coneflowers
books, reviews, Writing

Heading to Canada with Howard Norman

No, the trip wasn’t physical. I haven’t met the author Howard Norman although he did send me a nice note. I’ve just finished his Canada trilogy.

I found the first, The Bird Artist, in a secondhand book storebird artist cover when I was traveling back east. White Square Fine Books and Art in Easthampton, Mass., has a quality selection. It’s good place to find an author or book I had somehow missed. That was the case with Howard Norman and The Bird Artist.

The book begins in 1911. Fabian Vas, who draws and paints birds in a coastal Newfoundland village, admits in the first paragraph he killed the lighthouse keeper named Botho August. Of course, he has a compelling reason. A lot goes on in that little village. I was taken by Norman’s writing voice and his oddly enchanting story.

cover museum

In other words, I was hooked.

It’d been a while since I found myself stealing away to pick up a book. That was the case with The Bird Artist, which was a 1994 National Book Award finalist for fiction.

The second in the trilogy is The Museum Guard. This one is set in the late 1930s in Halifax. DeFoe Russet is the museum guard. He works with his uncle, who raised him after his parents were killed in a zeppelin crash. A woman DeFoe loves is fixated on one of the paintings, Jewess on a Street in Amsterdam.

Again Norman creates an absorbing world although the depth of the woman’s obsession seemed far-fetched. Then again, this is fiction.

I almost didn’t read the third — The Haunting of L. The reviews were iffy, but a trilogy is a trilogy. Peter Duvett leaves Halifax in 1927 to work for a photographer in Manitoba. Naturally, there is illicit love. (Peter takes up with his employer’s wife on their wedding night.) Then there is the darker side of photography with so-called spirit photos and images taken of staged disasters. Intriguing concepts, but hauntingI will admit at times my attention waned.

Although The Bird Artist is the best of the trio, I am happy I read all three. I enjoy Howard Norman’s absurd choices for characters, professions, and living situations. His main characters are young men who appear a bit befuddled by life and love. Canada, at least how Norman portrays it, is not what I imagined.

Then there is Norman’s own story. He is an American, who dropped out of high school and lived in Canada for sixteen years. He became interested in the folk lore and culture of the Cree Indians. He eventually got his high school diploma and other degrees. Besides being a prolific author, he is a college professor in the U.S.

Howard Norman is also a cordial person. Using my snooping skills, I tracked him down to email (with an apology for intruding) a fan letter about The Bird Artist and how I found it. His reply was gracious, thanking me for “your generous, heartening note. I like being in a secondhand bookstore.” Me, too.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: The beds along the fence are teeming with flowers and bees. Here is one of the large plantings of Echinacea aka cone flower.

PEACE, LOVE, AND YOU KNOW WHAT: My debut novel is available in paperback and kindle. Here’s the link: Peace, Love, and You Know What on Amazon

 

 

 

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lilacs
books, reviews, Writing

The Write Stuff

In my new life, I am a book author and a book reviewer. I will be writing a twice-monthly column called The Write Stuff in Tempo, the arts and entertainment section of The Taos News.

For those just catching up, my last day as The Taos News’ managing editor was May 5. After nearly an eight-year run in that position, I felt it was time for a change. Now I will concentrate on writing fiction, promoting it — such as my newly published novel Peace, Love, and You Know What now on Kindle — and doing freelance gigs, including this column.

I presume most of the books I review will be ones that arrive at Tempo Editor Rick Romancito’s desk. From the pile he’s already given me, I envision books, non-fiction and fiction, published by university and museum presses. There will be books by writers lucky enough to get a contract with a publishing house and those who have taken that on themselves. Many will be local writers, which given Taos’ creative energy won’t surprise me.

I’ve already sent Rick the first column with reviews of two books. I reviewed an album of black and white photos taken during the early ’80s. A newcomer to New Mexico, the photographer turned his camera’s lens on a few of the state’s Hispanic communities.

An academic wrote the second book about author Jean Toomer and his unfinished play about Taos. Toomer, part of the Harlem Renaissance, came to Taos in the ’20s at the invitation of Mabel Dodge Luhan, the grand dame of the arts.

I have always been a big reader. As a kid, I was holed up in my bedroom with a pile of books from the library. My favorites are the ones that make me forget that I am reading. My bookcases at home are filled with them.

I don’t anticipate every book Rick hands me will have the same effect. But my goal is to read them through to the end before I give a thoughtful but fair review. If the book has faults, I will point them out. I won’t gush.

Of course, reviews are subjective. Someone might love what I don’t and visa versa.

I’ve already read the next two books. I’ve taken notes and used pieces of paper to mark the pages that contain something significant I might want to note or quote.

Writing about writing: I like the idea.

This is a link to my farewell column in The Taos Newshttp://www.taosnews.com/news/article_b94efa7c-1245-11e6-a0c2-fbf2f6e1f94e.html

And here is the link to Peace, Love, and You Know What (soon to be out on paperback) on Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/Peace-Love-You-Know-What-ebook/dp/B01E03WMQC

PHOTO ABOVE: This is the first year since I planted our lilac bushes eight years ago that they’ve bloomed. (Maybe there is something symbolic.) Each spring I would cheer on the buds but then a cold snap would take them. This year we had cold but also snow, which might have insulated the buds. The bushes are outside the door we use the most. I plan to clip a few buds to bring inside because they smell so damn sweet.

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