Wednesday, October 28, 2009

GRG Recap - National Book Award winners

Award-winning, what a tricky area! With only a scant few exceptions, the general impression of this award was negative. The books did not have seem to have universal appeal within our group but were generally appreciated for their use of language and imagery. Here's the list!
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. This is a scholar's book: serious, thick, complex. It's also fascinating, wise and of the utmost importance. Gordon-Reed, a professor of both history and law who in her previous book helped solve some of the mysteries of the intimate relationship between Thomas Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemings, now brings to life the entire Hemings family and its tangled blood links with slave-holding Virginia whites over an entire century.

From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Egan tells an extraordinary tale in this visceral account of how America's great, grassy plains turned to dust, and how the ferocious plains winds stirred up an endless series of "black blizzards" that were like a biblical plague: "Dust clouds boiled up, ten thousand feet or more in the sky, and rolled like moving mountains" in what became known as the Dust Bowl.

Timothy Egan has a new book out (The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America) about one of the first really devastating forest fires in American history happening alongside Teddy Roosevelt's creation of America's National Park system. This is a timely companion read for the recently aired Ken Burn's special, The National Parks: America's Best Idea. There is a companion book to the PBS special with the same title.

From Booklist
The news isn't so good, at least by the end of this saga by the author of the award-winning Siam (2000). The focus of her new novel is shared by two actual nineteenth-century historical figures: Paraguayan caudillo Francisco Solano Lopez and his Irish-born mistress, Ella Lynch. From the boulevards of Paris, where Ella meets the magnetic but uncouth South American, she follows him to the very provincial Paraguayan capital, Asuncion, and plays Madame de Pompadour to his Louis XV--but her sexy Franco is a small-time dictator trying to make more of his patria than it can support. A catastrophic war with Brazil and Argentina completely flattens the country. Ella ends her days back in Europe, to live on in history as one of those famous paramours of powerful leaders--always good fodder for historical fiction. This novel moves along swiftly but, unfortunately, not very deeply; characterizations seem more image than substance. Still, this is an interesting time and place, so expect requests from historical-novel lovers.

The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard
From Booklist
Time and place have always been exactly evoked in Hazzard's fiction, and such is the case here. The time is 1947-48, and the place is, primarily, East Asia. Obviously, then, this is a locale much altered--by the events of World War II, of course, and, as we see, physical destruction and psychological wariness and weariness lay over the land. Our hero, and indeed he fills the requirements to be called one, is Aldred Leith, who is English and part of the occupation forces in Japan; his particular military task is damage survey. He has an interesting past, including, most recently, a two-year walk across civil-war-torn China to write a book. In the present, which readers will feel they inhabit right along with Leith, by way of Hazzard's beautifully atmospheric prose, he meets the teenage daughter and younger son of a local Australian commander. And, as Helen is growing headlong into womanhood, this novel of war's aftermath becomes a story of love--or more to the point, of the restoration of the capacity for love once global and personal trauma have been shed.

Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson
*Starred Review* Colonel Francis F. X. Sands' wartime exploits made him something of a legend. He flew as a mercenary for the Republic of China Air Force unit known as the Flying Tigers, shooting down Japanese planes. Shot down himself by the Japanese, he suffered sickness, beatings, torture, and starvation before escaping from a prison camp in Burma. He rose to the rank of colonel during World War II and joined the CIA in the 1950s, his background in Southeast Asia an asset as the U.S. replaced France in the Vietnamese war against communism. Enter Skip Sands, the colonel's nephew, a young intelligence officer currently a clerk in charge of cataloging his uncle's three footlockers full of thousands of index cards, "almost none of them comprehensible." The colonel enlists Skip in a secret operation involving a double, an agent ready to betray the Vietcong. Skip, an earnest patriot, nevertheless finds himself deep in the unauthorized world of renegade psychological ops, off the grid and outside the chain of command, an ethical quagmire where almost anything goes, where he encounters conflicts of loyalty between his family, his country, and his religion.

Curtain of Green by Eudora Welty
This is the first collection of Welty’s stories, originally published in 1941. It includes such classics as “A Worn Path,” “Petrified Man,” “Why I Live at the P.O.,” and “Death of a Traveling Salesman.” The historic Introduction by Katherine Anne Porter brought Welty to the attention of the American reading public.

Porter’s reputation as one of americanca’s most distinguished writers rests chiefly on her superb short stories. This volume includes the collections Flowering Judas; Pale Horse, Pale Rider; and The Leaning Tower as well as four stories not available elsewhere in book form. Winner of the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.

Three Junes by Julia Glass
From Library Journal
This strong and memorable debut novel draws the reader deeply into the lives of several central characters during three separate Junes spanning ten years. At the story's onset, Scotsman Paul McLeod, the father of three grown sons, is newly widowed and on a group tour of the Greek islands as he reminisces about how he met and married his deceased wife and created their family. Next, in the book's longest section, we see the world through the eyes of Paul's eldest son, Fenno, a gay man transplanted to New York City and owner of a small bookstore, who learns lessons about love and loss that allow him to grow in unexpected ways. And finally there is Fern, an artist and book designer whom Paul met on his trip to Greece several years earlier. She is now a young widow, pregnant and also living in New York City, who must make sense of her own past and present to be able to move forward in her life. In this novel, expectations and revelations collide in startling ways. Alternately joyful and sad, this exploration of modern relationships and the families people both inherit or create for themselves is highly recommended for all fiction collections.

Godless by Pete Hautman
From School Library Journal
Grade 7 Up–Jason is a smart 15-year-old, an agnostic-leaning-toward-atheism, who resists following in the footsteps of his devoutly Catholic father. Getting clocked under the water tower by the nasty and unpredictable Henry leads Jason and his friend Shin to combine their talents to posit a new religion. "Chutengodianism" sanctifies water, the source of all life, as manifested by the Ten-Legged God, aka that same million-gallon water tower. Creating the creed on the fly, Jason soon gathers a handful of acolytes, including his former nemesis. Their midnight pilgrimage to the top of the tower for worship transmutes into an impromptu baptism when Henry hacksaws through the padlock. Their swim rouses sexy thoughts about Magda, stripped to her panties and bra, balanced soon after by panic when it seems they might be trapped. Regaining the top of the tank, Henry slips and sustains severe injuries crashing onto a catwalk below. Fortunately for him, the authorities have already arrived. The Church is busted and the faithful face new trials and temptations. These are fun, wacky, interesting characters. While chuckling aloud may be common in the early chapters, serious issues dominate the latter stages of the book. The rivalry between Jason and Henry for the attentions of Magda, Jason's unrepentant certainty that doing what he sees as right is more important than following his parents' rules, and Shin's apparent continued belief in the tenets he helped create are thought-provoking and disturbing. Jason is left to ponder the meaning of a religion that has only himself as a member.
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Many will greet this taut, clear-eyed memoir of grief as a long-awaited return to the terrain of Didion's venerated, increasingly rare personal essays. The author of Slouching Towards Bethlehem and 11 other works chronicles the year following the death of her husband, fellow writer John Gregory Dunne, from a massive heart attack on December 30, 2003, while the couple's only daughter, Quintana, lay unconscious in a nearby hospital suffering from pneumonia and septic shock. Dunne and Didion had lived and worked side by side for nearly 40 years, and Dunne's death propelled Didion into a state she calls "magical thinking." "We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss," she writes. "We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe that their husband is about to return and need his shoes." Didion's mourning follows a traditional arc—she describes just how precisely it cleaves to the medical descriptions of grief—but her elegant rendition of its stages leads to hard-won insight, particularly into the aftereffects of marriage. "Marriage is not only time: it is also, paradoxically, the denial of time. For forty years I saw myself through John's eyes. I did not age." In a sense, all of Didion's fiction, with its themes of loss and bereavement, served as preparation for the writing of this memoir, and there is occasionally a curious hint of repetition, despite the immediacy and intimacy of the subject matter. Still, this is an indispensable addition to Didion's body of work and a lyrical, disciplined entry in the annals of mourning literature.

One group member asked if The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society has yet won any awards and I have not been able to find any major awards or prizes for it but the book did win a 2008 "Best Books" award from The Washington Post. Since it was so recently published and well received, I've no doubt that more prestigious awards are to follow!

Want to join the most fun ( so I've been told :-D ) bookgroup in town?! Come on in! The Genre Reading Group meets the last Tuesday of each month at 6:30pm. Light refreshments always served! Next month's topic is fiction with an Asian setting and there are a few books pulled at the second floor reference desk! As usual, feel free to browse and select your own title if you'd prefer! Call or email if you have any questions or would like suggestions.

Also, I am getting ready to work on the ballot for our next selection of genres. Please call or email me with suggestions!

Happy reading!

No comments: