Friday, December 19, 2008

Gilligan and Skipper think Everybody Needs to Just Relax

The name of my blog this week should be Seattle's Snowy Day Book Blog. Yesterday the area received more snow than it has in years. A welcome sight for the children who get out of school but not so welcome for everybody who is still trying to engage in commerce.

So let's talk books. The Christian Science Monitor has just released their list of the Top 10 out-of-print books. Number 1 on the list is "Once a Runner: A Novel" (1978) a distance running novel. It will be back in April 2009.

Also on the list this year was "A Lion Called Christian" (1972) by Anthony "Ace" Bourke and John Rendall. If you are not one of the 44 million who viewed the YouTube video you can click here. The video has clearly renewed interest in the book and it is also being reprinted in April 2009.

Another interesting entry at #8 is "Legally Sane" (1972) by Jon K Hahn. It is about the serial killer Mark Smith who killed many woman in the United States and Germany in the 1960's and 1970's. Reviewers say it is really well done and very informative. If you like true crime you'll have to do a lot of searching because it is not currently scheduled to be printed again.

In other interesting news the book I reviewed a couple of days ago, "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle" by David Wroblewski, is getting some new jabber. Apparently Ecco, Wroblewski's publisher, has announced that David will be writing 2 prequels to Edgar Sawtelle. In them he will be delving into the lives of Edgar's father and uncle. I look forward to seeing his new work.

Now on a completely different note I have to mention the movie I watched last night "Expiration Date." It was aired on PBS and billed as a "love letter to Seattle." The TV Guide only gave it 2 stars but it was a great movie especially for us localites. The movie was an unexpected surprise for me because the trailers that I had seen seemed somber and sad and I knew that it was about a young man who believes that he is cursed to die on his 25th birthday.

So it was great to find that it was terribly funny. The performances were outstanding especially by David Keith who some of you may remember as Richard Gere's best buddy in "An Officer and a Gentleman." The scenes in the coffee shop where the main character works are hilarious. All of the moments with his boss, his customers and his ex-girlfriend are great and so Seattleish!

I won't give you a full review but I will say that it is a 5 star movie and I would recommend it to anyone especially if you're familiar with Seattle. It will be available on Amazon for $17.99 on January 27th and you can pre-order now.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

America's Deadliest Avalanche

Last year I had the great good fortune of hearing about a book that recalled an incident that I have long held a curiosity about. It was an avalanche that occurred here in the Northwest in 1910 near a town that no longer exists called Wellington.

During a stint as an intern at our State Capital in Olympia after college, I was fortunate to visit the historical library. I was on an errand for the Senator I was working for so I wasn't able to leisurely browse (as I would have so loved to do), but I did catch sight of a few books about the big avalanche in Wellington.

Not able to scratch that itch at the time and unable to visit that library again I sought other information about the tragedy. Unfortunately there just was not much our there. Then one day a neighbor was talking to my husband about the snow in the passes and mentioned the book. My husband knowing my penchant for disasters, tragedy and local history dutifully reported back and it took me about 5 minutes to find it on Amazon.

"The White Cascade, The Great Northern Railway Disaster and America's Deadliest Avalanche" by Gary Krist is a great recounting of one of the more unknown tragedies in American history. Amazon reviewers rate this book at 4 1/2 stars but I will give it 5 because of all the local history included. I can visualize the places that he is talking about and also learn a lot about what life was like around here in 1910. The description of the young town of Everett was fascinating to me.

But, of course, the true strength of this work of non-fiction is the story of the disaster itself. Gary Krist does an excellent job of describing what occurred in Wellington in March 1910 when an enormous avalanche crashed down onto two trains loaded with passengers and crew. The avalanche crushed and then pushed the trains down the steep slope leaving bodies and debris strewn in it's path. The force of the snow buried people and train cars up to 40 feet deep and the last body wasn't found until July of the same year.

The passengers and crew were all asleep aboard the Seattle Express and the Fast Mail when it hit. They had endured 6 days stuck on board the snowbound trains. Gary Krist brings that period back to life by using the diaries and letters of the passengers who were there. Passenger Ned Topping wrote an ongoing letter to his mother describing the ordeal which was discovered on his body after the accident. The eyewitness account is both interesting and poignant to read.

Other survivors wrote memoirs of the event and Krist also makes use of the coverage of papers such as the Seattle Times, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and the Everett Daily Herald. Because of this Gary Krist takes us back in time and allows us to witness these events for the first time.

This is a good book to read in the winter when you are warm by the fire. It would also be great to have while you are hiking the Iron Trail to find traces of the old train town of Wellington. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in these kinds of topics.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Read "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle."

Not many novels have affected me this year as much as the new book written by David Wroblewski "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle." The story is beautifully written and evokes memories of every dog you have ever owned.

It would be simple to say that this is a novel about dogs but that would be an over simplification. It is about a small family who raises a unique breed of dog. These dogs have been bred to enhance qualities such as loyalty, intelligence, strength and a certain mental intuitiveness. The Sawtelle family aren't specific about their dogs abilities but their customers develop strong loyalties to their Sawtelle dogs and always come back for another.

Center to the story is the relationship between the Sawtelle's only child Edgar and their house dog Almondine. It is based on Almondine's intuitively recognizing Edgar's special needs at birth and deciding instantly that this would be her charge. She would be the one to attend to Edgar and make sure he did not come to harm. The bonding is instantaneous between them and is an integral part of everything that follows.

Mr. Wroblewski adds some interesting dimensions to his story by including some supernatural types of events. They do not seem out of place within the whole however and manage to impart more flavor than consternation. I also love Wroblewski's use of history not only of the family but of the place they live and the places that Edgar visits.

It was the review of one of my favorite writers, Stephen King, that prompted me to buy the book. His comment was that he rarely reads a book twice because life is too short but that he planned on reading this one again. That was good enough for me.

Funny that it was that particular review that prompted me to read this book because I do read books more than once and I don't think I will read this one again. It is not that it isn't a fantastic book but that it is too sad for me. My sister wrote me an e-mail after she finished the book and she quoted a line out of it that once read again made me cry like a baby.

This book is a lot like life. It has joys and it has sadness. It has love and betrayal. It has life and it has death.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Seattle Rainy Day says try "Peace Like a River."

It seems like bad things all happen in a bunch. In our house it was recession, job loss, winter and the holidays. The holidays are usually not a bad thing unless you’ve paired it with the previous 3 like we have. What is needed at a time like this is a great book to remind us of what we have to be thankful for.

Leif Enger’s 2001 masterpiece “Peace Like a River” is just that type of book. It is set in 1962 in a Midwest winter. It is hard times for the Land family with Jeremiah trying to raise his 3 children alone on a custodian’s salary. Things get even worse when trouble strikes the family and they take to the road in order to keep the family together. Leif Enger uses 11 year old Reuben Land as his narrator too breathtaking effects allowing us to see this world through a child’s eyes.

Jeremiah Land is a religious man but in a calm and sure way rather than in a loudly and proudly kind of way. An incident in his young adult life gives him a faith that is difficult to comprehend and has repercussions in his life and the lives of his children. Small miracles occur when he is around and his son Reuben considers his own existence on the planet to be the result of his father’s intervention during his birth.

As the family makes their way West they meet a cast of characters that burrow themselves into the story as neatly as raisins in bread. Their friends August and Birdie, their nemesis Andreeson and their savior Roxanna all provide a backdrop as the Lands struggle to reunite with older brother Davy and keep the family together. The trip provides adventures and challenges while testing their love and loyalty for each other.

If this story doesn’t haunt you for a few days then your imagination is in need of charging up. This story made me wonder about the seen and the unseen, faith, love, and loyalty. It also struck a chord with me because it expresses that sacrifice for another is really the ultimate nobility of mankind.