HOLLY’S DOXOLOGIES* of Books Read This Month
*Yes, I had to look it up, too: A doxology means “in praise of”, usually in a church, but I think we can carry that sacred awe over to a library.
Readers are a promiscuous bunch. We’ll hang out with all kinds of books: classy, middleweight, and outright motley. Some we’ll set aside if they don’t quite meet our unspecified standards, but the point is we keep on reading. We’re floozies when it comes to the printed word, certainly, but don’t we love it when a book comes along that lifts us out of our one-night stands into a love-sweet-love, reminding us of why we sustain this passion? So it was for me this month when I opened David Rosenfeld’s Dogtripping (new release), and was swept away in a whirlwind romance.
Some of you might have come to Rosenfeld via his Andy Carpenter mysteries, starring the New Jersey lawyer and his Golden Retriever with a superior work ethic. It just so happens (not surprisingly) that author Rosenfeld is a dog lover of staggering proportions. He and wife Debbie ran their own dog rescue operation in Southern California. Among those orphans humanely housed in a veterinarian’s kennel, they’d adopted their own family pooches. And while careful not to let the canine roll call creep over forty, sometimes they exceeded the mark.
“Debbie and I agree,” writes Rosenfeld, “that to go over forty dogs is lunacy.”
Are you kidding me?! Over three is lunacy!
At some point in the recent past, Dave and Debbie decided to move from a house in the San Diego boonies to a house in the Maine boonies (as only in the boonies, on an isolated tract of land, can anybody get away with owning that many barking dogs).
The sheer logistics of transporting the then-relatively meager operation of twenty-five dogs cross country is astounding, involving eleven humans, three RVs, food and water for an army, and portable fencing by the bale. The massive amount of planning and materiel puts you in mind of the invasion of Normandy, the difference being the Allies had General Eisenhower. Deb & Dave’s dog caravan is headed up by Rosenfeld, a worrier of Woody Allen proportions, who also has Woody’s gift of making it all endearing and funny (and scary.)
. . . Well, we all have our own opinion about who is the best mystery writer living or dead and, for my two-cents, I have to plump for Lawrence Block. When you consider the perfectly crafted New York noir of Matthew Scudder (recovering alcoholic), his hilarious romps with Bernie Rhodenbarr (burglar by night, bookseller by day), and the Nick and Nora wit of the Keller and Dot “hit” sagas (assassin and lady police dispatcher, respectively), well, who else has ever produced so eclectically satisfying a canon? Now Block’s talents are on display in a collection of short stories, Catch & Release (new release).
A pause here to ask ourselves why most of us resist short stories. Stephen King posed this very question in the introduction to his cinder-block-sized anthology Nightmares And Dreamscapes (2002). King, in his introduction, urges us to embrace short stories, extolling their brevity in an age where we’re all so ADD-riddled that they might as well pump Ritalin into our drinking water (my idea, not King’s.) So why not bite-sized lit literary treats?
Here’s my theory about why short stories make us groan: With any narrative of any length, we’re required to gear up mentally, as if for an exam. We scope out new territory, steep ourselves in unknown atmospheres, and make the acquaintance of characters of varying degrees of trustfulness and likeability. As reading goes, it’s heavy lifting. Once we’ve done the intake, we can relax and enjoy, as we do for a good novel or for a TV series we’ve come to love. If it’s short, we too are brought up short; we’re forced to summon fresh reserves for the next one. And the next. And the next.
In Block’s collection, you may scratch your head and wonder why, say, you’re being treated to an over-wrought account of a poker game. But this is the time to fasten your seat-belt, as Block will deliver a teeth-grinding ride. Some of the tales stray towards the dark side, way dark, dark as in sociopathic-noir is the new black. Just so you’re warned.
Finally, in the Worth Mentioning column, if you’ve ever wondered what monastic life is really like (and it’s not your grandmother’s convent, or Ophelia’s either), pick up Jane Christmas’s new book And Then There Were Nuns (new release.) This memoir chronicles the author’s monastery-hopping in the UK (and did I mention she was at the same time engaged to a nice English chap?) Also, I’ve just been gifted with the first book by Oak Bluffs’s Amy Reece (she teaches at the Charter School), a work of young adult fiction entitled Regarding Jeffrey. The story revolves around plucky but lonely Linda in a new schoolyard in the 1960s. As the dust-jacket blurb describes it: “Her class is practicing nuclear bomb drills, her mother is listening to the Beatles and has stopped wearing a bra, and her brother is about to be drafted.” I’m in!