Take reading by the ‘Tale’

July 26, 2008
Books & Authors, The (Batavia, N.Y.) Daily News
By Ben Beagle
bbeagle@batavianews.com

A sheriff ties together two murders that happened nearly 40 years apart. A prequel to a genre-bending tale of science fiction, fantasy, adventure and romance. An award-winning Norwegian novelist explores love, forgiveness and the nature of evil. Or, a 25-year-old classic about the author’s travels in Africa. An explanation of why poetry still matters.

Those are just some of the books past “A Tale for Three Counties” authors told us about when we asked what they are reading this summer.

And it’s not too late for you to get going.

The six authors – Leif Enger, Howard Frank Mosher, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Jennifer Donnelly, Mark Spragg and Thomas Mullen – have visited Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties to talk about their own writing careers as part of the community reading project organized by libraries in the three counties. But it doesn’t take long for local readers to ask the visiting authors who they’re reading. Some of those readers are spied writing down the responses in tiny letters on index cards covered with dozens of names and titles.

While next year’s “Tale” author is still being decided, here are some books – both popular fiction and lesser-known works – recommended by past Tale writers:

Leif Enger

The inaugural Tale author (2003, Peace Like a River) published his long-awaited second novel, So Brave, Young and Handsome, in the spring. He’s been busy promoting it ever since with a lengthy book tour.

While the book tour has kept Enger busy through the first part of the summer, it is, he says, “one of the rare times I can actually read as much as I’d like.”

Here’s what he’s reading:

OUR STORY BEGINS: NEW AND SELECTED STORIES (Knopf, 400 pages) by Tobias Wolf. Ten new stories and 21 previous stories that find a variety of characters – a lawyer taking a difficult deposition, an American in Rome indulging the Gypsy who picked his pocket, among them – in circumstances at once everyday and extraordinary.

Enger says he was drawn to the story collection by the author’s “generosity to his characters, sense of humility on every page and his economical writing. He never uses too many words.”

MY LIFE AS A FAKE (Vintage, 288 pages) by Peter Carey. The editor of a London poetry journal meets a mysterious Australian, who is a despised literary hoaker, and is drawn into a world of imposture, murder, kidnapping and exile.

“His characters instantly latch on to you,” Enger says. “His prose is always tremendous.”

WHEN WE GET TO SURF CITY (St. Martin’s Press, 352 pages) by Bob Greene. The best-selling author recalls 15 summers beginning in the 1990s when he sang backup with Jan and Dean as they endlessly crisscrossed the country.

Howard Frank Mosher

The Vermont author of the 2004 Tale selection, Northern Borders, began the summer reading three books at once:

OLIVE KITTERIDGE (Random House, 304 pages) by Elizabeth Strout. The title character, a retired schoolteacher, deplores the changes in her little town of Crosby, Maine, and the world around her. The book, says Mosher, “is a novel-in-stories about a remarkable woman from Maine. Strout writes with a wonderful, serene control about a very special world.”

AFRICAN CALLIOPE (The Lyons Press, 256 pages) by Edward Hoagland. Hoagland recalls his travels from equatorial mountain forests to the Sahara desert and elsewhere. The book has drawn acclaim for electrifying images of life in the Sudan – rotten diets, disease, coups and civil war, and more.

Mosher says its time to re-read this nearly 25 year old book, especially his accounts of the Sudan.

“For my money, Hoagland is one of our finest contemporary writers,” Mosher says.

WHY POETRY MATTERS (WHY X MATTERS) (Yale University Press, 224 pages) by Jay Parini. The author, a poet and teacher, writes a deeply felt meditation on poetry, its language and meaning, and its power to open minds and transform lives.

” ‘Poetry doesn’t matter to most people,’ Parini begins his new book. Know something?” Mosher asks. “Poetry matters more now than ever.”

Julia Spencer-Fleming

Summer is usually a really heavy duty writing time for the 2005 Tale author (In the Bleak Midwinter). This summer saw the release of her sixth novel in the Rev. Clare Fergusson-Russ Van Alstyne series, I Shall Not Want, and the series’ next book is in the “Shhh, I’m working on it stage.”

Still, we’ll ask about it next month when she returns for a “Tale” fund-raising dinner.

PASSAGE (THE SHARING KNIGHT, BOOK 3) (Eos, 448 pages) by Lois McMaster Bujold. The acclaimed science fiction-fantasy writer continues the story of Young Fawn Bluefield and soldier-sorcerer Dag Redwing Hickory who must overcome their own peoples’ bigotry.

“She’s my favorite writer,” Spencer-Fleming says. “She does these wonderful genre-bending books … and combines them in an irresistible package.”

NOTHING TO LOSE (Delacorte Press, 416 pages) by Lee Child. In the 12th book in Child’s Jack Reacher series, Jack exposes the secrets of two Colorado towns. “He’s a stay up to 3 a.m. read,”Spencer-Fleming says.

ANOTHER MAN’S MOCCASINS (Viking Adult, 304 pages) by Craig Johnson, a writer of Western-based mysteries. In this fourth Walt Longmire series, the tough-yet-tender sheriff solves two murders tied in blood but separated by nearly 40 years.

“He’s very atmospheric, character driven,” Spencer-Fleming says. “The sheriff could be Russ’s long-lost brother.”

Jennifer Donnelly

“Summer reading? That sounds like a lovely fantasy,” Donnelly tells us.

The 2006 Tale author (A Northern Light) has found her summer reading limited by her work on two novels – a young adult novel and the final book in her “Rose Trilogy.” The trilogy’s second book, The Winter Rose (Hyperion), was released in February.

Still, Donnelly says she plans to sneak in a couple of books, starting with:

ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE NORTH (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 112 pages) by Philip Pullman. A prequel to Pullman’s The Golden Compass from the “His Dark Materials” universe includes the first meeting between two legends and friends, Lee Scoresby, a Texan aeronaut, and Iorek, the armoured bear.

TRESPASS (Nan A. Talese, 304 pages) by Valerie Martin. Everything seems in good order in Chloe Dale’s life, but she is disturbed by several things, including her only child’s new girlfriend, a Croatian refugee whom Chloe feels is trapping her son into marriage.

Mark Spragg

This summer, the 2007 Tale author (An Unfinished Life) is “working terrifically hard on a new book” that he hopes to have done by fall. While that has curtailed some reading habits – Spragg avoids fiction while writing his own works because “I don’t want another author’s work to bleed into mine” – it has allowed him to reacquaint himself with several authors.

AT THE SAME TIME: ESSAYS AND SPEECHES (Picador, 256 pages) by Susan Sontag. The collection gathers 16 essays and speeches written in the last year’s on Sontag’s life (she died in 2004). “I hadn’t read Sontag in years, and then a friend sent this over,” Spragg says.

THE SAVAGE DETECTIVES (Picador, 672 pages) by Robert Bolano, translated by Natasha Wimmer. The Chilean-born Bolano tells the story of two young poets in early-1970s Mexico City who start a small, erratically militant literary movement.

“This is the book where he really made his literary mark,” Spragg says of Bolano, who died in 2003 at age 50. “I’ve been meaning to read it, and heard this is a good translation.”

OUT STEALING HORSES (Graywolf Press, 250 pages) by Per Petterson. The acclaimed Norwegian’s tale of love, forgiveness and the nature of evil has swept up four prestigious literary awards, including the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award (and has been consistently been among the top books on “The Indie Bestsellers). It’s the story of an old man in Norway who reflects on a fateful summer that began with a joy ride on “borrowed” horses with his neighbor.

Thomas Mullen

This year’s Tale author (The Last Town on Earth) doesn’t have season-specific reading habits. “What I read is always some odd combination of recently published books I’m intrigued in, authors I’ve been meaning to get around to reading, and works that I need to peruse as research for what I’m writing at the time.”

These picks, he says are “very smart and original but wouldn’t scare away anyone looking for a good time.”

CITIZEN VINCE (Harper Perennial, 304 pages) by Jess Walter. A smalltime New York hood relocates to Spokane, Wash., as part of the Witness Protection Program, but fears that the mob has tracked him down in a “funny, entertaining story that would be particularly good to read in this pre-election summer,” Mullen says.

IN THE SHADOW OF THE LAW (Picador, 464 pages) by Kermit Roosevelt. This debut novel follows a number of lawyers in a big-time Washington, D.C., law firm as they get involved in two major cases. It sounds like a thriller and has plenty of suspense, Mullen assures us, “but what puts this far outside of Grisham or Turow territory is the attention paid to the different characters and their dilemmas, as well as Roosevelt’s keen eye for exposing the sad ironies and ethical tragedies inherent in the modern practice of law. Good stuff.”

THE YIDDISH POLICEMAN’S UNION (Harper Perennial, 464 pages) by Michael Chabon. The 1940s-style noir detective story that imagines what would have happened if Alaska, rahter than Israel, became the post World War II homeland for the Jews.

Says Mullen:”Loved it.”

Back to 2008 Articles

Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation

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