I loved Mary Doria Russell’s books The Sparrow and Children of God, but a book about the Wild West of cowboys and Indians didn’t appeal to me, so despite all the rave reviews and awards, I didn’t read Doc until recently, although it came out in 2011.
Doc is the story of Dr. John Henry “Doc” Holliday, a Southern gentleman-dentist who went out west for his lungs; he suffered from tuberculosis his whole life. From his mother in Georgia, Doc got his love of classical music and a cultured education (including Latin, French, and Greek), but his mother also had tuberculosis, or consumption, as it was known then, and died when he was only 15.
Most of the novel is set in the frontier town of Dodge City, Kansas, of the infamous “get out of Dodge” reference, meaning it’s too dangerous to stay. This detailed work of literary, historical fiction is presented as the true life story of Doc Holliday, the legendary, gun-slinging friend of Wyatt Earp.
With a chapter from the point of view of the laconic Wyatt Earp, deputy federal marshal, the story is a little slow at the beginning, before the conversations get going. I didn’t know much about even the stereotypical Doc Holliday, so I didn’t feel any real connection to him until the story got going. Give it a bit of time, though, and you’ll feel as though you know this man inside and out.
The author describes Doc this way in A Letter to Book Clubs:
For the past three years, when people asked what my next novel is about, I’ve only had to say four words. “It’s about Doc Holliday.” You mention Doc Holliday to guys especially and they just light up. “Oh, man! I love Doc!” they say, and they often mention Val Kilmer’s portrayal in the movie “Tombstone.”
I love that movie, too, but when I write characters, I’m really writing about whom and what they love. The shining silver wire that runs through Doc is John Henry Holliday’s love for his mother.
[Middle deleted, click here to read the whole letter.]
The Doc Holliday of legend is a gambler and gunman who appears out of nowhere in 1881, arriving in Tombstone with a bad reputation and a hooker named Big Nose Kate. But I have written the story of Alice Holliday’s son: a scared, sick, lonely boy, born for the life of a minor aristocrat in a world that ceased to exist at the end of the Civil War, trying to stay alive on the rawest edge of the American frontier.
John Henry Holliday didn’t have a mother to love him when he was grown, so I have taken him for my own. My fondest hope for Doc is that it will win for him the compassion and respect I think he deserves. Read it, and weep.
I read this for a book group, but was sick with a cold and couldn’t attend the meeting. Visit the book club blog if you’d like to see what the group talked about.
Recommended for book clubs looking for a selection that appeals to men and women, or readers who enjoy historically accurate, yet imaginative works of literary fiction, especially set in the West.
Disclosure: I borrowed this book from the public library.
Russell, Mary Doria
Random House, 2011
$26.00 US/$30.00 CAN
Someone wrote about gratins for Weekend Cooking not long ago, but I can’t find the post. She explained that gratins didn’t have to have cheese on top, and I realized that I had always associated the word “gratin” with a crispy topping of cheese mixed with buttery breadcrumbs or whatever else. Cheese is a common but not necessary part of a gratin, but a crispy topping is, as cookbook author Tina Salter explains at the start of her introduction to Gratins: Savory and Sweet Recipes from Oven to Table:
Gratins – baked dishes with a rich, creamy interior and a crisp golden topping – have been around for centuries. In France, the term has even taken on metaphorical meaning: the aristocracy is often referred to as le gratin, much as we would talk about the “upper crust.”
Indeed, it is the crust that makes a gratin. As the ingredients below it meld and soften, a gratin’s topping – often made with toasted bread crumbs, nuts, cheese, or a combination – becomes mouthwateringly browned and crunchy from the intense heat of the oven or broiler. It’s that contrast of creamy and crisp in every bite that makes a gratin so irresistible.
Since I first brought this cookbook home from the library a couple of months ago, I’ve borrowed it again and my husband and I have made four recipes from it and they were all fantastic and worthy of serving to company.
Gratins seem like great Thanksgiving sides or vegetarian main dishes if you have a big enough oven to slide a gratin in beside the turkey (or are lucky enough to have two ovens). Gratins can be put together ahead of time, and sometimes are even better that way.
Made by my husband but no photos available.
Gratins has many mouthwatering color photos, but not one of every recipe, for those of you who like to see photos of the finished product. It may be that this cookbook needs that less than others, though, since all the recipes are gratins, and therefore all constructed pretty much the same way.
I didn’t hear back from the publisher when I requested permission to include a recipe. Recipe links that I found are here:
Disclosure: This book appears to be out of print. I borrowed a copy from the public library.
Happy Weekend Cooking!
How the Light Gets In, published by Blackstone Audio at the end of August, is another fine example of the great partnership of author Louise Penny and audiobook narrator Ralph Cosham. It’s the ninth novel about Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec.
If you haven’t heard of these books yet, where have you been? The author writes a unique blend of police procedural and cozy mystery that seems to please both literary fiction fans and suspense fans, as well as readers who “don’t read mysteries.” Louise Penny blends dark and light themes, using humor and the fully developed personalities of her characters to keep death and its attendant depression and despair from overwhelming the reader.
Also, the audiobook narrator Ralph Cosham, as I and many other audiobook listeners have said before, IS Armand Gamache. No other voice will do.
These books about Chief Inspector Gamache and his fellow homicide detectives, their families, and their friends in the remote village of Three Pines, are also a good example of why they should be called a sequence, not a series. “Series” used to mean that you could pick up any book – the first or the thirty-first – and find a complete story with just enough about the characters to get by on, and you would get the skinny on the characters in every book, because they stayed pretty much the same from one book to the next. It was often even different authors writing the books, all under the same pen name. Series books were formulaic, so readers familiar with the series would get what they expected and new readers could jump in any time with no problem.
Series books are different now. They are sequential in more ways than by publication date. Characters develop. Circumstances change. If you read a book out of order, you’re going to hit major spoilers for the book that came before. The main character could be married or newly divorced, thought dead, gone into retirement or come back out of retirement; secondary characters could actually BE dead, or be double agents, or be having an affair.
This is a problem for publishers, and librarians, and probably booksellers too. And not just because publishers seem to be unwilling to print the series titles in order inside the book anymore. We all want people to be as excited as we are that the latest book in one of our favorite series is out, but a reader who starts reading Louise Penny with How the Light Gets In is not going to have the benefit of understanding how events in the earlier eight books have built up to the crucial moments for Chief Inspector Gamache and his department that take place in How the Light Gets In.
So the bad news about these books being a sequence and not a series is: you need to start with Still Life and keep reading until you get to this one. The good news is: you’re going to love all of them.
If you’re an audiobook listener, you will want to listen to these! Even if you don’t like mysteries.
How the Light Gets In
approx 13 hours on 11 CDs
Disclosure: I borrowed this audiobook from the public library.
The A More Diverse Universe blog tour is hosted by Aarti at BookLust. Click here or on the badge above to read other posts about speculative fiction (a term that encompasses science fiction, fantasy, horror, alternate history, and genres and sub-genres other than “realistic” fiction.)
Kindred by Octavia Butler starts out in the year 1976 with the main character, Edana, known as “Dana,” a 26-year-old woman, in California, doing miscellaneous jobs after graduating from college. She hopes eventually to make her living as a short story writer or novelist.
An African-American from a conservative, religious family, Dana has just moved into an apartment with her boyfriend, Kevin, also a writer, and is unpacking their boxes of books when she feels dizzy and faint. She comes to in an unfamiliar place, outside, by a river where a boy is drowning. She saves him and comes to again in her apartment, wet and muddy, with Kevin bending over her, concerned. He tells her that she disappeared, but was only gone for a few seconds – not long enough for her to have had everything happen to her that she said. But he believes her, because the mud must have come from somewhere.
From that beginning, the story plunges Dana and Kevin, an interracial couple from liberal California, back and forth into the past of pre-Civil War Maryland, where free black people lived in fear of being thrown into slavery and racial equality was not even considered possible except in the minds of the most radical of thinkers.
Like Roots by Alex Haley, published in 1976, Kindred makes readers feel what it might have been like to be a slave in the early 1800s. Using the time travel aspect, however, the author also gets readers to imagine what it would be like to enter another period so different in time and place with only your modern sensibility and knowledge of history to get by on. Based on their skin color and gender, Dana and Kevin would automatically be looked upon and treated separately and differently.
Kindred isn’t really science fiction, even with the time travel. It’s more of an exploration into human nature and how much are we mere products of our times vs. inherently brave, just, or kind.
From the critical essay included with the Beacon Press edition that I read:a
Apart from its single fantastic premise of instantaneous movement through time and space, Kindred is consistently matter-of-fact in presentation and depends on the author’s reading of authentic slave narratives, her assimilation of data from research at libraries and historical societies, the maps she used to plot her characters’ movements, and her visits to the Talbot County, Maryland sites of the novel. Butler herself has repeatedly insisted that Kindred should be read as a “grim fantasy,” not as science fiction, since there is “absolutely no science in it.” She has also remarked that such generic labels are often more useful as marketing categories than as reading protocols. Like Kafka’s Metamorphosis or Anna Kavan’s Ice, Butler’s novel is an experiment that resists easy classification, and like other neo-slave narratives it blurs the usual boundaries of genre.
Kindred was well worth reading. It successfully made me imagine myself in a similar situation and think about how I would behave. It also made the long-ago past more vivid and real. I enjoy a mix of contemporary and historical, rather than a full-on historical novel, and I appreciated the author’s contrast of the feminist, open-minded perspective with the outlook of people living in the early nineteenth century.
Beacon Press, 19799780807083109
Disclosure: I purchased a NookBook edition of this book.
- Not Your Usual Wild West Story: Doc by Mary Doria Russell
- Weekend Cooking: Gratins by Tina Salter #weekendcooking
- How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny (Audio) & Musing About Series @BlackstoneAudio
- Time Traveling into Southern Slavery: Kindred by Octavia Butler #diversiverse
- Satisfyingly Long, Not Too Deep: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King (Audio)
- Laurie C on Weekend Cooking: Triple-Coconut Macaroons from The Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook
- Ileen Cuccaro on Weekend Cooking: Triple-Coconut Macaroons from The Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook
- Audra (Unabridged Chick) on Not Your Usual Wild West Story: Doc by Mary Doria Russell
- Shannon @ River City Reading on Not Your Usual Wild West Story: Doc by Mary Doria Russell
- Vasilly on Weekend Cooking: Gratins by Tina Salter #weekendcooking
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