Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Who Am I Kidding?

I spent precious writing time yesterday afternoon on a piece about The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens. And if you haven’t read that piece, please put the book on your “To Read” list. You won’t be sorry.

I heard about this novel and bought a copy on the recommendation of a friend with a reputation as a discerning reader. At the close of a recent book club session, she mentioned three or four titles without any further description, and I assumed solely from the title that it was a novel of manners.

As a senior citizen with so many books left to read in rapidly diminishing time, I try to be picky about my selections. I only read good fluff; the book doesn’t have to be a serious tome, but it must have something unique to offer the audience.

I don’t see myself as a mystery reader; or I didn’t until I started going through the list of all the books I’ve read since 1990. The dog-eared spiral containing the list provided an entirely different view of my reading taste. Between a credible selection of fairly well regarded books, I’ve also enjoyed my fair share of murder mysteries.  

The ones I most particularly enjoy are light on the crime and heavy on the development of the various characters and their interaction with each other. Elizabeth George was particularly good at that.

The hero in a mystery must have admirable qualities; not like Gone Girl in which everyone is a schnook. It’s even better if they’re comical or period pieces or set in a unique place.

Charlotte Macleod, a British author, has written a double handful of mysteries with a dry sense of humor. Alisa Craig is another I enjoy. John Greenwood and Joan Hess have written series that are perfect for the beach or airplane. Janet Evanovich’s earlier books are also delightful.

Of course there’s an exception to every rule. I adore James Lee Burke who is scary and incredibly violent but has a fantastic command of the language; sort of a cross between Shakespeare and Al Capp.

Jasper Fforde presents mysteries from a science fiction approach. His Eyre Affair is a must read but don’t rush through it. You might miss the puns. Oh, and for those of you who’ve given birth, the villain is Braxton Hicks. Does the name ring a bell?

Every genre has its place. It’s always good to read something light and entertaining after completing a serious book.

I had an enlightening afternoon writing this piece; learned something about myself. If you decide to read any of the titles or authors I’ve suggested in this piece or if you have a particular mystery writer you’d like to recommend, please don’t hesitate to write a commentary in reply.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Life We Bury

The extra added bonus to participation in a book discussion group is swapping titles with the other members which is how I came to hear about The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens. It was included in a short list of “good reads” without any plot summary by a discriminating reader among my circle of reading friends. Several weeks later, the title rang a bell when I came across a stack of paper back editions at our local independent book store, and I bought a copy. It was a fortunate selection.

Joe Talbert is not a typical college student. Torn between yearning for freedom from an alcoholic mother and autistic brother to pursue an education and a strong sense of responsibility for this brother, he’s working his way through school as a bouncer in a bar and balances the demands of classwork with a frantic scramble to earn enough to fund his schooling.

I won’t share much of the story for fear of ruining it for any potential readers, but I will say it’s a credible plot. The characters have redeemable qualities.  While the plot is unique, it isn’t psychologically disturbing.

Had I known it was a crime novel, I’m not sure I would have bothered, but I’m glad I did.  The good guys prevail over the villains for a satisfying conclusion. There’s enough depth to the main characters that I hope to meet them again in another book. I’d like to see how they develop and where they wind up after college.


Saturday, September 10, 2016

A Small Room

Last night I attended an open house for a local art museum in a newly renovated mansion. The neighborhood in which the house is located is built around a public golf course. Some of the residences may be circa 1930's but most are of more modern vintage, and all have been renovated numerous times.

This area is one of my husband's favorites. Since his health leaves much to be desired, we take drives now and again to get him out of the house. We study changes in the various neighborhoods as a hobby and followed the renovation of this particular residence from the street with interest.

The interior of the house was an open floor plan with the kitchen and den combined into one big open area. Between the dining room and kitchen there was a butler's pantry as well as a pantry bigger than half my kitchen. Every bedroom had a bathroom.

It was an exquisite house. Each and every detail had been covered with no regard to expense. My architect friend practically drooled as we toured the second level.

While everything in the house along with the outdoor kitchen was the latest gadget, the landscaping in the back yard was timeless and will only increase in beauty with maturity.

It was good to get out on a Friday night, to visit with people I rarely see and to enjoy new and beautiful surroundings, but I was equally glad to go home and take off my shoes.

One of my favorite rooms in our house is the study. Located on the front of the house, it was the smallest bedroom until we had book shelves built on one entire wall and converted it into a cozy space to sit and read. As I sat nestled in the corner of this undersized room with needlepoint in my lap and dog napping across my feet, I reflected on the difference in the way the children who live in that house utilize their space in comparison to how my four lived in ours.

Experience has taught me that sharing a bedroom and bath as a child can prove to be an advantage later in life. But which came first? Did the public demand wide open spaces with tall ceilings in contemporary housing or did architects develop the open space concept, and it became popular? What impact, if any, will this have on our children? It will be interesting to hear if social scientist regard this as a significant issue twenty years from now.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Marilyn Watts, Where Are You?

Earlier this week I had the joy of re-connecting with a former college roommate.

We met and lived together in Grace Hall on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin. It was an incredible experience. The building was the first women's dorm on campus. Built from huge squares of stone, Grace Hall looked more like a small castle or a large rectory for the Episcopal Church next door than a college dormitory. The ceilings were exceptionally high on the first two floors with radiator heat and ceiling fans in every room. There were oriental rugs through-out the house. Most were worn right through to the backing by sixty years of coed traffic.

The dining hall was irregularly shaped, possibly an octagon, with a dumbwaiter to deliver the food from the kitchen. The tables were round and made of dark wood. The breakfront reached the ceiling and was probably six or eight feet long. The living room was beautifully furnished with a baby grand piano.

Mrs. Purcell was the housemother. My roommate reminded me that Mrs. Purcell took pride in using real butter and the best available ingredients for our meals. I'd forgotten the home-made sweet rolls served on Sunday mornings and the bread pudding that followed on Mondays made from left over sweet rolls, but I clearly remembered the gingerbread with orange butter they served in the fall.

We were assigned to a suite of three rooms at the end of the hall on the third floor. The rooms had lower ceilings than the rest of the house. Our beds fitted under the eaves of the roof. Heat rises which meant we were often forced to open our widows and turn on the ceiling fans during winter cold spells.

It was when we began to reminisce over the other residents that my heart sank. One of our suite mates did not register for school until a week or two after classes had already started. Marilyn Watts was an adorable blonde with the saddest face. It took a while, but once she became acquainted with us, Marilyn explained the source of her grief. She'd been married earlier that summer. The couple was painfully young and naive, it lasted less than a week.

It was good for Marilyn to be away from home in a different environment where she had time to consider past events and weigh her true feelings. She soon realized she still loved her Jimmy. I've forgotten the details, but I'm pretty sure she reached out to him. They were married the next semester.

The roommate visiting me this week and I made the drive to San Antonio to see Marilyn the next year. She had an infant son and was blissfully happy.

What was the cause of my dismay? My roommate and I got busy with our own lives and lost touch with Marilyn. We don't remember Jimmy's last name, but we do recall he was in the service. And now, with mature hearts, we look back at that young couple and wonder what happened to them. We can only hope Jimmy made it back from Vietnam, and they were reasonably happy together for the rest of their lives.