"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Review: Kindred by Octavia Butler

Kindred by Octavia Butler isn't a typical Sci-Fi novel, the type of book she was most famous for writing. But because there is time travel one might want to lump it into this genre of novels. But it is so much more and I would argue that it is really more historical fiction than any other genre. In it Dana, a 26-year old black woman suddenly time travels back to a plantation in Maryland in 1815 and ends up saving the life of her white, slave-owning ancestor, Rufus Weylin. She eventually travels back to her time period, 1976, but continually gets called back to save Rufus over and over again. Along the way Dana learns more and more about the horrors of slavery as she is continually thrust into the role of slave until she can find a way home again. She seems to have no choice. If she doesn't save Rufus she will never be born, yet she nearly dies every time she travels back in time.

Why should we read Kindred today? It is important for readers to understand the horrors of slavery and its role in shaping the America of today. And in a lot of ways Kindred helps the reader to see how a nice person (Rufus) can be made into a monster if they have too much power and if no one ever checks them. Rufus wants to have his way ALL the time because he's always had his own way. When he doesn't get it, he throws a fit, literally and figuratively, and generally behaves in a monstrous way. Then he blames his behavior on others. "Look what you made me do." Sound familiar? We probably know a lot of people that are this way but right now we have one at the head of our government. Sigh.

Marriage is a prominent theme in the book. Dana, who is married to a white man in 1976, was breaking sexual mores for that time period. As frowned up as it was in the 1970s there was NO interracial marriage in the 1820s. Yet, white plantation owners would think nothing of bedding and spawning children with their black slaves. They would also break up families on purpose to punish them, selling off children and spouses as if they were chattel. The heartbreaks piled up every day, every year. It is hard to imagine how horrifying life was for slaves during that time.

Another theme was education. Rufus and his father, though white and from the educated class could barely read and write. Of course slaves were not allowed to learn to read. When Dana arrived and they discovered she was literate and articulate, they didn't quite know how to respond. They would vacillate between asking for her help with documents and reading and punishing her for it. Every black child that she worked with was eager to learn to read. None of the "I can't be bothered" attitude.

Slavery, gender, power, and race are all prominent themes, also. This book just begs to be discussed in a English class or a book club. The famous spokesman, Frederick Douglass, once said that slavery and racism were the "twin monsters of darkness." The reader will certainly experience that darkness as they read Kindred.

Lest you think that a book written in 1979 has no appeal to you today, I encourage you to rethink those thoughts. The book is very readable and exciting (and enlightening and horrifying.) The first line in the book sets up the reader for the excitement ahead, "I lost an arm on my last trip home. My left arm." Nothing like a little foreshadowing to pique one's interest, eh?

I read this book as part of the Classics Club Spin activity. Though it was published less than fifty years ago it is considered to be a classic because of its themes. It has and will stand the test of time.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Friday Quotes: Kindred

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City ReaderShare the opening quote from the book.
e Friday 56 is hosted at Freda's VoiceFind a quote from page 56.

Check out the links for the rules and for the posts of the participants each week. Participants don't select their favorite, coolest, or most intellectual books, they just use the one they are currently reading. This is the book I'm reading right now---

Title: Kindred by Octavia Butler

Book Beginning:
(Prologue) "I lost an arm on my last trip home. My left arm."
Friday 56:
"He laughed, but it sounded like sympathetic laughter."
Comment: Kindred was published in 1976. It is a time travel story where the main character, a black woman named Dana, and her white husband travel back to Maryland in the 1800s. Maryland was a slave state. They get to see the horrors of slavery up close and personal. (Well, Dana sees it much closer than Kevin.)

I am reading this book as part of the Classics Club Spin event. I've wanted to read something by Octavia Butler so a long time. It is disturbing but well done.

Monday, March 26, 2018

TTT: Books set in other countries

Top Ten Tuesday: Novels Set in Other Countries Than Where I Live

1. Cutting for Stone///Ethiopia

2. The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay///South Africa

3. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy///India

4. A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki///Japan and Canada

5. A State of Wonder by Ann Pratchett///Brazil and the Amazon Rainforest

6. Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey///Australia

7. Shanghai Girls by Lisa See///China

8. The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson///Sweden

9. City of Thieves by David Benioff///Russia 

10. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah///France

I love them all and recommend them to you, my reading friends!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Sunday Salon, March 25, 2018

March for Our Lives in Tacoma, Washington
Weather: Spring-like. Sunny one minute, raining the next. Saturday we woke up to a dusting of snow on the ground.

March for Our Lives: We joined local teenagers who organized a March in Tacoma yesterday. The most inspiring speaker was a fifteen-year-old girl who talked about what it is like to be afraid in school and in public. We have to change our gun laws. Right now it seems like guns have more rights than the students who keep dying from them.

A few of my favorite quotes from the March and about guns: 

"Books not bullets!"- seen on a poster

"I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept…" - Angela Y. Davis

"How many have to die before we give up these expensive toys?" -Stephen King

"Thoughts and prayers. ACTION." -seen on a poster

"As a black boy, one day I hope to have as many rights as a gun." -from a Parkland student

"Politicians who sit in their gilded House and Senate seats funded by the NRA telling us that nothing can be done about this, we call BS. They say that tougher gun laws don't decrease gun violence. We call BS." -Emma Gonzales, a Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School student and school gun shooting survivor.

I didn't take very good photos but here are a few from my experience in Tacoma (March for Our Lives/Tacoma):

Currently reading:
  • Kindred by Octavia Butler---this is my Classics Club spin book. It is the story of black woman who time-travels back to the early 1800s and meets her ancestors who were slaves. Print. 25%.
  • Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward---an award winner about a mixed-race, empoverished family in Mississippi. It is so depressing, I have to take a break and set the book aside and listen to something more fun first. Audio. 33%.
  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline---this is a re-read for me. I wanted to take a second look at the novel before I see the movie. This is one my favorite books of the decade. I decided I would listen to this book again while I am taking a break from the above book. Audio. 15%
Books completed recently:
  • Emma by Alexander McCall Smith...another modern retelling from the Austen Project. Classic McCall Smith. Often very humorous.  Audio.
  • Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children's Literature as an Adult by Bruce Handy. I enjoyed this nonfiction book immensely.  Click the hyperlink for my review. Print
  • True Grit by Charles Portis. Don and I listened to this classic American Western as we drove to Portland last weekend. It was a fun experience to share with each other. Read my review here. Audio. 
  • Martin Rising: A Requiem for a King by Andrea Davis Pinkney,,, an illustrated, poetry book about Martin Luther King's last few days in Memphis where he was to support the sanitation workers' strike. He was assassinated at that time. 
Family: Today both of my sisters and other family members will gather here for a brunch. My youngest sister hasn't met grandson Ian yet, so it will an introduction as well as a reunion. Last Sunday my brother, his wife, and son were here for a short visit. And last Saturday Don and I drove to Portland to attend a memorial service for my mother's best friend. It was a sad occasion but lovely to see Mom and Dad again. I am so lucky to still have living parents and siblings that like each other.

I'll leave you with a final thought:
Taken during the March for Our Lives in Washington, DC.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Martin Rising ... Review and Friday Quotes

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City ReaderShare the opening quote from the book.
e Friday 56 is hosted at Freda's VoiceFind a quote from page 56.

Check out the links for the rules and for the posts of the participants each week. Participants don't select their favorite, coolest, or most intellectual books, they just use the one they are currently reading. This is the book I'm reading right now---

Title: Martin Rising: Requiem for a King by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney

Book Beginning:

January 15, 1929
Baby boy born,
eyes sparkling.
Came into this "Jim Crow" world
brought daylight to
this unfair world,
this legal-to-cheat blacks world,
with God-given gifts:
big voice,
sharp mind,
sparkling-eyed vision
that could see something special
in tomorrow's promise.

Friday 56:

March 29, 1968
Dozens of guardsmen
with bayonets
have been beckoned
to keep at bay
the remaining
who are hard-pressed
to lay down
the last-gasp
of their dignity,
Still they march,

Comments/Review: This beautifully illustrated poetry book is a requiem for Martin Luther King, Jr. The poems cover the Sanitation Workers Strike in Memphis, Tennessee in March and April 1968. This was the last strike/march that King participated in because his life was cut short by an assassin on April 4th as he was stepping out of the Lorraine Motel on his way to get some supper. In the days leading up to his death he seemed to have a premonition that his life-line was short. On April 3rd he made a speech to assembled striking sanitation workers and others. His words we so prescient:

"And I've looked over;
and I've seen the promised land.
"I may not get there with you,
"But I want you to know tonight,
that we,
as a people,
will get to the promised land.
"I'm not fearing any man,
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."

Just days after his assassination, Coretta Scott King, Martin's grieving widow, finished what her husband had started and led the I AM A MAN march with the striking sanitation workers. By the next week the strike was settled and the men returned to work with better conditions and pay guaranteed to them.

Brian Pinkney illustrated the book with lovely watercolor paintings that give shape and color to the rainy weather, the mass of humans on strike, and the dignity of a people.

Andrea Davis Pinkney wrote the poems of a cherished leader's final days. They also speak of a time in history when African Americans faced a very uncertain future. She called her narrative form docu-poems. Many of them caught me unprepared and I found myself weeping over several of them.

The book contains a timeline of King's last month and a timeline of his life. It also contains photos taken of the sanitation strike, including one showing Coretta Scott King marching with them and her children just days after King's death.

I highly recommend this book. It looks like a children's book, but it is really an everybody book. In fact, I think the poems are really geared towards teens and adults.

Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children't Literature as an Adult by Bruce Handy

When my children were young I loved reading to them before bedtime. (Heck, I still love reading with them if they are home for a special occasion and an appropriate book presents itself!) I wasn't an English major or a children's lit expert so we would read whatever struck my fancy, often choosing books I read as a child. Sometimes when in the middle of one of these rereads, I would have to set the book aside in disgust because I would recognize the racism or sexism that I hadn't noticed as a child on my first read through. But usually I would relish the reread, seeing the book through my children's eyes.

When I first saw the title of the book Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children't Literature as an Adult by Bruce Handy I knew I HAD to read it and I wasn't disappointed in my expectations. (I made my choice strictly by the title which proves how important book titles are!)  Handy, an author and book editor, also enjoyed reading to his children when they were young, but he was much more organized than me in terms of his book selections than me.

Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children't Literature as an Adult is roughly organized by themes encompassing examples of great pieces of children's lit from early board books up to great middle grade selections, perhaps with just a little kiss on the border of YA fiction. Each chapter revolves around a theme and usually one or two authors are highlighted in each chapter, also.

The first chapter's theme is going to bed and seeing things with "new eyes, and new ears", focusing on the books of Margaret Wise Brown, mainly Goodnight Moon. As weird as most adults think that book is, Handy points out how it is really brilliant, especially if you look at it through a child's eyes.
"No one seems to knows why it became her preeminent work, but like all her books it is grounded in a profound empathy for the very young...in one of her earliest stories, she writes that the title character 'had brand new eyes and brand new ears, and he heard and saw everything'---which was Brown's gift, to experience the world like a child, as if both she and it were just off the griddle" (9).
I must admit that I liked Goodnight Moon better after reading this chapter. Handy gives voice to something I've long noticed when reading children's books, some seem like they are books about kids or children's themes but written in a very adult voice or from an adult point of view. While others, like most of those written by the genius Margaret Wise Brown, look at the world through the eyes of child. Kids intuitively know the difference and want parents to read and reread these selections.

The parent-child relationship is the next theme in the book with another Margaret Wise Brown selection, Runaway Bunny, getting top billing and Bedtime for Frances by Russell Hoban a close second. Examples of good parenting are not rare in children's book like they are in adult and YA books, but the parents in the aforementioned books are especially good. Handy does identify a few terrible parenting examples, too---the mom in The Cat in the Hat and the man with the yellow hat in the Curious George books. Talk about absent or laissez-faire parenting examples. What parent would leave her children with only a fish for a babysitter?

If the first two chapters deal with comfortable themes, the third moves away and tackles the importance of fairy tales in child development. I think I only read my daughters the Disneyfied versions of fairy tales and didn't venture into the much more frightening versions by the Grimm Brothers. Both have a place in children's lit. Maurice Sendak's book Where the Wild Things Are really builds on themes common in fairy tales, though the original stories dealt with physical needs for food, shelter, etc. and Sendak's masterpiece dealt more with emotions. Ursula Nordstom, Sendak's editor at Harpers said, "I think that Maurice's book is the first picture book to recognize that children have powerful emotions, anger and love and hate" (64).

I should stop here and mention that just about every chapter made me think that some important person in my life would really enjoy it. My oldest daughter loves fairy tales, so I dearly wanted her to read about here. My youngest daughter is a Beatrix Potter fan. The chapter on talking animals mainly focused on Potter's wonderful illustrations and tales. Since Carly was home for Spring Break, I did read her large swatches of both the talking animals chapter and the next chapter about God where Handy highlighted C.S. Lewis and his Narnia series. Lastly, my oldest sister is a huge Dr. Seuss fan. She would be fascinated by what Handy had to say about the beginning-reader genius, Dr. Seuss. Yesterday at book club I did quote the chapter on growing up where Handy talked about Little Women and Little House on the Prairie. Handy made the point that 'boy books' tend to end at the end of the adventure but 'girl books' tend to keep going until marriage. I am not sure if this is still the case, but it certainly was when we were growing up reading books Little Women.

The last chapter dealt with probably the best middle grade book ever written about a very difficult theme, Charlotte's Web. I've always thought that books were a perfect way to talk to readers about tough topics. I used to tell my students that it was okay to read books if they were grappling with an issue because the book handed out advice but didn't pay attention if they kept the advice or not.
Before he launches into a description of Charlotte's Web and it's author E.B. White, Handy asks this question, "Do wiser, funnier, more pleasurable books exist? If so, they're few and far between, no matter how old or young their intended audience" (249). I confess that I decided to reread White's masterpiece after I read this chapter. Kids, like everyone, are flummoxed by death and how to talk about it. Charlotte's Web is a good place to start.

Lest you think that Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children't Literature as an Adult is only about books and authors, Handy does not ignore the illustrators of the classic pieces that he highlights. His discussion of the ways that the illustrations enhance or distract from the stories were helpful to my understanding of the craft of illustrating children's books.

I was weeping as I read the Afterward to the book. Why? Because Handy talked about how much he loved reading to his own kids and felt sad when they no longer needed/wanted him to do so. I remember those days well, even though they were many years ago. Thankfully, I have a young grandson. Already we are 'reading' board-books together. It won't be long before I can share all my favorite stories with him...Jamberry; The Big Hungry Bear; A Million Chameleons...

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Audiobook review: Lincoln in the Baldo by George Saunders

Late in 2017 a fellow blogger analyzed all of the end-of-the-year-best-books lists. She gave each book one point per list. In the end
Lincoln in the Bardo earned the most points. In other words, it ended up on more best-books lists than any other book published in 2017. That alone made me want to read the book. In addition our book group members selected Lincoln in the Bardo as one of our book selections for 2018, guaranteeing that I would actually read it carefully in preparation for the group discussion.

George Saunders started the book with this premise: after the death of his son to typhoid fever in 1862, Abraham Lincoln visited Willie's crypt and held the dead boy in his arms at least two times. Saunders decided to explore Lincoln's deep grief. Up to this point Lincoln was so distraught by his cares related to the Civil War but after the death of his son he seems able to channel his sorrow into true and abiding empathy for all soldiers, on both sides, and for the people trapped in slavery. Saunders said in a NYT Book Review,
"It seemed to me that the empathy was somehow a byproduct of the sorrow — a burning-away of his hopes and dreams that resulted in a kind of naked seeing of things as they really were...I came to understand Lincoln as someone so beat down by sadness and loss that he developed a sort of crazy wisdom — as if, in sadness, all of the comforting bromides that normally keep us from the harsher truths were denied him. Empathy might even thrive best in this state, where the easy comforts are denied us." 
Saunders was able to give the reader an excellent feel for the time by including chapters full of quotes from letters, journals, and diaries written by individuals living during the period of time leading up to and right after Willie's death in 1862. One chapter, which comes to mind as I am searching my brain for an example, were all quotes about the moon on the night that Willie died. In true recollection fashion half the quotes said it was a moonless night, others said it was a full moon, while others talked about the pretty crescent moon. Each quote was read by a different narrator. (Listen to the YouTube video below for details about the audiobook experience.)

The other part of the book all takes place in the cemetery where Willie's body is laid to rest. Here he is met by ghosts (for lack of a better word) who are stuck in the bardo. "Bardo" is a Buddhist term used to describe the time between death and rebirth. All of the ghosts in the cemetery do not acknowledge that they are dead, referring to themselves as sick and their coffins as sick-boxes. But they do recognize that their existence is less than desirable and certainly not a place for a young child to hang out. Three of the ghost characters try with all their might to assist Willie in passing over, but his soul is stuck to the earth because his father, President Lincoln, hasn't let him go yet.

For a bit of literary fun, my husband noticed that the ghosts stuck in the bardo all seemed to have embraced one of the seven deadly sins while alive: greed, gluttony, lust, envy, sloth, wrath, and pride.
One, an old printer was just at the point where he would consummate his marriage when he died from a blow to his head, was naked with a throbbing member in the bardo (lust). Another, who was a pastor in life, couldn't get over that he hadn't gone to heaven after living such an exemplary life (pride). A third, who was a slave in life, couldn't let go of his desire for revenge toward his former owner (wrath). I am not sure I could name a character for each of the sins, but it was a fun exercise to try and identify each.

I listened to the audiobook of Lincoln in the Bardo and I have to say it was one of the most enjoyable experiences I have ever had with this format. The producer actually utilized 166 voice actors/people to read the different parts. It was incredible to hear all the varieties in voices as they read the actual quotes from historical documents. The main characters were read by Nick Offerman as HANS VOLLMAN , David Sedaris as ROGER BEVINS III, George Saunders as THE REVEREND EVERLY THOMAS, and Cassandra Campbell as the NARRATOR. For a partial list of all the readers, check here. You will find names you know like Susan Sarandan, Ben Stiller, Julianne Moore, and Bill Hader. It was quite a cast and an amazing listening experience. Click on the YouTube video below of George Saunders talking about the making of the audiobook. The diversity of voices reflects the diversity of people in America at that time in history, using "both high diction, low diction, and some dialect". Some of the quotes and voices are shockingly crass. In case you are feeling a bit prudish today, I wanted to warn you not to be shocked.

I'm hoping that my book club friends will listen to at least a few excerpts of the audiobook. In addition, I found these discussion questions from Penguin Random House which should be useful in helping us dig deeper into the unique aspects of the book.

After a week or two of contemplation I amended my initial rating of the book from 4.25 stars to 5 stars. It is a such a unique book with both its historical quotes from letters and diaries written at the time and the ghosts in the cemetery, it really feels like one of those books that should be read (or listened to) widely.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Audiobook Review: True Grit by Charles Portis

Original 1968 Simon Schuster hardback cover
True Grit by Charles Portis was published in 1968 and became an instant classic. It was memorialized the very next year when it was made into a film starring John Wayne hit the big screen. High school classes started reading and analyzing it, which probably means that some people would think of it negatively, but that means that teachers recognized its brilliance. One reviewer, Donna Tartt, called True Grit an "American masterpiece" and compared it to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. What is more American than a good Old West story which has plenty of adventures, memorable characters, and wild open spaces?

The book begins with these memorable opening lines,
“People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father's blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day. I was just fourteen years of age when a coward going by the name Tom Chaney shot my father down in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and robbed him of his life and his horse and $150 in cash money plus two California gold pieces that he carried in his trouser band.” 
And so the reader meets Mattie Ross, a plucky girl, brave and strong beyond her fourteen years, who intends to hunt down and bring her father's murderer to justice. She engages the services of a an old, cone-eyed US Marshall, Rooster Cogburn, to help her accomplish this feat. Ross recounts her harrowing tale in retrospect, nearly fifty years after the events that so drastically altered her life, when she is a cranky old spinster.

Charles McGrath, writing for the New York Times, had a lot to say about True Grit's humor. At first glance the book doesn't seem to be that funny. Surely the topic isn't a funny one. McGrath refers to the humor of True Grit as "deadpan", written as if serious but containing a truly bizarre set of characters who all do and say oddly funny things.
"Mr. Portis evokes an eccentric, absurd world with a completely straight face. As a result there are not a lot of laugh-out-loud moments or explosive set pieces here. Instead of shooting off fireworks the books shimmer with a continuous comic glow."
Perhaps the humor is what sets True Grit apart, but I think it is the language that makes it really special. Mattie Ross as narrator is so authentic and unique. Her voice makes the book something really different. McGrath calls her narrative voice "a feat of historical ventriloquism." Truly Portis captured the language and tone of what I think people used to talk like in the 1800, much more formal and stiff. It was this use of language that really sold me on the book and elevated it, in my mind, to one of my top 50 books, one that readers, especially American readers, shouldn't miss.
"Mattie is lovable in her way, and though grit is what she admires in Rooster, she is hardly lacking in that department herself. But she is also humorless, righteous and utterly without either self-doubt or self-consciousness. She has no idea how she or her words come across on the page, nor would she care if she did" (McGrath).
As a Presbyterian myself, I couldn't help laughing at her references to her faith and her church (Presbyterian) especially when she quotes scripture or comes across as very pious, “ 'I will go further and say all cats are wicked, though often useful. Who has not seen Satan in their sly faces? Some preachers will say, well, that is superstitious ‘claptrap.’ My answer is this: Preacher, go to your Bible and read Luke 8: 26-33.'” 

My husband and I listened to the audiobook version of True Grit read by Donna Tartt. Tartt, a Southerner, is a true fan of True Grit and loves it for its uniquely American voice, too. She did a masterful job with the narration and I highly recommend this format to you.

Sometimes, not often, a book comes along which instantly becomes a classic, a new favorite, and a must-read. This is one of those books. Though it was written fifty years ago, it still deserves it place on our nightstands. Go to your library right now and request a copy. You will not be disappointed.

btw- Everything I read said that John Wayne's motion picture adaptation of "True Grit" isn't as good as the Coen Brothers 2010 remake starring Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn and Hailee Steinfield as Mattie Ross. Of course, read the book before you see the film.