Wednesday, July 02, 2008

I’m a glutton, pure and simple. I have this habit, which I am altogether sure I am not the only one who does, when I enjoy a book, I feel compelled to read as many books by the same author as I can stomach. Often it’s intentional and I actively seek out additional titles. Other times it is like the universe hands me the books, like tiny existential presents.

On our Great Northern America Road Trip (that’s what I am calling it these days), I have had instances of both. Since I was not able to pack a whole lot of books for the long drives across the Northern States, my plan was to stop in thrift stores and used bookstores along the way, in order to trade in the finished books and to pick up new ones. I started in Seattle with a book of short stories by Jane Smiley called "The Age of Grief". Smiley is the author of several books I have loved, "A Thousand Acres" and "Moo". If I believed in past lives and reincarnation, I would propose that Jane Smiley was a weaver or rug maker. Her narratives are beautifully rich and complicated, with many, many different characters and plot lines woven together to create a larger story, not unlike a rich tapestry. Her short stories are quite the opposite. The stories in "The Age of Grief" are clean and direct, yet beautifully crafted. There is not an extra word or detail in any of the stories, but they never feel spare or minimal. Each is exactly right. On an interesting note, the 2002 movie "The Secret Lives of Dentists" was based on the title story. I haven’t seen the film yet, but it is certainly going on my Netflix queue.

By the time I got to Montana, I was done reading "The Age of Grief" and was on the lookout for my next fix. In Miles City, while visiting my brother-in-law and his family, we found a thrift store run by the St. Vincent de Paul society. I stopped in and headed straight for the book section. The first book I picked up was "Horse Heaven" by (wait for it, wait for it) Jane Smiley. "Horse Heaven" is a novel about the world of Thoroughbred horse racing. As "The Age of Grief" was minimal, "Horse Heaven" is ornate. As much as I was engaged in the stories of horse trainers, breeders, jockeys, owners and those who simply love thoroughbred horses, I sometimes felt like I needed to be taking notes and keeping a log of who belonged to whom. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this book immensely and am looking forward to a day trip to Golden Gate Fields to place a little bet on the ponies. Thanks for reading with me.

Next time, what I picked up in Nisswa, Minnesota.

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