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Check It Out

Courier Article by Lucy Clem
Sunday, September 10, 2006

Finding Time for Reading is Easy with Right Book

There's never enough time to read, it seems, and the problem is compounded when you work in a library.

In nice weather my porch swing too often lures me away from outdoor chores, and there's always a book handy.

A variation on the traditional back-to-school "what I did this summer" essay, these are some of the books I spent time with.

The Secret River, by Kate Grenville (Canongate, 2006).

William Thornhill, early 19th-century waterman in London, steals a load of wood and is transported, along with his wife and son, to Australia. He builds a life for his family through shrewdness and hard work, and comes to love the land with an unquenchable passion.

In a fascinating parallel to life in early America, conflict between the natives and the whites is ever-present.

Eventually, William is involved in a massacre that solves the issue once and for all, but he remains haunted by it despite accumulating wealth, property and all the things he dreamed of as a dirt-poor Londoner. Grenville is Australian, and her love of the land and its people is palpable.

In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote (Vintage Books, 1994; Books on Tape, 2006).

The film "Capote" reminded me that I had never read this classic. The audiobook was so good that I started reading ahead in the book at night. Perry White and Dick Hickcock, two punks who met in prison, plotted to rob and kill a wealthy Kansas farmer and his family.

This is the story of their lives, the crime and the aftermath -- it's a work of brilliant journalism. The descriptions are lyrical and they contrast with the cold facts to make the book read like a novel.

The research Capote did is phenomenal. When he describes the two driving away from the crime scene and seeing billboards flashing by in the beam of the headlights, it's evident that he drove the route and saw the same billboards. It's difficult to reconcile this book with the image of the Capote of later years.

How could that weird little man with the annoying voice have written anything so strong and so monumental?

Extremely Pale RosE, by Jamie Ivey (St. Martins, 2006).

A chance encounter, a misunderstanding and a wager during a holiday in France lead the author and his wife to leave their unsatisfying London jobs and spend six months searching for the palest rosE to be found.

The stakes are high; if they find a paler rosE than that produced by Madame Etienne's husband, they get a lifetime supply of his wine.

If they fail, they must become the London importer for the same.

What follows is part travelogue, part mystery, part wine lesson as they travel to over 300 vineyards, tasting and comparing.

They find some very pale rosEs, but none to compare to Madame Etienne's.

The Iveys win the bet through a trick of fate, and now it turns out that Ivey and his Francophile wife are living happily ever after in the land of the palest rosE.

Indefensible: One Law-yer's Journey Into the Inferno of American Justice, by David Feige (Little, Brown, 2006).

Feige is a career public defender in New York -- the South Bronx, to be exact. This is a chronicle of a typical day, interwoven with Feige's story of how he got there and why he dedides to stay.

Except where it would violate attorney-client privilege, he uses actual names and descriptions.

This is intriguing, since he's often uncomplimentary. The cases are eye-opening. Take Michael, who was ticketed for walking a friend's dog without vaccination records.

His friend offered to pay the ticket, but didn't, so a few years later the Warrant Squad showed up to arrest him as he left for work.

After spending three days in a cell, without representation, a phone call or a shower, he wound up in front of a bad judge and spent another day in jail before the ticket was finally dismissed.

Feige's reportorial style leaves the reader with no reason to disbelieve the incredible plights of some of his clients.

It is hard to believe that he could continue his battle year after year, with so little payback.

Lucy Young Clem is the Tech Center Supervisor at Central Library, where she sandwiches reading book reviews between computer training sessions.