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BY THE WAY

Some good reading: 'Where'd You Go, Bernadetter?,' 'Life of Pi,' more

Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - 12:01 am

So it’s November, and many of us are working on our gift lists, and you know I will be urging that you include books.

You also know there will be the usual, actually annual, column filled with suggestions of books for your consideration. This isn’t it. That will come later. This column is about books I’ve been reading and, in many cases, enjoying.

I’m really enjoying is “Where’d You Go, Bernadette?” by Maria Semple. Do you want fun in a story told primarily through letters? Then this is it. Ms. Semple has a wonderful time poking fun at Seattle; in fact, she pokes fun at almost everything. The three main characters are the erstwhile architect, who once won a MacArthur “genius” grant but then suddenly stopped working in her field, her very successful husband and her delightful daughter. I read and smiled and even laughed out loud at one point and kept on reading because I was so thoroughly enjoying the book. Come to think of it, this book could go on the annual recommended-for-giving list.

“Life of Pi” was a gift from John Tolley. Written by Yann Martel, it’s the tale of an Indian boy who shortens his name to Pi to avoid jibes by his classmates. Pi is traveling with his family, but there’s a shipwreck and he finds himself in a lifeboat he is sharing with animals, including a Bengal tiger. He survives 227 days on the Pacific Ocean in this fantasy adventure, which has won several prizes and as you know has now been made into a movie.

I found parts quite distasteful, like when the tiger tears into his first meal, a zebra. I could have managed without quite such gruesome, bloody detail. But I relished the discussions, particularly the one in which Pi is thinking about religion. The youngster has quite a mind, and I was fascinated with his searching questions and answers. I wonder how this will be handled in a movie.

“The Tender Bar A Memoir” was sheer pleasure. It was written by J R Moehringer, and I liked J R very much. Please note the lack of periods: That’s at his request. He is J R, just like that. And I also genuinely liked several of the bar’s “inhabitants,” who served as surrogate parents to the youngster. The bar is his refuge, and the reader gets to know many intriguing characters, some of whom work there but most who are daily patrons. Their affection for the youngster is a steadying influence as we watch J R grow up.

Then there’s “Phantom.” It’s translated from the Norwegian language of its author, Jo Nesbo. Apparently, he has been writing novels about Harry Hole for quite a while and is extremely popular. I didn’t know all this. I read a review of the book; it sounded interesting; I put in a reserve; it came in — so I have it now.

Harry returns to Oslo, which the reader gets to know quite well, in order to help Oleg, a young man for whom Harry had been an icon but who felt deserted when Harry decided it was best to leave Oleg and his mother. I am learning more about the drug trade than I ever cared to know, but somehow I’ve been hooked, so I’m plowing right along. As you can tell, I’m still reading it.

Let me mention once again a wonderful novella titled “Train Dreams.” It is pure lyricism. I just reread it. The author, Denis Johnson, has a true gift: He writes about the beauty of the natural world so magnificently that I want to wrap up some of his phrases and tuck them away to pull out occasionally and wallow in. Give yourself a treat.

Holiday gift-giving column coming up in a couple of weeks.

Betty E. Stein is a retired teacher.