Today it’s autobiographies, the story of a life from the first-person viewpoint of its main subject. There is no story like an eyewitness story--ask any cop.

eggFirst up, The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald. The author of the beloved Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle children’s books marries and moves to a chicken ranch on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state in the 1930s. She is not a happy farmer, and she writes of everything and everyone from Stove to goeducks to the indigenous population both white and Indian with fearless sensibility and a hilarious eye for detail. This was a book written before the invention of political correctness, and it’s worth reading alone for her ruthless depiction of her neighbors, Ma and Pa Kettle. Yes, the Ma and Pa Kettle movies starring Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray were inspired by this book.

shuteAt the same time MacDonald was hating chicken farming in the US, Nevil Shute was building a dirigible in England. Before he wrote the post-apocalyptic classic On the Beach and the Australian romance A Town like Alice, Shute was an engineer working at the cutting edge of aviation. In Slide Rule, among other things, he tells the story of the British government sponsoring the simultaneous building of two dirigibles, one by private industry and one by government subsidy. The results are exactly what you might expect. A, you should pardon the pun, riveting read.

billWhile MacDonald was coping with chickens and Shute was building zeppelins, Bill Mauldin was growing up in Arizona. You’ll remember Bill Mauldin for his iconic Willie and Joe cartoons, those two American GI’s slogging through the European mud of World War II. Many of those cartoons are reprinted in Mauldin’s autobiography, The Brass Ring, a grunt's-eye view of war. Mauldin’s prose style is as descriptive as his drawings. The interview with General George S. Patton, and Patton’s pit bull, is priceless.

rocketsLastly I recommend Riding Rockets by Mike Mullane, an astronaut veteran of three shuttle flights. Funny, candid, detailed, with an easy prose style, Mullane has opinions about the shuttle program, NASA bureaucracy and the exploration of space, and he knows how to use them. He was a friend of fellow astronaut Judith Resnik, who died on Challenger, and he writes honestly about the pain of that loss. He is also very frank about the unpaid service of astronauts’ wives, and you will end this book thinking his own should be canonized. Riding Rockets is the best book by an astronaut since Michael Collins’ Carrying the Fire. Reading both back to back is a full history of the US astronaut corps.

# Permanent link to Betty Macdonald, Nevil Shute, Bill Mauldin and Mike Mullane

Hard to believe, but T. Jefferson Parker just wrote a book better than Silent Joe. I hate him so much.

ironIron River is the third in Parker's Charlie Hood series, which began with L.A. Outlaws and continued with The Renegades. One of the things I like about Jeff's Charlie Hood novels is that he lets Charlie have a past. I like a series that doesn't dismiss what came before, where the characters remember their own history. I do, why shouldn't they? And even if he did kill off my favorite character in the very first book, I'm willing to forgive Jeff anything for the recurring totem of this series, which is, believe me or believe me not, the actual head of Mexican American heartless killer or Robin Hood (pick one) Joaquin Murietta, which floats in a large, liquid-filled glass jar and is handed down to Murietta descendants, who appear as major characters in the Hood novels.

Iron River is about an almost biblical battle between beleaguered US law enforcement agents and seemingly invulnerable and unstoppable Mexican drug lords, with two actual battle scenes that will have you on the edge of your seat. The first one occurs early on, California/ATF cops against drug dealers, at night, across the border in a Mexican countryside where they have to watch out for rattlesnakes as they're sneaking up on the hacienda while trying not to be skewered on the cactus. The bad guys have flame throwers. No lie. Later on there is a scene where our heroes ride into a village that is reminiscent of one of the early Man With No Name films. (In my imagination Charlie's starting to look a little like Clint Eastwood.)

Later, Parker carries on the good-vs.-evil theme when Charlie has a close encounter with someone who may be the devil (I'm sure he is, but Charlie is unconvinced.). The devil even has a handmaiden. Later still, I was horrified when I realized I wanted the gunsmith to get away, just another example of Parker's great characterization: I'm rooting for all the wrong people. That will pull you up with a jolt.

Great characterization, epic plot and as always that wonderful Parker ability to put you right down in the southern California countryside, recoiling from the cholla spines. Jeff never fails to remind me how glad I am to live in Alaska. I'll take a grizzly bear over a rattlesnake any day.

# Permanent link to T. Jefferson Parker’s Iron River

Clown Barf Scarf

Some fun links from my Facebook page this past week– On Monday I posted this photo of a scarf I knitted from Astrid Bear’s Clown Barf yarn.Mostly, I admit, so I could put the words “Clown Barf Scarf” together in a sentence. And then a bunch of people chastised me for knitting instead of writing.…

Read more Clown Barf Scarf

Banned Books Week

A, what else, Google map of places books were banned in the United States in 2008-2009. South Dakota and New Mexico, please note, banned no books during this period. Also, please note, Alaska and Hawaii nowhere to be found. (That’s okay, we’ll be hanging off the coast of California during the evening weather report on…

Read more Banned Books Week

Dividend Haiku

[Don’t blame me, Frank Gerjevic started it over at the Anchorage Daily News.] Signs of Fall Termination dust. Fresh moose tongue. Dark red fireweed. Stars back. Dividend. [Personal message to John Straley: You have to be pleased with all those seasonal references.]

Read more Dividend Haiku

Hot Books for Cold Nights

[written for Vibrant Nation in January. Worth reprinting now that we’re officially into fall.] I’m an expert in cold nights, and in ways to keep warm during them. A fire in the wood stove. Irish coffee made with Jameson’s. Hugh Jackman on the television screen. Any one of those’ll get the job done. So will…

Read more Hot Books for Cold Nights

Good Book Club Books

I love book clubs. At one time I belonged to four. One was a crime fiction book club at a book store, one I ran from this website, a third I hosted on the radio, and I belong to a book club that just celebrated its twenty-second year. We are eight women who get together…

Read more Good Book Club Books

Confessing Geekdom

[The last of my four June blogs for 49 Writers, No Moose.] I love good science fiction with a consuming passion. I loved Star Trek. TNG, I mean, not TOS. Kirk blows, Picard rocks, game over. I didn’t hate DS9 after the war with the Dominion started, Voyager worked after Seven came on board, and…

Read more Confessing Geekdom

Writing History

The third of my guest blogs on 49 Writers, No Moose in June — I’m writing an historical novel set in the 14th century, and for a long time I obsessed over how to avoid anachronism, particularly in dialogue. [Example: Marco Polo’s granddaughter, Johanna, going to the stables to discover BFF Jaufre fighting off the…

Read more Writing History

Loving Coasties

Second of the guest blogs I wrote for 49 Writers, No Moose in June. — The absolute best part of a writer’s life is the research. I’ve written two thrillers, Blindfold Game and Prepared for Rage. For both novels I went on patrol with the US Coast Guard, first on Alex Haley for 16 days…

Read more Loving Coasties