looking for books, a road trip coda

Two days driving across the beautiful plains and prairie of southern Colorado and Kansas, we reached the end of the Flint Hills Scenic Byway and the official end of the grand Western Road Trip. Just a drive for home along the familiar sights of I70 ahead. But an unexpected final treat awaited in Council Grove, the small town at the end of the Byway.

Flint Hills Books is a delightful shop in a fine old bank building in the center of town. The space wasn’t large enough for a big collection but it was very well chosen with a particularly choice case of local interest. The bookseller was friendly and chatted while tallying our stack of books. We’d made her day, she said, but I assured her that she’d made ours.

Nothing more but to head for home and start reading!

looking for books along CA49, the Golden Chain Highway

The Gold Rush country of Northern California is a beautiful area of mostly small to very small towns. Not too promising as an environment for bookstores, but we found that books – like gold – are where you find them.

First strike in Nevada City. Harmony Books packs a good, balanced selection of books into its historic storefront. Right by the front door is a case of local interest material with the Gold Rush guidebook we’ve been looking for.

Murphys is small but bustling with tourists looking for wine instead of gold. Amongst the tasting rooms is the bright and cheerful Books on Main.

Auburn is an attractive county seat town where we were able to find both real gold – a massive nugget displayed in the fine county museum – and a few literary nuggets at William Smith Books. Smith Books is a very good general used bookstore, an increasingly rare find. The shelves are well filled and meticulously organized.

Museum and Park gift shops are often good sources for books too. The Visitor’s Center at Calaveras Big Tree State Park had an excellent selection and gave us a fine tote bag to carry them.

Front Street Books

Front Street Books in Alpine, Texas – as nice a small town bookstore as you’ll ever find. The stock is thoughtfully chosen with a strong but not exclusive emphasis on the local history and literature. Our purchases include a collectible Texas writer, contemporary Texas writers, several very small press translated from Spanish novels, a history of the US/Mexico border in WWI, and a couple of popular genre titles. Don’t miss it when visiting Big Bend National Park!

Reading List 2022

November

The Dead Hour by Denise Mina; Little, Brown and Co 2006
Glasgow noir, unusual and interesting protagonist

Piccadilly Jim by P.G. Wodehouse, (c1917) BBC Audiobooks America 2011
read by Jonathan Cecil
a hilariously complicated story elevated to the sublimely funny by the performance of Mr. Cecil (and baseball figures in the plot)

Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea; Little, Brown & Co. 2009
a delightful novel, comic but not trivial; well drawn characters, beautifully paced storytelling, serious elements carried lightly in a picaresque quest tale
(book group)

Algerian White by Assia Djebar, translated from the French by David Kelley and Marjolijn de Jager; (c1995) English ed. Seven Stories Press 2000
a singular work; a lyrical meditation on Algeria’s revolution and continuing cultural/political violence, the role of language and writing in a nation’s life, and a lament for the many deaths of friends and fellow writers

Brotherhood by Mohamed Mbougar Sarr, translated from the French by Alexia Trigo; (c2015) English ed. Europa 2021
multi prize winning novel about a city taken over by an Islamist group; thoughtful exploration of the ways people react to the violent imposition of the Brotherhood’s control, individually and as “the people”

October

Bobby March Will Live Forever by Alan Parks, Europa Ed. 2021
crime novel 1970’s Glasgow, lots of drugs and rock and roll

Desperate Characters by Paula Fox, W. W. Norton 1970
vividly evokes the sense of change and menace in urban life circa 1970; outstanding literary quality, subtle, spare and insightful prose (book group)
“Ticking away inside the carapace of ordinary life and its sketchy agreements was anarchy.”

Morocco Since 1830, a history by C. R. Pennell; NY University Press 2000
very readable history, dense with fact and insight

Points In Time, tales from Morocco by Paul Bowles; Peter Owen 1982
impressionistic short pieces blending history and fiction

In Morocco by Edith Wharton, (c1920) John Beaufoy Publishing 2015
fascinating account of travel in “a country without a guidebook”, Morocco in the last days before post-war modernity rushes over it

September

Black Cabs by John McLaren, Simon & Schuster UK 1999
amusing thriller in which several London cabbies get the better of City hotshots

The Politics Of Pain: Postwar England And The Rise Of Nationalism by Fintan O’Toole, (c2018) US ed. W.W. Norton & Co. 2019
an unsparing, insightful analysis of post-war UK politics culminating in the black comedy that is Brexit; engrossing, witty, disturbing

August

The Princess of Burundi by Kjell Eriksson, translated from the Swedish by Ebba Segerberg; Thomas Dunne Books 2006
strong characters, psychological suspense in the Scandinavian noir style

Total Chaos by Jean-Claude Izzo, translated from the French by Howard Curtis; (c1995) Europa 2005
noir in Marseilles: fine riff on the hard-boiled American detctive story in which Life is hard but the food is better; “In which Dawn Is Merely An Illusion That The World Is Beautiful”

My Life As A Fan by Wilfrid Sheed, Simon & Schuster 1993
a memoir of the ardent obsession of his childhood with baseball; funny, affectionate, insightful answer to the question “what was it like”

The Khan by Saima Mir, Point Blank 2021
Polemic slickly delivered as a feminist thriller

July

Bloody January by Alan Parks, (c2017) Europa edition 2018
One of Europa’s World Noir series; vivid story of the dark side of 1970’s Glasgow

A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth by Henry Gee, St. Martin’s Press 2021
subtitled: 4.6 Billion Years in 12 Pithy Chapters which neatly, if too modestly, encapsulates the contents; a very model of popular science writing

Country by Michael Hughes, Custom House 2019
the Iliad as a tale of Northern Ireland in the Troubles; haunting and beautiful
“We can’t get rid of our grief, neither one of us, so let’s leave it there on the floor, for it does us no good. But there’s no way out of it either, for life is nothing only grief.”

We Don’t Know Ourselves, A Personal History Of Modern Ireland by Fintan O’Toole; Liveright Publishing 2021
an extraordinary work; dense with personalities, incident, personal observation and experience; sympathetic unsparing analysis of Irish society entering the modern world

The Devils’ Dance by Hamid Ismailov, translated from the Uzbek by Donald Rayfield; (c2016) English ed. Tilted Axis Press 2017
extraordinary immersive novel; the story of a novelist imprisoned for unknown political reasons intertwines with the historical novel he is writing about people victimized by the ruthless politics of Central Asia in the Great Game era

Read more: Reading List 2022

June

The Marlow Murder Club by Robert Thorogood, Poisoned Pen Press 2021
smoothly written, amusing mystery

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett, FSG 2007
charming novella imagines Queen Elizabeth accidentally visiting a bookmobile and discovering the pleasures of books and reading

The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld, Weidenfeld and Nicolson 2014
something like a dark fable/fairy tale, improbably poetic story of death row

Signs Preceding The End Of The World by Yuri Herrera, translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman; (c2009) English ed. & Other Stories 2015
slim haunting story of negotiating borders physical, emotional, cultural

Long Live the Post Horn! by Vigdis Hjorth, translated from the Norwegian by Charlotte Barslund; (c2013) English edition Verso 2020
lots of heart and humor in this story of a young woman finding purpose and her own voice; a love letter (pun intended) to the postal service (book group)

Will and Testament by Vigdis Hjorth, translated from the Norwegian by Charlotte Barslund; (c2016) English edition Verso 2019
guilt, denial, and the limits of forgiveness; fine novel of a woman’s struggle to heal from abuse as a child and the pain of her family’s denial of her suffering

Northern Heist by Richard O’Rawe, Melville House 2021
well-paced story of a Belfast bank robbery

The End Of The Affair by Graham Greene, Heinemann 1951

Quartet in Autumn by Barbara Pym, Penguin 1977
Pym’s wry humor, lack of sentimentality, and writerly craft well-displayed in the story of four people at the edge of retirement; my favorite of her novels (book group)

May

Silver Bullets by Elmer Mendoza, translated from the Spanish by Mark Fried; (c2008) Maclehose Press 2015
an exceptional, headspinning take on the classic hard-boiled detective story; 58 characters (I was grateful for the scorecard) populate the 200 pages of this blackly comic Mexican noir; stylistically interesting, contributes to the sense of chaos and uncertainty in a society ravaged by the corruption and violence of the drug trade

A World Beneath The Sands: The Golden Age Of Egyptology by Toby Wilkinson, Norton 2020
from the Rosetta stone to King Tut’s tomb; a lively account of the discoveries, personalities, and scholarship of Egyptology and the political/historical context of European rivalries and the developing Egyptian nationalism

Black Sea by Neal Ascherson, Jonathan Cape 1995
an extraordinary history of the whirlpool of peoples and cultures that is the Black Sea region; fascinating and disturbingly relevant

The Far Empty by J. Todd Scott, Putnam 2016
noirish crime story in the Big Bend territory of West Texas; interesting characters and very good sense of the country

How To Talk About Books You Haven’t Read by Pierre Bayard, translated from the French by Jeffrey Mehlman; Bloomsbury 2007
witty, provocative, and thoughtful exploration of what we mean by “reading” and why we do it; a good discussion in book group where I was amused to learn that I was the only person who finished it (book group)

Ukraine, A History by Orest Subtelny, University of Toronto Press 1988
from earliest times through the Soviet period, tells of the centuries long struggle of Ukrainian people to achieve statehood, provides a bitter context to the current war

High White Sun by J. Todd Scott, Putnam’s 2018
good follow-up story to The Far Empty

April

Migratory Birds by Mariana Oliver, translated from the Spanish by Julia Sanches; (c2014) Transit 2021
gracefully written essays on themes of migration

Olav Audunsson, Vol.I Vows by Sigrid Undset, translated from the Norwegian by Tiina Nunnaly; (c1925) Univ. of Minnesota 2020
wonderfully evocative, immersive story of medieval Norway

The Name Is Archer by Ross Macdonald, Bantam Books 1955
short story collection

The Shadow of the Empire, A Judge Dee Investigation by Qiu Xiaolong; Severn House 2021
author of popular Inspector Chen series reworks one of Dee’s cases

The Emissary by TAWADA Yoko, translated from the Japanese by Margaret Mitsutami; (c2014) New Directions 2018
not your usual dystopia; poignant, funny, thoughtful

Reading in the Dark by Seamus Deane, Jonathan Cape 1996
second reading even richer experience; wonderful language, complex layering and interweaving of stories (book group)

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan, Grove Press 2021
novella asks if we can choose to be courageous and kind when it’s easier to look away

Malice by HIGASHINO Keigo, translated from the Japanese by Alexander O. Smith; (c1996) Minotaur Books 2014
a very clever puzzler and treat for fans of literary/psychological mysteries

Under The Midnight Sun by HIGASHINO Keigo, translated from the Japanese by Alexander O. Smith; (c1999) Minotaur Books 2016
extended, complex story of a crime and its aftermath

March

The Ivory Grin by Ross Macdonald, c1947 Knopf
Macdonald’s Lew Archer series exemplifies the pleasures of the hard-boiled detective story

Velvet Was The Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Del Ray 2021
seriously entertaining or entertainingly serious, take your pick; very interesting and enjoyable story of people caught up in the political turmoil of 1970’s Mexico City (book group)

The Basel Killings by Hansjorg Schneider, translated from the German by Mike Mitchell; (c2010) Bitter Lemon Press 2021
first of a mystery series set in Basel Switzerland; interesting detective, characters and plot show cross-currents of contemporary Europe

The Window Trail by J J Rusz, 2018
“A Big Bend Country Mystery”; a nicely told story, appealing characters and excellent local color; a pleasure to read, especially while traveling in the Park

Silver Pebbles by Hansjorg Schneider, translated from the German by Mike Mitchell; (c2011) Bitter Lemon Prss 2022
drug deal diamonds go astray and are found by an unlikely couple on the margins of society

Fatale by Jean-Ptrick Manchette, translated from the French by Donald Nicholson-Smith; (c1977) NYRB 2011
very dark noir from the great French crime novelist; opening scene of hunters “…hunting for a good three hours and still had not killed anything. Everyone was frustrated and crotchety.” There will be plenty of killing with a cold edge of black comedy.

Eight Dogs or Hakkenden, Part One of An Ill-Considered Jest by BAKIN Kyokutei, translated from the Japanese by Glynne Walley; Cornell University Press 2021
wonderfully entertaining saga with elements of adventure, fantasy, folklore and historical romance

The Body Snatcher by Patricia Melo, translated from the Portuguese by Clifford E. Landers; (c2010) Bitter Lemon Press 2015
crushing heat and pervasive corruption, moral and physical, in a remote western Brazil town; complex surprising plot

February

From the Holy Mountain, A Journey In The Shadow Of Byzantium by William Dalrymple, HarperCollins 1997
the author’s courage, scholarship, humor and humanity are all evident in this modern classic of travel writing; it’s an absolutely wonderful, engrossing account of an extraordinary journey to discover the survivals, physical and cultural, of the Byzantine world in the contemporary Middle East

The Aosawa Murders by ONDA Riku, translated from the Japanese by Alison Watts; (c2005) Bitter Lemon Press 2020
a painstaking reinvestigation of a shocking murder builds surprising tension and horror

Afterlives by Abdulrazak Gurnah, Bloomsbury 2020
seemingly effortless classic storytelling; the flow of a hundred years of history and politics seen through the ordinary lives of an Arican town (book group)

Augustus by John Williams, (c1972) NYRB 2014
a biography of Augustus, a history of the founding of the Roman Empire, a subtle study of power and politics – all in the form of an epistolary novel; an extraordinary accomplishment

In Translation, Translators On Their Work And What It Means edited by Esther Allen and Susan Bernofsky, Columbia University Press 2013
some essays were on technical topics but there was much for the general reader interested in the history, issues, and challenges of translation

January

Inside Dope by Paul Thomas, Hachette New Zealand 1996
extremely entertaining comic crime story; author has a real flair for character and description, sharp humor

Legends of the Condor Heroes 1: A Hero Born by YONG Jin, translated from the Chinese by Anna Holmwood; (c1959) English ed. Maclehose Press 2018
a wonderfully entertaining martial arts fantasy adventure tale with memorable characters and briskly moving action; excellent translation

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, Riverhead Books 2020
(book group) several stories of different forms of “passing”; novel overcrowded, felt labored

A Brief History Of Motion: From the Wheel, to the Car, to What Comes Next by Tom Standage, Bloomsbury 2021
title says it all; engaging style, lively anecdotes, cautionary observations about the unforseen consequences of technology and good intentions

Lady Joker by TAKAMURA Kaoru, translated from the Japanese by Marie Iida and Allison Markin Powell; (c1997) English edition Soho Press 2021
Vol. 1 immersive fascinating portrait of Japanese society in the guise of a crime novel

The Meaning Of Travel by Emily Thomas, Oxford Univ. Press 2020
a pleasurable tour with “philosophers abroad”, contemplates the who and why of travel and what we think of where we’ve been

The Village Of Eight Graves by YOKOMIZO Seishi, translated from the Japanese by Bryan Karetnyk; (c1971) English edition Pushkin Press 2021
an irresistable title; another delightfully complex problem for detective KINDAICHI Kosuke complete with a lost Samurai treasure hoard

Winter in Sokcho by Elisa Shua Dusapin, translated from the French by Aneesa Abbas Higgins; (c2016) Daunt Books 2020/Open Letter 2021
award winner for translation; language both spare and unsparing in description; enigmatic storyof borders and uncertain identities, its tone as cold as the weather in the shabby out-of-season resort town

Dancing On The Ropes, Translators and the Balance of History by Anna Aslanyan, Profile Books 2021
entertaining stories of the role of translators/interpreters in history illustrate the challenges and philosophies of cross-language communication

Prefecture D by YOKOYAMA Hideo, translated from the Japanese by Jonathan Lloyd-Davies; (c1998) English edition Riverrun 2019
early stories set in the Japanese Police unit that became the setting of the author’s excellent 2012 novel Six Four

The Seventh Cross by Anna Seghers, translated by Margot Bettauer Dembo; (c1946) NYRB 2018
psychologically insightful, intensely suspensful story of escape from a Nazi prison camp for political dissidents before the war

,

2021 in books

The past year may be a personal best for number of books read, at least since my childhood when I remember reading this many and more during the golden days of summer vacation. I am a little surprised at my total of 92 but will attribute it to one part motivation to reduce the mighty stacks of to-be-reads and one part blinkered escape from the world.

Here’s how it sorts out. I read about the same number non-fiction as last year with 26. The novels added up to 66. There were 22 books translated from other languages into English. Atypically for me, a little more than half my list had been published (either new or in the English translation) since 2015. That reflects the pandemic buying binge to support bookstores creating the afore-mentioned mighty stacks.

It’s very gratifying to review my reading list and see so many very good, satisfying, well written titles. My 10 Best list feels a little arbitrary. Several were easy picks but others might have been different another day. So here is my list of ten plus a few. I don’t claim that I chose the best, but these are ones I most enjoyed.

Non-Fiction

China In Ten Words by YU Hua (translated from the Chinese)
Fire & Brimstone: The North Butte Mining Disaster 1917 by Michael Punke
Hokkaido Highway Blues: Hitchiking Japan by Will Ferguson
A Stranger To Myself, The Inhumanity of War: Russia 1941-1944 by Willy Peter Reese (translated from German)

Fiction

The Great Swindle by Pierre Lemaitre (translated from the French)
Reading In The Dark by Seamus Deane
The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich
The King At The Edge Of The World by Arthur Phillips
Human Acts by HAN Kang (translated from the Korean)
The Memory Police by OGAWA Toko (translated from the Japanese)

Special Multi-Novel Achievement Category

the five “Patrick Melrose” novels by Edward St. Aubyn
Never Mind
Bad News
Some Hope
Mother’s Milk
At Last

Special Unexpected Pure Reading Pleasure Category

The Distance by Eddie Muller

resolutions – -good advice never goes out of date

To endeavour to get the better of the intrusions of indolence of mind and body, those certain harbingers of enfeebling age. Rather to wear out than to rust out. To rise early; and, as often as possible, to go to bed before mid-night…not to indulge repose too frequently on the couch in the day. Not to give up walking

To continue the practice of reading — pursued for more than fifty years, in books on all subjects; for variety is the salt of the mind as well as of life. Other people’s thoughts, like the best conversation of one’s companions, are generally better and more agreeable than one’s own.

To admit every cheerful ray of sunshine on the imagination.

Not to give the reins to constitutional impatience, for it is apt to hurry on the first expressions into the indecency of swearing. If one cannot be a stoic, in bearing and forbearing on every trying occasion, yet it may not be impossible to pull the check-firing against the moroseness of spleen or the impetuosity of peevishness.

To be always doing of something, and to have something to do.

Gentleman’s Magazine August 1785 vol. LV Part II
“Containing More in Quantity and greater Variety than any Book of the Kind and Price”
ed. by Sylvanus Urban, Gent.

Book News – “The Passenger”

The Passenger by Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz is another forgotten novel having a belated popular success. The Deutsche Welle news site gives an interesting back story to the novel’s creation and rediscovery.

https://www.dw.com/en/the-passenger-how-a-forgotten-nazi-era-novel-became-a-bestseller/a-57608623

One has to wonder at and admire the determination of small publishers everywhere who continue to bring fresh voices and viewpoints to the marketplace. How boring would it be to see only mass market titles in your favorite bookstore? Readers unite! Show your appreciation, take a chance on an unknown author. Go to that favorite (independent one, I hope) bookstore in person or online and buy a small-press book today!

https://www.dw.com/en/how-do-independent-publishers-in-germany-survive/a-48196635

but what about the cat?

When I really want to make time I take off my glasses and let the text blur as the pages flip by. Collating the scores of volumes of The Gentleman’s Magazine could absorb much too much time if I let my eyes stop at every intriguing heading or story. It was the original “magazine”, (the editor appropriated the French word for “storehouse”) founded in 1731 as a digest of everything an educated man might want to know about. Original contributions and excerpts from other periodicals and books cover the political, scientific, and military news, poetry and publishing, the stock market, births and deaths, natural history, letters from readers, engravings, etc. etc. Every issue is packed with temptation for the curious, and, of course, I often succumb.

My project is to review each volume for any damage or loss before offering the set for sale through my Library’s online store. A few years before my retirement, the Library decided to deaccession a huge number of old periodicals. Why many (like TGM) were ever made part of a public library collection remains a mystery, but I was determined to rescue as many as possible from the dumpster and put them into our store. Even the most intresting and historically important periodicals are a slow sell, though, and they mostly sat in storage waiting for attention – a classic someday project.

A grand project for a volunteer in other words. Now I can give them that time and attention, and there’s no guilt if I let myself get distracted from time to time by a report on the troubles in the colonies or an engraving of a very toothy hippopotamus or a funny news story.

from volume 47, 1777

Historical Chronicle
February 22

The ship Phoenix, from London to Gainsbrough, was unfortunately set on fire by a cinder’s falling on a cat in the cabin, and the cat’s running frighted into the half-deck, where was stowed a quantity of hemp, which instantly burst into a flame, and, more than 20 barrels of powder being on board, so intimidated the ship’s company, that they quitted the vessel, to preserve their lives, and soon after she blew up.