Lundgren’s Lounge: “Everybody’s Fool” by Richard Russo

categories: Cocktail Hour / Guest Columns / Reading Under the Influence

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russo_richard_940_529_72

Over the course of a rich and varied reading life, I find myself returning to the pleasures of an engaging story, well-told, again and again. Excursions to the academic and literary fringes (and too often, the fiction pages of the New Yorker) reveals a miasma of intellectual postmodern tomfoolery that leads this reader, unfulfilled, back to the power of a simple story, offered up by the hands of a master story-teller. Everybody’s Fool, a sequel to the much loved Nobody’s Fool, by Richard Russo, is the quintessential example of just such a story and just such a writer.

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Lundgren’s Lounge: “Unknown Caller,” by Debra Spark

categories: Cocktail Hour / Guest Columns / Reading Under the Influence

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debra-spark

Debra Spark’s recently published fourth novel, Unknown Caller, might be superficially characterized as a mystery, for it is certainly mysterious. From the opening (“It is two in the morning when the phone rings… When the phone rings at 2:00 a.m. at their house, it is always her calling.”), author Spark is inviting her readers to interrogate the reliability of their assumptions. An early morning phone call is ALWAYS a portent of disaster, right? And when the caller on the other end of the line rarely speaks, it weaves an almost claustrophobic sense of impending doom. But this beguiling novel is far more than mere mystery. At the heart of this riveting, non-chronological narrative, riven as it with myriad twists and turns and somersaults and flips, lies an examination of the very nature of perception. Continue reading →

Lundgren’s Lounge: “Hillbilly Elegy,” by J.D. Vance

categories: Cocktail Hour / Guest Columns / Reading Under the Influence

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Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and a Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance is a curious book that brought to mind both Thomas Franks’ What’s the Matter with Kansas: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America and Joe Bageant’s Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class Wars. While the two latter titles are much more overtly political in perspective than Vance’s memoir, all the works reflect a growing preoccupation with a demographic group that feels left behind in the tectonic cultural and employment shifts that have ensued in the wake of globalization.

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Lundgren’s Lounge: “Stop Here, This is the Place,” by Susan Conley and Winky Lewis

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Susan Conley and Winky

Words and images on the page have a variety of purposes: to instruct, to persuade, to ediify, to entertain, to evoke… and it is this last that comes to mind while reading and looking at Stop Here: This is the Place, A Year in Motherhood, a unique collaboration between photographer Winky Lewis and writer Susan Conley.  Continue reading →

Lundgren’s Lounge: “Innocents and Others,” by Dana Spiotta

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dana-spiotta-innocents-others

The tumultuous ’60s and their aftermath were occasion for a seismic cultural shift, a ‘subversion of the dominant paradigm,’ in the parlance of the times. Few novels have come close to capturing the mercurial complexity and staying power of this period.  Roth’s American Pastoral nibbled at the edges, while Susan Choi’s American Woman offered a fascinating glimpse of the radical left… and then there was Eat the Document, a haunting National Book Award nominee by Dana Spiotta, a tale of two radical survivors of the chaos of those times whose lives intersect again, years later, after they have re-assimilated into mainstream culture… as though that were possible. Continue reading →

Lundgren’s Lounge: “The Ancient Minstrel,” by Jim Harrison

categories: Cocktail Hour / Guest Columns / Reading Under the Influence

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ca. 2004 --- Jim Harrison --- Image by © R¸dy Waks /Corbis Outline

During a lifetime of obsessive reading, there are certain authors whose new work merits an immediate trip to the bookstore for a hardcover copy… Jim Harrison is on that short list and now graces us with a new collection, The Ancient Minstrel. The trilogy of novellas is deeply, richly satisfying in a manner that only Harrison can conjure.

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Lundgren’s Lounge: Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

categories: Cocktail Hour / Guest Columns / Reading Under the Influence

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Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates

Many years ago, as I was dipping my toes into the teaching profession, I wrote the following: “Between the campus where I attended graduate school classes and the school where I was student teaching was a large city park. I would sometimes mention my walks through the park to my students (who were all brown or black), describing the welcome sight of the spring’s first crocuses or the sense of wonder that came while watching birds gather material for their nests. One day James, one of my students, interrupted me: ‘Why do you keep talking about that park? Don’t you know that park’s not for us? We’re not welcome there. That’s a park for white people.‘ “ Excerpted from Becoming (Other)Wise, “Notes From a New Teacher.” Continue reading →

Lundgren’s Lounge: “City on Fire,” by Garth Risk Hallberg

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Hallberg

During the 3 or 4 days that I was immersed in this novel it was like an appendage, a siren that summoned me from the depths of sleep at 3 a.m: ‘Oh, yes, the book.’  And reach over to turn on the reading light, dive back into the tumultuous world of New York City during a few months in 1976-1977.

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“At Sea,” an excerpt from SUPERSTORM, by Kathryn Miles

categories: Cocktail Hour / Guest Columns / Reading Under the Influence

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Superstorm: Nine Days Inside Hurricane Sandy, by Kathryn Miles

Superstorm Sandy began its genesis as a typical late season tropical storm. However, as the hurricane marched up the east coast of the United States, it collided with a powerful nor’easter and morphed into a monstrous hybrid. The storm charged across open ocean, picking up strength with every step, baffling meteorologists and scientists, officials and emergency managers, even the traditional maritime wisdom of sailors and seamen: What exactly was this thing? Continue reading →

Lundgren’s Lounge: This is Your Life, Harriet Chance, by Jonathan Evison

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Evison

Harriet Chance is a true mensch. Mensch as in, “someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character.” And though some might question the characterization of Harriet as being worthy of emulation, there can be no dispute that she is of noble character. Continue reading →