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Inversion Week and Hey, Some Books.

Thanks to a lovely December temperature inversion, I’ve been spending most of the past week indoors. The air is so toxic and nasty, taking the dog for a 30 minute walk on Monday made my throat hurt for hours after. For both our health, we are putting walks on the shelf until this nastiness clears out.

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When too much gunk and moisture get trapped in the valley,  dense fog forms, and as it is super cold as well, these lovely layers of hoar frost form on everything. I’d find it beautiful if it hadn’t been created by toxic air.

I’ve lived in the Salt Lake Valley most of my life, and this is the one thing that makes me wish I lived somewhere else. Sometimes these inversions last weeks, and along with the health risks, winter depression settles in. The hours of light are already fewer, and when you add gray skies, bad air, below freezing temperatures, warmer, sunnier days can seem far away indeed.

I usually enjoy winter. And more often than not, it is spectacular here in Utah. DSC_0015

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I try to remember that beauty, but it is hard when I’m trapped indoors, experiencing the same day over and over.

So, in an attempt to keep my chin up and talk about more interesting things. I’m presenting this photo of five of my favorite reads from this past year, and—IMG_0176.jpg

hoping you fine readers will share your favorites with me.

I wouldn’t really call the following paragraphs reviews. Think of them as reasons I liked and recommend these titles.

I found it nearly impossible to pick a favorite this year, but My Absolute Darling came as close as any.  I almost hesitate to recommend it as the subject matter (emotional, physical and sexual abuse) are difficult topics for many, and this book does not shy away or hide the horror. That said, it is an important book, and Gabriel Tallent is a fantastic writer.

History of Wolves vexed me. It is a coming of age story that refuses to fit the mold. It took me several days of pondering to decide if liked the book. Months later I realized I loved it. I’m a sucker for flawed characters, and this book is full of them. The ending left many feeling confused and frustrated, but the ambiguity worked for me. I didn’t need to have everything explained, and the answers I was offered were satisfying.

Good Morning, Midnight is also atypical of its supposed genre. An post Apocalyptic novel that ignored many tropes. Themes of regret, loneliness, ambition, loss, redemption are beautifully explored. I highly recommend this one. Also, it made me cry three tears.

The Nix surprised me over and over. Nathan Hill weaves a very compelling story about a son trying to understand his estranged mother. I laughed out loud several times, felt disgust and sadness, and found myself completely wrapped up in events. Again, this book is filled with awesomely flawed characters who might get it right in the end, but maybe not.

American War offers a glimpse of a very likely future for the United States- A second civil war. Omar El Akkad gives striking insight into how someone becomes indoctrinated, and how quickly that indoctrination can lead to extremism and horrible acts of violence.

Don’t forget, I want to know your favorites as well.

 

 

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Local Hang Out

A (mostly) Wordless Wednesday post.

Had some fun at my favorite bookstore today. The Printed Garden is such a fantastic place. I cannot say if Foot Solutions is also as great, but I’m betting no.

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It is always good to spend an hour (or more) talking with store owner, Aaron Cance about books, or listening to good music (or both, always both). I feel quite fortunate to have a place like this in my community, a store run by someone who is passionate about books, someone who creates a welcoming environment for all sorts of ideas, gatherings, conversations. Local people, you need to check it out. For the rest of you saps, there is online shopping for you (or a visit to Salt Lake, if you wanna hang with me).

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I’ve spend a good deal of money on signed books from the glass cases. IMG_8961

There are lots of fun books for kids and teens as well.

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Plus, you can take cool, artsy photos like this one (courtesy of the bookstore owner).IMG_6207

Admit it, you totally want to come hang out with me and buy books at this store.

Dermatology Wednesday

Lucky me! I just returned from the dermatologist, where I had a few unsightly blemishes frozen off of my face. Better to have them removed, even if it hurts and makes me all teary. An interesting part of aging is the sudden appearance of crazy skin issues. Couple that with the ongoing assault of random body hair, and my once youthful looks have been ravaged by time(a Jasper Beardly reference).

On the plus side, I’ve been having loads of fun writing daily paragraphs. I’ve yet to park my rear end in the chair for an extended amount of time, but the daily writings are coming nicely. I’m remembering not to force them, to enjoy the process. A few of them have potential to become longer works, and one will certainly be a fun story to write (and hopefully, read). I’m thrilled with the prospects, and excited about writing again.

Another exciting thing- My friend, J.H Moncrieff just released the first two books in her GhostWriters series. I’ve read City of Ghosts and thoroughly enjoyed it, and I’m looking forward to reading The Girl Who Talks to Ghosts very soon. I recommend them for anyone who loves a good adventure, fun characters, a bit of a scare, and satisfying, shocking endings. Click HERE for more information, including where to get your own copy. All the smart people are doing it. You’re smart, right?

Advice Needed

I’ve another blog. It goes by the name Only One Shoe. The concept revolves around very short stories written about photographs I take of found items.

The rules for what gets photographed are simple-If I come across something that seems out of place or uniquely situated, I take photographs. I am not allowed to re-position the object or manipulate the surroundings in any way. I take several images, hoping to capture as much of the area around the object as possible, pick the best one, then write something (hopefully) clever about how the object ended up where I found it.

It has been suggested to me in the past that this would make a swell book. I rejected the idea at first, thinking that: My photography is far to amateurish for publishing- and I would need close to 150 to 200 images and stories to reach book length. It seemed daunting.

I’ve come to realize that I actually really like the idea and am gearing myself up to pursue it more aggressively. The blog has sort of languished over the last year, and I think part of the reason I’ve been hesitant to add to the collection is I want to save the ideas and images and include them in the book.

What I need is some feedback about the idea, the blog, the images, the stories. If you’re feeling up to the effort, take a look, then tell me what you think about what is already up there. If this is not something you as a reader would be interested in seeing in print, odds are others feel similarly. On the other hand, if you think this would be a stellar book, I could use the boost.

Thanks in advance, friends.

Three Down

I’ve been doing quite well with my arbitrary goal of reading *more* than last year.

I am not the fastest reader on the planet, but I have been able to finish three books this month and am well into a 4th. If I am able to maintain this pace, that should triple my number from 2016.

It is all so very exciting.

I made a bold pick for book #1, choosing a novel from Catherine O’Flynn. Her first book, What was Lost, was sensational (and a little bit spooky). Her second effort, The News Where You Are, was not as groovy. I struggled to finish it, almost quitting on two or three occasions. I was betting on the hit or miss being a cycle in her writing, and I was correct.

Mr. Lynch’s Holiday was a great work of literary fiction about a recently widowed Irishman who lives in England deciding to take a vacation to reconnect with his son, who has found himself in Spain, residing in a sea-side community gone bust with a bunch of other ex-pats. Secrets are shared and revealed. Lives are altered. An all around good read.

The second book I attacked was The Secret Speech, by Tom Rob Smith. Number 2 in the Child 44 trilogy, this story unfolds around events surrounding a speech given by Nikita Khrushchev just after the death of Stalin through the Hungarian uprising of 1956. The crimes of the Stalinist regime are exposed and the members of the secret police become targets of vengeful criminals. Caught up in this chaos is Leo Demidov, former MGB officer, his wife and recently adopted daughters. As the secrets of Leo’s past are exposed, he will fight to preserve the lives of his family at any cost. I love the historical elements in this series, and the political intrigue, betrayal the tangible fear of Soviet era Russia drive the stories. A fun, fast read.

Third, I finished a mystery novel called Woman with Birthmark, By Hakan Nesser. Inspector Van Veeteren is back on the case, trying to solve a series of confusing and brutal murders. Each victim is shot twice in the chest and twice below the belt. The connections-each of these men served in a military training course together decades ago and each victim received phone calls where the caller would play an obscure pop song from the 1960’s. With several chapters written from the killer’s perspective, the real reason for the crimes is pretty easy to figure out, but the book is a fun read. I enjoy these sorts of crime novels, because the killer is rarely some monstrous uncontrollable evil, but someone realistic and understandable. Not every murderer is Jack the Ripper and not every mystery novel needs to be about the crime of the decade.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been reading. What are you reading this month? Anything exciting that I should check out?

 

 

Goals are for Suckers

What a grand Christmas season. I was able to spend time with family and friends, share a drink and conversation, eat good food and have some fun. Our annual Christmas Eve family party was well attended and everyone seemed to have a grand time. I enjoy this tradition a great deal. Many of the people I care most about assembling all in one place (my house) makes for an wonderful evening.

As soon as our party ended, almost to the moment, the snow began to fall. By morning, several inches covered the ground.

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Many people enjoy a White Christmas. For me, it is a mixed bag. I love the beauty of freshly fallen snow, and the silence that accompanies it is ideal for contemplation.

If only we had no where to go, no place to be, but driving is unavoidable for us on Christmas Day. The roads were treacherous and icy, and the temperature remained below freezing. Other on the streets, caught up in the euphoria of the season were not always attentive. Several times, we were almost run off the road by careless drivers.

We were lucky, avoided accidents, and arrived at our destinations unharmed. Gifts were exchanged. Love was shared. The end.

As for the coming year, my sincere hope is that it is somehow much better than 2016 (it has to be, right?). I’m going to do my part by actually setting goals for myself.I am not a pessimistic person, but New Year’s resolutions rub me wrong. They seem trite and coerced more than anything. Still, I need to find more focus this year, discover ways to progress and grow.

Most of my goals will remain private, but I feel like sharing one.

READ MORE!

I am sad to admit that I barely finished 15 books this past year. That is horrible. I must double that amount. I even have this lovely stack waiting for me.

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What about you? How was the holiday?  Goals?

 

 

Collections

At the end of my 3rd grade year, I decided it would be fun to be 4th grade class president (my elementary school was an odd one) the following school year. I felt like I knew most of the kids in my grade and had a decent shot of winning. To promote my candidacy, my mother helped me make posters to hang in the hallway at school. I decided to borrow a phrase from Sesame Street as my campaign slogan.

C is for Carty. That’s good enough for me.

Cookie Monster didn’t help my cause in the end. I failed to make it through the primary election.

But enough about my brief political career-

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Music and books have been a huge part of my life since I was a small boy. Because of the influence of my parents, who had what seemed like massive amounts of books and records, when I was old enough (sometime around the age of 7) I wanted my own collections. They started out small and silly- a copy of Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things That Go: A 7 inch copy of Cold as Ice by Foreigner- but those small beginnings (my B word again) connected me to words and music in ways that changed my life forever.

I can’t imagine my house without the presence of books. I love the smell of book paper, old or new. There is very little as wonderful for me as walking into a book store and having that smell overtake me. When I was getting paid to be a Librarian, I was surrounded by that scent every day (and some others we won’t discuss).

I love fiction. Made up stories often feel more honest to me than non-fiction. Reading fiction also taught me better ways to write it. I find writing and reading to be intimately connected.

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Music is rarely background noise for me. It is almost always front and center. I pay attention to it. I am aware of it. I listen when I write, when I drive, when I settle in for the evening.

Vinyl was always my first love- the feel of the wax as I remove it from the cover, that slight hiss and pop when the needle hits the record: Huge cover art to gaze at while the music fills the room. That first love was left behind for a while when compact discs became popular. I admit, I abandoned my first love for a shiny new one, but she has been good to me as well, letting me hang on to the one thing that matters most to me when it comes to music, something tangible. It is why I refuse to abandon the physical and buy digital music. Lucky for me, vinyl has made a comeback, and while it is more expensive now than ever before, I have reconnected with that first love and found her as wonderful as I remember. record

I’ve decided that I can live without almost all of my possessions. They are after all in the end, just things. But I would feel lost and alone without my collections of music and books.

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They say more about me than the clothes I wear, the car I drive or where I live. They are my history and my memory. They are tangible evidence of my passion, and I am alright with that.