Sunday, August 25, 2013

Part Two -- MORE Dog Days of Summer! The Book List Continues

I know school is starting tomorrow, but it is over 100 out there, so I think we are still in the Dog Days of Summer.  Funny how I caught Gus reading the book of his namesake earlier today.  (It's the only book he reads, but it is a good one!!).

Gus Reads "Lonesome Dove"  

In my first Post in August, I named a couple of books not to miss -- books to pick up in the heat of the summer.   For a full discussion & you tube author readings, see here:  Part 1, What to Read -- Dogs Days of Summer 

But the short of it is that I named these categories and books:

1.  A Good Cry Book

The Fault in Our StarsThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

2.  A Good Book About Family 


3.  A Good Book Story About Something Important that You Should Have Thought About Before but Didn't!

We Are All Completely Beside OurselvesWe Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another book that will totally fit those two categories is this one:

 The Sandcastle GirlsThe Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a profoundly moving book about family history and the Armenian genocide of 1915.  I can't quit thinking about it.   The book taught me things I didn't know, took me places I haven't been, and just felt very personal.  I have a new author to add to my list (he isn't new, I just haven't read his books).  There is one image that the author uses over and over to express the anguish of a little girl's soul that deeply moved me, and -from a literary sense- it was just perfect in its  devastating simplicity.   Also liked his note at the end, and the author interview (I listened to the book).  It sealed the deal on him for me when he mentioned that he was highly anticipating Toni Morrison's book Home that was published after his interview.   I love the true melting pot vastness of American writers.

I thought I would be able to post more on vacation, but we went to a heavenly little spot that we discovered was internet free, what a blessing!  Things will start to be getting crazy soon with school starting, but it is still so hot that your summer reading time shouldn't quite be over, so I'll go ahead and continue the list, and Gus's reading of the now Classic Lonesome Dove reminds me that next on the list is very important.

4.  A Classic!

Whether one that you have read before or one that has been on your reading list for a long time, you should make time to read a classic. Of course, Lonesome Dove would fit the bill nicely, and I actually have it in my audio queue to revisit, but this year I stumbled onto an author that I am sad I only just now found.  She is incredible.  We've all heard of her because of the movies, but if you haven't read her, you are missing out.  I hope she doesn't disappear from the lists, and she won't if you take time to discover her in the original form.  

I'll use the book cover we all know --
Out Of Africa
And here is the Goodreads blurb: In 1921, the year that Baroness Karen Blixen found herself stranded by her divorce on a Kenyan mountain farm, most women in her circumstances would have fled back to civilization.

But instead of returning to her native Denmark, the 35-year-old Blixen stayed on and ran the farm.

In 1931 coffee prices collapsed and she was forced to leave. She returned to Denmark where she poured her memories into a passionate love letter about the life that would hold her in thrall till the end of her days. OUT OF AFRICA, published in 1937 under the pseudonym of Isak Dinesen, became a classic.

Here are some excerpts:

"I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills." 

That ought to stop you in your tracks.  Do you know anyone who can say that?  She continues a bit later:

"We grew coffee on my farm.  The land was in itself a little too high for coffee, and it was hard work to keep it going; we were never rich on the farm.  But a coffee-plantation is a thing that gets hold of you and does not let you go, and there is always something to do on it; you are generally just a little behind with your work. . . . I had six thousand acres of land, and had thus got much spare land besides the coffeee-plantation.  PArt of the farm was native forest, and about one thousand acres were squatter's land, what they called their shambas."

Ok fine, maybe this appeals to be because I am a child of the land, can't take it out of my soul if I tried.  But read this -- Blixen is incredible at descriptions:

"Whenever you walk amidst the Kikuyu shambas, the first thing that will catch your eye is the hind part of a little old woman raking in her soil, like a picture of an ostrich which buries her head in the sand."  

* * *

"Out on Safaris, I had seen a herd of Buffalo, one hundred and twenty-nine of them, come out of the morning mist under a copper sky, one by one, as if the dark and massive, iron-like animals with the mighty horizontally sung horns were not approaching, but were being created before my eyes and sent out as they were finished. "

* * * 

"I had time after time watched the pr0gression across the plain of the Giraffe, in their queer, inimitable, vegetative gracefulness, as if it were not a heard of animals but a family of rare, long-stemmed, speckled gigantice flowers slowly advancing."

Okay, I'll stop and leave something for you to discover, but hopefully I made my point.  Classics are worthwhile, and you should make it a goal to read at least one a year if not more.  They not only preserve the best in written communication, but they have lasted because they have dealt with something that touches many hearts, and typically it is the hard stuff of life.

5.  Something Fun!  And better yet if it is meaningful and farcical at the same time.

Where'd You Go, BernadetteWhere'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a mommy come of age book if there ever was one.   It will make you sick but curious, and sympathetic but exasperated all at the same time. It will just about embarrass you for all female American moms while it makes you love them and their young, too.  But for the extremes, it might be a pretty fantastic fictional essay on the women of my generation, as we face the banality of life.  We have many choices.  We can be hormonally lunatic, desperately hiding, snarky and adulterous, a menace to society,  or we can get on with our lives and purpose.  We can get back to creativity.   We can choose men who will not check out of our lives but who help us embrace them.  Where Oh where is . . . ?  May all the Bernadettes out there find themselves.

I have to be honest with you, this book drove me a little crazy at first, and it will likely drive you nuts, too  -- see my status updates:

"I'm so glad this is a book and not my life, I'd be stark raving mad." -- and --  "I just keep thinking, would someone RESCUE this woman! But then I think, grow up and deal with it Bernie! Or, surely there is a whole big plot twist and I am going to find out that the teenager or someone made it all up. I will say, it has me hooked. We'll see if I like the ending."

I finally realized that the book was taking these real mommy situations to the Nth degree, and poking a bit of fun at us, and I settled down and had a ball with it.  This book is an award winner and was short listed for the Women's Prize for Fiction (fka the Orange Prize for Fiction). 

If you think this video is funny, then you know that this book is right for you!!

6.  A Fantasy !

While we are having fun, lets talk fantasy.  You must read at least one fantasy in the summer!  There is nothing that says escape like reading a fantasy in the summer.  This year I found one that is a little different than the rest.  It appealed to me for its widely varying elements which are right in the title:  

 The Golem and the JinniThe Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker 

My rating: 4 of 5 stars 

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this.  The book has multiple elements:  Fantasy,  historical,  cultural,  and I really cared about the characters (I've noticed this is a must for me), plus it had the bonus of being magically well written. Great summer read, highly recommend.  I'd rate 4.5 if I could. 

Here is part of the Goodreads blurb: 

An immigrant tale that combines elements of Jewish and Arab folk mythology, Helene Wecker's dazzling debut novel tells the story of two supernatural creatures who arrive separately in New York in 1899. 

Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life to by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. When her master—the husband who commissioned her—dies at sea on the voyage from Poland, she is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York harbor in 1899. 

Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire, born in the ancient Syrian desert. Trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago, he is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop. Though he is no longer imprisoned, Ahmad is not entirely free—an unbreakable band of iron around his wrist binds him to the physical world. 

Meeting by chance, Chava and Ahmad become unlikely friends whose tenuous attachment challenges their opposing nature—until the night a terrifying incident drives them back into their separate worlds. But a powerful threat will soon bring the Golem and the Jinni together again, challenging their existence and forcing them to make a fateful choice. Marvelous and compulsively readable, The Golem and the Jinni weaves strands of Yiddish and Middle Eastern literature, historical fiction and magical fable into a wondrously inventive and unforgettable tale.

And the video:

Hope you are enticed, it's a good story and just a different way of exploring some themes that are near and dear to the American heart.  

No to the "Woman Upstairs" for me But . . . .

The Woman UpstairsThe Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I tried to find something of lasting literary value in this book but I just don't think so, all the possibilities fall short.  The Woman Upstairs is the modern single woman.   What did this book have to say about that?  That she fixates on others to fill the void?  That she can fall in unrequited love with every single family member of her special student?  That she is like the typical American who has a thing for foreigners, and naturally gets it all wrong?  That she didn't even know how to love herself or her own family?  That she tries to bury herself in art and is so mediocre that even she can't buy it?   That she will always be the other woman to the likes of a true artist like Virginia Wolf or George Sand? Sorry, I don't buy it.  BUT some others that I trust are really loving the book (like my friend Stephanie Harris that is another female lawyer / voracious reader, so check out her books and if you like what she likes, this book may be for you).  Also the First Chapter is chalk full of great thought, so let me give you more detail to help you decide if you want to pick it up (if you live in the Paris Area, you can check it out from the Library).

Here is the beginning:

"How angry am I?  You don't want to know.  Nobody wants to know about that."

--Oh yes, I do!  That definitely peaked my interest so let's continue.

"I'm a good girl.  I'm a nice girl.  I'm a straight-A, strait-laced, good daughter, good career girl, and I never stole anybody's boyfriend and I never ran out on a girlfriend, and I put up with my parents' shit and brother's shit and I'm not a girl anyhow, I'm over forty fucking years old, and I'm good at my job and I'm great with kids and I held my mother's hand when she died,after four years of holding her hand while she was dying, and I speak to my father ever day on the telephone -- every day, mind you, and what kind of weather do you have on your side of the river, because here it's pretty gray and a big muggy too?  It was supposed to say "Great Artist" on my tombstone, but if I died right now it would say "Such a good teacher/daughter/friend" instead; and what I really want to shout, and want in big letters on that grave, too, is FUCK YOU ALL."

Ok, SO.  I'm not there, but I'm intrigued by this, because I could be there and have been there and know several others who are there or have been there.  Good stuff in women's literary fiction that, so let's continue just a bit more.

"Don't all women feel the same?  The only difference is how much we know we feel it, how in touch we are with our fury.  We're all furies, except the ones who are too damned foolish, and my worry now is that we're brainwashing them from the cradle, and in the end even the ones who are smart will be too damned foolish. What do I mean?  I mean the second graders at Appleton Elementary, sometimes the first graders even, and by the time they get to my classroom, to the third grad, they're well and truly gone -- they're full of Lady Gaga and Katy Perry and French manicures and cute outfits and they care how their hair looks! In the third grade.  They care more about their hair or their shoes than about galaxies or caterpillars or hieroglyphics. How did all that revolutionary talk of the seventies land us in a place where being female means playing dumb and looking good?  Even worse on your tombstone than "dutiful daughter" is "looking good"; everyone used to know that.  But we're lost in a world of appearances now."

So you see why it hooked me! Yes!!! This stuff is so true, so now, so what we are all thinking and not saying.  Chapter One was awesome.  And there were some more brilliant moments, but unfortunately, the first fifty pages gets all the effort these days.  So it didn't get there for me in a total package way, and I didn't particularly like the underlying story either so that is why it got just a three when it is clearly good literary writing, but that is just my opinion.  You read it and see what you think!

View all my reviews

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Dog Days of Summertime!


I can't ever approach summer without this song playing through my head, or without getting serious about my summer reading lists.

Especially right now, during the Dog Days of Summer.  Interestingly this year, I caught some of my home family doing the same.

Maggie reading Alexander McCall Smith picture by Zoie Young

It's just too hot to do anything else!  Maggie is our Golden.  I guess that is why I am not surprised to find her with the Alexander McCall Smith book that I checked out from the library (Don't worry, she has perfect library book etiquette.  Maggie wouldn't dream of hurting anything, especially a library book.  We'll return it in tip top condition when we are done reading):

Trains and Lovers
I guess I will have to wait my turn, but am gratified to see that it is so absorbing.  I can't review it since I haven't read it, but suffice it to say that the book is basically conversations on a train, something that also reminds me of summertime!

What are you going to settle down to when it is too hot to do anything else?  I've talked it over with Maggie, and here are some suggestions:

1.  A Good Cry Book

You MUST read a good cry book every summer.  And watch a good cry movie.  It is a cleansing ritual that women and girls understand.  As luck will have it, this not to be missed book about some star crossed teen lovers by John Green will be a movie soon.  I loved this book featuring the spot on perfect teen voice of Hazel and her handsome beau Augustus.  This book shows that:  1) teen books aren't just about vampires or dystopian societies; 2) teens are so smart and so lovable; 3) cancer sucks and 4) love always prevails, love is always the greatest of these.  Oh yeah, and it proves that The Fault lies not In Our Stars, so take that Shakespear!  Buy the book, read the book, and give it to all the girls in your life.

The Fault in Our StarsThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Maggie and I love this book so much, that we decided to post you a You Tube reading of the First Chapter by the author.  Enjoy!!

Here are some favorite quotes from the book:

 "As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”     

“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.”

 Yes, this is one of those books.

Ok, moving on to what else you should read during the Dog Days of Summer:

2.  A Good Book About Family 


3.  A Good Book Story About Something Important that You Should Have Thought About Before but Didn't!

Lucky for you, there is a great book out that takes care of both of these. And I just caught a glimpse of this on the Paris Public Library shelves!! (Someone run go check it out, it SHOULD NOT BE ON THE SHELF!!  And, by the way, The Woman Upstairs is in my audio queue, I hear it is great!  It should not be on the shelf either.)

We Are All Completely Beside OurselvesWe Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book hooked me and delivered.   It made me laugh, cry, and think.  It taught me something new and changed my mind about some issues.  It reminded me.  It gave me hope.  It made me wonder why I hadn't ever given a second thought to this subject.

Fern and Rosemary are two sisters who are separated.  As sister separations tend to do, this act unhinged the family, but there is hope for a brighter tomorrow.   Here is the publisher's summary on Goodreads:

Meet the Cooke family: Mother and Dad, brother Lowell, sister Fern, and our narrator, Rosemary, who begins her story in the middle. She has her reasons. “I spent the first eighteen years of my life defined by this one fact: that I was raised with a chimpanzee,” she tells us. “It’s never going to be the first thing I share with someone. I tell you Fern was a chimp and already you aren’t thinking of her as my sister. But until Fern’s expulsion, I’d scarcely known a moment alone. She was my twin, my funhouse mirror, my whirlwind other half, and I loved her as a sister.”

Rosemary was not yet six when Fern was removed. Over the years, she’s managed to block a lot of memories. She’s smart, vulnerable, innocent, and culpable. With some guile, she guides us through the darkness, penetrating secrets and unearthing memories, leading us deeper into the mystery she has dangled before us from the start. Stripping off the protective masks that have hidden truths too painful to acknowledge, in the end, “Rosemary” truly is for remembrance.

And since I found John Green reading his First Chapter, I thought I would also post  Karen Joy Fowler reading Chapter 1

I'm having a bit of trouble with this You Tube video, so click on the highlighted link above if it isn't working below.  I do have to say this, as an explanation:  the book doesn't start where you think it will, BUT it is a brilliant drop into our narrator's life that gives you a perfect picture of how her childhood shaped her.  Just keep that in mind.

Maggie says it's time to rest a bit, so we'll post more Dog Days Lists soon (yes, of Course we have more!!!).  In the meantime, we are wondering:  what makes your list??