Book review: Train Dreams

By , October 31, 2011

Train Dreams
by Denis Johnson

[Ed. note: The first sentence of this review originally read, “Much like Terrance [sic] Malick’s cowardly omission of dinosaurs in trailers for Tree of Life, nowhere in Train Dreams’ marketing campaign are werewolves mentioned.” The original sentence and its change provide the context for the comment thread which follows.]

Much like the cowardly omission of dinosaurs in trailers for Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life, nowhere in Train Dreams’ marketing campaign are werewolves mentioned. Yes, the dirty secret of this book is lycanthropy. I would accuse Johnson of trying cash in on some of that Twilight money but this is a hardback reissue of a novella originally published in the Paris Review in 2003.

Train Dreams concerns Robert Grainier, an average Joe by early 20th century standards. He doesn’t read a lot but he works hard logging in the American West. After a horrific tragedy, he decides to live alone though not in complete isolation. He is forced to ask himself unsurely, “Am I a hermit?” His dreams, memories, and reality become similarly fuzzy. His fears and hopes bleed into his everyday field of vision. Nothing short of The Optimist’s Daughter West, Train Dreams demands us to ask what propels us through the stream of time: our inner life, or the objective events that have shaped it?

Johnson wins again.

- Bryan

Book review: Bedbugs

By , October 25, 2011

Bedbugs
by Ben H. Winters

Are you creeped out just by the title?  What’s that speck on your arm?  Yikes, what just bit you?  OK, I’ll stop taking cheap shots.   Bedbugs does talk about dealing with an infestation, but what if you were the only person in your household being attacked by the little bloodsuckers?  This slow burn horror novel owes everything to Ira Levin and his classic tale Rosemary’s Baby.  Ben Winters, whom you may know from Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, set this his latest novel  in Brooklyn, where apparently bedbugs are a real problem .  Bedbugs includes a creepy old landlady, a kind and concerned handyman, a couple experiencing financial strain and relationship issues, a sexy nanny, and an adorable little girl.  Throw in some nasty bedbugs and you’ve got a fast-paced psychological thriller, just in time for Halloween!  So good nite, sleep tight, you know the rest…                         -crystal

 

Book list: Country Noir

By , October 24, 2011

The popularity of Daniel Woodrell following the success of Winter’s Bone seems to have sparked a renaissance of country noir. Rural life can be dark, violent and strange. These qualities define a slew of new books that show back roads can be just as hard going as any city street.

 

Crimes in Southern Indiana: Stories
by Frank Bill
Mr. Bill is a new player on the country noir scene. The title says it all: poverty, shotguns and a whole lot of Schedule 1 controlled substances. The author’s blog, Frank Bill’s House of Grit, declares, “Tight. Flat and to the point. I don’t waste words. I write them.”

 

Once Upon a River
by Bonnie Jo Campbell
Campbell doesn’t disappoint with the story of Margo Crane, an Annie Oakley obsessed teenager with nothing but her rifle and survival skills taught by her deceased grandfather to keep her alive. She turns on, tunes in, and drops out rural Michigan style only to be told, “you can’t live like a wolf girl.” Says who?

 

The End of Vandalism
by Tom Drury
Perhaps to snobbishly literary to include on this list, Drury’s tale of Grouse Country and its sheriff Dan Norman has reinvented the small town novel. Think of it as a country version of Tao Lin. Did I just go there? Though published a few years ago, the library just picked up a few new copies.

 

Fante: A Family’s Legacy of Writing, Drinking, and Survival
by Dan Fante
Though most of his novels are set in Los Angles, John Fante’s portrayal of working class life and stripped down prose style has been an inspiration for most of the writers on this list. Fante’s son Dan overcame a life of drugs and guns to become a successful writer himself. Fante chronicles the father and son’s relationship with alcohol, writing, and each other.

 

The Devil All the Time
by Donald Ray Pollock
Blood sacrificing preachers and a pair of serial killers populate this second novel by Pollock. How a young orphan can remain sane in midst this American nightmare? You have to read The Devil All the Time to find out. This the first novel by the author of the short story collection Knockemstiff, a book whose title was taken from the real life name of Pollock’s crazy home town.

 

The Outlaw Album
by Daniel Woodrell
No, this not a Waylon Jennings greatest hits album. This is the first collection of short stories from the aforementioned Woodrell, the author of Winter’s Bone and Tomato Red.

 

- Bryan

Legends of Film: George Litto interview

By , October 21, 2011

Bill brings us an interview with producer-agent George Litto.  Mr. Litto has produced Over the Edge, Dressed to Kill, Blow-Out, and Obsession.

Book review: Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty

By , October 20, 2011

Isabella Blow by Martina Rink is a loving celebration of the life of Isabella Blow. Each page features photos and letters written to Blow after her death from her friends in the fashion industry.  To learn more about her life read Isabella Blow a Life in Fashion by Lauren Goldstein Crowe.

- Karen

 

 

Book review : Botticelli Blue Skies an American in Florence

By , October 13, 2011

Botticelli Blue Skies an American in Florence

by Merrill Joan Gerber

When Merrill Joan Gerber’s husband receives an offer to teach in Italy for three months she is less than thrilled at the thought of leaving her home, family and friends to travel to a country where she does not even speak the language. What happens when Gerber gets over the culture shock of four dollar Coca Colas and skinning her own chickens, turns into a love affair with Italy, the art, the land and her people. Botticelli Blue Skies an American in Florence is a funny, very real, travel memoir that will have you cheering for Joan and sharing her tears when her journey comes to an end.

- Karen

Get Ready for the Southern Festival of Books

By , October 12, 2011

Don’t forget!  The 23rd annual Southern Festival of Books is this weekend (October 14-16) at War Memorial Plaza.  Park in the downtown library lot and head over for big names like Chris Bohjalian, Tom Perrotta, Charles Frazier, Erin Morgenstern (you may have heard a little something about her new novel The Night Circus), Walter Mosley, and Ann Patchett.  Or check out some up-and-coming authors in some of the smaller venues.  Here’s who I’ll be seeing:

Blood Work: A Tale of Medicine and Murder in the Scientific Revolution
by Holly Tucker

 This is supposed to be as riveting as a good detective story.

 

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President
by Candice Millard

This one has been described as better than The Devil in the White City (if that’s possible).

 

Reading My Father: A Memoir
by Alexandra Styron

 This was so, so good, and I’ve never even read any Styron. I do, however, have a weakness for biographies of postwar American authors (Yates, Cheever, etc.).

 

Still in Print: The Southern Novel Today
with Josephine Humphreys, Clyde Edgerton, and the hilarious George Singleton

 

The Family Fang
by Kevin Wilson

 Wilson’s writing is snappy and enjoyable, and I loved his last reading at the festival for his short story collection Tunneling to the Center of the Earth.

 

-Beth

Nowhere Boy

By , October 10, 2011

Nowhere Boy

I enjoyed this film portrayal of John Lennon’s early life in Liverpool.  It focuses specifically on his upbringing by his Aunt Mimi, played in stark contrast to the free spirited Julia, his birth mother. You’ll learn the twisted intricacies of how this came to be and of  John’s rebellion toward this control, thankfully salved by his immersion into skiffle and Rock n Roll.
Memorable scenes include Julia teaching John some strumming technique while playing Maggie Mae on a banjo and  Paul McCartney’s character showing up with youthful charisma and talent in winning a place in the early band.
The acting is generally really good and the period styling is spot on – especially great are the British domestic touches – terrific wallpaper abounds – and the scene where John gets his first guitar at a music shop. Love the shopkeeper’s line after being bargained down “Just don’t shoot me!”
A really worthwhile and engaging film that may have a few inaccuracies but will fill in some knowledge gaps for fans and appreciators of the origins of the Beatles.

- Phil

Book review: Like One of the Family

By , October 10, 2011

Like One of the Family: Conversations from a Domestic’s Life
by Alice Childress

If you loved (or hated) The Help by Kathryn Stockett you should definitely consider Like One of the Family: Conversations from a Domestic’s Life by Alice Childress. Originally published in 1956, each chapter is a fictional conversation between Mildred, an African-American domestic, and her friend Marge. Essentially this is the book the Skeeter character in The Help wanted to write but in reality never could have, though I should note Like One of the Family is set in New York City and not Mississippi. The library just got extra copies of this groundbreaking novel. Check it out.

- Bryan

Book on CD review: Gone with the Wind

By , October 8, 2011

Gone with the Wind
By Margaret Mitchell
Read by Linda Stephens

This may be the epic American novel of the 21st century. And if I were pressed to name my favorite book, this one would definately be at the top of my short list. I read it for the first time in 4th grade, and I’ve lost count as to the number of times I finished it’s 1000+ pages.

The library recently purchased this book on CD (in two parts, thank goodness), and since I’d been wanting to reread Mitchell’s masterpiece, I checked them out. It took me two months in my car, but I finally made it through all 41 discs. The reader takes a little getting used to because sometimes her characters are hard to distinguish and her Irish accent, a la Gerald O’Hara, is embarrassing (not that mine is much better, based as it is, on the Lucky Charms guy).

If you’re reading this, thinking, “Amanda, I just can’t handle 41 discs, but I love Civl War historical fiction,” I’ve got a couple of shorter readalikes for you. Unfortunately, we don’t have all of them on audio, so you might have to read a good, old-fashioned book (gasp):

Charleston by Alexandria Ripley
Charleston by John Jakes (feel free to compare and contrast the two)
Jacob’s Ladder by Donald McCaig
The March by E.L. Doctorow
March by Geraldine Brooks (so many books, so few titles)
Widow of the South by Robert Hicks (local author)

This list is just a small sampling, so come on down and explore your library today!

Happy listening and/or reading…

:) Amanda

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