Review of The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

At first the heft of this book, weighing in at 771 pages, was intimidating.  However,  Theo managed to persuade me to take the whole trip.  Am I glad I did?  I still don’t know.  The book is actually  a series of passages in Theo’s life, starting with the terrible death of his mother and  acquision of The Goldfinch painting by the master Fabritius. He is taken in by the rich family  of one of his classmates, also a misfit.  The depiction of upper East Side New York qualifies as a novel of manners in this section.

Move to Las Vegas where Theo goes with his n’er-do-well father and father’s girlfriend.  Here Theo meets best friend and Russian, Boris, and the two of them embark on a life of debauchery of such proportions as to be almost heroic.  That the two are so young only underscores the outrageousness of it all.

Move on to Theo’s life as antiques dealer and wheeler-dealer.  Having lost his soul, Theo cons clients and becomes engaged to the daughter of the rich family who adopted him earlier.  All along the faithful Hobie minds the shop.  Perhaps the only innocent part of Theo left is his obsession with Pippa, whom he originally met when his mother was killed in the museum blast, but who, alas, moves to Texas and later becomes engaged to a useless Brit.

Onto the phase where Theo tries to get back The Goldfinch painting. Through a series of sometimes violent adventures and crimes, he does regain possession of the painting that still escapes my understanding of its importance in his life.  Maybe it is a metaphor for the inability of Theo to escape from all the bad forces that lurk in his life?

The writing is beautifully done in terms of imagery, sentence structure, the basics, really.  And yes, Theo is interesting, although I found Boris more so.  The bottom line here is that the book could have used more editing.

Review of Blood Will Out by Walter Kirn

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

The subject of this book, Christopher Gerhart, aka Clark Rockefeller, among a series of other fake names, is fascinating in what a con man he is.  Coming to America from a small town in Germany, he manages to ascend the social and financial ladder to the heights of the finest clubs.  His apartment is filled with fake paintings from masters like Mondrian, Pollock, and Rothko, and he has convinced the author that he went off to Harvard at 14. Certainly he is a quick study since he has the right outfits, sayings, choice of dogs.  His motto seems to be “Go big or stay home.” In fact, the outrageousness of his claims is so extreme as to be almost comical, if it were not for the darker, sinister side of the murderer he becomes.

Once he is captured trying to kidnap his own daughter and put up for trial for the murder of a former landlord, the author arrives to write about the legal proceedings, the premise of the book.  Anyone who can con as many sophistocated people as Gerhart has, is by definition interesting.  If Kirn had spent less time on his own case and more on analysis of Gerhart’s sociopathy, this book would be a stronger read.

Review of Lee Krasner/ A Biography by Gail Levin

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

Gail Levin is an accomplished writer and art historian and therefore well-equipped to record the life of  artist Lee Krasner, most famous for being the wife of Jackson Pollock.  This book also serves as a thorough study of the famous artists, for example de Kooning and Motherwell,  from the Twenties into the Fifties.  Krasner comes across as a very talented abstract artist in her own right, something often overlooked in the large shadow cast by her husband.  She is a determined, strong woman who, nevertheless, put aside her own life and career to support Pollock in his.  Although Pollock dies in a car crash with another woman, Krasner devotes much of the rest of her long life to sealing the legacy of Pollock’s paintings.

The fact that there are so many contradictions in personality and behavior is perhaps a fitting testament to a time when artists struggled to create new forms of art.  Krasner can seem peevish and difficult and  takes herself a bit too seriously.  But as a role model for women artists, she is at the forefront.

Review of The Trip to Echo Spring/ On Writers and Drinking by Olivia Laing

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

While the form of this book, that is comparing and analyzing the drinking lives of several famous American writers, can seem contrived, somehow Laing pulls off an interesting read.  Perhaps the fact that her subjects, namely Fitzgerald, Hemingway. Tennessee Williams, John Berryman, John Cheever, and Raymond Carver, are wildly talented writers as well as fascinating characters, helps her cause.  In other words, it would be difficult to portray the behaviors of this group without the drama and fascination their real lives created.

Laing travels the country by train to the various places made famous by the writers, places immensely colorful, like New Orleans and Key West.  It seems that Laing undertakes this project in order to somehow understand the destructive role alcohol has played in her own life.

The book peters out toward the end, but the anecdotes  of this crew enliven and support the trip.

Reviews In Short

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

Books

Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad about My Neck is jaunty and fun up until the last chapter where she grows somber about the passing, of her life.

Traveling with Pomegranates is the tale of a mother and daughter odyssey alternately narrated by the mother and daughter. Girly.

The Patriarch shows us why Joseph P. Kennedy was the father of: one US president, two senators, the creator of Special Olympics, the ambassador for Ireland and all the other accomplished people in his large family.

The Boy in the Moon is the wrenching account of journalist Ian Brown’s life with his severely disabled son. Not for the faint of heart, this memoir recounts the horrifying life Brown and his wife have gone through to keep their uncommunicative son at home as long as possible.

Rosina Harrison’s Rose:  My Days in Service with Mrs. Astor is the memoir of a simple Yorkshire woman who “served” Lady Astor for many years. Here we get an inside view of the rigidly structured British class system.  That Rose is as plucky and opinionated as her ladyship makes this slim book a fun read.

My review of Robert Hilburn’s Johnny Cash/The Life is at Webshoo.com.

Audiobooks

Identical Strangers by Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein tells the story of how twins, separated early on in an orphanage, find each other and try to make up for their lost time together. The expose here is that the twins were separated in order to study how they would react. Becomes tedious as times with all the self searching.

The Last Stand by Nathaniel Philbrick is the most riveting audiobook I have listened to so far. Philbrook tells the story of flamboyant George Armstrong Custer and his enemy Sitting Bull with all their battles and the political machinations of the time  in a nuanced and balanced way. The reader, George Guidall, is perfect for the task.

Churchill is a condensed version of the life and times of one of our most revered and talented world leaders, by historian Paul Johnson, who directly knew him. It is a pleasure to spend time with the great man.

Esteemed travel writer Paul Theroux’s Ghost Train to the Eastern Star is a fine example of the ability of a good writer to enliven and enchant us  on just about any topic.

Nathaniel Philbrick once again gets it right with his Bunker Hill/ A City, A Seige, A Revolution, which describes the conflicts between the Patriots and the Loyalists leading up to the Revolutionary War.  The utter brutality of that time remains unsettling.

Review of Where Men Win Glory

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

Where Men Win GloryReview of Where Men Win Glory

Jon Krakauer’s Where Men Win Glory, The Odyssey of Pat Tillman, is a deeply disturbing book on many levels.

As usual, Krakauer did massive research on Pat Tillman’s entire life as well as on the wars against Terror after September 11, 2001.

Tillman was an unusual person and a gifted athlete.  Partly his California upbringing and partly the self-possessed person he was, Tillman danced to the beat of his own drummer.  Case in point, of course, he gave up a $3.6 million dollar contract with the NFL to enlist in the army.

Tillman grew up in a family of  sports-oriented boys in California.  As a younger lad he was small, so he made up for his size in sheer determination and practice.  When he enjoyed a growth spurt in high school, he was already positioned to be a star football player.  He played in college for Arizona State University where he had a scholarship, then for the Arizona Cardinals when he joined the NFL.  Along the way, he met the love of his life, Marie, to whom he was faithful in spite of his celebrity.  She provided the steady balance to his intensity.

One disturbing part of the story is the beating Tillman forced on a high school student whom Pat mistakenly thought had roughed up one of his high school football buddies.  If not for a lenient judge, who reduced Tillman’s savage beating to a misdemeanor, he would have lost the crucial scholarship to Arizona State.

Most disturbing, however, is the chaotic mess that was the US Army in Afghanistan.  Krakauer indicts the Bush Administration as well as the US military leaders for the senseless wars these young soldiers had to endure.  In particular, he exposes the unforgivable sham the Bush Administration used by casting Tillman as the heroic victim of the enemy to promote their own agenda when in reality Tillman was the victim of “friendly fire.”

The terrible end for Tillman came when he was killed by his own comrades, the same soldiers he had climbed up to a ridge in the mountains of Afghanistan to protect. The waste resulting from the stupid miscommunications of the army is the sad theme that runs through the last part of the book.

Krakauer opens the different parts of this chronicle with meaningful quotes from classical writers like Homer (the title is from a quote from Homer’s Iliad) and Aeschylus.  He also includes extensive notes on each chapter as well as an index.  For the sometimes dense and thus confusing areas of the book, these additions are helpful.

For the general reader, though, Krakauer’s account of Pat Tillman’s driven life is the clearest and most interesting.  His detailed expose of the Bush team and army leaders can lose even a careful reader, as can his step-by-step depiction of all the military operations and strategies. So Tillman and his family make up the best parts of this book.  There are tender scenes of Tillman and Marie plus plentiful descriptions of Pat with his brother, Kevin, who went into the army with him and was in the same battalion that cost Pat his life.

That Tillman was such a gifted and fascinating man makes his loss ever more devastating.

Random House Audio’s Thomas Jefferson

Saturday, July 6th, 2013

This is a hefty biography focused on Jefferson’s political power. Certainly, this book is a wonderful vehicle for Jeffersonian scholars because of the density of facts and research. However, it may be easier to absorb in the form of an audiobook where the listener can concentrate on those passages and sections that are most interesting.

All in all, there are enough personal anecdotes about Jefferson’s wildly contradictory private life to keep a casual listener attuned.  And the listener can’t help but be moved by the profound losses Jefferson suffered throughout his life: his beloved wife early on; all but one of his children.

Thomas Jefferson is at its best describing the times in which Jefferson strode and the man’s immense and varied talents. In addition to his writing and political brilliance, Jefferson designed the gardens at Monticello as well as the classical beauty of the University of Virginia and Monticello itself.

We are reminded of the wonderful quote by JFK, who, while introducing a dinner at the White House in 1962 for Nobel Prize winners, noted that it was “probably the greatest concentration of talent and genius in this house except perhaps those times when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”

This book review was contributed by  Leslie Brown, patron of the Elizabeth Taber Library.  >Reserve your copy through the SAILS Network .

Please add to the conversation about this book in the comments below, or submit a book review to our webmaster.

Pets & Thunder Storms

Saturday, July 6th, 2013

Marion MA Pet Sitting | Terrie Lee ColeAnyone who has entered the Elizabeth Taber Library knows that we are crazy about pets.  All dogs are welcome we have water and treats and always a lot of love to share with our canine companions.  This past June was particularly full of rain and thunder storms, which we know is upsetting to many of your pets.  For some advice on how to help dogs that are particularly sensitive we reached out to Terrie Lee Cole, who loves pets as much as we do and as a pet sitter by profession has the advantage of working with all kinds of breeds.  Terrie wrote out her advice and we wanted to share with the community.

My experience has been that during a storm, the calmer I am, the better off the dog is. Animals are extremely intuitive.  Here are some Helpful Hints:

  • Dogs with crates: place some extra soft bedding in the crate with their favorite toys and a few special treats. Close the door, but don’t lock it. That way, they have the choice of staying in their safe place or getting closer to you. Stay within eye distance, so the dog knows where you are.
  • Retreat to the basement, if a familiar place for the animal. The storm won’t be as intense down there.
  • Be patient,understanding and loving, but be careful not to encourage the anxiety. Sometimes animals will hold onto the anxious behavior because it gets them extra attention.
  • There are actually dvd’s out to calm your animals.  I personally have not watched any of these. I do have a few dvd’s that the dogs and I seem to enjoy. They are coral reefs and landscapes with beautiful music.
  • The last thing I would like to mention is “The Thunder Shirt” I have not known anyone to use this, but it makes sense to me.

You can learn more about Terrie on her Pet Sitting website or if you have some tips to share, please let us know!  We really appreciate community involvement!

 

 

 

Design Talks at the ETL

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

design talks | Adult Education

A Farewell to Judie

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

Elizabeth Taber Library | Judith KlevenOn Friday, May 31, the Elizabeth Taber Library will celebrate the career of Head Librarian Judie Kleven.

Please come and reminisce with Judie and her staff over the books and stories you shared over nearly three decades at her goodbye party and library open house. Refreshments will be served between 3:30 and 5:00 PM.