The Front Porch prints book reviews by local librarians, rotating to a different library each month. March reviews are by volunteers from the Park Hill Bookstore, 4620 E. 23rd. Librarians interested in writing book reviews can email Madeline@FrontPorchStapleton.com.
Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner, Reviewed by Jackson Turnacliffe
If you’re interested in reading what most critics agree is one of the most important American novels of the 20th century and one about the American West by a master of the genre, then pick up a copy of Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner. The book—awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1972—weaves together two plots: One tells the story of a historian in the late 1960s who has become disabled and divorced and decides to research and write a biography of his artistic grandmother, while confronting his own problems. The second plot involves the grandmother who left the cultured East after marrying a mining engineer in 1877 and spent her married life moving to various Wild West locales as her husband attempted to establish himself. How Stegner contrasts the nature and quality of lives a century apart holds the reader’s interest throughout. A bonus for Colorado readers is the portion of the book which takes place in a very raw 1878 Leadville.
Centennial by James Michener, Reviewed by Bettina Basanow
Yes, it’s 1,000 pages, but a true page turner. I could give you my impressions, but the back cover describes it best. “A stunning panorama of the West, Centennial, is an enthralling celebration of our country, brimming with the glory and the greatness of the American past that only author James Michener could bring to stunning life. Here is the story of the land and its people–of Lame Beaver, the Arapaho chieftain and warrior, and his Comanche and Pawnee enemies; of Levi Zendt, fleeing with his child bride from the Amish country in Pennsylvania; and of the cowboy Jim Lloyd, who falls in love with a cultured Englishwoman. It is a story of trapper, traders, homesteaders, gold seeker, ranchers and hunter—all caught up in the dramatic events and violent conflicts that shaped the destiny of our legendary West.” I highly recommend it.
Ghost Month by Ed Lin, Reviewed by Jack Farrar
Many readers know Ed Lin from his Robert Chow mystery series, which is centered in Manhattan’s Chinatown. In Ghost Month, protagonist Jing-nan takes us to a new locale—Taipei, the capital of Taiwan. As mysteries go, I would rate Ghost Month no better than an average read. In fact, the plot drags a bit. Nonetheless, I urge you to read the book for its rich descriptions of Taiwan history and culture, including its sights, sounds, smells and tastes (the last given special emphasis because Jing-nan owns a food stand in a bustling night market). August is Ghost Month in Taiwan, a time to commemorate the dead, burn incense, visit shrines, honor ancestors, avoid major financial transactions and postpone major decisions, like taking on the Taiwanese mafia. Throughout the book, this undercurrent of superstition provides an effective tension.
The Uncommon Reader: A Novella by Alan Bennett, Reviewed by Sandra Niemi
The uncommon reader mentioned in the title is the Queen of England. This tiny book tells the story of how the Queen encounters a City of Westminster library van, borrows a book, and makes a new friend, Norman, who works in her kitchen. The royal family and their minions are famous for their anti-intellectual ways. The royals have lots of other people to do their chores, including deep thinking.
With Norman’s help, the Queen tackles book after book, coming to love literature and broadening her intellectual horizons. Norman is sent away as the changes in the Queen’s views frighten her family and staff. She continues on her own with important consequences. Reading is important for everyone, even a Queen.