Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Book Trailer of the Week: As Nora Jo Fades Away

I was contacted today about reviewing a book called As Nora Jo Fades Away.  It is Lisa Cerasoli's account of being the fulltime caretaker of her grandmother who suffered from Alzheimer's and was slowly "fading away."  This is not a topic I would have wanted to read about just a few years ago, but because we are watching my mother-in-law go through the same process right now, I find comfort in the experiences of those who have already endured the horror of watching a family member succumb to the disease.

As it turns out, the memoir is also the basis of a documentary film titled "14 Days with Alzheimer's."  This is the trailer to that film:

Here's another look at Nora Jo (I have had this conversation so many times with my mother-in-law that this one is hard for me to watch):

(22nd Book Trailer of the week in a continuing series of unusual and memorable book trailers spotted by Book Chase)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Highs and Lows of World Book Night 2013

Pre-Set-Up Picture of Mall Common
This year, figuring there was no better place to find a bunch of reluctant readers, I carried my case of books to a local shopping mall where I set up shop.  Within a few minutes, I was ready to go and the first curious shoppers were trying to figure out what the catch was.  This reminder of the cynicism that is so much a part of today's world was the first indication that this was going to be a good bit tougher than last year when I brought my books to an assisted living facility where I was met by a small crowd of eager readers.

Michael Perry's "Population: 485"
Within 45 minutes, though, I had given away about half the books.  I was appalled, however, by the number of people who stopped by just long enough to rather proudly proclaim that they do not read books and have no interest in ever doing so, thank you very much.  When I had heard enough of that, I decided to pack up and go inside the mall.  And there I struck gold when I spotted all those bored husbands sitting on mall benches waiting for their wives to finally claim them so they could go home.  My people.

Bored men with nothing to read who dared not stray from where their wives sat them?  What more could I ask for?  Within an hour I had given away the last 11 books, talked books with some nice guys of all ages, and walked away convinced that each of them was sincerely grateful for the book I left behind.  (I was even referred to as a "lifesaver" by two of the guys.  Now that's appreciation.)

So the highs easily trumped the lows, and I can't wait to learn what World Book Night 2014 will bring.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Burgess Boys

The Burgess kids lost their father in a freakish accident when Jim was eight and the twins, Bob and Susan, were four.  They were too young to be blamed for what happened, but each of them, in their own way, would be traumatized by the collective guilt associated with that tragic day.  Now, decades later, they are still paying the price.

The boys both practice law in New York City and have left little Shirley Falls, Maine far behind.  Their sister, on the other hand, has never even been to New York City and still lives in Shirley Falls with her troubled teenage son.  The Burgess family, while not quite estranged, is most certainly not a close one.  Zach can barely remember his uncles.  And when Jim and Bob are together, Jim still takes great joy in belittling his brother, something he has done since at least the day their father died – behavior that the good-natured Bob seems hardly to notice.

But suddenly, all the way from Shirley Falls, Susan frantically reaches out to her brothers for support and legal help.  Zach is in trouble, big trouble, and neither the boy nor his mother is emotionally prepared for what they are about to face.  For the first time since their mother died, the Burgess kids are together in their old hometown, and they can barely stand the town – or each other.

Elizabeth Strout
With remarkable insight, Elizabeth Strout, beginning with the trauma they suffered as small children, moves up and down the Burgess family timeline to explain how they became the people they are today.  Bob and Susan, neither of whom can handle stress or confrontation, are the most obviously emotionally stunted of the three, but the outwardly successful Jim is only better at hiding his problems than they are.  Layer by layer, Stroud develops their distinct personalities, and when they are finally forced to confront their past, it is only a question of which of them will crack first.

The Burgess kids did not grow up to become likable adults, and Strout does not pretend that they did, but it is hard not to be sympathetic as one observes their efforts to cope with their lives.  Their father, after all, was only the most obvious victim of the accident that claimed his life – there were three other victims that day.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Stephen King's Carrie - 2013 Version

Carrie is the novel that introduced Stephen King to the world (although I did not really discover him myself until I picked up a paperback copy of The Shining a while later).  Co-incidentally, the 1975 Hollywood version of Carrie is largely responsible for making Sissy Spacek a household name despite the fact that she already had been around for about five years.  Obviously, the bullied teen's story has a firm grip on America's imagination.

Now comes word that a new film version, one much truer to King's novel, will be released in late 2013.  The movie will star Chloe Grace Moretz as Carrie and is directed by Kimberly Pierce.

I admit that the movie looks intriguing based on this one trailer, but I have to wonder whether anyone already familiar with Carrie will really want to sit through a new version, even one produced by today's technology.  Will "familiarity breed contempt" in this case?

What do you think?

Friday, April 19, 2013

Lost in the Stacks

I'm rather honored that Danielle over at A Work in Progress added my bookshelves to her "Lost in the Stacks: Home Edition" feature today.  Danielle's post includes multiple pictures of my books and shelves along with my answers to her questions regarding the shelves and how I handle my book collection.

If you're interested, here is the direct link to A Work in Progress.  I've followed her "Lost in the Stacks" posts for a while now and always find them fun...loving to snoop the book collections of others, as I do.  Too, if you are interested in sharing your own shelves, I imagine that Danielle would like to hear from you.

(Thanks, Danielle, it was fun.)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Life After Life

Although I am one generation away from needing "elder care" for myself, I have spent a whole lot of time with my 91-year-old father in an assisted living facility during the last three years.  Remarkably, he is healthier and happier today than the day he took up residence there - and both of us attribute his improvement more to his daily interaction with the friends he has made there than to the extra care and assistance he receives.  There is just something special about being around people so regularly.

So when I spotted Jill McCorkle's Life After Life I wondered if she had gotten in right.  Would her portrayal of daily life inside an assisted living facility accurately present all the ups and downs of what residents experience as they navigate their "life after life" period or not?  Well, I can now say that not only does McCorkle get it right, she also creates a number of memorable characters along the way.

Life After Life is set in a Fulton, North Carolina "retirement facility" called Pine Haven Estates.  Most, but not all, of its residents are locals who have known each other since childhood.  One of them, in fact, taught third-grade for so many years that she remembers most of Fulton's citizens as they were when they were eight years old.  Sadie, now 85, has come to believe that, in our hearts, we are all still eight years old, and she conducts herself accordingly. 

Sadie's best friend is Rachel, another retired schoolteacher, who has moved from Massachusetts to spend her final years in North Carolina because of mysterious (and well-guarded) reasons of her own.  Then there is Toby, a "youngish" lesbian and former high school English teacher, whose tendency to see the humor of any situation (and she is not afraid to laugh about it) makes her a treat to have around.  Throw in Stanley, who is outrageously pretending to suffer from dementia so that his son will finally move on with his own life, and the social possibilities are endless.

Jill McCorkle
But McCorkle does not stop there.  She includes characters like Joanna, a hospice worker who is a regular visitor to Pine Haven Estates; C.J., a much tattooed and pierced young lady who provides the facility's beauty care; and Abby, the troubled 12-year-old who lives next door and prefers to spend her free time in Pine Haven Estates rather than with her feuding parents.  All of these "outside" characters have lives and problems of their own that they bring with them to Pine Haven, a reminder to the residents that the world they remember is still spinning right outside their front door. 

Life After Life is fun but it comes with the serious message that "life after life" is what we make of it - and that we best be preparing for it a long time before it begins.  In what I think is a rather jarring ending (which is sure to irritate some readers) one character learns about life the hardest way possible.  This one is definitely worth a look.

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Last Bookshop

The video shown below was created in the UK by BakeryTV and is very well done.  It is a depiction of where the world could be headed if shopping trends and technology changes continue in the direction they are headed today.  The film is a rather satirical look at the worst-case scenario but it makes a couple of legitimate points about the future of books.

The Last Bookshop video is a bit over 20 minutes long, but the real punchline comes at the end, so try to stay with it.  Honestly, it is so wonderfully acted, scripted, and produced that you are more likely to be disappointed when it ends rather than you are to cut it off before the end.

Monday, April 15, 2013

World Book Night 2013 Fast Approaching

World Book Night 2013 (April 23) is fast approaching.  I, in fact, expect an email in the next day or so authorizing me to pick up a case of 20 copies of Michael Perry's Population:485 from a near-by Barnes & Noble for distribution that evening.

Now it is time for me to finalize a spot to give the books away - and that is not quite as easy as it sounds.  The primary goal of World Book Night is to get books into the hands of light readers and others who seldom read a book at all.  So where do I best find them?  Starbucks, in the common area of a local shopping mall, in front of a Wal-Mart (don't laugh), at a sandwich shop?  

Last year I gave away copies of John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany to residents of a senior living home a few miles from me.  The book's were much appreciated, and I really enjoyed talking books with the folks I met that night.  But this year, I thought I would try for a more general selection from the population - keeping in mind that Population: 485 is not for younger readers.


Sunday, April 14, 2013

For the First Time Since 1947, a Bay Psalm Book Will Change Hands

One of the eleven remaining copies of the very first American book produced in America is for sale.  And for a mere $30 million you can just about guarantee that it will be yours - just register with Sotheby's for the Bay Psalm Book auction scheduled for November 26, 2013 in New York.  

The last copy of the Bay Psalm Book to change hands was purchased way back in 1947 by Yale University for a then, whopping $151,000.  

This copy is expected to sell for something between $15 million and the $30 million I mentioned earlier.  It is one of two copies owned by Boston's Old South Church, whose leadership plans to use auction proceeds for repairs to the building and for various programs sponsored by the church.  


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Driving Mr. Yogi

I suspect that Driving Mr. Yogi will almost exclusively be read by baseball fans, particularly fans of the love-them-or-hate-them New York Yankees.  And that's a shame, because the book is actually a rather beautiful portrayal of love, respect, loyalty, and the powerful impact of mentoring by one generation of another.  Yes, as its subtitle makes clear, this is a book about two of the greatest Yankees ever to play the game: catcher Yogi Berra and pitcher Ron Guidry, two men with little in common other than their outstanding ability to play the game of baseball.  But playing baseball is the smallest part of this story.

Yankee owner George Steinbrenner was not known for his social skills, and Yogi Berra was a man with a long memory and the ability to hold a grudge indefinitely (neither of which make it easy to work for someone like Steinbrenner).  Baseball managers are "hired to be fired," of course, and Yogi never objected to the fact that Steinbrenner fired him.  But he took offense to how Steinbrenner handled the firing - and refused to return to Yankee Stadium, or speak to Steinbrenner, for fourteen long years.  It was the vain Steinbrenner who cracked first, and decided to visit Yogi in New Jersey to work things out.

Ron Guidry, Yogi Berra
So when Berra arrived in Florida for his first Yankee Spring Training in fourteen years, Ron Guidry, a Berra protégé and sometime Yankee pitching coach, was eager to meet him at the airport to help his old coach get settled in.  Little did Guidry know at the time, that this would be the beginning of perhaps the most beautiful friendship he would ever experience.  What began as a courtesy on Guidry's part, one stemming from his immense respect for Berra, would evolve into a deep friendship that made the lives of both men better.  If the truth were known, it probably made them both better men.  But over time, as Berra aged and became feeble, the relationship evolved into one in which Guidry was his friends protector, always there to ensure that Yogi did not suffer a crippling fall or otherwise endanger himself.  Theirs was almost a father-son relationship.

Driving Mr. Yogi might be specifically aimed at baseball fans, but it is also perfect for anyone interested in the aging process or in dealing with an aging parent of their own.  The book is filled with insights beautifully presented via the many little personal moments that Ron and Yogi shared with author Harvey Araton.  We can all learn something from their story.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Bad Books, Vicious Libs, and Baseball Dopes Like Pedro Strop

I seem to be in the middle (I hope it's at least the middle) of a frustrating period during which I can't find a book that doesn't leave me feeling as if I'm wasting precious reading-time on it.  The last few books I've started are either so poorly written (dominated by convoluted sentences, or even worse, by poor grammar and sentence fragments) or they are so utterly boring that I toss them aside from frustration after 50 or 60 pages.  

The sad thing is that the poorly written ones I've encountered during this streak have the best plots or topics, and the better written ones are the boring ones.  At this point, I'd settle for mediocrity in both writing and plot as a good compromise to jumpstart my reading.  I'm not sure which is worse: overhyped books from major publishers or all the self-published books out there that should have been kept at home.  I don't mean to sound cynical (or worse, unfeeling), but the book-haystack is getting larger and larger, making it more difficult than ever to find the good stuff.  And that is frustrating.

Maybe, it's me.  Do you ever get to the point where everything seems to be annoying and frustrating?  Maybe it started when I noticed the viciously gleeful reaction so many on the left are having to the death of Britain's Margaret Thatcher.  That disgusting display of intolerance was enough to put me in a bad mood, and might be the reason my reading enjoyment went south about the same time.  I read many authors whose political opinions I don't necessarily agree with, and some of them have jumped on the trash-Thatcher bandwagon, so maybe that's it.

The final straw was last night when I turned to a longtime favorite pastime, televised baseball, for some relief.  Didn't happen, thanks to some dope named Pedro Strop who pitches for the Baltimore Orioles.  This clown wears his baseball cap cocked so far to the side that it almost touches his right ear.  I wish I had a photo I could post, but just picture a very crooked baseball cap on this fool's head - something you might see on some thuggish yo-yo hanging out at the local mall trying to look cool - and you will get the idea.  Come on, Mr. Baseball Commissioner, are you going to put up with this kind of thing?  Do you really want Major League Baseball to become the NBA?  If players don't respect themselves or their fans, can't you at least demand that they respect the sport?  That's sort of your job.

I always figured that the older I got, the more patience I would have, especially after I retired.  It's sure not working out that way.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Cat

The horror of losing a child is bad enough.  But when that child is the only one you are ever likely to have, and you are a fast-approaching-forty, single mother, the loss can steal your very will to live.  Throw in the guilt Elise feels  about letting her eleven-year-old son be run down by a car in his own front yard, and her wish to join him in death is easy to understand.  Her world has been changed forever, her purpose in life snatched while she was not paying attention.

In such pain that she wants nothing more than to be left alone, the bewildered Elise begins to plan her death.  It should be easy enough certainly for someone as determined as her.  But then it hits her: if she kills herself, there will be no one left to take care of her son's beloved cat, Pursie.  She knows her son will never forgive her if she abandons the animal to the woods surrounding their rural home.  So, reluctantly, she makes it through the first night without her son as her "jailer lay next to her and purred."

The Cat chronicles the next seven months of Elise's struggle to maintain her sanity as she cares for Pursie - and finally, even a little for herself.  As Elise crosses off the days on her calendar, she and Pursie settle into an existence of near isolation.  That isolation, however, will prove to be an impossible goal as Elise, over time, is forced to interact a bit with friends, neighbors, and others concerned about her.  Try as she might, she will not be allowed to cut herself off from the rest of the world.

Edeet Ravel
Much of Elise's story is told through the memories she types out as a way to forget for a few minutes about her son's death.  Her less than ideal childhood (Elise was born with nevus flammeus, a purple "stain" largely covering the left side of her face that made her a target for the taunts of other children) perhaps explains her ease with total isolation and a tendency to slip into despair.  But, as Elise will learn, hope can come from where one least expects to find it - and then she has to decide what to do with it.

The Cat might not be long on action, but its message is a powerful one that readers will think about long after they turn the novel's final page.  If "literay fiction" is your preference, this one might be for you.

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)