Sunday, May 9, 2010

Tales from the Road: Nevada Barr

I'll be detailed about my travels later, but right now, as I'm cozy up in the Scamp and Maeve and Galway and the space heater (the electric blanket will be employed later), Tab Benoit on my iTunes, sitting at my absolutely perfect front dinette (constructed with Dad last summer), I'm so glad not to be moving, I could do a crazy dance around my campsite. (I won't, because that defeats the purpose, but that's what I'm doing mentally right now.) But I'm also half a CD away from hearing the end of Nevada Barr's Endangered Species, but it's in the car and I'm not going to go out and get it. This time of the evening is to start winding down, not wind oneself up with the end of a very good mystery. (Anna Pigeon is fighting with the killer, as we speak.)

Not too long ago, on one of my ubiquitous trips from BG to either my sisters' in Minneapolis or my parents up north, I discovered that books on CD were the best way that I could get from Point A to Point B with some sort of sanity. Music didn't always do it for me, especially as I got towards the end of my 12-hour trek to Minneapolis. Somewhere along the line, I learned that listening to books on CD was enough to keep my mind occupied so that I wasn't counting mile markers, but not so much that I was a danger to those on the road with me. I like mysteries best.

And so it was that I got hooked on Nevada Barr. I'd seen her name on the shelves--in print--but had never been tempted to pick up one of her books. I knew from the back blurb that her main character, Anna Pigeon, was a middle-aged park ranger, working for the National Park Service in all kinds of different parks. I think I read her A Superior Death first, because I was working on an idea--which I haven't written yet--about reading things in the places where they were set. Since A Superior Death was set on Isle Royale in Lake Superior, and I was driving that last summer, it seemed apt. But then, I was hooked. Hook, line, and sinker.

This is fluffy reading, but a literate kind of fluffy reading. It doesn't require much brain activity on the part of the reader, but beyond the intricate plot twists, Barr's writing is just plain beautiful. She doesn't lose her language just because she's writing mainstream mysteries. Strangely enough, I get more of a sense of just how beautiful her sentences are when I'm listening to it, rather than holding the book in my hands. I like Anna Pigeon, too. She's smart, but she's not perfect. She gets beat up a lot. Wrong place, wrong time. Snooping around. She gets in trouble for not doing things the way she's supposed to. It seems real, not just fiction. I probably should have started the series at the beginning, but I didn't, and I'm still skipping around, which makes for an interesting puzzle of what happens to whom when, but each book still stands alone. I'm just guessing it all makes more sense if you read them from the beginning.

It didn't occur to me until today, as I was driving, that I'm getting a double-dose of travel here. Not only am I on the road myself, but mentally I had divorced myself (a bit) from the road--and the monotony of driving the freeways through the Heartland--and I was sucked into the denseness of Cumberland Gap National Seashore in Georgia. I could feel the ticks, the chiggers; I could imagine the warm ocean, the absolute thickness of the summer air. So not only have I been, at least in a mental way, to Cumberland Gap, I've been to Isle Royale (twice), Yosemite (though I have actually, literally, been to Yosemite), to the Natchez Trace in Mississippi. And that's just kind of neat. There are some books, set in different places, that can do that. But in reality, it's sort of rare. My real reaction makes me want to go find those places and read these books again, just to see if anything changes.


  1. Glad you've discovered the wonderful fun of audiobooks in the car. It's the only way I get to Wisconsin. I favor Amelia Peabody (Egypt) and Mrs. Pollifax (everywhere) or Dick Francis (England), the former two of which are read by Barbara Rosenblat and the latter by various British men--who are delicious. Mysteries are the best in the car!

  2. I'm pretty sure that Barbara Rosenblatt reads Nevada Barr's books too--small literary world!

  3. Oh my gosh, you're right! Her website confirms. Isn't she incredible? I have a hard time believing it's one person sometimes.