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« September, 2010 »
The Barnum Museum

I like Millhauser because his writing rewards close reading. His stories are detailed and meticulous in some ways and the more work you put into them, the deeper they seem to go. This book is a collection of short stories ranging from the seemingly prosaic [a family playing a board game] to the weird and fantastical [a girl falling down a rabbit hole and what she finds there]. I think of all the stories there was maybe one or two that didn’t totally click with me and the rest were wonderful journeys to places I didn’t normally go. Every time I read a Millhauser collection, I am worried that I have reached the end of his writings and I felt this again this time. I hope there is more.

Judgment Ridge

I remember when these murders happened. I was living alone on the side of the road in rural Vermont about 20 miles away from Chelsea Vermont which turned out to be where the murderers lived. The muders seemed totally random and it was a weird time to be living in Vermont, a place where you normally don’t lock the door. Since that time, I’ve lived in the same community, in a different location, and have gotten to know other people whose lives were in some way affected by this chain of events. Now we’re reading this book for our book club.

There are other books about the murders but this is the only one that I’ve read. The authors are Boston Globe reporters who seem to have set up a very deliberate story arc that, while effective, does sort of take a lot of the events out of order and, in my opinion, seems to be overly descriptive in the interest of getting an entire book’s worth of story out of a small but powerful event. I found myself skimming some of the more descriptive scenes because I felt that the authors really needed to try to put you in the place of, say, the high school graduation in a rural New England town and if you live this sort of thing every day it can seem sort of precious and redundant. I enjoyed the read, but I’d like to find another book about a similar topic so that I could see how other people frame and portray the same set of events. The authors very clearly had one narrative that their facts adhered to, I’d be interested in other ones.

The Speckled Monster

This book has been on my “to read” shelf for the better part of the last five years. I finally got around to reading it. I liked it. Loved parts, hated others. This book is the story of how we finally figured out that giving people small amounts of smallpox will ensure they don’t get the terrible forms of smallpox. It traces the discovery of innoculation through Turkey, London and Boston and looks at the people who promoted it while smallpox raged through the land. The author has done a ton of research for this book. Possibly too much.

While the book has a lot of great information that comes from primary sources, the author lets us know in the beginning that she has invented conversations where they assist the story, and there’s an attention to details [especially royal lineage and the names of pubs and meeting places in Boston] that really don’t add to the main storyline at all. If you like this sort of thing, you will enjoy this book. I felt that it detracted from the general plotline and made the book a little overlong.

Down Cut Shin Creek

This is a great short book for kids detailing the WPA program thatpaid for librarians to ride pack horses into the rural areas of Kentucky to promote literacy and reading. It’s a great book full of interesting pictures and anecdotes.