The Sunday Salon – August 27 Edition: The reading week. Bits of This and That. And Hitler.


route 66: the mother road herself

A bit of photography for you this sunny (here, at least), temperate day. I stood in the middle of the road to get this shot, in the heart of an almost completely abandoned Route 66 virtual ghost town. All the former businesses were derelict, windows broken, insides filled with debris. I'll be posting several other photos from this location throughout the week.

Have to cut this short this week. It's family birthday party day. (I know, yay.) My boys had their birthdays on July 30 and 31 (two years apart, not twins, which may actually be more remarkable) but we were on vacation then. Today's the first chance we've had to observe their joint birthdays. I still have loads to do; the house looks like Irene picked it up, tossed it around and threw it down again. We're nowhere near the coast, tucked away safely in metro Chicago, but you wouldn't know it by looking in our windows.

Hey, you aren't looking in our windows, are you? Because that's so not cool.

Reading news:

Still reading the Booker Longlist books, working on a couple reviews I'll have up on the blog and reading NetGalley eBooks on my iPhone.

I was reading Chris Bohjalian's The Night Strangers in bed last night. It has supernatural themes, which make me jumpy as a circus performer. When my husband let out a sudden SNORT in his sleep I swear I jumped a foot off the bed. My heart rate shot through the roof. It was not a fun time.

The Night Strangers

Chris Bohjalian

Crown, October 4, 2011



"In a dusty corner of a basement in a rambling Victorian house in northern New Hampshire, a door has long been sealed shut with 39 six-inch-long carriage bolts. 

The home's new owners are Chip and Emily Linton and their twin ten-year-old daughters. Together they hope to rebuild their lives there after Chip, an airline pilot, has to ditch his 70-seat regional jet in Lake Champlain due to double engine failure. The body count? Thirty-nine.   
What follow is a riveting ghost story with all the hallmarks readers have come to expect from bestselling, award-winning novelist Chris Bohjalian: a palpable sense of place, meticulous research, an unerring sense of the demons that drive us, and characters we care about deeply. The difference this time? Some of those characters are dead."

Over the course of last week I reviewed:

A Small Hotel by Robert Olen Butler

The Double Life of Alfred Buber by David Schmahmann

The Curfew by Jesse Ball

We stopped by Catoosa, OK for a look at The Blue Whale.

And had a look at one image from an abandoned gas station along Route 66.

Next week I'll talk about a great book for writers/bloggers, another Booker Longlist read and, if I have the time, a couple long overdue eBook reviews. And, of course, more photos from sites along Route 66 from our summer vacation.

Have a good week. Stay safe if you're out East




The Doctor: Rory, take Hitler and put him in that cupboard over there. Now. Do it.

Rory: Right. Putting Hitler in the cupboard. Cupboard. Hitler. Hitler. Cupboard.


– Doctor Who, Episode 8, "Let's Kill Hitler"

A Small Hotel by Robert Olen Butler

Smallhotel  A Small Hotel: A Novel by Robert Olen Butler

 Grove Press, August 2011

This is why I try to avoid reading other reviews of books before I write my own thoughts. According to a major newspaper's book blog, Butler's latest novel comes uncomfortably close to mirroring his own 1995 divorce, made infamous after an extremely personal email he wrote went astray. An email about why his marriage failed, citing specifics about his ex-wife's past.

I'll be honest, knowing Butler was at least inadvertently responsible for this happening pre-disposes me to feel a little disgusted, but I know I'm projecting my own prejudices and that's irresponsible. A writer's personal life should not have anything to do with any assessment of his art. It also hasn't escaped me that this newspaper's (I don't want to give them any more curious readers) intention in mentioning Butler's divorce fiasco in the context of this novel may be ethically suspect, stepping over the line comparing real life with fiction, judging a writer's art by way of one particular incident. That makes me more disgusted. I believe that's called opportunism.

Putting that aside, I very much enjoyed the novel. I found it well-framed, using a couple's present-day divorce to bracket remembered episodes throughout their 24-year marriage, flashing back and forward, starting the day Kelly Hays doesn't show up at the courthouse to sign final divorce papers. Instead, she flees to the New Orleans hotel where she and husband Michael first got to know each other, spent their honeymoon, and returned to often throughout their marriage.

On the same day, Michael takes his 29-year old girlfriend to an antebellum costume party at a plantation home an hour away. The two haven't consummated their relationship but intend to the same evening Kelly's in New Orleans drinking scotch and contemplating a drastic step.

We're also given a bit of back story: both Michael and Kelly grew up with distant fathers they loved intensely, leading Michael to become withdrawn and Kelly to crave what she never had as a child. This proves to be key in the eventual demise of their marriage, as well as a factor in relation to their own 20-year old daughter.

A plot like this could well have turned out to be schmaltzy and melodramatic, but it wasn't anything like that. I was annoyed by the overuse of the expression "waiting a beat" – "a beat" already becoming a convention – but it was a book I could hardly stand to put down and couldn't wait to pick back up again.

Reading back through the plot description I'm baffled as to how Butler managed to avoid turning this into a Hallmark Special script. Maybe it's because the issues he raises – the importance of communication in a marriage, and how the lack of it can ultimately bring about its downfall – are so true. Or perhaps the seriousness with which he approached it and the language he used, avoiding any heaving breasts or throbbing organs. Had it been otherwise I wouldn't have even bothered addressing the novel.

Lacking the time to go back and thoroughly analyze his prose style, I can only say he pulled it off with aplomb. It's a great read, rendering any resemblance this book may have to a former real-life relationship moot. Because the last time I checked an author was allowed to use life experience, so long as there's nothing libelous, and divorce isn't really a unique situation you wouldn't expect to find in a book. If it were otherwise there would have been a lot of books left unwritten.

Did I miss something? If I did I'm mighty angry I didn't get the memo.



Robert Olen Butler won the Pulitzer Prize for his 1992 collection of short stories: A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain.