Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Remembrance of Libraries Past

by Julia Buckley

When I was a kid we had a small town library in a house that was purchased by the library board. Every week or so we would walk a few blocks to this little domicile and browse the shelves for big hardback books (sometimes covered in that lovely library plastic) in our favorite genres. Even then I favored mysteries and romantic suspense novels (Oh, how many Victoria Holts they had on those shelves!), but I loved everything--fiction, young adult, humor, fantasy, romance.

Our book limit per person was ridiculously large, and sometimes we'd walk home with ten or more books apiece. Sometimes we didn't get through them all (we might have started one or two and lost interest, the way we now might do with the Amazon "look inside" feature), but in summer we plowed through a plethora of books. And it was bliss.

I remember the joys, too, of the old-time card catalogs. The way the stiff cards felt when you flipped through them, hunting for treasure. The way the cards smelled--sort of like old books and ink--and the smooth skimming sound the drawers made when you opened or closed them.

See that lovely beauty in the photo? I'm inheriting it from our school library, which is doing away with its old card catalogs. I can name few pieces of furniture that I think are more beautiful than that multi-drawered, wooden wonder that holds all the nostalgia of my library days.

I'm not even sure where I'll put it in my tiny little house, but I will find a spot, because this old card holder and I--we were meant to be together.

What's your favorite memory of your childhood visits to the library?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Visiting with Pat Balester

I recently had a chance to chat about THE BIG CHILI with Patrick Balester. It's always fun to chat with another author!

Interview with Pat Balester

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The World of Raymond Chandler

I was excited to find this book in my box this morning. There are Chandler biographies, of course, but Barry Day has chosen to let Chandler introduce himself to the reader--through words he wrote in letters, in books, in essays. 

I fell in love with Raymond Chandler's writing in college when I took a detective fiction seminar, in which we read The Big Sleep and "Red Wind." But it wasn't until I taught The Long Goodbye that I realized his brilliance.

Chandler himself suggested that dialogue was his strength, and it was--dialogue so true and clever that it stayed with you long after you closed the book. 

My husband and I used to quote a tiny passage of dialogue from The Long Goodbye--an exchange between Marlowe and a gangster named Mendy Menendez. Mendy approaches him, dressed like a card shark but looking a bit more dangerous, and verifies his identity.

"You Marlowe?" 

This tiny exchange captures Marlowe's personality--and the saucy style of the hard-boiled genre which Chandler helped to create.

Chandler's own life sounds as though it had some of the melancholy that the reader can always feel in Marlowe--the lone moralist in the wicked streets of Los Angeles. Much of his joy was derived from what he created at the typewriter, and the joy came from the actual act of creation, not necessarily from the promotion that followed.

I am looking forward to reading this book and re-connecting with the genius that was Chandler.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Juli Zeh's DECOMPRESSION Makes Great Summer Reading

I'm grateful that Anchor Books sent me a review copy of Decompression, Juli Zeh's chilling suspense novel, which won Germany's Thomas Mann Prize and has been translated into English by John Cullen.

Normally I have to throw review copies onto a big pile until I find time to choose one at random, but this one rose to the surface (ironic, perhaps, given that it is all about submerging, both in water and in denial) and I could not resist reading the first few lines. After that I rarely put it down until I was finished.

Zeh's narrator is Sven, a German expatriate who has secluded himself on Lanzarote to teach scuba diving. The island has few people and little vegetation, dominated instead by volcanic rock. This spare landscape seems the perfect place for Sven, who is also rather scant, both in his living and in his narration, and the suspense begins when it is clear that Sven may--or may not--be telling the truth, to the reader or to himself.

The story is continually compelling, but it is not always the plot that drives it, since that was relatively predictable in places. What captures the reader is the power of Zeh's writing, and the profound philosophies that emerge from the thoughts (or sometimes the writings) of her characters.

The theme of escape is layered throughout the novel, starting with Sven's departure from Germany, a country he intends never to revisit. This thought is echoed in a book by one of Sven's guests, a writer named Theodor Hast:
"The tattered sky was hurrying eastward, as though it had something urgent to do there. Emigrate, he thought. But that would make sense only if the country we escape to weren't always and only ourselves."
Journeying means something different to Jola, Theodor's lover and also Sven's guest, whose regular diary entries provide a different perspective from that of her landlord. Her assessment of travel is elemental, profound:
"It's always this way: you travel thousands of miles to sleep less comfortably and understand yourself better."
Gems like these appear throughout the novel, a tribute to Zeh's artistry and to Cullen's precise translation.

Some of the best scenes happen underwater, perhaps the only place that Sven feels truly comfortable, and I certainly enjoyed submerging myself in this book.

Monday, June 08, 2015

The Joy of Books

Some of my favorite artwork by  my son when he was in third grade. He was so right--that was the best thing about school for me, too. The library and the Scholastic book orders.

Friday, May 08, 2015

ICE COLD: a German Crime Novel

Andrea Maria Schenkel's ICE COLD is a short book--a quick read--and yet the sort of book that one cannot forget, since instead of immersing a reader comfortably in an obviously fictitious universe, Schenkel creates the kind of discomfort that a reader can normally ignore merely by observing the barrier between reality and fiction. However, Schenkel presents the novel as a sort of case file, with differing viewpoints of serial rapes and killings--viewpoints so grim in their stark reality that there is no escaping from the implications about human nature and the abnormal psyche.

In addition, the grimness and poverty of 1930s Germany casts a bleak tone over the novel before the crimes even begin, and young Kathie, the character central to the action, has an unenviable life no matter what her surroundings.

Schenkel's novel is not a mystery as much as it is a crime novel, and these are dark, explicit crimes, set in a Germany which bears the burden of its own escalating immorality.