Staff Reviews

Tessa’s Literary Recommendation: 92 Stories by James Thurber

If you don’t know anything about James Thurber except that his name is familiar, you might want to start your acquaintance by watching the 2013 remake of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, directed by and starring Ben Stiller. This classic Thurber short story was also dramatized on film in 1947 with Danny Kaye, but Thurber hated it. No one knows if he hated the 2013 version.

However, if the wry humor of these movies appeals to you, or if you enjoy the so-called War between the Sexes, then you want to try more Thurber. The familiar household battleground was a frequent topic in his work. He was a famous wit and cartoonist, writing and drawing for The New Yorker from 1927 well into the 50’s.James_Thurber_NYWTS

One collection JDL owns, 92 Stories, also contains some original drawings, which have a distinct flavor of the cartoons of the early 20th century. (Dorothy Parker famously remarked his cartoons had a “semblance of unbaked cookies.”) Two of his most renowned stories are collected here—The Greatest Man in the World and If Grant had been drinking at Appomattox.

The volume The Middle-Aged Man on the Flying Trapeze is reproduced in 92 Stories in its entirety, with many fun accounts of daily life. For those who suffer lazily rather than mend or replace torn or ill-fitting clothing, The Gentleman is Cold from this volume is required reading. (I subsequently checked over my own winter clothing, which I found mostly lying in a basket with the (still) dirty items from a long vacation.) We must all be relieved, I’m sure, that fashions have changed so much since those tedious and fastidious days.

The JDL library also owns the Library of America volume of Thurber called Writings and Drawings. Don’t put this reading off too long—winter won’t wait, and these stories are much too dry for the cold season. ~Tessa August 2015 4.5 out of 5 stars (less a half star for those stories I found too, too much like my own life)

Tessa’s Review: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

The new Harper Lee book Go Set a Watchman features the main character from To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout, as an adult returning home to Maycomb, Alabama, from New York City. She must deal with issues surrounding her family, the community, and her own life.

ToKillAMockingbirdCoverThe humor in this book is as enjoyable as in To Kill a Mockingbird—lots of great Southern talk, church folk, and descriptions that take me back to my Florida childhood. However, the book needed more editing. Inevitably this will be compared to Mockingbird, and that book neared perfection. In this, there were typos. There were sentences that didn’t make sense. There were literary allusions that couldn’t be figured out. But these were few. There was one passage that really bogged down in logic and debate that could have been handled better. The plot lacked completion, cohesion, and polish. The ending was anti-climactic, unfinished, abrupt, and needed closure. (Yes, I’m being redundant. It was bad.) I think that Harper Lee never really finished this manuscript.GoSetAWatchmanCover

But there were also passages that were sheer genius. I really enjoyed the Coffee, where she would catch parts of conversations, overlapping, which would yield to hysterical possibilities. The analogy of a scale worked for me there. I have attended such social occasions in the South and suffered through in the same way, serving things up to the important folk and then back to the children or unmarried.

The time jumps were brilliant–I loved and delighted in them, enjoying the mental challenge to be alert for time locational clues. These were better than any other such book, I believe. Her internal reasons for the childhood flashbacks were completely logical and tied in so nicely with the book’s present.
The overall impression I have, and had before I read this, is that this is the book she wanted to write–this is HER story, as she experienced it as a young adult. I imagine her family was alarmed by all the fame and notoriety and they would not let her publish anything that was critical of the family. I’m sure they enjoyed Mockingbird’s hero worship of her family and father. But reality is that she actually was this spoiled, sheltered, sharp-tongued woman who thought herself (and sometimes was) brilliant and blameless.

Sadly her family was by no means faultless and sterling–and they had to live in the Alabama of the Civil Rights Era, which was neither a safe nor a comfortable place, as portrayed in the book. The steps they took were not what she wanted, nor what we see, from afterwards and outside, as “right,” but she helps the reader understand that there might have been people doing what Atticus did, with seemingly good intentions. We judge them at our own peril.
Still, I wish she had gone back and finished the book. I wish she had told us more of her accommodations to her family, her family’s adjustments to her city ways, and more of Alabama’s small town life in those days. Even so, highly recommended. ~Tessa 4 out of 5 stars August 2015

Tessa’s Travel Guide Recommendation: 50 Hikes in Michigan: Sixty Walks, Day Trips & Backpacks in the Lower Peninsula by Jim DuFresne

JDL received the 3rd edition of Jim DuFresne’s 50 Hikes in Michigan as a donation from the author himself. DuFresne is a lifelong Michigander and has authored multiple travel and outdoor books, including this Explorer’s Guide entry. The well-organized, portable book is suitable for keeping in the car while traveling, although not one you would want to carry on the trail itself. This edition contains 10 extra walks, which explains the subtitle.

DuFresneHikes

Even before the contents’ pages, there is a great graph listing the hikes by name, then region, distance, major features and notes. The contents page has a map facing it that shows all the hikes by number. These trails are all over the Lower Peninsula, in all types of terrain. At the beginning of each entry is a small box which gives details including distance, time, difficulty rating, GPS, and more. Each entry also has a map of the trail with significant features marked. Then the chapter will give a brief introduction and any historical significance followed by access directions and, finally, a breakdown of the trail itself. Photos accompany the sections, giving a sample of the views.

A proven listing in Michigan outdoor guides, this is a great book to check out or purchase for fresh inspiration and new horizons. Thanks to Jim DuFresne for donating this new edition.~ Tessa July 2015 3.75 out of 5 stars

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