A six year old boy is bereft and lost when his father dies "after visiting friends". He begins to stake out a claim to his father's life. "Death hung over the house...Your absence is greater than your presence," he says. The family is complicit in the silence about this death.
 
I could feel the ache in this boy's heart as he seeks to conjure and reconstruct his father's life and to make him whole again.
 
The father, Bob Hainey was a hard-drinking, hard living newspaperman as was the custom in the newspaper world of 1960s Chicago. Now a deputy editor of GQ, Michael Hainey searches for clues and stories about his father.
 
In short, sharp, pointed sentences, Hainey paints a picture of his determined mother, his extended family and the Chicago world of newsmen and cops.
 
After Visiting Friends: A Son's Story is a quest for the truth. The lessons learned along the way and the discoveries awaiting the journey's end will keep you reading.
 
 

From an observant, slightly snotty, artistic, dramatic hat designer comes this story of an escape from Hitler's Vienna. The human emotions are very real, though not always admirable. 

I felt like I was right there inside the story, eating in elegant cafes and attending fashion shows in Paris; and after Hitler's tanks rolled into Austria, plotting to leave Vienna; and staying awake nights, planning and scheming to bring elderly parents to the safety of London. I even envisioned the nightly German bombing raids beginning and then the trip down to the shelters.  
 
A story of courage, perseverance and resourcefulness,  Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler is a glimpse into one woman's extraordinary survival during World War II.
 
Published in 1984 as a self-published edition, Trudi Kanter's memoir of her life as a hat designer was soon out of print and nearly forgotten until Virago Press edited and republished it. Virago Press has been unable to trace the copyright holder and "would be pleased to hear from anyone with any further information." 

"In our era, more than some others, writers must buck up and take care of themselves" says Susan Bell in The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself. If you are writing the Great American Novel or just want to improve your style, study this book. Full of examples, graceful writing and thoughts from published authors, The Artful Edit is entertaining. 

Bell illustrates her points by studying the well-known masterpiece, The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald, and illustrating Fitzgerald's collaboration with the marvelous editor, Max Perkins.  More about Max in a moment.

She says, "Fitzgerald, too, was a master of the squared-off paragraph. He began and ended many with a startling mix of style, philosophy, and itch -- the itch that can only be scratched by moving to the next paragraph..." 

That "itch" has just the right touch, as does 'free-fiddle" in the following observation of the author Luc Sante,  "At the end of a work, he allows himself free-fiddle with words but not structure."  I like Bell's way with words: "If you've written a bird's nest, then, untangle your ideas. Separate them into a few sentences. One small sentence, written well, can tell more than an expansive one that's gangly."

And again: "When you edit, determine what is mystery and what is muddle; the first to be respected and left alone, the second to be respected and cleaned up." 

There are many ways to edit and the book is filled with examples of how different authors approach the process. For example, Michael Ondaatje says, "Having a concept of what the book is exactly about before you begin it is a tremendous limitation, because no idea is going to be as intricate and complicated as what you will discover in that process of writing it." Continuing he says, "I always write the beginning at the end. It's the last thing I write because then I know what the book is about."  

I was so taken with the collaboration between Max Perkins and F. Scott Fitzgerald that I was inspired to read more about the famous editor. I found a lovely book of family letters collected by Max's five daughters and published as The Family Letters of Maxwell Perkins complete with his clever illustrations; also a biography, Max Perkins: Editor of Genius by A. Scott Berg.

Berg says of Perkins, "Beginning with Fitzgerald and continuing with each new writer he took on, he slowly altered the traditional notion of the editor's role. He sought out authors who were not just "safe," conventional in style and bland in content, but who spoke in a new voice about the new values of the postwar world. In this way, as an editor he did more than reflect the standards of his age; he consciously influenced and changed them by the new talents he published."

Max not only edited Fitzgerald, but also Ernest Hemingway and Tom Wolfe among others. He even conjured up new plots or offered ideas for his authors to develop.Max's greatest gift was summed up by his longtime friend, Elizabeth Lemmon, in a letter to Max's wife after his death, "I have known people who were considered pillars of strength and loved to be leaned on, but Max poured strength into people and made them stand on their own feet."

After reading the story of Max and Tom Wolfe, I must now read Wolfe's autobiographical novels. Isn't it great when one book leads to another? So many books, so little time.

 

I recently returned from a trip to the Cape Coral area of Florida. While on Sanibel Island, I spotted a place called Doc Ford's. My sister said, "Oh, Doc Ford is the marine biologist in the novels of Randy Wayne White. I've read a few of his mysteries and enjoyed them."

Since I've come back I've read a couple of his mysteries and want to read more. (I've not read them in order, although, I think that they should be read this way because the characters grow and change and the stories build on one another.)

I picked up Shark River first. It's a story of murder, kidnapping, drugs and revenge. Add a Bahamian woman with a treasure map who claims to be Doc's long lost sister and the stage is set for a wild ride.

Maybe it's the sense of place and wonderful descriptions of sea life, mangrove swamps and the habits of horseshoe crabs; or maybe its the patterns of speech of Doc's Bahamian cousin in Shark River that attracted me. Perhaps it's my experience of a tiny bit of the Florida that he describes.

I saw much bad driving in Florida, but Randy Wayne White describes it best: "We went south on U.S. 41- an illustration of crazed manners and automotive chaos. In South Florida, melting pot driving habits are so unpredictable and dangerous that defensive driving is not enough."

If you want quirky characters, fast action, humor and good writing, give the mysteries of Randy Wayne White a try.

Read all the books in No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series and looking for another good read?
Check out A Guide to the Birds of East Africa by Nicholas Drayson.

Mr. Malik has been secretly in love with Rose Mbikwa who has been leading the Tuesday bird walks. Now he faces competition from an old rival of his schooldays. The two decide to make a deal. The one to identify the most species of birds in a week's time will have the privilege of asking Rose Mbikwa to the Asadi Club's annual ball in Nairobi, Kenya.

This is a charmer of a book with an old-fashioned feel.

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