The Art of Memoir, by Mary Karr

Also see recent review posted just before this one "The Life We Bury"

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The Art of Memoir, by Mary Karr, is a book that the Wall Street Journal said should be “required reading for anyone attempting to write a memoir or who lives for literature”. Mary Karr can teach you about memoir but she becomes a little intimidating with her credentials. She is an English professor at Syracuse University, a successful non fiction writer, and you can tell she really knows her stuff.    

Karr is passionate about her belief in the memoir approach and important literary style. She says “There is a lingering snobbery in the literary world that wants to disqualify what is broadly called nonfiction from the category of literature”. 

As expected in a book like this she covers the basics. The importance of truth and the road to exaggeration. Why memoirs fail. Her own attempts at memoir lend a lot to the dialog.

Many offer book reviews and finding something to present here that hasn’t been already well reviewed is very difficult. One thing about this book that stood out for me was chapter 23, 
Michael Herr: Start in Kansas, End in Oz. Even the title of this chapter teaches an important lesson, but the chapter refers to Michael Kerr "Voice" in his on-war memoir “Dispatches” and his narration of “Apocalypse Now”. These are used to demonstrate that where you start and end is so important.  We read this type of author to share the journey. We become a voyeur, eavesdropping while watching out the window. It is suggested that we are ourselves responsible for all we do but as well as all we see.

Apocalypse Now starts out in a memorable way. “There was a map of Vietnam on the wall of my apartment in Saigon and some nights, I’d lie on my bed and look at it......”  Mary Karr used an approach that she used in her writing classes. She picked apart the writing, one sentence at a time.  She shows how, line by line, the writing builds up to the very substance the book is known for. A favorite chapter.
  
This will be an important book on both reading and writing in the years ahead. 

The Whistler & End of Watch

The Whistler by John Grisham

(Catching up some reviews, two at a time. See the Comment section for some updated thoughts on these reviews.) 

John Grisham continues to use his "formula for writing successful books" and it is still addictive. He has written about 30 legal thrillers.  His books are just plain fun to read. Both Grisham and Stephen King are addictive authors.

"The Whistler" opens, of course, with judicial investigator Lacy Stoltz concerned about a judge on the take.  A lawyer who went to jail and is now out is going to help. (this indeed is the formula but Grisham’s)

It is a story of racketeering that combines the uppity Gulf Coast society, some brilliant legal minds, and the old Catfish Mafia now evolved into the Coast Mafia. (No one weaves legal situations and the life in the Southeast better)

Lacy’s approach is to learn how bad the judge is. The answer is very bad, and the bad guys are getting away with murder. Thank goodness for a whistle-blower and those helping her who also have plans of their own.

I have read and enjoyed all of John Grisham’s books but not often have I reviewed his books. Knowing a little more about him can help. A story about him from January 2016 gives some insight into his career.

Bookends, a popular literary TV show, had John Grisham and Steven King as their main attraction. They have been friends for 25 years and you could feel the respect that they both had for each other both personally and professionally.

In this special they both shared a lot about their career. Grisham shared his experience in writing his first book, "A Time to Kill". He said he bought the first run of 1000 copies and then worked to sell them all himself. That was back in 1989.

John Grisham was a surprise and it was interesting to see how similar his and Stephen King's lives and careers had been. Similiar careers. Both started with a break on their first book. Both talented writers.

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This is the closing a trilogy of 3 books; Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers, and End of Watch. The same villain and many of the same characters.

Retired detective Bill Hodges and investigative partner Holly Gibney have worked on this case from the very start (all three books) with things pulling from the first volume to the present.
Brady Hartsfield, mass murderer, has now acquired psychic powers and is experimenting and glad to do so, with ways to convince the innocent to kill themselves. The very people that he failed to kill in Mr Mercedes. 

Brady doesn’t like being trapped in a unmovable body but with some technology and other creepy stuff he is more dangerous than ever. The technology used is anything but modern day and it is like using Pac-man but still having it be exciting and effective. 

It is indeed the “End of Watch” for the villain and for the the hero. Each book easily could stand on its own, but they work a long plot that finally comes to a typical Stephen King larger story.

"Stories of Your Life" / "Under the Dome"

Stories of Your Life & Under The Dome

I read these two books earlier this year. I am catching up my book reviews so I want to have the reviews posted and have also listed this years books reviewed in the new tab, "About Books". 

Stories of Your Life and Others

by Ted Chaing

"Stories Of Your Life and Others" by Ted Chiang is contemporary science fiction.  The book has 8 stories that originally were published separately.  "Stories of Your Life" is both the book title and the fourth story in the book. It is the story that the movie Arrival was taken from.

There is also at the end another short chapter called story notes. It may be useful to read it first?  The other chapters in this book are also very thought-provoking. I liked his fictional twist to the Bible story about the Tower of Babylon. His story "Division by Zero" would for sure be fascinating except for me it left me wishing my math foundation was stronger.

Clearly Ted Chiang is a very skilled writer. His approach to science makes you think. His stories are not causal reads. The movie chapter is about a linguist expert who was called to communicate with Aliens who were" heptapods" and had two distinct forms of language. Heptapod A,  their spoken language. and Heptapod B, their written language. The relevance of what time really is ,for the Aliens and then for us, was also a key component of the plot. 

Both the movie and the book are very thought-provoking. When I first read the book I finished it and the same day went to the movie. I was surprised that I found myself liking the movie more. I felt that was unusual and I posted my thoughts at that time in my post titled "Are Books Always Better Than the Movie". I have thought more about the comparison since then and have changed my thinking some. For me I still would prefer the movie mostly because the story line was more exact and I felt a closer connection to the characters. The pluses for the book could be that you may find yourself sort of feeling and sensing what was happening. That may lead to your having more options for the issue of how time worked with past presence and future. The book was very good. The movie was great. 

Under The Dome

by Stephen King

 

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A science fiction novel published in 2009. I have read many of Stephen King's books so why I had not read this one may have a little to do with the fact that it is almost 1100 pages. It had a TV series built around it but I never watched it because I thought I would eventually read it, which I finally did earlier this year.  

I have been a little cautious over the years in reading the Stephen King books I have read because they are just scary.   Under The Dome was a mixture of some scary things, interesting plot, and especially a study of the people suddenly sealed off in a small New England town.

A force field came down over the town and the people were trapped. Families were split. There was no escape.  King knows exactly what scares people and the plot covers most of them.

The cast of people is one that fits the setting perfectly. The hero is a Iraq veteran and the villain is, Big Jim Rennie, a local power broker.

The psychological insight into the minds and motives of the small town people is right on target.

The book reminds me of his book "The Stand" in how a large cast of characters bring about the plot. It is well worth the reading. Glad I skipped the TV series. 

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The 100-Year-Old-Man Who Climbed Out The Window and Disappeared

The 100-Year-Old-Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared

By Jonas Johasson

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Allan Karlsson climbs out of the window of the Old Folks’ Home to avoid his 100th birthday party. What happens next is funny and you would expect that to be what the book is about. It turns out that what happened before that day, over Allan’s life, is even funnier.

He climbs out of the window, in his slippers, and heads to the bus station, not caring where he will go. While waiting for the next bus without much thought about it he steals a suitcase and gets on the bus. It did occur to him that the suitcase might have some shoes in it. The suitcase’s owner is a criminal and he is very upset and works hard trying to get it back.

The story goes back and forth between the current chase and events from his prior very full life.

I must admit that for me Allan Karlsson seemed to be Alan Alda. Not just because they are both named Alan but they shared a comic aloofness.

I kept seeing and even hearing Alda as I read about Karlsson. I won’t say any more and maybe it is unfair to mention this because you may now fall into the same trap if you read this book

Karlsson was an explosive expert throughout much of his life. This skill enabled him to get the attention of many world leaders including Franco, Truman, Stalin, Mao and Kim Il Sung.  He has no personal political leanings but worked for all sides inadvertently. His travels take him all over the world as he intersects with world events from Los Alamos, New Mexico to North Korea.

The book is silly. The events and coincidences are absurd. It weaves history in to a fictional life in a masterful way.  The story will hold the readers interest from beginning to end.  A rare accomplishment for any book. A great cure for the blues, especially for anyone who might feel bad about growing older.

Jonas Jonasson is a Swedish journalist and writer, best known as the author of the best-seller