Dory L.'s blog

Pushcart Prize XXXV, Best of the Small Presses

PushcartEnjoy discovering new authors? Or finding new work by favorite ones? Or just checking out what kind of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction shorts the vibrant American small press movement is publishing? This anthology, edited by Bill Henderson, manages to seek out the best new work in American literature year after year.

It opens with a short story by Anthony Doerr titled "The River Nemunas." It's about a 15-year-old with no parents and a poodle named Mishap. Because he has no relatives in the U.S., the boy is sent to live in his grandfather's homeland of Lithuania. For the first time, the teenager sees a place that in the past meant no more to him than a pink spot on the world map. It's a lovely story about an orphan finding a new home after a tragedy. Another interesting story is the funny "Frost Mountain Picnic Massacre" by Seth Fried; it depicts a Revolutionary War Massacre reenactment that turns out badly.
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Next to Love

Next to LoveBabe Huggins is one of those young women (my mother was one also) both lucky and unlucky enough to come of age at the start of World War II. She lives in a small New England town and because the men have left to fight overseas, she scores a department store job, and then later, interesting work at Western Union. She loves being the pulse of news in the town, but a big negative is that she is the first to discover which family has lost a young son or a new spouse.

Next to Love gives a vivid portrait of the war at home in America during WW II as lived by three friends who have known each other since first grade. Both Babe and Millie come from poor families on the wrong side of Sixth Street, whereas Grace's family lives in one of the town's mansions.

The novel chronicles the marriages of each of the three women, and shows how it either destroys or strengthens those unions. At the start of the war, there's one giddy summer when the number or marriages skyrockets--a combination of the men responding to the knowledge of their own mortality and the sheer lust for life-- seize this moment because no one knows how long it will last.
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She Walks in Beauty: a Woman's Journey through POEMS

She Walks in BeautyFollowing in her mother's footsteps, Caroline Kennedy has always had a passion for books and literature. After being first lady, Jackie Onassis edited books on art and culture, but she also had a great love for poetry.

Caroline's latest anthology She Walks in Beauty: a Woman's Journey through POEMS is a collection geared more for women than for men, although the poems themselves are written by both sexes.

The book includes very large sections on "Marriage" and "Growing Up and Growing Old" as well as sections on "Love" in all its aspects--falling, making, and breaking up. She also has gathered poems on "Work," "Friendship," and "Beauty, Clothes, and Things of This World." Two of my favorite sections are somewhat unexpected; they include "Silence and Solitude" and "How to Live." The latter compendium does what poetry does best, shows us what elements are truly important in our lives.
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An Empire of Ice: Scott, Shackleton, and the Heroic Age of Antarctic Science

ImageWhile most books about the Arctic or Antarctic focus on just one thing--the indomitable quest to reach one of the poles--this book has a much broader canvas--it covers the equally arduous work of making new scientific discoveries during the age of great polar exploration.

This broader canvas allows the reader to learn about biological, geological, and meteorological phenomena but also about the cost of empire. England sponsored many of these expeditions while this country held political dominion over one quarter of the world. And as the twentieth century dawned, political power was changing rapidly. Britain had lost face in the Boer Wars in Africa and needed heroism and success to bolster its image abroad and its people's faith in the government and military as Germany, France, and the United States were becoming arch competitors.

But the book is mostly about science and adventure under the most brutal conditions. At one point Scott and Shackleton dock near an ice floe and decide it's time to use a hot-air balloon to get a better view of the landscape ahead. In this totally unpeopled land, Scott rides up into the air and views the vast white expanse. For most of us, such a view would provoke sheer terror. And Scott himself was a little nervous in the little bamboo basket. I kept thinking, what if he falls out.
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The Best American Nonrequired Reading: 2011

Best American NonRequired ReadingForget the bland title, the latest Best American Nonrequired Reading presents a fresh, amusing, and wide-ranging compendium of last year's best nonfiction and fiction.

It's not just the writing that is fresh but the kinds of content that editor Dave Eggers chose to include are both imaginative and often cutting edge including such categories as: Best American Band Names, Best American Ominous Place Names, Best American Call of Duty Handles, Best Wikileaks Revelations, and Best American Commune Names. The reader senses not only a vibrant sense of humor (see Best American Categories that Got Cut) but someone behind the scenes who is curious, wide-reading, and always eager to learn something new. Also, someone with a great sense of humor.
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When god was a Rabbit

When god was a RabbitThis debut novel by Sarah Winman, a British actress, is decidedly quirky, unusual and fresh. It's also tremendously well-written and involving, and captures as few novels do, the actual feelings and experiences of childhood. The title absolutely pulled me in. Don't for a moment think it's a metaphor. No way. Little Elly, the narrator, receives a Belgian hare for Christmas and, in a family of nonbelievers, what could be more logical than naming her pet god (lower case, of course)?

When her school hosts a Christmas pageant, Elly receives audition instructions from her gay thespian aunt. The little girl secures a role but not Mary, Joseph, or the Baby Jesus. No, instead Elly plays the blind innkeeper. Unfortunately, in a horrible fiasco, she knocks over another child and sends him to the hospital.

Elly has a best friend named Jenny Penny. Her mom is a single parent with lots of visiting boyfriends. Because she has a drinking problem, Jenny joins Elly's kind but eccentric family.
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22 Britannia Road

22 Britannia RoadMany novels dwell on the horrors of war, but few deal with the dislocation and tremendous adjustments that occur afterwards. Amanda Hodgkinson's wise debut novel does exactly that for a Polish family separated during World War ll and later reunited in England.

A year before Poland was invaded, Silvana, a movie projectionist, and Janusz, a country boy meet and marry. They have a son Aurek. War comes and Janusz is called to defend his country. Before even reaching his unit, German bombs halt Janusz's train and he is injured during his first battle. He watches as an old woman herding her sheep is shot down.

After the planes disappear, the young Polish soldier decides that he must care for these animals and give this old woman a proper burial. Meanwhile Silvana takes Aurek to the city but as the Germans invade it, she is separated from her son. A woman helps her to reclaim him. Later, a German tries to rape her in an abandoned apartment that she has taken over in search of food and shelter. She and Aurek flee to the woods where they spend the next three or four years.
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Half Broke Horses: a True Life Novel

Half Broke HorsesThis Sunday in our Booksplus program (Library Room 2B at 2p.m.) we will be discussing Jeannette Walls' rousing true fiction story Half Broke Horses about her grandmother, Lily Casey Smith, a feisty woman who grew up in the still wild west of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona in the early years of the last century. You may be familiar with the author's first book The Glass Castle; it made many best books of the year lists when it came out in 2005 and still has a wide readership.

What a gripping opening. A flash flood rips through the family ranch one evening and Lily her brother and sister hear a loud rumbling as the earth shakes beneath them. Lily grabs the youngest and runs for the only tree in the field. They spend a harrowing night hanging on to branches as massive flood waters drown the field. Although Lily is only ten at the time, she keeps both children awake by making them say their math tables, the names of the states, and any other long list she can remember.
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The London Train

London TrainNot many novels tell the story of a daughter's pregnancy through her father's eyes, and although this is only one of this book's themes, it's very powerful one. In the first half, we follow the story of the very imperfect Paul--critic, college teacher, husband, father, friend, and neighbor who is involved in a feud over the cutting down of trees. Paul himself admits that he has problems, for example, he's too afraid of showing emotion so he does not ask the undertaker to see his mother's body. He lies to his wife, has affairs, and for years has ignored his oldest child.
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The Paris Wife

Paris WifeTo be an American during the 1920s in Paris? What could be more trendy and romantic? Especially, if you've just married the dashing young fiction writer, Ernest Hemingway. This absorbing novel introduces you to all the famous ex-pat writers of the time period: everyone from Gertrude Stein ("a rose is a rose is a rose") to Scott Fitzgerald with the wild Zelda on his arms to Ezra Pound and John Dos Passos.

But it's not primarily a biographical novel about Papa Hemingway; it's more the story of a marriage between two smart, witty people who each possess an incredible zest for life and adventure.
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