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#FridayReads, Oct. 4–Katie Hafner’s Exquisite Memoir “Mother Daughter Me”

Mother Daughter MeI began reading Katie Hafner’s journalism in the NY Times in the ’90s in what was known as “Circuits,” a section of the Thursday newspaper that covered the era of Web 1.0. Everything about tech was new, to me at least. Katie, and “Circuits,” helped make obscure things clear to me, then a not very tech-oriented book editor. Around 1999 I read a cover story Katie had written for Wired magazine and now I was really smitten by her work. Her story was a long one by magazine standards, about 40,000 words, on The Well, an early online community that emerged in the Bay Area starting around 1984. I was amazed–members of The Well had used a kind of proto-listserv and chat system that allowed them to share cyberspace together in a way no one had done before. But that historical first-ness wasn’t the only reason I wanted to make Katie’s article in to a book if I could. It was because of the extraordinary insight in to people that accompanied her reporting. In its early days, The Well had been a tight world where members supported each other like neighbors in a small town. They abided by founder Stewart Brand’s credo, “You own your own words.” Katie’s narrative, with used long threads of online conversations including multiple characters that the reader came to know and care about, was riveting.

In 2000–after a three-year stint for Random House, where the bulk of the time I worked at Times Books, with a big part of my job liasing with editors at the Times to make books with content from such departments as the Book Review, Real Estate, City, and Dining–I joined Carroll & Graf Publishers and contacted Katie with one of my first new book acquisition ideas. I asked if she’d be interested in turning the Wired article in to a book. I remember one day when she was in NYC from the Bay Area we met for coffee near Times Square. She was petite and had a great smile; I found her immediately likable. She talked like the voice of her journalism: a bit funny, and economical with her words that every so often sported a memorable phrase. Though she had not been trying to turn the Wired reporting in to a book, she was intrigued with my idea, and we made a deal to go ahead with it. I edited it with her revising and expanding the manuscript a bit and in 2001 we brought out The Well: A Story of Love, Death & Real Life in The Seminal Online Community. Among the many superb endorsements we printed on the back cover was this one from the proponent of communitarian philosophy Amitai Etzioni: “The best book ever written about communities and the Internet.” The book didn’t set any records, but it did well enough to justify C&G’s investment in it, and I was quite proud of it, as I believe Katie was, especially once the World Wide Web became such a big part of modern life that it was hard to remember a time before it existed. For anyone who wanted to know the prehistory of online interaction, it was right there in The Well.The Well cover

After the book had run its course, Katie and I stayed in touch, but only occasionally. In 2002 I was startled and saddened when I read that her husband Matthew Lyon had died suddenly while on a visit to Seattle for his job with the University of California. He was 45. Katie and their young daughter survived him. I found something to say and wrote her a card with my condolences, grieving with her from a distance.

Katie HafnerLast year, I read that Katie would be publishing a memoir with Random House. I was excited because I had never read anything by Katie about her own world. Mother Daughter Me came out in July and I was thrilled when I got a copy two weeks ago. After making it my #FridayReads last week, when I was only a little ways in to it, I now can say that it is gripping throughout, and likable, like Katie, even while it chronicles some pretty difficult and sad but ultimately transcendent Hafner family business. It begins with her mother’s move from San Diego to be with Katie and her now-teenaged daughter in San Francisco. I finished it the other day during a break while on a bike ride, and scrawled these words on a piece of scrap paper, anticipating I would use my first impressions in this #FridayReads essay:

“Exquisite, in many senses. Exquisitely painful, as it recounts the failures of her drink-addled mother to provide parental stability for Katie and her older sister when they were young. Exquisitely produced and edited with nary a typo or broken letter in the volume. Exquisitely truthful and unflinching in the way Katie examines her own behavior, no less than that of her mother and her daughter. As good a reporter as Katie is when writing about other people, she is somehow even more insightful and penetrating when the subject is herself, her widowhood, and her own family. I walked with her every step of the way on the difficult journey that she takes with her mother and daughter and am very glad I did. An amazingly honest book.”

I recommend Mother Daughter Me to anyone who’s still trying to riddle out truths about their family; to anyone who’s ever argued with a sibling, child or parent; to anyone with an aging parent who ponders future options for them, from living with you to “aging in place,” a term you will encounter here. I will add that like a particular Vaughan Williams symphony that I love–I believe it’s his 6th–this book winds up with a beautifully orchestrated cascade of multiple endings that transit from tragic to reconciled to fulfilled. If you’re like me, your eyes will be very moist as you finish reading Mother Daughter Me. This is a great book.

#FridayReads, Sept. 20–Erskine Childers’ “Riddle of the Sands & Ben Urwand’s “Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact w/Hitler”


Riddle of the SandsAs noted in the above tweet for my #FridayReads a week ago, I was then enjoying the two excellent books named above. The first–The Riddle of the Sands, published in 1903–is arguably the first espionage thriller of the 20th century, though it’s written nothing like spy fiction is written today. It’s a heady and languorous narrative full of maritime adventuring set in the waters of the North Sea and its tidal rivers. The characters tumble in to some intrigue involving Britain and Germany, and the book fascinatingly anticipates many geopolitical issues that became even more pertinent to international relations in the following decades, during WWI and WWII. I used to stock and sell Childers’ book when I ran Undercover Books from 1978-85 as it was frequently assigned to high school students in the local school systems. This in itself is kind of amazing, because it is a complex, sophisticated book and I have a hard time imagining many high school students nowadays reading it, and getting through it. I think it’s also read often by sailors, mariners, and merchant seamen, for as the title suggests the characters are able to develop keen intuition for navigating the waters and the intrigue in to which they are plunged. Recently, Michael Dirda, one of the best book critics around, wrote a fascinating review of ‘Riddle’ in the BN Review which reminded me I had always meant to read the book. I found the second-hand Penguin edition pictured here, and have been relishing every new turn in the unfolding plot. I recommend you read Dirda’s review, even if you don’t have time right now for the book itself.Riddle of the Sands back

The other book, my nonfiction this week, is  The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler, by a young Australian scholar named Ben Urwand, a revelatory and controversial investigation into what he believes–based on documents and correspondence he found–was the close relationship, even alliance from the 1930s, and in at least one instance stretching in to the 1940s, between several US movie production companies and the Third Reich. I learned about the book in the summer, when the New York Times previewed the book, and I wrote about it then in a post titled Still More to Learn about Corporations’ Complicity with the Third Reich. I wrote then,Collaboration

In 2000, while an editor at Crown Publishing, I acquired a book that later became an international sensation and a bestseller in the US. It was IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America’s Most Powerful Corporation by Edwin Black. I believed it was imperative that the book be published because it documented hitherto unknown revelations such as the fact that IBM’s punch card tabulation system was licensed to the Third Reich which then used the technology to catalog and keep track of Jews and others under its rule they deemed undesirables. Turned out that corporate complicity with Hitler was as American as cherry pie.

I want to add that later, in 2006, I edited and published another book in this area, Ibsen and Hitler: The Playwright, the Plagiarist, and the Plot for the Third Reich, in which scholar Steven F. Sage put forth a startling thesis, that long before the Final Solution, Adolf Hitler’s crimes included a kind of theft of intellectual property. The author marshaled lots of evidence to to show that a trio of plays by Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906) had provided Hitler with the script for his hegemonic career. With egotism and braggadocio, he saw himself as the star of a historical drama that mimicked Ibsen’s works. Sage showed that baffling incidents, including poor strategic choices, became understandable as part of a connected plot. He also traces ties between Hitler and a literary cult that warped Ibsen’s humanistic vision to suit their fascist designs, elevating Hitler as their anointed instrument. Sage’s book, and now Urwand’s, point to Hitler’s obsession with narrative drama, whether on the stage or on the silver screen. Both authors document Hitler’s propensity to repeatedly view the same theatrical and cinematic presentations. Sage writes that Hitler would see the same play over and over again, until he reached a point where he felt like he had in some sense become the drama’s hero. It’s striking that the two authors have, in this respect, developed similar theses. If you’re interested, I’ve pasted in the flap copy to Ibsen and Hitler at the bottom of this post which you may click on to read in full. Ibsen & Hitler

There’s already been a fair amount of criticism of Urwand, who is something of an unconventional scholar–he holds no teaching position, is a Junior Fellow of of the Society of Fellows at Harvard University, and has a background that includes being part of a successful rock n’ roll band, The Attachments. You can learn more about Urwand and his book here. The critics of the book have included David Denby in the New Yorker, who seems to take personal offense at the thesis, and claims there’s not much in the book we didn’t know already. I don’t share his jaded response and am eager to continue reading how and why executives likes Louis B. Mayer produced movies that they hoped would please the Third Reich and be shown to audiences in Germany.
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#FridayReads, Sept 6–Celebrating Robertson Davies’ 100th

#FridayReads, Sept. 6–The many books of Canadian novelist Robertson Davies, which I have had the pleasure of reading and enjoying over the past 30 years.

August 28, 2013, was the 100th anniversary of the birth of Robertson Davies, the great Canadian novelist and all around man of letters. The Canadian postal service is marking the anniversary by issuing the stamp below. When I ran Undercover Books in Cleveland, Ohio, which opened in 1978, we introduced thousands of U.S. readers to books by Canadian authors, particularly including Davies.* We were doing so much business in his books at one point in the early ’80s that I wrote Davies a letter c/o of his publisher Viking Penguin to let him know. He responded from ivied Massey College in Toronto, where he was a Don of Letters, and a pleasant correspondence between us ensued over a couple of years. Later, organizers of a writing conference at Case Western Reserve University asked me to invite Davies to a big meeting of theirs, but he declined, explaining he was averse to travel. The organizers asked me if I would instead speak on the combined experience of reading and selling Davies’ books, an invitation I accepted. In my files somewhere is a transcript of the talk I gave and the letters I exchanged with Davies. I will dig them out someday soon and scan them for this site and my newly renamed tumblr, Hono(u)rary Canadian, where I’ve also covered the new Davies stamp.

If you haven’t yet read Davies’ work, I still recommend his books highly. Most readers start with his Deptford Trilogy, and its opening book, Fifth Business, which was first published in 1970, followed in the trilogy by The Manticore and World of Wonders. Their motifs are indelible painted in my mind, though I haven’t re-read the books in more than 20 years: saints, snowballs, magicians, and freakish beauty. His earlier books–Tempest-Tost, Leaven of Malice, and A Mixture of Frailties–collectively known as the Salterton Trilogy, are also very enjoyable. His first break-out book, as a hardcover bestseller, was Rebel Angels, thanks in good part to the enlarged audience that my store, and other indie booksellers, brought to his books.

I’m really glad Robertson Davies is being remembered with this special stamp, which was announced at the Canada Post website and covered at Quill & Quire magazine. Below the stamp are photos of my copies of Davies’ books.  Please click here to see all photos.Robertson Davies stamp
* In a page on this website devoted to my career, Philip Turner–Professional Background, under the heading “Hono(u)rary Canadian” I present more info on Canadian authors I’ve worked with:
As a native of the Great Lakes region, I have a keen affinity for Canadian books and authors, seeing the book world of the U.S.’s upper Midwest and Canada’s southern tier (and one might argue, the whole of the Pacific Northwest) as contiguous literary cultures. As an Ohio bookseller, I introduced thousands of U.S. readers to such Canadian authors as Robertson Davies, Margaret Atwood, Mordecai Richler, Margaret Laurence, Timothy Findley Farley Mowat, and Pierre Berton. As an editor and publisher, I broadened that effort, publishing U.S. editions of books by Atwood, Richler, Mowat, Berton, and Dallaire, as well as Paul Quarrington, Antonine Maillet, Ken McGoogan, Julian Sher, William Marsden, Elaine Dewar, Bonnie Buxton, Howard Engel, Joan Barfoot, George Eliot Clarke, Steven Galloway, Stephen Strauss, Joel Hynes, Paul Anderson, Sheila Munro, and Jan Lars Jensen, among others.

#FridayReads, Aug. 30, Seamus Heaney’s “Death of a Naturalist”

Weekend Update: I’m glad to see that Andrew Sullivan’s site The Dish also eulogized Seamus Heaney in a post sharing the same video I posted below, with the reading of “Digging.” Author of the guest post, poetry editor Alice Quinn, has lovely things to say about Heaney’s affection for other poets–George Herbert, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Elizabeth Bishop, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, etc.

Heaney cover#FridayReads, Aug. 30, Seamus Heaney’s Death of a Naturalist, his debut poetry collection published in 1966, a copy of which I bought at a reading he gave in New York in the late 1980s, and which I’m dipping in to tonight. Heaney was a warm and personable reader who embodied his poems with great solidity and clear voice. The news of his death at age 74 was announced earlier today, with eulogies and obituaries appearing in many publications, including the New York Times, the New Yorker, the Irish Times, and the Boston Globe, where I found the video I’ve posted below of Heaney reading his poem “Digging,” which I recall he read at the event almost 25 years ago.Heaney back

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.
Under my window, a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down
Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.
The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.
By God, the old man could handle a spade.
Just like his old man.
My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.
The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

#FridayReads, Aug. 23, John W. Pilley’s “Chaser: Unlocking the Genius of the Dog Who Knows 1000 Words”


#FridayReads, Aug. 23, John W. Pilley’s Chaser: Unlocking the Genius of the Dog Who Knows a Thousand Words I’m really enjoying dog owner and psychologist Pilley’s engaging book on his remarkable Border collie, Chaser. It could have also been subtitled, “Unlocking the Genius of a Dog Who Knows 1000 Words,” so smart is this dog. I’m reading a galley I got at Book Expo last June. The book will be published October 29th, according to the promotional copy on the back of the advance reader’Chaser back covers copy.

#FridayReads, August 16–Mike Sowell’s “The Pitch That Killed” & Jayne Anne Phillips’ “Quiet Dell”

Sowell-front-cover-69x100#FridayReads, August 16–Mike Sowell’s The Pitch That Killed: The Story of Carl Mays, Ray Chapman, and the Pennant Race of 1920 is one of the best baseball books I’ve ever read, or been involved with publishing. It chronicles the only fatality ever caused by injury to a player during a pro baseball game. Ray Chapman was a terrific Cleveland Indians shortstop who died after being struck in the head with a pitch thrown by NY Yankee Carl Mays. The tragedy occurred in the same season that the Tribe won their first World Series, somehow overcoming the mid-season loss of one of their most valuable players. I’m glad that Cleveland Plain Dealer sports writer Bill Livingston, @LivyPDchose to write about it recently, reminding me of the time I worked at Macmillan Publishing when an editorial colleague and friend, Rick Wolff, brought out the book. Livingston reports that a film based on the book, “Deadball,” is in the works.

Sowell-back-cover-67x100 Today is the 93rd anniversary of the day of the day of the beaning. Chapman never regained consciousness, lingering in a coma and dying two days later. I have read the book several times and feel privileged to make it part of my #FridayReads today.

Quiet Dell coverI am also happy to say that I am continuing to read and savor Jayne Anne Phillips’ Quiet Dell, a mesmerizing novel drawn from the annals of a notorious true crime. It’s set in 1931, when a West Virginia killer who operated under several aliases lured a Chicago-area widow and her three children in to his fatal embrace. He tried to dispose of his victims but failed at that; his crimes were discovered and he was arrested by authorities in the hamlet of Quiet Dell, WV, near the city of Clarksburg. Into this true-life set-up, Jayne Anne Phillips has found it necessary to insert only four fictional characters, alongside the more numerous figures filling the narrative from the historical record. Fictional or once among the living, she renders the actions and motivations of her characters with vivid and imaginative power. One of her fictional characters is female journalist, Emily Thornhill, who becomes the readers’ eyes and ears on the case, which she’s covering for the Chicago Tribune. Emily has had thrust upon her the adoption of the dead family’s orphaned dog–a real-life bull terrier with the Victorian-tinged name of Duty–earlier the target of a vicious kick by the malefactor, now playing a valuable canine role in the investigation with his compelling identification of the killer. Phillips grew up in West Virginia and on her website she includes an Author’s Note that chronicles her personal connections to the story. I urge you to watch for the book which will be published October 15, and which has already received a starred review from Kirkus: “Phillips’ prose is as haunting as the questions she raises about the natures of sin, evil and grace.” I am deliberately not rushing through Quiet Dell and will write more on the book when I’ve finished reading it.Quiet Dell back

Mike Sowell’s fine book is still in print today, in a trade paperback edition from Ivan R. Dee, independent publisher in Chicago. It can be purchased from Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon via this link: The Pitch That Killed. You may also pre-order Quiet Dell from Powell’s. They are the bookselling partner for this site, returning a percentage of your purchase price to aid me in its upkeep.

#FridayReads, Aug 9–Novelist Jayne Anne Phillips’ “Quiet Dell,” w/Thoughts on the Genre of ‘Documentary Fiction’

IMG_1035#FridayReads, Aug 9–Jayne Anne Phillips’ “Quiet Dell,” a mesmerizing novel drawn from the annals of infamous true crime. It’s set in 1931, when a West Virginia killer lured a Chicago-area widow and her three children in to his fatal embrace. Those murders, and others he’d committed, were discovered and he was arrested by authorities in the hamlet of Quiet Dell, WV, near the city of Clarksburg. In this true-life set-up, Jayne Anne Phillips has found it necessary to mint only a handful of fictional characters alongside the figures from history, all of whose actions she renders with imaginative power; her Acknowledgments page names “four” wholly new characters, including female journalist, Emily Thornhill, who becomes the readers’ eyes and ears on the case which she’s covering for her newspaper. The fictional Emily has had thrust upon her the adoption of the dead family’s orphaned dog–a real-life bull terrier with the Victorian-tinged name of Duty–earlier the target of a vicious kick by the malefactor, now playing a valuable canine role in the investigation with his damning identification of the killer.

The names in the book, evidently the actual names of most of these figures, are memorable and make the delineation of the plot, along with early developments in the story, quickly indelible in the reader’s mind. There’s Anna, aka “Asta,” Eicher, who’s been widowed, and her daughters–simple Grethe, 14, precocious Annabel, 9–and her son, Hart, 12. Lavinia is the mother-in-law, also bereft when her son, Asta’s husband Heinrich, was struck and killed by a streetcar in the Loop. The marauding killer goes by several aliases, two of which I’ve met so far, by page 224 of the 456-page book–Cornelius Pierson and Harry Powers.

The writing and construction of the tale are meticulous, engrossing and spellbinding. It’s one of those reads where you really want to be left alone to just read it and soak it in. I often listen to music while reading but I’ve found I don’t want to at all with this book.

I’ve long been interested in fiction that is informed by documentary materials–contemporary newspaper accounts; court records; photos; letters and diaries–whether used verbatim or only alluded to. Books like this that I’ve read and admired include Canadian writer George Elliott Clarke’s novel, George & Rue, which I published as Editor-in-Chief of Carroll & Graf in 2005. That book, which happens to also have been drawn from the annals of true crime, is based on a 1949 murder committed by two men related to Clarke’s mother, an act which he learned of from her only shortly before her death decades later. In Clarke’s novel the primary materials haunt the narrative, hanging in the background like a dark curtain. Clarke, a prodigiously talented poet, novelist, librettist, and orator–whose work I heartily recommend, was recently interviewed by Shelagh Rogers on her fine CBC Radio One books program The Next Chapter, a literary conversation I enjoyed listening to. George & Rue backGeorge & Rue

Another example of this sort of documentary fiction is a short story, “A Game of Catch Among Friends,” written by my son Ewan Turner, which ran as a guest post on The Great Gray Bridge last summer. Ewan had viewed photos of Bob Dylan by photographer Barry Feinstein, and from these he imagined a tale of Dylan on a free day while on tour in London in the early 1960s, around the same time as D.A. Pennebaker shot his classic documentary, “Dont Look Back.

Ewan TurnerCatch Among Friends Barry Feinstein

Earlier this year in March I had enjoyed a friendly evening that included Jayne Anne Phillips, when at the NBCC annual awards we were introduced by mutual friend Jane Ciabattari and sat only a row apart for the inspirational program of literary honors. I was pleased then when during BEA last June I met Jayne again in a welcome moment of serendipity–I spied her at the Scribner booth with Nan Graham–her much-decorated editor, and a publisher of great taste whose books I’ve written about before–signing copies of the nice looking ARC of Quiet Dell pictured here. Jayne Anne remembered me, even amid the BookExpo throng and a big line-up in front of her. I asked her to inscribe a galley to my wife, Kyle, though it turns out I’ve gotten to read it before her. I am glad I picked it up this week, because though it draws deeply from the well of a dark and tormented history, it bids fair to make of the Eicher family’s suffering something redemptive and just by way of the imagined life of Emily Thornhill and the undying loyalty of Duty. As the back of the galley indicates the novel will be published in October. Phillips grew up in West Virginia and on her excellent website she includes an Author’s Note on Quiet Dell that chronicles her personal connections to the story. I urge you to watch for the book, which has already received a starred review from Kirkus. You may pre-order Quiet Dell from Powell’s Books, and under my affiliation with the Portland, OR bookstore–by which they return a portion of your purchase price to me–you can help provide for upkeep of this website. This is also true of other books I write about on The Great Gray Bridge, such as George & Rue.

Finally, I’d ask you to let me know of any examples of what I’ve dubbed “documentary” fiction that you’ve personally relished reading. It seems to me we live in an age of mash-ups, where artists feel free to borrow or even appropriate (often judiciously, sometimes not) from the history, culture and media swirling around us all. I welcome your faves and thoughts in the comments below or direct to me via the contact button.  
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#FridayReads, July 26–Robert Goddard’s “Fault Line” & Edward McClelland’s “Nothin’ But Blue Skies”

IMG_0944#FridayReads, July 26–British novelist Robert Goddard’s Fault Line, a totally engrossing book that weaves together a Cornwall-based ceramic company’s shrouded background with a local family’s equally buried history. Goddard is a true master of plotting, character, suspense, and surprise by whom I’ve enjoyed nearly 20 earlier books, after first discovering him in a 2008 Paste magazine feature with Stephen King, who made this unqualified endorsement of Goddard’s books:

“The best books—yes, books—I’ve read this year are the mystery/thriller/suspense novels of a British writer named Robert Goddard. I happened on him by accident; a handful of his books have now been issued in America, but I had to get most of them direct from Britain, where he’s a bestseller. Goddard has written at an amazing pace—17 or 18 novels in as many years—but his writing is sharp and sometimes poetic. The stories, which usually center on well-kept secrets from the early part of the 20th century (in Closed Circle, the secret is a group of well-heeled British manufacturers who caused World War I) are amazing tricks of conjury. Here are surprises that really surprise. The protagonists (the books are stand-alones) are decent fellows out of their league who mostly—but not always—find a way to muddle through. These are authentic stay-up-late-to-finish stories, and there doesn’t seem to be a bad one in the bunch. The place to start is with Goddard’s first: Past Caring.”

I paid special attention to King’s recommendation owing to a personal encounter I’d had with him many years earlier. In 1979 he was already a popular novelist, with bestsellers CarrieSalem’s Lot, and The Shining already to his name, but his books hadn’t been filmed yet or adapted for TV. Within a year or two he would be much more famous. He was on a book tour for his novel Dead Zone, probably his fifth or sixth published book, and our Viking Press sales rep brought him by my Cleveland bookstore, Undercover Books, to sign our hardcover stock of the current title, and other copies of his books we had on hand. It wasn’t a reading, just a quick drop-by.

While I was gathering up our inventory, King was browsing and saw on display a copy of another then-current Viking novel.  Pointing to it, he said to me and a couple customers nearby, “The really great novel from Viking right now is The Dogs of March by Ernest Hebert.” I was excited at this because I’d already read Hebert’s book, and had loved it, too. Like King from Bangor, ME, Hebert was a New Englander, from Keene, New Hampshire. The Granite State was where I had gone to college, Franconia College in the White Mountains, and I’d found Hebert’s portrayal of working class people in the North Country to be utterly real and believable. I told King that I shared his enthusiasm for Hebert’s book and that I would now recommend it to my customers all the more energetically. In fact, soon after this conversation, I wrote a letter to Hebert c/o Viking and let him know that I’d enjoyed his book, and that he and his book had booster in Stephen King and my bookstore. After, that Ernie–as I came to know him–and I carried on a correspondence for several years and I visited with him and his family on trips I made back to New Hampshire. We later fell out of touch but Hebert has continued writing novels and moved from working as a newspaper reporter to teaching English at Dartmouth, where I believe he still works. He has a number of footprints on the Internet, one via a Dartmouth url called Recycling Reality: A Writer’s View of the World and a blog of his own. From the latter, I see that The Dogs of March is officially in print 34 years after it first appeared Writing this post, I’ve decided to see if I might re-forge a connection with Hebert and so will share this post with him.IMG_0945

Goddard’s books are usually set in rural Britain with plots that also take his characters to such Mediterranean locales as Capri and Rhodes. Like Ross MacDonald’s Lew Archer novels, such as The Zebra Striped Hearse, which invariably chronicle multiple generations of a family and secrets that have been long buried and are excavated by private detective Archer, Goddard’s books explore the complicated histories of families that have been on the land sometimes for hundreds of years, though his books don’t feature a private detective or policeman. Instead, there’s a male narrator or protagonist who, as King says, “are decent fellows out of their league who mostly—but not always—find a way to muddle through.” In Fault Line, narrator Jonathan Kellaway is a long-time employee of the ceramics manufacturer whose corporate history is being written by an academic historian. (Like Balzac’s Lost Illusions, in which we learn about paper, ink, and printing technology in 19th century France, here we learn that Cornwall is ideal for the production of household ceramics owing to the local soil that is so rich in clay.)  Kellaway’s elderly CEO details him to help the historian in her work and undertake a search for company records from a vital period of its history that have unaccountably gone missing. I’d agree the fate of a ceramics company doesn’t sound exciting, but from ordinary saplings mighty narrative oaks may grow.

I think of Goddard as a latter-day John Fowles, the notable British novelist who produced such masterworks as The Magus and The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Along with sharing (above) a picture I took of the copy of Fault Line I finished reading yesterday, here’s a shot of all the other Goddard books I’ve read since I discovered Stephen King’s recommendation of him in early 2009. Goddard's backlist

After finishing Fault Line yesterday, I picked up a new book of literary journalism Nothin’ But Blue Skies: The Heyday, Hard Times, and Hopes of America’s Industrial Heartland by Edward McClelland. I had already read an excerpt Canoeing the Cuyahoga in the Scene, a local Cleveland magazine, and really liked his approach to writing about my old hometown. His work is full of little-known historical nuggets and on-the-ground reporting, or in this case, on-the-river reporting. McClelland is a native of Lansing, MI, so the book actually begins with some great reportage on his hometown in the 60s and 70s when auto plant culture dominated the town, with freeway ramps being designed to accommodate the auto workers’ daily arrival and exodus from the plants. Chapter One covers the Flint, MI sit-down strike of 1936-37, an event I knew nothing about until last night. As a contributor to Rust Belt Chic: The Cleveland Anthology, I was glad to see that co-editor of the anthology, Anne Trubek, had enjoyed McClelland’s book and is quoted about it on the back cover: “McClelland assembles old-school reporting, memoir, history, and wit into a brilliant story about the workers and robber barons who created booming economies, the strikes, politics, and global changes that rendered them depressed, and the people from Decatur to Syracuse trying to figure out what’s next. Neither starry-eyed nor despairing, Nothin’ But Blue Skies is the book to read on the past, present, and future of the Rust Belt.”

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No question it’s been a great past week of reading. And it’s going to be a great few more weeks of reading to come with such books in my to-be-read pile as  They Called Me Number One: Secrets and Survival at a Residential Indian School by Bev Sellars, Chief of the Soda Creek First Nation band of British Columbia, Canada; Boris Kaschka’s Hothouse: The Art of Survival and the Survival of Art at America’s Most Celebrated Publishing House; Jumpa Lahiri’s September novel, The Lowland; and Jayne Anne Phillips’ October novel, Quiet Dell.Summer reading

Please note: All the book links in this blog post are live and go to the website of Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon. Under an arrangement I’ve made with Powell’s, if you choose to buy any books linked, they return a portion of your purchase price to help me maintain this website.