Sunday, December 28, 2014

Don't Miss This Book! Don't Miss These Immigrants! These Americans!

My rating: 5 of 5 stars -- Via audio.

It's that time of year that book readers start grabbing friends and strangers by the shoulders and saying -- Read this Book! Don't Miss This Book!! We start worrying that the really good books, the important books, are going to get washed away by the tide of terrible or even just standard books.  

This is the Don't Miss This!!  book for me. 
I wasn't expecting much from this book, especially not a trip down memory lane.  I love that it helped remind me of stories from my past, stories I'll soon share. It helped me remember why I have such a heart for immigrants.  It humanized the current politics and taught me things I didn't know. It was interesting to me that the setting was not Texas.  I kept being surprised that Delaware was the location but I think that was a good thing as it gives a fresh look.

It was hard for me to read, because I kept waiting for the axe to drop, but in the end I couldn't put it down.  The sweetest story to me was that of Alma and Arturo, the couple that moves in order to help their daughter get better from a brain injury.  Theirs is just an unadulterated pure love for each other and for their daughter.  There are other stories mixed in,  and I actually liked this, it gave me a break from the story that I knew was going to be difficult every step of the way.  The name of the book comes from one of those stories and by the time it is delivered, you know how true it is.

Confession -- After reading this, I sat there and cried.  It's the first time I've actually wept at the end of a book in a long, long time.  I love my country but we are so screwed up.  Don't worry, I think it was just a self reaction -- remember, when you read you bring your whole self into it.  You probably won't have that reaction.   But maybe you'll carry it in your heart.  I hope you'll carry it in your heart.  I hope you'll think about caring about these people, about immigrants.  

One favorite quote, from Arturo: "I'll tell them what I love about this country."

Here are a few more: 
“We're the unknown Americans, the ones no one even wants to know, because they've been told they're supposed to be scared of us and because maybe if they did take the time to get to know us, they might realize that we're not that bad, maybe even that we're a lot like them. And who would they hate then?”
― Cristina HenriquezThe Book of Unknown Americans



“I felt the way I often felt in this country - simultaneously conspicuous and invisible, like an oddity whom everyone noticed but chose to ignore”
― Cristina HenriquezThe Book of Unknown Americans

Hilary Mantel can Write Anything!

The Assassination of Margaret ThatcherThe Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I hate short stories.  I'm just a long story person.  I want to be given a chance to care about every aspect of the story.  I want something to think about.  I want a chance to laugh, cry, be curious, be surprised, and be swept away. I want something profound.

But I loved this offering of short stories.  I found all of those things I want in it. How does she do it?  I was completely swept up in these stories in all of the above ways.  I want to study them and figured out their myriad meanings. I want to study Mantel's writing techniques.  I want a bit of her brilliant zanyness.


View all my reviews

Tourette's, Strenth Training, and a Librarian


The World's Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette's, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family    Love, love, loved this book.  "The World's Strongest Librarian" -- and here is a new quote, and video about it.  I loved it because it told me about several somethings I didn't know much about (Tourette Syndrome, the Mormon faith, and super strength training), while it talked discussed life and books.  Can't get much better!

“I'll never know everything about anything, but I'll know something about almost everything and that's how I like to live.” 







Confessions of a Book Snob -- November -- On Atticus and Ducks

People always ask me what I’m reading. I usually enjoy answering, but recently I had to stammer. It was just too surreal to admit to Atticus Miller I was in the midst of being enthralled by “The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee” by Marja Mills. But he quickly confessed that “To Kill a Mockingbird” was one of his mother’s favorite books, and that he’d heard the podcast of Mills’ interview with Lee.


So off we went, talking Mockingbird and other favorite books the way most people dissect favorite TV shows.
Harper Lee’s novel still has that effect on most of us. Add that to the fact she never wrote another book, except to help Truman Capote redefine the true crime genre, and eventually withdrew from the press and the public, and you have a deep mystery that many hope is answered by Marja Mills’ recent release.
The book falls short of that, but I’m still glad I read it.
I learned a great deal about Lee and her family I didn’t know before, and for that reason alone the book was worthwhile, even though Mills’ writing was not compelling.

Perhaps my expectations were too high. But when reading a book about Harper Lee, one feels entitled to deep thoughts. Here, I just felt guilty for wondering why Mills spent so much time on ducks or “and then we” or “Nell laughed that laugh” or “Alice had that look on her face that meant” and so on. The minute humdrum did not fit the bill.

Don’t get me wrong. There are interesting stories in the book. Some of my favorites are about the friendship between Lee and Gregory Peck, stories on Lee’s father (the inspiration for Atticus Finch), stories on Truman Capote — even if I’m not sure that I believe all of them, and just a real sense of what kind of women Lee and her elder lawyer sister were. Also the 
“One Book One City” program has my mind spinning with possibilities for Paris.

Still, I can’t help but wonder, if the Lee sisters truly encouraged this book, why did it take Mills so long to write it? Why wait to publish it until they were unable to respond? Does Mills protest too much that her own health problems slowed her down? Also, wasn’t it a bit too convenient the way the neighborhood move developed? On the other hand, if the book was not written by permission, wouldn’t it be more of an expose than a mundane memoir?

Perhaps that is the key, after all. The woman who cared so much about wild ducks was observant enough to have penned the quintessential story of the South, with all of our manners, crimes, injustices, villains and small town heroes. She did so at the moment it mattered, so that it caught the attention of our nation and still holds it. Perhaps we would do better to slow down and do the same.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The More Things Change . . . you know the rest


The Miniaturist

*Spoiler Alert*   Review Dated Sept. 13 2014, Just now having time to post!

Interesting book, especially for the fact that the more things change, the more they stay the same. 

Who is the Miniaturist? Why did Petronella stay and help this family? How do we ever learn compassion as a human race? Have we really gotten anywhere? [Based on the bullying that I've personally encountered this fall along the same lines as one of the conflicts in this book, it sure doesn't seem like it.] Why was this book written? Why did I read it at this particular moment? Can I make any sense of it? What is this book telling me? 

In order to tell you about the book, I guess I have to give a spoiler, though I'm not sure why this was hidden as it wasn't a surprise once the book got going. 

Set in Amsterdam in 1686, this historical fiction novel, according to the author: "focuses on two women’s very different journeys to find a slice of freedom in a repressive, judgmental society. There’s a trial, a hidden love, a miniaturist who predicts the fate of her customers, a parakeet called Peebo and a plan to escape to the sea."

*Spolier Alert*

The kicker is that young Nella's husband is homosexual, which at that time and place was a crime worthy of the death penalty. Nella's home and country are full of contradictions. I think that is quite true of life. What I'm not sure of is how Nella was so worthy to navigate them with such grace, when everyone else around her was much more naturally humanly flawed. Also, unanswered is really who or how is the Miniaturist? Why name the book after her? 

I just happen to like books that don't answer the questions for me. I also love the chase of the human contradiction. So even though for the life of me I can't figure this book out, I'm glad I read it, at this particular time. I'm glad the book showed me that, yes, we have made some progress.

What you don't know about Ulysses. Even if you know nothing!



Have you read Ulysses?  Touted as the best book of the 20th Century?  I have to confess that I haven't either.  But I'm getting closer to doing it.  [Insert Virgian Wolfian Sigh.]  
The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce's Ulysses
In place of reading it, I read this book that I'm afraid many people missed this year.  It was very interesting, as it is mostly a study on the evolution of American publishing rights and the First Amendment vs. pornographic vs. literature standards and the way the Ulysses trials changed so much of that. But I truly had no idea. None! That the Roaring Twenties really were so roaring, or that Joyce had so many protectors. This was eye opening in many ways.  Now I look at every book with new eyes, and wonder whether it went through a ponography trial.  Or not.

Anyway, it was a fast read, I couldn't put it down.

Confessions of a Book Snob -- October

Although I have been too busy to post, I have still be reading, as well as reviewing books on Goodreads and with the Paris News.  In case you missed it, here is the Book Review in Paris Life for October.  Clearly, I was still thinking about dancing!  Click the link to read with the pictures and online at The Paris News.

Confessions of a DANCING Book Snob



It probably surprises no one that while competing in this year’s Dancing With the Stars (raising money for Lamar County Crime Stoppers), I read books on ballroom / performance dancing.
Low and behold, I was surprised by how much I liked them.
My husband calls me a book snob, probably for good reason. I’ve always turned my nose up at books that are by celebrities but are actually written by “ghost writers.” Why? It is just something about the publishing industry that drives me crazy. Don’t put your name on a book if you didn’t actually write it.

But the truth is, these books wouldn’t get written without ghost writers and they do serve a purpose, as my experience shows.

I read a newly published book by dancer elite Derek Hough titled: “Taking the Lead: Lessons from a Life in Motion.” I liked it so much, I also read Cheryl Burke’s “Dancing Lessons: How I found Passion and Potential on the Dance Floor and in Life.”

Honestly, participating in this dance contest, where the attendants actually vote on you based on 60 seconds of your best, humble efforts, was one of the most nerve wracking things I’ve ever done. My friends and acquaintances were surprised at this, because they know I love being in front of a crowd. But performing for purely artistic reasons and performing for votes, even if it is all for a good cause, are very different things. Also, I didn’t know how to “perform” ballroom dance and really wanted performance to be a part of my dances. Basically, I needed some help facing my fears.

The books were formatted differently.

Burke chose a particular dance for each chapter, and fit it into her life, as well as telling stories from her DWTS experiences, weaving all of that into inspiration.

Hough’s book followed the more traditional memoir life chapters, but made sure to wrap each chapter up with a “leading lesson” and a reflection. He also tied in the lessons with some of his mirror ball winning partners’ dance struggles (which strangely mirrored mine), and then gave inside information and tips on ballroom dances. The chapters were short, to the point, and easy to digest. Hough isn’t going to win any literary awards for his ghost written book, but I’ll always remember it.

What did I learn?

Anyone can dance. Everyone has something to overcome. The only disability you have is in your head. Figure out your passion and everything else will fall into place. “Fear is a great motivator... Go ahead and be scared. Get out of your comfort zone. Align yourself with your fear and use it to propel you to progress. Look your demons in the eye and kick ‘em to the curve... Life is a dance but it’s much more than mastering your steps. It’s pushing your boundaries, shattering your limits and exploding in a breathtaking burst of light.”

I learned that I need to not be such a book snob about celebrity ghost written books.