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This installment:  a cd of a popular travel novel; Winterson’s fascinating memoir; a screwed up kids’ school; wizardry in the techno world; and a wild ride through the West.


   Saving Fish From Drowning by Amy Tan

I galloped through this when it was the One Book One Marin choice and found it diverting but recently had a chance to listen to it and liked it even more. A ghost narrates this benighted trip to Burma in which a group of Bay Area friends, many artistic and/or socially conscious, get kidnapped by a tribal group in the jungle who think young Rupert is a reincarnation of their savior. For all their smarts and advantages, most of the tour participants are incredibly clueless about the third world, especially this strange culture. The denouement is sweet, at last, (kind of) and Tan updates us on how everyone fared down the line. She reads quite well, delineating characters' voices. I was sorry when it was over.


   Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal by Jeanette Winterson

For some mysterious reason I never connected with this fascinating writer until this memoir, though she's written 17+ books and covers material that fascinates me: otherness. Adopted by a very weird, though "normal" seeming parents, she tried to fit in but it was hopeless from the start. Then when she realized she was attracted to girls, things really hit the fan and she was estranged from her family and launched into a series of rocky relationships. Pentecostal teachings underscored her sins but books and teachers saved her. Her voice is very direct, candid, chatty and philosophical in turn, and she has compassion for her bizarre mum who probably never shared a bed with her husband. Winterson finally connects with her birth mother but the wounds are so deep it doesn't help much. However like the stone in the oyster, they produce pearls like this book, and I can't wait to read more.



   That's Not a Feeling by Dan Josephson

Another in the screwed-up-kids'-school genre. (I've come across this theme rather frequently these days, and like it, having been in one of them myself many moons ago). Roaring Orchards in upstate NY tries very hard with a daring therapeutic program, but the staff members are often as messed up as the kids and the rules seem quixotic indeed. There are three levels: New Girls/Boys, Alternative Girls/Boys, and Regular Kids, each with more privileges. In endless, painful group meetings the residents are prodded to zero in on their feelings, hence the title when they produce a description or defense that doesn't pass muster. There are crazy tasks worthy of a gulag, escapes, and a tragic denouement but incredible dark humor throughout, enhanced by brilliant cartoons heading each chapter. (Why is that smug-looking goat perched on an equally happy recumbent pig?)


   Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Another in the wizard-world meet computer-brilliance theme which I've enjoyed recently. Here Clay, an unemployed web site designer, finds a very odd job out of desperation: the night shift for this eponymous establishment. The aged proprietor has very specific rules for his new clerk, which Clay ends up bending and it turns out to be the right thing to do. There are only a few conventional books for sale; the rest are on towering shelves reached only by a rolling ladder. These mysterious incomprehensible volumes check out to eccentric customers, members of the Order of the Unbroken Spine. There's a puzzle to solve, posed in the 16th century, which may hold the key to immortality. Clay rallies a few good friends with incredible technical smarts, including harnessing the power of Google, and they discover the secret which didn’t exactly surprise me, but I liked how it turned out.  Entertaining.


   Hard Twisted by C. Joseph Greaves

In the mid-30s an itinerant father and his 13 year old daughter Lottie are “befriended” by Clint, a daring bantam of a con man.  With lots of promises and plans soon gone awry, the father disappears and the couple (yes, Clint and Lottie) cut a swath throughout the west: Oklahoma, New Mexico, Utah, and Texas.  Lottie is a passive victim and it ends badly (no surprise) but what a wild journey along the way, through breathtakingly beautiful landscapes. Atmospheric and well-documented.

Back next Monday

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