Heartwood 5:5 – Leavetaking by Peter Weiss

LeavetakingLeavetaking is a compelling autobiographical novella by German-born Peter Weiss set in the decades building up to World War II.

Years have passed since the end of the war, and now that the narrator’s parents have both recently died, the adult children gather at their old house to settle the estate. The narrative unspools as an unbroken thread of the narrator’s reflections upon his early life, triggered by the return to the home of his upbringing. And I do mean both unspooling and unbroken – the novella takes the form of a single long paragraph, recounting events from the narrator’s boyhood and moving beautifully – steadily but unhurriedly – through his adolescence. The long-paragraph form takes a little getting used to, but the pacing overall achieves an intoxicating, immersive flow.

Weiss’s story includes a number of common experiences of childhood – the bullying frenemy, the intimidation of going to school for the first time, rebellion against parental rule, and the riches of childhood play and imagination. The second half of the book includes some frank scenes of his burgeoning libido, including some incestuous foreplay with his sister Margit. There are times when the storytelling gets very compressed, such as the surprising announcement of his sister’s death.

The narrator is captivated by literature, music and art, and he resists the idea of following his father in the textile trade or any other conventional avenue of work. As a young man he spends his time painting and wants to be an artist, getting help and advice eventually from Harry Haller, a character based on Weiss’s real-life mentor, Herman Hesse. His parents resist his artistic inclinations and his mother violates the trust he places in her as guardian of his paintings.

Readers might be surprised at how unconcerned with politics the young narrator is, at a time when Hitler’s regime has caused his family to move a number of times. The book ends with the narrator awakening in a way from his own self-involvement and indicates a turn toward others and toward the problems of the world. This is a fine short novel, well worth the small investment in time it takes to read.


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Spot-Lit for November 2015


The titles listed here are some of the most anticipated November releases based on a consensus of advance review praise and book world enthusiasm. Click here to see all these titles in the library catalog, read reviews, or place holds. Or click a book cover to enlarge it or to view the covers as a slide show.

Notable New Fiction 2015 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction.

Spot-Lit for October 2015


Click here to see all these titles in the library catalog, read reviews, or place holds. Or click a book cover to enlarge it or to view the covers as a slide show.

Spot-Lit for September 2015


Love-him-or-love-to-hate-him, the “Great American Novelist,” Jonathan Franzen is back with Purity, a novel of family secrets, complex characters and questionable intentions.

In other family-centered storytelling, Lauren Groff takes a hard, clear look at the surfaces and undercurrents of a decades-long marriage.

Fans of tell-all auto-fiction in the vein of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle series will want to check out Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels – The Story of the Lost Child, the series closer, is due out this week.

In dystopian novels, Margaret Atwood returns with a frightening story of economic collapse and totalitarianism, and Claire Watkins spins a dark tale about the changed social and physical landscape brought on by a near-future California drought.

Northwest authors Jonathan Evison and J.A. Jance have new books forthcoming. And a couple of first novels feature Northwest settings – Jimmy Bluefeather (Alaska) and Dryland (Portland).

Among other standout first novels there’s Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg (woman loses everyone and everything she loves in a house fire), and After the Parade by Lori Ostlund (setting out on one’s own after being paralyzed by loss and grief).

In the crime realm, look for the familiar-sounding The Girl in the Spider’s Web – a follow-up to the immensely popular Stieg Larsson books. And advance praise is raining down on The Killing Lessons, The Scribe and The Child Garden.

Fantasy fans will want to know that Jim Butcher’s starting a new series and might also want to take a look at Seth Dickinson’s Traitor Baru Cormorant. For readers of the supernatural, try Tananarive Due’s Ghost Summer.

Click the book cover montage below to see this list of titles in the library catalog, read reviews, or place holds.


Notable New Fiction 2015 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction.

Heartwood 5:4 – Journey by Moonlight

Journey by MoonlightWith the encroaching demands of respectability hovering over his life as a lawyer and confirmed bourgeoisie, Mihály leaves Budapest with his wife Erzsi for their honeymoon in Italy. But he seems to be happier wandering the dark back streets of Venice alone than spending time with his new wife. While at an outdoor café in Ravenna, János, an old rival of Mihály’s, speeds up on a scooter and urges him (while also insulting Erzsi) to help him find their mutual friend, Ervin, who recently became a monk and is living somewhere in northern Italy. This blast from the past launches Mihály on adventures and misadventures that find him boarding (accidentally?) a train that takes him on an Italian sojourn away from his new wife, feeling his sanity ebbing upon the edge of a psychic whirlpool, and foremost, seeking some kind of resolution to a past dominated by his deep friendship with the enigmatic and death-obsessed brother-and-sister, Tamás and Éva Ulpius.

At the center of the quest is the spirit of Tamás, who committed suicide young, and Mihály’s realization that he has always been in love with Éva. Hungarian author, Antal Szerb has fun weaving various plotlines together in a casually-paced and satisfying fashion, reconnecting the remaining far-flung friends in ways that are filled with mystery and ambiguity. The story unfolds with unexpected developments and insights in ways that are warm, exploratory, intelligent, paradoxical, sensitive and, at times, ridiculous (but never gratuitously so, never over-the-top).

So what can you expect to find in Journey by Moonlight? Life and death, infatuation and love, the struggle against conformity. The intensities of youthful friendships. Romanticism, individuality, spirituality, the piled-up ruins of history. Impermanence and the lure of the past. The seeming link between eroticism and death. The supernatural is another recurring theme. Is there an afterlife? Do spirits of the dead return? And beneath it all – amid the ambiance of Venice, Tuscany and Rome – the question of whether it is better to die than to sacrifice the ideals of youth to the mundane concerns of the workaday world.

This book really got under my skin and, even with its fixation on mortality, I’d say it’s one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read in recent years.


A review in Words without Borders calls Journey by Moonlight a “masterpiece of high modernism,” and notes that “Szerb’s novel has rightly become a cult classic in Hungary, a book read by all Hungarian students in much the same way that American students read J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye.” It goes on to list some of Szerb’s accomplishments: “president of the Hungarian Literary Academy by the age of thirty-two, full professor at Szeged University by the time he published Journey by Moonlight, two-time winner of the Baumgarten Prize (1935, 1937), brilliant literary scholar (An Outline of English Literature (1929), History of Hungarian Literature (1934), History of World Literature (3 vols., 1934)) and talented translator of writers and critics such as J. Huizinga, R. B. Sheridan, P. G. Wodehouse, and Henry Walpole.” Szerb was placed in a forced-labor camp in 1944 and died there in 1945.

Spot-Lit for August 2015


An embarrassment of riches is coming your way in August (and it’s a shame that many worthy contenders had to be left off this list).

See in particular The Journey by Sergio Pitol, considered by those in the know to be one of the greatest living Spanish language writers (this is the second book in his Trilogy of Memory which is being translated this year into English for the first time).

Adventurous readers might also want to check out the Complete Stories by the great Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector.

Best Boy, by Eli Gottlieb, delivers a moving look at autism in middle age.

Haruki Murakami fans get a pair of early works (long out of print), and new books are on the way by popular authors Alice Hoffman, Louise Penny and Ivan Doig (the novel he completed just before his death earlier this year).

Cozy fans can reconnect with Simon Brett’s Mrs. Pargeter after a sixteen-year absence, and readers of creepier crime fiction might consider Karin Fossum’s The Drowned Boy.

For a dark, cataclysmic fantasy take a look at N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season.

Readers looking for new talent might want to try Drunken Botanist author Amy Stewart’s Girl Waits with Gun, Vu Tran’s thriller Dragonfish, or Lauren Holmes collection of stories about navigating the new adult world, Barbara the Slut.

Of course there’s more I haven’t mentioned – click on the book cover montage below to see all the titles in the list, read reviews or place holds.

montageNotable New Fiction 2015 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction.

My 2015 Summer Reading List

Ahhh summer! Freshly mowed lawns and the sound of sprinklers, grilled corn on the cob and cold slices of juicy watermelon and summer reading. Definitely summer reading. My summer memories are filled with trips to the downtown library, coming home with a stack of hardbacks and afternoons reading.

Most summers I make two reading lists — one for me and one for our grandbabies. I get reading ideas from best seller lists, from what’s on the shelf, and by asking co-workers what they’ve read lately. Quite a few of their suggestions are on my list. Here it is:

index (4)I have currently dropped everything else to read  Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, SeaWorld, and the Truth Beyond Blackfish by John Hargrove, former Senior Orca Trainer at SeaWorld. John Hargrove loves killer whales. He was elated after finally realizing his dream to perform with orcas at SeaWorld. Once on staff, however, Hargrove began to realize that all was not right behind the corporation’s shiny, happy facade. I highly recommend this book and the film Blackfish, which tells the story of Tilikum, the notorious performing whale who has taken the lives of several people while in captivity.

index (6)I am listening to David McCullough read his impeccably researched and brilliantly written book, The Wright Brothers. It offers a rare portal into the turn of the century, but more than that it helps us understand ourselves as Americans. To say that focused perseverance is the key to the Wright Brother’s story would be an understatement. David McCullough demonstrates the fortitude of the brothers in the context of the family which made them possible. This book has been highly acclaimed and it lives up to every accolade. Read it!

index (7)The World’s Strongest Librarian is by Josh Hanagarne. He writes about everything: his parents, his doubts about his Mormon faith, his Tourette’s and the problems it causes, and his search to find a meaningful career. And he makes the reader want to keep reading. I’m glad that he described the reasons why he thinks books and reading are important. He also makes an impassioned plea for the future of libraries. For that, I thank him from the bottom of my library-loving heart. But most of all, his is an amazing story. You’ll be glad you read it.

index (8)The Heir Apparent:  A Life of Edward VII, the Playboy Prince by Jane Ridley is more than a biography of the playboy prince. The whole family gets into the act. Edward was the eldest son of Queen Victoria and she thought he was stupid and lazy. He was pretty much stuck being the heir apparent for 60 years and made up for it by being a notorious gambler, glutton and womanizer. Surprisingly very few scandals had any impact on him and eventually he became very popular with the English people. He also spent a lot of time on the continent and by the time he became king, he was a very adept diplomat. His main worry diplomatically was his nephew Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany who was very paranoid and Edward thought war with Germany was inevitable. Having died in 1910 Edward didn’t live to see his fears come to pass. This is an interesting book for lovers of the British monarchy.

index (1)index (2)indexindex (3)That’s a lot of non-fiction! How about a novel for some real summer reading? I have any and all of the works of Kent Haruf on my list thanks to the recommendation of fellow librarian Sarah who says that his writing is simply beautiful. All of his novels are set in the fictional town of Holt, Colorado which is loosely based on Yuma, Colorado, an early residence of Haruf in the 1980’s. These books are fabulous as his wonderful writing is reminiscent of Steinbeck. They come highly recommended and should be cherished as the author recently passed away and there won’t be anymore. I want to carry these around all summer if only for the beautiful covers.

indexA Room With A View by E.M. Forster portrays the love of a British woman for an expatriate living in Italy. For Forster, Italy is a country which represents the forces of true passion. Caught up in a world of social snobbery, Forster‘s heroine, Lucy Honeychurch, finds herself constrained by the claustrophobic influence of her British guardians, who encourage her to take up with a well-connected boor. When she regrets that her hotel room has no view, a member of the lower class offers to trade rooms with her.

index (1)And one more! I have to add Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee to this list. This long-awaited sequel will chronicle the adulthood of Scout in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama. Will this be another courtroom drama? Since it is set in the 1950’s, will it reference the civil rights movement? What’s gonna happen? Will they make it into a movie? We’ll have to wait for the book to be published on July 14th to find out.


And finally, here’s (part of) the pile of books for the grandbabies:

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So, that’s it for my summer reading lists. I hope that you have one and I’d love to know what’s on your list. Have you read any good books lately?