Sunday, October 27, 2013

Round House

OK, so I am a little behind in my reading.  I just finished the 2012 National Book Award winning novel, Round House by Louise Erdrich.  The finalists for the 2013 awards were announced on October 16th, and I have not read any of them yet.  Yikes!! See this year's finalists at

I should not have waited so long to read Joe's story in Round House. Until the spring of 1988, Joe Coutts lives a typical life on a reservation in North Dakota.  His father is an Ojibewe tribal judge and his mother is a tribal enrollment specialist.  He and his friends go to school, watch Star Trek: The Next Generation, play video games, talk about girls, and drink beer whenever they can get away with it.  His life is nothing out of the ordinary for a thirteen year old boy.  Then his mother is brutally attacked and Joe's life is turned upside down.  His mother, Geraldine, goes into a deep depression, and Joe learns that his father and tribal law can do nothing to bring her attacker to justice.  Joe wants his mother to be well, and he wants his life back to normal.  Joe and his friends decide to take action.

Read this book!  Round House will not only entertain you, but as a bonus you will learned something about tribal law and jurisdiction in this tale well told.

~Gilby G

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Bell Jar

Long before Matthew Quick wrote Silver Linings Playbook, Sylvia Plath recounted her depression, suicide attempts and treatment in an autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar. Considered a standard for its accurate and brutally honest account of mental illness, her legacy serves as psychology class material and an example of great American literature. Plath's frank description of her depression and the
contributing factors are brutally honest and real, drawing the reader into Plath's psyche. Through the character Esther Greenwood, Plath expresses anger at her father for dying when she was a child and resentment towards her mother whom she deemed an ordinary woman with an ordinary life. Plath explores her need to break away from societal norms and "dictate my own thrilling letters." At the time, it was held as an icon of feminist literature yet speaks to anyone who feels trapped by expectations and wishes to strike out on their own. This accounts for the many references to Sylvia Plath and The Bell Jar in all forms of popular culture such as the young adult novel, And Then Things Fall Apart by Arlaina Tibensky.

The sheer sustaining power of this novel is that readers not suffering with depression or other disorders can empathize with a character that does. The Bell Jar displays that people are not defined solely by their illness and are stronger than their struggles. This novel can help people understand others (or themselves) who may be experiencing hard times in a clear way. Anyone seeking to understand mental illness outside of a textbook should read this novel because, in real life, no one is a textbook example.


Sunday, October 20, 2013


Brian Kimberling's Snapper vacillates between being a love letter to a wry Dear Jane letter and settles somewhere in between. Instead of writing to a girl, Kimberling writes to the state of Indiana, the state where he grew up, but now sees all the more clearly for having moved away. Somewhere in his creative writing journey, someone must have suggested Kimberling write about what he knows best and he decided to write about his home state. He captures Indiana perfectly,  revealing both the beauty and the blemishes.

This debut novel is a connected series of stories and vignettes about coming of age in Southern Indiana. The book opens with the main character, Nathan Lochmueller, working as a research assistant monitoring songbirds. The chapters move forward and backward through time, as Nathan covers the territory, mapping bird populations and observing human nature. Memorable characters include Lola, a free spirited on-again off-again girl friend and Shane, a life-long friend who once had a dramatic encounter with a snapping turtle.

You don't have to be from Indiana to enjoy this book. In fact, you might enjoy it more if you aren't from Indiana because the book points out many flaws in the Hoosier state. Snapper is a poignant look at growing up and how your hometown experiences shape your character forever.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Extending Tucson Meet Yourself in Your Kitchen

Tucson Meet Yourself (TMY) is one of my favorite weekends of the year.  So much food, dancing, food, music, fried bread products, crafts and, did I mention food?  I've been inspired this year to continue to enjoy some of the fantastic food by cooking it myself.  To that end I found some fantastic cookbooks and one other foodie type book to keep me going.
Let's start with Susan Feniger's Street Food.  Essentially everything at TMY is street food - you're eating it out on the street, licking your fingers and generally making a goopy mess of yourself.  It's not a good TMY year if I don't come home with food stains on my clothing.  The photo of the Ukrainian Spinach Dumplings looks very much like my favorite pirogis. And I just might learn how to make homemade cheese with the Indian Saag and Homemade Paneer recipe.  Looking at Indonesian Tek-Tek Noodles with Chopped Peanut Sauce makes me hungry right this second.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Death is Only the Beginning

What better month than October to consider books where death isn't the end of anybody's story? In these three wildly different books, it's only the beginning.

Croak - Gina D'Amico
Wild child Lex is the despair of her family. She doesn't know why she acts so bad, just that she does. Then her Uncle Mort turns up and explains that her nature is to be a Grim Reaper, and she's scheduled to start right now. Swept away to a town full of Grim Reapers, Lex is just starting to settle in when everything starts to go wrong, and she gets blamed. The story continues in Scorch and concludes in Rogue.

Putting Makeup on Dead People - Jen Violi
Her father has been dead for four years, yet Donna still feels as if it happened yesterday. As her senior year comes to an end, she's floundering around, trying to decide what she wants to do with her life. To her surprise, and the consternation of her family, she decides to go to school to become a mortician. Is she spiraling into a pit of morbid depression, or has she found her true calling?

Nightspell - Leah Cypess
When her sister was sent away to marry a foreign king, Darri vowed to rescue her. But when she arrives in the aptly-named Ghostland, she discovers that the baby sister she remembers has grown into a stranger. In this land populated with the living and the dead, it's not always obvious who's on your side.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Flying Warthogs

Like the Arizona Wildcats and Lucky Wishbone, pairs of A-10 Warthogs flying across the Tucson sky have been a local tradition for decades. The A-10 was developed after the Vietnam War and characterized by its distinctive nose mounted 30mm Gatling gun. Designed to fly slowly and low to the ground, the missile-carrying A-10 effectively decimated Soviet tanks and provided stellar service in the Middle East and the Balkans. Recent news that the United States Air Force may decommission the A-10 has sparked efforts to prevent that from happening since none of the current and upcoming planes in the military's inventory can provide the close air support of the A-10. 

Gary Wetzel's book, A-10 Thunderbolt II : Units of Operation Enduring Freedom is a timely chronicle of the A-10's role in the first five years of the war in Afghanistan. Wetzel details the combat missions the A-10 flew against the Taliban and Al Queda that included preventing American soldiers and special forces teams from being overrun. Color photographs and artwork illustrate the A-10's history over the rugged and war torn country, including those of the 355th Fighter Wing based at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. Future volumes about the A-10 in Operation Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom are planned but, for now, this book serves as an excellent testimony on why the A-10 should remain a Southern Arizona tradition for years to come.


Sunday, October 6, 2013

Prime Time

Admittedly, I was first attracted to The Joy of X : a Guided Tour of Math from One to Infinity by its cover art but, in all probability, what got me reading was the author's aim - to entice those of us whose previous math education was deficient or sadly lacking to enter his world and ultimately learn to appreciate it. In short, Stephen Strogatz, the Schurman Professor of Applied Mathematics at Cornell University and the recipient of a lifetime achievement award for math communication, was offering me a second chance at math - sans tests, sans withering comments from a math teacher, sans letters like "D" on a report card. Count me in, I thought as I cautiously read the preface and then proceeded (slowly) to the first chapter.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

A Legacy of Adventure

So, reader. Are you an amateur archaeologist or an aspiring detective? A secret armchair Indiana Jones? Do you love horror, thrillers, maybe ghost stories? If so, I can recommend an author for you. No, not different authors—just one writer who does all of the things I mentioned, and does them well, too.

I’d like to introduce you to the world of Barbara Mertz. So prolific that she needed three names to contain her creativity, Mertz (also known as Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels) passed away recently at the age of 85. She has left behind a treasure trove of bestselling writing that encompasses mysterious episodes in shadowy pyramids, creepy yarns involving haunted antiques, and suspenseful escapades in creaky manses.

The stories she spun were meticulously researched, reflecting her background as a trained Egyptologist and archaeologist. But what brought that research to life was a deft touch with characters, a sense of humor, and a talent for crafting tight plotlines. As Barbara Michaels, she wrote thrillers and mysteries, often with a dark or paranormal bent. And as Barbara Mertz, she wrote mainly non-fiction about Egypt, which bubbled over with her own passion for history, her keen eye for human nature, and a lighthearted tone. To most readers, though, Mertz is probably best remembered as Elizabeth Peters. Writing as Peters, she brought gutsy Victorian adventurer Amelia Peabody into the world in a series of rollicking archaeological adventures.

While each of her personas offers readers a different “flavor”, Mertz’s enormous gift for storytelling delivers a consistently absorbing read from start to finish. If you’re looking for a little humor and a lot of intrigue in your weekend, I encourage you to consider taking home something by Mertz (or Peterson…or Michaels).