Saturday, July 28, 2012


A novel about a family surviving Katrina--although the storm doesn't appear until Chapter 11, and there's a part of me that feels that surviving their daily life is hard enough. Full of gritty, often gruesome detail (I had to skip over a couple of paragraphs at the part in which Skeetah, one of the boys, pits his dog China against another dog in a fight), this is a book about loss and salvaging what remains. The protagonist, a girl named Esch, is pregnant; the father is her brother Randall's best friend Manny who lives with another woman in a trailer; he won't look at her, but he still wants to screw her in the bathroom at Randall's basketball game. When a fight breaks out between Skeetah and Manny at the game, Randall loses his chance to go to basketball camp. When Katrina is on its way, Esch's father is trying to board up their house and loses part of his hand. When the floodwaters rise around the house, and they have to jump from the attic to a tree to get to safety, Skeetah loses his beloved dog. They lost their mother years ago, when she gave birth to Junior. This book won the National Book Award in 2011, and the writer is a professor of creative writing at U of Southern Alabama. Although the metaphors at times threaten to overpower Esch's strong, clear voice, it's a powerful novel--stirs feelings of pain and frustration and profound sadness.

Laura Shaine Cunningham, SLEEPING ARRANGEMENTS

My dear friend Claudia gave me this memoir, about a girl who grows up first without a father (her mother tells her for years that he is "in the war"; never mind that the US isn't at war) and then, after a few years, without her mother, who dies (high up in a hospital, unclear how). Raised by two bachelor uncles (one of whom wears a pith helmet while cooking) in a junior-four in the Bronx, which she has decorated to her seven-year-old taste, complete with pink bathmats sewn together in the livingroom, she experiences a childhood that is at once wildly unorthodox and deeply loving and kind. Beautifully written, with metaphors that surprise without ever trying too hard. Loved this one.

Monday, July 23, 2012


Another William and Charlotte Pitt novel. This one is light on big-screenish "action"--no chase scenes, no near escapes (till the very end). Instead, it's a novel that consists (until the last thirty pages) primarily of discussions among a small group of people who have ties to Austria and ties to England. The betrayals and the affirmed loyalties occur at the level of individuals. And it's set in late Victorian London ... of course I liked it ...

Toni Morrison, HOME

A finely-wrought novel about Frank, a black American survivor of the Korean War, who returns home only to confront prejudice and a tragedy for his sister in the making. This is a quick read, less than 150 pages, but lyrical. First lines: "They rose up like men. We saw them. Like men they stood. We shouldn't have been anywhere near that place."


An unusual memoir about a woman in her 40s (an award-winning environmental policy reporter, by the way) who decides to buy a piano ... and discovers that it's harder than it looks. Blessed (or cursed) with a sensitive ear, Knize tries dozens of pianos before she finds the perfect one; she brings her piano home to Montana ... and it's gone dead, shrill, and horrible. What to do? Her research about pianos, their tone, and their voice takes her to New York and to Europe, and we follow her as she learns about everything from the wood that a piano is made from to various methods of "voicing" and metaphysics. This book was surprisingly readable, for someone like me who knows virtually nothing about pianos--because (sort of like with Lance Armstrong, who wrote IT'S NOT ABOUT THE BIKE) it's not about the piano. It's about curiosity and community and belief.


Great fun, riotous historical adventure with mystery and some myth thrown in. If you liked Indiana Jones, you will probably like this novel set in late 1700s; it's lighter than David Liss but well researched and engaging, with lots of interesting information about Napoleon's forays into Egypt, the Golden Mean, and pyramids. Clearly the beginning of a series.