Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Room






This was an interesting novel for me. It's about a mother and her son who are held captive in a shed in the back yard of a man for the past 7 years. Jack is 5, and was born in Room, where he has lived his entire life. The story is told from Jack's perspective, which, I think, keeps it from being too intense as far as the abduction and sexual abuse goes.

As a mom myself, I was really intrigued by the ways that "Ma" kept Jack entertained and stimulated for 5 years. Even though they were trapped in an 11'x11' room, Jack was an active, decently educated little boy. They had PhysEd every day, and they worked on art projects, and read books. By the time they escape, he isn't too far behind kids his age, as far as education goes. The second half of the book is about their readjusting to "normal" life, which I also found fascinating.

Overall, an interesting read that really held my attention. I would definitely recommend this book.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Alchemist

Rich. Beautiful. Brilliant. It's amazing how a bestseller can so perfectly explain things about the Plan of Salvation and the purpose of life.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

I think this book is worth reading just to be informed of such a huge part of medical history--an event that I personally had never even heard of. Its implications seem significant, and for that reason, I'd recommend this to anyone. The author has clearly done extensive research, and reading this book makes you feel like you're getting the most accurate information available on the matter. The issues presented are worthwhile. For instance, I work with computer research. A hot topic right now is individuals' rights to protecting and withholding their electronic and virtual data. If we have a right to that, I can only imagine that such discussion was completely inspired by Henrietta Lacks, even if indirectly.

The book really felt like it had two parts. The first half focuses a lot on history and feels informative. The second half talks more about Henrietta's family and paints a beautiful picture of real people and their struggle to understand what was going on in a sophisticated area when they had little education. I really enjoyed both aspects.

Unbroken

Thanks, Katie, for the awesome recommendation. I loved this book! It was just as depressing as you'd expect a WWII book to be. But if you are okay with that, it's a great read. It starts out a little slow, but it picks up. It's a great look at WWII life, especially in providing a perspective that allowed me to to think more about how the life of a serviceman has changed in the last 50 years--how my grandfather's years of service differs from my friends serving today. It's one of those books that makes such an impact that I keep finding myself trying to bring it up in random conversations.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

IN THE TIME OF THE BUTTERFLIES by julia alvarez

You will all enjoy this book. I just know it. It is about the revolution in the Dominican Republic. Shamefully I admit I did not know about this until I read the book. But the Mariposas are very popular. It was this historical vignette. Each chapter is one of four sisters perspective and story. They are these wonderfully spirited girls and daughters that grow up to be mothers and wives and revolutionaries. I loved the way this history was presented. You come to know and love the characters.

A great book to read in tandem is THE SILENCE OF GOD. This book is about the revolution in Russia, staring the first LDS family baptized in Mother Russia. Revolutions and Communism are themes in 20th century history. These books portray that with a very human element. I am not very eloquent, just read them they are interesting.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Mountains Beyond Mountains




I heard about this book several years ago when my mother read it for her book club. She liked it a lot and suggested that I might too. Then my good friend Melissa finished it right before I met her in Jerusalem and mentioned it to me again. I read a different Tracy Kidder book, Strength in What Remains, last summer, and it was a powerful, powerful book. Paul Farmer, the subject of Mountains Beyond Mountains, makes minor appearances there as well, so when I constructed my summer reading list this year I knew it was time that I finally got to it. I was certain that I would love it, but I was also certain that it would make me uncomfortable. True on both counts.

Paul Farmer is a Harvard-educated doctor who specializes in infectious disease. While a student, he started a public health clinic in Canage, Haiti, a tiny little portion of one of the poorest countries in the Western hemisphere. He deals with all sorts of infectious diseases, but spends a great deal of his time with TB, HIV, and AIDS. Through his connections in Haiti and in Boston he created an organization called Partners in Health, headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., which runs the clinic in Haiti as well as branches in the Boston area and a clinic in Lima, Peru attempting to eradicate MDR-TB. He travels all over the world to consult with other doctors, the World Health Organization, speak at conferences. He is a tenured professor at Harvard. He is on the board for Village Health Works, which sponsors health clinics in Burundi (see Strength in What Remains). He has written several books about infectious disease, poverty, public health, and Haiti. He is one of those people you are amazed by and feel guilty because of. Case in point: while a Harvard medical student he would skip lectures for weeks at a time so he could work in his clinic in Haiti, then fly back to Cambridge for exams. He had grades at the top of his class. Harvard granted him permission to spend half his residency at Brigham and half in Haiti.

It’s an amazing story because he is an amazing man. Margaret Mead said, “Never underestimate the ability of a small group of committed individuals to change the world. Indeed, they are the only ones who ever have.” Paul Farmer is certainly an example of this. And I sat there reading and loving what he’s doing but also feeling guilty that I’ve been thinking about a pair of $70 boots I want (What if I sent that money to PIH instead? How much could they do? But every time I want anything for myself do I have to feel guilty about it?). And then I came across this passage:

He [Farmer] went on: “I thought I was the king of empathy for these poor kids, but I I was the king of empathy, why this big shift because of my daughter? It was a failure of empathy, the inability to love other children as much as yours. The thing is, everybody understands that, encourages that, praises you for it. But the hard thing is the other.”

I thought about this for a while, attempting to frame my question delicately. Finally, I just tried to disassociate myself from it: “Some people would say, Where do you get off thinking you’re different from everyone and can love the children of others as much as your own. What would you say to that?”

“Look,” he replied. “All the great religious traditions of the world say, Love thy neighbor as thyself. My answer is, I’m sorry, I can’t, but I’m gonna keep on trying, comma.”

And he’s right. That’s something we hear all the time, Love thy neighbor as thyself. But how many of us actually genuinely do it? I certainly don’t. I’ve had times when I have, sure, flashes o really loving someone the way that God loves them, but it doesn’t happen often. But that attitude, “I know that I am not perfect, but I’m constantly trying,” I think that’s why I’m so impressed with Paul Farmer. He does all these amazing things, but he does them on an individual level. He loves his patients and he remembers them, even though he sees hundreds of people and they’re from multiple countries. All throughout the book people say how they feel like he genuinely cares about them, and when he asks about their health or their family or their job he really wants to know and he remembers what they say.

So maybe I can’t rid the world of infectious disease. But I can try to love and remember the people in my life better than I currently do.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Wrinkle in Time


K, so that's not actually the real cover. The real cover looks like this:


Among other hideous covers they've done for this book. But I took a design course this summer for school and when we got to redesign a book cover I chose a childhood favorite, A Wrinkle in Time. I reread it while designing, too. You know, for inspiriation.

Okay, did you read Madeleine L'Engle growing up? I love, love, love her books. I love the way she combines the religious and the scientific. I love the goodness of her characters. I love that they are real and have flaws but can still do great things. I love the shivery feeling I get every time I read the line, "There is such a thing as a tesseract."

Anyway, I got crazy busy with school and moving and life, so I didn't actually finish the book until my commute to work this morning. And I as I read this passage I nearly started crying on the T:
"And what I have to give you this time you must try to understand not word by word but in a flash, as you understand the tesseract. Listen, Meg. Listen well. The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called, but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty. And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are." She paused, and then she said, "May the right prevail." (194–195)
I love it in part because it's scripture (a quotation from 1 Corinthians 1). But also because it's so applicable to their story—this awkward, teenage girl with her genius little brother and lonely friend Calvin who go off into the universe to find her father and try to fight Evil as best they can. What a daunting task. And I feel like that so often in my life. But this quote puts it all in the proper perspective. And I love that it can be found in a children's book. 


And Lorren, you've said you like her adult fiction even more. Specific suggestions?

Monday, August 22, 2011

I Remember Nothing


I read this last week, and it was funny and cute. Nora Ephron wrote You've Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle, and this funny little book. It's just a collection of personal essays and sort of memoir-ish, but it's mostly about funny things like how she doesn't remember anything--hence the title.

It takes like 2 hours to read, because it's big print and short, and it's the perfect book to read in the summer. I never like really sat down and READ, I would just pick it up for 10 minutes at a time while I was waiting for Chris to get ready to go somewhere, or waiting for dinner to come out of the oven--things like that. 

But yeah, it's just a cute, funny book that's super fast to read. It would be perfect for an airplane or the beach or something because there's not a plot or anything. Oh, and here's an excerpt. This is the first chapter of the book.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Pride and Prejudice



So, I kind of forgot that I need to write down my book thoughts! I haven't been reading very much this summer, which is really a shame. But I did just read Pride and Prejudice, and until Casidy mentioned it in her post I sort of forgot that I need to write about. Which is silly, because I just finished it last week and have thought about it a LOT since then.

Here's the thing about Pride and Prejudice. I sort of skimmed over it in high school, but didn't really read it. I've seen the movies. And I've just never been that into it. I didn't really care about Mr. Darcy. Maybe it was just my way of sticking it to the man, since everyone else LOVES Pride and Prejudice, and LOVES Mr. Darcy, and I just wanted to be different. Or maybe the movies just didn't speak to me. Whatever the reason, I was never a big P&P fangirl. WAS would be the keyword there. Because as of today--HUGE fan. I loved this book a ton. So much more than I thought I would. I laughed out loud, my heart ached, and I think my cheeks might have actually blushed at parts.

The thing I never really understood fully from the movies is just HOW embarrassing the Bennets are for Elizabeth and Jane. Mrs. Bennet seriously made me cringe so many times. And Kitty and Lydia are so silly! I don't know how I never realized just how empty headed and silly they are, but somehow I didn't. (Maybe they're not the only empty headed and silly ones.)

Something I really loved about this book is how complicated Elizabeth is. And yes, I readily admit, that maybe that thought was planted in my head by You've Got Mail, when Kathleen says that Elizabeth Bennet is one of the most complex characters ever written, but I noticed it nonetheless. She has to be loyal to her family and be a good daughter, but they are so humiliating. She develops all these feelings for Mr. Darcy, and her family has no idea that anything has even happened. I love the discrepancy between what her family thinks of him, and what she thinks of him/what he really is. So much of the story is so internal, what is going on with her, and I love it. And I never used to love her so much before I read the book. I didn't appreciate her cleverness or her independence or her classiness and awareness of society before I read it.

I think Jane Austen does such a good job telling stories about sisters. Jane and Elizabeth are such great sisters, like the Dashwoods in Sense and Sensibility. I love the friendship that they have. Plus, in that family, who else could Elizabeth ever turn to? Mary?

The whole class thing is so interesting in Jane Austen books, and something I think can never really be translated into a modern day understanding. I just really don't think that as 21st century Americans we can understand the complexity of class society that people lived in at that time. We do still have classes, and there are definitely people who would never sink below themselves to marry someone else, but it's really not as stratified as theirs is.

Anyway, the real point is that Pride and Prejudice is an incredible book. That will not be the last time I read it, I am sure. Books like that need more than one reading, there is so much more to glean from it. And yes, I am a huge Mr. Darcy fan now. Who would have thought?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Bread Givers By Anzia Yezierska




I read Bread Givers super fast. One, because it is not that long (297 pages), and two (but mainly) because it was a compelling story and well written. It reminded me a little bit of the book The Glass Castle. I was always wondering what could happen next, with such different perspectives from the "old world" parents and the daughters struggling in the new. It is written from the voice of the youngest daughter. It also had a hint of Pride and Prejudice, because the different daughter characters are being married off. (The book is unique from the two books I mentioned...so hopefully I have not misrepresented the book. As LaVar Burton would say, "you don't have to take my word for it!")

Bread Givers is perfectly titled. Bread Givers, or bread winners; who has the responsibility to feed a family, and where does that responsibility come from? Our culture, time and religion puts emphasis on the father. In America there is more about self, and less about family or roots. This mentality is not just a modern idea. The American Dream. The perspective of a Jewish Rabbi from Poland is set in his tradition. What is right? She writes, "More and more I began to see that Father, in his innocent craziness to hold up the Light of the Law to his children, was as a tyrant more terrible than the Tsar from Russia". But in his world that is correct. The well written perspectives, help the reader think deeply on the subject. Beside the physical need to be fed by bread, this book also address the deepest human need of love and acceptance.

Bread Givers is the author's, Anzia Yezierska, own biography. She was an immigrant. A young woman in a world were ambition was the path to Americanization and ambition seemed designed for men. She says, "I would spend years trying to reconcile what appeared even to me to be my own selfish desires with the profound need to find a place in the culture I had adopted." She wanted to be a "person".

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Sense and Sensibility


So after I read Emma, I decided I just had to read Sense and Sensibility. And I'm pretty sure Pride and Prejudice will happen soon.

Also like Emma, I love the movie of Sense and Sensibility, but had not read the book. So I did. And of course the book is better, and deeper, and everything, but if you haven't seen the movie, please do. It is wonderful. (If you can get over Snape as Colonel Brandon. For me it was the other way around with the first few movies. Colonel Brandon can't be Snape! But now I think he is perfect.)

But this a blog about books, not movies, so I apologize. The point is, Sense and Sensibility is wonderful. I feel like Jane Austen is so good at writing an interesting story with a good plot, filled with charming characters, many of them hilarious, and also making you think about human nature, and the way people are. She's very observant about the way people act. And of course there are always lots of funny little thing about good society and the proper way to act, and who is unsuitable for who, and things like that.

Sense and Sensibility has so many endearing characters. I love both Elinor and Marianne Dashwood so much. And I love so so much the reversal of the way that they are by the end of the book. Throughout the whole thing, Marianne is romantic and whimsical and impulsive and only thinks with her heart. Elinor is exactly the opposite. She is very controlled in her emotions, she has a lot of sense. But by the end, we see Elinor sort of let go of that a little, and Marianne becomes more like Elinor, more sensible. I really liked that.

I loved how much the sisters were involved in each other's lives, and how much they loved each other. Because it's a story about lots of things--love, lies, London--but above all, it's a story about two sisters who care about each other very much.

Anyway, it was a wonderful book, and if you haven't read it, I recommend it.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Nefertiti by Michelle Moran

I'm cross-posting this one with my other review site because I thought this was a pretty interesting book that not too many people had heard about! It wasn't my favorite but was still a decent read.

Title: Nefertiti
Author: Michelle Moran
Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: Crown, 2007
Source: Borrowed from my sister-in-law

The untimely death of the pharaoh's oldest son leaves the kingdom wide open for Amunhotep, the ambitious and heretic second son. Nefertiti, the beautiful and intelligent niece of the Queen of Egypt, is a logical choice as his chief wife. However, as Amunhotep (later Akhenaten) pushes his new religious ideas on his reluctant subjects, the political climate of Egypt grows more and more unstable. Nefertiti's cat-eyed sister, Mutnodjmet, is thrown into the center of it all as she struggles to escape the tumult of royal life and establish a peaceful family life of her own.

This book sat on my nightstand for months, and I'm not sure why. I think it was one part my overwhelmed feeling with everything I had to read, one part my lack of interest in Egypt in general, and one part my reluctance to get into historical fiction. This is kind of laughable to me now, because since reading this book I have read practically nothing but historical fiction since.

To me, Nefertiti was mildly entertaining. The setting, however, was fantastic. In my mind I had a preconception that I wasn't interested in Egyptian history, but once I became swept up in the story I found the scenery and daily-life tidbits fascinating. Moran inserted little details of culture that made the events more believable. Her scenes were vivid - I could picture the city Nefertiti and Amunhotep were building and Mutnodjmet's herb garden.

I had mixed reactions to the characters. Mutnodjmet herself was an enjoyable character to read. She only wants to enjoy her life as a loved and fulfilled woman, but her family expects her to be willing to sacrifice everything for their social status, The Other Boleyn Girl -style. While she does have a few weak moments enjoying a triumph of beauty over Amunhotep's Second Wife, Kiya's, ladies in waiting. She has interests beyond the family's status, growing medicinal herbs and setting up a business to help women with various problems. She wants to have a family and enjoy a life married to a man that she loves. My one complaint with Mutny was that she was too perfect - she never made a mistake, never showed a dark side. She was consistently either devoted and dutiful or righteously indignant.

Nefertiti and Amunhotep, on the other hand, were selfishness personified. They ignored all political life and cut a pathway of destruction, debt, and death through Egypt. Their horrible deeds, which could have been entertainment for shock value, become predictable. You know that Amunhotep will do something stupid and selfish, and you know that Nefertiti will go along with him to keep power over him. Their story, presumably the central story, was occasionally tiresome because of the endless tirade of horrible acts.

However, the pace picks up in the last hundred pages as Nefertiti and Amunhotep's misdeeds escalate to a horrible climax. The story becomes like a train wreck (please realize I'm referring to the horrific events, not the writing). I knew just what would happen, but I had to keep reading. I was originally thinking that perhaps I wouldn't read the sequel, The Heretic Queen, but the last 100 pages convinced me to stay invested in Amunhotep and Nefertiti's tragic story. Be warned, however, that the first several hundred pages are a slow ebb and flow of Mutnodjmet trying to assert her right to happiness and Nefertiti and Amunhotep wreaking havoc.

This was an enjoyable read, perhaps not quite living up to my expectations or the time invested in the high page count, but nevertheless one that is staying with me still. I am still looking forward to reading Michelle Moran's other works, although I am hoping her next books hold my attention a little better.

3 stars

Monday, June 13, 2011

Between a Rock and a Hard Place


This book was written by Aron Ralston, the guy who cut off his arm. I'm pretty sure you all know about him, but just in case, here's a little re-cap. In 2003, he was hiking alone in Southern Utah, and got his arm trapped by a boulder in a slot canyon. His right hand was completely trapped, he couldn't move the boulder or chip away at it to free his hand, so on the 5th day of being trapped there with very little water and only a tiny bit of food (he thought it was about 500 calories spread over a few days), next to no sleep, and obviously his hand being crushed, he cut off his arm with a pocketknife to free himself. And then he had to rappel down a cliff and hike like 7 miles before he found other people. Insane.

I was really interested in this story when it happened (I'm sure Katie remembers me convincing her to accompany me to hear him speak at UVSC, after I assured her I didn't think he was going to discuss the gory details of the amputation. And then he totally did. This was before she was a nurse, though), and I am still totally fascinated by it. I want to see the movie, too, but I wanted to read the book first and get all the facts before I watched the movie, which I know has some extra theatrical elements. But I've found that I really love books about how amazing humans are. Our bodies and our minds. When I read Unbroken, I thought over and over that I couldn't believe that guy could survive everything that he did. And when I read this, I was really just amazed at the will to survive humans have. I don't think any other animal has that as much as we do. I mean, this guy was dying. He thought it was going to happen within a matter of hours. It was his 5th day of being trapped, he was dehydrated and hallucinating, but then he decided to take action, and he did it. It was amazing how quickly it happened. He had thought about cutting off his arm every day but always talked himself out of it. But then the day he did it, he just DID it. It took like 2 hours, and then he was free.

He interspersed the chapters about each day in the canyon with other memories of his adventurous life. It was pretty cool. I knew that he was an experienced hiker, but I didn't realize HOW experienced. He had solo climbed a whole bunch of mountains in Colorado, sometimes in the winter, he had this crazy experience with a bear stalking him in the Tetons, he graduated from Carnegie Mellon with a degree in engineering, but then quit after 5 years of working as an engineer because he loved the outdoors too much. He moved to Aspen and worked at an outdoor gear store and spent several days every week hiking, biking, and skiing. I have to admit, I skimmed through a lot of these chapters, partly because I just wanted to get back to the main story, and partly because I had to get the book back to the library. But it was interesting.

And the part I really could NOT stop reading was when I finally got to the amputation. It is pretty detailed, so if things like that will make you squeamish, do not read this. But if they don't, it is fascinating. And just incredible. I cannot believe a human being can cut off their arm, rappel down a cliff, and hike through a canyon, and be alive still. It is amazing.

Another favorite part of it for me was the pictures he included. He had a camera and a video camera with him, and he took pictures of himself. A couple of them are included in the book, including one of a blood spattered boulder in the canyon, taken after the fact. I love that he had the presence of mind to do that. And obviously he didn't include the videos in the book (because we are Muggles and don't have the capability), but he did transcribe everything he talked about. It's a message to his family and friends, tying up his financial affairs, and sharing memories with everyone, stuff like that. And I just love so much that it didn't end up being his funeral video. He would get it out and say, "Well, I think today might be the day," and stuff like that. But then he didn't die. He is ok. And that is so cool to me.

So anyway, if reading about someone cutting their arm off with a knife that is very unfit for the task will make you squeamish, don't read this. Or just skip that part, it's only like 4 pages long. If that. But if you like stories about people being inspired to live by hallucinations of their family and friends and future, you will like this. It was pretty awesome.

Also, one of my favorite passages from the book is when he finally does it. I found an excerpt online and copied and pasted it here:

It is 11.32am, Thursday, May 1 2003. For the second time in my life, I am being born. This time I am being delivered from the canyon’s pink womb, where I have been incubating. This time I am a grown adult and I understand the significance and power of this birth as none of us can when it happens the first time. The value of my family, my friends and my passions well up a heaving rush of energy that is like the burst I get approaching a hard-earned summit, multiplied by ten thousand. Pulling tight the remaining connective tissues of my arm, I rock the knife against the wall, and the final thin strand of flesh tears loose; tensile force rips the skin apart more than the blade cuts it.

A crystalline moment shatters, and the world is a different place.

Where there was confinement, now there is release. Recoiling from my sudden liberation, my left arm flings downcanyon, opening my shoulders to the south, and I fall back against the northern wall of the canyon, my mind surfing on euphoria. As I stare at the wall where not 12 hours ago I etched “RIP OCT 75 ARON APR 03”, a voice shouts in my head: “I AM FREE!”

Monday, May 23, 2011

Ethan Frome





Do you want to feel cold and heartbroken? Read this book. I've actually read it twice before, when I was a Freshman in high school, and then again when I was a Junior. But I hadn't read it since, so I decided to give it another go.

Plus, I had wandered over to the Ws to check out House of Mirth or Age of Innocence from the library, but they were both checked out. So I got Ethan Frome instead. And it's a perfect rainy weather book, since the whole thing takes place during a frozen New England winter.

It's a short book, I think it's technically called a novella, so it's a fast read. But if it were a longer book, I think it would take a long time to read because of the writing. It's very beautiful and kind of slow. It's quiet and cold, mostly because it's talking about people and places that are quiet and cold.

The whole book takes places over just a couple of days. Ethan Frome lives on an isolated farm with his crabby, sickly wife, Zeena, and her young, pretty cousin, Mattie, who lives with them to help out Zeena. Can you see where this is going? Ethan of course falls in love with Mattie. And although I am never a fan of such things, it makes so much sense. His wife is so terrible and Mattie is so sweet.

I mostly remembered the ending, but I had forgotten one key part of it that makes it all the more heart wrenching, so I just felt agonized over it. So good. Sometimes it just feels so amazing to have your heart torn out by the pain of fictional friends. Why is that? I don't know, but I loved it, and I love this book. It really is so fast. I remember the one I read in high school was less than 100 pages long. The one I read just barely was like 150, but the book was so small it fit in the back pocket of my jeans.

The writing is beautiful and gives such solid visuals to it all, you feel like you're there. It's really really beautiful.

Half Broke Horses

(One of the only disappointing things about this book is the cover photo. Not that the photo isn't amazing--because look at that girl with her cat on the right, so adorable--but it's not a photo of Lily, and I wish it were. This is a Dorothea Lange photo that is so great, but I think I would have preferred it to be more personal to the book.)

I just realized I never wrote about this book! I finished it a couple weeks ago, and thought I had. So . . . . yeah.

Half Broke Horses is the other book by Jeannette Walls, of The Glass Castle. I think most of you have either read The Glass Castle or at least know about it. Half Broke Horses is the story of Lily Casey Smith, Jeannette's maternal grandmother. She is amazing. She grew up on a ranch, moved away from her family at 15 to be a teacher in a small town in Arizona, lived in Chicago for awhile, then returned to the Southwest where she got married and continued to live on a ranch and also be a teacher.

That makes it sound boring, though, and it isn't. Lily just has a lot of spirit and spunk and she is awesome. Here's a good example: When she was 15 she packed up her horse and rode it 500 miles to a new town to be a teacher. She went alone, camped out on the way, and then became a teacher in a new place. At 15. When I was 15 I wouldn't have slept in my backyard by myself.

She is amazing, and her life is too. We get to know how Rosemary, Jeannette's mom, was when she was younger, which is so interesting if you've read The Glass Castle and know how she ends up. I'm sure any of you who liked The Glass Castle would really love this. And if you haven't read The Glass Castle, then what are you doing on the computer? Go read it right now, please. But really, I think anyone would like this. It was really good, and actually sort of inspiring to me to always be a strong woman no matter what happens in my life.

Oh, also, Jeannette Walls called this a novel, since that's the honest thing to do because she had to fill in some gaps, but it really is a true story. If you were wondering.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Gone with the Wind Anniversary Edition


So I realized this morning that you guys would think this is cool.

I am a huge Gone with the Wind fan. I love the book. I love the movie. I didn’t love the sequel, Scarlett, written by Alexandra Ripley, but I have read it more than once. Usually when I’m super depressed and want that happy ending, even though I love the real ending most.

Anyway.

This year is the 75th anniversary of the publication of Gone with the Wind. Per my google reader feed, I discovered about six weeks ago that there was a library in Southport, Connecticut that had an exhibit of the last four chapters of the typed manuscript on display for a month before they sent it to Atlanta with all the other GWTW paraphernalia. As I love this story so, so much, I desperately wanted to go. I easily convinced my roommate and her not-yet boyfriend, and we convinced another friend to come as well. He was more hesitant, but I’m pretty sure what sold him was the argument that he “needs to pay homage to the book that inspired the first movie that ever used a swear word.” It worked, and he enjoyed the exhibit.

Guys, it was SO COOL. They had the manuscript in a glass display case and you could see the copyediting marks in the margins, which was amazing. I loved being able to read it right there, and I know the book well enough to pick up on some text that changed between the manuscript and the final printing. They also had copies of foreign covers in many, many languages, which was really cool to see.  A lot of the covers were done after the movie came out and had excellent likenesses of Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable. They also talked about how in America we see it as this great tragic love story, but in Europe it was read much more for the political undertones. Apparently it made a big impact on them in the way the South handles the Reconstruction and stuff, and it was even banned in Spain (I might have the country wrong) during a war for fear that the people would rebel. I had no idea it was so influential in Europe. It made me want to read the book all over again.

I took some photos on my phone to text to my mother (who loves GWTW as much as I do), so they aren’t particularly high quality. But they are still cool.

GWTW in Hebrew and Arabic




GWTW in Danish


Part of the typed manuscript. The last line on the bottom of the right-hand page is Rhett Butler's famous, "My dear, I don't give a damn."

Orange Is the New Black




Orange Is the New Black was not written by Salman Rushdie :)

No, it was written by Piper Kerman, a Smith-graduate who unintentionally got herself caught in the world of drug trafficking, and ended up paying for it ten years later.

The bulk of the memoir covers the time she did in Danbury, the women’s prison in Connecticut, although she does discuss how she got to that point in the first place. I learned more than I ever knew before about the prison system, which is very interesting and full of flaws. I also learned a great deal about empathy. Because to me, that was the point of this book: people commit crimes when they don’t care about the suffering of others. Rape, theft, assault, drug dealing, they all are very selfish and uncaring acts. But when we start to care about other people’s suffering and we start to empathize with them, that’s when we become better and begin to heal. The relationships Piper has with her family and friends, and the relationships she forms with other inmates, are amazing examples of how we can help each other through terribly hard situations in life. We cannot get through life alone; we need other people.

So a little background, I’ve known about this book for several years, although it was only published in 2010. Piper Kerman, author, is the sister-in-law to my uncle Michael; I’ve actually had the chance to meet her twice, once at Michael’s wedding in 2007 and once just last month in New York. I like her a lot. It was a little strange to read a book where I’d met the author, as well as some other people who are mentioned (her husband and his family, my uncle’s in-laws). But she is a great writer: she had me laughing sometimes at the ridiculousness of some situations, and other times I cried because of the sadness she or others had to deal with. It’s a powerful book that I highly recommend. Her husband, Larry, wrote an article for the New York Times right before the book was published, talking about how it was for him while she was in prison. Also some powerful writing, so you should check it out too.

I do feel I have to give fair warning about the language in the book. It can get rather colorful, but as it was a depiction of her year in prison I didn’t really have a problem with that because I’m sure it was quite accurate. I also think I should perhaps warn you that homosexuality is discussed fairly regularly as well; again, it is a huge aspect of the prisoners’ lives (she mentions how some people choose to be “gay for the stay”), but it is never in any way explicit or graphic and didn’t make me uncomfortable at all. But I have no idea how others feel about those things, so I thought I'd mention it.


I really liked this book. I was impressed by her writing and I came away with serious questions about the prison system, as well as a strong desire to help (in the back of the paperback edition there is a list of organizations that work with women in the system as well as their children).

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (Millie)

 

Marilynne Robinson's book, Gilead, won the Pulitzer prize for fiction in 2004 and has been on my to read list for quite some time. (Not since 2004, but for some time.) Though I read her first book, Houskeeping, and liked it a lot, when I read reviews of Gilead, I was put off by quite a few negative reviews I read on Amazon.  The main complaints were that it was slow, wasn't plot driven, and that it was too religious.  As it turns out, I liked those things about it.

Gilead is set in Gilead, Iowa in 1956 with the minister, John Ames, facing death from heart disease. He has a young wife and son whom he loves deeply and decides to leave his son a family history.  Since his son is only 7, he knows he will not remember much about him and he wants his son to know him and how much he loved him and his wife, the boy's mother.  He decides to write a letter to be read when the son is older.
  
His rambling letter was a little slow moving the story along, but I loved the things he wrote.  They were about such simple, but real, moments in his life, and since he knew he didn't have long to live, he savored them.  It made me want to really observe and feel the simple things in life with a little more intensity and reverence and clarity.  Intensity and reverence don't seem to go together, but somehow, that's how his observations struck me.

As his writings start to include his remembrances and dealings with the family of his life-long friend, Old Boughton, the pace of the plot picks up.  He struggles as he writes about the "black sheep" of the Boughton family, Jack.  Clearly, he has negative feelings about him for a number of reasons, but he so wants to treat him with Christian charity.  This struggle shows the depth of John Ames's goodness and at the same time, the weaknesses he contended with.  Although he was a preacher, and there were scripture quotations a plenty, it did not seem "preachy" to me.  

There was an extensive review of the book in the New York Times, you might enjoy reading.  I read it after I read the book and it explained and clarified thoughts and feelings that I found hard to explain after reading it.  

I listened to the audio version of this book and thought the reader was excellent. His narration added dynamics to the story and maybe that is why I didn't find it super slow as some other readers did.  The only drawback to the audio version is that you can't mark or re-read passages and phrases that you love.  I might just have to buy the printed version too.

Here is an excerpt that was part of the review I mentioned above.  I think it gives you a little taste of the book and John Ames:

  The Church at Dawn
It's a plain old church and it could use a coat of paint. But in the dark times I used to walk over before sunrise just to sit there and watch the light come into that room. I don't know how beautiful it might seem to anyone else. I felt much at peace those mornings, praying over very dreadful things sometimes -- the Depression, the wars. There was a lot of misery for people around here, decades of it. But prayer brings peace, as I trust you know.
In those days, as I have said, I might spend most of a night reading. Then, if I woke up still in my armchair, and if the clock said four or five, I'd think how pleasant it was to walk through the streets in the dark and let myself into the church and watch dawn come in the sanctuary. I loved the sound of the latch lifting. The building has settled into itself so that when you walk down the aisle, you can hear it yielding to the burden of your weight. It's a pleasanter sound than an echo would be, an obliging, accommodating sound. You have to be there alone to hear it. Maybe it can't feel the weight of a child. But if it is still standing when you read this, and if you are not half a world away, sometime you might go there alone, just to see what I mean. After a while I did begin to wonder if I liked the church better with no people in it. . . .
In the old days I could walk down every single street, past every house, in about an hour. I'd try to remember the people who lived in each one, and whatever I knew about them, which was often quite a lot. . . . And I'd pray for them. And I'd imagine peace they didn't expect and couldn't account for descending on their illness or their quarreling or their dreams. Then I'd go into the church and pray some more and wait for daylight. I've often been sorry to see a night end, even while I have loved seeing the dawn come.
Trees sound different at night, and they smell different too. 

So, for me it was a 4 star book, but I realize this slower pace is not for everyone.  I think it's the kind of book you will really like or really not like, but I doubt there will be too many on the fence about this one.   


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Emma


Before we can go on, there is something I must clarify: Emma is my favorite movie. I watch it like 6 times a year. I think it's the funniest movie in the world, it seriously cracks me up. It's what I want to watch when I'm sick, or when I work on a craft project, I quoted it at the beginning of this post--stuff like that.

However, I hadn't read the book. And a few weeks ago I realized that was pretty ridiculous, so I read it.

I think most of you probably know the story, but just in case--Emma Woodhouse is a young woman, I think she's 21, who decides to take a new friend, Harriet Smith, under her wing and introduce her into good society. She also dabbles in matchmaking. Harriet is an orphan who lives with Mrs. Godard, a teacher. There are a whole bunch of other characters of course--Mrs. Weston, Emma's former governess who is recently married, and her new son in law, Frank Churchill. Mrs. Bates and Miss Bates, an elderly woman and her middle aged spinster daughter, and Jane Fairfax, their granddaughter/niece. Mr. Woodhouse, Emma's father, is so cute, and much more neurotic in the book than he is in the movie. And in the book we get to know John and Isabella Knightley, Emma's sister and her husband, much better. And then of course there is Mr. Knightley, who I love so dearly, so greatly. He is wonderful. The Eltons, who provide comedy and social faux pas galore. Everyone is so great.

One thing that is much more prevalent in the book than the movie is the amount of concern with class and rank and society. They talk a lot about who is beneath who, and whether this person or that person is suitable as a friend or a spouse. It made me glad to live in a much less stratified society, where it doesn't matter if you marry someone who isn't established in the area, or who is only a farmer.

As always, the book is better than the movie. I will always always love the movie, because I just will, but I got so much more enveloped in the plot and the characters in the book, where there is space enough to develop both more fully. A lot of things happen that don't happen in the movie, of course, and I loved it all.

Anyway, it was so good. I really loved it, and am so glad I read it. I highly recommend picking this up.

Oh, and here is an awesome quote I emailed to myself because it just sort of sums up the way Emma is: "Oh! I always deserve the best treatment, because I never put up with any other."

Monday, May 9, 2011

Bossypants




I'm sure a lot of you have seen this book around. The cover is really so gross. I couldn't handle looking at it.

The book itself, however, is very funny. There are a couple of F words, which is disappointing, but I thought it was really funny. It's sort of a memoir, but sort of just a collection of essays about different things in her life. Like there's a chapter about her dad, who sounded awesome. He was like a scary dad who everyone just respects the moment they meet him. And there's a chapter about starting at Saturday Night Live, and one about leaving to create 30 Rock, a chapter about her honeymoon cruise to Bermuda and how the ship caught on fire and everyone had to fly back to New York--stuff like that.

It was really fast, too. I picked it up from the library on Friday and finished it on Saturday. I probably spent 5 hours reading the whole thing. So it goes fast.

One of my favorite things about the book was the girl power-ness of it. I really liked that. She brings in little feminist elements throughout the whole thing, but my favorite part was when she talked about working at Second City, an improv group in Chicago. The improv group had a touring company, which toured, obviously, and a mainstage company, which put on shows in Chicago. The mainstage company had always been 6 people. 4 men, 2 women. When she was working there, they suggested that they change it to 3 men and 3 women. And the people in charge, whoever they were, argued that having an equal number wouldn't work, because there wouldn't be enough parts for all the girls. Tina Fey called this her first experience with the illusion of not enough. She was like, "Not enough parts? We're not doing Death of a Salesman. This is improv. We're making it up, it's not even real. Of course there will be enough parts." And for some reason that little experience was my favorite part of the book.

So yeah. It was good, it was fast, and I laughed out loud frequently. Excellent book by my favorite funny lady.