Some old favorites and some tips from the Great American Read

By Lynda Rego
Posted 1/30/19

NOTE: This review dates from September, but wasn’t posted online until January.

It’s been a while since my last book review because I decided to spend the summer reading all the books …

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Some old favorites and some tips from the Great American Read

Posted

NOTE: This review dates from September, but wasn’t posted online until January.

lrego@eastbaymediagroup.com

It’s been a while since my last book review because I decided to spend the summer reading all the books based on the PBS “Mystery!” series like.
So, all the Vera Stanhope and Shetland books by Ann Cleeves and the Inspector Lynley series by Elizabeth George have been my companions this summer (I still haven’t finished). And, I read the newest offering from Charles Todd in the Inspector Rutledge series (one of my favorites).
In between, I’m voting online daily for my picks on The Great American Read (at www.pbs.org/the-great-american-read). I spotted some books on the list that I hadn’t heard of or read and added those to my wish list.
One was “The Intuitionist” (1999) by Colson Whitehead. I like reading a book cold and knowing absolutely nothing about it or the author. This one was a treat. Lila Mae Watson is an elevator inspector – an intuitionist who can intuit problems with an elevator (as opposed to the empiricists, who check things out mechanically). She is also the first female African American inspector. When an elevator she recently inspected plunges to the bottom of the shaft, it will lead her into the politics, history and skullduggery behind the Department of Elevator Inspectors. It’s a fun, but thought-provoking ride (vertically, of course) through a large city in crisis. But, Whitehead is also a lyrical writer. A chapter at the dime-a-dance joint is a poetic serenade on loneliness and memories. I will definitely look for his other books.
“The Woman in the Window” (2018) by A.J. Finn was loaned to me by a friend. This slow-building thriller was the perfect summer read. Dr. Anna Fox, a child psychologist who experienced an unnamed trauma and became agoraphobic has spent the past 20 months unable to leave her house. She spends her days watching her neighbors’ lives, playing online chess and monitoring a chatroom for other agoraphobes. Then (very “Rear Window”), she sees a crime committed in a house across the way. Because she mixes copious amounts of wine with her medications, it’s hard for anyone to take her seriously. I figured out one secret and suspected another, but the plot definitely kept me guessing. And, I liked the musings of a woman who finds herself living such an insular life.
“Red Sky at Morning” (1968) by Richard Bradford is a peach of a book. Frank, Ann and Josh Arnold live in Mobile, Ala. Although he has a deferment because he owns a shipbuilding company, Frank joins the Navy in the summer of 1944 and worries that the coast isn’t a safe place for his family. So, he sends his wife and son to spend the rest of the war at their summer house in Corazón Sagrado in the mountains of New Mexico. Josh hasn’t been there in seven years, since he was 10, and will learn a new language in more ways than one. He loves the place. Ann, a spoiled Southern belle, hates it (too many Catholics and non-English speakers) and does nothing but drink too much sherry and play bridge. Josh sees snow for the first time, puts up with a professional house guest from home who moves in with them, makes new friends and tries to fit in at a place where he is an Anglo and everyone else are Indians or Natives. This coming-of-age story has humor (lots of humor) and heart. It’s a wonderful first effort.
“So Far From Heaven” (1973) by Richard Bradford. I had to search out the only other book he wrote. And, I enjoyed it just as much as “Red Sky.” Bradford has a great sense of humor and his easygoing style is so readable. The title comes from the saying, “Poor New Mexico, so close to Texas and so far from Heaven.” When David Reed runs away from his life in Texas and his car crashes, he ends up with the Tafoya family in New Mexico. Cruz Tafoya is a doctor/cattle rancher, his college-educated daughter is an activist/teacher, his son is not too bright, and his brothers are a priest, a hapless lawyer and the state governor. How they all get involved in a tussle with Anglos from Texas is hilarious.
“Tales of the City” (1978) by Armistead Maupin is on the Great American Read list. It is part of a nine-book series. The first four books were originally serialized in the San Francisco Chronicle and the fifth appeared in the San Francisco Examiner. I had seen the PBS miniseries in 1994 and loved the stories. This summer, I read “Tales” and “More Tales of the City” (1980) back to back. They have a big cast of characters in San Francisco in the 1970s and we travel through that time with Mary Ann Singleton, a transplant from the Midwest. It centers on 28 Barbary Lane, the denizens of the house and its landlady, Anna Madrigal, who welcomes newcomers with a joint taped to their door. Mary Ann is the newbie to this city of secrets, homosexual and bisexual relationships, drugs and AIDS. The characters span the spectrum of age and wealth and are all connected in some way. Her adventures are a peek into an interesting time in America and I will check out the rest of the books.
“An Atlas of Impossible Longing” (2011 in the U.S.) by Anuradha Roy. Roy’s writing is so evocative that you feel as if you can see, smell, hear and feel all the colors, foods, flowers, people, rivers and places in India. The multi-generational story is about family life, hopes, dreams, love, loss and finding our way. Set from 1927 to the early 1950s, it follows three generations of a middle class family. But, it’s primarily about an orphan Mukunda taken in by a family of two sons Nirmal and Kamal, whose father paid for Mukunda’s upkeep at the orphanage in their small town. Mukunda and Nirmal’s daughter, Bakul, grow up together and are very close, even as Mukunda is treated less like family because no one knows his caste. But, as the two reach adolescence, Kamal’s wife thinks their relationship is improper and urges change, so Nirmal sends Mukunda off to school in the city. Mukunda resents his treatment and loses touch with Nirmal and Bakul. After India’s partition and independence, Mukunda will have to find his way in the world and hopefully find his way back to the only family he has ever known.
Visit Lynda Rego on Facebook at www.facebook.com/lynda.rego where she shares tips on cooking, books, gardening, genealogy and other topics. Click on Like and share ideas for upcoming stories.

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