Arubabookwoman Reads the Oldies
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Hello all! I'm Deborah and this is my 6th or so year in Club Read. (Why does that sound like an introduction in a 12-step program?)
I live in the Seattle area with my husband of 45 years, 3 cats and a dog. Our 5 kids have sadly scattered--3 to NYC, 1 in Houston, and 1 in Palo Alto, CA, although that just means we have to travel a lot. I've been retired since 2010, when the first of our 4 grandchildren was born--I decided it would be more fun to be a grandma than to be a tax attorney. In addition to reading, I'm also heavily into textile arts.
I've decided that this year I'm going to try to clear my shelves of unread books that have been hanging around for 10 years or more. Not classics or books I just want to own, not necessarily read, but books I purchased intending to read, but now am not even sure I'm interested in reading any more. I expect to start and abandon a lot of books, but hopefully I'll dispose of some books whose only function now is to make me feel guilty.
Of course, I'll also be doing my normal reading which is pretty eclectic. Probably the only things I don't like are horror and romance. I read about 1/3 nonfiction, 2/3 fiction; lots of literary and world fiction, some classics, some mysteries, a bit of science fiction, a tad of historical fiction.
Here's to good reading by all this year!
1. Broken Glass Park by Alina Bronsky 221 pp 2 1/2 stars
2. The Crash of 2016 by Thom Hartman 320 pp 3 1/2 stars
3. Before the Knife by Carolyn Slaughter 240 pp 2 stars
4. The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks
5. The Submission by Amy Waldman
6. The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara
I made a list of some of my TBRs I want to get to this year (more than will be possible, I know, even considering the fact that I may disregard this list altogether). Two stars means it's been on my shelf 10 years or more; one star means it's been on my shelf since I joined LT in 2009:
The Atlas William Vollmann
All My Puny Sorrows
And Still the Earth
**And the Ladies of the Club
**Antonia Saw the Oryx First
The Brothers Ashkenazy
The Bridges Vesaas
The Breaking Jewel
**The Bread Givers
**By the Light of My Father's Smile
**The Black Prince
*The Barren Zone
The Beautiful Screaming of Pigs
The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears
**Before the Knife
**Behind the Mountain
Beware of Pity
The Bird's Nest
The Black Count
By the Book
The Buddha of Suburbia
The Book That Changed My Life
The Bunner Sisters
*The Book of Illusions
Betrayed by Rita Hayworth
Beside the Ocean of Time
**Bastard Out of Carolina
**The Blind Assassin
**Babel, Collected Stories
The Boat to Redemption
Brain on Fire
Broken Glass Park
Blade of Grass
Case of Exploding Mangos
**The Country of Pointed Firs
**Consider This Senora
**The Camomille Lawn
Calendar of Regrets
Children of Paradise
The Cancer Chronicles
Civil War Land in Steep Decline
>7 arubabookwoman: you only got us through C (or maybe more is coming, seems like a lot already). Looking forward to you thread.
Catching up in the New Year! - Loved the remark about reading for "all the reasons" in the last bit of your 2015 thread.
Well, I've just returned from visiting grandkids in NYC. Most of our time was focused on the grandkids and helping out--a newborn and a 2 1/2 year old who's slightly disgruntled at being usurped are a lot of work. We did take one evening to visit the Strand Bookstore where I (more than) fulfilled my Thingaversary obligations. I bought:
1. The Pigeon by Patrick Susskind-- on the 1001 list
2. This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein--I had started it from the library, but knew I needed to read it more carefully and have my own copy.
3. The Traymore Rooms by Norm Sibum--saw it on some list.
4. Maurice Guest by Henry Handel Richardson--Australian author I like.
5. Novel on Yellow Paper by Stevie Smith--1001 list
6. My Struggle Book 3 by Karl Knausgaard--because I have Books 1,2, and 4.
7. The Bounty Trilogy by Charles Nordhoff--I love sea stories.
8. Oracle Night by Paul Auster--author I like.
9. A Changed Man by Francine Prose--I absolutely loved Reading Like a Writer, but I've never read any of her fiction.
10. What Great Paintings Say by Rose Marie de Rainer Hagen--because it looked fabulous.
Only 2 more than I was entitled to. :)
>12 dchaikin: Dan--more is indeed coming.
>15 NanaCC:--Allison, Jane and Colleen--Welcome. I hope to see lots of you this year.
>16 sibyx: Lucy--Yes I do read for all the reasons--and for different reasons for different books. But most of all, I read because I can't NOT read.
>17 baswood: Barry--I don't have alphabetical stacks. :) But I pulled these books from my virtual TBR shelves in my LT library where they are in alphabetical order.
I'm glad you had time with your grandchildren, Deborah. I'm going to see five of my seven this weekend. I treasure the time.
That is some book haul. I am going to try to show some restraint this year. We'll see how that goes. I'm just starting my fourth year in a couple of weeks, so not quite as dangerous for my TBR. Your thread on the other hand, very dangerous.
>18 arubabookwoman: The Strand is lethal to sober intentions, isn't it? Great list of books!
Like your TBR list. You have reminded me that I have the David Kynaston books covering the period 1945-59. I really must get round to reading them...
>18 arubabookwoman: taking care of a newborn and a two year old at the same time is hard. I would know. My sister is in that situation...only her "two year old" is 1 1/2. Good for you for helping out! :) I hope you had a great time.
Back to respond to my visitors soon, but first to some reviews. I've been reading a lot, but unfortunately no 4 or 5 star reads yet.
1. Broken Glass Park by Alina Bronsky 221 pp
This is Bronsky's first novel, and it shows. It opens wonderfully: "Sometimes I think I'm the only one in our neighborhood with any worthwhile dreams. I have two, and there's no reason to be ashamed of either one. I want to kill Vadim. And I want to write a book about my mother. I already have a title: The Story of an Idiotic Redheaded Woman Who Would Still Be Alive If Only She Had Listened To Her Smart Older Daughter."
Bronsky created a wonderful narrative voice for Sacha, the "smart older daughter." When the novel opens, Sacha's mother has been murdered by her stepfather, and Sacha, with her two younger siblings, living in an impoverished immigrant area of Berlin, must cope as she deals with her anger and her grief. Unfortunately, the book just doesn't seem to hold together. It wandered a lot, as if Bronsky wasn't quite sure where she wanted to take Sacha, and included Sacha having a fairly creepy relationship with a middle-aged journalist. Despite some good parts, this was basically an unsatisfactory read.
2 1/2 generous stars
2. The Crash of 2016 by Thom Hartmann
As Bernie's presidential candidacy makes clear, the U.S. economic system is broken, and it wasn't much improved by the half-measures put in place after the crash of 2008. Historically, a major economic collapse has occurred in the U.S. approximately every 80 years since its inception (1770's, 1857, 1930), and Hartmann posits that the factors are ripe for the next collapse. He clearly sets forth in a cohesive and logical manner the factors that are contributing to an imminent crash, which may not occur in 2016, but which is inevitable in the near future unless major corrective steps are undertaken. This book is gloomy, but it does provide a blueprint for measures we can take to recover from the coming crash. If you follow the news closely, probably none of the information provided in the book will be new to you; however, seeing it all together in one place, organized logically, one event compounding on the next, is eye-opening. If you're familiar with Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine, Hartmann shows us what the shock doctrine will look like in America. I recommend it to anyone interested in current events.
3 1/2 stars
Following are some facts I want to remember from the book:
--FDR called the billionaires who run the country the "Economic Royalists." The rise to power of Economic Royalists has historically been a harbinger of impending collapse. Other factors include brutal austerity, union busting, privatization of the commons, growth of extremism, and the growth of monopolies. Bill Moyers said, "We have government by a plutocracy--the rule of the rich, for the rich, by the rich. The Plutocracy has one purpose, which is to protect wealth."
--Hartmann dates the beginning of the impending crash to the memorandum written by Lewis Powell to the Chamber of Commerce, which provided a blueprint for the corporate takeover of schools and universities, the media, the courts, and the congress. For education, this includes corporate-friendly think tanks that influence the hiring of educators and the content of textbooks. For the media, this includes the rise of Fox News. For the courts and congress, this includes the explosion of lobbying, and more particularly the 30+ year campaign to have corporations declared "persons," culminating in the Citizens United Supreme Court decision.
--"Crisis capitalism" as delineated in The Shock Doctrine has never been successful, other than succeeding in its broader purpose of securing the economic and political power of a small dominant class and effecting the massive transfer of wealth from the lower and middle classes to a small group of monopolists and speculators. "Reaganomics" and "Thatcherism" are basically crisis capitalism.
--For a good economy for the middle class, we need:
1. Progressive taxation;
2. Strong social safety net;
3. Protections for working people (i.e. unions and tariffs);
4. Marketplace rules (i.e. no monopolies)
--FDR once proposed a "second" Bill of Rights, which included the right to:
1. Useful and remunerative job
2. Earn enough to provide adequate food, clothing and recreation
3. Businesses would be free from unfair competition
4. A decent home
5. Adequate medical care
6. Protection from the economic fears of old age, disability, or unemployment
7. A good education.
--Through massive tax cuts, the republicans increased the national debt by $10 trillion. This tax cuts had the added "benefit" that arguably government could not afford to provide social services.
--Clinton was actually the one to do great harm to the social safety net, and basically undid LBJ's Great Society, with his welfare reform and cutting the national debt. After Clinton's welfare reforms, poverty has increased dramatically. Clinton also implemented Ross Perot's "giant sucking sound" of jobs leaving the US with his trade deals--NAFTA, WTO, GATT. This has also led to enormous trade imbalances.
--Big monopolies have returned (in addition to "too big to fail" banks). In the past, the monopolies at least owed loyalty to the U.S.; now, because of trade deals, the transnationals owe no loyalty to the U.S. With the loss of manufacturing jobs, finance has surged to constitute 1/3 of economy. Our economy is more and more dependent on "bets on bets" (aka derivatives). There are now more that $800 TRILLION in unregulated derivatives floating around out there--more that 10 times the GDP of the entire planet.
--Rise of the Tea Party--was not a spontaneous grass roots event. It was greatly helped along by the Koch Brothers and their ilk.
--Citizens United was the culmination of a long history of attempts to attain personhood for corporations, and outside political spending went from $68 million in the 2006 midterms to $304 million in the 2010 midterms, just 10 months after the Citizens United decision. Now we have corporations, via the group ALEC, writing much of our states' legislation--I.e. Voter suppression laws and union-busting laws.
--What will be the "final straw" to bring on the collapse--the housing bubble in China? the crisis in the EU? the oil crisis? a Middle East war? the collapse of the global banking system?
--Some things to do to recover from the crisis when it comes:
--Get rid of Citizen's United
--Take on the Supreme Court (i.e. reconsider Marbury v. Madison)
--Strengthen the social safety net, esp. universal health care
--Reclaim the commons
--Cure Wall Street madness
--Begin to reinvest (infrastructure; education) not spend (wars)
--Strengthen wages (unions)
--Do something about student loan debt
--Outlaw billionaires (a wealth tax)
3. Before the Knife by Carolyn Slaughter
I'm not sure what Carolyn Slaughter intends us (the readers) to take away from her memoir. She tells us on page 4 that she was "first" raped by her father when she was 6 years old. Then there is no further reference to this until the epilogue, when she briefly describes how years later as an adult she remembered the incident. In between, she tells the story of her childhood, with a father who was admittedly cruel and distant, and who was a colonial administrator in what is now Botswana, and a mother who was about as emotionally distant as you can be from a child and still claim to be a mother. Definitely a dysfunctional family, but without knowledge of the rape there is not enough context to explain the author's rage and rebellion from the time she was a small child. So is this a book about incest and the damage it does? Is it meant to be about recovered memories? If so, there is little analysis or context provided for either. Maybe it's just a book about an unhappy childhood.
I've seen this book described as a brilliant evocation of a childhood in the beautiful African landscape. There may have been glimpses of that, but for the most part the evocation didn't reach me. If you're looking for evocations of African childhoods of British colonials read Doris Lessing (fiction and non fiction or Alexandra Fuller's Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight. I really didn't like this book.
>29 arubabookwoman: I haven't read anything by Lessing and I need to rectify that eventually, but I really enjoyed Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight. I'll skip Slaughter.
>28 arubabookwoman: The Crash of 2016 sounds interesting, but I find the news terribly depressing these days. I'm not sure this would make me feel any better.
>28 arubabookwoman: Great overview of this terrifying situation, Deborah. I may have to read this book.
Chiming in to say terrific, terrifying and very interesting review of The Crash of 2016.
Really enjoyed reading the notes you made on The Crash of 2016. I have to admit a good part of me hopes that there will be such a crash.
>20 NanaCC: Colleen--Yes I love my time with the grandkids--I just wish they weren't so far away. We are considering a move to the East Coast if my husband ever retires.
>21 RidgewayGirl: Kay--Good to see you here.
>22 janeajones: Jane--Yes grandkids are the greatest.
>23 theaelizabet: Thea--I love the Strand. Too bad they don't have anyplace to sit and chill, and it's always been very crowded whenever I've been.
>24 AlisonY: Thanks Alison.
>25 wandering_star: Margaret--I don't have the other books in the series, but if I ever get to Austerity Britain, I'm sure they will wind up on the TBR shelves.
> 26 Wow--your sister has her hands full. We will next see the 2 1/2 year old in March when my son is bringing him here for a visit. We are then going back to NY with them for a week, as my son will be taking paternity leave to be the sole caregiver for the 2 1/2 year old and baby Gil who will then be 4 month old when our daughter-in-law returns to work from her maternity leave. Our son only have to be the sole caregiver for 2 weeks, after which the baby will start day care, but we thought we'd help him out a bit.
>30 NanaCC: Colleen--I loved Lessing's early fictional work, most of which is set in the Africa of her childhood, and I highly recommend it, as well as her autobiography, Vol. 1. And, The Crash of 2016 is guaranteed NOT to make you feel better.
>31 theaelizabet: Thea--I'm really interested in Jane Mayer's new book--I've seen her on a couple of shows discussing it.
>32 cabegley: Hi Chris--I think you would greatly appreciate The Crash of 2016
>33 dchaikin: Hi Dan--Yes the thought of such a crash is frightening.
>34 baswood: Bas--While I don't hope for such a crash, most of me feels it's inevitable.
Now for some reviews:
The next book was read for my rl book club. I was in this book club since 1992. A couple of years ago I decided to drop out because I didn't like many of the books they were reading. But I decided to go back, starting this month, since I missed the face to face discussion of the books Even though I didn't particularly like this book (and most of the other members didn't either) it was a good discussion book.
4. The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks
This is historical fiction, a novelized account of the life of the Biblical King David, of David and Goliath fame. I had a very hard time getting into the book, as the first 150 or so pages were very slow moving and consisted primarily of accounts of battles, as David consolidated his power. I will say Brooks is quite graphic in her descriptions of gore and mayhem. I liked the second part better, as it incorporates the stories of Bathsheba, and the rape of Tamar.
However, overall this is not a successful novel. In the end, I felt that I learned no more about David and his life than I could have learned in the episodic accounts I read as a child in Bible stories. Perhaps this was due to the conceit of having the novel narrated by Natan, David's prophet, so that I never felt I was in David's mind, learning his thoughts, learning what motivated him. Brooks has said that her purpose was to show David as a "flawed" character, and the book did this, as it relates incidents of evil and incidents of good (although one person in my Book Club called the book "David-bashing."). But the book never reconciles these inconsistencies, and there is no narrative arc--just a series of incidents in the life of David.
5. The Submission by Amy Waldman
When the winner of a competition to design a memorial for the 9/11 victims is revealed to be a Muslim, controversy erupts. The first thought of some on the panel who chose the winner from anonymously submitted designs is to ignore the choice and choose the runner-up. However, when it is leaked to the press that the winner was a Muslim that option becomes politically unviable. It is decided to hold a public hearing to determine if either the design or the architect is "unsuitable" in some way. The design is that of a garden, and some of the opponents of the design claim that it is in fact the garden of paradise of Islamic myth, and that rather than being a tribute to the victims of 9/11 it is intended as a place of repose for the terrorists.
The novel is told from several points of view: Claire, the widow of a 9/11 victim was on the panel which chose the design, and initially supports the design despite the ethnicity of its architect. Mohammad Kahn, the architect, is a thoroughly Americanized Muslim. However, he refuses to answer questions about either his religion or intent in making the design, taking the position that the design must speak for itself. Other pov characters are the head of the panel that chose the design, the brother of a firefighter who died in the towers who resents not having been chosen to be the "victims' families representative" on the panel, a rabid anti-Islamist protestor, the journalist who broke the story about the winner being a Muslim, and finally, Asma, the widow of a victim who was an illegal immigrant from Bangladesh.
This is a novel of ideas, but never loses sight of the fact that it is a novel, and never becomes boring. Themes of Islam, grief, and art are explored.
6. The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara
Norton Perina as a young doctor goes to the remote Pacific island of Ivu'ivu with a group of anthropologists in search of a lost tribe. While there, he discovers a group of people who somehow seem to have achieved the ability to live 200 years or more--but at a cost. The book is written in the form of a memoir (with footnotes by a follower of Norton's), and the author's skill as a writer is to show us Norton's disagreeable, and even evil character, while we learn of his life from him in the first person. His accomplishments were notable--he won the Nobel prize and also adopted dozens of Ivu'ivuan children whom he raised and educated. However, we also learn as the novel opens that he is writing his memoirs while in prison as a convicted pedophile.
What interested me about the book is that it is so closely based on the life of a real person--Daniel Carleton Gajdusek. I first learned of Gajdusek several years ago when I read a book about prion diseases, The Family The Couldn't Sleep by D.T. Max. Gajdusek studied a lost tribe in New Guinea, and discovered kuru, the first prion disease found in humans, which was later determined to be transmitted among the tribe members by cannibalism, as they ritualistically ate family members who died. Gajdusek also adopted 56 children from remote tribes, won the Nobel Prize in 1976, and was convicted of pedophilia. Given all these similarities I was surprised Gajdusek was not mentioned by Yanagihara as an inspiration for the character of Norton. It also seemed to me that the primary change she made--her lost tribe members achieved a sort of immortality by eating turtle meat--is somewhat less believable than Gajdusek's prion disease discovery.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed this book, and would recommend it if the subject interests you.
Here's another book owned more that 10 years down:
7. A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali by Gil Courtemanche
This is a love story set amid a genocide, or, perhaps, two genocides: the African AIDS epidemic and the Hutu massacre of Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994.
Valcourt, a Canadian journalist in Rwanda, falls in love with Gentille, a Hutu who looks like a Tutsi. They live at the Mille-Collines Hotel, a gathering place for aid workers, UN peacekeepers, government officials, prostitutes, diplomats and various expats. The story of the AIDS devastation is very much in the forefront as we hear, feel and observe and the developing storm of the Hutu-led massacre of the Tutsis and wait with bated breath its final outburst.
The dedication to this novel reads:
"To my Rwandan friends swept away in the maelstrom
Emerita, Andre, Cyprien, Raphael, Landouald, Helene, and Methode
To a few unsung heroes still living
Louise, Marie, Stratton, Victoire
Finally to Gentille, who served me eggs and beer and could be dead or alive, if only I knew
I tried to speak for you
And I hope I have not failed you
These are all also the names of characters in the novel, and the author states in the prologue that all the characters are real, that he has used their real names, and that the events he describes really happened.
I think that the book does a very good job of explaining the origins and basis for the antagonism between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes, and goes a long way to showing how the genocide could have happened (800,000+ Tutsis were massacred) while the world watched and did nothing. One issue I had with the book, as a novel, is why Valcourt did not leave with Gentille, who was his wife at that point, when he had the opportunity to do so.
This is a gruesome read, but necessary. I personally have not read its nonfiction counterpart We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families and must remedy that. Another relevant book I haven't read is Shake Hands with the Devil, written by the head of the UN peacekeeping forces in Rwanda at the time.
3 1/2 stars
Excellent reviews! I am most intrigued by The Submission--it sounds like a great idea for a book, and as >40 SassyLassy: says, I like the callback to Maya Lin. I may check out A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali as well, although it sounds like I'd have to steel myself to do so. We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families was excellent, although I had the unfortunate juxtaposition of reading it while on vacation in Disney World.
I have had enough of Geraldine Brooks, but these other three sound terrific...but I notice your ratings are on the mediocre side, 3-3.5.
Wow. Looks like you've been reading some great books lately! I'm especially interested in The People in the Trees. I'll have to look it up.
Hope you have a great week ahead.
Great reviews, Deborah. No book bullets this time around for me, though.
Deborah, did you know that you are #5 on the list of people with the most books in common with me? (my husband is #1 on the list, LOL). Well, I thought it interesting to mention.
Will answer all my visitors after I post some reviews:
8. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
I thought I had read this years ago, probably as a teenager. If so, I had apparently lost all memory of it, as my memories appear to have been of the events as depicted in the old flickering black and white films. The book itself is wonderful, the narrative lines complex, the prose dark and brooding. Lots of very modern themes here--fear of what technology can bring, the need for responsible science, prejudice and fear of the unknown. But also very character driven--even though Frankenstein's "monster" does horrific things, we sympathize with his plight. Highly recommended.
4 1/2 stars
9. Black Out by John Lawton
This is a murder mystery set in war-time London, and I believe it is the first in the Inspector Troy series. (I've read a couple of the later books in the series and have enjoyed very much their combination of murder mystery/political intrigue). This book starts with the discovery of a human arm, but soon there are two bodies and a third person is missing. The bodies appear to be German, but how did they get to London during the Blitz, and why were they there are puzzles Inspector Troy must confront as he searches for a possible serial killer. In his search, Troy must deal with spy agencies--British and American--as well as more than one love interest. I enjoyed this, and I've got another Inspector Troy on my TBR shelf to get to soon.
10. H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
Everyone on LT probably has already heard of Macdonald's memoir about raising and training a goshawk to cope with her grief over her father's death. Interspersed throughout are her thoughts on the life and works of T.H. White, who had a tortured emotional life, and who also trained a goshawk, as detailed in his book The Goshawk.
I learned a lot about goshawks, particularly that I want nothing to do with them. Beautiful in the wild, but not to be tamed. Macdonald was able to convey to me her dedication to and love of falconry and in particular her goshawk Mabel, but I can't say I totally understood it. To me it's just one step removed from cock-fighting or dog-fighting.
11. A Tale For the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
The diary of 16 year old Nao, a Japanese girl raised in California, but living unhappily in Tokyo, washes up on the shore of a Pacific Northwest island, where it is found by Ruth, a blocked writer. As Ruth (slowly) reads Nao's diary, she learns of Nao's suicidal thoughts. Nao is horrifically bullied at school, and her only solace is her great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun. Ruth becomes obsessed with finding out what has happened to Nao--whether she is real, and whether she is still alive (the diary is probably several years old).
I was much more interested in Nao's story than in Ruth's, and became impatient when reading through Ruth's part of the story. The novel totally lost me however, when it veered into the supernatural and metaphysical, as Ruth's dreams began directing the course the events depicted in Nao's diary took.
12. Department of Speculation by Jenny Offill
This short novel presents a portrait of a marriage over the years in short episodic snippets (I won't even say "vignettes"), from courtship, through marriage, birth of a child, disintegration of the marriage, and regeneration of the marriage. There are lots of literary and other cultural references, and there were some parts I enjoyed, the invasion of bedbugs for example. However, I never became fully engaged with the characters or what was happening to them, and I felt that the novel was trying too hard to be a literary marvel. Some of the reviews on Amazon described it as a "novel in Post It notes", a "mosaic", "modern art in words." I didn't feel I totally wasted my time in reading this book, but I also don't feel that I was enriched by it.
2 1/2 stars
13. February by Lisa Moore
Helen lost her husband in the sinking of an oil rig off the coast of Newfoundland in 1982. Following his death (along with 85 others in the disaster), she raised her four children alone, one born posthumously. The novel jumps back and forth in time from the story of Helen's early life with her husband Cal to the time of the disaster to the present when her children are grown. This is another book in which there is little coherent plot, and the events are simply presented as fragments of life. Perhaps I was expecting the book to be the compelling story of the oil rig disaster and its aftereffects, but in fact the way in which Helen's husband died had very little effect on the story. Usually (despite my comments re Department of Speculation above) lack of a plot, or novels presented as episodic fragments don't bother me, and I have enjoyed many novels written in this manner. However, this was another book that left me cold.
2 1/2 stars
14. So Far Gone by Paul Cody
At age 25, Jack murdered his mother, father and grandfather. The novel opens 10 years later as Jack is on death row, appeals exhausted, awaiting execution. His priest suggests he write an account to explain his actions. The novel consists of the story of "why" written by Jack, interspersed with the accounts of other witnesses, including neighbors, detectives, journalists, etc., who had knowledge of the events.
Jack is clearly psychotic, and his father was an alcoholic, his grandmother was abusive, and his mother failed to intervene. So there is plenty of dysfunction in his family to explain Jack's actions. As I was reading the novel, I was reminded of the book Red the Fiend by Gilbert Sorrentino, which is a much better book dealing with similar themes than So Far Gone.
2 1/2 stars
15. The Death of Bees by Lisa O'Donnell
After the deaths of their parents (drug addicts), two sisters decide to hide their deaths until the older sister, Marnie, is old enough to become the legal guardian of the younger sister, Nelly. I had high hopes for this one, and it is competently written, and there are lots of complications and close calls. This should have been a book I was unable to put down. Unfortunately, it was another one that didn't grab me, and in the end, the conclusion was too pat.
2 1/2 stars
I always look to you for some great recommendations. I'm not inclined towards these.. I hope you have better luck with your next suggestions.
>52 arubabookwoman: Thank you for that review -- it has been mentioned by my bookclub before and now I know to not vote for it if it is suggested again
>53 arubabookwoman: I liked this one better than you. I think experiencing it as an audio book helped -- the reader was able to add an emotional dimension from the first pages that in paper form takes time to develop.
I, too, hope your next reads are more enjoyable!
Hope you have better luck with your upcoming books. Frankenstein is indeed wonderful.
Wow. This may be the first time I've read a group of your reviews and not found a single one to add to my wish list, Deborah. Cheers to better books to come!
I can't believe I owe people responses to comments going back to January!! I apologize for the delay, and if anyone ever returns to my thread, here goes:
>40 SassyLassy: Interesting comparison to Maya Lin. I guess I wasn't aware of that controversy, and so didn't make the connection. I also wasn't aware that there is a film of A Sunday by the Pool in Kigali, so thanks for that information. I will have to track that down.
>41 cabegley: Chris--another mention of a Maya Lin connection. I'll have to check that out. I haven't read the nonfiction books on Rwanda, but I think you'd "like". if that is the word, A Sunday by the Pool in Kigali
>42 dchaikin: Dan--actually for me, 3 and 3 1/2 stars are quite good. From my profile page:
"When I star books, 3 stars means a very good book, one that I would have no hesitation in recommending, especially if you are interested in the genre or subject of the book. 3 1/2 stars is a very good book, one that I especially liked and connected with. 4 stars is an excellent book, standing out above most other books, a book which will stay with me a long time and which I may want to reread. A 4 1/2 star book is a near perfect book, which will probably be around for a long time. A 5 star book is a book I expect to be around for all time.
"A 2 1/2 star book can be either a perfectly good book which did not resonate with me, or a book with minor flaws. 2 stars is a book I did not like, or which had major flaws. 1 1/2 stars means you are taking a big chance if you read that book. 1 or 1/2 means definitely do not bother reading the book"
Maybe this is another reason why giving stars isn't all that helpful--the number means different things to different people.
>43 The_Hibernator: and >47 The_Hibernator: Thanks for visiting Rachel, and thanks for the Valentine's Day wishes.
>44 rebeccanyc: and >58 rebeccanyc: Thanks for visiting Rebecca, and for the good wishes
>45 kidzdoc: and >64 kidzdoc: Hi Daryl--Thanks for stopping by, and for the hope for better reading.
>46 sibyx: Lucy--the only other book by Geraldine Brooks I've read is her nonfiction memoir, Foreign Correspondence, about growing up in Australia with many penpals, and later as an adult traveling the world to track them down and meet them. I enjoyed that one.
>48 avaland: That is interesting that we have so many books in common, Lois. Maybe it's because we're both quilters, and like Science Fiction and Mysteries in addition to literary fiction.
>57 SassyLassy: I can imagine that living in Newfoundland would have made the book a better read. Thanks for the good wishes re better reading.
>59 NanaCC: Colleen thanks--I've had some better reads lately.
>60 ELiz_M: Elizabeth--a lot of people have liked A Tale for the Time Being very much, so I may be kind of an outlier in my opinion.
>61 baswood: Bas--I wasn't expecting to like Frankenstein as much as I did. It's very modern.
>62 avaland: Lois--I did have a couple of good reads, and more to come with the reading I've done since I last reported
>63 janeajones: Thanks Jane--As I said, I hadn't been expecting to like Frankenstein so much.
WHEW!! I'll try to do better in the future!
We just got back from New York. Taking care of a 3 year old and a 4 month old is exhausting, but we enjoyed every minute of it. Glad to get back into my old routine though.
Some exciting news--2 of my quilts were accepted into a quilt exhibition at the Washington State Museum of History and Industry. The show is on the state of the art quilt in 2016, and it opens 4-16. Since I don't know how to post pictures (I've tried with a dismal lack of success), I will post a link to the show after it opens, if anyone wants to check out my quilts.
Now for some reviews.
16. Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin
This is the first in the Inspector Rebus series. I've read and enjoyed several of the later books in the series (including those at the very end), and thought I'd go back and start at the beginning. I wasn't terribly impressed with the debut, and if this had been the first Rebus I read I might not have continued with the series. The case involves a serial killer and Rebus receiving anonymous letters with knots and crosses in them. He comes across as rather dense not to make the connections with his past that the reader can make fairly quickly. In addition there's not a whole lot of police procedures going on. So, on the whole I found this a rather mediocre read. Although overall I recommend the Rebus series, I'd recommend this book in particular only for completeists.
2 1/2 stars
17. Five Bells by Gail Jones
This novel presents four individuals each grappling with difficulties from their pasts, whose lives briefly intersect on a Saturday on Circular Quay in Sidney. James and Ellie had been lovers as teenagers, and they are meeting again after many years apart. Catherine, an Irish immigrant, is struggling over the death of her brother. Pei is a Chinese immigrant, a victim of the Cultural Revolution who is coming to terms with her former tormentor. The fifth "bell" is a young girl who goes missing. The book is poetically written--I liked for example that as each character was introduced on the Quay and the point of view shifted, there was a different description of the Opera House, each entirely distinct in mood and tone from previous descriptions. The plot, however, moves at a glacial pace, and it took me a very long time to read this short book. Overall, this was not a memorable read for me.
2 1/2 stars
18. The Witch of Exmoor by Margaret Drabble
The eponymous witch of this novel is Frieda, a feminist best-selling author who has recently sold her family home and moved to a remote and crumbling mansion by the sea to write her memoirs. Her family thinks she has lost her marbles, and worries about her testamentary intent. Frieda's most recent book was a failure, and the family has been mostly ignoring Frieda, that is until a movie producer expresses an interest into turning it into a film. When her family tries to contact her, they discover Frieda has disappeared. Drabble uses this set-up to make wickedly funny comments on the state of current society. She writes in a semi-19th century tone with frequent ironic authorial asides. This was an enjoyable read.
19. To Each His Own by Leonardo Sciascia
When this novel opens, Manno, the town pharmacist, receives a note in the mail stating, "This letter is your death sentence." Ultimately deciding that the threat is a joke, he ignores it and goes on a planned hunting trip the next day with Dr. Roscio. Tragically, they both fail to return at the end of the day, and their murdered bodies are later discovered. The police investigation follows the course of trying to determine what Manno did to warrant the death threat and its implementation, with Dr. Roscio's death considered to be that of an innocent bystander to an intentional murder. However, Professor Laurana pursues another course--perhaps the intended victim was Dr. Roscio, and the death threat to Manno was merely intended to throw the authorities off.
This novel is an unconventional mystery and an examination of Sicilian society. According to the forward, the novel, "dramatizes from the inside out how a community will fabricate the appearance of truth from the tissue of unsubstantiated insinuations, usually because it needs to believe the worst of human beings." It highlights a Sicilian society in which, "silent complicity...allows those who know who committed the killings and why---nearly everyone around...knows---to withhold their knowledge...."
3 1/2 stars
20. The Inner Circle by T.C. Boyle
This is the fictionalized story of Dr. Alfred Kinsey, the zoologist at Indiana University who revolutionized the field of sex research and authored The Kinsey Report. The novel is narrated by John Milk, a (fictional) assistant to Kinsey and a member of his inner circle of aides, assistants and their spouses. Milk is presented as a worshipful innocent, and Kinsey as charismatic and manipulative of his circle--Kinsey's view is that sex is strictly animalistic, and he requires all his "inner circle" to have sex with him, his wife, and with each other's spouses--sometimes with an audience.
Boyle is an excellent writer, although this is not his best book. The plot keeps the pages turning and all the characters are well-developed. An interesting look at an iconic figure.
21. Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer
Between January 2008 and May 2012, there were 350 sexual assaults reported to the Missoula police department (and multiples more presumably unreported incidents).Krakauer takes us through the stories behind several of these sexual assaults, which consist primarily of acquaintance rape involving college students. Frequently, drinking is a factor, and sometimes the assaultor is a college athlete. Based on the treatment and outcomes in some of the cases reported by Krakauer, one can understand why rape is so underreported, since the victim frequently comes under more scrutiny that the perpetrator. When the perpetrator is an athlete on a popular college team the public frequently sides with the athlete and vilifies the victim. Krakauer also considers and contrasts the way the cases are handled by police department and by the college itself, which may expel a student "convicted" of rape, but may not criminally punish him.
This is an important work of true crime reporting, and although it can be argued that it is one-sided in that Krakauer is clearly on the side of the victim in each case, that is as it should be. With no other crime are victims as subject to victimization by the justice system as well as by the criminal.
22. How To Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less by Sarah Glidden
Three of my five children have gone on a Birthright trip to Israel. This is an all-expenses paid trip to Israel for those who have a Jewish ancestor (my husband is Jewish), and my understanding is that such trips are intended to make Americans of Jewish background more "friendly" to Israel.
This book, a graphic memoir, gave me a good understanding of what a Birthright trip is like. It conveys a brief sense of the problems faced by Israel, including the issue of its Palestinian population, but overall its consideration of the issues is rather superficial, possibly because a Birthright trip by its very conception will be somewhat one-sided in outlook. (Also because of its graphic memoir format I did not expect the book to delve too deeply into the difficult issues in the Mideast.) I recommend the book as a personal depiction of the Birthright experience, but not as a serious piece of journalism on Israel.
23. Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven
In this work of vintage science fiction and classic of apocalyptic literature, a giant comet strikes the Earth. It is a book of epic scope, with dozens of characters, ranging from astronauts to street gang members, senators to religious fanatics, astronomers to postal workers. While it is clearly a book of its time (there are no computers to speak of, no GPS, no cell phones), its focus is on the actions and reactions of people as society struggles for survival. An engaging read.
This is a book I read as part of my project to read books on my shelf for more than 10 years:
24. The Known World by Edward P. Jones
Henry Townsend is a black farmer, former slave, and, with his wife Caledonia, a slave-owner in pre-Civil War Virginia. This book looks at the moral complexities of slavery from the unusual viewpoint of black slave owners. The writing is excellent, with overlapping plots, shifting points of view, a large cast of characters over long and shifting time periods, with vivid and exquisite detail of life during this time. This was not an easy book to read, as it is not linear and straight-forward in style, but it is well-worth the effort. It is a book I highly recommend.
This is a book I read for my RL book club:
25. Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin
This book, set in 1950's Paris is about repressed desire battling conventional morality. David's fiancée Hella is away, and David engages in a homosexual affair with Giovanni, all the while not willing to admit to himself that he is gay. When he returns to Hella, tragedy ensues, and the reader is left to wonder whether David will continue to live a lie.
I found this book to be somewhat dated. At the time it was written there were difficulties in getting it published due to the subject matter. Homosexual acts were illegal in much of the US, and although legal in Paris, homosexuals were still stigmatized in Paris. Today, being gay is not longer a shameful secret. I think the book has more historical importance than literary importance.
Another book on the shelf more than 10 years:
26. Restoration by Rose Tremain
Restoration is set during the reign of Charles II. Robert Merivel holds the position of veterinarian to the King's dogs, as well as acting the part of the King's fool. When the King needs a cover for his mistress Celia, he marries Celia off to Merivel, on the condition that Merivel can never fall in love with her. Merivel is given a large estate, and takes up painting and playing the oboe, living a debauched and idle life. When Celia displeases the King, however, she is sent to live on Merivel's estate, and he in turn displeases the king by falling in love with her. This king disowns Merivel, and he must make his own way in the world. We follow Merivel on his rags to riches to rags story.
Tremain has created a vividly-crafted work of historical fiction, with great detail and humor. There are fascinating descriptions of life in the 17th century. Tremain says that Restoration was her "fictional response to the climate of selfishness and material greed that began to prevail in our society during the Thatcher years, from which we have never recovered, and for which we are now beginning to pay a terrifying price."
27. Troll: A Love Story by Johanna Sinisalo
In this winner of the Finlandia Award, trolls are presented as a real but extremely rare species of animal discovered in 1907. Angel, a young gay photographer/graphic designer finds an injured young troll one evening and takes it in. In order to save the troll, who he names Pessi, Angel seeks to learn everything he can about trolls, and chapters relating the story of Angel's falling in love with Pessi, are interspersed quotations and excerpts from real and fictional works referring to trolls. This was a fascinating read.
3 1/2 stars
28. The Bunner Sisters by Edith Wharton
This is a short but excellent work by Edith Wharton. Ann Eliza and Evelina are sisters eking out a living in a small buttons and notions shop where customers are few and far between when Hermann Ramy, a clockmaker enters their lives. The sisters, starved for friendship, are overcome by Mr. Ramy's attentions, with dire consequences. This is another book, like Wharton's Summer which I read last year, in which she so successfully delves into characters far-removed from her own social class. The realities of the poor urban working class are clearly presented, and the plight of unmarried women in that time and place are also highlighted.
29. Greybeard by Brian Aldiss
In this work of classic dystopian science fiction, a nuclear accident has left the human race (as well as larger mammals) sterile, and no children have been born for many years. As the youngest humans reach their late 50's, society has disintegrated rapidly and completely, and people live in technologically primitive tribes, defending themselves against attacks from packs of animals. The characters are seeking to find meaning to a life in which there is no one to pass the world on to. The New York Times has described this work as "An adult Lord of the Flies without Golding's heavy-handed symbolism and cumbersome style." That seems to me to be an apt comparison, although I would have kinder words about Golding's symbolism and style.
Some really interesting and varied reading here. No wonder there was no time for LT between that and grandchildren!
I agree with you concerning T C Boyle and The Inner Circle. I also felt that way about The Road to Wellville. Maybe the constraints of historical figures are too great, although he did a superb job with Water Music and Mungo Park.
I keep circling Restoration, but never actually pick it up, but you offer more encouragement to do just that. The Sciasia looks promising too.
Congratulations on the quilts and please do post links and photos.
Lots of interesting reviews, quite a number I still need to read; I'll keep Bunner Sisters in mind. Good choice.
>76 arubabookwoman: I just read Giovanni's Room and updated with it yesterday, then came to catch up on threads and here it is again. It's strange how often that seems to happen.
The show at the Washington State History Museum opened last Saturday, so here is a link to pictures of my quilts:
Here is the second quilt:
Here is the whole show if anyone is interested:
It's a fabulous show if I do say so myself. :)
Beautiful!!! I especially love the one in the first link. I can't imagine being able to make something like that!
>81 SassyLassy: Sassy--I agree about Boyle. I've read some excellent books by him. I think my favorite so far is The Tortilla Curtain. And thanks for taking the time to look at my quilts. I'm glad you like them.
>82 rebeccanyc: Rebecca--I recall your reading the Sciascia crime novels. I'll be looking for his other books.
>83 edwinbcn: Thanks for visiting Edwin. Wharton is one of my favorites.
>84 baswood: Bas--thanks for dropping in.
>85 valkyrdeath: It is funny how every so often a book seems to be everywhere on the LT threads. Thanks for visiting.
>87 NanaCC: Thanks Colleen.
>88 japaul22: Thanks Jennifer--and remember you are especially talented musically, and I could never do that!
I've been reading and abandoning a lot of library books, and for some reason I feel more able to abandon a library book. Maybe it's because if I stop reading a book I own I don't always feel I've abandoned it since I can go back to it whenever I feel like it. Anyway I've read 100-200 of the following books, and abandoned them: Bettyville; Disclaimer; Little Wolves; and Beatlebone.
30. The Novel Cure: An A-Z of Literary Remedies by Ella Berthoud
The "premise" of this book is that reading a good novel can "cure" a person of many maladies. It is written in the format of a dictionary or encyclopedia organized by ailment. The entries under each malady discuss a book or books which will remedy the malady. For example, to cure "cowardice", read To Kill a Mockingbird; for fear of aging, read 100 Years of Solitude.
The book is also chock-full of lists, including lists such as "The Ten Best Novels To Read in the Bathroom" or "The Ten Best Novels for Fifty-Somethings" etc. So, the good thing about this book is that it refers to more than 700 books, well-known and not so well-known, and is guaranteed to inflate your wishlist.
However, I found a great number of the entries to be too preachy (or perhaps the author was merely trying too hard to be cute). Entries like this one (for Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry) grated on me: "In our Western world of dependence on nursing homes and hospitals, we would do well to take note of this example of a family caring for its elderly at home. Aged parents don't be so objectionable that your children and spouse want to hole you up somewhere you can't embarrass them."
In addition, there was a lot of padding in the form of cross referencing--i.e CHILDREN, TRAPPED BY see TRAPPED BY CHILDREN; or
HONEST, BEING TOO see BEANS, TEMPTATION TO SPILL THE.
In general, Berthoud's discussion and analysis of the books is not particularly enlightening, but everyone once in a while she says something delightful like this: "When you begin a sentence by the Portuguese writer Jose Saramago, you are making a commitment to follow it wherever it goes...."
Recommended for dipping into and out of.
Here's another book down that I've owned more than ten years:
31. That Old Ace in the Hole by Annie Proulx
Bob Dollar takes a job as a land scout for Global Pork Rind to locate industrial hog farms in the Texas panhandle. Since hog farms are so unpopular, he must go undercover, and presents himself as a scout for a luxury home real estate developer. He bases himself in the town of Woolybucket, lodging in an old cowboy bunkhouse and getting to know all the oldtimers in town. Proulx uses this thinnest of plots to relate episodic stories of the old cowhands from the earliest days of the twentieth century through the present day. The novel is full of eccentric and colorful characters (including the eponymous Ace Crouch, repairer of windmills) whose stories meander and criss-cross with each other over the years. Like Proulx's masterpiece The Shipping News, the sense of place, in this case the Texas panhandle rather than Newfoundland, is as important an element as the characters or the plot.
I'm really sorry I let this languish on my shelves for so long. Highly recommended.
32. Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison
This semi-autobiographical novel about Bone, the illegitimate daughter of Anney Boatwright. Despite their poverty, and the alcoholism of some of the uncles, Bone has a fairly decent childhood with a loving mother and extended family until her mother marries Daddy Glenn. After that, Bone suffers increasingly serious abuse from Daddy Glenn, and her mother increasingly turns a blind eye to Daddy Glenn's abusive actions. I had a difficult time accepting that a mother who had been presented so loving as Anney would really choose the abusive Daddy Glenn over her daughter.
2 1/2 stars
33. Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters by Kate Brown
"We are all citizens of Plutopia."
This book presents the parallel stories of Richland Washington, near the Hanford nuclear facility, and Ozersk in the former Soviet Union, the first two cities in the world to produce plutonium for the nuclear arms race. Parts I and II discuss the creation of the two production facilities. Part III discusses the effects of plutonium production on people and the environment, including the environmental catastrophes which occurred at both these sites. Part IV discusses the aftermath of the contamination.
Both communities were reserved for the elite employees and their families, and were highly subsidized and had limited access. Both cities had adjacent areas where migrants, soldiers, and, in the case of Ozersk, prisoners lived. These were the workers who performed many of the more menial and more dangerous tasks in the production of plutonium.
The nuclear accidents, leaks, and deliberate dumps that have occurred at both facilities over the years are truly horrifying. Over the years these plants have issued radioactive isotopes exceeding that released by multiple Chernobyls, and both areas are ongoing environmental disasters.
This was an important look at Cold War history, as well as the enormous environmental cost of the nuclear arms race. Anyone who thinks nuclear power is the answer to the energy crisis should read this book.
3 1/2 stars
34. A Stranger in My Grave by Margaret Millar
A vintage crime novel, in which a woman dreams that she discovered a grave with her name and date of birth on it, and a date of death four years previously. As days pass, she can't stop thinking about this dream, and decides that something important must have happened on that date four years previously to cause her to dream it as the date of her death. She therefore hires a private detective to investigate what happened on that date. So far so good--an interesting premise. And for the most part this book is well-plotted and entirely believable. Unfortunately, there is a big exception to the believability factor (for me at least), and that is that the woman immediately falls madly in love with the private detective she hires, even though she had been previously presented as happily married. I was annoyed that she fell in love with the detective and decided to leave her husband in such an abrupt way. However, I enjoyed the book enough that I will read other novels by Margaret Millar.
35. Montana, 1948 by Larry Watson
This is a coming of age novel about 12 year old David, whose father Wesley is the sheriff of a small Montana town. David's uncle Frank, a former war hero and well-respected doctor is accused of sexually molesting some of his female Indian patients. The novel presents conflicts between justice and family loyalties. It's a quiet novel of character.
3 1/2 stars
36. Summer House With Swimming Pool by Herman Koch
If you've read The Dinner by Herman Koch, you'll find Summer House With Swimming Pool to be similar--an unreliable narrator and basically unlikeable characters. This novel is narrated by Dr. Marc Schlosser, who takes a very jaundiced view of his patients, many of whom are rich and famous. One of his patients, Ralph Meier, has recently died, and questions arise as to whether Marc committed medical malpractice in connection with the death. Further, if there has been medical malpractice, is it possible that Ralph Meir was murdered? Koch has stated that the inspiration for this novel was the idea of a "passive murder." In addition, like The Dinner, the novel raises questions of how far a parent can, or should, go to protect their teenage children.
I enjoyed this book, though not quite as much as The Dinner.
37. My New Orleans, Gone Away by Peter M. Wolf
This is a memoir about growing up in New by the son of a prominent New Orleans Jewish family. After time away at Exeter and Yale, Wolf returned to New Orleans to join his father's cotton brokerage business while at night working on a masters in art history at Tulane. After receiving his degree, he must decide whether to remain in New Orleans in the family business, or leave New Orleans to pursue a career in art/architectural history.
This was an interesting portrait of what it was like to feel like an outsider in New Orleans, which is a notoriously closed society. While Wolf's family was wealthy and prominent in New Orleans going back generations, (they were sufficiently well-known to merit their own table at Galatoire's, for example), they were excluded from elite New Orleans "society" because they were Jewish. As Jews they were excluded from the "right" country clubs and excluded from participation in the Mardi Gras krewes that form the backbone of New Orleans society.
I enjoyed the book because of my familiarity with places and things he mentions and experiences. (He was at Tulane getting his art history degree about 5 years before I was at Tulane getting my music history degree.) However, I had expected from descriptions of the book that it had something to do with Hurricane Katrina, and it does not, except in a very minimal and peripheral way. If you don't have a connection with New Orleans, I'm not sure the book would mean much to you.
38. The Caller by Karin Fossum
This was my first Inspector Sejer mystery, and it won't be my last. The story begins with a series of "pranks"---but pranks serious enough to profoundly affect the lives of those touched by them. The pranks begin when a mother discovers her baby, who she thought was sleeping peacefully in a pram in the garden, covered in blood. From this beginning, the tale only gets darker. This was a great psychological thriller.
3 1/2 stars
39. The Free: A Novel (P.S.) by Willy Vlautin
The three main characters in this excellent novel demand our sympathy. Freddy McCall works two jobs and has little time to sleep, yet he can't make ends meet, primarily due to the medical bills for his special needs younger daughter. One of his jobs is at the group home where Iraq vet LeRoy Kervin lives LeRoy suffered a traumatic brain injury in Iraq, and mostly spends his days in a fog. One night during one of Freddy's shifts, LeRoy awakes to a period of clarity and, deciding he no longer wants to live that way, attempts suicide. For the rest of the novel, LeRoy is in a coma, and we spend a great deal of time in his mind, immersed in his memories and hallucinations. His nurse at the hospital, Pauline, is the third major character. During the period of LeRoy's hospitalization Pauline is also dealing with a young runaway with abscesses on her legs threatening amputation, and her own mentally ill father.
This is an exquisite book. These are the beaten-down people, and their resilience and ability to forge ahead day by day reminded me in a slight way of Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance. I didn't want the book to end.
4 1/2 stars
Great reading here. I love Karin Fossum, I hope you enjoy the rest of the series.
Interesting titles on this thread, Deborah, as usual from you. But what I'd really like to comment on is about your quilt project for the exhibition. They're beautiful. Congratulations! Just curious, have you ever worked with special fabrics and materials from indigenous and tribal textiles? The first quilt, you say, was inspired by Australian aboriginal art -- did you use any material that's part of their culture and based the work on a particular tribal design? Last year, my husband and I visited the cities of the Silk Road in Uzbekistan where I was so taken by their "suzani", the embroidered and decorative textile typical of Central Asia. Your project somehow reminds me of it.
Witch of Exmoor thumps onto the WL. I somehow missed that she'd put out a new book. I haven't loved every one of her novels, but I've liked all of them sufficiently to be a faithful reader.
And The Bunner Sisters. How could I have missed this? Summer is, in my opinion, terribly undervalued in Wharton's oeuvre. I get the feeling that at the time it dropped like a stone by the male literary establishment of the time and has never been taken up, the way, say, The Awakening has been.
I think Boyle's best work has not been the historical novels, although some have worked better than others. My favorite, of all his books, I think, is Drop City although the very early ones, Water Music and. . . I can't think of the title, also are excellent. I enjoyed East is East in part because I have stayed at a couple of artist's retreats and well . . . yeah, it was fanciful but . . . captured an essence of some absurdity. I just loved Drop City - again, I know something about communes and he was spot on.
Congrats about the quilts!
I loved That Old Ace in the Hole. Just finished (last week) a book of short stories that I didn't get into at all. So so so gloomy. Too gloomy.
I think I have the Aldiss on shelf upstairs somewhere . . .
Time to put in an appearance before it's been 2 months away, instead of just one month. No excuses, but my husband and I did enjoy a week in Kauai for our 45th anniversary--it was wonderful.
Really need to catch up with reviews as I have read nearly 75 books so far, but have only reviewed 39. I'll try to be more diligent, even if I only manage something short and generic.
>100 NanaCC: Colleen I am continuing to read and enjoy Inspector Sejer.
>101 deebee1: Thank you for the compliment about the quilts. I do sometimes work with special fabrics. Many of the fabrics I use are hand-dyed, rather than commercial fabrics, and I dye many of my own fabrics. I've also used Thai silks, antique Japanese kimono fabric, and Indonesian batiks. Besides being a "collector" of fabrics, I also love experimenting with different kinds of threads. I've also used wool roving to handfelt some pieces.
Regarding Australian aboriginal art, I have seen fabrics from Australia which commercially print some aboriginal designs and motifs, but I haven't purchased or used any of these. None of the pieces I've done have been based on traditional aboriginal designs or motifs, as I have not felt that I, as an outsider to the culture, should really use or copy those designs. I have tried to emulate some of the techniques (i.e. "dot painting") and the "feeling" of the works, but have tried to come up with designs that reflect my own background and experiences.
ONe of my close friends has done several works inspired by the Silk Road. How lucky you are that you got to visit. Ethnic embroidery is another one of my interests.
Hope this answers your questions, and sorry I took so long to respond!
>102 rebeccanyc: Hello REbecca, and yes, I'm am continuing to read and enjoy Fossum.
>103 AlisonY: Alison--I loved The Shipping News too. That Old Ace in the Hole wasn't quite as good, but still a worthwhile read.
>104 sibyx: Lucy--I think Witch of Exmoor is several years old, so I'm not sure it is Drabble's most recent. I read a lot of her books years ago, but there's a fair backlog I haven't got to.
I hope you can get to The Bunner Sisters. It's a short and quick read.
I liked Drop City too, but I think my favorite Boyle is The Tortilla Curtain. Have you read that?
Glad you loved That Old Ace in the Hole. I also have Accordion Crimes on my shelf as another "oldie" I hope to get to this year.
A few reviews:
40. Harvest by Jim Crace
This is a simple fable-like story set in what seem to be Medieval times. On harvest morning, strangers appear on a feudal estate of about 60 villagers, and after that nothing is the same.
I'm a big fan of Jim Crace, and this book was no exception. This allegorical tale reminded me a lot of some of William Golding's works. Highly recommended.
One of the oldies:
41. The Fourth Hand by John Irving
This is the story of Patrick Wallingford, a telejournalist, who loses his left hand to a tiger on live television, and Doris Clausen, the widow of the man whose hand Patrick receives in a ground-breaking hand transplant. This being Irving, there are many other characters, and many other stories, but basically this is the love story of Patrick and Doris, which begins when she agrees to donate her deceased husband's hand for the transplant, but only if she can have visitation rights. This novel is not as good as Irving's best--A Prayer for Owen Meaney, The Cider House Rules, or even A Widow for One Year--but it is good enough, with endearing characters and a slightly bizarre plot. Recommended.
Another book that has been on my shelf for more than 10 years:
42. Gun With Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem
I can't believe I allowed this gem to languish so long. This is noir set in the near-distant future with a cast of characters which includes "evolved" animals ranging from Joey the kangaroo, a vicious thug, to sweet Dulcie the ewe, not to mention "evolved" babies, the Babyheads. P. I. (Private Inquisitor, not Private Investigator; in this future the only people who can ask questions are Inquisitors, Private or Government), Conrad Metcalf has been hired by a man accused of murder (and about to be "frozen" for that crime) to prove his innocence. Conrad must conduct his investigation in a world where everyone, including himself, relies on drugs with varying proportions of Forgetterol, Regreterol, Acceptol, Avoidol etc. etc., but always with a heaping dose of Addictol. Everyone must also carry a card showing their "Karma" number, which is constantly subject to reduction by government inquisitors.
What a unique and utterly cohesive world Lethem has created and what a unique genre--sci fi, dystopian, noir?--whatever--it totally works. The tone, too, is unique--depressing but funny. I totally loved this book. Highly recommended.
4 1/2 stars
43. Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity by Steve Silberman
In this important work, Silberman writes with a clear thesis: we should be moving toward acceptance of autism and accommodation for autistic persons, rather than focusing on finding the causes of autism and seeking a "cure" for autism. He presents the history of autism, which clearly existed in the past, including detailed discussion of Aspberger's studies, which were "lost" for years, perhaps because they took place in Nazi Germany. He also discusses the history and development of the various organizations for the families of autistics up to and including organizations autistic people have formed for themselves.
Various of the tried and failed treatments for autism, including behavior modification, megavitamins, and other dietary modifications, many of which claimed high "cure" rates, claims which can't be substantiated, are discussed. The whole vaccine debate is covered in depth, as is the period during which a generation of autism was blamed on "refrigerator mothers."
The book also considers the issue of whether there has been a recent huge rise in the incidence of autism. This may come down to the way in which the definition of autism has been modified and remodified over the years. The earliest definitions were very narrow, making autism indeed a rare disease. Current definitions are much broader and more open and nebulous, which Silberman feel is a high contributing factor to what is seen as the current epidemic of autism.
This is an engaging and informative book, from which I took the message that our society is becoming more neurodiverse. As a society in which the number of autistics is the same as the number of Jews, we need to be moving toward acceptance and accommodation, rather than seeking causes and cures
44. Wild Dogs by Helen Humphreys
Every evening a group of people gathers at the edge of a forest, each hoping to retrieve a dog, formerly their beloved pet, now a member of a feral pack roaming the woods. We learn the back stories of each of these people, whose dogs were taken from them under varying circumstances, as they begin to develop relationships among themselves. The stories are told from multiple points of view, although most of the novel is narrated by Alice, who finds herself falling in love with another of the seekers, a wild life biologist. Other characters include a skateboarding teenager whose stepfather abandoned his dog in the forest, Lily, a brain-damaged teenage girl, and two older eccentric men.
This is a very sparse novel, and while I understood the longing of the various characters for their lost pets, I never really connected with the novel as a whole. SPOILER FOR ANIMAL LOVERS: You may want to avoid reading this because there is a very sorrowful ending for most of the dogs, who are themselves important characters in the book.
2 1/2 stars
45. Stoner by John Williams
This is the quiet story of the quiet life of a quiet English professor at a Midwestern university. A lot of the story is about the disappointments he faces--his marriage is a failure and his career never progresses due to a conflict he has with the head of his department. In his early 40's, Stoner, "could see nothing before him that he wished to enjoy and little behind him that he cared to remember."
I had heard amazing things about this book, and had very high expectations of it before I began reading. It is a good book, but I wasn't blown away by it. Of the two books I have read by Williams, I would say Augustus is superior to Stoner,
46. Ghost Boy by Martin Pistorius
At age 12, Martin Pistorius became seriously ill, ultimately losing the ability to walk, or speak, or control most of his movements. Doctors told his parents that he had the mind of an infant, and had little awareness of what was going on. Martin continued to live at home, but spent most of his days at a care center for severely disabled children.
In fact, Martin was aware of his surroundings and had lost none of his intellectual abilities. When he tried to communicate, however, (he could smile and sometimes move his eyes and head), he was ignored because everyone had been told he was severely brain-damaged. Not until he was in his early 20's did a new caregiver recognize his attempts to communicate, and he underwent evaluation for an alternative communication device.
The book is the story of Martin's return to life--learning to communicate by computer, and ultimately falling in love and marrying. Martin is currently an activist for those who are unable to communicate due to stroke or other illness, or for other reasons. This was at first a horrifying read, then uplifting.
Another "oldie" hits the dust:
47. Consider This Senora by Harriet Doerr
Harriet Doerr didn't start writing until she was in her 60's, and like her only other novel, Stones for Ibarra, this book is set among a group of expatriates in Mexico. Sue Ames and Bud Loomis, who have just met, decide to buy some land with a crumbling hacienda, each planning to build a house on the land, and develop other lots to sell. The novel is told as a series of episodic stories, each roughly self-contained and focusing on a different character, but told chronologically over a period of about 5 years. Overall, the book paints a picture of rural Mexico in the 1960's and the group of wealthy expatriates who lived there. I did find that the book takes a rather condescending attitude toward the Mexican people with whom the expatriates were involved.
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