David Liss And David Downing Part Of Pandemic Book Memories

I suspect if anyone did a poll it would be discovered that during the pandemic readers not only found new authors to read, but ones to highly applaud and promote. With a need to be more home-bound and away from others the time for books increased, and with the aid of recommendations from other book lovers our reading piles have grown.

It was during this long year past I picked up Alaska, a John Michener book, and for the first time read one of his creations. DELIGHTED!

A Facebook reader of this site, who left Wisconsin in the past four years to live in Cologne, Germany was commenting back and forth in messenger about a variety of topics when we landed on books. When I asked her favorite authors among the names she offered was James Michener.

“I have never read any of his work”

“What! You love books and well-written sentences and you haven’t read Michener?”

“Where would you have me start” (Since there are roughly 40 books in his listing)

She took about four seconds to type out her response.

“Alaska”

Epic in every sense of the word from the days of mammoths to railroads, from Russian influences to powerful business interests with Congressional levers of power. Simply captivating with characters that are to be loved and loathed.

And my edition arrived in a gorgeous yellow–my favorite color.

My ‘reading pile’ now has three more of Michener’s many volumes for the summer. Next up Chesapeake.

But it was the discovery of David Liss and David Downing that truly took me aback. While I had, obviously, known of Michener the first books from both ‘the Davids’ captured me at once.

As the New Year started I was reading Liss for the first time. His historical novels with strong financial overlays are raved at by many, and now I am one of his fans. With The Whiskey Rebels I was introduced to his first-person style of writing for each of the two main characters, and with seemingly effortless ease I was drawn into the plot.

He dropped me not only into the historical time frame of President Washington and his Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton but also the financial aspects of the overall plotting. I was there in the raw and harsh society of western Pennsylvania at the same time the wealthy of Philadelphia are made part of the mystery and intrigue. The ‘two-halves’ are presented marvelously.

This weekend I am midway through Liss’ first book, A Conspiracy of Paper, which was published in 2000.

Again, the first-person narrative is so well done which makes his main character leap off the pages as he is so multi-dimensional and ‘real’. The plot unfolds in 1719 with financial upheaval taking place in the dark and gritty streets of London as the world of stock-jobbers comes alive with speculation and the deadly fluctuations of outcomes. Add in dysfunction within the Jewish family of the man who leaped off the pages…truly a gem.

I must add that I strongly suspect Liss must be simply brilliant, and as such, would make a perfect dinner guest.

When it comes to intrigue David Downing, with journalist John Russell in Hitler’s Berlin series, has created a character that will not be forgotten. As Germany ramps up into WWII and then unleashes their madness the world of Russell is alive with cunning and courage as he deals with Russians, Germans, and Americans in a bid to do what is useful and right. But with that desire comes a dose of realism as he must operate in a world of warring intelligence services. The plotting in the books are masterful.

Espionage and spy books are among my favorite types of reads, and as such, I can be rather unforgiving if they are not done with the punch, grit, authenticity, and dark dealings required to make the pages come alive. Downing succeeds!

Downing puts the range of strong emotions and internal drama into the Russell character, who has a son growing up as a German indoctrinated youth. The reporter has a love interest with a free-spirited German actress and has much to lose as he crosses borders and undergoes searches by the Nazis. In the midst of the danger comes Downing with dry wit and loathing of Hitler and his regime, and at the most unanticipated times, leaves the reader laughing over a marvelously crafted sentence.

There will be many ways to study how we altered our lives as a result of the pandemic. It would be interesting to know how many others, as a result of being mindful of medical guidance and professional reasoning, stayed home and in so doing found new and engaging authors. Quirky topic, for sure. But such is the world in which we live.

And so it goes.

Tlingit Stamp, James Michener’s “Alaska”

Several years ago on an Alaskan vacation James and I spent some time at a historical site in Juneau where we learned more about the Tlingit nation. They are indigenous to the Pacific Northwest, and the art from their hands features some of the most iconic motifs associated with native culture. We spoke at length with a young woman who was working to preserve the language by teaching it to younger members of the community. She was most impressive with her connection to the past but also a commitment for the future of her people.

This week for the first time the US Postal Service debuted a stamp designed by an Alaskan native. Tlingit and Athabascan artist Rico Lanáat’ Worl is a well-established working artist who now will be even better known in the nation. He is also a teacher and social designer with Juneau-based Alaska Native arts nonprofit Sealaska Heritage Institute. 

Worl’s forever stamp is titled “Raven Story” and takes one of the signature characters in Tlingit lore as its subject. The stamp immortalizes a thrilling moment from the story of Raven setting free the sun.

“Many depictions of this story show Raven with the sun in his mouth representing the stealing of the sun. I was trying to showcase a bit of drama,” Worl said. “The climax of the story is after Raven has released the sun and the moon and has opened his grandfather’s final precious box, which contained the stars. In this design I am imagining Raven in a panicked state of escape — transforming from human form to raven form and holding on to as many stars as he can while trying to escape the clan house.”

The alignment of this stamp event and a book I am reading is matched perfectly. James Michener’s character Raven-heart of the Tlingit nation in Alaska creates the mood and historical backdrop for this recent event being placed in a richer field of understanding.

James Michener Makes His Mark On Madison Isthmus With “Alaska”

The year-long pandemic and the need to be apart from others who do not reside in our home has had one positive outcome. While always an avid reader I find myself over the past many months venturing into the covers of books by authors I had not tried before. Between Amazon, the online use of Libby via the library, and now a Kindle there is no shortage of ways to access anything I wish to read. But what about those books that, for whatever reason, I have not considered holding in my hands?

A Facebook reader of this site, who left Wisconsin in the past four years to live in Cologne, Germany was commenting back and forth in messenger with me about a variety of topics when we landed on books. When I asked her favorite authors among the names she offered was James Michener.

“I have never read any of his work”

“What! You love books and well-written sentences and you haven’t read Michener?”

“Where would you have me start” (Since there are roughly 40 books in his listing)

She took about four seconds to type out her response.

“Alaska”

This week I started the tome which pushes to nearly 900 pages. Two things, however, struck me at once. First, his almost sly way of lulling a reader into the pages. Not with a somewhat modern event where Alaska becomes a state or mineral wealth is located deep underground. No, we trek far back in time to the earth’s plates moving and grinding and uplifting over and around the nucleus rock formation of that far northern land. In human terms, we would be talking about something that doesn’t even have eyelids, yet. The geologic birth of Alaska was presented with words that makes one read portions twice as it is so artfully done.

The second aspect of the book that took me by surprise is that Michener writes single sentences that are, at times, 30 plus words. Modern writers could not, and current publishers would never allow based on mass-market sales, for such expansive writing to occur. When my reader in Europe said the sentences would be loved, she was correct. They are gems.

I will add only one other note about the opening chapters that intrigued me regarding his style of writing. In one the death of a mammoth is viewed from the eyes of a matriarch in the animal herd. In the next chapter, we meet in Siberia a starving group of people 29,000 years ago who migrate across the land amass to what will be Alaska. It is there we then see, from the human perspective, the same sequence of events that land them food and fur that will last for most of the year.

My print version of the book arrives in the mail this week, as Libby will want their digital copy back long before I am finished. It is the type of book that–at least from this reader’s perspective–is not only an epic tale of a place and various peoples who made their lives on the land, but also the ability of an author to so adroitly craft an engaging story.

That is the type of book that warms my heart. I am so pleased to have had a conversation from abroad that alerted me to an author to help make this time of pandemic less trying.