Archive for the ‘Knopf’ Tag

Kent Haruf’s Blessings   2 comments

Kent Haruf’s Plainsong is among my favorite books. I haven’t read any of his other works for fear, I think, I’d be disappointed. After reading Benediction, one of the author’s last works before his death in late 2014, I realize I had no cause for worry.

Set in the (fictional) rural town of Holt, Colo., this is an agreeably slow-moving, intimate portrait of the bonds between families and community. The first paragraph sets the tone: Dad Lewis, a long-time resident of Holt and owner of the hardware store, receives the news that he’s dying of cancer. In his dying days, his grown daughter returns home to help; longtime friends and neighbors drop in to visit; and a few flashbacks surface to help tell the story of an imperfect man, beloved by his wife and daughter, estranged from his son, who tried to do his best.

The beauty of Haruf’s writing is that he provides just enough detail to hold the reader’s attention without overwhelming the imagination. That is, situations appear with gaps of information like potholes on a dirt road. Eventually, they get filled.

Interactions with those Dad has known for years intersect with a few new residents to Holt: the preacher and his family, including an angry teenage son and an even angrier wife. The young granddaughter of the woman across the street is another significant character. It would be heavy handed to feature a new-born, but Haruf’s circle of life is gripping, lyrical and not at all mawkish.


Four Bookmarks
Knopf, 2013
258 pages

Setting America’s Culinary Table   4 comments

Any foodie worth his or her cookware will want to read Bob Spitz’s Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julie Child. Even if you’ve already savored your way through other biographies, memoirs or the film Julie and Julia, this is a must-read. At 500+ pages the book may seem daunting, but Spitz’s writing is conversational and personal; his respect for his subject is clear.

And why not? Her contribution to food culture notwithstanding, Julia Child was an intelligent, loving, enthusiastic woman. For much of her early life, food was just sustenance. She didn’t start cooking, or truly enjoying meals, until she was in her late 30s; once she did, she never stopped.

The biography is told chronologically, except for the prologue. Here the author describes the scene at WGBH in Boston just before Child makes her first television appearance where she cooked an omelet using a hot plate. From there, Spitz tracks everything including her privileged childhood in Pasadena, Calif., life in the Office of Strategic Services outposts, her marriage to Paul Child, and her almost-accidental love affair with food. The most interesting aspects are those that show her as a woman filled with a joie de vie and the ability to change with the times.

Spitz did extensive research to tell Child’s story. The result is a portrait of an unlikely leader in the early days of the food awakening in the United States. Her television shows, her cookbooks, even the parodies of her, contributed to the word “foodie” becoming part of our everyday vernacular.

Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julie Child
Four-and-a-half bookmarks
A.A. Knopf, 2012
534 pages

Posted November 18, 2012 by bluepagespecial in Books, Reviews

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The Vagaries of Memory   2 comments

Julian Barnes’s The Sense of An Ending succintly examines the lackluster
life of Tony Webster, an uninspiring British gentleman deficient in confidence
and family background. Tony narrates the story of his very ordinary life from his
school days to his retirement; but don’t worry, it’s not as tedious as it sounds.
Whole elements, from marriage to parenting to divorce, are simply allotted a
passing mention. Although, intrigue is found, as contradictory as this may seem,
in the mundane when Tony’s conventional past rear-ends his present day exist-
ence forcing him to scrutinize incidents more closely.

Tony’s story relies on his memory, which is like everyone’s: a bit faulty. The
novel’s retrospective focus is on Veronica, Tony’s first real girlfriend, and Adrian,
his school chum. Both play a large part in Tony’s younger life, although Barnes’s
tone is particularly casual toward them. It’s as if these relationships are no more
significant than passersby on the street. Herein is one of Tony’s major flaws, as
identified by Veronica: nothing excites him. This inability to be moved, or even
demonstrate it, is part of Veronica’s palpable frustration with him. Not that she
is free from fault either. He admits he sees only the obvious, which is interesting
given that he is oblivious to so much. Nonetheless, a mystery ensues with Tony
trying to finally understand the connection with Veronica, her family, and Adrian
to vague recollections of long-past incidents and snippets of conversations.

This terse novel suggests a lot about how and what we choose to remember.

“The Sense of An Ending”
Four Bookmarks
Alfred A. Knopf, 2011
163 pages