Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall

I am both attracted to and repelled by novels that involve animals. I'm a big softy when it comes to critters, so normally I err on the side of caution and say no to animal books. The controversial subject of reintroducing wolves is one that will no doubt include some painful scenes (either for the wolves or lambs or humans who care about them). However, seeing as how I enjoyed The Loop by Nicholas Evens, I was intrigued by The Wolf Border and said yes to a review copy.
From the publisher: For almost a decade, zoologist Rachel Caine has lived a solitary existence far from her estranged family in England, monitoring wolves in a remote section of Idaho as part of a wildlife recovery program. But a surprising phone call takes her back to the peat and wet light of the Lake District where she grew up. The eccentric Earl of Annerdale has a controversial scheme to reintroduce the Grey Wolf to the English countryside, and he wants Rachel to spearhead the project. Though she's skeptical, the earl's lands are close to the village where she grew up, and where her aging mother now lives.

While the earl's plan harks back to an ancient idyll of untamed British wilderness, Rachel must contend with modern-day realities--health and safety issues, public anger and fear, cynical political interests. But the return of the Grey unexpectedly sparks her own regeneration.

Exploring the fundamental nature of wilderness and wildness, The Wolf Border illuminates both our animal nature and humanity: sex, love, conflict, and the desire to find answers to the question of our existence--the emotions, desires, and needs that rule our lives.
I was blown away by an early scene in the book when Rachel visits her mother in the nursing home. It is so emotional and raw, yet well done. Other scenes, primarily landscape descriptions, made me put down the book and Google a location.

The overall plot was interesting and I kept reading to see what would happen to Rachel and the wolves, but I never really attached to Rachel or any of the characters (likeable or un). Was intentional on the author's part, to keep the reader at arm's length, sort of like how a zoologist spends hours/days/years observing her subjects, but has to maintain a distance to keep objective? I'm also wondering if the lack of quotation marks had some kind of psychological effect (there were none in the uncorrected proof I read).

Rachel is a bit of loner and her sex life is, for the most part, purely physical and uncomplicated by emotional attachment, a bit like what some humans might imagine wolf sex is like. The sex in this book, while graphic, serves to establish and maintain character as most literary sex should, I imagine. In the example below the "she" refers to Rachel, post-coitus (as Sheldon would say):

    She pads down to the kitchen, the loam of semen slipping between her thighs. 

"Yuck," was my first thought. My second thought was, "The history of the novel would be better off without that sentence." But looking back after finishing the book I can detect deeper meanings in that one sentence. Rachel pads like a wolf and the semen is described with a word that conveys earthiness, which, in the context of this novel, is an essential, positive thing. It signifies Rachel chose a good mate. It also shows how Rachel is a bit disconnected and rather passive to many things that happen to her even if she's the one who chooses her mates (again, like a wolf).

Studying heterosexuals can be fascinating. ;)

The Wolf Border certainly gave my flame to visit the Lake District a good fanning. Literary fiction readers with a penchant for animals and environmental concerns will no doubt want to check out The Wolf Border.

Here's a bit about the author:
Sarah Hall was born in 1974 in Cumbria, England. She received a master of letters in creative writing from Scotland's St. Andrews University and has published four novels. Haweswater won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize (overall winner, Best First Novel) and a Society of Authors Betty Trask Award. The Electric Michelangelo was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, the Commonwealth Writers' Prize (Eurasia Region), and the Prix Femina √Čtranger, and was longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction. Daughters of the North won the 2006/07 John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and the James Tiptree Jr. Award, and was shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke Award for science fiction. How to Paint a Dead Man was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and won the Portico Prize for Fiction. In 2013 Hall was named one of Granta's Best Young British Novelists, a prize awarded every ten years, and she won the BBC National Short Story Award and the E. M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Find out more about Sarah at her website.

Sarah Hall
HarperCollins, U.S. release: June 9, 2015
Read for TLC Book Tours: I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review. To read more TLC reviews of this novel click here.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Austen in August

Austen in August has been going strong for four years now. This year, I'm on board!

Adam at Roof Beam Reader is our host. Check out his signup post here and consider signing up yourself. You can read her novels, biographies, or contemporary spin-off novels like Austenland or The Jane Austen Book Club. Anything Austen related is fair game.

Jane Austen is one of those writers that I've read more about than have actually read. I remember trying one of her novels in my younger years and I just couldn't get into it. Since then I've read parts of some of her novels, but I don't think I've read one from cover-to-cover. Odd, considering I love 19th century fiction.

This reading negligence aside, I adore Jane Austen! Is that possible without having really read her? Will I feel the same after actually reading a couple of her novels?

This August I'm committing to reading Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. If those two go well, I'll consider Emma. Two of the women in my mystery book group are Janites and one of them has made the point that Emma can be read as a mystery novel.

I'll probably seek out something on the nonfiction side, too, so please let me know if you have a nonfiction recommendation.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Found in a Book: National Prohibition Guards Pledge

Came across this in a Bible, glued on the inside front cover.
National Prohibition Guards
Slogan: We'll Help to Safeguard America's Future
Because I believe it to be the patriotic duty of every
American to obey the laws of the land,

I hereby enroll in the Million Membership Campaign
for Law Observance, promising to abstain from the use of
intoxicating liquors as a beverage, and to obey the Eigh-
teenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States
of America.
Name: Bill Purdy
Date: Dec 4, 1927
National W. C. T. U. Publishing House, Evanston, Illinois
 Do you think Mr. Purdy imbibed when the 18th Amendment was repealed on December 5, 1933,  six years after he signed this pledge, almost to the day? I wonder if the National W.C.T.U. handed out Bibles with this pledge affixed or if they handed out pledge sheets and Young Purdy (or his parents or maybe a sweetheart) gluded it inside his Sunday School Bible.

So many stories we could make up about this artifact.

I love browsing through used bookstores and finding stuff previous owners left in books. Old bookmarks, photographs, newspaper articles. I have a rule that if I don't buy the book, I leave the stuff in there. I figure it's a packaged deal. And maybe I'm weird, but I feel that things left inside a book become part of the soul of that book.

 One of my favorite non-English-class books that I read in college was The Alcoholic Republic: An American Tradition by W. J. Rorabaugh. Did you know that between 1790 and 1830 Americans drank more alcohol per capita than any other country? That's saying a lot.

I still have my old copy of The Alcoholic Republic--its survived decades of purges. I've been intending to re-read it one of these days. This National Prohibition Guards pledge pushed it closer to the top of my TRB list.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Books My Friends Hate

Last week I asked folks to share a book they hated to help me get started on the first square of my Books on the Nightstand Summer Reading Bingo card (check it out here). That square requires I read a book "hated by someone you know."

I thought it would be fun to ask a bunch of people to share a book they hated and then choose from that list, because I probably would've never decided on a book had I casually asked around for a few weeks.

So I asked and people replied here on the blog, on Facebook, on Google+, and in person. All told I collected a list of 57 books. Relatively few people commented that hate is such a strong word. Folks jumped right in and let it rip.

The books most mentioned and then band-wagoned were:
  • The Bridges of Madison County
  • Eat, Pray, Love
  • Gone Girl
  • Atlas Shrugged 
The most "defended" book was The Picture of Dorian Gray. One person said she hated it because a college prof killed it for her. At least four people felt compelled to reply saying they loved/enjoyed the book. That didn't happen with other titles.

The only author to appear twice with two different titles listed is Karen Russell. Ouch. However, one person said any novel by Henry James would qualify.

Thankfully, no flame wars broke out. Some think book people are all detached and civilized, but I've known English profs who've duked it out in the hallowed halls over literary slights. But I think most of us understand that a book hits us in different ways at different times in our lives. What was once hated or boring can, years later, be enjoyed or engaging. And vice versa. That happened to me with The Great Gatsby (It went from hated to appreciated).

One reader's pain is another reader's pleasure.

Without further ado, the list:

Over the years many of these books have also been recommended to me as "must reads." I've read a handful of them, most recently Wuthering Heights, which I wouldn't say I hated, but it did leave me scratching my head wondering why so many have considered it a great love story.

What book is The Chosen One?
 I used random.org to pick the book and had my wife watch so I wouldn't be tempted to cheat if Faulkner was selected. The Wheels of Fate landed on #28: Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates.  It's been on my TBR for a couple years, so I'm pleased with this selection process. I was seriously dreading a few of these titles.

A big thank you to all who participated! I enjoyed seeing the anti-recommendations roll in and chatting about these "hated" books. I'll report back in a few weeks about what I think of Revolutionary Road.

Do you think a list complied of your friends' hated books would look similar or would it be radically different? Why?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Armchair BEA Day 1

Armchair BEA

We now interrupt our regular programming for a few days of Armchair BEA posts! What is Armchair BEA, you ask? It's an online conference for book bloggers experiences in the comfort of our favorite chairs. It was created as an alternative to going to Book Expo America (BEA). And I was only joking about the regular programming, because, you know, there isn't any.

Today's post is about introductions, so here I go answering some questions from the ABEA organizers.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself: How long have you been blogging? Where are you from? How did you get into blogging?
I've been blogging about books for just over 5 years. My first blog focused on outdoorsy activities (mainly running and cross country skiing), but I didn't find it as interesting to write about those activities as the doing of them. I've also been advised by my doctors not to run anymore due to an old back injury, so I took that blog down. I'm originally from Chicago and have also lived in Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, and North Carolina (twice). My wife and I have lived in Connecticut for about 18 months now. (Sidenote: I'm a lesbian, not a man. I'm getting more review requests addressed to "Mr." Wolak and just want to clarify.) Anyway, I got into blogging because I love to write and stumbled upon book blogs via Goodreads at a time when my outdoorsy blog writing was faltering. I don't follow a blog schedule, but I do find blogging about books, libraries, and literary topics to be both easy and enjoyable. I write that even if, after five years, I still don't feel like I've found my blogging style or focus.
2. Why do you loving reading and blogging?
I can't imagine life without reading. It's my go-to for everything. It calms me when I'm freaking out, it excites me when I'm feeling stagnant, and in any mood it helps me grow in spirit and deepens my humanity. Blogging is simply a vehicle to share my thoughts and enthusiasm for what I'm reading and book love in general. Being a part of the book blogging community makes me feel like I'm not alone in my bookish pursuits and I've met some fantastic people this way.

3. What does diversity mean to you?
Diversity in books and reading means variety, differences, discovering similarities in our differences, trying to feel life from other perspectives and experiences through reading and then talking about what you've read. When I hear the word diversity, off the top of my head, I think of gender, sexual orientation, class, race, disability, religion, and nationality. The most immediate categories for me are gender, sexual orientation, and class. These are important to me personally because I've felt the negative consequences of the prejudices that swarm around and through these categories in a more personal way throughout my life. Politically I believe these are all intertwined and of equal import in that they are used to systematically benefit some to the detriment of others. When it comes to books I also think diversity in the genre of books you read can be a way to understand issues by approaching them through the different conventions genres offer. For example, including some feminist sci-fi novels if you're in to feminist theory.

4. What book are you reading right now?
Fiction: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Nonfiction: The Good Food Revolution by Will Allen and Hen Frigates by Joan Druett (Both of these nonfiction titles are currently gathering dust on my shelf, but I do plan to get back into them. It seems that when life/work gets busy I drop nonfiction and gravitate towards fiction).

5. If you were stranded on a deserted island, what author would you want to bring with you? Why?
Willa Cather because I find comfort in her compassion for sensitive people and I enjoy the deceptive simplicity of her style.

#ABEAShelfie The bookshelf next to my favorite chair.
LIBRARY LOVE: I blogged about my local library a couple years before we moved here!  Click here to check it out.
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