Happiness is Not a Potato! & Chicken Pecking!

With injuries suffered in a recent horse accident, I’ve fallen behind on posting news about books recently read.

One of those books is Charlotte Bronte’s Villette, her final novel, published in 1852 (but you’re more likely to know her through Jane Eyre [1847)]. I enjoyed the elevated style, though parts were slow and other passages overly ornate—and thus it took me longer than normal to finish the book (529 pages in the Bantam Classic paperback edition).

Let me quote a passage where the protagonist, Lucy Snow has just been told by a doctor to keep a “cheerful mind”:

No mockery in this world ever sounds to me so hollow as that of being told to cultivate happiness. What does such advice mean? Happiness is not a potato, to be planted in mould, and tilled with manure.


And what did I move to after that? W. Bruce Cameron’s novel A Dog’s Purpose (the story of a dog’s multiple lives, as it finds itself (I use a neutral pronoun because the dog is sometimes male, sometimes female) reborn in different guises. Very hard to take the dog’s deaths, particularly if you’ve had to live through several.

And then came Chris Pavone’s debut thriller (and the story of a disintegrating marriage) The Expats, which I read because I had just reviewed his second novel for Library Journal [for which see the post of Dec 2]; W. Bruce Cameron’s follow-up to his first dog book–A Dog’s Journey, not quite as good as the first one; Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, about which I’ve already posted a blog [Dec 2]; John Irving’s latest novel In One Person, which I didn’t enjoy as much as I have most of his books, probably because the subject matter (sexual differences) interested me less; and finally, yes, Max Brand’s 1930 Western–Destry Rides Again, as the front cover notes the basis for the classic movie starring James Stewart and Marlene Dietrich. Quite a comedown as regards its style! But I did like one simile:

“Is that a way,” said the Colonel, “for a young gent to kiss a girl good-bye, when it’s a girl like you, and he loves her, like he does you? He pecked at you like a chicken at a grain that turns out to be sand and not corn! Hey, Charlie! [a female, his daughter] God a’mighty, what’s possessin’ you?”

A fitting moral to conclude with today: Don’t kiss your beloved good-by as if you’re a chicken pecking at a grain of corn! You might get sand in your grille!

Ad in Library Journal

The following half-page, full-color ad (low-resolution version for this post only) will appear in the January 1, 2014 issue of Library Journal, which in addition to going out to subscribers is also distributed at the American Library Association midwinter meeting in Philadelphia (January 24-28):


That’s a bit text heavy but at full size will be a little less annoying. Librarians need some of the info in order to place orders with library wholesalers (e.g., Baker & Taylor, Brodart, Overdrive).

Busted Bones and Recent Books

Two weeks ago on a trail ride with my wife I had a horse go wild on me–a young but powerful Gypsy Vanner. Instead of cantering up a slope as I wished and antsy from a variety of unusual stimuli, he took off at a mad gallop, swinging to the left off the path we were on, with me trying to regain control by reigning in hard. He didn’t like that and–still at a full gallop–kicked out to the left with both hind legs.

The result?

I was smashed with tremendous force in the opposite direction, hitting a hard surface (unforgiving, as they say) and landing on my right shoulder and back. I remember being partway down, knew I was going to hit, but couldn’t believe the force. Just a massive, shocking blow. I instantly lost all lung capacity on my right side–no air at all. I had rolled only halfway around, so I was crouched on my knees with my right arm below me and my (helmeted) head supporting my upper body. I couldn’t move and could barely get the air to tell my wife to “call 911.” My left lung was functioning with about 50% capacity.

For a bit there I thought seriously that this might be it, that I might not survive this accident. If my left lung collapsed, I’d likely suffocate before the emergency crew arrived. But in time they reached me, determined I hadn’t lost consciousness and didn’t have damage to my head or spine [thus the helmet!], so they hooked up some oxygen, gave me morphine (excruciating pain when they rolled me on to the stretcher board), and took me to the Tucson area’s only top-level trauma center.

At one point (in a sequence of x-rays and scans) one technician forced me upright, slammed the film panel behind my back, and then jerked me forward two times with the equipment ratcheting in stages. In between gasps of pain I managed to tell him that I was going to pass out—the nurse was saying my blood pressure had dropped to 80 over 46–and the guy just said I’d be okay because I was held in place by the equipment. Uh, that’s not quite the point!

Ultimately I learned I had fractured the scapula on my right side (my doctor says you have to hit pretty hard to do that) and that my back ribs on that side were a mess (they even wondered if I had fractured those ribs before–not to my knowledge, though I did fall two stories from some construction scaffolding when younger, but that injured my ribs on the left side not the right).

Anyway, I was admitted to the hospital and spent three days there, dealing not only with shoulder and rib pain but migraines and an occluded urethra that necessitated a gruesome series of procedures. I’ll spare you the details as I wish I were spared the discomfort (two weeks’ worth)!

So what have I been reading through a haze of pain medication?

After reviewing Chris Pavone’s forthcoming thriller for Library Journal (can’t say anything about the review until it appears) I went back and read his outstanding debut–The Expats. Great fun. The only slightly negative comment I would make (and the book has received tremendous blurbs, reviews, and honors, so no need to praise it further) is that the multiple twists near the end do not seem to occur organically, if that makes sense. What happens is that the four main characters reveal through dialogue (a subtle way for the author to speak to us) what’s happened, who has betrayed whom, and their respective deceptions. Ideally perhaps (?) those twists might have been revealed through action.

After Pavone, it was on to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, on the bestseller lists for so long that I figured it was about time I read the book. What an outstanding achievement! Brilliant in almost all respects. The only negative thing I’d say about that book (and again only because the book needs no further praise) is that the plot becomes highly stylized by the time we reach the end.

What’s that mean?

Well, it’s just a touch of artistic effort that makes the book seem almost too intricately plotted–though that fits perfectly with the character of the “gone girl.” If I had to use literary terms (somewhat inaccurately) I’d say the book demonstrates a “baroque” as opposed to a “renaissance” technique. The plot calls attention to itself as something “artificial.” Now “artificial” can be good or bad; that is, the term can mean “artful” (full of artifice) in a positive sense or “unnatural” (think of the hoary conflict of Art versus Nature; often one age favors the one [art surpasses nature], the next age the other [the natural is preferred to the artificial]).

Whatever the case, Gone Girl is an excellent read, one of “marvelous” creativity. [Those familiar with Italian Baroque literature (particularly Giambattista Marino who once proclaimed “È del poeta il fin la meraviglia”) will recognize the intent behind my use of the term “marvelous.”] A book well worth your time!