November 24, 2013

(no book recommendations this week)

Remembrance and Gratitude

The two months of recollection and reflection leading up to the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy – and the subsequent assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy – have been a trip into times past for many of us, including me. In those times, when America was in such upheaval socially and politically, it seemed to many of us that America might not last as a country. Many citizens wondered if the United States were so united after all, or were perhaps divided with no solution in sight.

 

And it also seemed particularly horrible that our own president, the most powerful man on earth, could be shot in the midst of his fellow countrymen, in broad daylight, in a large city, by a man who was arguably an American citizen. (Oswald renounced his citizenship once, but took it back . . . something I doubt would happen today.)

 

Those three murders, which in retrospect seemed to have happened in quick succession (though Robert Kennedy and Dr. King were both killed five years after JFK) have a lot to do with the way foreigners regard Americans. In hindsight, it does seem strange that we didn’t learn any more about personal security in the interim. Maybe the death of the president was so singular and tragic that we believed such an event would never be repeated.

 

We’ve learned a lot since then, and most of it hasn’t been pleasant. Personal security is an issue to millions of Americans who are far from the presidential level.

 

Though the lives of the Kennedy brothers was cut short, as was Dr. King’s, we have to be thankful for the courage of these men, who lived out their lives in the public scrutiny. None of the three were saints. They were all flawed in various ways. But they had the moral conviction to stand up for what they believed, regardless of the consequences. In their cases, the consequences were tragic. Children grew up without their fathers and went on to make the best or worst of their lives. Widows grieved and were strong.

 

And I don’t know that American society changed as much as it should have after all this tragedy. That’s something to reflect on, during this week when we celebrate the plenty of this country, the plenty achieved by independence and cooperation.

 

Charlaine Harris

November 11, 2013

Books of the Week:

  • Parasite, Mira Grant
  • Longbourn, Jo Baker

The two books I read this week ended up taking me quite a while. Parasite andLongbourn are both well worth reading, and I didn’t want to skip over anything important. The books couldn’t be more different.

 

As anyone who’s followed this column know, I’m a huge fan of Seanan McGuire, who is also Mira Grant. Under any name, she’s an excellent writer and a very, very smart woman. Parasite is a scientific thriller that also succeeds as a human story. Sally Mitchell is on life-support and is about to be unplugged when she wakens with no memory of her past or her character. You may not be very fond of Sally, or Sal as she prefers to be called, but her parents are somewhat relieved to find out that the old devil-may-care wild child has become a completely different person. Not that Sal’s not emotional – she is. She cries and screams her way through the book, but under circumstances that are totally understandable. The corporation that saved her life with their parasite transplant is Up To No Good, as any reader will expect; and there are secrets to uncover and villains to foil. I don’t want to ruin any of the surprises of this excellent novel.

 

After the recent flood of novels and books centered on Jane Austen’s world, Longbourn was a quiet pleasure. It’s the story of “Pride and Prejudice” told from the servants’ point of view. To the elderly couple, the young maid, and the child who helps out, the arrival of a new young manservant is a matter of wonder and upheaval – especially to the maid, Sarah, an orphan. The servants have to make the lovely surface of Austen’s heroines’ world happen: they’re working from before sunup to after sundown to draw the baths, iron the garments, launder the garments, curl the hair, cook the meals, polish the brass, curry the horses for the carriage, wait outside in the cold for the girls of the house to be ready to leave the ball . . . a never-ending round of drudgery. But Sarah won’t have it. Having finally found a little happiness, she will not let it slip from her grasp. Longbourn is set belowstairs, but it’s full of the commonality of the human spirit.

 

Blog

 

I went to see David Sedaris recently, and I had an excellent time. Those of you who are interested in modern essays will surely have read something of Sedaris’s, who writes often for The New Yorker and has published many bestselling books of essays and other pieces, mostly dealing with his (funny, painful, bitter, loving) upbringing as one of six children of a mother who became an alcoholic and father who was, to put it mildly, challenging. Sedaris himself cannot have been an easy child to raise, as he points out gleefully, since he had obsessive-compulsive disorder and gradually came to realize that he was gay.

 

“Me Talk Pretty One Day” is the first book of Sedaris’s I’d read, and it remains one of my favorites, while “When You are Engulfed in Flames” is perhaps even better. But I believe I’ve read almost everything he’s written, and even in his “off” books, there is something screamingly funny and screamingly painful.

 

Sedaris started signing before the event and he signed more after the event, so it must have been a very long evening for him – this was a tour with 40 events! – but he seemed to keep his balance throughout the whole hour “performance,” which consisted of reading a couple of essays and other pieces, plus tying them together with some reminiscences. It was as funny as you can possibly imagine. I laughed myself sick. His reading was followed by a brief Q &A segment. To my pleasure and relief, some of the questions he got asked are just as repetitive as the questions I get asked. It felt strange to be on the other side of the lights, but it was a real relief, too.Here’s my point – besides urging you, if you ever have a chance to see David Sedaris live, do it! – is that he spent a goodly portion of the evening touting someone else’s book. And this book was not at all humorous. It was “Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea,” by Barbara Demick, which explores the extreme difficulty and stress of trying to live in modern North Korea, under a regime as totalitarian as any ever devised. With grace and admiration, Sedaris said it was better than any book he would ever write, and urged all of us to buy it. In fact, he had it with his books in the lobby, to sell. I didn’t buy a copy in the lobby, but I have purchased one since.I consider Sedaris a fine, fine writer, maybe a great one, though since his field is self-deprecating humor – sometimes so scathing that he seems to be flaying himself in front of us – he may never get as much respect as he deserves. And now I admire him for his ardent advocacy of someone else’s book. It’s really satisfying to like both the writer and the man.

 

Charlaine Harris

Works by Charlaine Harris published in 2013-2014

News: After Dead

After DeadWith characters arranged alphabetically—from the Ancient Pythoness to Bethany Zanelli—bestselling author Charlaine Harris takes fans into the future of their favorite residents of Bon Temps and environs. You’ll learn how Michele and Jason’s marriage fared, what happened to Sookie’s cousin Hunter, and whether Tara and JB’s twins grew up to be solid citizens.

This coda provides the answers to your lingering questions—including details of Sookie’s own happily-ever-after…