Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Short Story Wednesday: Nearly Nero by Loren D. Estleman

This week I am reading short stories from Nearly Nero by Loren D. Estleman. The subtitle for this book is "The Adventures of Claudius Lyon, the Man Who Would Be Wolfe." Between 2008 and 2016, Estleman wrote nine short stories about Claudius Lyon, a man who is obsessed with emulating Nero Wolfe in all ways, and his assistant, Arnie Woodbine. Most of these stories were published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. One additional story ("Wolfe Whistle") was written for publication in this book. 

Just a few examples of how Lyons imitates Wolfe: 

  • He has a greenhouse on the roof of his abode, but he grows tomatoes, not orchids. He has no gardening skills at all. 
  • His butler/cook is not nearly as talented as Fritz, and cooks only kosher meals. 
  • He drinks cream sodas all day, rather than beer. 
  • His assistant, Arnie Woodbine, has been in prison and is a con man. He is not above doing something illegal. 

These are the stories I read:

"Who's Afraid of Nero Wolfe?"

"The Boy Who Cried Wolfe"

"Wolfe at the Door"

"Wolfe on the Roof"

The stories are an affectionate homage to the Nero Wolfe series and are intended to be humorous. Loren D. Estleman is a big fan of the series and wrote the introduction to the Bantam Crimeline edition of the first Nero Wolfe novel, Fer-de-Lance

I would not categorize these as serious mysteries, in the sense that there is a crime to be solved. They are puzzles, often based on word play, and usually silly. However, for the most part, they are fun to read and have very nice endings. 

The only real drawback to these stories that I can see is that I don't see how they would appeal to anyone who hasn't read at least a few Nero Wolfe novels.

Loren D. Estleman is a very prolific and well-known author who has been publishing novels since 1976. He is the author of the Amos Walker series, the Valentino series, the Peter Macklin series, and many standalone novels, including many Western novels. He lives in Michigan. 

Sunday, April 28, 2024

The Humans: Matt Haig


I enjoyed reading this book so much. It brightened my life, it improved my mood, it helped me to feel more love and acceptance for others. And it almost certainly will be one of my top ten books of 2024.

I am going to use a paragraph from the beginning of the novel to describe this book: 

This book, this actual book, is set right here, on Earth. It is about the meaning of life and nothing at all. It is about what it takes to kill somebody, and save them. It is about love and dead poets and wholenut peanut butter. It’s about matter and antimatter, everything and nothing, hope and hate. It’s about a forty-one-year-old female historian called Isobel and her fifteen-year-old son called Gulliver and the cleverest mathematician in the world. It is, in short, about how to become a human.

This book is a science fiction story, but for me, it felt like a book about how to live a better life, a sort of self help book. Or possibly a book about a philosophy of life. 

The protagonist of this book is an unnamed alien, a Vonnadorian. He has been sent to earth because an earthling, Andrew Martin, has discovered the solution to the Riemann hypothesis. The Vonnadorians have determined that this discovery will lead to technical development on earth that humans are not ready for and they want it stopped, no matter what it takes. 

The alien takes over Andrew's body. His mission is to kill anyone that knows about Andrew's work and is aware that he had successfully come up with a solution. That includes Andrew's wife and 16-year-old son. 

The only real science fiction elements in this book are that the alien has powers (for example, he is much stronger than normal humans and can heal humans and animals) and he gets communications from his superiors back on his own planet. Otherwise, the focus is on how he learns to fit into human society with no real instructions, so that he can accomplish his goal. He makes a lot of mistakes along the way.

The alien in Andrew's body starts to have misgivings about his mission. Initially he finds humans disgusting, but once he can stomach living with humans and interacting with them, he begins to like some of them. The family has a dog, and the dog knows that this being is no longer really Andrew, but the alien develops an affection for the dog and vice versa. As Andrew, he tries to interact with the teenage son, who despises his father. 

The alien reads a lot (starting with Cosmopolitan, which gives him some strange ideas) to try to learn about humans. The poet he especially likes is Emily Dickenson. He cannot stand human food, but he does like peanut butter sandwiches, and that is mainly what he subsists on. Since I also eat a lot of peanut butter, I considered this a plus.

The story is narrated by the alien and seems to be a book he is writing for Vonnadorians, to explain his actions after he arrived on earth. It is often humorous but sometimes dark.


Publisher:   Simon & Schuster, 2013
Length:       285 pages
Format:       Hardcover
Setting:       Earth, UK
Genre:        Science fiction
Source:       On my TBR since 2020.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Short Story Wednesday: The Habit of Widowhood and Other Murderous Proclivities

Robert Barnard (1936 - 2013) is one of my favorite authors. He wrote about 50 novels between 1974 and 2012. Some were series books but a large number of his mysteries were standalones. I have read and enjoyed most of his series books, but the standalone books have the best plots and subtle humor.

The Habit of Widowhood is a collection of short stories by Barnard. There are 17 stories in 215 pages. Based on the stories I have read, his short stories are darker than most of his novels, but not unpleasantly so. 

These are the six stories I read. They all involve a crime but they are not puzzle mysteries. Most are between 10-12 pages, a good length for me.

"Cupid's Dart" 

An overprotected and sheltered young woman is pushed into an arranged marriage, with devastating results. This was my favorite story of the ones I read; I found it an intense and affecting read.

"The Habit of Widowhood"

A woman marries older men in order to inherit their money when they die. This happens too often and she eventually realizes she will have to move from town to town. Some of the marriages are very brief; some last a few months. The story is told by her great-great-grandson, using her diaries.

"Soldier, from the Wars Returning"

Description from the book cover: "A young soldier, home from World War I, is determined to live and love not just for himself, but for all his fallen comrades. But in doing so he enrages a number of husbands."

"Dog Television"

A dog witnesses a murder. A wonderful story and not so dark.

"The Women at the Funeral"

The story begins in 1891; Roderick, at 52 years of age, lives with his three sisters and his mother. He dies from tuberculosis. After her brother's funeral, the oldest sister, Alice, finds out that he had done some charitable deeds to support people less fortunate than he and his family. He was generous and Alice does not approve. Not a lot happens in this story, but I found it satisfying and a good read.

"Perfect Honeymoon"

David and Carol have chosen a small Greek island for their honeymoon. David is old-fashioned, timid, and has recently inherited a thriving business. Unfortunately their honeymoon is marred by the arrival of Joshua Swayne, one of Carol's old suitors. 

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Books Read in March 2024

Even though I am getting my summary of reading for March 2024 out very late, I am happy because I have actually written reviews for six of the nine books I read. For me that is very good. And I enjoyed almost all of the books. So March was a good reading month. 

Of the fiction books I read this month, six were published between 2007 and 2020. Only two were published before 1960. That is a big change in the direction of my reading. I read too many exceptional books to pick a favorite for the month but I am glad I reread another book by Rex Stout. And I am in the middle of a book of three novellas in the Nero Wolfe series, Curtains for Three

This week I participated in the Classics Club Spin, where 20 books are listed and a random number between 1 and 20 is selected. The book that resulted from the spin for me to read for this spin was The Warden by Anthony Trollope. I am happy with that pick because I haven't read anything by Trollope before.

Here are the nine books I finished reading in March:


The Book of Books (2007) by Les Krantz and Tim Knight

The subtitle of this book is "An Eclectic Collection of Reading Recommendations, Quirky Lists, and Fun Facts about Books." It has a more formal approach than the Book Lust series by Nancy Pearl, although it was published around the same time. This book is made up of lists of books about specific subjects, or genres and subgenres. Each book on the lists is summarized briefly. Some of the lists came from outside sources and some were put together by the authors.


My Name is Lucy Barton (2016) by Elizabeth Strout

While Lucy Barton is in a hospital in New York City for many weeks due to complications following an appendectomy, her mother visits her and they have some strained conversations about the past. The story is set in the 1980s, and Lucy narrates it, years after it happened. See my review

The Glass Hotel (2020) Emily St. John Mandel 

This story revolves around Paul Smith and his half-sister Vincent Smith, and starts when they are teens. Many other characters that they interact with then and later in their lives are important to the plot. Set in Canada. See my review

Crime Fiction

The Silver Swan (2007) by Benjamin Black

Set in Ireland in the 1950s, this is the 2nd book about Quirke, a pathologist working in a hospital in Dublin.  Benjamin Black is a pseudonym of John Banville. See my review.

Defectors (2017) by Joseph Kanon

This is the first book I have read by Joseph Kanon, and it definitely won't be my last. I have six more of his books on my shelves. The Defectors focuses on a group of American and British spies living in and around Moscow during the Cold War, after defecting. My focus was on the relationship of the two brothers in the story, Frank, the US spy who defected to Russia in 1949, and Simon, his younger brother, who had to leave his job in intelligence to work in publishing after Frank's defection. In 1961, Simon has been allowed to come to Moscow to work with Frank on publishing his memoirs. He has not seen or heard from Frank in the years since his defection. I loved the exploration of family relationships, but the story has plenty of action also.

Your Republic is Calling You (2006) by Young-ha Kim

The story takes place over the course of one day in the life of Ki-Yong, a South Korean with a wife and teenage daughter. Except that he is really a North Korean spy who has been living in Seoul, working as a film importer, over 20 years, and has now been recalled to North Korea. See my review.

A Beautiful Place to Die (2008) Malla Nunn

This is a historical mystery, set in a very small town on the border between South Africa and Mozambique in 1952. New apartheid laws have recently gone into effect. The protagonist is an English police detective who is investigating the death of an Afrikaner police captain. See my review.

A Scream in Soho (1940) by John G. Brandon

This was one of the earlier books in the British Library Crime Classics series, and it was the only book this month that I was disappointed with. It is not a bad book, it is just that it is more a thriller than a mystery, along the lines of Edgar Wallace's novels, per the introduction by Martin Edwards. Published during the war, the plot centers around a spy hiding in Soho. It also had a good bit of overt racism and sexism which was distasteful, although not that unusual for book of this period. 

Plot It Yourself (1959) by Rex Stout

This book is part of the Nero Wolfe series; Wolfe is a private detective and his assistant is Archie Goodwin. In this case, the story revolves around authors, publishers, and accusations of plagiarism. The first novel, Fer-de-Lance, was published in 1934. See my review.

Currently reading

I started The Mistress of Alderley by Robert Barnard last night, and surprised myself by reading 100 pages. Caroline Fawley has given up her acting career quite willingly to live in an elegant home in the country. Her wealthy lover Marius purchased a country house for her to live in, but her children worry that she is depending too much on his generosity, with no promise of marriage. This book has a surprise appearance by Inspector Oddie and Detective Charlie Peace from Barnard's Charlie Peace series; I have read all except the last two books in that series.

The photos at the top and bottom of this post were taken in late March in our back yard after we had a good bit of rain. The lighting was perfect. We had a lot of weeds in the back at the time, and we still do. Lots of work to be done. 

The photos were taken and processed by my husband. Click on the images for the best viewing quality.


Thursday, April 18, 2024

Classics Club Spin #37, April 2024

The latest Classics Club Spin has been announced. To join in, I choose twenty books from my classics list. On Sunday, 21st April, 2024, the Classics Club will post a number from 1 through 20. The goal is to read whatever book falls under that number on my Spin List by Sunday, 2nd June, 2024.

So, here is my list of 20 books for the spin...

  1. Patricia Highsmith – The Talented Mr.Ripley (1955)
  2. Shirley Jackson – We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962)
  3. Madeleine L'Engle – A Wrinkle in Time (1962)
  4. William Shakespeare – Much Ado About Nothing (1598)
  5. Mary Shelley – Frankenstein (1818)
  6. John Steinbeck – Cannery Row (1945)
  7. William Thackeray – Vanity Fair (1848)
  8. Anthony Trollope – The Warden (1855)
  9. Oscar Wilde – The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890)
  10. Virginia Woolf – Flush (1933)
  11. Chinua Achebe – Things Fall Apart (1958)
  12. Roald Dahl – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964)
  13. Charlotte Brontë – Jane Eyre (1847) 
  14. Anne Brontë – Agnes Grey (1847)
  15. Albert Camus – The Stranger (1942)
  16. Lewis Carroll – Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865)
  17. Willa Cather – My Ántonia (1918)
  18. Kenneth Grahame – The Wind in the Willows (1908)
  19. Graham Greene – Our Man in Havana (1958)
  20. Ray Bradbury – Fahrenheit 451 (1953)

This is the same list as I used last time, except for one change to eliminate the book that I read for the last spin, and add Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.

Are there any of these you especially like... or dislike?

My top choice would be The Wind in the Willows.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

The #1937Club: They Found Him Dead by Georgette Heyer

I read They Found Him Dead by Georgette Heyer for the 1937 Club hosted by Simon at Stuck in a Book and Karen at Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings. And isn't this a lovely image for the club?

They Found Him Dead begins with a large gathering of family and friends at the home of Silas Kane and his mother, Emily Kane. The occasion is Silas Kane's 60th birthday celebration. With most of the main cast introduced at the beginning, it is difficult to figure out the relationships. But that is part of the fun.  And there are some very interesting characters in this family.

The next day the body of one of the family members is discovered at the bottom of a cliff and the death appears to be accidental. But when there is a second death in the family, Scotland Yard is called in. Inspector Hannasyde and Sergeant Hemingway arrive and start gathering facts and evidence. Young Timothy Harte, 15 years old, is staying at the Kane's country house while his parents are traveling; he is fascinated by the investigation and offers plenty of tips to the policemen. 

My favorite character, possibly because we get much of the story from her point of view, is Patricia Allison, companion and secretary to Emily Kane. She is intelligent and down-to-earth. She has caught the eye of Jim Kane, who is Timothy Harte's half-brother. Most (if not all) of Heyer's mysteries involve a romance, but I liked this potential romance because there isn't a lot of angst involved. The focus of the novel is not on the romance but on the mystery.

Another wonderful character is Lady Norma Harte, Timothy and Jim's mother, who is traveling in Africa as the book starts but returns in time to be considered a suspect. She is a strong female character, not afraid to speak her mind.

I haven't even mentioned the Mansell's, a family who have been close friends of the Kane's for years. Joseph and his son Paul are partners in the firm of Kane and Mansell. The Mansell's seem to be pushing the Kanes to support a scheme in Australia that Silas Kane is not in favor of. There are many more characters I haven't described and you can see how confusing the many characters could be. In this case it was not a problem at all for me and the book was a lot of fun to read.

There are eight mysteries by Heyer featuring Hannasyde and / or Hemingway. In later mysteries, Hemingway has worked his way up to Inspector.

I loved this interchange between the policemen from Scotland Yard:

“You're more prejudiced against Paul Mansell than I've ever known you to be against anyone," said Hannasyde.

"Not prejudiced,"said the Sergeant firmly. "I never let myself get prejudiced. All I say is, that he's a nasty, slimy, double-faced tick who'd murder his own grandmother if he saw a bit of money to be got out of it.”

The only small complaint I have is that I did not like the ending. It made sense, and the groundwork had been laid, but it just wasn't satisfying. But overall, a good read, and I am eager to read more of Heyer's mysteries.

The two mystery novels by Heyer that I have read in the last few years are Envious Casca (1941), set at Christmas, and Death in the Stocks (1935). I enjoyed both of them.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Short Story Wednesday: "Disguise for Murder" by Rex Stout


Rex Stout's "Disguise for Murder" is an 80-page story in the Nero Wolfe series. It is one of three stories in Curtains for Three, published in 1950. 

The introduction to the book describes the contents as three novelettes, although I think 80 pages is more like a novella. No matter, it is an entertaining story. It was first published in The American Magazine, September 1950, as "The Twisted Scarf". 

As usual, Archie Goodwin narrates the story. Some semi-regular characters are included: Saul Panzer, a free lance detective; Fritz, the cook; and Inspector Cramer of the NYC police.

As the story begins, the Manhattan Flower Club has been allowed to visit Nero Wolfe's greenhouse at the top of his brownstone, to view his orchid collection. Saul and Fritz are vetting all the attendees and Archie is mingling and otherwise keeping an eye on the crowd. 

While mingling he notices an attractive young woman. Later in the afternoon she meets with Archie in Wolfe's office, and tells him that she can identify the murderer in a case that has plagued the police department for months. She seeks an audience with Wolfe, but before that happens she is found dead in Wolfe's office, after most of the guests have departed. 

After the police are done examining the scene and interviewing witnesses, Inspector Cramer refuses to allow Wolfe access to his office for an extended period of time. This infuriates Wolfe, and he decides to solve the case himself rather than collaborate with the police. He has spotted a clue that Cramer obviously missed in the witness statements. He proposes that Archie take on a dangerous assignment to unmask the killer. Saul Panzer is Archie's back up but the plan goes awry, and in the end it is all up to Archie.  This one has a little more action than usual and less humor.

I did have a quibble with the last part of the story (and it bothers me every time I read it), but I still consider this one of the most memorable of the novellas. 

The other two novellas in Curtains for Three are "The Gun with Wings" and "Bullet for One".

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Plot It Yourself: Rex Stout

I had not planned to review this book, but then I realized that this is a bookish book, with the plot revolving around authors, publishers, and accusations of plagiarism. Rex Stout gets to poke some fun at publishers, authors, and even himself in this book.

Rex Stout wrote 33 novels and 41 novellas about the private detective Nero Wolfe and his assistant, Archie Goodwin. The series began in 1934, with Fer-de-lance, and the last book in the series, A Family Affair, was published in 1975, shortly before Stout's death. I have read all of the novels and the shorter works several times over the years, so this was a reread for me.

In Plot It Yourself, four authors have been accused of plagiarism over four years. The four incidents have been similar, and looking back it is clear that they were carefully planned and have similarities. In most of the cases, the publishers have settled before the case went to trial. When a fifth author is accused of plagiarism, a group of authors and publishers band together to get help with this issue. They ask Nero Wolfe to solve the mystery of who is behind the false plagiarism claims.

Wolfe takes some time evaluating the situation, reading the books of the people who claim to have been plagiarized, and comes up with a plan to identify the culprit. When a death occurs as a result of his investigation, Wolfe realizes he has made an unpardonable mistake. Now that there is a death, the police are investigating that crime, but the publishers group asks Wolfe to continue working on the plagiarism case. 

Nero Wolfe has many quirks. He doesn't like to leave his house; he is a confirmed armchair detective. He lets Archie do much of the leg work and pulls in a team of freelance investigators when needed. He spends most of his time on gourmet food, cooking, beer, and orchids. While working on this case, he is so enraged by the mistake he made that he vows to eat no meat and drink no beer until the murderer is caught.

See my post about Top Ten Reasons Why I Love Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe Series for an overview of the series.

This is actually a very good book for someone new to the Nero Wolfe series to start out with. It is a straightforward mystery. Some of Rex Stout's novels can be fairly convoluted and seem to involve intuition just as much as detection, which doesn't bother me, because I am reading more for characters than plot in this series. 

This book counts for the Bookish Books Reading Challenge hosted by Susan at Bloggin' 'bout Books.


Publisher:  Bantam, 1989. Orig. pub. 1959.
Length:      208 pages
Format:     Paperback
Series:      Nero Wolfe, #32
Setting:     New York
Genre:      Mystery
Source:     A reread.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Two Brief Reviews

I read these books in March. Both were good books and very different stories. Each was challenging to read at times, and both were well worth the effort.

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

The story is about a woman, Lucy Barton, who was in a hospital in New York City in the 1980s for many weeks due to complications following an appendectomy. Her husband doesn't visit her very often because they have two young daughters at home and he has a job. Her mother comes to sit with her for a few days when she is in the hospital and they have some strained conversations about the past. This leads Lucy to remember her strange and unfortunate upbringing and her relationship with her parents and siblings. 

Lucy tells the story; thus it feels very personal. She is telling it years after it happened. That approach worked very well.

My thoughts...

  •  I loved this book. I do have to caution that this is not a happy, feel good book; I found it unsettling and sad at times.  Also sometimes it was very funny. 
  • On the other hand, it is only about 200 pages long and it had me longing to read more about Lucy and her life. Fortunately there are three more books about Lucy Barton. 
  • I like the themes, childhood experiences and mother-daughter relationships. This was only my second book by Strout; I read Olive Kitteridge a few years ago. 

A Beautiful Place to Die by Malla Nunn

This is a historical mystery, set in a very small town on the border between South Africa and Mozambique in 1952. New apartheid laws have recently gone into effect. 

The protagonist is an English police detective who is investigating the death of an Afrikaner police captain. The Security Branch takes over the investigation. They would like to blame the death on black communist radicals, and will be happy to beat a confession out of any suspect that fits their bias. Detective Emmanuel Cooper is directed by his superior to stay in the area so that he can ensure that the real murderer is arrested, if possible.

The story gets very complex. Emmanuel, an emotionally traumatized World War II vet, has problems of his own. The dead Afrikaner policeman's sons have it in for him, and he spends a lot of time avoiding them. He is lucky to be working with a native Zulu officer, Shabalala and a Jewish doctor who has no real credentials in South Africa.

My thoughts:

  • The setting of South Africa in the 1950s was well done. There was plenty of action and a sense of dread about how the English detective could survive. 
  • I could have done without some of the melodrama but I liked the depiction of apartheid at this time, and hope to continue reading the series. 
  • Apartheid is not a totally new subject to me, but I don't know much about it. I am still trying to understand the differences between the various racial groups involved.
  • It was a good story but a difficult read. The same thing applies to the other book I read that was set in South Africa during apartheid, A Lonely Place to Die by Wessel Ebersohn. That one was published in 1979 and set around that time. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Your Republic is Calling You: Young-Ha Kim


The story takes place over the course of one day in the life of Ki-Yong, a South Korean with a wife and teenage daughter. Except that he is really a North Korean spy who has been in Seoul, working as a film importer, over 20 years, and has now been recalled to North Korea. About 10 years into his assignment in South Korea, the man who had run his intelligence group was purged; after that they had heard nothing from anyone in North Korea. For 10 years he has led a normal life but now it has been upended in one email; although Ki-Yong immediately begins following plans for his exit from South Korea, he is fearful and uncertain about his future.

The reader also follows Ki-Yong's wife and daughter throughout the day, and those parts of the story are told from their point of view. The daughter is in high school, doing well in school and with lots of friends, but with typical teen-age angst. His wife is alienated from her husband and unhappy with her life, although we don't understand why until later in the story.

My Thoughts:

  • The book is spy fiction, but it is more than that. It is also the picture of a family dealing with problems, and focuses most on how they are affected by the events. We get to know much more about each member of the family as the day unfolds.
  • One minor disappointment was that the book is mostly set in South Korea. There are flashbacks to the protagonist's youth in North Korea and they are interesting, as are his reflections on the differences in life in South Korea and North Korea.
  • I was immersed in the story, and it whetted my appetite for more reading about North and South Korea.


Publisher: Mariner Books, 2010 (orig. pub. 2006)
Length:     236 pages
Format:    Trade paperback
Setting:     South Korea, North Korea
Genre:      Espionage fiction
Source:    On my shelves since 2012
Translated from the Korean by Chi-Young Kim

Friday, April 5, 2024

Six Degrees of Separation: From Lonely Planet's Best Ever Photography Tips to ....


The Six Degrees of Separation meme is hosted by Kate at booksaremyfavoriteandbest. The idea behind the meme is to start with a book and use common points between two books to end up with links to six books, forming a chain. The common points may be obvious, like a word in the title or a shared theme, or more personal. Usually Kate provides the title of a book as the starting point, but for April's Six Degrees the instructions were to find a travel guide such as a Lonely Planet title or an Eyewitness title.

So the first book in my Six Degrees chain will be Lonely Planet's Best Ever Photography Tips. It features "45 practical tips and ten golden rules from award-winning travel photographer Richard I'Anson." My husband is and always has been interested in photography and he has many books on the subject.

1st degree:

My first book is also from my husband's shelves: A Wandering Eye: Travels with My Phone by Miguel Flores-Vianna. The book is filled with photos taken with his smart phone while traveling. There are some really gorgeous pictures in this book.

2nd degree:

Continuing the theme of photography, my next book is Plates + Dishes: The Food and Faces of the Roadside Diner by Stephan Schacher. This is a fantastic book, following Schacher's travels from New York up into Canada, starting with Ontario, going across to the Yukon, into Alaska, back down through British Columbia into the US. In the US he covered the western coast states, then some midwestern states, through the deep South, and back up to New York. His plan was to document the diners he visited. Per Publishers Weekly, he visited  "70 highway eating establishments, and photographed the food he ate and the women who served it to him." He made the trip using various vehicles: a Volkswagen van, a motor home, and a motorcycle. This edition was published in 2005, and Schacher's travels appear to have taken place between 2002 and 2004. There isn't much text in this book, just an introduction. The focus is really on the photos.

3rd degree:

The next link is one of our cookbooks, Retro Diner: Comfort Food from the American Roadside by Linda Everett. The book contains recipes for diner food and also includes photos of the exteriors and interiors of some old diners. We have used at least one of the recipes because we have notes in the book on suggested changes. 

4th degree:

At this point I will move toward fiction. In The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain, Cora and Nick Papadakis own and operate a small diner in rural California, not far from Los Angeles. Cora is sick of her husband and tired of running the diner. Frank Chambers, a drifter, has just arrived in the area and does some odd jobs for Nick. Frank wants Cora to leave her husband behind and drift around the country with him. The book is very well written, but too dark and dreary for me. 

5th degree:

Even though the Nero Wolfe books by Rex Stout feature a lot of gourmet foods and situations focused on food and eating, Archie Goodwin often visits diners to eat, when he just wants to eat plain food, or when he isn't getting along with Wolfe, or he is out doing some errands for Wolfe. In Plot it Yourself, a mystery about authors, publishers, and plagiarism, Archie twice mentions going to Bert's Diner around the corner on Tenth Avenue near Wolfe's brownstone. Early in the book, Archie says: "I eat in the dining room with Wolfe, except when we are not speaking; then I join Fritz and Theodore in the kitchen, or get invited somewhere, or take a friend to a restaurant, or go to Bert’s diner around the corner on Tenth Avenue and eat beans." Towards the end of the book, when he thinks he will be having a meatless dinner with Wolfe at home, he considers going to Bert's to "eat hamburgers and slaw and discuss the world situation for an hour or so." Thinking about these connections motivated me to reread this book in late March.

6th degree:

I decided to stick with a novel by Rex Stout in this last link. Black Orchids collects two novellas, "Black Orchids" and "Cordially Invited to Meet Death." As I noted above, food is very important in the Nero Wolfe stories. Usually Wolfe doesn't like to have anything to do with women, but somehow, in "Cordially Invited to Meet Death," he ends up with one in his kitchen, where he is experimenting with making corned beef hash. She offers to help. 

"... corned beef hash is one of my specialties. Nothing in there but meat, is there?”

“As you see,” Wolfe grunted.

“It’s ground too fine,” Maryella asserted. 

Wolfe scowled at her. I could see he was torn with conflicting emotions. A female in his kitchen was an outrage. A woman criticizing his or Fritz's cooking was an insult. But corned beef hash was one of life's toughest problems, never yet solved by anyone. To tone down the corned flavor and yet preserve its unique quality, to remove the curse of its dryness without making it greasy—the theories and experiments had gone on for years. He scowled at her but he didn't order her out.

"Cordially Invited to Meet Death" is one of my favorite Nero Wolfe stories.

My Six Degrees took me from traveling and photography to roadside diners, to mysteries with an emphasis on food.  If you did this month's Six Degrees, where did your list take you?

The next Six Degrees will be on May 4th, 2024 and the starting book will be The Anniversary by Stephanie Bishop.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Short Story Wednesday — Doctorow: Collected Stories


My husband purchased Doctorow: Collected Stories at the 2023 Planned Parenthood Book Sale, and at his suggestion, I read some short stories from that collection, which is comprised of fifteen short stories written by E. L. Doctorow. Per the dust jacket, the stories were "selected, revised, and placed in order by the author himself shortly before he died in 2015."

I read the first five stories in the book, plus a later story I was especially interested in. Of the six stories I read, I only really liked two of the stories, but I liked those a lot, so it was a worthwhile experience.

These are the first five stories:

  • "Willi"
  • "The Hunter"
  • "The Writer in the Family"
  • "Heist"
  • "The Water Works"

I did not care for "Willi" at all. I found these stories confusing: "The Hunter," "Heist," and "The Water Works." From what I have read, "Heist" was expanded to be the novel City of God.

"The Writer in the Family" was my favorite of the first five stories I read. It tells about a man who dies and how his death affects his family. The man's sisters don't want to tell his 90-year-old mother about his death, so they tell her that he has moved to Arizona. They request that his wife and two sons join in this deception. One of the sons is asked to write letters to his grandmother as if they are from his father. Not only is it a very moving story, it gets a lot across in 15 pages.

The other story I read was "Wakefield," which was first published in The New Yorker, January 7, 2008. It was one of the longer stories in the book at about 35 pages. In 2016, the story was adapted to film, starring Bryan Cranston and Jennifer Garner.

The story is about a man, Howard Wakefield, who leaves his wife and family, in a manner of speaking. I am not even going to try to summarize the story any further than that. I wanted a more definitive ending but it was still an effective ending. I liked this story very much.

Here are the first few sentences of the story:

People will say that I left my wife and I suppose, as a factual matter, I did, but where was the intentionality? I had no thought of deserting her. It was a series of odd circumstances that put me in the garage attic with all the junk furniture and the raccoon droppings—which is how I began to leave her, all unknowing, of course—whereas I could have walked in the door as I had done every evening after work in the fourteen years and two children of our marriage. Diana would think of her last sight of me, that same morning, when she pulled up to the station and slammed on the brakes, and I got out of the car and, before closing the door, leaned in with a cryptic smile to say goodbye—she would think that I had left her from that moment.

"Wakefield" is available online at The New Yorker