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Timothy J. Bazzett "BookHappy" (Reed City, MI USA)

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My Life as a Foreign Country
My Life as a Foreign Country
by Brian Turner
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.59

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An important addition to the literature of war. My highest recommendation, 8 Sep 2014
As horrific, ill-planned and misguided as the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may have been, they have, in spite of themselves, yielded a bumper crop of beautifully written books. Two such books, both memoirs from combat veterans, that immediately come to mind are Benjamin Busch's Dust to Dust: A Memoir and Brian Castner's The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life That Follows. To those books I will now add Brian Turner's moving memoir, MY LIFE AS A FOREIGN COUNTRY.

Busch's book moved effortlessly between memories of his combat experiences in Iraq and his childhood. Ironically, of the latter time, the former Marine begins his narrative with, "I was not allowed to have a gun." Later he tells us, "There is something to be said about being dust. It is where we are all headed." There is a telling matter-of-factness in Busch's treatment of death and its inevitability.

Castner, haunted by his harrowing experiences as a bomb disposal specialist with the Air Force, tells us calmly from the outset: "The first thing you should know about me is that I'm crazy."

In his own memoir, Turner tells us: "Sgt. Turner is dead." And he thinks of himself, alternately, as a drone and its operator-pilot, flying over hostile territory, photo-mapping and gathering intelligence.

Death, insanity, and, again, death. These are hardly surprising themes in books that deal with war and its aftermath. Like Busch and Castner before him, Turner maps the landscape of war, both external and internal, assesses the damage, and meditates on its consequences. Words are his medium.

Brian Turner has already published two critically acclaimed volumes of war poetry, Here, Bullet and Phantom Noise. This time using prose, he continues to try to understand what he did in war, and what it did to him. He also tries to put his army service (seven years) into the larger context of a family with a military tradition, giving us graphic glimpses of a father who flew intelligence-gathering missions during the Cold War, an uncle who fought in Vietnam, a grandfather who fought with the Marines in the South Pacific during WWII, and others, all the way back to the Civil War. Struggling to explain, he says -

"I signed the paper and joined the infantry for reasons I won't tell you, and for reasons I will." And then, after listing possible reasons, he concludes, "I joined the infantry because I knew, even then, that most of what I've just said is total bulls**t, or that it really won't answer a thing."

But regardless of why he joined, Turner still struggles with what he saw and what he did during his tour in and around Mosul, Iraq. Things like manning a turret gun on convoy duty and firing at civilian cars that came too close or tried to force their way into the column. Or setting up a security perimeter around an Iraqi police station.

"This is where sixteen Iraqi policemen stood on the sidewalk in one moment, vanished in the next. A forearm still attached to a hand, a wedding band shining on a finger. Dust. A strange and momentary silence ... There is a mustache, alone, on a sidewalk."

Home on leave, Turner feels ashamed at feeling so relieved to be in America, safe, and thinks himself a coward for such feelings. And after his discharge he travels, to numerous foreign countries, many of them scenes of wars, still looking for answers. Even in bed with his wife, he is plagued by hallucinatory nightmares of the war and its victims.

"My wife and I make love in sheets the color of rare wine. As we kiss and roll over in bed ... a nurse wheels a shallow-breathing veteran into our bedroom - a man with pellets from a shotgun lodged in his brain, the surgeons following behind and standing over his gurney, whispering how they might proceed ... And they wait for us to finish making love ... The surgeons whispering over their critical patients. The dead in their bathtubs. The dead with their mouths given to foam. The dead strung from ropes under cones of light."

Death and insanity - constants of war. In that eerie opening image - dreaming of himself as a drone, Turner says -

"Each night I do this ... I bank and turn, gathering circuit by circuit the necessary intelligence, all that I have done, all that we have done ..."

"All that we have done" indeed. And yet the wars go on and on. Brian Turner's MY LIFE AS A FOREIGN COUNTRY is an important addition to the literature of war, bleakly beautiful and profoundly disturbing. I give it my highest recommendation.

- Tim Bazzett, author of the Cold War memoir, SOLDIER BOY: AT PLAY IN THE ASA

Love and Fatigue in America
Love and Fatigue in America
by Roger King
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £23.06

5.0 out of 5 stars Britisher's 'Travels with Arthur' - Great book! Highly recommended., 25 Mar 2014
British-born author Roger King's take on America of the past twenty years is nothing if not revealing. In LOVE AND FATIGUE IN AMERICA, which he calls an "autobiographical novel," here, for example, are his thoughts on the First Gulf War, a time when he was living in Spokane, where a large part of the population belonged to, or had ties to, the army reserves.

"They agree, the reservists, in television interviews, that it is their duty to go and fight the Iraqis, though their knowledge of where Kuwait is, or who the Iraqis are, is shaky. They appear to have no sense of what I know firsthand to be true, that the American government is widely loathed in poor countries around the world, nor do they seem to have any knowledge of the ruthless instances that have made this so. They know themselves to be nice."

King, who worked in several very poor countries in Africa, knows, I assume, what he's talking about in regard to how poor countries feel about America. (Although the narrator in this 'novel' is never
named, for brevity's sake, I'm going to just call him by the author's name, since King.)

King contracted CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) just a couple months after his arrival in Spokane to teach at "Inland University," has been battling this little-understood disease ever since. Having grown up with the free medical care of socialized medicine, he is incredulous at the mess that the American health care system has become.

"In Britain there had been no paperwork, no dealing with money, no maze ... You remember visits to the doctor as blithe affairs. The burden of management customary to Americans strikes you as astonishing - staggering - in its complexity, trickery, and venality. You wonder that such a situation could ever be taken as normal."

King's descriptions of the horrendously crippling, often totally disabling effects of CFS are scattered throughout the narrative, and give added weight to the "Fatigue" of the book's title. There is little pity or sympathy to be found for sufferers of this mysterious ailment, which has no real treatment, and is often regarded as psychosomatic, imaginary, or fake, and not just by regular people, but also by medical practitioners and especially by insurance companies.

King is no luckier in his continuing search for a real and lasting love. In fact, the CFS often makes relationships and sexual activity nearly impossible. King spends many of his waking hours lying down in an attempt to conserve energy.

After leaving Spokane he spends a couple years in New Mexico trying to cope with his CFS, and there he enters into a loving if complicated affair with a married woman who has a little girl that King becomes very much attached to. This affair is over when he takes another university teaching job in San Francisco, where he marvels at the strange diversity of California culture and its separation of sex and love, describing encounters with waitresses, massage parlors, sex workers, lingerie models and more, which he calls the "long division of body and soul." These encounters never seem prurient or salacious, but instead swing somewhere between silly and sad, which attests, I think, to King's skills as a story teller. Unable finally to complete his teaching duties in San Francisco due to the CFS, he takes "catastrophic medical leave" and sets off to travel up and down across the U.S. in search of a place he can settle, with multiple visits along the way to doctors, alternative medicine types, quacks, etc.

I know this sounds like a pretty grim story, but the truth is it's not. There were many dry observations on the American way of life that left me wincing, or chuckling, in recognition.

And there's this great dog, King's best friend, really. A big dog, his name is Arthur, a Golden Retriever-Great Pyrenees mix. Arthur is nearly all that's left from the New Mexico love affair, and travels everywhere with King for nearly eleven years. So we've got LOVE, we've got FATIGUE (chronic, in fact), and we've got a good dog, eulogized thusly -

"He was an animal who gave humans permission to be more human ... He was born, made happiness without meaning to, died."

King does not say that he is living "happily ever after," but he does seem to be working at it. His story covers more than twenty years of living in America, from the First Gulf War well into the Iraq War that recently ended. As an outsider, King sees the irreparable damage that war brings, to the soldiers and their families, noting "The damage of violence will be lodged in them and will reach down through the generations."

There are many incisive and insightful comments about America and how we live. King sees - feels - a kind of incipient decay at large in America.

"... there is a scent of something familiar to me in the air, cozy almost, of a grandeur no longer affordable, of inevitable, natural decline. It's exactly the scent I grew up with in postwar England. It's not unpromising."

I have just begun to read another book, George Packer's book about America called THE UNWINDING. King, in his meandering journey across America - his "travels with Arthur" - has obviously been a quiet witness to that same 'unwinding.'

The title is a good one. It's all in there: love, fatigue, America - and don't forget that great dog, Arthur. This is just such a great book! Highly recommended.

- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER

A Hatful of Cherries
A Hatful of Cherries
by Felix Calvino
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars A masterful storyteller. Bravo!, 3 Mar 2014
This review is from: A Hatful of Cherries (Paperback)
I've only even been aware of Felix Calvino for a month or two, and his 2007 story collection, A HATFUL OF CHERRIES, is the second of his books I've read. (Last week I read his 2013 novella, ALFONSO.) Both books are just so damn good that Calvino is now on my short list of favorite authors.

There are sixteen stories here, most of them very short, characterized by a delicacy and economy of phrasing not often found in writers today. A bit of Hemingway, a touch of Chekhov, and the rest is ... well, Calvino, I suspect, and, taken all together, the effect is simply perfect. His settings range from post-Civil War Spain in the 1930s to modern-day Australia and its Spanish migrant population there. The subjects too are simple and finely wrought. A small boy wishing for a knife of his own ("The pocket knife"). A groom en route to his wedding who goes mysteriously missing ("Detour"). A young couple hopes in vain for a better life, a dream dashed by senseless violence ("Basilio") A courtship by mail based on lies and half-truths which ends badly ("The bride") - or does it? Unattached men searching tentatively for love and new beginnings ("A new place"). A slyly dry sense of humor pervades "The laundry incident" and "Restless hands."

Every one of these stories is honed and polished to perfection, but if I had to pick a favorite - a hard choice - it would probably be the title story, which uses the innocence and budding sexual curiosity of two village boys to tell the story of a hired girl who gets "in trouble," but lets the reader ponder "whodunit." Or maybe the last story, "Unfinished thoughts," about two old women, "once darlings of their village, now wrinkled skin bags holding together bundles of bones and two old brains bent on pain and nostalgic reflection." Lucia has loved Elvira "always," and now Elvira is dying.

What I find most astounding about his work is not that it's so good and so mature; but that English is his THIRD language (after his native Galician and Spanish). Felix Calvino may have come late to this writing thing, but he has obviously been working hard at it, and in the writing of just two slim volumes, it appears he has already mastered it. These are great stories. I will be impatiently awaiting his next book. Bravo, Mr. Calvino!

- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER

The Last of the Lumbermen
The Last of the Lumbermen
by Brian Fawcett
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Hockey and life in contemporary Canada. EXcellent writing! HIGHLY recommended, 18 Feb 2014
Here I am again, learning more about Canadian writers who are famous up there and virtually unknown down here in the lower 48. And Brian Fawcett is a real find, because this guy can really tell a story! Not surprising, I suppose, given that he's written twenty-some previous books, but THE LAST OF THE LUMBERMEN is, according to the author note, his first novel and "his first foray into fiction since 1993." Apparently Fawcett's favorite forte has been social commentary and the environment, and, while these things show up in LUMBERMEN and form an important part of the story, their inclusion adds much and does nothing to slow the flow of the narrative. Fawcett may have been away from fiction for over twenty years, but he obviously knows his way around the genre, as this is a story that kept me turning pages long past my usual geezer bedtime.

It would probably be easy to pigeonhole this book as a "hockey novel," but it's a lot more than that. Set in the economically depressed lumbering town of Mantua, in central British Columbia, LUMBERMEN's hero, quietly wealthy industrial realtor, forty-something Andy Bathgate, harbors some dark secrets about his past, that is until he learns they're not so secret after all. Because mixed in with the male-bonding stuff of senior hockey league storyline is a dark mix of tragedy and twisted family relationships and secrets - all those undercurrents that make for that compulsive page-turning I mentioned.

I love the way it starts: "Let me tell you the story of my life." This deceptively simple beginning is absolutely perfect. Because it's been an absolutely fascinating life, filled with over twenty lonely years of wandering and avoiding meaningful relationships - which makes Andy's current situation all the more satisfying - and, to my mind, well deserved. And the story comes full circle, to "That's ... the story of my life, as much of it as I know." I loved his story.

And here's an odd thing. I know almost nothing of hockey, yet hockey fills these pages. It is so obviously - via the hockey motif - a Canadian novel, but one that is easily accessible to the non-Canadian, to the non-hockey fan. That's how good Fawcett is at this fiction thing. I learned early on in the story that there is another, real, Andy Bathgate (born in Winnipeg, 1932), who was an NHL star from 1952-1975. Of course any hockey fan would have known this immediately, but me, well ... But, having found this out, I wondered if the fictional Andy's best friend and teammate being named Gord might have been a subtle nod to the great Gordie Howe of Red Wings fame. And then I wondered about other subtle things here, like the fact that Fawcett's Andy Bathgate refused to use modern carbon composite sticks, but was still using wooden hockey sticks, which he custom-altered to his own tastes. Wood, Lumbermen? Of course the "lumbermen" term serves many plot purposes here, not the least of which is the way the once abundant timber resources surrounding Mantua have been viciously clear-cut by an international consortium, resulting in a moribund economy and rampant unemployment. This aspect of the plot brought to mind several of author Jim Harrison's early novels of northern Michigan and its Upper Peninsula where the pine forests were logged off to the brink of extinction. Truth is, I think I like Fawcett's treatment of this matter better than Harrison's, despite the latter's international success as a writer.

Obviously I'm still thinking about THE LAST OF THE LUMBERMEN, and could say more. But I'll just repeat myself. Perfect story-telling. Lots to think about - social issues, environmental, personal family stuff, etc. I loved this book. Now I think I'd like to read Fawcett's memoir, Human Happiness, and maybe another of his called Virtual Clearcut, Or, The Way Things Are in My Hometown. This book? HIGHLY recommended!

- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER

Where Memories Go: Why Dementia Changes Everything
Where Memories Go: Why Dementia Changes Everything
by Sally Magnusson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.59

15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A love letter to a much-beloved mother. Highly recommended, 4 Feb 2014
Sally Magnusson's WHERE MEMORIES GO: WHY DEMENTIA CHANGES EVERYTHING is, more than anything, a heartbreakingly beautiful love letter to her late mother, who succumbed, following a years-long struggle, to that cruellest of diseases.

Mamie Magnusson was a journalist and columnist, locally famous and beloved in her native Scotland, where, with her more famous husband, TV personality Magnus Magnusson, she raised five children of whom Sally is the oldest. The author's memories of her parents and the ways in which she and her siblings rallied together to provide care as her mother's mind slowly slipped away form the beating heart of this touching tribute. As an investigative journalist, Magnusson also inserts alternate chapters incorporating the research she undertook about the insidious nature of Alzheimer's and other causes of dementia; and she also documents the grossly inadequate and often casually cruel way in which dementia patients are treated and 'warehoused' by the health care system. And while all of this is helpful and informative, the thing that makes this book so damn good, so heart-wrenchingly effective, is the personal stuff: the stories of her parents' childhoods and courtship, her memories of her own childhood, the description of losing her father to pancreatic cancer, and, most of all, the final years, months and days of her mother's life.

There is humor here too, as Mamie was a person who loved to laugh and sing and make others laugh - a quality she kept right up to the bitter end, fighting through the fog of dementia, groping for words. And losing the 'words' was perhaps the cruelest cut of all, because Mamie loved words, made her living with words. But when the words began to go, it simply became too very sad. And what made it even worse was that Mamie seemed to know what was happening to her, as evidenced by her "heroic ability to summon words to express what [she] was going through." This is heartbreakingly clear in some of her last coherent sentences, phrases like -

"I've reached a stage where everything is nothing ... I'm just daft ... I just felt the whole world was going."

And I must readily admit here, that I could not remain objective about a book like this. Having lost my own aged mother in the past year, Magnusson's descriptions of her mother's rapid decline and the indignities endemic to old age made me remember my mother's last months and weeks. As I read Magnusson's account, I often found myself grimacing, on the verge of tears. I knew, of course, that a book like this could not end happily, and at the end, which I knew must come, I wept.

This is a book about love. If you have lost a beloved parent, you will relate. And yes, you will probably weep. HIGHLY recommended. (four and a half stars)

- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER

The Pale of Settlement: Stories (Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction)
The Pale of Settlement: Stories (Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction)
by Margot Singer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £15.50

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gobsmacked. Beautiful writing. Compelling narrative. Highly recommended., 18 Dec 2013
Gobsmacked." It's a term I don't think I've ever used personally, but I see it a lot these days. And Margot Singer's stories in THE PALE OF SETTLEMENT affected me that way, leaving me open-mouthed, speechless, utterly astounded. Because these interconnected stories of a family are simply beautiful. Words fail me, because I'm afraid I'll screw things up just trying to describe what Singer has created here.

But what the hell, I've gotta say something, right? So here goes. For those of you who shy away from short stories, as so many of today's readers regretfully do, fear not. These stories all fit together, because they concern multiple generations of a single Jewish family, with the focus on Susan Stern, a writer-journalist, who has managed to break free of the restrictions of that "pale of settlement" that gives the book its name. And I had to look that up, I'll admit. It refers to a geographic area of Czarist Russia where Jews were permitted to live. An enormous "ghetto" created by Catherine the Great which included much of Poland and Lithuania, then part of the Russian Empire.

During the mid-twentieth century countless Jews managed to emigrate from the then-USSR and ended up in Israel. And that is the point of origin for Susan Stern's family, the port city of Haifa. There is much in these stories of continuing Arab-Israeli tensions, the brief wars, the bombings, the checkpoints, the compulsory military service for both men and women, which is routinely taken for granted, a 'rite of passage' to adulthood. Susan's mother, Leah, meets someone during her own service, and there are hints of an illicit affair, perhaps with one of 'enemy,' and she is hustled off to New York City by her concerned and controlling widowed father. So, despite the fact that this is a book about being Jewish, about "roots," and where "home" is, Susan's own patrimony remains shrouded in mystery.

The settings for the stories shift from Israel to New York to Berlin to Nepal and other places, but Haifa and New York City are constants, central to Susan's own story. For throughout her life she makes many trips back to Haifa, first as a child with her parents, and later as an adult and a writer. Other relatives' stories (spanning much of the twentieth century and into the next) crop up throughtout the linked narratives - grandparents, uncles, cousins, her parents' strained courtship and long tension-filled marriage. Susan's own story is told in scattered pieces, from her earliest childhood memories (her mother telling her bedtime stories of her own childhood and youth) all the way into her late forties, still fiercely independent and single, unable - or unwilling - to commit to a lasting relationship, often on the move - "feeling the way she always did when she traveled alone: invisible and weightless and free."

An uncle, Avraham, is an archaeologist who ponders the mysteries of antiquity at various 'digs.' His niece, Susan - and Margot Singer too - is doing the same thing with family: disinterring the tragedies and secrets of previous generations, holding potsherds of lives up to the light, examining, cataloguing and describing.

Singer's descriptions of these lives are meticulous and mesmerizing. It's been more than a week since I finished reading her stories and they still haunt me. How to describe a book like this? Back where I started. Speechless. Gobsmacked.

- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER

Pinboy: A Memoir
Pinboy: A Memoir
by George Bowering
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.04

5.0 out of 5 stars Remembering adolescence in all its pain and pleasures. EXCELLENT!, 23 Dec 2012
This review is from: Pinboy: A Memoir (Hardcover)
George Bowering's newest book, a memoir called PINBOY, is an absolute hoot. I loved it!

Bowering, who has written literally scores of books - poetry, plays, essays, fiction, etc. - was once Canada's Parliamentary Poet Laureate and has received numerous honors for his work over a career that spans more than fifty years. And yet, prior to reading this book, I had never heard of him. PINBOY was recommended to me by another Canadian writer whose work I greatly admire, Elizabeth Hay. She apparently enjoyed the book nearly as much as I did, which I could be surprised at, since, besides being a hilariously funny book, PINBOY is also perhaps one of the "dirtiest" books I have read in years. And I put that in quotes because I'm not sure "dirty" really adequately describes Bowering's brutally candid, deliciously ribald, yet also sometimes very sensitive look at what it was like to be fifteen years old, in love with the idea of being in love, and horny as hell in the early 1950s in a small town in southern British Columbia. Whew! That was a real run-on mouthful, huh?

But yeah, it really is pretty dirty, come to think of it. Why else would I have enjoyed it so much? Lotsa sex in there. And not just the "solitary pleasures" most fifteen year-old boys are most familiar with (and young George was no different), but a few other variations too, mostly involving his actual girl friend, Wendy Love(above the waist privileges), and an unscrupulous sexually rapacious teacher, Miss Monica Verge, the high school Home Economics and Business teacher who was at least twice the age of our hero. This latter 'relationship' was a source of great wonderment, fear and trembling to Bowering, although certainly not unwelcome.

Bowering himself calls PINBOY his attempt "to tell about a moment in my adolescence ... when I was trying to live an ordinary kid's life while trying to keep four female human beings happy." The other two females were his mother (who understood her son all too well), and a rather mysterious and obviously poor girl from the other side of the tracks named Jeanette MacArthur. His attempts to break through the tough shell of isolation and independence of this latter female make up some of the best, most sensitive, parts of his story.

But PINBOY is not all about sexual awakening. There's plenty of that 'ordinary kid' stuff in there too, although Bowering was never, I suspect, really 'ordinary.' He loved books, something that set him apart from many of his peers. Like me, George always packed a book wherever he went. And he tells us about what he's reading too. That year it was mostly westerns (Max Brand, Luke Short, Wayne D. Overholser, Ernest Haycox, etc.), although he began sampling other kinds of stuff that year too - Poul Anderson, Ray Bradbury, James M. Cain, Erskine Caldwell and George Orwell. George also worked. He had a partime job setting pins in the local bowling alley (hence the title) and also toiled in the local fruit orchards, pruning, thinning, picking, etc. He kept up with all the latest popular music. He had a few close friends in Will Trump, Joe Makse and John Jalovec, and liked to hang out with them around town (particularly the pool hall), speculating and telling lies about about girls and women, smoking and drinking, horsing around and hiking in the nearby countryside. Bowering talks about the importance of looking and dressing well - the greased back 'boogie cut' hair fashion of the times, and the 'drape' pegged trousers and often homemade shirts. The agonies of having almost-but-not-quite-right fashions. In other words, all the usual angst that goes with being a teenager.

Bowering was also an avid baseball and sports fan and worked as a sports reporter for the local newspaper, wearing a funky old fedora with a homemade 'Press' card tucked rakishly in the hatband. His love affair with baseball was one that would last his whole life.

There are so many things I want to say about this truly excellent coming-of-age memoir that I just can't seem to get it all straight in my head, so I'm gonna just give you a few samples here.

On religious differences -

"... the kids in a small town will eventually hear about the strictest rules laid down by someone else's preachers. The Jehovah's Witness kids were not supposed to read any books except the Bible. The Lutheran kids were not supposed to listen to the hit parade. The Holy Roller girls could not use lipstick. The Catholic kids could commit sins all they wanted to, because all they had to do was confess them to the priest and start all over again, clean as a whistle."

On comic books -

"After some US popular psychologist claimed that comic books wer turning kids into criminals, parents all over the place tried to keep them out of our hands. Nowadays, when teenagers carry cocaine in one pocket and a cell phone you can download fellatio movies from in the other, comic books don't seem so scary."

On books and reading -

"My extra-curricular reading went along with my loneness, as it still does. It contributed to it, I think. Sometimes it pissed people off ... I think they might have been smart enough to think that my reading was somehow a criticism of their lives devoid of reading. But I just liked it. It gave me two lives running at the same time. Why would anyone turn that down?"

On boys and early driving experiences -

"Boys driving tractors are really adolescents acquiring a high regard for their own sexual likelihood. I faintly sensed that when I sat up on the seat of that little grey Ford tractor, with the compression snout out front of my crotch. It is part of nature's plan that teenaged lads should roar around fruit groves on loud motorized phalluses, covered with sweat and striped with grime."

And on and on. The thing is, Bowering is a guy who is completely comfortable in his own skin as a writer. Enough so that he's not afraid to poke fun at himself. Here's what he said about his own poetry, much of which has been published in small unknown magazines or by obscure presses -

"I know that guys almost my age have eaten Velveeta sandwiches so they can get my chapbooks of acerbic verses into the hands of the forty people who want to read them while sitting and waiting for the prune juice to work."

I mean this Bowering guy is just plain flat-out FUNNY. He writes like Ring Lardner unleashed from the strictures of censorship. I laughed out loud, I chuckled, I chortled. And I often cringed in recognition. This is writing - GOOD writing - about the universal experience of growing up, of turning from a boy into a man. More than once here Bowering refers to his current self as an old "gink." Me, I'm an old "geezer." I suspect they mean pretty much the same thing, because I can relate. PINBOY is simply one hell of a good read. And not just for ginks and geezers, but for anyone who loves good writing. Bravo, Bowering. Write on!

- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER

The Hearts of Horses
The Hearts of Horses
by Molly Gloss
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars LOVED this book!, 18 Dec 2012
This review is from: The Hearts of Horses (Paperback)
A peaceful story in a world at war - This was my first exposure to the fiction of Molly Gloss. Wow! And I mean that in the most complimentary John-Denver-Rocky-Mountain-High kinda way. No, it's not the Colorado Rockies in the sixties, but the mountains of eastern Oregon in the teens, 1917-18 that is. Gloss's story, about a tomboy-ish young woman horse gentler, Martha Lessen, has such a light and sensitive touch in every way that it is hard to describe. I LOVED this book! I didn't want it to end, but when it does end it has a very right feeling, of something beautiful completed. I'm not going to summarize the story; look up top if you want that. Hearts of Horses brought to mind other books I've read - Winter Wheat, by Mildred Walker, which was another WWI homefront story with the same kind of peaceful beauty. And Gloss's heroine is re-reading Anna Sewell's classic Black Beauty. When Martha and Henry have what should be a very strange and awkward conversation (but it ISN'T) about what the lives of horses must be like, Black Beauty, of course comes immediately to mind; but so does Will James' western story of Smokey the Cowhorse. And there are similarities too to a more recent book I read and reviewed not long ago called Across Open Ground, by Heather Parkinson - another WWI novel.
This is such a gentle, lovely, calm, PEACEFUL tale set in the midst of a world at war that it seems almost fairy-tale surreal at times, but it's NOT. It is disturbingly real, the kind of real you'd like to walk into and get to know the people, to be their friend, to laugh with them and comfort them - THAT kind of real. I guess it's pretty obvious by now that Gloss's book has made me nearly inarticulate with admiration. Here's a typical sample that rendered me speechless; the book's title comes from this passage in which Martha and Henry talk about the horses shipped overseas to the front -

"... about the terrible plight of the horses over there - how they died on the transport ships from fear and trampling; how they pined with homesickness and consequently took cold or pneumonia and died at the remount depots before they ever got to the front; how they were often starved and thirsty to the point of eating harness or chewing their stablemate's blankets; how as many horses were invalided by war nerves as were killed in battle - their hearts and minds not able, any more than the men's, to bear the airplane bombs and grenades, falling fuses, the shrieks of wounded men and animals."

The Hearts of Horses has, I think, a kind of quiet Quaker sensibility, a plain people quality that cannot fail to touch your heart. I'm so glad I found it. What a book!

- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER

by Emma Donoghue
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well written but anticlimactic. Perhaps not a book men can easily relate to, 18 Dec 2012
This review is from: Room (Paperback)
Not a new subject for fiction - kidnapping, unlawful imprisonment, serial rape, sexual bondage. But Donoghue's method of telling it, from the point of view of a five year-old child resulting from all this, gives it a very original twist. And she maintains this POV well, making it seem quite genuine, with the language, together with the sense of innocence and wonderment. That part is very well done. The problem is it begins to wear a bit thin after a hundred pages or so. And the book does not really take off until about 125 pages in where a kind of climax is reached. Then it gradually goes downhill, tapering off to a most anticlimactic ending. And I call it an 'ending' because no particular 'conclusion' is reached.

My wife and daughter loved this story of Jack and Ma, found it quite gripping. Women in general seemed to love it, in fact. But I thought it was just okay. And I do like a lot of women's book. This one just failed to move me. Clever, well-written, an original sort of premise. Yet it failed to really engage me. Not much really 'happened' here, but I don't think that's the real problem. Maybe the sense of danger, terror, horror - whatever you might call the central point of this story - is more real to a woman. I dunno. The truth is, I wish I could have liked it more, but, well ... Catchy, short title - ROOM. And a very small room at that; in the end, however, just not all that interesting - to me anyway.

- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER

Hindoo Holiday: An Indian Journal (Penguin Modern Classics)
Hindoo Holiday: An Indian Journal (Penguin Modern Classics)
by J. R. Ackerley
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.49

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A mediocre anomaly from a fine writer, 18 Dec 2012
HINDOO HOLIDAY, while it does contain Ackerley's familiar low-key self-deprecating brand of humor, does not measure up to his other three books. It is essentially an edited journal of the several months he spent as a so-called secretary to the Maharajah of a small kingdom in India in the 1920s. It is an interesting look at the customs and foibles of the native people during the Raj. And yes, Ackerley's sexual afinities also play a constant and subtle part as he comments continually on certain beautiful young boys he longs for. In fact, it seems his 'employer,' the Maharajah, is also gay, and invites Ackerley to private parties featuring enticing scantily clad dancing boys.

The truth is, however, there is little point to this book. Its journalistic content and style became simply tiresome eventually, so much so that I finally abandoned the book altogether about 2/3 of the way through. I still think that Ackerley was a fine writer. His MY DOG TULIP is a classic memoir, as is MY FATHER AND MYSELF, about his relationship with his father, a work that is both comical and heartbreaking. HINDOO HOLIDAY might be classified as a light entertainment, an anomaly in a small but fine literary legacy from a talented and tortured soul. (This review based on the NYRB edition with introduction by Elliot Weinberger.)

- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER

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