What we are reading – January 2011

Jim is reading:

Super: A NovelSuper: A Novel by Jim Lehrer

“Many of Lehrer’s 19 previous novels showcased his abiding love for simpler times: mid-twentieth-century America, the small-town Midwest, and the intercity bus lines of that time and region. This time out, he focuses his attention on the Super Chief, the luxurious Santa Fe Railroad train that carried the rich and famous from Chicago to Los Angeles in just over 39 hours. Set in 1956, the tale involves three mysterious deaths, former president Harry Truman, actor Clark Gable, a movie producer whose last picture flopped, and a callow, movie-loving Sante Fe passenger agent. It’s Lehrer in typically fine form: wonderful detail about railroad operations and life on the Super; small prairie towns that owed their existence to the Sante Fe; Hollywood’s worries about television; rail’s apparent lack of worry about airlines; gossip about Gable’s prodigious womanizing; and concerns about radiation from nuclear tests in Nevada. Remarkably, however, the book’s central events are true, as Lehrer testifies in an epilogue. Lehrer is a national treasure, and Super is, well . . . super.” —Booklist

Blind Your PoniesBlind Your Ponies: A Novel by Stanley Gordon West

“Sam Pickett never expected to settle in this dried-up shell of a town on the western edge of the world. He’s come here to hide from the violence and madness that have shattered his life, but what he finds is what he least expects. There’s a spirit that endures in Willow Cree, Montana. It seems that every inhabitant of this forgotten outpost has a story, a reason for taking a detour to this place–or a reason for staying.

As the coach of the hapless high school basketball team (zero wins, ninety-three losses), Sam can’t help but be moved by the bravery he witnesses in the everyday lives of people–including his own young players–bearing their sorrows and broken dreams. How do they carry on, believing in a future that seems to be based on the flimsiest of promises? Drawing on the strength of the boys on the team, sharing the hope they display despite insurmountable odds, Sam finally begins to see a future worth living.” –Algonquin

Sally is reading:

Major Pettiegrew's Last StandMajor Pettigrew’s Last Stand: A Novel by Helen Simonson

“In the small village of Edgecombe St. Mary in the English countryside lives Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired), the unlikely hero of Helen Simonson’s wondrous debut. Wry, courtly, opinionated, and completely endearing, the Major leads a quiet life valuing the proper things that Englishmen have lived by for generations: honor, duty, decorum, and a properly brewed cup of tea. But then his brother’s death sparks an unexpected friendship with Mrs. Jasmina Ali, the Pakistani shopkeeper from the village. Drawn together by their shared love of literature and the loss of their spouses, the Major and Mrs. Ali soon find their friendship blossoming into something more. But village society insists on embracing him as the quintessential local and regarding her as the permanent foreigner. Can their relationship survive the risks one takes when pursuing happiness in the face of culture and tradition?”—Random House

At HomeAt Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson

“Houses aren’t refuges from history. They are where history ends up.”
Bill Bryson and his family live in a Victorian parsonage in a part of England where nothing of any great significance has happened since the Romans decamped. Yet one day, he began to consider how very little he knew about the ordinary things of life as he found it in that comfortable home. To remedy this, he formed the idea of journeying about his house from room to room to “write a history of the world without leaving home.” The bathroom provides the occasion for a history of hygiene; the bedroom, sex, death, and sleep; the kitchen, nutrition and the spice trade; and so on, as Bryson shows how each has figured in the evolution of private life. Whatever happens in the world, he demonstrates, ends up in our house, in the paint and the pipes and the pillows and every item of furniture.”—Random House

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