Saturday, May 30, 2020

Best 99 Novels in English Since 1939 (to 1984), According to Anthony Burgess -- BOOK LIST

Anthony Burgess made a list of the Best 99 Novels in English. At least, they were the Best 99 Novels in English between 1939 and 1984, according to him.

Burgess was entitled to offer an opinion with some authority. Burgess was a British author who wrote 33 novels as well as poetry, biography, criticism, and other works. He was also a journalist, linguist, and music composer. He died in 1993. He is best known for his dystopian satire, A Clockwork Orange, an excellent book I put off reading for too long because the movie was so disturbing.

In 1984, Burgess published a book he called 99 Novels: The Best in English Since 1939 (reviewed here). The time span of 1939 to 1984 is described as "a period that encompasses the start of a world war and ends with the nonfulfillment of Orwell's nightmare."

His book included mini-reviews of the 99 novels (some are sets or series), which he chose on the basis of personal preference. Burgess described his process and his choices like this:

In my time, I have read a lot of novels in the way of duty; I have read a great number for pleasure as well. The 99 novels I have chosen, I have chosen with some, though not with total, confidence. I have concentrated on works which have brought something new – in technique or view of the world – to the form.

If there is a great deal of known excellence not represented here, that is because 99 is a comparatively low number. The reader can decide on his own hundredth. He may even choose one of my own novels.

The Anthony Burgess list of 99 Best Novels and Erica Jong's list of Top 20th Century Novels by Women are my go to lists when I'm looking for something good to read. There is some crossover with other Must Read lists, but a lot of originality. There are many authors I tried and books I read only because they were on the Anthony Burgess list and they are now all-time favorites.

Also, I would include Burgess's Earthly Powers book as the 100th. I think it deserves a spot on a top 100 midcentury novel list.

Here is the list, in the same chronological order by publication date that Burgess lists them in his book, with notes if I've read the book, it is on my TBR shelf, or if it is available in an audiobook from my library. So far, I've finished 53 of the books on this list. There are a few I will most likely never read.

Party Going, Henry Green FINISHED

After Many a Summer Dies the Swan, Aldous Huxley TBR SHELF

Finnegans Wake, James Joyce (discussed hereFINISHED

At Swim-Two-Birds, Flann O'Brien TBR SHELF

The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene FINISHED

For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway FINISHED

Strangers and Brothers, C. P. Snow (an 11-novel series George Passant, reviewed here FINISHEDA Time of Hope, reviewed here FINISHEDThe Consciousness of the Rich FINISHEDThe Light and the Dark FINISHEDThe Masters FINISHED; The New Men TBR SHELF; Homecomings TBR SHELF; The Affair TBR SHELF; Corridors of Power TBR SHELF; The Sleep of Reason TBR SHELF; Last Things TBR SHELF)

The Aerodrome, Rex Warner TBR SHELF

The Horse's Mouth, Joyce Cary TBR SHELF

The Razor's Edge, Somerset Maugham (reviewed hereFINISHED

Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh FINISHED

Titus Groan, Mervyn Peake (reviewed hereFINISHED

The Victim, Saul Bellow FINISHED

Under the Volcano, Malcolm Lowry FINISHED

The Heart of the Matter, Graham Greene FINISHED

Ape and Essence, Aldous Huxley FINISHED

The Naked and the Dead, Norman Mailer (reviewed hereFINISHED

No Highway, Nevil Shute

The Heat of the Day, Elizabeth Bowen FINISHED

Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell FINISHED

The Body, William Sansom

Scenes from Provincial Life, William Cooper

The Disenchanted, Budd Schulberg

A Dance to the Music of Time, Anthony Powell (a 12-novel series; my desert island pick; discussed hereFINISHED

The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger FINISHED

A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight, Henry Williamson (a 15-book series, not easy to find, and only gets Burgess's halfhearted endorsement)

The Caine Mutiny, Herman Wouk TBR SHELF

Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison FINISHED

The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway FINISHED

The Groves of Academe, Mary McCarthy (one of my favorite books ever; reviewed hereFINISHED

Wise Blood, Flannery O'Connor FINISHED

Sword of Honour, Evelyn Waugh (a trilogy)  TBR SHELF

The Long Goodbye, Raymond Chandler TBR SHELF

Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis (I love this one) FINISHED TWICE

Room at the Top, John Braine FINISHED

The Alexandria Quartet, Lawrence Durrell FINISHED

The London Novels, Colin MacInnes (a trilogy) TBR SHELF

The Assistant, Bernard Malamud (reviewed hereFINISHED

The Bell, Iris Murdoch FINISHED

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Alan Sillitoe (I was supposed to read it in college but was hungover - the irony) TBR SHELF

The Once and Future King, T. H. White TBR SHELF

The Mansion, William Faulkner

Goldfinger, Ian Fleming FINISHED

Facial Justice, L. P. Hartley TBR SHELF

The Balkans Trilogy, Olivia Manning TBR SHELF

The Mighty and Their Fall, Ivy Compton-Burnett

Catch-22, Joseph Heller FINISHED

The Fox in the Attic, Richard Hughes TBR SHELF

Riders in the Chariot, Patrick White TBR SHELF

The Old Men at the Zoo, Angus Wilson (my favorite unknown novel) FINISHED

Another Country, James Baldwin ON OVERDRIVE

Error of Judgment, Pamela Hansford Johnson TBR SHELF

Island, Aldous Huxley TBR SHELF

The Golden Notebook, Doris Lessing FINISHED

Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov (brilliant) FINISHED

The Girls of Slender Means, Muriel Spark (my favorite Spark) FINISHED

The Spire, William Golding FINISHED

Heartland, Wilson Harris TBR SHELF

A Single Man, Christopher Isherwood (reviewed hereFINISHED

Defense, Vladimir Nabokov (also called The Luzhin Defense)

Late Call, Angus Wilson TBR SHELF

The Lockwood Concern, John O'Hara TBR SHELF

The Mandelbaum Gate, Muriel Spark (reviewed hereFINISHED

A Man of the People, Chinua Achebe

The Anti-Death League, Kingsley Amis (reviewed hereFINISHED

Giles Goat-Boy, John Barth TBR SHELF

The Late Bourgeois World, Nadine Gordimer

The Last Gentleman, Walker Percy FINISHED

The Vendor of Sweets, R. K. Narayan TBR SHELF

Image Men, J. B. Priestley (two volumes)

Cocksure, Mordecai Richler TBR SHELF

Pavane, Keith Roberts TBR SHELF

The French Lieutenant's Woman, John Fowles FINISHED

Portnoy's Complaint, Philip Roth FINISHED

Bomber, Len Deighton

Sweet Dreams, Michael Frayn TBR SHELF

Gravity's Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon ON OVERDRIVE

Humboldt's Gift, Saul Bellow FINISHED

The History Man, Malcolm Bradbury FINISHED

The Doctor's Wife, Brian Moore TBR SHELF

Falstaff, Robert Nye TBR SHELF

How to Save Your Own Life, Erica Jong (reviewed here; I love all the Isadora Wing books) FINISHED

Farewell Companions, James Plunkett TBR SHELF

Staying On, Paul Scott (Booker Prize winnerFINISHED

The Coup, John Updike TBR SHELF

The Unlimited Dream Company, J. G. Ballard

Dubin's Lives, Bernard Malamud TBR SHELF

A Bend in the River, V. S. Naipaul FINISHED

Sophie's Choice, William Stryon (reviewed hereFINISHED

Life in the West, Brian Aldiss

Riddley Walker, Russell Hoban TBR SHELF

How Far Can You Go?, David Lodge (reviewed here) (one of my favorites) FINISHED

A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole FINISHED

Lanark, Alasdair Gray

Darconville's Cat, Alexander Theroux

The Mosquito Coast, Paul Theroux FINISHED

Creation, Gore Vidal

The Rebel Angels, Robertson Davies (reviewed here; my love of Davies started with this one) FINISHED

Ancient Evenings, Norman Mailer TBR SHELF


Updated October 26, 2023.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Book Beginning: The Narcissism of Small Things by Michael Zadoorian

Another week and another chance to share our Book Beginnings! Please share the opening sentence (or so) of the book you are featuring this week.

Leave a link to your post with the linky widget below. Or play along by posting your opening lines in the comments. You can also participate on social media and leave a comment letting us know where to find you.

If you post anything on social media, please use the hashtag #BookBeginnings so we can find each other.

Read more about Book Beginnings here.


"Are we weird?"
Joe closed his eyes and quietly sighed. Not another on of these conversations.

The Narcissism of Small Things by Michael Zadoorian, new from Akashic Books.

I don't usually include more than the very first sentence, but I like the way this beginning rolls out.

Everything about this book appeals to me. I love the juicy cover, the retro font, the indecipherable title that is so fun to say. And mostly I am curious to read the story about an aging hipster and his long-term girlfriend in Detroit in 2009.

The jacket copy describes the book like this:

Joe Keen and Ana Urbanek have been a couple for a long time, with all the requisite lulls and temptations, yet they remain unmarried and without children, contrary to their Midwestern values (and parents' wishes). Now on the cusp of forty, they are both working at jobs that they're not even sure they believe in anymore, but with significantly varying returns. Ana is successful, Joe is floundering--both in limbo, caught somewhere between mainstream and alternative culture, sincerity and irony, achievement and arrested development.
What do you think? Does The Narcissism of Small Differences appeal to you?


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TIE IN: The Friday 56 hosted by Freda's Voice is a natural tie in with Book Beginnings. Post a teaser from page 56 of your book, or 56% of the way through an ebook or audiobook. Find details and the Linky for your Friday 56 post on Freda’s Voice.


Incredulous, Ana looked at her. "What? You know what I'm going to say?"

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Book Beginnings: Burn Down this World and Her Sister's Tattoo

Please join me to share your book beginnings on Fridays and join Freda on Freda's Voice to share a teaser on The Friday 56. Read details about both events here.

I have a Book Beginnings twofer this week because these two new books share a theme. I think it is cool how they dovetail. Both are sibling stories with a past story line about Vietnam War protests and a more contemporary story line.

Reading them together is a particularly rich experience, a way to immerse yourself in the Vietnam war period by looking at the similar stories told in different ways.

It was the summer of fire, 1998. The east coast of Florida burned.

Burn Down this World by Tina Egnoski (Adelaide Books). The two stories in Burn Down this World involve a sister and brother who both protested the Vietnam war at the University of Florida but then parted ways. The other part of the story takes place during the 1998 Florida wildfires when the siblings reconnect and try to reconcile -- with each other and their past.

The August air was charged with whiffs of marijuana and patchouli oil, the sulfur stench of asphalt softening in the heat, and the distant admonition of tear gas.

Her Sister's Tattoo by Ellen Meeropol (Red Hen Press). Egnoski uses a "braided narrative" format, going back and forth between events in 1972 and 1998. Meeropol moves chronologically, starting with two sisters joining in anti-war protests in Detroit in 1968, following events through 1980, then jumping to a final section set in 2003.


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From Burn Down this World:

Dad came into the kitchen. He was in his uniform, ready to leave for work.

From Her Sister's Tattoo:

Under the table, he rested his hand on Rosa's thigh. "Conspiracy is what they charge when they really want to nail you big time."

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Review: Generation Share: The Change Makers Building the Sharing Economy by Benita Matofska and Sophie Sheinwald

The "sharing economy" is an economic system built around sharing human and physical resources. Author and sharing economy advocate Benita Matofska also sees the sharing economy as a mind set and a way of life, where we share available resources, however we can. Her book, Generation Share: The Change Makers Building the Sharing Economy, features stunning photographs by Sophie Sheinwald and interviews highlighting 200 case studies of an emerging, worldwide sharing movement.

The book is a collection of inspiring, positive stories of sharing and change-making. Participants were asked simply, "What does Sharing mean to you?" The result is an array of perspectives that demonstrate a broad spectrum of the sharing economy. Matofska organized the stories into different demographic categories: age, gender, urban, rural, economic, cultural, disability, and geography. The stories come from 30 countries and cover a variety of sharing initiatives.

Some examples of the stories are:
  • A Share Shed in Devon, UK where people can check out tools and equipment like borrowing a book from a library.
  • A kibbutz in Israel where 350 people live communally.
  • A tour company in India that specializes in organizing trips to rural villages so urban and rural Indians can share each other's cultures.
  • A woman who started an online sharing platform to help people find sharing opportunities.

Matofska's target audience for Generation Share was young, millennial, educated, socially conscious, English speakers. But with its striking visuals and compelling stories, the book has broad appeal for anyone interested in learning more about the sharing economy.

The book is produced from 100% waste materials. Proceeds from the sale of each copy of Generation Share go to help educate girls in Mumbai and to plant trees, so readers "share" with each purchase.


Benita Matofska talked with Rose City Reader about the sharing economy, Generation Share, and COVID-19. Read the interview here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Author Interview: Stanley Flink, Due Diligence and the News

Stanley E. Flink had a long career in journalism before teaching "Ethics and the Media" to journalism students for over 25 years. His new book Due Diligence and the News: Searching for a Moral Compass in the Digital Age is a collection of essays drawn from his lectures. The book is timely, readable, and captivating for any newshound, whether journalist or news junky.

Stanley Flink talked with Rose City Reader about Due Diligence and the News, social media, journalism, and ethics:

How did your book, Due Diligence and the News, come about?

After teaching a seminar called “Ethics and the Media” for more than 25 years, beginning at New York University Journalism School and then for many years a Yale undergraduate course, I encountered a great paucity of knowledge about American history---particularly in the Constitutional rights area. For example, after engaging with hundreds of students, it was clear that only a handful knew how many rights there were in the First Amendment. Even the brightest young people were unable to describe the major Supreme Court cases involving freedom of the press. There were exceptions, of course, but very few.

When I retired and came to the lifecare institution I live in now, they asked me to adapt my seminar for the people who were my friends and neighbors. I did so with some reluctance because I didn’t believe there would be much interest. I began lecturing once a week and did so for about a year before settling on every other week. (Let’s face it, I am, after all, retired.) In any event, what emerged was a great deal of interest and remarkable attentiveness. Forty to fifty people showed up for more than four years of these lectures, and many of them wanted to discuss the ideas in separate meetings. 

That’s when I decided to write the book. I wanted it to be a kind of portrait of freedom of expression that covered history, legal conflicts, technology, and the future. I selected what I believed to be the most important events, issues, and key figures in the evolution of free expression in America. Surely there are other sources and examples, but I am content with my selections. I hope these essays, taken together, will provoke a greater interest among the readers in the importance of free expression, and at least a useful understanding of how that presence developed in our democratic system.

What is your work background and how did it lead to your writing essays on the relationship between the press and American civic life?

My background is largely in the field of journalism. I was the editor of my high school newspaper, and in college I was a columnist. Towards the end of World War II I spent a little time working for Yank magazine, and immediately after graduation, in 1948, I went to work for Life magazine. When television news matured and began to assume a major role, I joined NBC News and later CBS. 

Throughout my experience in each of these places, I became increasingly aware of the ethical issues that inevitably arise in reporting the news. I talked about it a lot with my colleagues and read many of the books that were being published each year on the subject of a responsible press. I wrote one of those books myself, called Sentinel Under Siege, which was published in 1999. Before that, in the 1980s, I had been asked to teach a seminar at NYU Journalism School (mentioned earlier). That was the beginning of an interesting focus ever since.

Who is the audience for your book?

I envisioned high school seniors and college freshmen, but I’ve been surprised at how many people of all ages have written me about the book.

What do you hope people will learn or think about when they read your book?

I hope they will become sharply aware of the significant role that a free and responsible press has in our society. I would also hope they will think more urgently about truth and trust in a democracy. The technology has changed the environment in which information and news are conveyed so fundamentally that journalism has to devise new methods and styles of expression.

How do you see social media changing traditional media when it comes to delivering and consumption of straight news?

I see social media as a great threat to the respect for truth. I chose the title Due Diligence and the News because I realized that there was no easy formula for combating the effects of falsity and deliberate fabrication that can manifest themselves on social media platforms, except the careful weighing of fact-based evidence that we call “due diligence.” The enormous size of the circulations of social media on various platforms, and their ability to target audiences, provides limitless opportunities for deception and manipulation. There is no way to identify carefully constructed falsification and distortion of news material except by the most thorough research and comparison and fact-checking.

The major platforms like Facebook can reach millions of people repetitively and insidiously overnight. Obviously, they influence all kinds of activities including voting patterns. The problem in finding a remedy to fight deliberate falsification and distortion is to avoid limiting freedom of expression in the process. I came to the conclusion that there has to be a reevaluation of the First Amendment which will produce some discipline over deliberate misuse of a free press. The damage that can be done by these massive circulations online---often politically targeted---is so great that the means of preventing or managing their use becomes essential.

This dilemma may require legislative and regulatory innovations, but if it is left to the voluntary actions of the corporations that own the platforms, I fear profit will overwhelm principle. Confronting this problem is probably the most difficult and significant challenge the modern news media faces. Public affairs news reporting is vital to the survival of democracy and cannot be left, in my view, to vague assurances of voluntary action.

 I do believe that the two most important factors beyond corporate control, are due diligence and education. Quite a few states have already mandated public school curriculums to include courses in “media literacy.” These programs examine and help to reveal the issues of falsification and misuse. They are reportedly doing well and deserve our support. Education in general deserves our support. There remains the reality that no matter what actions are taken, people who want to use the news media to serve their special interests will find ways that may escape detection. The question then becomes for how long, how deeply, and what corrections are possible.

What is the role of the public, the consumer, in watchdogging the press?

The public has a major responsibility which is, as already cited in these comments, due diligence. The public, however, needs help, which should come from education, fact-checking services, and individual voices of conscience and ethical perception. These voices might be teachers, columnists, writers or philosophers---sometimes called public intellectuals. The single most important factor, in my view, is greater awareness of the need for truth. If we do not respect truth, we will never be able to engender trust. And if we cannot trust our leaders and our press, we cannot sustain democracy.

Can you recommend additional books or resources for people who want to learn more about media and the ethical issues you raised in your book?

I will limit myself in this answer to a few of the books I find the most useful: Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America; John Stuart Mill’s essay On Liberty; Walter Lippmann’s books, especially Public Opinion; Alexander Bickel’s The Morality of Consent; Richard Clurman’s Beyond Malice; Eugene Goodwin’s Groping for Ethics in Journalism; Edmund Lambeth’s Committed Journalism: An Ethic for the Profession; and Gordon Wood’s The Creation of the American Republic.

What did you learn from writing your book that most surprised you?

The strong connectedness of ideas and commitment to freedom of expression that flows through the history, the philosophy and the education of America since the founding. And, all along the way, the inescapable fact that what is in the public interest doesn’t always interest the public.

What’s next for you?

I will be 96 years old in less than a month---May 28---and I’m still learning.

Thanks Stan!

Due Diligence and the News is available online, like all books these days.

And see Stan Flink on YouTube, discussing his book Due Diligence and the News.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Mailbox Monday: The Nest and a Virtual Shopping Trip to the Arrangement, a Favorite Local Shop

Book shopping has been my retail therapy during corona time. I got one new book last week, along with some other cozy treats. Did you get any new books last week?


The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney. The Nest was an impulse purchase for me, mostly based on the beautiful cover. It is a family story about a drunk driving accident that jeopardizes the anticipated inheritance of four adult children. The book is being adapted for a movie.

The Nest was one of the things I picked up on a virtual shopping trip I took to one of my favorite local shops last week. The Arrangement celebrated its 40th anniversary this month, although it wasn't much of a celebration since the store is not open right now because of coronavirus.


One or two people are working at The Arrangement each day to take phone orders. It's a local shop, not set up with a full-on website for e-commerce. So I first got some ideas from pictures on their Facbook page and website. Then I called up and, after making sure the helper wasn't busy, we did a FaceTime call so she could walk around the shop and show me some specific things I had questions about. For example, I asked her to show me which 500-piece puzzles they had in stock, the size and scents of my favorite candles, and to show me the size of the little lemon plate I saw on the website. It worked great! My order was available for curbside pick up or local delivery. What a fun pick-me-up!

I'm inspired by the ingenuity of local businesses to stay in business when they can't be open to customers. Mail orders, sidewalk service, local delivery -- all these innovations are less than ideal, but if it gets a business over this rough patch, I'm willing to meet them half way.


Thanks for joining me for Mailbox Monday!  This weekly "show & tell" blog event lets participants share the books they got the week before.

Leslie of Under My Apple Tree, Serena of Savvy Verse & Wit, and Martha of Reviews by Martha's Bookshelf host this fun event.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Cape Mediterranean: The Way We Love to Eat by Ilse van der Merwe -- Book Review

The Western Cape is a province of South Africa on the southwest coast, probably best known to Americans for Cape Town, its largest city. Because of its Mediterranean climate and abundance of Mediterranean-style local produce, including wine and olive oil, the Western Cape has developed a  style of food and cooking known as Cape Mediterranean. Cape Mediterranean food mixes the flavors of Southwestern Europe, the Middle East, and Northern Africa with ingredients and tastes of South Africa.

Ilse van der Merwe is a self-taught cook, culinary enthusiast, blogger, and food writer. She has been blogging about cooking, food, and entertaining on her blog, The Food Fox, since 2011. She wanted to write a book about Cape Mediterranean food and cooking to document the contemporary style of cooking popular in the Western Cape. She describes Cape Mediterranean food as "a hybrid cuisine strongly influenced by the broader Mediterranean basin," although with more meat and dairy.

Her new cookbook, Cape Mediterranean: The Way We Love to Eat includes more than 75 tasty recipes, well-illustrated with beautiful photographs, that cover everything from bread and appetizers to fish and roasts, vegetable dishes and pastas, and several lovely desserts. It is a "Pan-Mediterranean" collection, with recipes as diverse as a classic chicken liver pate with brandy to harissa paste, arancini with smoked mozzarella to split pea soup with smoked pork, Greek-style youvetsi (a lamb casserole) to preserved lemons.

The collection skews Italian, and maybe a little more northern Italian than what some would think of as typically Mediterranean, with plenty of cheese and cream. But there are, overall, more than enough vegetable dishes and lashings of olive oil to round out the compilation. None of the recipes are terribly difficult and van der Merwe gives clear instructions. The one tricky bit is that temperatures have not been converted from Celsius to Fahrenheit.

All in all, Cape Mediterranean is an enticing cookbook for American home cooks curious about how people cook and eat in Cape Town, or looking for a new, one-stop collection of popular, tasty dishes.


Weekend Cooking is a weekly blog event where book bloggers have been sharing food-related posts on the weekends since 2009, when Beth Fish Reads started the event. Marg at The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader took over hosting duties from Beth this weekend.

Thank you Beth for hosting for so long! And thank you Marg for taking over! Ever since I started my own law firm, I haven't had the time I would like for book blogging, including this fun event that I always enjoyed. One upside of sheltering in place is I have a little more time to blog.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Book Beginnings: Writing Wild by Kathryn Aalto from Timber Press

It's time for Book Beginnings on Fridays!

My Book Beginning

When I was a child, I ran away from home a lot.

-- Writing Wild: Women Poets, Ramblers, and Mavericks Who Shape How We See the Natural World by Kathryn Aalto, coming soon from Timber Press. Isn't the cover gorgeous!

Writing Wild is a celebration of women writers whose work has helped readers connect to the natural world from the Romantic poets to today. The book is a collection of biographical sketches of 25 influential women writers by Kathryn Aalto, excerpts, bibliographies, notes on other women poets and prose authors, and ancillary material, all beautifully illustrated by Gisela Goppel.


On Book Beginnings on Fridays, we share the first sentence or so of the book we are reading, or the book that has captured our attention. Please share yours on your blog or other platform and leave a link below. If you participate on social media or just want to join in here, leave a comment letting us know where to find you or the opening lines you want to share.

Please use the hashtag #BookBeginnings so we can find each other.

You can find more details here.

Your Book Beginning

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The Friday 56 hosted by Freda's Voice is a natural tie in with this event and there is a lot of cross over, so many people combine the two. The idea is to post a teaser from page 56 of the book you are reading and share a link to your post. Find details and the Linky for your Friday 56 post on Freda’s Voice.

My Friday 56

Today, the trailhead to Mount Mary Austin begins in the eastern Sierras on the high and dry desert floor at an elevation of 6,000 feet. The first steps are a sharp ascent up a former cattle trail through rocks and sagebrush.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Mailbox Monday: Four Books with a '70s Vibe

It's Monday, so it's time to share what books we got last week. I got four books with a '70s vibe.

Burn Down this World by Tina Egnoski. This new book has a braided narrative, with one story set during the turbulent anti-Vietnam War protests of the 1970s and based on events that happened at the University of Florida in 1972. The other part takes place during the 1998 Florida wildfires when brother and sister try to reconcile after so many years. It looks like an excellent family story.

The Narcissism of Small Differences by Michael Zadoorian. This one is actually set in 2009 Detroit. The '70s vibe comes from the font on the cover, which looks exactly like the font on so many 1970s paperbacks. I love it.

The Narcissism of Small Differences is about Joe and Ana, a couple on the brink of 40, trying to hold on to their relationship while their careers come to a crossroads. Crumbling Detroit is the background for their crumbling romance.

From the Publisher's description:
Set in bottomed-out 2009 Detroit, a once-great American city now in transition, part decaying and part striving to be reborn, The Narcissism of Small Differences is the story of an aging creative class, doomed to ask the questions: Is it possible to outgrow irony? Does not having children make you one? Is there even such a thing as selling out anymore?

And I got two Joan Didion books, both collections of essays: Slouching Towards Bethlehem, first published in 1968, and The White Album, first published in 1979. I read The Last Thing He Wanted last year, and when I saw it was turned into a Netflix series, it put me in the mood to read these two classics of American journalism that made Didion famous.

Mailbox Monday is a weekly event where participants share the books they got the week before. Visit the Mailbox Monday website to find links to all the participants' posts.  You can also see highlights of last week's post at Books that Caught our Eye.

Mailbox Monday is hosted by Leslie of Under My Apple Tree, Serena of Savvy Verse & Wit, and Martha of Reviews by Martha's Bookshelf.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Author Interview: Paul Kent on P. G. Wodehouse

Author Paul Kent is a long-serving member of the P. G. Wodehouse Society and lifelong Wodehouse fan. Based on unprecedented access to Wodehouse's papers and library, Kent is working on a three-volume study of Wodehouse's writing career. Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, Volume 1, This is jolly old Fame, is out now. It is a must read for all Wodehouse enthusiasts.

Paul Kent talked with Rose City Reader about his new P. G. Wodehouse trilogy and what Wodehouse book to read first:

There are plenty of P. G. Wodehouse fans, but please give us a thumbnail introduction for new readers.

Wodehouse is simply the funniest English comic writer of the 20th century. In a long and productive life, he wrote over 100 books, of which the best known are the Jeeves & Wooster series, which has been adapted for TV on numerous occasions, concerning a well-meaning but not particularly intelligent young chap and his omniscient valet, who extracts him from all kinds of ridiculous scrapes. There’s also the Blandings series, which focuses on a dotty English early and his love for his prize-winning, gigantic pig. As well as these headliners, there are several sub-series and dozens of one-off novels and stories. Without exception, they’ll bring a smile to your face. If they don’t, you’re probably dead already.

What is your background and how did it lead you to write your three-volumes on the life and works of Wodehouse?

I was a BBC radio producer, specializing in music and drama performances. I had first encountered Wodehouse at the age of 12, but carried this love over into my professional life, during which I commissioned and produced numerous BBC readings and dramatizations. Now semi-retired, I have the time to write the book(s) I’ve always wanted to write about him.

How are the three volumes organized?

Volume 1: This is jolly old Fame focuses on the development of Wodehouse’s unique writing style. He has been praised by everyone from Stephen Fry to Queen Elizabeth for his immaculate use of English, which is erudite, funny, and a joy to read. Volume 2 is a tour of "Wodehouse World" – the micro-universe he created with his many characters; and Volume 3 looks at how his work has survived through time. Wodehouse is still as popular as he ever was, even though some of his books are over a century old – and I investigate why that is.

There are other biographies of Wodehouse. What distinguishes yours from the others?

For a start, it’s not a biography! It’s the first full-length study of how Plum’s writing developed over his long writing life, and how the ideas in his head made it onto the page. Oddly, this has never been attempted before in any great depth, and the reviewers of Volume 1 – many of them seasoned Wodehouseans – seem to have found it a rewarding approach.

What is the origin of the subtitle, This is jolly old Fame?

Good question! It’s from a letter Wodehouse wrote to his stepdaughter Leonora just as he was breaking big in 1922: "In a review of a book in the Times, they say 'The author at times reverts to the P.G. Wodehouse manner.' This, I need scarcely point out to you, is jolly old Fame. Once they begin to refer to you in that casual way as if everybody must know who you are all is well."

What did you learn from writing your biography that most surprised you, either about Wodehouse or his work?

Just how industrious he was. He spent most of his waking hours writing from 1900 to his death in 1975. He even died in hospital with his pen in his hand and notes for his new novel and some song lyrics at his bedside.

What is you favorite Wodehouse book?

You’re not making this easy! I guess it’s the one that turned me on to Wodehouse at the age of 12 which was loaned to me by a school friend – Psmith in the City. Almost 50 years later, I still love it.

For readers new to Wodehouse, which books do you suggest they read first?

Without doubt, The Code of the Woosters, featuring Jeeves and Bertie. It seems to top most of the polls, and is so beautifully orchestrated it resembles a stage farce on acid. Nobody but Wodehouse could have written it – you can only read a few pages at a time, it’s so relentlessly funny. An ideal antidote to modern life.

When will Volumes 2 and 3 of your Wodehouse trilogy be available?

Volume 1 has already been published, Volume 2 will emerge in Fall 2020 (coronavirus permitting), and Volume 3 is being prepared.

What's next for you? What are you working on now?

Volume 3! But there’s still so much material, that might not be the end . . .



Thursday, May 7, 2020

Book Beginnings: Hidden Falls by Kevin Myers

Welcome to Book Beginnings on Fridays!

Every week here on Book Beginnings on Fridays, we get together to share the first sentence or so of our current read. Please share yours on your blog or other platform and leave a link below. If you participate on social media or just want to join in here, leave a comment letting us know where to find you or the opening lines you want to share.

Please use the hashtag #BookBeginnings so we can find each other.

You can find more details here.


Even after his death, my father found ways to show his disapproval. He never told me the truth about his life, but he'd saved his biggest lie until he was dead.
-- Hidden Falls by Keven Myers.

This new novel follows protagonist Michael Quinn back to Boston following the unexpected death of his father. Middle-aged, single, in a strained relationship with his own kid, and at the peak of a dead-end job in print journalism, Michael is on the brink of a classic mid-life crisis. What he gets instead is a real-life crisis when he discovers his father was involved with organized crime and Michael lands in the middle of a criminal conspiracy.

Kevin Myers is a former stand up comic and comedy writer. Hidden Falls is his first novel and looks like a lot of fun – a crime story with laughs and romance.


I'm going to try a thumbnail linky this week - something new! If it doesn't work, we can switch back to regular. If you have problems, please leave your link in a comment and I will add it.

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There are other weekly blog events on Fridays. One I have been doing for quite a while is the Friday 56, hosted by Freda's Voice. It's a natural tie in with Book Beginnings. The idea is to post a two-sentence teaser from page 56 of your current read, or 56% of the way through the ebook or audiobook.

Find details and the Linky for your Friday 56 post on Freda’s Voice.

My Friday 56 teaser:

Tattooed flesh, unusual piercings, and hair dye once shocking to many was now just a standard uniform among Portland's youth – the look inspired no more attention that the tourists with their golf polos tucked into their khakis of the city workers wearing their keycard lanyards and defeated expressions.

Author Interview: Gretel Van Wieren, Listening at Lookout Creek

Gretel Van Wieren went on retreat to the Andrews Experimental Forest in Oregon’s western Cascade Mountains to reconnect with the natural world. She wanted to conduct a "spiritual experiment" to try to recapture the sense of deep connection with nature she had when growing up, but felt she had lost while living a super busy, high-tech life with kids.

She wrote about her experience and what she learned in Listening at Lookout Creek: Nature in Spiritual Practice by Gretel Van Wieren, from OSU Press.

Gretel Van Wieren talked with Rose City Reader about getting kids outdoors, a spiritual connection with the natural world, and her new book, Listening at Lookout Creek:

What is your family and work background and how did it lead to writing Listening at Lookout Creek?

I grew up on west Michigan’s lakeshore where I and my three sisters spent a huge amount of time outdoors. My father is a real outdoorsman and took us along on all his activities – fishing with down riggers on Lake Michigan, wading for trout at our family cabin, hunting for morels, digging in the garden, boiling maple sap, identifying birds, collecting night crawlers, picking up roadside trash, you name it, we were out there.

It wasn’t until I was a student at Yale Divinity School that I realized just how much these experiences of nature had influenced my spiritual outlook. After I graduated, I worked as a rural parish pastor in upstate New York where many of my parishioners were dairy farmers. They often talked about the deep connections they had with the land, and even though conversations were not always the most direct, it was clear that their relationship with nature was foundational to their sense of spirituality. It was during that time that I really began to explore the world of nature mysticism, which serves as the basis for the writing of Listening at Lookout Creek.

You describe a "spiritual experiment" that inspired this book. Can you explain more about that?

I generally think of the spiritual life as a kind of ongoing investigation, an experiment, if you will, about what gives life meaning and significance. The “spiritual experiment” that served as the impetus for this book was a condensed version of that. I went into my writing residency at the H.J. Andrews Forest with a specific research question – was it possible, I wanted to know, to rekindle the sense of deep connection I had once had with the natural world, and could it be done in just ten days? The experiment also held a sense of urgency, as it was a particularly restless spiritual time in my life. To be honest, I was so over-taxed at the time with all my obligations, I developed the idea of a spiritual experiment on the plane ride from Detroit to Eugene. I actually think it was my husband, Jeff’s idea.

At the end of the ten day experiment I did feel a sense of reconnection with nature and my own self, though I also wound up discovering what most scientific experiments do – questions lead to further questions. I wondered how long my sense of spiritual connection with nature would last, and whether it was actually possible to live a life of such connection in the midst of my insanely busy, suburban, hi-tech life? I’m still not sure.

Who is the audience for your book?

I would say parents and people in general who are concerned about getting kids outdoors more and on screens less, the fishing and hunting community, and spiritual seekers. In the past month, I have been contacted about the book by the Children & Nature Network, Friends of Michigan Rivers, and The Society of Friends/Quakers in Michigan. I think that well sums up the book’s audience.

During this time of corona virus stay home orders and quarantines, are there particular lessons families can gain from your book?

Get outside as much as you can! I realize that access to the outdoors varies depending on where we live. Still, many of us are spending more time than ever outside, which is a real up-side to the pandemic, in my mind. When Listening at Lookout Creek first came out, my publisher asked me to write a listicle based on the book’s theme of connecting children with nature. It’s called “Ten Tips for Getting your Kids Outdoors.” A few tips that I have found to be especially helpful during this time are: ask your kids what they want to do outdoors; do it with them; work it into their daily study schedules; and make outside somewhere they want to be.

In general, what do you hope readers will take away from your book?

Don’t give up working to connect with the natural world, no matter how small the activities. There are a lot of articles out there right now talking about all the amazing things people are doing in and for nature. It is truly inspiring. At the same time, I find it a bit overwhelming at times. As if now that we have all this time on our hands we should be putting in giant gardens, going on marathon-long walks, learning to identify hundreds of bird species, joining environmental activist campaigns, and the list goes on. Many, if not most of us, are just trying to get by, juggling work and kids at home, paying bills, doing chores. So be generous with yourself and with your loved ones when it comes to getting outdoors during these times. And that goes for all the time. Get outside daily, for sure; but appreciate and be satisfied with the tiny moments you spend in nature and with each other.

What did you learn from writing your book – either about the subject of the book or the writing process – that most surprised you?

I think I realized just how demanding I am, too demanding I’m afraid, when it comes to spending time outdoors. I don’t think parents should necessarily shy away from forcing their children to spend time outside. But I do think, at least in my case, such a single-minded attitude can create a wedge between parents and children, particularly since most of their peers spend so much time online, and those social relationships are extremely important. I guess I would say that I learned even more what a difficult balance it is to both resist and embrace technology, especially when parenting.

In terms of the writing process, it was much more gratifying than I would have expected to work through my recollections of my own childhood experiences of nature and my experiences of nature with my own children – and then to work through them again and again when writing and rewriting about them. It really provided a source of inner renewal and strength that I had not anticipated.

Who are your favorite authors? Is your own writing influenced by the authors you read?

I have a lot of favorite authors, given how interdisciplinary my work is. In terms of those who especially influenced the writing of this book, I’d have to say Rick Bass, Todd Fleming Davis, Alison Hawthorne Deming, Jerry Dennis, Annie Dillard, Tom Montgomery Fate, Robin Kimmerer, Kathleen Dean Moore, and Scott Russell Sanders. Since I have no formal training in creative writing, their books were some of my best teachers and guides along the way.

What kind of books do you like to read? What are you reading now?

The pandemic has opened more time for reading, as we all know. For me this has meant reading fiction, which I rarely have time for during the academic year. I just finished, and loved, Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing, based on the recommendation of my two daughters, Inga and Clara. At the beginning of the quarantine, we stayed for several weeks at my childhood home, where I just chose books that looked interesting from my parents’ book shelves; I read Ann Packer’s The Dive from Clausen’s Pier and Heather Morris’ The Tattooist of Auschwitz.

I also recently finished some books of creative nonfiction that have been on my desk for a while – Jill Sisson Quinn’s Deranged: Finding a Sense of Place in the Landscape and in the Lifespan and Don Mitchell’s Flying Blind: One Man’s Battle with Buckthorn, Coming to Peace with Authority, and Creating a Home for Endangered Bats, a book I picked-up at (shout out to!) Otter Creek Used Books in Middlebury, Vermont. Currently on my shelf are Pam Houston’s Deep Creek: Finding Hope in High Country and Ann Irvine’s Trespass: Living at the Edge of the Promised Land.

And I am always reading spiritual writing, and scholarly articles and books in my field of religion and the environment. Carolyn Finney’s Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors is one of my latest favorites.

What's next for you? What are you working on now?

I am writing a lot of poetry these days, because that feels doable with the scattered snippets of time I have. I am also working on a book on place, tentatively titled Staying Put: The Ambiguity of Place in an Age of Uncertainty. It’s a kind of follow-up to Listening at Lookout Creek, focusing on my suburban home place, rather than the wild places of the Andrews Forest and my family’s hunting cabin. I had titled the book before the pandemic, though now it feels like it rings eerily true. It’s certainly given me more to think about in terms of the meaning of place, and how that changes when we’re forced to stay somewhere.



Monday, May 4, 2020

Mailbox Monday: Box of Books from Powell's

A box of books from Powell's Books was the highlight of my week last week! What new books came to your house?

Do any of these catch your fancy? There was a reason I picked each one:

A Crime in the Neighborhood by Suzanne Berne. Berne won the 1999 Women's Prize for Fiction (then called the Orange Prize) for this debut novel. I'm working my way through the winners of the Women's Prize.

Theory of War by Joan Brady. Brady won the Costa Book of the Year Award (then called the Whitbread BOTY Award) in 1993 for this novel about the American Civil War. I'm also reading the winners of this prize.

The Cat Who Went to Paris and The Cat Who'll Live Forever by Peter Gethers. These are for my mom and sister, who just finished Gethers's other book about Norton the Cat, A Cat Abroad.

Bamboo by William Boyd. I'm working my way through all of Boyd's books, including this collection of essays and criticism.

Powell's Books is Portland's – and the world's – largest independent bookstore. It is a book-lovers' Mecca, general tourist attraction, and the cultural heart of downtown Portland. Known as Powell's City of Books, Powell's downtown store is a labyrinth of new and used books.

Like most retail stores, Powell's has been closed for almost two months now because of coronavirus. Portlanders have rallied around our favorite shops and restaurants, including Powell's. I've been trying to buy as many books from as many local bookstores as I can, including Powell's. I ordered Easter books for my grandkids and ordered a batch of used books for myself. Powell's offers free shipping on orders over $25.

Lots of local bookstores are offering curbside pickup or even local delivery these days. If there is no local bookshop where you live, you can also order from and it will find the nearest independent bookstore or your favorite book shop and that store will get a percentage of the proceeds from every order.

Mailbox Monday is  a weekly "show & tell" event to share the books you acquired the week before. Visit the Mailbox Monday website to find links to all the participants' posts and read more about Books that Caught Our Eye the prior week.

Leslie of Under My Apple Tree, Serena of Savvy Verse & Wit, and Martha of Reviews by Martha's Bookshelf host Mailbox Monday.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

List: Edgar Award Winners for Best Novel

Every year, the Mystery Writers of America award the "Edgar" Award in nine categories of mystery and crime writing, plus a handful of special awards. I'm reading through the list of winners of Edgar Award for Best Novel.

The award is named in honor of Edgar Allen Poe, born in 1809. The first Edgar Award went to Watchful at Night by Julius Fast in 1947 for Best First Novel by an American Author. The "Best Novel" Award has been around since 1954.

Although I enjoy a good mystery, there are few on this list that I have read. Why is this? There may be many clues, but I suspect foul play.

I you are also reading Edgar winners and have a related post, leave a link in a comment and I will add your link in a list at the bottom of this post.

Those I have read are in red. Those on my TBR shelf are in blue.

2020 The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

2019 House Witness by Mike Lawson

2018 Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke

2017 Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

2016 Let Me Die in His Footsteps by Lori Roy

2015 Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

2014 Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

2013 Live by Night by Dennis Lehane

2012 Gone by Mo Hayder

2011 The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton

2010 The Last Child by John Hart

2009 Blue Heaven by C. J. Box

2008 Down River by John Hart

2007 The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin

2006 Citizen Vince by Jess Walter (reviewed here)

2005 California Girl by T. Jefferson Parker

2004 Resurrection Men by Ian Rankin

2003 Winter and Night by S.J. Rozan

2002 Silent Joe by T. Jefferson Parker

2001 The Bottoms by Joe R. Lansdale

2000 Bones by Jan Burke

1999 Mr. White's Confession by Robert Clark

1998 Cimarron Rose by James Lee Burke

1997 The Chatham School Affair by Thomas H. Cook (reviewed here)

1996 Come to Grief by Dick Francis

1995 The Red Scream by Mary Willis Walker

1994 The Sculptress by Minette Walters

1993 Bootlegger's Daughter by Margaret Maron

1992 A Dance at the Slaughterhouse by Lawrence Block

1991 New Orleans Mourning by Julie Smith

1990 Black Cherry Blues by James Lee Burke

1989 A Cold Red Sunrise by Stuart M. Kaminsky

1988 Old Bones by Aaron Elkins

1987 A Dark-Adapted Eye by Barbara Vine

1986 The Suspect by L.R. Wright

1985 Briar Patch by Ross Thomas

1984 La Brava by Elmore Leonard

1983 Billingsgate Shoal by Rick Boyer

1982 Peregrine by William Bayer

1981 Whip Hand by Dick Francis

1980 The Rheingold Route by Arthur Maling

1979 The Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett

1978 Catch Me: Kill Me by William H. Hallahan

1977 Promised Land by Robert B. Parker

1976 Hopscotch by Brian Garfield

1975 Peter's Pence by Jon Cleary

1974 Dance Hall of the Dead by Tony Hillerman

1973 The Lingala Code by Warren Kiefer

1972 The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth

1971 The Laughing Policeman by Maj Sjowall, Per Wahloo

1970 Forfeit by Dick Francis

1969 A Case of Need by Micheal Crichton (as Jeffery Hudson)

1968 God Save the Mark by Donald E. Westlake

1967 The King of the Rainy Country by Nicolas Freeling

1966 The Quiller Memorandum by Adam Hall

1965 The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carre

1964 The Light of Day by Eric Ambler

1963 Death and the Joyful Woman by Ellis Peters

1962 Gideon's Fire by J.J. Marric

1961 The Progress of a Crime by Julian Symons

1960 The Hours Before Dawn by Celia Fremlin

1959 The Eighth Circle by Stanley Ellin

1958 Room to Swing by Ed Lacy

1957 A Dram of Poison by Charlotte Armstrong

1956 Beast in View by Margaret Millar

1955 The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler

1954 Beat Not the Bones by Charlotte Jay


If you would like to be listed here, please leave a comment with your links to any progress reports or reviews and I will add them.

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