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Lundgren’s Lounge: “Augustown,” by Kei Miller

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

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Into every reading life an occasional slump will occur, a period marked by encounters with a surfeit of desultory and uninspiring work.  But then the world rights itself and one encounters a marvelous, luminous and exquisite work of art like Augustown by Zei Miller. While it is impossible to read Miller’s novel without hearing echoes of Garcia Marquez’s Macondo and Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, Miller insists his is not a metaphorical tale given wings by ‘magical realism.’ He writes, “Listen, this isn’t magical realism. This is not another story about superstitious island people and their primitive beliefs. No, you don’t get off that easy. This is a story about people as real as you are… You may as well stop to consider a more urgent question; not whether you believe in this story or not, but whether this story is about the kinds of people you have never taken the time to believe in.” Continue reading →

A Rant from Mike Branch!

categories: Cocktail Hour / Guest Columns

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Michael P. Branch is Professor of Literature and Environment at the University of Nevada, Reno. He has published five books and more than 200 essays, articles, and reviews. Also, he is funny.

His new book, Rants from the Hill, is due out on June 6.


A confirmed desert rat, Mike lives with his wife and two daughters at 6,000 feet in the remote western Great Basin Desert, on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada Range. Check out more about Mike here.


Balloons on the Moon

Our part of the desert West is so inaccessible that the common detritus of the dominant endemic species, Hillbillicus nevadensis redneckii, is nowhere to be seen. So while the rutted, dusty BLM roads in the sandy, sage-choked wash bottoms are beribboned with spent shell casings, wide-mouthed bottles of Coors light, and empty cans of chew, there is simply no easy way to litter the steep, rocky high country. However, there is one unfortunate exception to this rule, and that is when trash is airlifted into these isolated mountains and canyons in the form of balloons.


I have picked up so many trashed balloons over the years that I find myself wondering what the hell is so jolly about California, which is the nearby, upwind place where all this aerial trash originates. Maybe the prevalence of balloons in the otherwise litter-free high desert should not surprise me, since millions of balloons are released in the U.S. each year. We release balloons at graduation celebrations, birthday parties, wedding ceremonies, football games, even funerals. There is actually a company called Eternal Ascent that will, for fifteen hundred dollars, load your ashes into a balloon and float them away. Balloon launches for a pet’s ashes cost only six hundred dollars, though, so if I go this route, I have instructed my family to claim I was a Saint Bernard.

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Lundgren’s Lounge: “One Eyed Man,” by Ron Currie

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

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Ron Currie, with David Foster Wallace upon his forearm


A disclaimer is in order here: Ron Currie is a friend of mine. We watch baseball together while drinking beer and it is my fervent hope that the upcoming Red Sox season will help to ameliorate the execrable political situation we are presently wallowing in. However none of this has anything to do with the review that follows. Continue reading →

Lundgren’s Lounge: “The Peregrine,” by J.A. Baker

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

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Somehow this once obscure, extraordinarily unique book found its way into my hands, transporting me for a few days to the coastal fenlands of eastern England and the world of the peregrine falcon. The Peregrine by J. A. Baker was originally published in 1967 during a period of steep decline in the population of these magnificent raptors and perhaps that was part of what motivated the author—to attempt to describe the life of a creature at once so ferociously singular and powerful, before it was gone forever. But what Baker accomplishes along the way is much deeper, achieving “… an account of a human obsession with a creature that is peerless.”

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Lundgren’s Lounge: “Avid Reader,” by Robert Gottlieb

categories: Guest Columns / Reading Under the Influence

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Sometimes I feel like my life-long devotion to the act of reading marks me as a member of a cabal, furtive and unnoticed, moving around the edges of contemporary culture. And by reading I mean reading books… bound, tangible artifacts symbolic of the perhaps quaint notion that we can be enlightened and entertained by the words on a page. Continue reading →

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

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

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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’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 meets Bad Advice Wednesday: Do Your Summer Reading this Fall

categories: Bad Advice / bad advice / Guest Columns

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Bill Lundgren

Bill Lundgren with Pearl the Blind Pug

The return to school and teaching duties in the fall always comes with a bittersweet sense of loss. Gone the unfettered freedom of summer with the absence of deadlines and in their place swimming and gardening and hiking and baseball and most of all, reading… savoring the exquisite pleasures of books and marveling at the universe’s talent for selecting just the right book at just the right time. Below are a few of the highlights of the past summer’s reads. But don’t let Fall keep you from discovering them all: Continue reading →

Table for Two: An Interview with Mira Ptacin

categories: Cocktail Hour / Guest Columns / Table For Two: Interviews

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Debora: Poor Your Soul is such a lonely title. Very sad. Tell us about what’s inside your pages.

MIRA: Here’s the story: in 2008, at age twenty-eight, I accidentally got pregnant, despite taking birth control pills and never missing a dose. (I’m that 1 percent.) It wasn’t easy, I wasn’t happy about it, but I embraced it. And even though we’d only known each other for just three months, my boyfriend Andrew and I got engaged. Five months later, during the ultrasound that was to predict the sex of our baby, doctors found instead that our child had a constellation of birth defects and no chance of survival outside my womb. I was given three choices: terminate the pregnancy, induce delivery, or do nothing and inevitably miscarry. Poor Your Soul simultaneously traces my mother’s immigration from Poland at the age of twenty-eight, the adoption of her son Julian, his tragic death, and her reaction to the grief that followed. Both our stories examine how woman copes with the inevitable but unexpected losses a woman faces in the search for her identity. But overall, this isn’t a sad story. It’s a love story, about how I found love in my marriage, in my family, and for myself when everything around us was in chaos. It’s about perseverance and will. Continue reading →