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book beginnings on Friday: Gone Feral: Tracking My Dad Through the Wild by Novella Carpenter

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.

gone feral

Novella Carpenter’s Gone Feral tells the story of seeking a relationship with her mostly-estranged father, who prefers the outdoors to the city. It begins:

My dad officially went missing on October 17, 2009.

The morning I found out, I woke up to the hum of traffic from Interstate 980 harmonizing with the nickering of milk goats at my back stairs.

She managed to sneak right in there her own preferred ratio of city-to-outdoors: she has an “urban farm” in Oakland. Not a bad beginning, I think.

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

book beginnings on Friday: Wolf by Mo Hayder

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.

wolf

Mo Hayder is back with her 7th thriller starring Jack Caffery. They tend to be chilling. I am excited. It begins:

Amy is five years old and in all of those five years she’s never seen Mummy acting like this before. Mummy’s in front of her on the grass, standing in a weird way, as if she’s been frozen by one of those ice guns what the man in The Incredibles have got in his hand most of the time.

Amy’s Mummy is frightened. Don’t worry, Amy’s okay; she’s one of the lucky ones (at least so far). Stay tuned.

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

book beginnings on Friday: Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.

crossing to safety

I heard enough about this book that I put myself on the wait list for it at my local library. And then I waited for a YEAR. So when it came to me, I knew I had to prioritize reading it – who knows when I’d get another chance! (At the library copy, at any rate.) I am opening this book knowing absolutely nothing about Stegner (other than a vaguely good reputation) or the story itself. I’m here on faith. It begins beautifully:

Floating upward through a confusion of dreams and memory, curving like a trout through the rings of previous risings, I surface. My eyes open. I am awake.

Poetry and beginnings in this beginning; I think it augurs well.

book beginnings on Friday: The Reef: A Passionate History: The Great Barrier Reef from Captain Cook to Climate Change by Iain McCalman

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.

reef

A passionate history of explorers and climate change (and thus, one expects, necessarily of climate politics as well)? You have me sold, sir. Here is the opening paragraph of chapter 1:

James Cook did not know, on Sunday May 20, 1770, two weeks after leaving Botany Bay on the east coast of New Holland, the western portion of the continent, named by the Dutch captain Abel Tasman in 1644, that the HMS Endeavor was sailing into the southwest entrance of a vast lagoon where reef-growing corals began their work. It was a channel that later navigators would call the Great Barrier Reef inner passage. Cook didn’t realize that then, and he never would.

I am going to pick these first sentences apart a little here; bear with me. The concept McCalman opens with is a compelling one, and one he’ll return to: Cook was ignorant of what he discovered, and history in hindsight often makes the mistake of giving to discoverers credit for intention that they never had. Also, I think it’s a powerful image, this captain’s ship entering a dangerous and unknown area, and not even realizing it. In other words, I think McCalman chose a good opening subject; but golly, look at that first sentence! All the clauses: “he didn’t know, on the day, in the place, which was such a place, where this happened… that he didn’t know.” I dare McCalman to diagram that sentence; it might lead him to reconsider. And please do note that this is a pre-publication galley copy; he may still change it (or his editor might), so give the published look a glance and see when it comes out in late May. I am recommending the book despite a clause-heavy opener. Stay tuned.

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

book beginnings on Friday: The Remedy: Robert Koch, Arthur Conan Doyle, and the Quest to Cure Tuberculosis by Thomas Goetz

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.

remedy

I have an awesome new book to tease you with today. I hope the title alone begins to interest; it did me. The first paragraph sets the stage:

In train after train, consumptives filled the passenger cars, their hacks and coughs competing with steam whistles and screaming brakes as the engines came to a halt in Potsdamer Platz. They came to Berlin without any sense of where to go or what to do once they arrived. And they kept coming, for days, weeks, and months. It must have struck Berliners as a sort of zombie pilgrimage: here were the walking dead of Europe, all suddenly flocking to their city in search of something – some fantastic substance that did not yet officially exist.

Not out til early April, so stay tuned for my review til then. But for now: I am quite impressed with the writing (my favorite: accessible, engaging, nonfiction science), and the fascinating story of the race towards a cure for tuberculosis, including Arthur Conan Doyle’s rather surprising role in it.

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

book beginnings on Friday: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (audio)

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.

gone girl

Please don’t shoot me. I am not in love with Gone Girl at its beginning. (Deep breaths.) This book has received SUCH enthusiasm – not least from a good friend of mine – as well as critical acclaim, that I worry at my hesitations. But I own them.

Let’s begin at the beginning.

When I think of my wife, I always think of her head. The shape of it, to begin with.

Not much there; but let me say it was the second paragraph where I was first annoyed. So I called Liz and I said, Liz – how much time should I invest in this book that you loved and that I am thoroughly exasperated by? (This was 36 minutes in, via audiobook.) And she said, for stories with unreliable narrators I think you should hang in longer than average. Okay. I’m trying.

book beginnings on Friday: Hotel Florida: Truth, Love, and Death in the Spanish Civil War by Amanda Vaill

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.

I am quite pleased with Hotel Florida, about the Spanish Civil War and concentrating on six individuals – three couples – who experienced it. I’m offering a little more book beginning than usual today, because I think this way gives a good feeling of Amanda Vaill’s work; so bear with me.

hotel florida

Three book beginnings…

Author’s Note:

“It is very dangerous to write the truth in war,” said Ernest Hemingway, “and the truth is very dangerous to come by.”

Prologue:

On July 18, 1936, at Gando in the Canary Islands, a short, balding, barrel-chested man in a gray suit, carrying a Spanish diplomatic passport in the name of José Antonio de Sagroniz, boarded a private seven-seater de Havilland Dragon Rapide aircraft that had arrived at Gando three days previously and had been waiting on the tarmac for him ever since.

And chapter 1:

Arturo Barea lay on the brown, pine-needled floor of a forest in the Sierra de Guadarrama, northwest of Madrid, with his head in his mistress’s lap. It was mid-afternoon on Sunday, July 19, and the resinous air was loud with the sound of cicadas.

The effect I noticed immediately here, is the connection between the Hemingway quotation and the Hemingwayesque first line of the first chapter. For one thing, note all the sensory detail in that second sentence. This is instantly recognizable to me as Hemingway’s style. And most pointedly, recall the opening line of Hemingway’s novel about the Spanish Civil War, For Whom the Bell Tolls:

He lay flat on the brown, pine-needled floor of the forest, his chin on his folded arms, and high overhead the wind blew in the tops of the pine trees.

I surely don’t need to tell you that this parallel was established on purpose. For that matter, Vaill ends her book with the opening line as (she tells us) Hemingway wrote it in his first draft:

We lay on the brown, pine-needled floor of the forest…

I like her use of structure here, the bookending of her book using Hemingway’s own words. I find that this really pulls it together.

Rather more book beginning than usual, I confess. Thanks for your patience. And let me say that Hotel Florida is about much more than Hemingway; but he is the most widely known of her six individuals, and arguable the biggest and most colorful personality, so I think the occasional emphasis can be excused. That said, I really enjoyed learning so much about her other characters. They include Martha Gellhorn, journalist and Hemingway’s partner (mistress during the war, wife after); photographers Robert Capa and Gerda Taro; and press officers Arturo Barea and Ilsa Kulcsar. As usual, you’ll have to stay tuned for my book review, but for now: I recommend.

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

book beginnings on Friday: Turtle Island by Gary Snyder

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.

turtle island

I’m a little out of order, as I’ve reviewed this book already. But for further musing and perspective, I want to share with you a piece of the “Introductory Note” that explains its title.

Turtle Island–the old/new name for the continent, based on many creation myths of the people who have been living here for millenia, and reapplied by some of them to “North America” in recent years. Also, an idea found world-wide, of the earth, or cosmos even, sustained by a great turtle or serpent-of-eternity.

…Anglos, Black people, Chicanos, and others beached up on these shores all share such views at the deepest levels of their old cultural traditions–African, Asian, or European. Hark again to those roots, to see our ancient solidarity, and then to the work of being together on Turtle Island.

I collected turtles in high school. Stuffed, carved, as pendants and pillows. It’s the animal I chose as my own somehow. They still resonate; I don’t have all those turtles any more, but I’ve kept a small group of small ones, which turn out to be (by coincidence? I doubt it; but not on purpose) to be crafted from natural materials: stone, wood, shell. I feel at home here.

book beginnings on Friday: Wolves of the Calla by Stephen King

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.

Hooray! The next Dark Tower novel! This is number 5.

wolves

I am passing over the rather lengthy introductory bit entitled “the final argument,” in which we are reviewed on the first four books of the series. I found this part mildly entertaining but could have done without it, considering how recently I’ve been speeding through the series; I think it’s extremely good to have, though, for readers beginning with this book or picking up after a long break. I do not think it suits today’s book beginnings theme, however.

So we start here with the prologue.

Tian was blessed (though few farmers would have used such a word) with three patches: River Field, where his family had grown rice since time out of mind; Roadside Field, where ka-Jaffords had grown sharproot, pumpkin, and corn for those same long years and generations; and Son of a Bitch, a thankless tract which mostly grew rocks, blisters, and busted hopes.

That makes for a fine echo of the classic Western thread that runs through these books. I am very glad to be back in the hands of Roland Deschain today.

book beginnings on Friday: Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.

heart-shaped box

I’m sure you will recall that I was entranced by Joe Hill’s NOS4A2; so naturally I enter his debut novel with high hopes. It begins:

Jude had a private collection.

He had framed sketches of the Seven Dwarfs on the wall of his studio, in between his platinum records. John Wayne Gacy had drawn them while he was in jail and sent them to him. Gacy liked golden-age Disney almost as much as he liked molesting little kids; almost as much as he liked Jude’s albums.

I’d say that’s a fairly impactful few lines, considering 1) the mention of a well-known serial killer and 2) the implication that our man Jude is a famous musician of the creepy variety. As you might guess, the following paragraphs describe further items in his collection; and none are as benign as this first one, a series of Disney-themed sketches. I’m on board so far!

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