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Guest Columns


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 →

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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Anxious Bode Loves Paris (Despite Anxious Times)

categories: Cocktail Hour / Guest Columns / Sunday Sermon

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Thierry Kauffmann, aka Anxious Bode

Thierry Kauffmann, aka Anxious Bode

Bonjour! It’s me, Anxious Bode. I’m having French roast at my favorite
cafe, in the Paris airport. I’m on my way to New York. That’s the
truth. Many writers write to access a reality deeper than reality
itself. That’s my street address, reality deeper than reality. I write
to reach the surface of things. Pardon my levity, but the joy of
actually flying is hard to resist. But for you, readers of my Continue reading →

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 →