Uncommonly Good Books By Great American Writers

It’s not exactly writer’s block. But I have chronic difficulty writing about exceptional  books and great American authors.

How long has it been since I promised to finish my review of J.K. Rowling’s “The Casual Vacancy?”  Is it a novel about small-town life, or hypocrisy, or intolerance, or poverty? Local politics gone crazy, or class warfare? Darned if I know. I’d have to read the whole thing again to sort it all out. (Rowling is British, but her story resounds in American culture.)

As I read the final page of “The Casual Vacancy,” I was struck speechless. Partly it’s a sense of grief that the book is over. Partly it’s awe at the author’s virtuoso performance. What can I say but, “Bravo!”?



Among contemporary authors, Ann Patchett amazes me the most. I never wrote a word about Patchett’s “State of Wonder.” What could I say? What kind of story is it, science fiction? Corporate treachery vs. scientific deception? Human hubris? The premise is a discovery so unlikely that you find yourself believing it, combined with an adventure so implausible that it has to be real. Yet it’s all nothing more than a figment — an elaborate figment — of Patchett’s hyperactive imagination! (Patchett and the following authors are all American originals.)

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Finished Reading ‘The Casual Vacancy’ — Now The Hard Part

Stayed up way late last night (nothing unusual about that) and finished “The Casual Vacancy.” I reached that point where you’re so close to the end, you don’t dare put it down.

Adventure stories have a chase scene near the end, to step up the tempo and raise the suspense.

Mysteries have a detective following the evidence, piecing it together, closer and closer, the danger mounting, until . . .

J.K. Rowling’s wounded and wounding humans wander in circles, running away, crossing paths, reversing direction . . . not seeing the obvious until it’s too late . . . the sirens come . . . bringing them all together, sort of, . . . and they find themselves . . . and each other . . . or not.

Whew! A great novel. Now all I have to do is find time to write a review that’s worthy of the author, the book, and the characters.

— John

J.K. Rowling’s “Casual Vacancy” Zooms to Top of Lists

The book was published the last week of September, and already “The Casual Vacancy” has hit No. 1 on bestseller lists.

J.K. Rowling’s first novel for adults is No. 1 on the New York Times lists for hardback fiction, combined fiction and nonfiction, and eBook fiction. The three “Fifty Shades of Grey” books have been pushed down to second, third and fourth places  on the lists.

Casual Vacancy also is listed first for in-store hardback sales at Barnes & Knoble. Surprisingly, the book is only No. 8 on B&N’s list for Nook eBooks.

On Amazon, Casual Vacancy is listed No. 3, behind something called “The Mark of Athena” by Rick Riordan, and “Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot,” by Bill O’Reilly.

On USA Today’s bestseller list, Casual Vacancy is No. 1. The book is also at the top of fiction bestseller lists in the United Kingdom.

— John Hayden

J.K. Rowling’s “Casual Vacancy,” Book Review, Take 1

“The Casual Vacancy”  is instantly notorious because it’s J.K. Rowling’s first novel for adults. It comes with a prominent black “X” on the cover, fair warning that between these covers you’ll find a subject that’s TABOO in America.

The subject is class warfare and classism. Ms. Rowling’s story takes place in England, and you have to remember that the British and Europeans are not as squeamish about class issues as we Americans. Until recently, we’ve been in full denial.

(If you’d like to read my preview of Casual Vacancy before you start the review, see J.K. Rowling’s “The Casual Vacancy — Prices Slashed.)

Ms. Rowling takes the micro approach to class warfare, focusing on the lives, relationships, and foibles of the individual men, women and children of one small town in England. The macro alternative would be a “God’s-eye view,” examining society from a distance. Rowling understands that you need to get up close and personal to understand classism and class warfare.

In the first 100 pages of Casual Vacancy, Rowling introduces an average of one new character every two pages.

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“Casual Vacancy” Note No. 1


“CASUAL VACANCY” NOTE NO. 1  I’ve read the first 97 pages of J.K. Rowling’s “Casual Vacancy.”  It’s going to be one heck of a story! More complicated than I expected. Many characters, introduced rapid-fire. I do believe Ms. Rowling is going to dissect contemporary social mores and put the whole bloody mess under a high-powered microscope. Probably not for the faint-hearted. I’ll start on the review as soon as my head stops spinning.  — John

“Casual Vacancy” Selling Fast


Walmart’s free-standing display for J.K. Rowling’s “Casual Vacancy” has room for 12 hardbacks. Early Sunday evening, only two copies were left.  Don’t know when it was last restocked, but the book is selling briskly. I’ve been so busy I haven’t had time to even start reading it. But I promise, a first installment on the review will appear here shortly.

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