labfs39 Lisa's reading in 2018
Join LibraryThing to post.
Jan-June Books Read:
1. The Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly (F, 3*)
2. Memoirs of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman (TF, 3.5*)
3. And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer by Fredrik Backman, translated from the Swedish by Alice Menzies (TF, 5*)
4. Artemis by Andy Weir (F, 3.5*)
5. Journey by Moonlight by Antal Szerb, translated from the Hungarian by Len Rix (TF, 4*)
6. Sorry by Gail Jones (F, 3.5*)
7. The Bipolar Teen by David J. Miklowitz (NF, 4*)
8. Under the Wire by William Ash (NF, 3.5*)
9. Push by Sapphire (F)
10. Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller (NF, 3.5*)
11. Beartown by Fredrik Backman, translated from the Swedish by Neil Smith (TF, 3.5*)
12-30. Troubleshooters series (F for fluff)
31. Walkabout by James Vance Marshall (F, 3.5*)
32. The Travelers by Chris Pavone (F, 3*)
33. Swamplandia! by Karen Russell (F, 2*)
34. The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald (F, 3*)
35. Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald, translated from the German by Anthea Bell (TF, 3.5*)
July-Dec Books Read:
36. The Garlic Ballads by Mo Yan, translated from the Chinese by Howard Goldblatt (TF, 3*)
37. A Guide to the Birds of East Africa by Nicholas Drayson (F, reread, 4*)
38. The Foreign Correspondent by Alan Furst (F, 3*)
39. The Spies of Warsaw by Alan Furst (F, 2.5*)
40. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer (F, reread, 5*)
41. Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse (YA, 2.5*)
42. My Friends the Miss Boyds by Jane Duncan (F, 4.5*)
43. Excellent Women by Barbara Pym (F, 3.5*)
44. Siberian Exile by Julija Šukys (NF, 4.5*)
45. Mental: Lithium, Love, and Losing My Mind by Jaime Lowe (NF, 3*)
46. Why am I still Depressed? by Jim Phelps (NF)
47. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson (F, 4*)
48. Once by Morris Gleitzman (YA, 3*)
49. Then by Morris Gleitzman (YA, 3*)
50. Now by Morris Gleitzman (YA, 3*)
51. Istanbul Passage by Joseph Kanon (F, 3.5*)
52. My Friend Muriel by Jane Duncan (F, 3.5*)
A list of books by the author's ethnicity (as decided by me):
Sorry by Gail Jones
Once by Morris Gleitzman
Then by Morris Gleitzman
Now by Morris Gleitzman
Siberian Exile by Julija Šukys
The Garlic Ballads by Mo Yan, translated by Howard Goldblatt
Memoirs of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, translated by Edith Grossman
Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald, translated by Anthea Bell
Journey by Moonlight by Antal Szerb, translated by Len Rix
And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer by Fredrik Backman, translated by Alice Menzies
Beartown by Fredrik Backman, translated by Neil Smith
List of books I've read by Nobel Prize Winners can be found here.
2017 in Review:
48 books read
35 fiction (73%)
13 nonfiction (27%)
5 young adult
9 translated fiction (18%)
29 books by female authors (60%)
19 books by male authors (40%)
Reading (not-so) Globally in 2017:
Life has been... well, life, in the last couple of years, and my ability to read, as well as spend time on LT, has been reduced drastically. Thank you to everyone who has reached out. I appreciate it, and even when I can't respond immediately, know that your words mean a lot to me.
Here's to hoping that 2018 will bring stability, happiness, and lots more reading!
1. The Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
This book was a gift, and though a little dubious at first (I usually prefer to read nonfiction about WWII, not fiction), I found this "based on a true story" book to be better than most. The author clearly did her research and even includes photos of the main characters and places at the end.
The Lilac Girls is about the Ravensbruck "Rabbits," the women at Ravensbruck concentration camp who were experimented on to see if sulfa was effective in treating gas gangrene. They were nicknamed Rabbits because of the way they subsequently had to hop around on crutches or twisted legs, and because they were experimented on like guinea pigs or rabbits.
The novel follows the lives of two real-life people and one fictitious character. Caroline Farraday was a New York socialite and Broadway actress who used her connections to aid women and children during WWII and after. Dr. Herta Oberheuser was the only female doctor at Ravensbruck and participated in the experiments. The fictitious character Kasia Kuzmerick is a Polish teenager who works in the Resistance, is then caught and sent to Ravensbruck. The book is about the lives of these women, each told in the first person, and how their lives connect.
Although the book reads like fiction, the historical basis is solid. I hesitate to call it narrative nonfiction, however, because of it's fictitious feel, perhaps due to the fact that both people depicted are unknowns, sidebars in history. But it's because of this intimate look at lesser-known actors that makes this book interesting.
>7 labfs39:, Oh wow. That sounds like a hard read. Was it particularly gruesome, or was the focus more on the individuals vice the experiments?
>8 fannyprice: The story focuses much more on the characters and their relationships than the actual experiments. Those are covered in a few pages. The story arc, however, covers a couple of decades. The tone of the book is one of resilience and friendship and coming to terms with one's life. Much more positive than it sounds!
>10 qebo: Thanks, qebo! I defaulted to simply listing my books read last year, just so I would know what I had read, but I hope to be more active this year. I don't have time for long reviews, but I hope to write enough so that later I remember what the book was about! Hope you, your reading, and your gardening are doing well.
Memoirs of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman
With a title like this, who could resist purchasing it? Weighing in at just over 100 pages, Memoirs is about a man turning 90 and his decision to make his birthday a memorable one by sleeping with a teenage virgin. Fortunately, things don't turn out as either the protagonist or the reader expect.
A commentary on growing old, it reminded me of Bohumil Hrabal's Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age. But Garcia Marquez writes with affection for his characters about the ecstasy of first love. An enjoyable read.
And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer by Fredrik Backman, translated from the Swedish by Alice Menzies
Fredrik Backman has been one of my favorite authors ever since I read A Man Called Ove. This novella is intensely beautiful. It's the story of a man and his grandson, a man and his son, and the process of losing one's memories through dementia. Sort of a cross between Tove Jansson's Summer Book and Tan Twan Eng's Garden of Evening Mists. I don't know how to share more without trying in vain to reproduce a feeling that is too precious to squander with retelling.
What a lovely surprise to find you here on LT and CR after such a long time. In the past, you have recommended some great books and I look forward to see what you read this year. I hope 2018 will be a better year for us, book- and otherwise.
And yes, Lilac Girls and Backman's book are wishlisted... already...
In rounding out my summary of 2018 reading, I thought I would list some standouts.
Favorite Nonfiction: Rogue Heroes: The History of the SAS, Britain's Secret Special Forces Unit That Sabotaged the Nazis and Changed the Nature of War by Ben Macintyre (my first book of 2017)
Favorite Fiction: Old Filth by Jane Gardam
Favorite Translated Fiction (excluding Backman):Baba Dunja's Last Love by Alina Bronsky, translated by Tim Mohr
Favorite Children's Book: The Inquisitor's Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz
Favorite New Author: Fredrik Backman I absolutely loved all four of his works that I read this year, starting with A Man Called Ove. His most recent, Beartown, I haven't purchased yet. Can't say enough about how much I enjoyed his books.
Favorite Rediscovered Author: Edith Wharton The woman was a genius with the written word.
Most Outrageous: Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargos Llosa, translated by Helen R. Lane
Funniest Title (but not a great read): The Bad-ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer
Most Disappointing Read: A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh (maybe because I read it right after a couple of Edith Wharton's books?)
Guilty Pleasure: Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs books. Eight of them!
Hi Lisa. I haven’t read your reviews yet, but will, and am especially interested in your Márquez thoughts. But, wanted to be sure hi and wish you a great a year.
I enjoyed A Man Called Ove on audio. Lilac Girls sounds a lot more uplifting than A Train in Winter, which left a permanent imprint on me. And the Márquez sounds fun. I have this silly idea I’ll read all his stuff this year, in publication order, of course, starting maybe in February, maybe sooner.
Hi Dan! Nice to have you drop by. I don't know how the audio was, but reading A Man Called Ove was both hysterical and bittersweet. I enjoyed it so much that I read all his other works in English. My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry was good, and Britt-Marie Was Here is a continuation of the life of one of the characters. Did not end like I expected. Then And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer was beautiful. I know I'm gushing, but I think he's worth it. :-)
A Train in Winter was nonfiction and necessarily grim; left an imprint on me too. Lilac Girls was far better than Rose Under Fire, which also deals with Ravensbruck, and which I read a couple of years ago. I wouldn't say any of it was uplifting, but Lilac Girls was not gruesome or as dark as some of the rest.
As for Garcia Marquez, I fell in love with One Hundred Years of Solitude back in college, but never found any of his other novels as good until Memoirs of My Melancholy Whores, which is my second favorite.
Backman, my appreciation of his style is more mild than yours. I liked Ove, it was fun and charming (and funny and bittersweet) and a little more than that, but I'm probably looking for a little more intensity, in general...although as I write it, I'm not really sure that's true.
I'm really hoping Marquez offers me something I don't anticipate. I don't actually know what to expect, I've never read him. One Hundred Years of Solitude is the main book I want to read, and later Living to Tell the Tale.
Lisa, nice to see you here! I enjoyed A Man Called Ove and My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry, so I will keep his others in mind for when I need them.
>20 dchaikin: I agree, Dan, Backman won't win the Nobel Prize any time soon, but I feel that he understands the emotional life of his characters (and by extension, all of us) so well. Perhaps my affection is biased because with so much intensity in other parts of my life, the sweet exploration of friendship, grief, and love are what I need at the moment. Monica had a quote on her previous profile that I liked so much I put it on mine as well:
You and I know too many different things, entertain too many different thoughts, hold too many different beliefs to see Pip - or any other character - in quite the same way. Same words, same pages. Different us. Sometimes different me. I find that my Pip today is not my Pip of yesterday. As I've changed over the years, I find that my thinking about characters has changed as well... -Thomas C. Foster
The me I was a couple of years ago when I was co-president of the Depressing Books Club (with Rebeccanyc) has morphed into a less intense version. Next month, who knows? But for where I am right now, Backman is everything I could ask for in an author!
>21 markon: "For when I need them" is exactly right...
Lisa, timing and mood has a big affect on my reading too. I hope I didn't put you on the defensive, didn't mean too. Just selfishly thinking of my own reading...and in my own state of mind. And I like that I can put some of my thoughts here to someone who gets where I'm coming from. I don't think Backman would have been a good fit of the Depressing Books Club.
>23 dchaikin: Not at all, Dan! I was trying to explain that although Backman is not my usual fare, his were the right books at the right time. Not quite guilty pleasures, as the quality is higher than what I consider gp, they certainly were soothing and easy to read. I love the characters too. I read some of Ove aloud to my daughter, and it inspired her to create her own series of vignettes along a similar vein and read them to the family during the holidays. For that alone I am thankful for the books!
What type of book do you find yourself falling back on when you need a gp diversion?
I'm currently reading Artemis by Andy Weir, and although it's a light read with a sassy main character, I am having a hard time sticking with it. Certainly not as gripping as The Martian. At my local Indie bookstore, I had signed up for an author talk between Andy Weir and Neal Stephenson. I was so excited at this pairing. Although Stephenson is local, he almost never does public engagements. I shelled out the money for the ticket, which came with a signed copy of Artemis. Then a planned trip of two weeks turned into seven, and I missed the talk. Very disappointing! I hear it was great. Plus the bookstore had decorated the stage to look like the moon, guests came in through a portal... Ah, well. At least I have a signed copy of Artemis, for what it's worth...
Too bad about the author talk.
Thinking about guilty pleasures in reading. Do I not have them, or do I avoid them...in which case I do have them. Not sure. I don’t actually know how to answer the question...which is disappointing.
Love that reading Backman to your daughter inspired her to write.
>25 labfs39: not as gripping as The Martian
I've heard this elsewhere too, but it's still on my list; the geekiness appeals even if character development is absent. The talk sounds fun. I live in such a backwater, sigh.
It is so nice to see you here, Lisa. I’m adding Lilac Girls to my wishlist.
Lovely to see mention of your daughter. Is she still interested in science?
Hi Lisa, I'm enjoying the conversation and noting the Backman recommendation.
Since 2016 my reading has lightened a fair bit too. I don't have the appetite I once had for books about totalitarian regimes or war and am quite impressed with myself for picking up Alone in Berlin at this point. Mostly I want to escape into someone's personal story, rather than dwell on the consequences of nationalism and prejudice etc.
>26 dchaikin: Are you sure you don't have some favorite geological treatise that you fall back on for pleasure when you know you should be reading something else? ;-) How are your kids doing these days?
>27 qebo: Jazz, the main character in Artemis, is brilliant and cheeky, and I did get interested in her shenanigans by the end of the book. More to come in my review, which I hope to write this morning.
>28 NanaCC: Hi Colleen, Thanks for stopping by. My daughter is obsessed with K-pop at the moment, but science and art are still favorites. Her watercolor and ink drawing of a human heart is heart-stopping (har-har).
>29 Rebeki: Alone in Berlin (or Every Man Dies Alone in the American edition) is suspenseful and sad, but not gruesome in the way some of these books can get. I thought Inspector Escherich was a fascinating character.
Artemis by Andy Weir
The character of Jazz Bashara is the saving grace of Weir's second novel (following the wild success of The Martian). She is a brilliant, sassy, nonconformist smuggler who gets in and out of scrapes with seeming ease. She grew up and lives on Artemis, the only city on the moon, where almost everything (including the city's main source of income, tourists) have to be imported from Earth. A seemingly straightforward contract goes south, and Jazz has to pull together a disparate team to help her fulfill her contract and save Artemis itself.
The plot is part thriller, part comedy, and partly a platform for Weir to continue to show his vast knowledge of aerospace science. I thought the novel began a bit slow, but picked up until I finished the last third in one go. I even wondered in a rather lukewarm way what happened to the character next; though not enough to hope for a sequel.
>31 labfs39: wondered in a rather lukewarm way
Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but I've ordered it anyway.
>32 qebo: Hey qebo, I think it depends on what you are in the mood for. As a mild thriller with humor, the story gathers momentum and suits the bill. If you are looking for something more dramatic and a bit philosophical like The Martian, then it's probably not the right book for that mood. I found the science interesting, which I know is your bailiwick.
>30 labfs39: used to be stodgy, straight forward history books. List of facts in chronological order would do. Not sure what it is these days. Kids are great, 7th and 5th grade and the older one is quietly a reader.
Here's an interesting list of reading suggestions from Europa Editions:
The 2018 Resistance Book Club: What to Read When Your President Doesn't
Introducing Europa Editions’ 2018 Resistance Book Club! With one Trumpian year in the books, the Europa team is looking to literature for new ways to understand and fight for the issues at stake. For the month of January, we compiled a list of a few essential reads from around the world that humanize and complicate the populations whom the administration seeks to stereotype and marginalize. Each week, we'll also highlight some of the worthy organizations at the front lines of the resistance. So, without further ado, here’s a recap of what we've been reading for the last two weeks:
Week 1: Narratives of Migration
For the first week of our Resistance Book Club, and with conversations about DREAMers and border walls intensifying by the day, we focused on Narratives of Migration—because walls are for bookshelves, not borders. We recommended:
THE GRINGO CHAMPION by Aura Xilonen, the story of a young immigrant who discovers identity, love, and boxing in a border town
RETURN TO THE DARK VALLEY & NIGHT PRAYERS by Santiago Gamboa, two kaleidoscopic narratives that transgress all borders of nation, culture & genre
And highlighted some of our favorite non-profit orgs working on behalf of immigrant justice and self-expression:
Restless Books, an independent, nonprofit publisher devoted to championing essential voices from around the world
United We Dream, a DREAMer-run immigrant justice org
The Young Center for Immigrant Children's Rights, champions for unaccompanied immigrant kids
Week 2: Three-Dimensional Women on the Page
Our theme for week two was Three-Dimensional Women on the Page—something especially dear to our nasty feminist hearts. These recs represent complex, dynamic women in fiction *and* the brilliant women authors who created them:
THE NATURAL WAY OF THINGS by Charlotte Wood, a lucid and illusory fable that reminds us of humankind‘s vast contradictions—the capacity for savagery, selfishness, resilience, and redemption all contained by a single, vulnerable body
THE DISTANT MARVELS by Chantel Acevedo, an epic adventure tale, a family saga, a love story, a stunning historical account of armed struggle against oppressors, and proof of the power of a woman with stories to tell
And some of our favorite non-profit orgs fighting on behalf of women and girls' rights:
Women's March 2018, a women-led movement providing intersectional education on a diverse range of issues and creating entry points for new grassroots activists & organizers to engage in their local communities
Women for Women International supports the most marginalized women to earn and save money, improve health and well-being, influence decisions in their home and community, and connect to networks for support
Week 3: Stories of Censorship and Government Control
This week, we focused on stories of censorship and government control. As the administration works increasingly to keep the voices essential to our understanding of ourselves and each other in the margins, we fought back by championing—and amplifying—these voices. Here are a few of our faves that insist on the existence of free expression everywhere:
ENDGAME by Ahmet Altan, an existential page-turner that transports the reader into a world of lust, ambition, small-town politics, and death.
*Altan, one of today’s most important Turkish writers, was arrested in September 2016 for his work as a journalist and remains in prison today. An advocate for Kurdish and Armenian minorities and a central figure in the Turkish cultural world, Altan’s writing is a necessary force.*
MIKHAIL AND MARGARITA by Julie Lekstrom Himes, a rousing portrayal of a passionate love triangle between author Mikhail Bulgakov, the dangerously candid Margarita, and Osip Mandelstam, and set amidst the backdrop of a country whose towering literary tradition is at odds with a dictatorship that does not tolerate dissent.
And we highlighted some of our favorite non-profit orgs working on behalf of free expression and a free press:
PEN America, whose mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. PEN offers policy recommendations and public toolkits to help their supporters advocate for sustainable change around the world.
American Booksellers for Free Expression, which promotes and protects the free exchange of ideas by opposing restrictions on the freedom of speech; issues statements on significant free expression controversies; participates in legal cases involving First Amendment rights; and provides education.
Books Through Bars, an all-volunteer-run group that sends free, donated books to incarcerated people across the nation.
>38 .Monkey.: Thanks. Although the list is also self-serving for Europa Editions as the recommendations are all titles they published.
Hah, still, looks like plenty of good stuff. :D Publishers like to do lists mainly for their own benefit, but luckily for us (or unluckily for our wallets :P) they're often still nice samplings of, well, something or other, hahaha.
Journey by Moonlight by Antal Szerb, translated from the Hungarian by Len Rix
I chose to read this book now in memory of Rebeccanyc, who loved the works of Antal Szerb.
Mihály is on his honeymoon in Italy, when he becomes overwhelmed with nostalgia for his childhood, especially his friendship with Éva and Tamás Ulpius. The Ulpius household was very unusual, in part because they eschewed the bourgeois upbringing of Mihály's middle-class family. But his relationship with the Ulpius children was also unusual in that they played with the notion of death as the ultimate form of love and loyalty. Mihály is now obsessed with the questions of whether he "sold out" when he became an office worker and "married well", and with the fate of his friends, one of whom died in mysterious circumstances. As Mihály becomes more and more fixated on mortality, his life in the mortal world becomes disorganized, and he wanders pilgrim-like, not is search of God or truth, but death.
Despite the darkness of the novel's plot, it's not a dreary read. Szerb is in turns humorous, ironic, and acerbic. His writing is both entertaining and thought-provoking. He frequently alludes to Dante and the Divine Comedy, but his novel turns the plot on it's head: the first chapter is "Honeymoon" and the last is "At Hell's Gate." There is a manipulative and death-loving Beatrice; and a con artist and petty thief who plays the role of Virgil. I'm sure a grad student could have a lot of fun picking this theme apart. As for me, I look forward to reading another novel by Szerb; Rebbecanyc had particularly recommended The Pendragon Legend.
This next one is actually a re-read. I don't often read a book twice, but as I was browsing for my next book, this caught my eye, and I decided to revisit it. I wrote the review after the original reading in June 2012.
Sorry by Gail Jones
What does it mean to say you are sorry? That you regret what happened, whether for the distress it caused yourself or others? That you wished it had never happened? That you wish there were a way to atone? Perhaps it is said as a summation, a closing ritual, either expected or received in surprise, unaware of the silent emotions of the sorry one. Can you know the meaning of another's sorry-ness, of another's sorrow? If saying you are sorry is open to interpretation, how much more so then, the failure to say you are sorry. The expectant pause in the story, the silent internal debate, perhaps an ignorant obliviousness or a nonchalant callousness. What is gained or lost with sorry being said or left unsaid?
A whisper: sssshh. The thinnest vehicle of breath.
This is a story that can only be told in a whisper...
'Don't tell them," she said. That was all: Don't tell them.
...And when for comfort we held hands, overlapping, as girls do, in riddled ways, in secret understandings and unspoken allegiances, the sticky stuff of my father's life bound us like sisters.
So begins the first page of this devastatingly beautiful novel about Perdita, her family, and the ways in which speech and silence can each be a salve and a torment.
Perdita's parents met in England and married with the air of Well, that's done. Neither Stella or Nicholas were looking for romance, and their sterile togetherness reflects their egocentric emptiness. Stella lives in a Shakespearian world that only she can navigate, reciting long passages from the tragedies as her way of interpreting and interacting with the world around her. Nicholas, too, is lost in his own world, composed of imagined academic success as an anthropologist and later of manly posturings overlaying his deep sense of impotence at not being able to join up in WWII. Completely self-absorbed and living in isolated fantasies, the couple has a child shortly after leaving England to live in the West Australian outback, where Nicholas can make his name as the translator of the Aborigines.
Perdita is left to flourish or not in this wrack of a family. When Stella enters a deep post-natal depression, fueled by the emotional extremes of Shakespearian tragedy, Perdita is nursed by two Aborigine servants. Growing up, Perdita exists on the edges of two worlds, the one inhabited by her parents, and the one shown her by the Aborigine people who live on the fringes of that world. When she is ten, Nicholas takes Stella to the clinic in town where she rests, off and on, for much of Perdita's childhood. On the way home, he stops at a convent and takes on Mary, a sixteen year old Aborigine orphan, as a cook and tutor for his daughter. Instantly, Mary and Perdita are bound by a love based on sisterhood, shared hardship, and need. Together with Billy, the deaf-mute neighbor boy, they find and share the affection and community that each lacks.
War intensifies the ugliness of Stella and Nicholas's declines, and then something horrific happens, and the children are torn apart. Perdita is cast into silence and withdraws into herself, until she feels as hardened and dead as an ammonite. Her struggle to find herself and regain her voice is a story that tears at the heart. What secrets does her silence hold, and will she herself ever know?
Evocative of the fears and determination of the war years and eloquent on the beauty of the outback and the generous kinship of the Aborigine, Sorry is a novel rooted in wartime Australia. Yet the story stretches beyond the particular into the nature of introspection and the use of language to create and maintain identity. The language is beautiful, the story heartbreaking, and the ideas thought provoking. Read this novel. You won't be sorry.
>42 labfs39: Very nice review of Sorry. I remember very much moved by Jones's Sorry and it came out at a time when the idea of apology & atonement for their treatment of the aboriginal people was being mulled by the Australians and the novel predated the official apology that was eventually issued. I have read all of Jones's work with the exception of her most recent, which remains in the monstrous TBR pile.
>46 .Monkey.: Yes, it does look good, doesn’t it? I downloaded a sample and read it right away; I don’t know when I’ll get to it either, but I’m looking forward to it.
>47 rachbxl: It really does. CR is great (and evil - like I really need help adding more books to my shelves?? XD) like that. :))
>41 labfs39: Unsurprisingly, most of the books I share with rebeccanyc are science; literarily her mind was more sophisticated than mine. As is yours. But that author looks intriguing...
>49 qebo: Rebeccanyc was such a prolific reader and deep thinker. Her recommendations always challenged me. Just as the science books you read would challenge me!
Under the Wire
by William Ash
The movie, The Great Escape epitomizes the brash young pilots who felt it their duty to escape German POW camps, often facing recapture and punishment in solitary confinement or "the coolers." William Ash is of this ilk; he knew many of the men in that particular escape attempt, but was in the cooler at the time and couldn't participate. He may have even been the source for one of the characters.
An American who felt that the American's isolationist stance was wrong, Ash went to Canada and joined the Canadian Air Force. He was sent to Britain shortly after the Blitz and was eventually shot down and tortured by the Gestapo. Ironically, he was rescued from them by the Luftwaffe and taken to one of their POW camps for pilots. He immediately began planning and executing numerous escapes. As he says, he was an American in the Canadian Air Force fighting for the British, shot down over France, and captured by the Germans. A multinational affair.
I enjoyed Ash's dry humor, his straightforward manner (not self-aggrandizing), and the photographs. Ash speaks of the many people who helped him and the friends of all nationalities who spent hours talking about the kind of world they wanted to build after the war. Several went on to become politicians. A worthy read for the WWII aficionado, but probably of less interest to others.
>51 labfs39: Not a WWII aficionado, but I'm always interested to hear about interesting books. Interesting possible connection to the movie.
>16 labfs39:, Yay for Maisie Dobbs. I too plowed through most of the series when I first discovered it. What I find intriguing about it is that the author actually allows significant chunks of time to pass as the series goes on; at this point it is so much more than a "ghosts of ww1" series (not that I minded that either, it was what drew me to them in the first place).
>52 avaland: Hi Lois, Not a great book, but a fast read for those interested in WWII.
>53 fannyprice: I too like how time passes in the Maisie books. For example, I was dismayed at first that the author chose to skip the years
>54 labfs39:, Yeah, I actually really wondered what the books were going to be like after
Time to get back to reviewing; I'm falling behind...
Push by Sapphire
A lot has been said about this book since it was published in 1996, but I'm only picking it up now. It's the story of Sapphire, a sixteen-year-old African American girl, and her coming of age in Harlem. Written from the first person perspective, the text is the speech and thoughts of an illiterate young girl. Her colorful speech depicts a life full of the worst life can dish out. But Sapphire perseveres and, with the help of a dedicated young teacher, determines her own path out of her miserable childhood.
Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller
This is a memoir of the author's childhood in Zimbabwe during and after the Rhodesian Civil War in which Zimbabwe gains independence from the British. Driving to town in a mine-proofed Land Rover with Uzi's across their laps, the family is caught between fighting for the British while at the same time living among the locals. The dichotomy between Bobo's life among the native women who raised her and her father's stints in the local British militia is one of the tensions running through the book.
Life in the dusty fringes of south-central Africa is difficult. Moving often, the Fuller's are always making due with the barest necessities and no firm position within society. Bobo's mother is a tough alcoholic with little time or inclination for pampering her daughters. Her father is a farmer who is always looking ahead to the next big opportunity. The author obviously loves Africa, but a rough and chaotic Africa, not a sugar-coated one.
I enjoyed the honest portrayal of life from a child's perspective without the form of a typical coming-of-age story. Recommended.
>57 labfs39: I had listened to this book a long time ago. Your comments brought it back to me.
>58 .Monkey.:, 59 The memoir is good. It's hard to believe that as a six year old she was loading rifles (one of the first photos in the book). It is also hard to believe how entitled the British felt to Rhodesia and the service of its people. Her life was extraordinary, but what her presence stood for at the time is difficult to accept.
>57 labfs39: This sounds like a great book, thanks for the very good review!
>61 markon: I will definitely look for Scribbling the Cat. I didn't know that the author had written another memoir, so I investigated further. It seems Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight is the first, then Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness (which sounds like her mother), and Leaving Before the Rains Come. Scribbling the Cat appears to be a return to Africa after she had settled in Wyoming. Thanks for the tip, Ardene! Lots of interesting reading here.
>62 chlorine: Thanks!
>59 NanaCC: Whoops! Didn't mean to miss you, Colleen. How was the audio? Did the author read it herself? I think I read that she has narrated some other works.
>64 labfs39: It was narrated by Lisette Lecat. She is also the narrator of the #1 Ladies Dectective series. (Or at least the ones I’ve listened to). There are very few books that are narrated by the author that I’ve enjoyed. In most instances, I’ve thought that they would have done more justice to their work by using a professional reader. There are, of course, exceptions.
I know I have been AWOL from LT - it's been a different kind of year. In March I sold my house, in April I moved to Florida (from Seattle), and I am now trying to create a new life in a place the likes of which I never could have imagined myself. Strange the twists life can take. First my daughter's diagnosis a little over a year and a half ago, now this move. I wonder if life ever turns out the way we imagine it will when we are younger?
>66 labfs39: Wow, that is quite a change. What took you to Florida? I missed your daughter's diagnosis.
Beartown by Fredrik Backman, translated from the Swedish by Neil Smith
A Fredrik Backman fan, I was disappointed with Beartown, his latest novel to be translated into English. The most realistic of his novels, Beartown is set in a small, isolated town obsessed with ice hockey. So much so that non-fans are ostracized, boys must prove themselves on the rink, and moral questions are viewed in the light of how they will effect the town team. Although strong women and girls took center stage in several of his previous novels, in Beartown the women are put in situations where they are ineffectual or ignored. Perhaps too much like a family drama for me, I was hoping for something more creative and lyrical. Most likely the next novel to be translated will be the sequel to Beartown. Although I will probably read it, my expectations are low.
Walkabout by James Vance Marshall
I was eager to read this novel about the clash between white and Aborigine cultures, as seen through the eyes of children. The premise is simple: a small plane carrying two children crashes in the Australian outback, and only they survive. Although Mary, the older sister, attempts to get them back to "civilization" and safety, Peter grows to appreciate and thrive in this new environment, thanks to his friendship with a young Aborigine boy who is on a coming-of-age walkabout. The beauty of the outback is detailed and compelling, the character development is not. The ending was disappointing, primarily due to the lack of forward movement. Meh.
The Travelers by Chris Pavone
Having read two other light espionage novels by Chris Pavone, I took this one on a recent trip. The plot revolves around a young couple and the publishing company that has employed them both. Questions of who works for whom, which agencies are using which characters, and whether these characters are on the same side, provide for a vaguely entertaining beach read. Lacking any pretense of deeper moral dilemmas, whether or not to have an affair is about as deep as it gets. It is what it is.
Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
Since I recently moved to Florida, I thought this novel, set in my new home state, would represent my transition through reading. The plot focuses on an alligator-wrestling tourist attraction, Swamplandia!, and the family who runs it. Chief Bigtree is the father and creative mind who tries every gimmick imaginable to keep the place a tourist destination and money-maker. His wife, Hilola is the beautiful star of the show, but she dies very early on, and the family struggles to deal with both their grief and the loss to their operation. Kiwi is the eldest son and yearns for an education and the mainland, nearly synonymous in his mind. Osceola is the teenage daughter who deals with her loss by turning to the supernatural and an imaginary lover. That leaves Ava, who is coming of age in an odd, yet magical world, and her pet red alligator.
Not a fan of family dramas or coming of age stories, I was attracted to the book by the cover, which features a snapping alligator and the exuberant title. Unfortunately I should have heeded the adage that you should never judge a book by its cover.
Some interesting reading here! Too bad about the shortcomings of Walkabout. Speaking of Florida, did you hear the piece on NPR (I think it was the 1A show) about Florida? There was an extensive interview with Carl Hiassen, an older interview with Judy Blume and an interview with Jeff VanderMeer, all about their books set in Florida. I think there was more to the show but that is the stuff I caught while driving.
Sorry, it wasn't 1A it was the Studio360 show, June 14th, "Shadows in the Sunshine State"
Will be interesting in hearing your take on The Garlic Ballads Have you read any of his other books?
The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald
Florence Green lives in small English town and is recently widowed. Using her limited knowledge as an employee at a bookstore in her youth and a small sum of money she inherited, Florence decides, against the advice of several naysayers, to open a bookstore. The building is a major "fixer-upper" and is haunted by a rapping poltergeist, but Florence perseveres in following her desire to reinvent herself and her life.
Despite some initial mishaps, and with the help of a precocious tween assistant, Penelope does make a go of things, and is even complemented by the venerable aristocrat who keeps himself aloof of village happenings. This final insult to the local self-named grand dame of the arts (and a suggestion of disapproval of her stocking the sensational novel, Lolita), Penelope is finally defeated.
In the winter of 1960, therefore, having sent her heavy luggage on ahead, Florence Green took the bus into Flintmarket via Saxford Tye and Kingsgrave. Wally carried her suitcases to the bus stop. Once again the floods were out, and the fields stood all the way, on both sides of the road, under shining water. At Flintmarket she took the 10.46 to Liverpool Street. As the train drew out of the station she sat with her head bowed in shame, because the town in which she had lived for nearly ten years had not wanted a bookshop.
This novel was particularly thought-provoking and sad for me, as I have just moved to a town without a bookstore. What makes a town not want a bookstore? Given the demise of the local, independent bookstores over the last dcade, it made me think about the people like Florence Green, who are put out of business, largely by Amazon. Is my purchasing from the behemoth to save a few dollars and have the convenience of delivery, so I don't need to go to a library or bookstore, worth the loss of culture bookstores bring to a place? It led me to wonder, what makes a country anti-intellectual, and am I contributing to that phenomenon?
>72 avaland: Thanks for the link, Lois. I have ready some young adult books by Carl Hiaasen, such as Hoot, and I didn't realize Judy Blume set her some of her books in Florida (she being from the Northwest). The third author I have not read. I will get to the interviews soon, as I am trying to acclimate to this very different locale.
>73 SassyLassy: Hi Sassy. I read Red Sorghum a long time ago and agree with rebeccanyc's beautiful written review in which she calls it a "grim book." I have found The Garlic Ballads so grim, that I put it away for a week and read a cozy favorite, A Guide to the Birds of East Africa. After reading your post, I pulled Garlic back off the shelf to try and finish it. I feel as though I need to "gird my loins." Just when you think you've reached the bottom of possible horrid outcomes, something worse happens. It's well-written and evocative of rural China at the time, but it takes fortitude to make it through.
>71 labfs39: I quite liked this one so sorry to see it wasn't for you. It wasn't the easiest reading, but I still find myself thinking about it.
Wow! A move clear across the country! What part of the state are you living in? And a town with no bookstore.
>74 labfs39: I grew up in towns with no bookstores, and could drive my siblings nuts when we went to a mall in the nearest "big city" and I would, if allowed, spend hours browsing in Walden's or B. Dalton's. It is wonderful being able to browse online and get what I want, but it does raise questions about how local businesses can survive, including bookstores.
Charis Books, a feminist bookstore I try to patronize, has changed a lot in the last recession, and has moved from the part of town they opened in in 1974 to be near our local women's college, Agnes Scott. I'm glad Charis is still here, but I don't get there very often. I need to remember to order from them online when I can.
I somehow missed the news about your daughter too Lisa. If you're willing to share online, I'd like to hear more about what's going on. If you're not, that's OK too.
>77 markon: Hi Ardene! Nice to hear from you.
I grew up in a town without a bookstore too. We were too rural. I remember one year my parents gave me a whole box of paperbacks they had gotten from someone, and I was in heaven. Panama City Beach (where I live now) is a large enough city that it has no excuse. There is a very nice independent bookstore (Sundog Books) in Seaside (where the Truman Show was filmed), but it's an hour away. Too far for an afternoon browse. This past week we were in Pensacola for the Fourth, and I found a new/used bookstore (Hawsey's Book Index). It's selection was very oddly arranged (literature and fiction were separate but identical, in addition to all the genres), but I found three keepers: The Crimean War by Orlando Figes, Les Parisiennes by Anne Sebba, and an espionage novel.
I haven't posted about my daughter on LT, but she is open about her diagnosis and says she doesn't mind my sharing. The following is a link to an article I wrote last year for an online magazine, it describes her diagnosis and what it has meant for us. A Single Mother’s Journey: A ‘Brave’ Teenage Daughter’s Bipolar Diagnosis Note that a few things were edited, mainly for length, such as about her hospital stay. One thing that has changed since I wrote the piece: I no longer say she is bipolar, I say she has bipolar disorder or she is on the bipolar spectrum. I realized that we say children have cancer, not, they are cancer. Why should I say she is bipolar, as though that defines her? A small linguistic issue, but one that has become important to me.
Sadly I have only read 37 books so far this year, and even more sadly only three were nonfiction (usually I'm at least 1/3 nonfiction). So next up I am reading a newly purchased book on the Crimean War by Orlando Figes. I enjoyed his book The Whisperers, but was put off by the Amazon review scandal. I think it's time I moved past my prejudice and returned to his historical works, which I do enjoy. So far I find this one fascinating, but challenging, in that I know so little about the religious animosities between the Russian (and Greek) Orthodoxy and the Catholics (and Christians in general) in Ottoman-controlled Jerusalem at the time. I find myself looking up many places and terms, which lead me down rabbit holes, as I know many of you have also experienced.
The New York Times review, "Why the Crimean War Matters," is here.
>81 SassyLassy: Actually, I read Just Send Me Word too. I forgot Figes wrote that one, as I seem to still hear the voices of the two lovers through their letters. In the NYT book review (link in 80>, the war is described as being relevant because of the clash of religious ideologies and political absolutism versus liberalism. Also Figes calls it the first modern war and one whose inception was greatly influenced by public opinion and the press. It's slow going for me, as I have to look up so many things, but it's very interesting.
A quote from What We See When We Read:
The story of reading is a remembered story. When we read, we are immersed. And the more we are immersed, the less we are able, in the moment, to bring our analytic minds to bear upon the experience in which we are absorbed. Thus, when we discuss the feeling of reading, we are really talking about the memory of having read.*
And this memory of reading is a false memory.
*William James describes the impossible attempt to introspectively examine our own consciousness as "trying to turn up the gas quickly enough to see how the darkness looks."
Interesting quote. I agree that the experience of reading, of being immersed, is part of what I remember about reading a book. And, sigh, it may be false.
The James quote is quite vivid & creeps me out a bit, cause it makes me think of someone putting her head in the oven. Probably not what he intended
The Garlic Ballads by Mo Yan
I felt I should have liked this novel more, if only because it is a well-structured and important work by a Nobel laureate. Perhaps I shouldn't have let the nonstop violence effected my appreciation. But there you have it. I couldn't get past the intentional and random violence that is the basis of the book.
The farmers of Paradise County now live under the harsh rule of the Communist Government. New "modern" ideas attempt to debride generations of tradition with mixed results. Some of the reforms, such as protections for women, are laudable, if loosely enforced; others, such as land reform, are mismanaged disasters. The locals resist both types of change, either behind closed doors or in a doomed attempt at collective protest. Pretentious locals, newly uplifted by the government, lord it over their former neighbors, and the threat of higher-up communist bureaucrats looms over all.
The structure of the novel is nonlinear, with stutter-steps forward and back in the chronological plot. Sometimes it was confusing, but for the most part, it worked. Instead of building suspense, this method of storytelling emphasizes inevitable outcomes. One thread holding the story together is the lamentations of the blind street singer, which begin each chapter, and eventually enter the plot itself. Two other threads running throughout the story are a ghostly white horse and the presence of certain birds. To be honest, I never solved the riddle of the meaning of these symbols.
Although I can appreciate the importance of this novel as a protest against the Chinese government and enforced communism, it is not a celebration of the traditions and rural life of the Chinese peasants. The only positive takeaway is an intermittent appreciation of the ties that bind people in adversity, but even this idea is strained and fraught with violence. The reader is left with only a sense of the hopeless struggle of life that is born and ends in violence.
Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald
Structurally this novel is quite interesting. The two main characters meet by chance in a railway station and strike up a conversation about architectural history. The narrator of the novel is a nameless scholar entranced by the man he meets, Jacques Austerlitz, whose narration of his life is the substance of the book. Hence the entire book is a story within a story. Another unusual structural device is the inclusion of photographs, maps, and the like; both creating a sense that the novel is nonfiction and also reflecting the interest Austerlitz has in photography. This method of "fixing" the story in reality and history contradicts the surreal and detached atmosphere of the narration. Finally the physical structure of the language used to tell the story is unhampered by paragraphs and sentence length. Instead the story flows uninterrupted.
The plot is the story of Austerlitz's life as his repressed memories slowly unfold. In a sense, the reader discovers the story of his life at the same time as the man himself does. A child brought to England on a Kindertransport from mainland Europe in 1939, Austerlitz is raised by a strict Welsh minister and his wife, who do not encourage the boy to remember his former life. Eventually, the boy remembers nothing of who he is. It is only as a middle-aged adult that fleeting memories begin to return, and Austerlitz wanders down the path to his own identity.
In simple terms, the novel is a reflection on the Holocaust and its effects on the people who survived it. Because of its unusual structure and surreal atmosphere, however, the book is not one to appeal to every reader, even those interested in the Holocaust. One has to detach from expectations and history itself in order to flow with the narration. I found it to be an unusual reading experience.
Next, a feel-good reread, and the review I wrote six years ago in June 2012:
A Guide to the Birds of East Africa by Nicholas Drayson
I was looking for something light to read and couldn't have landed upon a happier choice. For those enamored with Major Pettigrew, similar delights await you upon meeting Mr. Malik.
Mr. Malik is a charming man of Indian descent born and raised in Nairobi. He was educated in England, but dutifully abandoned his dreams of being a journalist in order to return to Kenya and take his father's place at the head of the family business. He married a wonderful women and raised two children, joined the prestigious Asadi Club, and became known as an honorable man. As time passes first his wife and then his son pass away, leaving Mr. Malik alone with his beloved daughter who now runs the factory. After suffering a mild heart attack, his doctor advises he take up birdwatching, and ever since Mr. Malik has been a faithful attendee of the local Tuesday morning bird walk sponsored by the East Africa Ornithological Society. Over the years Mr. Malik has become a true bird lover and aficionado.
Although Mr. Malik's life appears ordered and serene, it has hidden depths. For Mr. Malik is a passionate man: he is secretly in love with the beautiful Rose Mbikwa, who leads the bird walks; writes a daring political column under a pseudonym exposing corruption in Kenya; and staunchly does charity work of which his peers would be unlikely to approve. When a rival suitor arrives in town and moves in on Rose, Mr. Malik does the only possible thing and protects the lady from having to make a choice by challenging the flashy American to a contest. Whichever of them identifies the most bird species in one week will have the privilege of asking Rose to the social affair of the season, the annual Hunt Club Ball. What follows is a humorous account of the trials the two men undergo in their pursuit of birds and a gradual revealing of the innate goodness and human failings of Mr. Malik.
The author, Nicholas Drayson, is a naturalist and has a wonderful way of describing the look and habits of birds. Drayson lived in Kenya for two years, where he studied the local wildlife and accumulated experiences that would later become this book. When asked how he would like readers to feel upon completing the book, Drayson said Happy. Although the novel may not be high literature, it is a delightful read, and it succeeded in making me unexpectedly and enjoyably happy.
Enjoying your reviews
I know what you mean by the non-stop violence in the Garlic ballads because I found the same thing in Red Sorghum - I won't read anything else by him.
And two Alan Furst espionage novels for fun. Sadly, I am becoming less enamored with Furst, although I have not read all of his WWII spy series.
The Foreign Correspondent
In this installment, it is 1938 Paris, and Reuters journalist, Carlo Weisz, is asked to take over as editor of a clandestine Italian émigré newspaper. After covering the Spanish Civil War, Carlo desires to continue the fight against fascism and accepts. What follows is an insight into the role journalists played in the espionage game, as experienced by a rather naive Carlo. There is the mandatory love affair, minor references to people and places in former Furst novels, and a tame ending. This seems to be the formula for the books in this series.
The Spies of Warsaw
Now we are in 1937-38 Warsaw, where Colonel Jean-François Mercier serves as military attaché. Along with his new diplomatic job is the mandatory agent-running for the intelligence bureau. As Mercier tries to convince his superiors of German plans for a tank offensive through the Belgian forests, the formula described above plays out.
>84 markon: Ha! No, I doubt that's what James intended, but now that you have said that, I can't get the image out of my mind! Just to be clear, the James quote came with the original; it's not something I added.
>88 SassyLassy: I'm not sure I will reread Austerlitz any time soon, but I will read The Emigrants at some point. It's the only other Sebald I have. :-)
Thank you. I have not written reviews in a while, and I'm afraid I don't have the drive to write the sort of insightful pieces I used to strive for. But I find that once I start writing, even if intending only to write a blurb, I end up writing more than I knew I had in me. Reviews are how I solidify my thinking about a book, I think.
>89 baswood: I read Red Sorghum several years ago and was similarly haunted by the violence. When Mo Yan became a Nobel laureate, I decided to give him another go. Although I'm glad I did, I won't seek out more of his works.
I'm excited! I will be in GA for Labor Day Weekend and discovered today that I will be only a little over an hour away from Decatur and the Decatur Book Festival. So Saturday, I will be attending for the first time. And guess who is speaking at 10 am? Madeline Miller, author of The Song of Achilles, a fantastic novel I read a few years ago. She has a new book out called Circe. I'm eager to hear her speak. Bill Foege, who was an adviser at the Gates Foundation while I worked there, will be speaking at the same time. He is credited with the eradication of smallpox. I would have liked to have heard him as well.
Fans of juvenile literature will know Annie Barrows of Ivy and Bean fame (and most importantly, final editor of her aunt's book, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society), as well as Jeanne Birdsall, author of the wonderful Penderwick series.
Two other sessions I hope to hear are "Personal Choices in the Shadow of War"
In Siberian Exile, memoirist Julija Sukys discovers the varying, and sometimes conflicting, perspectives on her grandfather's actions during WWII by digging into her Lithuanian family's secrets. Thomas McConnell, in his novel, The Wooden King, studies the war through fiction by following the character Trn, a pacifist history professor who is trying to to protect his family. Both reveal what can happen when individuals are faced with the hardest choices of their lives.
and "The Unknowns: The Untold Story of America’s Unknown Soldier and WWI’s Most Decorated Heroes Who Brought Him Home"
Celebrated military historian and bestselling author Patrick O’Donnell illuminates the saga behind the creation of the Tomb of the Unknown and recreates the moving ceremony during which it was consecrated and the eight Body Bearers, and the sergeant who had chosen the one body to be interred, solemnly united. Brilliantly researched, vividly told, The Unknowns is a timeless tale of heeding the calls of duty and brotherhood, and humanizes the most consequential event of the twentieth century, which still casts a shadow a century later.
It should be a fascinating day.
Anyone else going?
>92 labfs39: Ohh super envious! The hosts of the Longform podcast have been flogging the Decatur festival (Mailchimp, one of their major advertisers, is a sponsor). I'd love to hear Madeline Miller speak. Unfortunately that's not library-centric enough for me to make a case for work to send me, so I'll have to live vicariously through everyone else. Please report back!
>93 NanaCC: Thanks, Colleen!
>94 lisapeet: I've only recently moved to the Southeast, so I've never had the opportunity to attend before either. I will definitely post about my day. Wish me luck finding everything!
>95 RidgewayGirl: I'll see you at the Madeline Miller session, Kay. I'll be the one with the book bag and glasses. ;-) I'm glad to hear that the sessions I've chosen so far shouldn't be duds. I'm excited!
>97 qebo: I think you might like A Guide to the Birds of East Africa, although it is fiction. It has sweet and funny plot, but the descriptions of the birds and their behaviors appear to be written by a real birdwatcher. The author is a zoologist who earned a PhD in "19th century Australian natural history writing." He was born in England, but spent most of his life in Australia, with a stint of two years in Kenya. It's not your usual fare, but if you are up for a light entertaining read, this might suit.
i hope you are well, btw. My daughter was asking about you just yesterday.
I had so much fun at the Decatur Book Festival Saturday! To cap off a great day of author sessions and book buying, I met kidzdoc (Darryl), RidgewayGirl (Kay), and Patty for dinner. We spent hours discussing the day, travel, food, authors; all while having a delicious dinner of tapas. I will post photos once I return home.
Here is a list of books that I purchased:
Circe by Madeline Miller (signed by the author, who also inscribed my copy of The Song of Achilles)
Siberian Exile:Blood, War, and a Granddaughter's Reckoning by Julija Šukys. The story of the author's grandparents, one of whom was a victim in WWII Lithuania and one who was a perpetrator. (inscribed by the author)
The unknowns : the untold story of America's unknown soldier and WWI's most decorated heroes who brought him home by Patrick K. O'Donnell. Purchased after listening to the author's fascinating talk (inscribed by the author)
Conscience : two soldiers, two pacifists, one family : a test of will and faith in World War I by Louisa Thomas
The Family : Three Journeys into the Heart of the Twentieth Century by David Laskin. A memoir by the author of The Children's Blizzard.
White Guard by Mikhail Bulgakov (which I have wanted to read since rebeccanyc led a group read on The Master and the Margarita)
The Man in the Wooden Hat by Jane Gardam. The sequel to Old Filth which I loved.
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante. Everyone seems to love the Neapolitan trilogy, but I have not been drawn to it. When I saw a copy for a $1, however, I decided to pick it up.
Leaving Everything Most Loved by Jacqueline Winspear. The tenth installment of the Maisie Dobbs series. Although not my favorite, I have collected most of the others, so I purchased it, again for a dollar.
While I didn't get my book signed, I did enjoy Madeline Miller's talk. And it was lovely meeting you both. It was great to have the time and a good meal in which to enjoy the company. You managed to buy one more book than I did!
Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse (young adult read-along with my daughter)
Although this young adult novel sounded intriguing, I was quite disappointed.
Hanneke is a teenager in WWII Netherlands. She is her family's sole support, finding items on the black market for various clients. Her job has its dangers, and she has learned to lie convincingly to German soldiers in order to deliver packages without being discovered. One of her clients asks her to help her find something unusual: a girl in a blue coat that the old woman had been hiding in her house. The girl has disappeared without a trace, and Hanneke reluctantly agrees to look for her.
The search takes Hanneke to a Jewish school, a cell in the Resistance, a deportation site, and to the homes of those who hide Jews. The tension slowly builds until a surprise twist abruptly takes the story in a new direction. Along with the mystery of the missing girl is the slow unveiling of what happened to Hanneke's boyfriend, whom we know was killed in the first few days when the Dutch army tried to stand up to the German invasion.
I found the plot to be slow, until two-thirds of the way through the book, when an event occurs which seems to be included in part for shock value. After that, I was much less interested in the story and finished it perfunctorily.
The next two books that I read turned out to be on the same topic from different points of view. In My Friends the Miss Boyds, the reader learns about six unmarried sisters from the perspective of the people in the small Scottish town where they live. In Excellent Women, the first person narrator invites the reader into the world of an unmarried woman living in postwar England. The exploration of the stereotypes surrounding "spinsters" as seen from the inside and the outside turned out to add a depth to my reading of both books.
My Friends the Miss Boyds by Jane Duncan
I loved this book (thank you, Ardene) for both the characters and the setting. It is the first in a series of nineteen novels based on the author's life.
Janet is a curious, observant eight-year-old growing up on a farm in the Scottish Highlands in 1918. Her world is quite small--her family's farm, Reachfar, and the village, Achcraggan--but Janet's powers of observation make every person, detail of nature, and event come alive for the reader. Clearly this is not the voice of an eight-year-old, no matter how precocious, but the first-person narrative works. Although the title focuses on the Miss Boyds, six unmarried sisters, they are not major figures in the book. They do act as a foil for exploring village stereotypes toward spinsters and toward those in trouble, but the action focuses on what Janet sees and hears, and the Boyds are simply one of the many curious aspects of adulthood that Janet sees around her.
The characters are vivid and both quaintly exotic and familiar. The setting is beautifully rendered, and Janet's attention to detail gives the reader a close look without being claustrophobic. The plot is slow and uncomplicated, as befits a child in a small village; yet I could not stop reading and was regretful when the book ended. I immediately ordered the next in the series, but was sad to read that it picks up when Janet is twenty. I will miss the rest of Janet's childhood.
In Jane Duncan's book (above), the six Miss Boyds are portrayed as frivolous, giggling women whose sole aim is to marry, anyone will do. This is in sharp contrast to Barbara Pym's protagonist in the next book I read:
Excellent Women by Barbara Pym
Mildred Lathbury is an intelligent, self-sufficient woman who happens to be unmarried. In post-war England there were thousands of women like her: devout and helpful, living quiet, respectable lives; in other words, excellent women all. Their one failing, according to those around them, is that they are unmarried.
When an exciting young couple moves into the flat below Mildred's, she is drawn to Helena, the brash, independent anthropologist, and her husband, Rocky, whose charm has turned the heads of many young women. Even though the Napier's marriage is precarious and slightly scandalous, Mildred wonders if she isn't missing something in not being married. She likes the attention from Rocky, even though she knows he is only flirting, as he does with every woman. And she is slightly disappointed when the young minister at her church falls for a sexually attractive newcomer. Everyone assumes Mildred wants to be married. Does she?
The book was published in 1952, a transitional time for women in England and elsewhere. Now that the men have returned from war, wives like Helena and unmarried women like Mildred must find a way to accommodate a return to old roles, but with new sensibilities. It's this search for a new place in society that creates the tension in the novel. Must women choose to be either married or be an "excellent woman"? Or is there another choice, a way to be an independent woman who does not feel less actualized because she is unmarried?
Although others have found the book to be amusing, I found it to be melancholy. Mildred is not happy with her life, nor is she deeply unsatisfied, instead she lives an unexceptional life with quiet dignity, occasionally wondering if things could have been different, and if they had, would she have been happier? I wanted something more for her, perhaps more than she wanted for herself. I was left wondering if contentment was enough of a satisfaction in life.
Siberian exile : blood, war, and a granddaughter's reckoning by Julija Šukys
I was fortunate enough to hear the author speak about her book at the Decatur Book Festival. Her story is so compelling that I began reading it as soon as I returned home.
Julija Šukys is a Canadian of Lithuanian descent. The story of her family and her country were "tattooed on her skin," told and retold by family members and by the close-knit Lithuanian émigré population. Of these stories, she was particularly drawn to the story of her paternal grandmother, Ona. She always knew that someday she would write Ona's story and that is what she set out to do when writing this book.
Lithuania's history during WWII is complicated. They were invaded by the Russians, then the Germans, then the Russians again. Some citizens welcomed the Germans as saving them from the Russians, some welcomed the Russians for saving them from the Germans, some worked secretly against both. In 1941 Ona was taken from her apartment in the middle of the night by Soviet KGB officers and put on a cattle car for Siberia. Her crime? Being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or so the family said. One thing was for certain, her grandmother spent the next seventeen years in Siberia in a special settlement. It would be twenty-four years before she saw her husband or three children again.
This was the story Julija wanted to write: one of persecution overcome through tenacity and inner strength. Her grandmother's experience and survival was a story she wanted to pass on to her own son. But when she began researching her family's history, she found different story. One that included a perpetrator of violence, a collaborator with the Nazis. How to reconcile this long-hidden, incomprehensible reality with the stories she had been told and the family members she had known? What should she do with this knowledge? "Some always pays," she writes. "The question is who. And the question is how." Was she herself somehow tainted and culpable through association, through heredity? Was she somehow paying, now, with this new unwanted knowledge? Could she atone? Should she?
I found all of these questions fascinating and, for me, they were as compelling as the story of Julija's grandparents. Their experiences in Lithuania and Siberia were unique, and yet representative of the complexities of the region dubbed by Timothy Snyder as "the Bloodlands." And Julija's struggles, as a writer and a member of a family and close community, to make sense of these experiences is again both uniquely her own and representative of an entire country's struggle to understand collaboration, violence, and the desire to put the past in the past.
Julija Šukys lays open her family's history as a testament to the value of truth and as an act of redemption. The tone is rough and captures the sense of pain tightly controlled, but at the same time it is not unrelenting darkness. The story of Ona still shines through as the family history that Julija had always wanted to write.
An excellent review for an interesting sounding book. It makes me want to pick it up but I'm a bit scared of it as I feel I could easily be one of those "excellent women" as I'm not unmarried by choice, only by circumstance. I'd hate to consider my life unexceptional, even if it's with dignity, as you so excellently put. Oof. I'm curious but scared! Interesting!
>107 lilisin: I don't think you would find the comparison too close, as the book is very set in it's time and place. It's as though you are looking back through an aunt's photo album. You recognize the people and events, but at a remove. Also, many people found the story to be humorous, so I may be creating the melancholic feel in my own interpretation, based on my own circumstances. Every reader brings something different to the pages. I would be curious to know your impression, if you do choose to read it. Please share!
What to read next? Lacking SassyLassy's Nerf darts, I am left scanning my shelves aimlessly. I need something rather light (The Crimean War and Siberian Exile have been predictably not light), but have exhausted many of my old standby's. My Friend Muriel, the next book in Jane Duncan's autobiographical novels, is on the slow boat from London, otherwise that would be perfect. As I look again at my shelves (limited as most of my books are currently in storage), I realize how many depressing books I have! Wonderful books, but not cheery topics. Sigh. I miss rebeccanyc.
>105 labfs39: For me, the melancholy sits alongside the humour, but, yes, it's definitely there. I think Pym often creates that feeling with regard to the situation of unmarried women. The funniest of her works I've read so far, Crampton Hodnet, seems to me also the most melancholy, now I think back.
Also, I should say that I'm slowly working my way through Pym's novels in the order they were written, essentially because she likes to make passing references to characters from previous books and, in doing so, I did learn of a development in Mildred's life!
I've just started reading The Odd Women by George Gissing and the subject is very explicitly the situation of unmarried women (and is bound to not to end cheerily, I feel). I wonder if Pym read it...
>107 lilisin:, 108 I'm sure most of us generally lead what might be described as "unexceptional lives", married or not, but if you look at the detail of those lives, they become more interesting and impressive. At least that's what I'm telling myself!
>106 labfs39: I think this was a story in the daily headlines e-mail from the NY Times this morning. ?? The Lithuanian hero’s granddaughter. Happy to read your review.
>112 dchaikin: Ironically, no, but it is a very similar story.
I found the article you referred to, "Nazi Collaborator or National Hero? A Test for Lithuania." Since Russian and East European archives have been opening up to researchers, I'm not surprised that there are a lot of stories like this being published. It's shocking for the grandchildren to discover different truths about their families, and it's shocking for the entire (Lithuanian) community too. From the article you mention:
What shocked her (the local teacher and librarian), however, was not Ms. Foti’s discovery that her grandfather was complicit in the Holocaust — that was not really news to locals — but that a member of a patriotic émigré family had gone public and turned a private family matter into a public national shame.
“We have all heard things about what Noreika did during the war,” Ms. Tamosiuniene said. “He obviously took the wrong path. But his granddaughter should have kept quiet. Every family has its ugly things, but they don’t talk about them. It is better to stay silent.”
The tension about disclosing the truth is very complex in a country like Lithuania, where so many, it seems, were collaborators to one occupying power or the other. Also because almost all of Lithuania's Jews were killed, mostly by native Lithuanians, not Germans. Since the collapse of communism, those in Lithuania who fought the Soviets are heroes. But what if their heroism is based on fighting communism as a fascist? It's complicated and very volatile for the survivors of both regimes.
Thanks for leading me to the article (and another book). It's nice to hear from you!
It is really complicated. Thanks for looking it up and clarifying that stories.
Whoops, need to go back to earlier comments. I didn't mean to skip around.
>110 qebo: Hi qebo! It's nice to hear from you. I've only started having time to go on LT since I've moved and settled in. I'm still very far behind on reading other's threads. I can barely keep my head above water on my own.
K8 is doing well and says hello. She currently has no animals and hopes to get a dog soon. I'll be reading the Monks of New Skete soon, if she has anything to do with it. :-)
>111 Rebeki: I'm curious now to know what else we learn about Mildred. Does she have a scandalous love affair? Not very Pym-like...
I like authors who focus on the small details; it's like looking into someone's sock drawer (or as I like to think of it, bookshelves. What could be more intimate than our bookshelves?).
Mental: Lithium, Love, and Losing My Mind by Jaime Lowe
Part memoir, part history, Mental is as quirky as its author. Diagnosed as being on the bipolar spectrum during a severely manic episode, Lowe recounts her two episodes and what life is like in-between. She asks herself if she is the same person when she is manic; how many of her symptoms might be personality; and how other people's opinions of her change after witnessing an episode. The questions are rhetorical, as the author herself is unsure of the answers or if the questions can even be answered.
After 20+ years on lithium, the author begins to experience kidney problems. It is a not uncommon side-effect of long-term lithium use, especially if the user does not monitor kidney function. Lithium saved her life, and the decision of whether to stop taking it is a difficult one. In order to make an informed decision, she learns as much as she can about the element, including why there is a "lithium problem" in astrophysics, how it is mined and processed, the history of its use, and how naturally occurring lithium in the water supply can effect towns. This was the part of the book that I found most interesting.
I would only recommend this book to readers who have a particular interest in the experience of those on the bipolar spectrum or in an anecdotal history of lithium. I doubt there are many of you out there.
>109 labfs39: I miss rebeccanyc
Your comment and search for something to read that wasn't quite so depressing led me to rebecca's threads and Jorge Amado jumped out at me as a possible antidote. He is listed in her favourite authors and based on her reviews Cinnamon and Clove might work. I would also suggest The Bridge of Beyond from rebecca's library and mine -- a wonderful book to take you far away from today.
>116 labfs39: actually a book on the bipolar spectrum and Lithium sounds really interesting. Guesa I may be one of those few out there.
>119 dchaikin: I'm glad I'm not the only one, Dan. Lithium has gotten a bad reputation among some; although research shows it to be an inexpensive, relatively clean, and often very effective treatment. I hadn't given much thought to its history or manufacture.
I haven't been on LT for a while thanks to Hurricane Michael. We had a mandatory evacuation here in Panama City Beach, and we headed for Georgia before the hurricane struck Wednesday October 12. The eye turned east at the last moment, so we avoided the worst of the devastation. Eight miles east of here is the beginning of complete devastation. My daughter and I returned on Saturday the 13th to find that our apartment and storage unit had been spared. We had no potable water, no phone service, no Internet, hour-long waits for gas, and a curfew, but we were so fortunate. On Monday I began volunteering. It's heartbreaking how many people have lost everything. Although it helps to know that I am doing my bit, the devastation is so broad that it feels as though we will never recover. I know many of you have suffered similar natural disasters, but this is my first, and it's awful.
>121 labfs39: Glad you checked in. I had tied you to the panhandle without a clear picture of specifically where. I just looked at a map. I have relatives in Tallahassee who reported a few days without power and debris strewn about, but they were otherwise spared. What do you do as a volunteer?
>121 labfs39: I've been surprised at how quickly the ramifications of Hurricane Michael left the news cycle. I'm glad to hear you were spared the worst of it, but I'm sure your area is still pretty devastated. Thanks for the update.
Glad you’re ok Lisa. I didn’t even know you experiencing this storm and it’s aftermath.
>121 labfs39: Frightening, hope you all manage to work together to get your lives back on track. The worst natural disaster `i have been in was cyclone Klause with gusts of 185 km.h back in 2009. There were a few fatalities in South West France, but no evacuations. It started at 4am: right on time according to the metrological office and the noise was amazing as we listened to the roof tiles on our house rise up and resettle. We were without power for 4 days and there were plenty of roof tiles missing and trees down but little structural damage to houses although plenty of barns were wrecked. Nothing like the devastation that you have experienced.
I'm glad your family and home are alright. The pictures of the devastation are shocking.
>122 qebo: Thanks, qebo. I returned to Panama City Beach three days after the storm hit. I took the next day to do reconnaissance of my storage unit and to begin learning the ropes of where to get food, gas, and how far I needed to drive to get a cell signal. I asked at the grocery store where local volunteers were staging, and the manager sent me to a local church. Their sanctuary had collapsed, but they were letting Operation Blessing use their parking lot. Although I was a bit hesitant at first because I'm not Christian, I was quickly impressed with the speed with which Operation Blessing set up operations (far ahead of the Red Cross or FEMA) and the variety of help they are able to provide.
The first day I was assigned to canvas a hard hit area in Springfield (east of Panama City) with two other volunteers. We went house to house checking in with the occupants, seeing what they needed, and writing up work orders if their needs were ones we could meet. Food, water, tarps, medications, and gas were immediate needs, with tree removal (from their house) and roof repair being secondary. Several people, in dire straits themselves, waved us away saying they could get by, see if we could help their neighbors first. One woman's husband was on oxygen, and she was charging his portable unit in their truck, but only had five gallons of gas left. Another woman's home had been completely destroyed. She has an eight-year-old son with cerebral palsy who suffers from seizures. She was out of one of his medications. Both hospitals had evacuated, pharmacies destroyed, could we help her get his meds filled? She also had dogs that had recently had a litter of puppies. How could she care for them?
The next day I was assigned to work with a crew from Rotary International that was gutting flood-damaged homes. (The majority of the initial damage was from wind, not storm surge or flooding, but we're supposed to get 2" of rain tomorrow, and any damaged roof that isn't securely covered with a tarp is going to lead to more water damage.) We worked for three days on an elderly couple's home which had had about 6" of floodwater. We worked room to room moving belongings out, stripping out soggy carpeting, cutting out the drywall up to a height of either 2 or 4', and removing the insulation. After the room was swept well and all nails were removed that might snag someone, we sprayed it with a disinfecting and mold prevention solution, then set fans up to dry the walls. Then we moved on to the next room. The crew is now on their fourth house.
One day on the way to the site, I overshot the road (all the street signs are down, and utility crews or trees often make getting through difficult, so navigating is a challenge, especially without any cell phone navigation due to lack of service). Not far along I saw a man beside the road holding a sign asking for food and water. Since I had both in my car, I stopped. He was one of sixteen people living in a small house and a number of trailers who had banded together for mutual support. A huge tree was (and still is) sticking through the roof of the house where three disabled veterans live, one on hospice. Behind there were four trailers and a utility shed where one woman was living; the shed had been cleaved in two by a tree and one of the trailers had a tree crushing half of it. The mother and two girls who had lived there were now living in a corner of the warehouse next door. Life for these people was hand to mouth before the storm, now they are completely destitute. I began bringing supplies to them daily. In addition to food, water, gas, ice, and tarps, I bought vitamins and clothes for the kids (and found cots for them to sleep on), shoes for two of the men, and first aid supplies. I found a shelter with space for the woman who lived in the shed and the mother and two girls, but the woman would only stay one night, then I had to bring her back. Her slumlord wanted her there so he wouldn't lose her rent, so he brought in an old horse trailer for her to stay in. I became too emotionally involved with these folks and was crushed when I realized I couldn't save them from their situation or their choices.
Volunteering is rewarding, but also physically exhausting and emotionally difficult, especially for a problem-solver like me. I have a hard time when I can't fix things, and there is no way to fix what is happening to so many. Another frustration is the difficulty getting from place to place. One night it took me two and a half hours to go fourteen miles, and I missed curfew, scaring my daughter.
I know I am giving you far more info than you asked for, but I'm finding it cathartic to write about, and I hope I can give you a sense of what it's like here.
>123 japaul22: Me too, japaul22. When the news dropped the story, it felt as though we had been forgotten. We already felt so isolated, with no way to communicate or get information about local emergency operations due to the lack of cell or internet service. My anecdote to the feeling of isolation is to look at the license plates of other vehicles. Volunteers have come from all over the country to help, and it's comforting to know that we aren't in fact alone.
>124 dchaikin: Thanks, Dan. I only moved here six months ago from Seattle, so it's new news. :-)
>125 baswood: Wow, baswood, that sounds frightening. I'm amazed that your area didn't suffer more damage with those wind speeds. I was very glad that we had evacuated. Those who stayed, even the seasoned hurricane survivors, have since vowed they will never ignore an evacuation order again (if they have the means to do so). I guess it was terrifying, not only the wind, but the micro-tornadoes that sprang up everywhere. Did you have much warning before the cyclone hit?
>126 RidgewayGirl: Thanks, Kay. I have taken dozens of photos myself. The damage is in a way mesmerizing. I drive down a street I knew and don't even recognize where I am. It goes on for mile after mile. And it's not just homes and businesses that were destroyed: schools, churches, hospitals, libraries, city halls, jails, playgrounds, cemeteries--all of them wreaked. But I try to take pictures of the good as well: lines of utility trucks as far as you can see, distribution centers in the parking lots of destroyed churches and businesses, small restaurants serving hot meals from the sidewalk. Proof that strength can come from adversity.
Thank you for updating us, Lisa. I’m glad that you are ok after such a devastating ordeal.
>127 labfs39: Thank you. For doing what you're doing, and describing it in such detail.
Wow Lisa. Glad Qebo asked. I so admire you for the work you’re doing. I’m also stunned as the nature of damage you describe.
I'm heartened by all the examples you've given of people coming together, or saying, "No, fix my neighbor's house first." And, of course, by the volunteers coming in and you deciding to go help people instead of just hunkering down in your house.
>129 NanaCC: Thanks, Colleen. It was so nerve-wracking to watch the Weather Channel reporter stand on the pier a mile from my apartment and talk about ground zero, but I'm so glad we evacuated and did watch it on tv from afar. Neighbors who stayed say they will never do so again.
>130 qebo: I hope you and other readers don't take my post as tooting my own horn. I am one tiny cog in a massive effort. Instead, I'm writing about it to ease some of my emotional turmoil and to show what I can about the effect of the storm on ordinary people. For instance, today in a restaurant (we drove west an hour) I saw a man with his two young children (5 and 7ish). Then I saw them at the store. We started talking, and he said that they lived in Lynn Haven and their home was completely destroyed. They are now staying with his in-laws over here. The boy piped up that their house (his grandparents') was still standing. It made me wonder what effect this event will have on the children of the area. Will they bounce back with the resiliency of the young, or will they be scarred by losing not just their home, but their school and town? The man said he was looking forward to school starting in a couple of weeks. Even if it is a different school, it will return the kids to some sense of normalcy, and they will get to process with their peers.
>131 dchaikin: It is a stunning amount of damage, Dan. It was the third worst hurricane to hit the US in terms of pressure and fourth worst in terms of windspeed. I know that other natural disasters have been equally horrible (the Tubbs wildfire of October 2017 comes to mind), but this is the first that I've seen up close and personal. Watching it on the news is not the same as seeing places you know destroyed and talking to people who have lost everything. It's raining buckets today, and I am so worried for all those without good tarping, especially my little group of 16. I will drive out tomorrow and see how they fared.
>132 RidgewayGirl: I agree, Kay. I try to focus on the positives of a community coming together, rather than some of the other stories the news loves to pick up. In addition to people waving us off to help their neighbors or asking us to check on elderly people they know in the neighborhood, I have also been touched by my little group of sixteen. Despite having nothing, they have been quick to give me things that they have received through volunteers or the nearby church that they don't need. The mother of the girls gave me two baggies of socks and a pair of flip-flops that they had been given, but that they don't need. When the group gets a food donation, they make sure I take the baby food and diapers. They want to make sure the children get taken care of. It restores a bit of faith in humanity.
A summary of books read that I won't have time to review:
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson
This was a reread for me. I picked it up, because I've been looking (even before the storm) for non-depressing books to read, and my personal library doesn't have many! This story of a tradition-bound English gentleman falling in love with a Pakistani immigrant woman is a reflection not only of modern biases lightly covered by political correctness, but also of the difficulty of accepting change and, even more difficult, making change in the face of public censure.
Once, Then, and Now by Morris Gleitzman
This trilogy of young adult books written by a prominent Australian author was recommended to me by avatiakh (Kerry). They first thing that struck me about the books was that each chapter starts with the name of the book; so once, then, or now. It's an interesting technique. But then the plot and the characters swept me away. All three books are about the life of Felix, whom we first meet in an orphanage during the Holocaust. He leaves to search for his parents and along the way becomes the friend and caretaker of another parentless child, six-year-old Zelda. Together they search for safe haven, but nowhere is safe in WWII Poland, especially for a Jewish boy. Their story is told in the first two books. The last book, Now, is set in Australia where Felix is now a successful, retired surgeon. He is in temporary custody of his granddaughter, Zelda, and together they survive a terrible bushfire. The books are written for a young audience, but contain some interesting themes, such as how a child might interpret the Holocaust through events that they experience and the effect of the Holocaust on the children and grandchildren of survivors.
Istanbul Passage by Joseph Kanon
I picked up this espionage novel in large part because of another book by Joseph Kanon, The Good German. That book went beyond being a simple story of espionage with its examination of the grey areas between the victims and the perpetrators in the Holocaust. This novel was interesting in it's detailed description of the city of Istanbul post-WWII. It's underlying theme was about the choices people make, how one choice leads to the next, and how others view those choices. It was not quite as compelling as The Good German, but still a step above the simple espionage novel.
My Friend Muriel by Jane Duncan
This book is the second in a series of autobiographical novels by Jane Duncan. The first, My Friends the Miss Boyds, was riveting. It told the story of eight-year-old Janet growing up in the Scottish Highlands on the eve of the end of WWI. I was very eager to read the next book in the series and was initially disappointed that it picks up much later, when the author is twenty. The book grew on me, however, and I particularly enjoyed her humor.
The style is very self-aware, a metanovel:
...in this book, you are seeing Muriel through my eyes and that should cause you to make certain allowances, for I do not set myself up to be the goddess of cold, impartial justice at the Old Bailey. Also, we have plenty of time. You and I are in this book-reading, book-writing business for fun, I hope, and frankly, it is not a matter of life and death if we never get to Muriel--she was not a Cleopatra or anything. So I am not going to tell you either that I am thus and so. I think that is a very difficult thing for anyone to do, for few people can see themselves as others see them. No. I am not going to say a lot of 'I ams.' I am going to tell you what happened to me, in a brief way, between getting the letter signed 'Muriel Thornton' and actually seeing Muriel in the flesh, for I have always found the 'I am--' suspect and usually my suspicions have been well-founded.
Particularly funny were her, and her friend Monica's, competing descriptions of the visual embodiments of various words:
Do you know this stuff called 'umbrage' that people are said to 'take' now and then. I have never taken it myself and have never understood why some people do, for it looks to me like a bundle of greyish-brown stuff, about the size of a bundle of asparagus (but not succulent at all) and, indeed, in texture like the dried herbs you may have seen hanging in a good French kitchen (but not aromatic at all, as the herbs are). When people take it, they take the bundle in both hands and go away into a dark corner where you cannot see them, so I have never been able to find out what they do with it. I once enquired of My Friend Monica (she is a new one on you and very nice, although a little short-tempered), who, although not an umbrage-taker herself any more than I am, had known a number of addicts to it, and she said that it was not this bundle of stuff that I am telling you about at all. No. Monica said she was sure that they got it in bottles of blue ribbed glass from the chemist's shop and that they took it in private, in their bedrooms or in the bathroom, without measuring it with a spoon or anything but just by tilting the bottles to their mouths. That, she said, was very important, this thing of there being no regular, prescribed dose. In the end, after a long discussion which cost over a pound in Dry Martinis at 1939 officers' mess prices, Monica and I decided that the umbrage-takers she had known were more confirmed addicts than those I had known and that her lot were taking the distilled essence, put up in blue bottles, of these bundles I was telling you about.
There are even funnier examples, but I picked the first one that comes up in the book.
I am currently reading
A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif
which several of my LT friends have read. And with a title like that, who can resist?
Thanks so much for sharing the experiences of your community! It's very meaningful to hear first hand.
Echoing what other folks have said. We got the tiniest taste of disaster weather here in NY six years ago, with Sandy, but it was... memorable. Have you read Rebecca Solnit's A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster? I haven't yet read it, but I heard her on a podcast (maybe On Being) talking about it—an expanded meditation of how people come together, born out of her experience in Katrina, and it sounds like the kind of thing that Solnit is good at writing about.
>133 labfs39: one tiny cog in a massive effort
Yeah, this is what most strikes me. Not so much the enormity of the destruction as a whole, but the enormity of the destruction to each individual, and the coordinated effort to dig out one by one.
Hi Lisa. I'm so glad that I've found your thread. I'm going to go back to the start and read it all slowly with a pen and paper next to me for the book hits I'll be taking.
I've just read your story in the BPHope magazine about your daughter. I loved reading it but wow, you are coping with so much. I hope you and your daughter are in the middle of a good run. A lot of what you said in it resonated with me from when F was little and we were trying to figure out his allergies and eczema - nothing like the same scale of endurance, but utterly frustrating and upsetting at times. I learnt to trust my gut too, and to ignore the equivalent unrequested stupid advice.
Back later. I am loving being back on LT, even though it is taking me ages to start catching up properly. I have missed my friends on here this year.
Lisa, thanks for writing about your experience volunteering after Michael. I'm glad you and your daughter are OK.
I really identify with this statement Volunteering is rewarding, but also physically exhausting and emotionally difficult, especially for a problem-solver like me. I have a hard time when I can't fix things, and there is no way to fix what is happening to so many. from volunteering with the homeless, and also from some of the situations we run up against at the library.
On a lighter note, if you come back to Decatur, GA for the book festival another year, I'd love to meet up. I was out of town this year, so skipped it, but I usually go when I'm in town.
>100 labfs39: Catching up. Great book haul!! Glad you had fun in GA.
>121 labfs39: I'm sorry you were affected by Hurricane Michael! Such devastation. And I'm amazed how fast that moved out of the news cycle.
>127 labfs39: That is an amazing story. I would react much the same not to be able to "fix" things for everyone. Kudos to you for volunteering.
This topic is not marked as primarily about any work, author or other topic.