on December 13, 2013
Tim Bazzett’s BOOKLOVER is the memoir of a literary man who’s growing older, written in a mellow, easygoing style. One supposes from the subtitle, “A One-Year Journal of Reading, Reflecting, and Remembering” and the stack of books on the cover that Bazzett will discuss the books he read in a year—and he does, sort of. But his method suggests THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MARK TWAIN or even TRISTRAM SHANDY—that is, Bazzett announces a subject, the thing that occurs to him in the dated entry, but then feels free to wander all over the territory of his life, richly illustrating the subject before at last reaching the meat of it.
Bazzett has written several memoirs—of his boyhood, in REED CITY BOY, and of his first hitch in the army, SOLDIER BOY. BOOKLOVER is a sequel to both. A bookish kid, a mama’s boy as he describes himself, Bazzett grew up on a farm where there was not much money to spare. Not ready for college, Bazzett escaped to the army, which provided him with adventure and eventually, maturation. But college was a thing apart. Attaining a Master’s degree was an achievement requiring hard work and smarts, and moved Bazzett out of the working class.
However, the degree was in English, and there is nothing to do with such a degree but teach English. Or maybe work in a hardware.
Anyhow, Bazzett taught at a podunk college, and while he loved his colleagues, soon grew weary of grading freshmen composition papers. He cites that profound old Peggy Lee song—a fateful song for many a questing soul—“Is That All There Is?”
He decided to return to the army, even though it led to a move from Michigan to Monterey, and considerable trials for his young family. But this time around, Bazzett was a contender. He worked in the National Security Agency as a Russian linguist through the end of the Cold War, when the Soviet Union had come to be, as Bazzett succinctly puts it, “a toothless old bear.” In fact, he worked all the way through 9/11, when the agency, and the country, took a dark turn it has yet to recover from.
A good time to retire, and write memoirs. Some of what Bazzett relates is pretty mundane—the adventures of parents in raising children, for instance. Or the endemic poverty of students as they try to rise above their upbringing, and join the middle class. Of course, the mundane is also the universal.
One truth shines through: Bazzett is a married man. His life would have no meaning without his loyal, in some ways long-suffering wife, Treve. Treve is Bazzett’s anchor, and because of her he’s a devoted family man. From the outside, one might look at the harmony and longevity of such a marriage in wonder.
But Bazzett takes the reader inside. He reveals details that one usually only encounters in fiction. The marriage almost cracked—and it happened, ironically enough, when the Soviet Union broke up, and Bazzett’s career was in crisis. Bazzett fell into deep depression, and began to ruminate over all sorts of things, such as his life-long, strained relationship with his father. Fortunately, Bazzett sought out counseling, and he and Treve patched things up, but surely these passages are the heart of his book, and they are quite moving.
Bazzett sets scenes, has an ear for dialogue, a gift for detail, and a sense of humor that ranges from subtle to bawdy. He seems to have read every book ever written. He’s written four memoirs, steadily honing his considerable skills. Maybe it’s time he wrote a novel.
on January 19, 2014
torn between possible careers in military intelligence and academia, while maintaining a sane home life, Bazzett searches for, and finds, a way of life that lets him read books -- lots of books. his descriptions of Michigan ring true. when I finished this memoir, I wished I knew him.
on March 3, 2014
I just finished Tim Bazzett's "Booklover". I generally don't gravitate toward memoirs, instead lean toward the lies of fiction. This, however, might signal the start of something new. Bazzett's memoir is simply wonderful.
Bazzett begins "Booklover" as a challenge to himself to complete it in one month, while his wife was away visiting family. It starts out with resolve and ambition, but soon life interrupts and it takes a year for him to finish.
"Booklover" is a warm, inviting and honest read, sometimes pedestrian in its telling of Bazzett's everyday life; in his delight at his and his wife's giddy and randy romps; in his embrace and love of his neighbors and men he knew in the service. But it also turns heartbreakingly poignant at times. In one passage toward the end of the book he writes of a piece he read by Patricia Stevens called "Leaving Fort Ord". It brings back the time when Bazzett and his own beloved wife were separated. Stevens wrote of her characters, David and Shelley, that they "quarrel on their last days together, ostensibly because she wants to leave Fort Ord while he's in Vietnam and go back to school in Iowa City." Shelley's foray into independence threatens David and they "reach a kind of truce, making love in the night before he is to leave, after which he weeps, something she had never seen him do before." The passage makes Bazzett remember his own awful time nearly a decade before, and he weeps along with David.
Bazzett's memoir seems nearly unstructured but for the sense of days passing as they do in a diary. His telling of the past wanders, stops, turns and loops back on itself like beetle track in tree bark. I don't know how he does it, how he doesn't lose the reader, but he doesn't. It shows what a strong writer he is.
Ultimately, it's his love of books that ties everything and everybody in his life together. You close the book with the sense there's a lot more reading you have to do because of him. And you also come away knowing you'd like to call Tim Bazzett friend.
I highly recommend "Booklover".
on June 7, 2013
I met Tim Bazzett--virtually but not yet in person--through an email exchange about books. Of course. We exchanged thoughts about the novel of a Michigan writer that he felt, by reading some of my reviews, that I perhaps understood better than he. That got my attention. How many people do you know who have approached you to say you may just get something better than they do?
Sharp guy. Actually, I'm not sure I did get that book better than Bazzett, but we got a good conversation going, and one book leading to another, he sent me one of his own books: Booklover. Is this going to be a very long, elaborate listing of all the books this book addict has ever read? I wondered. Well, something along those lines. Only Bazzett adds in plenty of his own lines, managing to tell his story while talking about the stories written and told by others.
Booklover is one of several memoirs Bazzett has written. He begins by expressing his disdain for the reading fare that kindergartners are given, if the children are given books to read at all, and with that introduction, he had me on board. (I, too, am an admitted book addict.) From there, this memoir describes Bazzett's moves from Michigan to California and to Europe, part of that being his military service. It is also the story of his marriage and the family.
It's a down home story, and Bazzett tells it in a friendly, easy style that makes you feel like you are sitting on the front porch with him, making friends. He can be charmingly self-deprecating, willing to open his door to the reader in a frank manner, if sometimes perhaps a bit too frank. There are times that I don't want to know where his guy's mind wanders, moments that tingle on my feminist bone when he muses on the female gender, but in the next moment I've forgiven him, because, well, he just comes off as a genuinely nice guy.
I could also do without the repeated "but no matter" continuously inserted into the telling of Bazzett's story, but that's it, those are my only complaints. Bazzett is a classic. He excels at being himself, no pretenses, rather than trying to outdo someone else among the literati. He has a fun way of inserting his sense of humor, even while building up the reader's desire to go to the nearest library or book store and bring home a mountain of books to read that Bazzett has recommended. It is with his insights into literature and authors that we realize just how sharp-minded he is. I hope I do get to sit on his front porch, or mine, with him sometime.
Bazzett lives in Reed City, Michigan, with his wife and his books. He has published five memoirs and a biography. He is a book reviewer for The Smoking Poet.
For those who have followed the fine writing and down to earth life experiences found in the previous novels of Timothy James Bazzett, then reading his latest heady memoir is a must. Bazzett has polished the skill of relating stories of his life to a fare-thee-well, pouring a lot of information about not only his personal history but also his sub rosa sage advice on coping with change, with loss, with family and with love in a manner that keeps the reader turning the pages to follow this very entertaining and seemingly spontaneous, off the cuff style of writing that fills these pages.
Bazzett is a book lover and has read probably more books than most everyone who will be reading this tome (over 400 pages): an introduction by his daughter Susan attests to the fact that every bookshelf in every room of the various houses in which the Bazzett family occupied is filled with read books - and she has inherited that bibliophilia gene. One sidebar observation about this book is the imagery created by Ben Busch that shows us the broad spread of types of books Bazzett has consumed, a generous artistic stack that leads us to a fascinating bibliography at books end with Bazzett listing the books of his collection.
But back to the book: Bazzett, faced with the fact that his wife was leaving Michigan for a month with their grandchildren and he pledged to write a book in a month to assuage his loneliness. That of course didn't happen, but instead Bazzett devoted a year to composing this his fifth book in as many years over a span of one year! Each 'chapter' is the day of the year that he wrote those notes, and what happens to the reader in this Pilgrim's Progress of a novel is the gradual unwinding of a life of some 40 years, a life made all the more fascinating by the types of work the author has had (student, teacher, soldier, Russian linguist for the National Security Agency), and a strong retrospective look at how his career choices affected his emotional and family life.
What strikes this reader is the major emphasis shift in conversation that is present in this book that was not always evident in his previous books: as his daughter points out in her introductory remarks, Bazzett has mellowed. This BOOKLOVER is rich in tongue in cheek humor as well as in fervent appreciation for his enduring love of his wife and family. The paragraphs that describe how he responded to his wife's return after the original month's absence is as understatedly touching as any love story written.
This, then, is a book of celebration of being given the opportunity to participate in living through a life at times trying and plagued by the isolation of secretiveness that is demanded by an occupation as sensitive as Bazzett's shift with the NSA, but a life remembered with reflective satisfaction and joy. You'll probably finish this book with a chuckle and a tear - and then place it on your own shelf of books to return to frequently. Grady Harp, October 10
on January 22, 2013
If I had more energy this could have been my book. Tim does such a good job of capturing memories of a background we shared (at least the Michigan part). Reading this is an amazing journey to the past and a thought provoking present. I highly recommend Booklover.
- John Lehman, Rosebud Book Reviews
on December 1, 2010
If you liked Tim Bazzett's earlier books, you'll like this one. Although I have never met Tim, I must confess a link because I am a good friend of his younger sister, Mary, who is mentioned in some of the books. Reading this was a treat as he recalled many places and times that I also remember. His memory is impressive and his appetite for books even more so. At times there is a little more intimate stuff than I would like, but if you can get past that, it's a fine book and a fine guide to other worthwhile reading.
on December 2, 2010
A skillful continuation of Tim's other books. Being in the service, in the ASA as Tim was, made this book even more enjoyable. Tim writes about situations that we all can relate to in our own lives. I highly recommend "Booklover" to all who enjoy a memorable, heartwarming true story.