Her Every Fear by Peter Swanson

Peter Swanson writes thrillers and his last two, the only two I have read, are set in Boston and New England.

Her Every Fear is set on Beacon Hill, in Boston, where I used to teach, and it has a second strand of the story set in Belsize Park in London, near where I went to secondary school. How could I not read it?

The “Her” of the title is Kate Priddy, and she has arranged a flat swap with her cousin, Corbin Dell, who she has never met.  Kate is all alone in the opulent flat in Boston.  Then a neighbour disappears, who it turns out later has been murdered and Corbin is a suspect. Several creepy neighbours befriend Kate, but she suffers from some form of anxiety that may come from and although she lets them close, she is both nervous, but can’t step away.  The net closes in, and Kate is in real danger that stems from a meeting Corbin had as an exchange student in London many years earlier.

As a writer, Swanson is ruthless.  He draws a string around his characters and his readers until the bag is closed above their heads and there is almost no escape.  For the readers who like tightly written thrillers with an impressive sense of place his books are perfect entertainments.

Bookstrails website 

 

Last Things by Marissa Moss

Last Things Marissa Moss Cover (2)

An uncredited reviewer in Publishers Weekly writes: “Deeply affecting and harrowing… This is not a sentimental story of how suffering ennobles people.  Moss’s deliberately naive drawings effectively accompany her painfully direct text…The fact that the family does endure is impressive, and this book demonstrates how art can transmute suffering into literature.”

S/he is right on the mark.  Moss is a successful children’s author best known for the Amelia’s Notebook series has written and drawn the most grown-up of books.  When her husband, Harvey, is diagnosed with ALS, he becomes more and more distant from the family, and there is no easy resolution to their relationship or his illness.  This is not an illness story where everyone becomes a better person, but eventually, as Moss writes in her introduction  it is about the “strong bonds of family and how they can sustain us.”

Everything about the book brings home the situation they find themselves in. Like life, it has to be lived, and like life, there are ups and downs: many, many downs.  Moss is clear-eyed about what the disease is, what it does to Harvey, how she and the kids react.  In a way, this with the clear text and the expressive drawings and varied and inventive design of the pages to suit to the story would be enough.  But what makes this a great book is that alongside the story of the family and the illness,  There is more. Beyond the day to day, there is the life of the mind.  Of connecting to the thoughts and history of humanity. For Harvey, a professor of medieval art, this involves hanging on to his intellectual journey trying ever more desperately to finish his book Picturing Kingship on King Louis IX’s personal prayer book.  He cuts himself off to write his last work.  King Louis is christian, the family are Jews. And for the family it is Judaism and life-cycle events of a bar mitzvah and later on sitting shiva for Harvey when he dies that locate the mundane in a wider world. Human beings live, love, struggle and die, but our minds put this all in the context of humanity.

Book Trailer:

Review from The Forward
Washing Post article about the Jewish aspects of the book
Publishers Weekly review
Kirkus Review

Want Teenage Boys to Read? Easy. Give Them Books About Sex.

Daniel Handler Handles an AccordionThere is a question about how to get more boys to read, and Daniel Handler’s answer is give them what they are interested in. The New York Times, writes:  “I believe in the power of literature to connect, to transform, particularly for young minds beginning to explore the world. I want books to be an unlimited resource for young people and their curiosity, not a sphere restricted by how uncomfortable some curiosities make adults feel.”

 

Read the whole article

Reading in Print

by Kerry Lambeth (?) who tweets at @kerrypolka

“Most books I read are still e-books, mostly because I do a lot of reading on my commute and it’s much harder to keep a paper book open and at eye level when you’re clinging one-handed to the pole on the Northern line, but I’ve been making more time to read for pleasure and those are usually print books.”
http://www.planestrainsandplantagenets.com/2017/06/reading-print-books/

Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl

Just listened to HMMaMG on disc. Its a rock memoir, but Brownstein is not glamorizing Sleater-Kinney or her life.

People know Carrie from Portlandia .  From her previous career as a musician in Sleater-Kinney and Wild Flag. This story of her life up to the final S-K show in 2006.

She begins Chapter 1 by writing “I’ve always felt unclaimed. This is the story of the ways I created a territory…something that could steady me, somewhere I belonged.” Something many people feel on some level. The first quarter of the book is growing up in Bellevue, WA.

She formed a band in 11th grade called Born Naked: “We agonized over band names (though clearly not for long enough).

After high school, she dropped out of Western Washington U and  moved to Olympia, WA and was deeply immersed in the music and art scene.  Bands like Heavens to Betsy, Bikini Kill were inspring her.

The book moves through the different stages of Sleater-Kinney and Carrie’s relationship and friendship with Corin.  The details are a joy to read if the music means something to you, but if it doesn’t Brownstein draws the reader deep into the punk life and aesthetic–the make do, the camaraderie, and because of the relative success of the band, she is able to tell the story about how that very basic view of the world expands as success draws the outsiders back into itself.

The book doesn’t really get on to Portlandia, but as Brownstein says in the interview that is a bonus on the disc set, her description of life in Olympia is where ideas and material for the IFC show comes from in part.

Reading this along with Viv Albertine’s book brought back my sense of the late seventies early eighties, however much I was drawn to this music–especially female voices, X-Ray Spex, Penetration, Siouxie, the Slits–I only touched on the life as I moved through the world of fringe theatre rather than music.

http://pitchfork.com/artists/29213-wild-flag/

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West

29340182The penultimate paragraph of Shrill begins: “My little victories–trolls, rape jokes, fat people’s humanity–are world building. Fighting for diverse voices is world building.” and the last paragraph is “We’re all building our world, right now, in real time.  Let’s build it better.”  Lindy West has spent the last several years writing loudly, and shrilly towards that better world,and many people have had to stand up for their behaviour because of her work.  At the same time, and nothing she is asking for is more than common decency, she has been thoroughly vilified on social media and even in regular media.  It seems that all this has made her stronger and more determined, and this book is testament to her fortitude. She is has written for Jezebel , The Guardian and The Strangerthe alternative newspaper in Seattle.  And despite all this work, I hadn’t really noticed her until This American Life told the story of how she met with one of her trolls.  She has been trolled out of all decency, in ways that truly make you wonder about a whole section of what I struggle to call humanity with vile threats and insults.  It is impossible to write this without feeling that trolling has become central to our daily lives under this current regime–but that is another story–listen to the segment, and see if you don’t feel disgusted and realise that there can be humanity behind that anger and that somehow, the rest of us have to be as brave  as West is in speaking out minds, in speaking out when one human insults and dehumanizes another.  She has, understndably, left Twitter, and social media is the poorer for her absence, but if Twitter and the other companies don’t trolling and other similar abuses, we will all leave for something that allows us to build a better world.

Shrill-Title

CSP (Consumer Supported Publishing)

Piazza-A-CSA-For-Books-1It seems as if  local, personalized, community businesses are going to survive the onslaught even more powerful, and perhaps more ruthless rivals than the chain stores and big boxes, then creating local,  sustainable solutions is the way to go.  And the idea of CSA (community supported agriculture) for books, where people pay a subscription and the books are brought to them, might be one of the paths.  I found an article on the website of the amazing PM Press that was from 2009, and I thought, I wonder how that’s working, and then the New Yorker, published an article about Samantha Haskell and her store, Blue Hill Books in Maine.

Here is the old article, by By Anna ClarkThe American Prospect ,December 3, 2009

As the broader publishing world flounders, alternative presses are turning to their communities for support.

“In search of sustainability, some publishers and booksellers are adapting ideas from the food movement. Community-supported agriculture (CSA) — in which consumers buy a share of a farm’s produce yield for the season — translates to community-supported publishing (CSP), in which readers subscribe to an independent press that in return delivers books to their doorstep every month.”

http://www.pmpress.org/content/article.php/PMAmericanProspect

More articles about Blue Hill Books:
Shelf Awareness
Portland Press Herald

Irmina by Barbara Yelin

A full-fledged novel that opens its wings and flies as a young woman sets out from pre-War Germany to London , returns to Berlin and ends in Barbados.  Yelin’s graphic novel opens up so much that happened in Europe in the twentieth century through Irmina’s finally unrequited love for a young Barbadian.

Irmina meets Harold, an Oxford student, at a cocktail party soon after she arrives in London, and she gets to know him as she attends a secretarial school and their romance deepens, through joyous times and the racism of the society, which she being German is outside.

In London, Irmina describes  herself to Harold as “typist, a Fraulein, Suffragette, Bluestocking, Communist and Emigrant.  She loses her accommodation, her parents are no longer able to send her money, and not wanting to become a maid, she returns to Germany, and reenters German society and meets a young architect, Gregor Meinrich.  Hitler’s power is increasing, and:

Gregor: “Progress isn’t being made anymore”
Irmina: “But it MUST! It HAS to go on! We’re sacrificing so much here!
Gregor gives up architecture and joins the German army.

In the final section, Irmina now a school administrator, receives an invitation from Harold to visit him in Barbados, where he has become the Governor General.

The colours of Europe are greys and browns. the Caribbean has a little more green and blue although they are still muted, and the air of melancholy that hangs over Irmina’s life is only brightened slightly in this last chapter.

irmina192