"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=========

Friday, March 29, 2019

BECOMING by Michelle Obama---Some random thoughts and insights

Last Sunday night I had the distinct pleasure to attend a Michelle Obama book event at the Tacoma Dome. The event had been scheduled long before and then rescheduled due to snow in February. My husband, sister Kathy, mom, daughter Rita, and friend Margaret attended with me. We made it into a celebration, dining before the event on pizza and chatting with people we stood near in line. My mom, who can make friends with anyone, struck up a conversation with three gals standing in front of us. All were hugging Michelle Obama's book to their chests, hoping to get a chance to have her sign them at some point in the evening. My husband ran into a co-worker and her husband, who is a public school librarian. My sister, daughter, friend, and I are all teachers, so we started chatting with him while my husband spoke to his colleague. There was an air of enthusiasm and anticipation in the air. Even the long line to get through security did little to dampen our moods.

When Michelle and her host for the evening, Jimmy Kimmel, stepped out on stage thirty minutes late (due to the aforementioned security lines, no doubt) we all cheered and wept for joy. To be in the same room with this woman felt like privilege and honor. I wanted to take notes so I could remember everything, but I held myself in check. That would be such a teacherish thing to do. Anyway, here are a few of my thoughts and insights from the evening and her book, sans notes---

---A reviewer of the book BECOMING, Afua Hirch for the Guardian, said there is an irresistible light in Michelle Obama. I would agree. Even from our vantage point far from the stage, her light shone throughout the room. It is almost unbelievable how warm, kind, and funny she is.

---In her book, Michelle Obama describes an almost idyllic life growing up on the South Side of Chicago. As she started campaigning for her husband she came to realize that her most valuable tool was to relate her story with the people she met along the way that seemed like her family. There was a moment during the campaign, which she described in the book, where she was sitting in someone's living room. She looked around at the doilies on the tables. The doilies reminded her of her great-aunt and it was at this point that she realized we are all the same, really. It changed the way she campaigned.

---Ta-Nahesi Coates, the author of Between the World and Me, a book of advice from a black father to his black son, attended one of Michelle's events and wrote that he “almost mistook her for white”, comparing her  to “an old stevedore hungering for the long-lost neighborhood of yore... In all my years of watching black public figures, I’d never heard one recall such an idyllic youth.” (Guardian) Michelle has embraced her story and in the process may help us to embrace our own.

---For all her remembrances of an idyllic youth, there was one event which Michelle did recount when her older brother was riding a new bicycle and was pulled over by the police. He did nothing wrong but he got pulled over because a black kid couldn't possibly have a new bike. Craig talked the officer into taking him home to ask his mother, which he did. Later their mom insisted that she and Craig go to the police station to demand an apology from the officer, who gave them one.

---Jimmy Kimmel was funny but I think Michelle was funnier. She poked fun at Barack the most. At one point Kimmel asked her how her husband's memoir was coming along and she joked that she got a lot of the good stories since hers came out first. From the book I remember a lot of comments about Barack's tardiness and blowing through deadlines.

---She didn't talk much about this at the event last Sunday, but the book made it clear that Michelle needs and wants to have a purpose. When she became the First Lady of the United States (FLOTUS) she could have melted into the background, finding times to make her husband look good and fading back, but that wasn't for her. Since no one was telling her what to make as her projects, she decided to pick things that were important to her---Military families and health issues related to poor food choices and lack of exercise of youth and children. She accomplished remarkable participation and changes by leading by example and finding ways for companies and organizations to piggy-back on her themes. For example, the NFL Play 60 encouraging kids to go outside and play for an hour every day came about because of a collaboration with Michelle. She continues with project aimed at making the world a better place. One project which is going worldwide is called 'Let Girls Learn.' Now that is a project I can get behind.

---As the evening event was coming to a close, all six people in my party were struck with a feeling of nostalgia. We had the wonderful Obamas and now we have the awful Trumps. As Michelle talked about her last day in the White House she said she just broke down and cried. Jimmy Kimmel quipped, "So did I." So did I. I'm remembering that awful Wednesday in November when we all got up to a new America. All I could do was cry, too. In fact, for several weeks I couldn't even watch anything on TV except old Jane Austen movies. I didn't want to face the reality of an America in the grips of the most selfish man alive, after being in a country run by the most selfless president and his wife, Barack and Michelle Obama.

---I listened to BECOMING on audiobook. Michelle Obama is the narrator. It was such a special experience hearing the stories of growing up, falling in love, raising children, and becoming FLOTUS in her own voice. I recommend it.

---One odd, dissonant note prior to the Sunday event...we were greeted, before we entered the dome, by people standing on the street corners holding signs telling us we were going to go to hell. (If we, what, went to the Michelle Obama event?) It was so odd, and of course, judgmental, so opposite of what the evening was about---acceptance, love, and making a difference.

---I recommend that you read the book, or better yet, listen to it, AND, if you get a chance, attend one of Michelle Obama's book events. I understand she has extended her tour. Perhaps she is coming to a stadium near you. Honestly, a stadium. Can you imagine a book generating such passion that the events have to be held in huge venues? Just this week sales of her book topped 10 million (books, e-books, audiobooks combined) and is on its way to be the most popular memoir of all times. Don't be the last person to read it.

---Lastly, let's all stop and think for a minute why the book was titled BECOMING. I'm going to chew on that one for a while but I am guessing that Michelle would hope that we are "becoming" our true selves, too.
Waiting for the event to start. Margaret, me, Mom, Kathy, Rita (Don not in photo)
RHS Book Club selection May 2019

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Review and quotes: The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto

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.

Review, of sorts, to follow.
This is the book I'm highlighting right now---

Title: The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom

Book Beginning:
"I have come to claim my prize. He is there, inside the coffin. In truth, he is mine already. But a good musician holds respectfully until the final notes are played."
Friday 56:
"'You will call me El Masestro,' he said."
Summary: Frankie Presto is the greatest guitarist to ever live. This is his story, as told by MUSIC itself. It is also the story of a boy who is born in the lowliest of circumstances, raised by someone other than his parents, and taught to play the guitar by a blind drunkard he called El Maestro. When he is sent away from Spain at the age of nine, all he has to call his own is a guitar and a set a strings. As it turns out the strings seem to have magical qualities, each saving or changing a life before turning brilliant blue. Frankie just wants to make music and to reunite with the girl of his dreams, Aurora. But fame gets in the way of both. When he finally can't stand himself anymore, he disappears for years, finally re-emerging for one last spectacular concert before his death.

Review: I was quite taken by this book and was enchanted by the narrator: Music. Several reviewers said they didn't like the shtick that Albom used by making everything about music which included musical terms to describe the action. But I loved it. For example, he said that every love story follows the four parts of a symphony: Allegro, Adagio, Minuet/Scherzo, and Rondo. Thankfully the narrator explains each term, not leaving musical intelligence to the reader. My favorite parts of the story were supplied by the musical interludes---interviews with actual musicians about their interactions with Frankie Presto. At the end of the book, Albom explained that he contacted each of the real musicians and asked them if they would allow some event in their real life to have Frankie Presto inserted into their history. It was so clever. Apparently Albom is quite musical himself and has played in many bands during his life.

My sister gave me this book for my birthday even though she hasn't read it because she (and I) are Mitch Albom fans. His books are very readable and often deal with spiritual themes. I gave the book 4 stars on my Goodreads review because it seemed a bit too long, though I really shouldn't be picky since it only took a few days to complete. It is the second book I finished for the "My Own Books' reading challenge. Part of that challenge involves deciding what to do with the book after finishing it. I will share the book with my sister and my cousin-once-removed. The book deserves wide distribution.

Source: Albom, Mitch. The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto. HarperCollins, 2015. Print.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Winter Hours: Prose, Prose Poems, and Poems by Mary Oliver

A few months ago I saw a blog post about Mary Oliver's Winter Hours: Prose, Prose Poems, and Poems. I thought, mistakenly, that it was something new. Something published posthumously by my favorite poet. I quickly started searching for it and found a copy available for checkout from my public library. It wasn't something new, published in 1999 Winter Hours: Prose, Prose Poems, and Poems had been around for years I'd just missed it. Old or new, it was still Mary Oliver's writing and relished the moments I had reading through it. Several of the essays were very familiar. I'm sure I've read them before, probably in a compilation collection published after this one, but I am not sure.

In the forward, Mary Oliver says that everything in this collection is autobiographical, written out of "meditation and memory" and she thinks of her prose not so much as essays but more like prose poems (hence the subtitle.) I would correct her, though, because the chapters on the poets Poe, Whitman, Hopkins, and Frost are certainly not autobiographical. Here, she says are her thoughts on poets written for a class she was teaching. But she says, "Consider what is written rather as parts of a conversation, or a long and slowly arriving letter--- somewhat disorderly, natural in expression, and happily unfinished." So we shall.

As in all the other books and collections I've read by Mary Oliver this one is full of nature, but in this book one is very aware of the author herself. The first essay is titled "Building a house" where she describes building a small (very small) house in her backyard from scavenged materials. She compares herself as the opposite of a young carpenter she knows who is very good at building things but likes to spend his lunch hour quietly writing poetry. His poetry isn't very good, but he enjoys writing it. Oliver recognizes that her building skills aren't very good, but sometimes a person just needs to do something physical, from start to finish. This is when she decided to build the little house. And though it was rarely used for its purpose, as a writing shed, she is tremendously satisfied with the product of her labors.

In her essay "The Swan", Mary Oliver talks about the "rules" she set out for herself when she began her writing career. Each poem must "have a genuine body, it must have sincere energy, and it must have a spiritual purpose." If the poem lacked any of these elements she would discard it. Later she added other "rules" or "admonitions and consents." She wanted every poem to "rest in intensity" and to be full of "pictures of the world." She also wanted her poems to "carry a thread from perceptually felt to the intellectual world." She wanted readers to recognize that her professional life was was full of "intelligence, patience, passion, and whimsy." This essay, more than any of the others, gave me insights as to why I like Mary Oliver poems above all others.

Part two of the collection were the essays on the four poets: Poe, Hopkins, Frost, and Whitman. I marveled at her thoughts and insights on these remarkable men and their works. I found the essay on Frost to be the most profound, where I really gained new knowledge. She points out that in almost all of Frost's lyrical poems something is wrong. The metaphoric language names something disquieting, yet the meter and rhyme tells us everything is just fine. She says the general reader of his poem finds them easy to read and enjoyable yet she finds them heavy-hearted. After he became famous for his writings, his poems changed to reflect more cheerfulness, as if he thought that is what the public wanted so he would give it to them. This essay, and the other three on the poets, would become part of my professional library were I an English teacher who had to teach about poetry. All four of the essays are very insightful.

In part three, Oliver has three meditations she calls "Sand Dabs". I had to look up the term. A sand dab is a small type of flounder, or a small, well put-together fish. It is a clever title for meditations which are all one or two lines long. Here are few that provoked insights in me:
You can have the other words---chance, luck, coincidence, serendipity. I'll take grace. I don't know what it is exactly, but I'll take it.
I am a performing artist; I perform admiration. Come with me, I want my poems to say. And do the same.
Every day I think of Schubert and the mystery of his six hundred songs.
As is always the case, Mary Oliver helps me stop and wonder. I know from her own words in this collection, that she does this on purpose. At the end of part four she talks about wonder...about finding an unfindable bird and the moment he disappears another bird, hundreds of miles from his home, appears. It is hard to top such a moment but she does. Once, she says, she came upon two angels keeping guard beside a car."Light streamed from them, and a splash of flames lay quietly under their feet. What is one to do with such moments, such memories, but cherish them?"

During this Lenten season I am charged to be wonderstruck, to be open and aware for God and all his wonders. Mary Oliver is always a good place to start when looking for an opening.

She asks, "Who knows what is beyond the known?" and "If you think that any day the secret of light might come, would you not keep the house of your mind ready?"

I'll let you ponder those last two questions as my closing.

Source: Oliver, Mary. Winter Hours: Prose, Prose Poems, and Poems. Houghton, Mifflin Company, 1999. Print.

Monday, March 25, 2019

TTT: Some of my favorite audiobooks

Top Ten Tuesday: Some of my favorite audiobooks 
(that I've listened to recently)---

1. The Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, read by Brett Whitener.  
I love, love, love this narration. Whitener brings the New Orleans accent to the book. This is a fun, quirky, hilarious read. Perfect as an audiobook. Listen to a clip here:

2. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, read by a cast of 166, including Nick Offerman and David Sedaris. 
This book won the best audiobook of 2018 for good reason because of this amazing cast. The audiobook is much better than the book, I understand from my book club friends. Those of us who listened, loved it, those who read it, didn't. Read more about the audiobook here.

3. There There by Tommy Orange, read by Alma Cuervo, Kyla Garcia, Darrell Dennis, Shaun Taylor-Corbett.
This is a hard story about a hard topic but the audiobook is so, so good. And the reader feels like they are at the Big Oakland Powwow with the others on that fateful day. For a sample clip, click here:

4. The Soul of America: the Battle for Our Better Angels by Jon Meacham, read by the author and Frank Sanders.
For folks who are disturbed by what is happening in America politics today, this book is a salve for the soul. Jon Meacham  is an excellent narrator for his own historical writing and Frank Sanders is so inspiring to listen to. If you like reading history, I recommend this book in this format. Listen to a clip here.
5. Becoming by Michelle Obama, read by the author. 
I just saw Michelle last night at a big event here in Tacoma. It is so wonderful listening to stories about her life in her own voice. Listen to a sample.

6. Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, read by Stephen Fry
This is possibly the funniest book ever written and Stephen Fry is master of creating unique and memorable voices, making it even funnier. This is not-to-be-missed in this format. Sample here.

7. The Raven Cycle series by Maggie Stiefvater, read by Will Patton
I love every book I've heard read by Will Patton. He has a very unique and interesting voice and his narration makes this series, which is wonderful by itself, simply superb. Give the audio a try here.

8. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, read by Buhni Turbin
This is an example of a book that works well for people who has trouble sounding out words from other languages, like me. This is set in Nigeria and utilizes lots of terms from the language. The audiobook works well to make the story richer for hearing the language as it is supposed to sound. Listen to a clip.

9. Less by Andrew Sean Greer, read by Robert Petkoff
As I mentioned before, sometimes the audio version of a book makes it more accessible, or humorous, or aids in understanding. Other times it offers the chance for two listeners to share an experience. This book, a Pulitzer prize winner, is very funny and the humor is enhanced by the listening experience. Any book by Alexander McCall Smith is also funnier in the audio format, I think. Listen to a clip of Less here.

10. His Dark Material series by Philip Pullman, read by Philip Pullman and a complete cast
Okay. I confess. I listened to this series many years ago but it really made an impression. My whole family and I were mesmerized from start to finish. We were together for a long car trip and we sat in rapt attention for hours, barely daring to say a word. It was a magical listening experience. Another series which was also magical to listen to was The Harry Potter series. The family listened to one of the books on a long trip. It took hours of listening but we all loved it. Clip of the Golden Compass. A Clip from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire narrated by Jim Dale, who won awards for his work on the series.

Sunday, er.. Monday Salon...BECOMING!

Announcement of the birthday party for Shirley

Weather: Overcast and cool. Good day to do housework, which I am doing.

Mom celebrating her 90th birthday with friends she's known for 80+ years.
90: This weekend was a big one. My mother and sister, Kathy, drove up from Eugene. My younger sister, Grace, flew over from Boise. Several relatives drove down from Seattle. My daughter and her family drove up from their home. Other friends arrived from points west and north. Why? To celebrate with my mom as she turned 90! It was a wonderful celebration...good food, lots of laughter and love. This is Mom's first birthday since the death of my father, yet she was very calm and happy, clearly thrilled with the whole day! (Part 1)

A rock memorial to remember God's faithfulness to us and our church

50: Sunday our church celebrated its 50th anniversary with a special church service followed by a luncheon and program in the fellowship hall. It was such a nice celebration and wonderful opportunity to reconnect with old friends who came back to be a part of the celebration. (Part 2)

Photo credit: Joshua Bessex, TNT
Becoming: Last night we went to the Tacoma Dome for Michelle Obama's Becoming tour stop at the Tacoma Dome. It was a terrific event. Jimmy Kimmel interviewed her. She highlighted many stories written about in the book, but several stories were new to me. She is such a delightful person, obviously funny and genuine. The event had been rescheduled from its original date due to snowy weather. I'm sure everyone in my group was thrilled to be in attendance.

Right to left: Margaret, Me, Mom, Kathy, Rita (Missing from shot, Don) waiting for Michelle Obama
'Read Your Own Books' Challenge: I finished my first book, La's Orchestra Saves the World by Alexander McCall Smith earlier this past week and have nearly finished my second book, The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom. Even though I am not done yet, I plan to start my third book today, Redeployment by Phil Klay, because I am doing a read-along with a friend with this book. Now that the "big weekend" is over, I hope to get to the book reviews for these books.

Ian and Great-Grandma share a special moment before the party

The wisdom of Ian: If you want to get better at some skill--- practice, practice, practice. (Ian is practicing walking up and down stairs. Up and down. Up and down. Over and over.)

Have a good week!

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Wordless Wednesday: Cozy Classics

Wordless Wednesday:

Classic board books. Each has ten pictures and ten words.
War and Peace

Les Miserables

Huck Finn

Pride and Prejudice

Monday, March 18, 2019

TTT: My spring reading list

Top Ten Tuesday: 
What books will be populating my spring reading list?

I. I am hosting a challenge to 'Read My Own Books' between now and May 15th. I selected ten books I pulled from my own book shelf. They are:

  1. La's Orchestra Saves the World by Alexander McCall Smith (Currently reading)
  2. Redeployment by Phil Kay
  3. Ten Windows by Jane Hirshfield
  4. The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom
  5. The Four Things that Matter Most by Ian Byock, M.D.
  6. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
  7. The Confessions of Fitzwilliam Darcy by Mary Street
  8. Small Wonders by Barbara Kingsolver
  9. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
  10. The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
  11. Fear by Bob Woodward
II. I know a few upcoming book club titles:
  1. Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa
  2. The Walk by Richard Paul Evans
  3. Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
III. Books I've placed on hold at the library that likely will be available soon
  1. Shout: a poetry memoir by Laurie Halse Anderson
  2. Voices: The Final Hours of Joan of Arc by David Elliott
  3. The Friend by Sigrid Nunez
  4. Sadie by Courtney Summers
How did I do on my Winter TBR? Very good. I read seven of the nine books I wanted to read during that time period. See photo below.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Sunday Salon...March 17th

Swans. Taken at the Beijing zoo by Don Bennett Nov. 2017
Weather: Lovely and warm. Perfect dog-walking weather.

Today in church: Our pastor, Heather J., read to us a portion of The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) from The Message version of the Bible. I loved it so much I decided to share it with you today. Each verse will be bolded and italicized. Let the message of these words of Jesus speak to you today.
“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
This week my Mom turns 90. We are celebrating with the family that lives near us in Western Washington but both my sisters will also be here (from Oregon and Idaho). Only my brother, who lives in Switzerland, will miss the event. Happy Birthday, Mom!
“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
New Bible Study: Our women's group is starting a new book called Wonderstruck. I hope to spend the rest of this Lenten season in wonder of God's world. Today I noticed the flowering plums are in bud, just days away from blooming. Last night, as I stepped outside with the dog, I could hear the frogs in a nearby pond, croaking away. Wonderful!
“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
The wisdom of Ian: Greet new learning experiences with exuberance and enthusiasm. (I took him to the local library and it had a computer set up just for little kids. He was in awe.)
“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
Books finished this week: Great House by Nicole Krauss. A print book I've owned for nearly a decade. It is one of those books where the story unfolds slowly. The plot revolves around ownership of a desk, but it is really about grief and loss. not a very inspiring book, but very well written.
“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
Currently reading:
  • Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa---Audio. About the WTO Riots in Seattle in 1999. It is very, very disturbing. It is a book club selection, but we may decide to not read it. 67% complete.
  • Winter Hours: Prose, Prose Poems, and Poems by Mary Oliver---Print. More from my favorite poet. 20%.
  • La's Orchestra Saves the World by Alexander McCall Smith---Print. Reading for 'My Own Books' challenge. I pulled this one from the shelf and wondered when I got it and why. So far, so good. McCall Smith is easy to read. 17%
“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
Happy St. Patrick's Day: In honor of this holiday, best known for shamrocks, green things, and drinking, we will be eating a boiled dinner of corned beef, cabbage, and potatoes. 'Beannachtam na Feile Padraig!'
“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
Prayers for: the victims and their families of the shootings at the Mosques in New Zealand. My heart is just broken for the hatred that is simmering around the world.
10 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.
Yard work: The garden is coming to life and so are we. Yesterday Don prepared a side bed to plant tubers of hostas and ferns. By days end the task was finished---the tubers were safely tucked in the earth and the ground was mulched to deter our digging-loving dog from digging them up.

11-12 “Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
Breaking the plastic addiction: I am attempting to give up plastic for Lent. It is impossible! I made a few accommodations and I am trying to be aware what I am using. Here are a few things I've learned. At restaurants, ask servers to avoid bringing straws to the table. If you get straws and don't use them, likely they will be thrown away. Ask for paper bags at the market if you forget your reusable ones. Sandwiches wrapped up in waxed cloth doesn't get too dry before lunch time. Talk to others about what you are doing so they can be more aware, too. Reuse, reuse, reuse.

I hope that you were blessed and will be blessed by the Beatitudes today! Have a wonderful week!

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Friday quotes: La's Orchestra Saves the World

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.

Review, of sorts, to follow.
This is the book I'm highlighting right now---

Title: La's Orchestra Saves the World by Alexander McCall Smith

Book Beginning:
Two men, who were brothers, went to Suffolk. One drove the car, an old Bristol drophead coupe in British racing green, while the other navigated, using an out-of-date linen-backed map.
Friday 56:
La thought she heard the interviewer laugh, but only briefly. 
Comment: I start today (Friday) reading books that I own as part of reading challenge. This is the first book on my list and I haven't even started it. I can't even remember where I got this book. It seems to have materialized out of thin air and has lived on my book shelf for at least a year. But I love Alexander McCall Smith's writing and his books are usually so funny but I am not sure that this one will be. It is set in the countryside outside London in 1939. Lavender, La for short, isn't escaping bombings, she is escaping a shattered marriage. Should be good.

Join me on the 'Read My Own Books' Challenge. Click the hyperlink here for details.  It is not too late to join in.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

GREAT HOUSE...more a reflection than a review

GREAT HOUSE by Nicole Krauss has been on my reading list for almost a decade. It was given to me by my husband for Christmas in 2010. He knew how much I liked The History of Love by the same author so it was a natural choice for a guy trying to please his wife. I was pleased but not enough to actually get right to reading the book and eventually it got relegated to a back book shelf, nearly forgotten. Then about a month ago I embarked on a personal challenge to read at least two of the National Book Award winners or finalists for the past ten years. I wasn't interested in reading the 2010 award winner for fiction, so I looked at the finalist list and noticed Great House. It was time to dust off my own copy.

As I said in my title for this blog post, this will likely be more a reflection than a review. I am not sure I could adequately review the book anyway. It seems like the book would require a greater mind than mine to decipher. In lieu of that, here are a few of my reflections, or more accurately, a few random thoughts...

On the importance and detrimental aspects of goals: Several years ago I heard about a Olympic medal skier who was suicidal. She didn't kill herself and when she recovered she told her story to a journalist. I don't remember the whole story but what stuck with me was this (loosely paraphrased) statement, "I earned a gold medal. It had been my life's dream and my one goal. Once I accomplished it, I ran out of goals and didn't know what to do with myself." That skier's story came to my mind several times as I read Great House. One man obsessed with a goal, distracted by nothing but that goal, kills himself once it is achieved. Heavy stuff.

On our interconnectedness; Sometimes it isn't obvious how interconnected we are, other times we can't escape our connections to people we don't even know. Part 1 of Great House rolls out seemingly four separate stories. Part two draws the connections between the stories and the people. It became fun, almost a game, to guess how the connections would draw together in the end.

Like a dream: Have you ever had a long dream that seems to go on and on all night and when you are roused a bit, you return to the sleep state to pick up the dream thread again? Often, when this happens to me, the second (or third or fourth) stab at the dream will change a bit each time because new details have been brought forth. I felt like I was in a sort of dream state as I read this book. There was no dialogue, only written or spoken recollections, so all the action comes at the reader in a sort of shrouded way, cloaked by time. The book was much more thought-full than action/plot-full. Like most dreams, as I stepped away from the book, the details faded. I am left mostly with impressions.

Great loss: "A Great Loss" would probably have been a better title for this book but Great House derives from a historical event where all of Jerusalem was burned and the Jews had lost their great house, such a great loss (2 Kings 25:9: He burned the house of the LORD, the king's house, and all the houses of Jerusalem; even every great house he burned with fire. ) The title of the book and this scripture wasn't revealed until page 279 of 289. It kept me wondering and watching for it. All of the main character's lives were shaped by great losses, most by the Holocaust or the Jewish experience. Let's call these people the "enchanters". The narrators of the book were all caught in the web of their enchanter's sorrow. And, as the reviewer from the NYT said, all the enchanters were enchanted by their own sorrows. Ah, what a tangled web!

On the importance of storytelling: each of the four narrators tells a story that isn't really theirs to tell. Nadia, tells the story to "Your Honor" about how she got the desk from a Chilean poet, Daniel Varsky; a father tells of his complicated relationship with his son, Dov; a husband tells the story of his wife, a Holocaust survivor and writer, and her big desk which she gives to a stranger, Daniel Varsky; and an American woman tells the story of her love with Yoav Weitz, son of an antiques dealer who is obsessed with locating the desk. Once the story is told by the narrator, the stranglehold it had on the teller seems to be loosened.

Comparisons: If you have heard of The History of Love and not this book, I am not surprised. In a lot of ways the two books are similar: both have a lost object that is being sought: a book, in the first, and a desk, in the second. But while they have similar qualities, the important difference is the first book is funny and endearing, the second has none of that. It is pretty hard to want to read something which is mostly depressing from start to finish.

My job is done: I wanted to read this book to satisfy my own personal goal related to National Book Award winners/finalist. I've done that. I also want to read more books that I own, which relates to another reading challenge which starts on Friday to read more books from my own shelves. Since I don't plan a reread of this one, I will donate it to the public library for their annual book sale.

Monday, March 11, 2019

TTT: Books in a series that work fine as standalones

Top Ten Tuesday: Books in a series that work fine as a standalone. (A twist on the theme of standalone books which need a sequel.)

1. The Giver by Lois Lowry---It is the first book of a four book series, but I think most people read it as a standalone and it is perfect the way it is.

2. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card---I didn't even know how convoluted the Ender's Game series was until I looked at this diagram on Wikipedia. I liked the book but felt no need to read on.

3. Thick As Thieves by Megan Whalen Turner---Is the fourth or fifth book in Queen's Thief series but it works well as a standalone...I should know. I read it and none of the previous books.

4. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott---Actually the book we know as Little Women was originally published as two books. But put that aside, it doesn't need the sequels to be a classic.

5. Unwind by Neal Shusterman---honestly I haven't read any of the other books in the Unwind Dystology, yet I liked the way the first book ended and had no need to read on.

6. Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta---the first book of the Lumatere series. I had no need to read on, though many of my students enjoyed the whole series.

7. Graceling by Kristin Cashore---Now I imagine I'll get some push back on this choice because Fire, the prequel, is so excellent, too. But I would have been happy with just the first book, even though I read on.

8. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams---I love, love this book but have never read on...which doesn't mean I wouldn't love the sequels.

9. Bridget Jones' Diary by Helen Fielding---I read this book years ago and thought it was just fun, not even realizing it was a retelling of Pride and Prejudice.

10. Whistling Season by Ivan Doig--- This book is part of a trilogy, which my husband tells me if very good, but I stopped after the first book. Whistling Season is one of my favorite books ever. I've reread it several times.