central NY and CT is wearing a mask and social distancing...  in stores, waiting for outdoor seating or service at restaurants, pumping gas, and even walking along downtown city/village streets. Most people do not wear masks, but maintain social distance, outdoors while walking, running, or biking on neighborhood streets. It's such a relief.

Our plan is to remain in CT until later in September, then visit family in NY again before returning to FL at the beginning of October.

Now let's move on to the books. Here's what I've read lately:

The Daughters of Erietown by Connie Schultz

I loved this book! The novel begins in 1950s Ohio when Ellie and Brick are teenagers in love, then goes on to chronicle their lives together and the lives of their children. It tells a story of working-class America, issues faced by their communities, and changing roles for women.  I couldn't turn the 400 pages fast enough, yet didn't want it to end either.

Schultz, the wife of Ohio senator Sherrod Brown, is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and has published collections of her syndicated columns. This is her first novel.  I borrowed the ebook from the library, then realized the audio version was narrated by Cassandra Campbell (a favorite), so I borrowed that, too. Read or listen, just don't miss this one. It'll be on my list of favorites at the end of the year!

by Mary Trump, narrated by the author

As sick as I am of everything Trump, I could not resist using an audible credit to download this book the day it was released. Why? Because I craved a deeper understanding of the man sitting in the Oval Office... how in the world did he get to be the way he is? Mary Trump, as a family member (daughter of Donald's eldest brother) and a clinical psychologist, is uniquely qualified to tell the story. 

The story is both fascinating and deeply disturbing. Mary Trump is a good writer and a good narrator, but my one complaint is that the book is probably longer than it needed to be. It could have been an excellent extended article or essay, but 'tis the season for Trump books... and this one might just be the best!

Beach Read by Emily Henry

This was a cute, fun novel. A romance writer, who learns of her father's infidelity after his death, has become disillusioned with love. She inherits his beach house and discovers a handsome literary author currently suffering from writers block is her next door neighbor. They create a writerly competition of sorts to help them both out of their respective ruts and, naturally, a relationship blooms. 

I appreciated the bookish angle, but this was a bit "romance-y" for my taste. Still, it was an enjoyable summer read overall.

by Erica Bauermeister, narrated by Tavia Gilbert

I first heard about this book on From the Front Porch Podcast, one of my regular listens, hosted by Annie Jones, owner of The Bookshelf in Thomasville, Georgia. It's a recently released memoir-in-essays by Erica Bauermeister, author of The School of Essential Ingredients  and other novels, written as she and her husband fall in love with, purchase, and renovate an old house in Port Townsend, Washington.

As most of you know, we also purchased and began renovating a house last fall, so this book sounded irresistible to me. Of course our project was nowhere near as extensive (or expensive!) as Bauermeister's, but I still adored these essays. The publisher's description says it perfectly: 
A personal, accessible, and literary exploration of the psychology of architecture, this book is designed for homeowners, remodelers, and those who are simply curious about how our built environments shape who we become.

by Linda Holmes 

This was another light read, but I didn't enjoy it as much as Beach Read. Evvie Drake is a thirty-something widow who was in the process of leaving her husband as her phone rings to inform her that he's been in a serious automobile accident. He dies while she is en route to the hospital. She is left with conflicted feelings about widowhood. Enter a young, handsome, NY Yankees pitcher (a friend of a friend) who has mysteriously lost his ability to pitch and wants to flee the city temporarily. Naturally Evvie has an available apartment in her Maine home. The rest goes exactly as you might expect.

Bottom line... entertaining, enjoyable, and predictable but ultimately forgettable. Maybe it's time for me to get back to more serious fiction.

What's happening with you these days? Have you read any great books?

The Sunday Salon is hosted by Deb at Readerbuzz.
It's Monday... What Are You Reading? is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

The Pete Hamill Post, Redux

I was saddened to learn of Pete Hamill's death this morning and would like to share a post originally published here on January 8, 2010. 
The Pete Hamill Post
(AP photo/Bebeto Matthews)

When Pete Hamill's name appeared on the speaker list for the Rosamond Gifford Lecture Series, it wasn't immediately familiar. After a quick search, I remembered hearing about Snow in August,  but didn't know much about his career in journalism. A few months later, two of his books were on my 2009 list of favorites, his lecture was fantastic, and I am officially a fan!

After years of thinking, my book club finally took the plunge and eight of us purchased season tickets for the Gifford series. The group had been struggling with selections, and the lectures provided built-in reading material while infusing much-needed enthusiasm. Since previous authors focused on their most recent books, we chose North River for our December meeting.

After just a few pages, I loved it! Set in New York City during the Depression, it features mobsters and political corruption, but mostly revolves around Dr. James Delaney, a GP wounded in WWI and deserted by his both his wife and daughter, who one day finds his two year old grandson, dropped at his doorstep. Delaney, still struggling with war wounds and abandonment, hires Rose, a Sicilian illegal immigrant, as housekeeper and surrogate mother to Carlito, and a make-shift family is formed.

"Hamill has crafted a beautiful novel, rich in New York City detail and ambiance, that showcases the power of human goodness and how love, in its many forms, can prevail in an unfair world." (from Publisher's Weekly)

North River  has it all - beautiful writing, wonderful characters, and a setting rich in detail. Check out the few sentences I highlighted in this Teaser Tuesdays post.

After finishing North River, I wanted to read another of Hamill's books immediately. My choice was an audio version of the nonfiction Downtown: My Manhattan, read by the author.

Hamill is an excellent narrator, and Downtown: My Manhattan  ended up being my favorite nonfiction book of the year. It's a fascinating look at the history of Manhattan with bits of Hamill's life woven in. It covers everything from baseball to vaudeville, and architecture to politics. Hamill's love of the city is obvious throughout. While listening to him describe Trinity Church and its surroundings, I was wishing he would record narrated walking tours of Manhattan!

Finally, it was the evening of the lecture. As luck would have it, the weather was simply miserable and half the group didn't make it, but those that did were enthralled for 90 minutes. Hamill talked more about his life and experiences than the books he's written. He talked of his love for libraries ("temples of wisdom") and books, and the power of words. At 75, he's rereading many of his favorite books, and finds them even richer with the perspective gained from a "life lived".

As Hamill talked about print journalism, I was amazed to learn that 70% of the cost of a newspaper is in the delivery - the paper and ink, trucks and gas. He believes in the future of journalism, but sees a new model of delivery evolving.

We loved hearing about Hamill's childhood. We were taken with his humor, as well as his humility, and decided he'd be an asset to any dinner party! Since it's doubtful I'll ever find myself on the same guest list, reading more of his books will have to do.

The lecture series takes a short hiatus during the winter months (what writer would come to Syracuse in February?) and resumes in March with Richard Russo.


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