You may have noticed the earth-shattering silence here on Book Barmy.

I’ve fallen victim to a big procrastination funk.  You may surmise it’s because of the holidays, which is part of it ~~ I have many festive things to do, along with those pesky everyday chores

But, suddenly Book Barmy has become one of those chores.

I have no good reason, no good excuse why I haven’t blogged.  It’s not due to a lack of reading. I’ve read some books and enjoyed them –  they’re stacked right here next to me — but somehow I just don’t have it in me to write about them.

To quote a fellow blogger (Vanessa),  going through the same thing right now:

 The cold hard truth is that I just didn’t feel like writing.  I had no ideas, no drive, no inspiration — blogging almost started to feel like a form of punishment.  So I stopped.

I don’t want Book Barmy to become either a chore or a burden, so I will be taking a small break…just to get my mojo back.

I’m still reading – that will never change.

Here’s evidence — a collection of Christmas books I’ll be reading in the next few weeks.

But for now, I’m going to take a little break.

I appreciate your patience and understanding.

I’ll be back soon…

It’s Here!

Today’s the day – it’s finally here.  As in previous years, I advised you to cancel your appointments, call in sick to work and to be at your local bookstore first thing this morning to buy the newest Louise Penny book — Kingdom of the Blind.

Didn’t do any of that?  Oh well, you’ll just have to swing by your bookstore on your way home.

Let me tell you why I’m being so bossy insistent about this.

 

 

Ms. Penny is a mystery writer with a trio of talents – not seen in very many mystery series writers.

First, she has keen sense of humans, their frailties, their emotions, their kindnesses and their dreadfulness.  Her characters are multi-dimensional and fully realized.  Second, Ms. Penny creates an all enveloping sense of place – her settings are always fall-into-the-page realistic — from the cozy bistro in Three Pines to the dirty, drug infested back streets of Montreal.  Combine this with her page-turning, yet complex multi-layered, mysteries, and well you’ve got one of the best mystery series being published.

While you can read any of her novels as a standalone, I do suggest you try and read them in order as some of the story lines do carry into the next and the characters become more developed and evolved.  You can see her whole series of books in order on her website – HERE

Kingdom of the Blind picks up a few months after the last book (Glass Houses).  Armand Gamache was suspended as head of the Sûreté du Québec having deliberately allowed some seized opioids to slip though his hands in order stop an insidious street drug operation. Amelia Choquet, one of his cadets has just been kicked out of the police academy due to her own drug use and is now thrust back onto to the seedy, drug infested back streets of Montreal.  A coincidence?  We wonder…

Meanwhile, wintry Three Pines remains the idyllic oasis for its residents and friends.  But they have  lost power and are buried in snow:

Reine-Marie, at the bistro:

Why do we live here?  Oh heaven…do you have power?
Non. A generator.
Hooked up to the espresso machine?
And the oven and fridge, said Gabri.
But not the lights?
Priorities, said Olivier. Are you complaining?
Mon Dieu, no, she said.

Comfort foods that rarely fail in their one great task are abundant.

Gamache, psychologist and bookseller Myrna Landers, and a young builder have been called to an abandoned farmhouse just outside Three Pines to meet with a notary.  Once there, they find out they have been named the liquidators (executors) of a mysterious woman’s will.  The three adult children, who are the beneficiaries, have no idea why their mother chose these three unknown people to oversee her will.  It turns out there is more to the story than anyone thought — a family story of a lost European inheritance dating back hundreds of years, embezzlement, and murder.

Ms. Penny is a master of plotting and just when you think you know where she’s going (and if you’re like me, you dumbly believe you have it figured out) the plot twists in an unexpected direction. This had me flipping pages as fast as I could read, and yet I made myself slow down to savor the writing.

All Ms. Penny’s novels have a theme woven into her mysteries and this one is about blindness or our blind spots.  How humans see what they want to see.  Masterfully we are given insights into what at first seemed one thing and is reveled to be something else entirely.  A drug wasted transvestite has goodness underneath.  A beloved godfather has a nasty streak.  A trusted financial advisor should, or should not, be trusted.

Don’t worry devoted Ms. Penny fans, the cast of characters is still there from Three Pines and there’s a smattering of Ruth chuckles — but this installment is especially focused on Gamache and his second in command (and now son-in-law) Beauvoir.  Both are contemplative and confronting major decisions that will inspire life changing events.  One of which is revealed in the last chapter and will have you wanting whatever is up next in this wonderful series.

I’m going to leave it here, no spoilers and I’m really at a loss to review The Kingdom of the Blind in the fashion it deserves, so I will quote one of my favorite professional reviewers, Maureen Corrigan:

Any plot summary of Penny’s novels inevitably falls short of conveying the dark magic of this series.  No other writer, no matter what genre they work in, writes like Penny.

 

Kingdom of the Blind – don’t say no — just buy it.


Many (many) thanks to Minotaur Books for providing an Advanced Readers Copy.

 

 

 

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

The Little Stranger was a deliciously creepy Halloween read which kept me up well into several October nights — but I’m only now getting around to this review.  Pretend it’s Halloween, which was only a few weeks ago.

It’s post-war Warwickshire, England and Dr. Faraday has been called to Hundreds Hall, the Ayres family mansion.   The doctor was here before, as a child, accompanying his mother, a housemaid for the family.  As a child he was entranced with the hall’s decorative wall panels and he secretly pried loose and pocketed a carved walnut. 

Now it’s thirty years later and Hundreds Hall has lost former grandeur. In amongst leaky ceilings and musty carpets lives the Ayres family: Mrs. Ayres, a widow who longs for the old days of her family glory; her son, Roderick, a veteran who is still suffering both physically and mentally from the war, and his sister, Caroline, a young woman who desires a life of her own.

But the most important character is Hundreds Hall  — the author spends pages (and pages) describing the crumbling and dilapidated mansion.   This provides an eerie backdrop for presenting a family tormented by the past.

[When] I stepped into the hall the cheerlessness of it struck me at once.  Some of the bulbs in the wall-lights had blown, and the staircase climbed into shadows.  A few ancient radiators were bubbling and ticking away, but their heat was lost as soon as it rose.  I went along the marble-floored passage and found the family gathered in the little parlour, their chairs drawn right up to the hearth in their efforts to keep warm.

The Ayres are stuck between the pre-war world and the post war one.  But, as we discover, they are also stuck between this world and one inhabited by spirits and secrets.

Yes, the house is haunted — mysterious writing appears on the walls, there are unexplained small fires, unexpectedly locked rooms, and creepy noises through the antiquated pipes.  Roderick succumbs to his demons (and the house’s) and is sent away to an institution.  Carolyn struggles to maintain some sense of normalcy in the highly abnormal Hundreds Hall and Mrs. Ayres begins to go mad.

At the center is Dr. Faraday, attending each family member as best he can but also striving to get to the bottom of the frightening incidents at Hundreds Hall.  Despite his lower class upbringing, Dr. Faraday not only becomes the family doctor, but also a trusted friend, and eventually, Caroline’s fiancée.

The prose beautifully builds a chilling atmosphere and a looming sense of dread.  More eerie than scary. Slow and languid but at the same time, exciting and suspenseful.  Although the novel could have benefited from some major editing, I was totally invested — reading on and on, even when I got slightly spooked — hearing things go bump in the night.

Some readers said there is no resolution – no ending.  However, by re-reading several key scenes and the last few pages — I figured out who is the little stranger and had goosebumps along the way.

 The Little Stranger is not at all like some of today’s merely adequately written thrillers, whose readers only require a ‘page turner’.  This novel is slow, subtle, literate and requires a little more thought — a thinking reader’s thriller.


Once again, they’ve made a film from a book I’ve just read.  It looks properly creepy and atmospheric.

Trailer HERE

Big Book Sale Update

Back for a moment to tell you about the Friends of the San Francisco Library Big Book Sale.  It was the largest and most successful ever.  The sale set a new record and made over $300,000!   And all of it goes to support the San Francisco Public Library and its programs.

Some photos to show the enormity of the event.  And if you’re more of a math person:   $300,000 with nothing priced more than $4. That’s a lot of books, records, and CD’s.

In case you were wondering –it wasn’t all me. I bought merely five books.

Full Stop

Stop all my other reading.

Stop watching television.

Stop everything.

Look what arrived in my mailbox today!

An advanced readers copy of Louise Penny’s latest mystery

Many (many) thanks to Minotaur/St. Martins press.

Kingdom of the Blind will be published on November 27th.

 

Once again, Book Barmy advice —  circle November 27th on your calendar, set those reminders on your phones, drop everything and get thee to your local independent bookstore — and purchase your own copy.

 

Meanwhile, I’m all prepped:

Hot tea in thermos — check

Comfy clothes on — check

Cancelled anything not urgent — check

Stretching videos for reading breaks* — check

Folder of restaurant delivery menus — check

Bye for now.  See ya.

I’m not available for anything or anyone for a few days.

 

 


* This PBS stretching series is a new discovery.  Husband and I have 40 or so saved on our DVR and while they seem deceptively simple, they are wonderful for posture (mine is terrible) and joint pain.  Miranda is 60+, a former ballet dancer, and her movements/stretches really have improved my posture, muscle tone, and flexibility.  Husband no longer has to wear an ankle brace to play tennis. Check your local PBS station (they’re on @ 7:30 AM out here).  Highly recommended. Don’t feel bad if you can’t make it all the way through the first time – takes some build-up.

 

 

Required Reading

After my last post, a Book Barmy follower sent me the following essay from the NY Times Book Review.   A must read for any book lover and those who love them (talking to you Husband).  At the very least, scroll down to the last paragraph – my favorite bit.


By Kevin Mims

I own far more books than I could possibly read over the course of my remaining life, yet every month I add a few dozen more to my shelves. For years I felt guilty about this situation, until I read an article by Jessica Stillman on the website of the magazine Inc. titled “Why You Should Surround Yourself With More Books Than You’ll Ever Have Time to Read.” Stillman argued that a personal library too big to get through in a lifetime “isn’t a sign of failure or ignorance,” but rather “a badge of honor.” Her argument was a variation on a theme put forth by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his 2007 best seller “The Black Swan,” a book about the outsize impact on our lives of large, unpredictable events. In essence, Taleb claims that although people tend to place a higher value on the things they know than on the things they don’t know, it is the things we don’t know, and therefore can’t see coming, that tend to shape our world most dramatically.

A person’s library is often a symbolic representation of his or her mind. A man who has quit expanding his personal library may have reached the point where he thinks he knows all he needs to and that what he doesn’t know can’t hurt him. He has no desire to keep growing intellectually. The man with an ever-expanding library understands the importance of remaining curious, open to new ideas and voices.

Taleb argues that a personal library “should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates and the currently tight real-estate market allow you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.”

I don’t really like Taleb’s term “antilibrary.” A library is a collection of books, many of which remain unread for long periods of time. I don’t see how that differs from an antilibrary. A better term for what he’s talking about might be tsundoku, a Japanese word for a stack of books that you have purchased but not yet read. My personal library is about one-tenth books I have read and nine-tenths tsundoku. I probably own about 3,000 books. But many of those books are anthologies or compilations that contain multiple books within them. I own a lot of Library of America volumes, a series that publishes the complete novels of authors like Dashiell Hammett and Nathanael West as a single book. Thus, my 3,000-book library probably holds more than 6,000 works. Once I have read a book, I often give it away or trade it in at a used-book store. As a result, my tsundoku is ever expanding while the number of books in my house that I have read remains fairly constant at a few hundred.

In truth, however, the tsundoku fails to describe much of my library. I own a lot of story collections, poetry anthologies and books of essays, which I bought knowing I would probably not read every entry. People like Taleb, Stillman and whoever coined the word tsundoku seem to recognize only two categories of book: the read and the unread. But every book lover knows there is a third category that falls somewhere between the other two: the partially read book. Just about every title on a book lover’s reference shelves, for instance, falls into this category. No one reads the American Heritage Dictionary or Roget’s Thesaurus from cover to cover. One of my favorite books is John Sutherland’s “The Stanford Companion to Victorian Fiction.” It’s a fascinating, witty and very opinionated survey of Victorian England’s novels and novelists, from the famous (Dickens, Trollope, Thackeray) to the justifiably forgotten (Sutherland describes the novels of Tom Gallon as “sub-Dickensian fiction of sentiment and lowlife in London, typically written in an elliptical, rather graceless style”). I’ve owned the book for 20 years and derived great enjoyment from it, but I doubt I’ll ever manage to read every word of it or of dozens of other reference books on my shelves.

Nor do I typically read biographies all the way through. Biographers have a tendency to shoehorn every last tidbit of information they can into their books. I don’t really care about the marks that Ogden Nash received on his third-grade report card or how many trunks of clothing Edith Wharton had shipped across the Atlantic when she moved to France. There are probably hundreds of biographies in my personal library. I have read parts of most of them but I have read very few in their entirety. The same is true of collections of letters. Whenever I finish reading a work of fiction by, say, Willa Cather, I’ll be inspired to pull out the massive tome “The Selected Letters of Willa Cather” and try to get the measure of what the author was like when she was “off duty.”

These cannot be counted as books I have read, but nor can they be labeled tsundoku. Like much of my library, they live in the twilight zone of the partially read. Taleb argues that “read books are far less valuable than unread ones,” because unread ones can teach you things you don’t yet know. I don’t really agree with him. I think it’s a good idea to keep your shelves stocked both with books you’ve read and books you haven’t. But just as important is that third category of book: those you haven’t read all of and may never get around to finishing.

The sight of a book you’ve read can remind you of the many things you’ve already learned. The sight of a book you haven’t read can remind you that there are many things you’ve yet to learn. And the sight of a partially read book can remind you that reading is an activity that you hope never to come to the end of.

Perhaps the Japanese have a word for that.

 

Kevin Mims lives in Sacramento and works at the Avid Reader bookstore, where he has partially read much of the inventory.

Conversations

The ongoing conversation in our house  ~~