Rabbit Redux

imageAfter reading Rabbit Run I was not sure I would bother with any of the other books in this Updike series. It was a well written book but I did not care for the main character, one Harry (Rabbit) Angstrom. I saw him as a lazy, selfish, worthless excuse for a human being. Who wants to read about a loser like that? Well, as it turns out, I do. Because in Rabbit Redux, Rabbit has matured. He has a steady job, he cares deeply about his son and he tried to make things work with his wife Janice, who has numerous issues of her own. But Rabbit being Rabbit, he still makes really bad decisions. Two of the worst were allowing Jill, an 18 year old socialite turned prostitute and Skeeter, an angry Vietnam veteran, to move into his house after Janice moved out to live with another man. Much weirdness ensues. Rabbit’s biggest problem is he doesn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. He just wants everyone to get along. He is the Rodney King of his era.

One of the blurbs on the back cover promises that reading this book will change my life. I have yet to see any evidence of that, but it’s only been a couple of days since I finished it. Maybe it takes time. I can say that the reading experience was terrific. Mr. Updike is a truly gifted writer, possibly one of the best of the past half century. It was an absolute pleasure to be carried along by his words. I would give my left (insert body part of choice) to be able to write like that. I am very much looking forward to what happens next in Rabbit Is Rich. If it’s only half as good as this one it’s still going to be great.

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The Civil War – A Narrative: Red River to Appomattox.

7931689A-A56B-4CD1-A573-D495D75293F0It took me four years to finish this book. Not because it’s not good. It is. In fact this book and its two predecessors have become the standard by which all other Civil War writing is judged. I had read the first two volumes in a reasonable amount of time. I don’t know what happened with this one. I don’t have an excuse. The important thing is I have done it, and it feels like I have accomplished something. Twenty-eight hundred forty seven pages of something, to be precise. If I have a complaint it’s that sometimes there seemed to be too much detail. This is particularly true in some of the battle descriptions, which to me were often confusing, especially if it was a fight I was not already familiar with. But I’m sure many other readers were more than happy with the minutiae, and I gladly yield to them.

Shelby Foote accomplished an amazing thing with his narrative. It took him 22 years to write it. I can’t imagine how he willed himself to stick with it for all that time, but Civil War buffs everywhere are the beneficiaries of his dedication.



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Here’s Something You Don’t See Everyday


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Killing Yourself To Live

imageThe author of this tale is a Rock & Roll critic for Spin Magazine who takes us on a winding road trip around America, visiting places where well known stars of the rock and roll genre met their demise, or some other interesting (arguably) thing happened. So we visit the intersection in Georgia where Duane Allman died on his motorcycle, the spot in the Mississippi woods where Lynyrd Skynyrd’s plane went down, and the soybean field in Iowa where Buddy Holly expired along with the Big Bopper and The Music. We stand at the crossroads in Mississippi where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil. There’s the toilet at Graceland where Elvis took his final breath. (This last sentence is an example of creative license because the author never actually claimed to have seen the famous toilet. It’s probably not even on the Graceland tour.) And of course, Kurt Cobain.

There is really not much to see or write about at most these destinations, so the author fills out the narrative with stories of three women who move in and out of his life with regular frequency and also how the rock and roll songs, albums and boxed sets of his past and present have influenced his way of thinking about his life and the people in it, which is actually not as boring as it sounds.

Mr. Klosterman is a talented writer and I enjoyed taking this trip with him. I’m hoping he has another book like this one up his sleeve. If I were a little more current in my reading I would probably already know the answer to that.

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The Bone Tree

imageIt took me eight weeks and 60 cents in library fines to finish this 804 page door-stop, which is part two of a trilogy. My biceps are firmer from holding the weight of it, which is about the same as a small dog. I dropped it on my face one night after nodding off and I resolved right then I would not do that again. My overall impression of the book is that it’s a good story, well written and has some really good bad guys, which is one of Mr. Iles strengths as a writer, in my opinion. In some places it gets too sentimental and in others overly apologetic for past misdeeds of the white race, but that stuff can be overlooked. In this installment we get the answer to the biggest crime of the 20th century, and we also lose two important characters, one good and the other a villain who possessed not even a shred of a conscience. I’m going to miss him. But his crazy uncle is still on the loose and he’s more lethal than all the romaine lettuce in Yuma. And there are plenty of loose ends to tie up, so it won’t be long before I take up Mississippi Blood to see where it all ends.

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D311AE36-970D-4F1A-ABFE-9ECE6D6307E8This book was still in the Local Interest section on the second day of the annual library book sale and I thought it would be worth a buck to see if it was any good. I am happy to report that it is. Farm chronicles a year in the life of Tom and Sally Bauer, who with help from their three children farm 1000 acres in northwest Missouri. They raise corn, soybeans, wheat, hogs and cattle. They are successful year in and year out thanks to their hard work, ingenuity, frugality and faith. They succeed in spite of challenges put before them by governments both federal and local, agri-business conglomerates, self-serving banks and most importantly, Mother Nature.

For me Farm proved to be a very satisfying reading experience. There are no tragedies, no treachery, no dishonesty or deception. Best of all there are no politics. Everyone featured in the narrative tries to do the right thing by everyone else, though sometimes priorities don’t always align. The Bauer family is a living illustration of the so-called “Midwest Values.” It was nice to read about good people for a change.


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Mr. Bridge

imageI picked up this book for a buck at the annual library book sale. The main reason I chose it was because the author had written one of my all-time favorite books, Son of the Morning Star. In reviews I have read of that book several said that the reason it was so readable was because the author was by trade a novelist, so I wanted to see what kind of novel the man writes. Turns out he writes a very interesting but hard to explain novel.

Walter Bridge is the walking definition of “up tight.” He has a rigid set of standards for what is right and what is wrong. He has no time for excess or frivolity. He doesn’t gossip or laugh at crude jokes. He doesn’t believe in being showy, and he has no respect for people who are. His role, as he sees it, is to provide the most comfortable life for his family that he can. He works hard, and by all standards he is a success professionally. When it comes to his family, he often decides that ignoring a problem is the best way to deal with it. His wife appears to be naive in the extreme, and she defers to him on almost every issue, regardless of importance. Mr. Bridge is rarely affectionate towards his wife, and this hurts her. She is mostly a caricature in this book, but I know there is much more to her story. To find out what I will have to read Mrs. Bridge, which I fully intend to do

The setting of the book is Kansas City in the early 1940’s. Many of the places mentioned are familiar since that is where I live. I remember in the late 1980’s a Merchant-Ivory film crew came to town to shoot the movie Mr. and Mrs. Bridge, and the whole city was atwitter because the Newman’s were in town. I haven’t seen the film but may look into it.

I liked the style of Mr. Connell’s writing, which was described on the book jacket as “spare, whimsical and ironic.” I guess so. Sentences are short and so are the chapters. There are probably less than half a dozen words in the entire book that the average fourth grader wouldn’t understand. To me it seemed very efficient, and I mean that as a compliment.

More than once I saw some of myself in Walter Bridge, and it doesn’t bother me at all.

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