Review: Truck: A Love Story, by Michael Perry

Truck: a Love Story
Truck: a Love Story
by Michael Perry
Harper Perennial, 320 pages
Get it from Amazon >>

Several days ago in this blog, I mentioned that I had an “author crush” on Michael Perry. I’m currently reading his most recent book, Coop which will be reviewed over at All Things Girl, but I wanted to make sure I talked about the last book of his that I read: Truck: a Love Story.

If the title of the book isn’t enough of a hook, consider that this book really is a love story. Actually it’s three love stories. One, is of the teenage Mike’s love of the fictional character Irma Harding, who was created to be the face of International Harvester, in the 1950s. The second, and the one that provides the continuity in this book, is the author’s love of a vintage International Harvester pickup truck, and his journey through its restoration. The third, most poignant, is of his relationship and eventual marriage to his wife Anneleise, and his fatherly love for her young daughter, Amy.

As usual, Michael Perry tells his story with a lot of warmth and an equal measure of humor. He may be a guy who grew up in rural Wisconsin, but he’s also incredibly bright. Much of the humor is self deprecating – he’s sort of power-tool impaired, for example – but some of it comes from the juxtaposition of a green tea drinking, NPR- and jazz listening writer who is also a fire fighter and amateur farmer.

Because this is a memoir, there really isn’t a plot, but Perry does an excellent job of condensing several events into a coherent narrative.

In short, his memoirs ride the fine line of being candid and creative nonfiction.

And I can’t get enough of them.

Sunday Scribblings: the Book that Changed Everything

I haven’t participated in Sunday Scribblings in a while, and thought I would tonight. The prompt is to write about the book that changed everything.

It’s difficult for me to pin down just one book that was life-changing for me. I read very quickly, when I’m in a reading mood, and shift from book to book so very often, but there are several that stand out as sort of literary milestones in my life.

One of my first introductions to poetry, for example, was Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses. It may be difficult to imagine the same man who created Treasure Island spinning children’s rhymes, but he did, and he did it well. I remember reciting, “I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me…” with my grandmother, and to this day, when I see a swing-set in a playground or park, “How Do You Like to Go Up in a Swing?” races through my brain. At about the same time, though, I was also very much in love with Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild things Are, and Judith Viorst’s Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. I still love both.

From Stevenson, my mind flows naturally to A. A. Milne. My mother would happily remind me, where she here while I was writing this, that when I was still learning to read, I pronounced it as “Ah Ah Milne.” In my defense, I was only four. For several years in a row, my aunt Patti, my “book aunt,” gave me another volume of Milne for each birthday and Christmas, so it was no surprise that I received his book of verse, Now We Are Six when I turned six. It wasn’t any less wonderful for being predictable.

From Milne we jump ahead a bit, to Laura Ingalls Wilder. Not far ahead, mind you. I think I read the vast majority of the Little House books when I was seven, which was not long after the television show began. I watched the show religiously, of course, but I have always preferred the books. Several years ago, as a newlywed and new resident of South Dakota, I re-read the entire series, including some of the books that I hadn’t read as a child (specifically On the Way Home). While the language is simple in the extreme, Wilder’s stories are really universal, and reading them while walking on land where she had walked made them seem that much more “real.”

At about the same time I was reading Wilder, I was also reading the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series, and my mother had begun reading Little Women to me, a chapter at a time. The mysteries were great, and I enjoyed them, but it was Alcott’s work that really became part of my soul. I wanted to be Jo March. Sometimes, I still want to be Jo March. I boggle at the notion that I eventually married a man two years my junior – I always dated older guys before Fuzzy, and thought that was where my life’s plan was leading me. Fuzzy has an old soul though, so maybe that’s why we fit. That and he puts up with me, grounds me…but I digress.

Little Women would be the last book my mother would read aloud to me at bedtime, and midway through it, I fired her. I don’t remember her reaction, I just wanted to finish the story, and the whole chapter-a-night thing was just not working for me any more, but the year after, I found out that something else did work for me: science fiction. My first foray into the genre was through Madeleine Lengle’s A Wrinkle in Time, which was given to me when my mother and I were having an overnight with one of her friends. In my head, I was lying on an old quilt in a loft on a rainy night, reading a hardcover version of this book and eating coffee ice cream, but I think the loft part is imaginary, because it’s the kind of book that feels like it SHOULD be read in a loft.

When I was nine or ten, I discovered Judy Blume – as did every nine-or-ten-year-old in my generation. As an adult, I would read Summer Sisters which was meant for the adult women who loved Blume as children, and I vaguely recall enjoying it, but no more or less than anything else I’d read at that time. Other books from elementary school that stuck with me, however, are Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy, and
E. L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiller. The former is what cemented my habit of keeping notebooks, and always using my middle initial (and, I might add, got me hooked on tomato sandwiches), and the latter simply delighted me. If you’ve never read it, it’s about two children, Claudia and James Kincaid, who tire of parental tyranny and run away from home, only to hide in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan.

Junior High School brought me to Douglas Adams. I will leave it at that. Let’s just say, the Hitchhiker’s Guide and I go way back.

High School found me biking to the library every weekend to stuff my pack full of books. Anne McCaffrey, Terry Brooks, and “The Cat Who…” were all part of my weekend reading, but so was Kim Stanley Robinson and a lot of Dick Francis, and on a long bus ride home from a week at the Ashland, OR Shakespeare Festival that I made the acquaintance of one Nero Wolfe, and fell into a love affair with the misogynistic gourmand that would last for decades.

As an adult, it’s been nonfiction that has been most meaningful. Kathleen Norris helped me understand my husband’s family, with Dakota: a Spiritual Geography, and The Cloister Walk helped me embrace my own spirituality. Madeleine L’Engle’s been a continual presence, both with her fiction – Certain Women is a favorite – and her nonfiction (I’ve re-read the four Crosswicke Journals more than once).

Right now, I’m reading a lot of Michael Perry, in fact, I just finished Truck: a Love Story and started reading Coop, and I think he’s an author I’ll keep near me for a while.

Books are my friends, as much as people are, and through them, I’ve visited exotic locales, picked up new uses of language, and learned to see the world differently. There’s no way I could ever select just one that changed my life. They all do. It’s just that some of the changes are fleeting, like a wistful smile, while others become ingrained in my brain, and body, heart, mind, and soul.

Bookish Fantasy

Sometimes, I find myself buying a book at the used bookstore, thinking I’ve never read it, only to get it home, get a few pages in, and discover I have, in fact, encountered it before. Sometimes I don’t mind, but equally as often, I’m disappointed. I mean, I’m all for rereading things, but I want to do it consciously.

So, I have a bookish fantasy. I wish that whenever I finished a book, a ticker tape would emerge from my brain, like paper from an epson receipt printer, and be stored in some multi-dimensional pocket of the universe that I could easily access and cross-reference whenever I was book shopping. In this way, I could see for certain what I’d read, and when, and how much I’d paid for the copy.

As long as I’m fantasizing, I want something that will trigger my memory when I’m staring at shelves, trying to figure out what I want to buy, because often I read other people’s reviews, and think, “I should write down that title,” but I don’t, and then I have no idea what it was I’m looking for.

But then, other people likely don’t have this issue, just as I’m quite certain I’m the only person who can stand in the middle of a bookstore and complain, “There’s nothing to read.”

New Author Crush: Michael Perry

I tend to read the same way most people approach a dip bar – several repetitions of one author (or, um, exercise) and then a rest. In plainer language, I mean that when I find an author whose work I like, I read everything they’ve written, as quickly as possible, in succession, and then move on, at least for a while.

My current “author crush,” as I tend to describe these reading moods, is one Michael Perry. I’ve written, already, about recently reading his book, Population: 485, and I’m currently in the middle of his second memoir, Truck: a Love Story. Both are warm, funny, vivid and candid in all the right balances. Both have thoughtful sections as well, and I’m really enjoying revisiting the upper midwest, in a way I haven’t done, through literature, since I first discovered Kathleen Norris, early in my marriage.

Norris and Perry are nothing alike, and yet, both have this intense love of the land that comes through their words, and makes you want to sink your fingers into fresh earth, or pick a sun-ripened tomato and eat it, straight from the vine.

I just wanted to take a moment, and share that.

Oh, and to say,the signed copy of Perry’s most recent book, in hardcover, arrived on Thursday.

Review: Hollywood Monster by Robert Englund

Hollywood Monster
Hollywood Monster: a Walk Down Elm Street with the Man of Your Dreams
by Robert Englund, with Alan Goldsher
Pocket, 304 pages
Get it from Amazon >>

I have a memory from when I was twelve or thirteen (but probably twelve): I was sitting in the living room with my mother, stepfather, and stepbrother, textbooks strewn all around us on the floor, watching this movie called V, about aliens coming to earth to steal water and eat people. Mike Donovan, played by Marc Singer, was supposed to be the sex symbol in the show, but I was a geek, even then, and it was the friendly alien, Willie, that caught my attention. That was my first introduction to Robert Englund.

Two years later, had seen all of the V mini-series, and was excited to find out about an upcoming weekly series. I’d also seen one of Englund’s horror movies, Galaxy of Terror (notable for its weirdly impressive cast, and the scene in which Erin “Joanie Cunningham” Moran gets raped by a giant maggot), and was about to be introduced to another of this actor’s iconic characters, one Freddy Krueger, for the first time. While I was never the type of fangirl who wrote letters or anything, I’ll cop to having a crush on Robert Englund from the age of twelve. But we knew I was weird.

Knowing this, it should come as no surprise that when I read on Englund’s website ( that he was publishing a memoir, and that one could buy regular copies from and regular booksellers, or pay a little more for a signed copy, I quickly whipped out my paypal ID, and ordered a signed copy. That was in October. On Halloween (appropriate, no?) I received an autographed photo of Robert Englund as Freddy, with an apologetic note that my copy would be delayed.

Things happened, and all of a sudden, I realized it was almost MARCH, and I’d never received my book. I sent a note to the customer service address, and received an email back that evening, that my order would be “checked on.” That was exactly a week ago, Sunday, February 28th. On Wednesday, March 3rd, I found my book in the mailbox. The cardboard priority mail envelope had been slashed as if by Freddy Krueger’s glove (not intentionally, I’m certain), and the post office had encased it in plastic, but the book was in bubble wrap, and unharmed. I read through all the postcards inside it, looked inside for the autograph (it came with an accompanying doodle of Freddy, drawn by Mr. Englund himself), and then left for Bible Study (and don’t think I don’t recognize a bit of irony in THAT).

I arrived home, did a bit of work, and then settled in to read.

By the time Fuzzy came to bed, I was two-thirds of the way through with the book, and I succumbed to the call and turned on a booklight, so I could finish it before going to sleep.

But, I promised a review. So:

Robert Englund’s memoir of his childhood entry into acting, and his resulting career as a character actor and horror movie icon is a delightful read. Candid and funny, it flows like a really good conversation, leaving you with the feeling that you’ve heard some great stories and sipped some excellent beer. The ghost writer/editor who helped shape the book was able to make everything sound like the voice Englund uses in interviews – a weird combination of erudition, cynicism, and charm, gregariousness. This is a man who takes his craft seriously, but doesn’t take himself too seriously.

I enjoyed learning more about the series of events that led Robert to the role of scream god Freddy Krueger, and about his relationship with role over the years. As much as I’m a bit disappointed that he won’t be reprising the part in the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street due out this summer, I’ve read enough interviews stating that he’s okay with that decision, that I believe he is, and frankly, I’m enjoying catching him in dark, quirky parts that don’t require him to look like a mangled pizza.

While Hollywood Monster is probably best appreciated by fans, it’s such a great read that even non-fans would probably enjoy it. In fact, I don’t think it feels like a celebrity memoir at all. But then, it shouldn’t, because even though his job site is generally a movie set, Englund describes himself as a “working stiff,” and his book serves to remind us that working actors come in many, many flavors.

Personally, I like the dark, sardonic ones, best.

Tuesday Teasers: The Barbary Pirates

On Teaser Tuesdays readers are asked to:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between 7 and 12 lines.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given.

I love a rollicking ocean-going adventure as much as the next girl, and I also love period mysteries, so when I was offered the opportunity to review William Dietrich’s latest novel, The Barbary Pirates, I took a break from packing for a trip and writing about online life insurance to respond with a heartfelt “Yes! Please!.”

The book (an uncorrected proof of the novel) arrived while I was away, and I’m on a few pages into it, but I had to share. Remember, this text is quoted from an ARC and may differ from the final copy, on sale on March 30th.

The tunnel kept getting narrower, however, squeezing down toward my head. I scraped several times, and could feel the trickle of blood from my crown. It was getting hard to breathe, the air stale, and finally my shoulders wedged and I could go no farther. Utterly dark, no hope ahead, and as I patted with my hands I could feel nothing but enclosing rock. I probed with my rifle, which only confirmed the passage constricted still more, far too small to wriggle through. Cuvier bumped up against the soles of my boots, and grunted.

“What’s wrong, Ethan?”

“I’m stuck!” I couldn’t get the room to even go backward. “This isn’t the way out, there’s no air. We have to go back to that little chasm we crawled over and go down.”

“Go down? Merde, I’m longing to go up!”

Review: The Mermaids Singing, by Lisa Carey

The Mermaids Singing
The Mermaids Singing
by Lisa Carey
Harper Perennial, 288 Pages
Get it from Amazon >>

When you’re on a road trip having a good book to read is just as important as having cheap auto insurance. I thought I’d packed decent reading material for our recent emergency trip to Iowa (my brother-in-law died of brain cancer on the 17th), but when faced with downtime, none of what I’d packed appealed to me. In fact, it wasn’t until we were on the way home, last Thursday, that I found anything that spoke to me.

We were at a used bookstore (Firehouse Books) in Ames, IA, and Fuzzy was checking out when a paperback on the rack near the door caught my eye. I picked it up, somehow KNOWING it would appeal, and said, “Add this. Buy this for me.” And Fuzzy did.

That night, in a hotel room in Emporia, Kansas, I began to read Lisa Carey’s first novel, The Mermaids Singing. It’s a multigenerational tale of three women, Cliona, Grace (Cliona’s daughter), and Grainne (Grace’s daughter), and their relationships with each other and with the men in their lives. It’s candid and well written, and you can hear the Irish accents in the voices of the Irish characters, and smell the sea when Carey writes about sand and surf.

While this novel is technically not that far from the types of romances that Nora Roberts writes, it’s also a deeper story than even Ms. Roberts tends to pen. It opens with Grace dying of terminal cancer, and the chapters alternate in voice, as each of the women, including young Grainne, get their shot at narration.

What I liked most about The Mermaids Singing is that the characters have growth, but not every problem is solved by story’s end. Carey could easily write a sequel to this, if she felt like it, and it would be a welcome tale, but the book is perfectly satisfying without it.

Goes well with a fisherman’s sweater (preferably ‘borrowed’ from a hunky fisherman) and a mug of strong, hot tea.