The Rainbow Comes and Goes is a poignant, thoughtful exchange of memories and insights between a mother and son. As a mother to three boys, and daughter to aging parents, I love the idea of mother and son writing emails to each other, getting to know one another on a much deeper level.
It's hard to imagine the depth of loneliness and despair Gloria Vanderbilt must have felt in her sad childhood. Far more valuable than riches is the love and compassion of at least one parent, if not two. Both Vanderbilt and Cooper are fatherless...Vanderbilt's father died when she was a baby, and Cooper lost his as a young man. And Cooper's only brother and Vanderbilt's son committed suicide when he was in his 20s. Such a sad family story.
When Gloria Vanderbilt experienced a serious illness at age 91, they decided to take advantage of her remaining time left to get to know each other on a deeper level and share information they'd never revealed to each other. The result is a beautiful collection of email letters, prompting me to want to interview my own parents and mother-in-law and document their experiences, and also to write more of my own story for my children to have after I am gone....more
When I read that Meryl Streep had not sanctioned this biography, I almost returned it to the library and did not read it. But I was swayed by my deep admiration for her and ended up reading it after all. I do agree with other reviewers that without Streep's involvement, some of the book fell flat. Much of it was a recitation of various things she had accomplished, without a true understanding of what she had experienced. But for a Streep groupie, it's hard to avoid this book entirely! She is definitely an amazing actor and artist....more
Although I've read this book a few times, upon each reading I appreciate something different about it. My book group is tackling depression and mentalAlthough I've read this book a few times, upon each reading I appreciate something different about it. My book group is tackling depression and mental illness by reading The Bell Jar and All the Things We Never Knew (in September). I reflected on my younger-days obsession with Plath when her son, who was just a baby when she committed suicide, also took his own life.
What struck me this time was the sheer beauty of the writing. It is so clear that this novelist was a poet. And evident to many in my book group was the fact that Plath makes depression and mental illness seem so normal, almost matter of fact. It was just something she was dealing with, nothing to make a big drama about.
Sadly, she was trapped in a time when women had to rely on men for finances, and when her husband Ted Hughes had an affair, she ended up saddled with two children and severe depression that was just too much to bear.
Such a gifted woman and such a loss to the world....more
I first became aware of Lindy West when I happened across this article in Jezebel, "How to Stop Being Shy in 13 Easy Steps," a brief excerpt from Shrill. (In the book, this article is a whole, hilarious chapter.) I think I've read other essays by West, but her name wasn't familiar to me. Now I'm a big fan.
West has been writing in the blogosphere for years, first for The Stranger in Seattle and also for Jezebel and now The Guardian. She's loud, sassy, confident, funny, and brutally honest. She writes about what it's like to live fat (her word), be a comic in an environment much more friendly to men, fight sexism, have an abortion, aim for her higher self, and fall in love. She has stood up to nasty, woman-hating, fat-shaming trolls on Twitter and on the comedy circuit, both online and also in live interviews.
The most troubling thing about reading this book is realizing how much hateful crap women online face every day. In fact, while I was in the middle of this book, I read that famous feminist blogger Jessica Valenti has gone offline social media because the trolls were threatening to rape her five-year-old daughter! Such a dark side to the Internet, when men feel safe taking out their anger on women online. This has to stop, although I'm not sure what the solution is if outright, public misogyny is allowed in the comedy clubs. As West learned when she faced her troll head on, most trolls are pathetic white men who are jealous of confident women.
I often need to take a break when reading books of essays, but not this one. Lindy West is a funny, bright, brave, and passionate badass, and she's found a new fan in me....more
I read part of this book for our church book group, but I must confess I didn't get through the whole thing. Instead I supplemented my reading by watching the video, available for free on Amazon Prime.
Here's my key takeaway: trade contributes to our global carbon emissions, and they are not tracked like each country tracks their carbon emissions on their own soil. I knew nothing about this factor, and I found this chapter particularly enlightening.
Klein calls for a revolution, and I can see clearly why she was a Bernie Sanders supporter. She decries business and previous climate change resolutions, and she demands immediate change in our capitalistic economy to save the planet.
I find myself becoming more pragmatic as I age, and I'm sure part of this is my own role working as a sustainability marketing and communications manager for an environmental consulting firm. One of the most exciting things we are doing is partnering with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to promote the use of natural infrastructure. Klein comes across as very hard on "Big Green," as represented by groups like TNC. She criticizes TNC for drilling on land donated to the organization in Texas. I don't know much about this particular situation, but I can't help but wonder if there is more to the situation than meets the eye.
And the tricky thing is that we can't throw the baby out with the bath water. We are not yet ready to go fossil fuel free, and part of reducing our dependence on foreign oil supplies is being able to meet our own energy demands. I just take this all with a grain of salt.
This Changes Everything prompts many questions for us to consider, and it was a great book to consider with a group. The stories Klein tells, both in the book and the movie, about activists standing up to businesses invading the environment are inspiring. But in general, I believe we need to work with business and government instead of going it on our own. Capitalism is here to stay, and it's going to be more effective if we can find ways to work together rather than against each other. It's absolutely imperative, in fact, for our own survival....more
Jim Wallis calls this book his "lament of the white father." A central theme of the book is the fact that parents of black children have to have "the talk," about how to behave around police and how to just behave in general, in order to survive. Wallis was inspired to write this book after Trayvon Martin was shot and he witnessed the ignorance of the white Christian evangelicals in his midst. He realized that if his own son, a six-foot-tall athlete, had been walking down the street, doing the same thing, he would have been fine.
Wallis identifies racism as the true original sin. As Michelle Obama recently said, "I live in a house that was built by slaves." As Wallis says, "This nation was founded by the near genocide of one people and the kidnapping of another people to build this nation. So slavery and the indigenous destruction of those who were here--that was our original sin. And it still lingers in our criminal justice system--in most of our systems."
Wallis aims most of his message specifically evangelical Christians, because he was disappointed and dismayed by their response to recent highly publicized shootings of African-American men. But it's an important message for all white Americans to hear. He believes it's the call of our Christian faith to work for racial justice, and I agree....more
This is the second Margaret Dilloway novel I've read this year, and I was drawn to this book because I looked up books about female samurai warrior Tomoe Gozen. This novel intersperses stories about Gozen with two Japanese-American women, Rachel and Drew Snow, whose Japanese mom has Alzheimer's and who are estranged from their American father.
I was far more interested in the story about Tomoe Gozen than the modern-day women, but Dilloway does illustrate the often-complicated relationships between sisters. I enjoyed this book, but I think I would have preferred an in-depth historical novel about Tomoe Gozen. It seemed like we were only skimming the surface of her story....more
Reading Yes Please is like sitting down with your wackiest, most honest friend, the one who tells you everything, warts and all.
I’d recommend this book to fans of comedy, SNL, Parks and Recreation, or Poehler’s movies…others might find it less interesting.
I enjoyed reading Poehler’s stories of her childhood (she was deeply cherished and told she could do anything, not a surprise when you see her optimism and cheerful spirit). She discusses her early career in comedy and how she made her big break onto SNL. She also talks of motherhood and being a professional woman, albeit a celebrity one. She speaks fondly of her friends, colleagues, and ex-husband Will Arnett…and warmly tells stories of making and tearfully ending Parks and Rec.
And she confessed one of her shameful secrets…being part of a SNL sketch that made fun of a disabled child, and trying to make amends after she learned what she had done. Honest to a fault though, she waited awhile after being called on the situation before she could ask apologize and ask for forgiveness.
I love Poehler’s brand of feminism: being unabashedly proud to be female; upbeat, optimistic, and fun; and embracing male allies, but not taking any shit, which she continues to espouse in her Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls videos and Facebook page. And best of all, like me, she cherishes her women friends, as important to our souls and spirits as food and water are to our bodies. She lives out this philosophy in her work (Leslie Knope’s Galentine’s Day and adoration of her best friend) and in her life (as she writes about one of her main collaborators, Tina Fey).
So if this sounds appealing to you, sit down with your imaginary best friend Amy for some funny, poignant, and touching tales....more
I'm not really much of a short story person. I'd always prefer reading a novel. In fact, I didn't actually know this was fiction until I reached the beginning of the second story!! (Yes, I know it says "Stories" on the front!)
My first exposure to Liz Prato was when I heard her read at a book launch for Brave on the Page, an anthology of essays by and interviews with Oregon writers, in which my husband was also featured. Her autobiographical piece immediately drew me in....full of stark, gut-wrenching detail. I knew she was a writer to watch.
...So I was excited to read Baby's On Fire, the first book she's written (and I didn't know it was short stories). You know you've found a good short story, when you wish it were a novel...and that's how I felt about many of these stories.
One thread runs through these stories: the characters have been scarred by tough times. In the title story, for example, the unemployed, depressed main character arrives home in Portland to discover her family's house had been burned to the ground.
Two other sad stories in particular made me want more: "The Adventures of a Maya Queen" and Riding to the Shore," interestingly, both involving cancer. And one story, "Covered in Red Dirt," takes place in Hawaii, always an intriguing setting for me.
In each story, Prato paints a beautiful, if sometimes heart-breaking, picture of lives lived hard and people who have been through the wars. She too has survived more than one heart should bear, and it shows in her work. A person who hasn't experienced deep losses could not write like this and could not represent these characters' lives and thoughts so well.
Multnomah County Library named Baby's on Fire as one of its best books of 2015. I feel fortunate to know such a talented writer who creates touching stories that stick with you for days....more
I checked this historical novel out of the library because I actually knew a woman who grew up in Oklahoma with Native American roots. She, like Maud Nail, was a spirited spitfire! And she too often found herself dependent on men, much to her chagrin.
Maud lives with two incompetent men...her father is an alcoholic wanderer with a temper, and her brother is a troubled dreamer. Maud essentially keeps their homestead going.
When a peddler stops by, Maud's life changes...not only her own circumstances, but also that of her father and brother. She is a free-spirited heroine of the midwest. I didn't always agree with her decisions, but I enjoyed reading about her adventures....more
I enjoyed the first Robert Galbraith (The Cuckoo's Calling) but was much less enthralled with #2 (The Silkworm). Career of Evil was much more interesting and once again captured my attention.
Cormoran Strike is a fascinating, haunted protagonist. But OMG, Robin is such a strong, self-assured character in so many ways. Why on earth does she want to stay with Matthew? This is the clear weakness in this series, in my opinion.
I will keep reading. But I would love to get rid of Matthew!!...more
I read The Martian in one weekend, when my husband and I were celebrating our 26th anniversary at the Sylvia Beach Hotel in Newport, Oregon.
A few weeks later we watched the movie. Although I enjoyed seeing the book illustrated in film, I found the movie a bit lacking compared to the book. Weir's novel at times goes way too much into detail in the science, but it also does a better job of showing the conflict Mark Watney faced.
The most amazing thing about this story was the way "the martian" Watney won against Mars with science...and the book illustrates this much more thoroughly and convincingly than the movie.
At our book group meeting, it prompted us to research what's happening nowadays with NASA and Mars exploration. (The answer: not much, because of limited research funding.)...more
Such a hard, beautiful, and important book! Highly acclaimed author Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote Between the World and Me as a letter to his son, and last week it won the National Book Award for nonfiction.
Coates did not write this book for white readers (or as he says, "people who believe they are white," quoting James Baldwin). But that's exactly why we should read it. It's brutally honest, raw, and gut wrenching. He doesn't mince words, and he doesn't sugarcoat history or reality.
"I write you in your fifteenth year. I am writing you because this was the year you saw Eric Garner chocked to death for selling cigarettes; because you know now that Renisha McBride was shot for seeking help, that John Crawford was shot down for browsing in a department store. And you have seen men in uniform drive by and murder Tamir Rice, a twelve-year-old child whom they were oath-bound to protect. And you have seen men in the same uniforms pummel Marlene Pinnock, someone's grandmother, on the side of a road. And you know now, if you did not before, that the police departments of your country have been endowed with the authority to destroy your body. It does not matter if the destruction is the result of an unfortunate overreaction. It does not matter if it originates in a misunderstanding. It does not matter if the destruction springs from a foolish policy ... The destroyers will rarely be held accountable. Mostly they will receive pensions. And destruction is merely the superlative form of a dominion whose prerogatives include frisking, detaining, beatings, and humiliations. All of this is common to black people. And all of this is old for black people. No one is held responsible."
The book brought me to tears several times...when Coates arrives at Howard University and feels comfortable in his own skin for the first time...
"There were the scions of Nigerian aristocrats in their business suits giving dap to bald-headed Qs in purple windbreakers and tan Timbs. There were the high-yellow progeny of AME preachers debating the clerics of Ausar-Set. There were California girls turned Muslim, born anew, in hijab and long skirt. There were Ponzi schemers and Christian cultists, Tabernacle fanatics and mathematical geniuses."
...or when his friend, Prince Jones, is killed by police for the crime of driving while black...or when a white woman rudely pushes his son and he feels helpless to defend him...or when he takes his son to preschool for the first time and wants to warn him not to be so happy and carefree...
“But now I understand the gravity of what I was proposing—that a four-year-old child be watchful, prudent, and shrewd, that I curtail your happiness, that you submit to a loss of time. And now when I measure this fear against the boldness that the masters of the galaxy imparted to their own children, I am ashamed."
This idea, of parenting a child while knowing that you cannot fully protect him...of knowing that Prince Jones' mom gave him every privilege she could, yet all it took was one racist act to destroy everything...this realization of how many white male privileges my sons have that Coates' son does not and will never have...this brought me to tears several times while reading this book.
“So I feared not just the violence of this world but the rules designed to protect you from it, the rules that would have you contort your body to address the block, and contort again to be taken seriously by colleagues, and contort again so as not to give the police a reason. All my life I’d heard people tell their black boys and black girls to 'be twice as good,' which is to say 'accept half as much.' These words would be spoken with a veneer of religious nobility, as though they evidenced some unspoken quality, some undetected courage, when in fact all they evidenced was the gun to our head and the hand in our pocket. This is how we lose our softness. This is how they steal our right to smile."
Black children are told, either directly or indirectly, to be twice as good and accept half as much, while white children are told to, or allowed to, take more.
I've observed black friends parenting their children in a way that is much stricter than my own, and Coates articulated why that is:
“But you are a black boy, and you must be responsible for your body in a way that other boys cannot know...black people love their children with a kind of obsession. You are all we have, and you come to us endangered...I think we would like to kill you ourselves before seeing you killed by the streets that America made...later, I would hear it in Dad’s voice—'Either I can beat him, or the police.'"
I attended a well-attended book discussion about Between the World and Me this week at my church. Although everyone liked the book a lot, one woman said she was troubled by the anger in this book...because she believes that anger doesn't get you anywhere (e.g., look at the Islamic State). I can understand her perspective, but I can see both sides.
I am not by nature an angry person, but I understand the anger in Te-Nehisi Coates' soul. I think we need anger at injustice to move forward. We need the nonviolent Martin Luther King Jrs as much as we need the Malcolm Xs. We need the Sandra Blands, who was a Black Lives Matter activist before she was killed, as much as we need the Maya Angelous. And Oh My Gracious God, do black people ever have the right to be angry.
This country was built on their backs, woven with their arteries, and yet we continue to have racists like Donald Trump claim that racism no longer exists...and fail to understand why Black Lives Matter. We have people use the word "thugs" or decry "black-on-black crime," which Coates says is like shooting a man and then shaming him for bleeding.
And I cried when I read about Coates' son giving up his hope for the first time:
“That was the week you learned that the killers of Michael Brown would go free. The men who had left his body in the street like some awesome declaration of their inviolable power would never be punished. It was not my expectation that anyone would ever be punished. But you were young and still believed. You stayed up till 11 P.M. that night, waiting for the announcement of an indictment, and when instead it was announced that there was none you said, 'I’ve got to go,' and you went into your room, and I heard you crying. I came in five minutes after, and I didn’t hug you, and I didn’t comfort you, because I thought it would be wrong to comfort you."
This knowledge that it was no use to comfort his son, because he couldn't give any comfort. Damn straight he's angry, and he has a right to be. No more sugarcoating. We all need to wake up....more
A Gesture Life is another book that was really hard to get into, but the patience paid off. If it hadn't been a book group selection, I might not have stuck with it.
Franklin Hata was a man who was difficult to admire or respect, because he seemed cold and heartless. His stilted relationship with his adopted daughter Sunny just made me sad. He had a chronic difficulty in relating to anyone on a deep, true level.
Presumably, this was because of his difficult experiences in the war and his obsession with K, a Korean "comfort woman." The storyline about the comfort women made me truly sick to my stomach. Apparently when Chang-Rae Lee began writing this novel, it was going to be all about comfort women, but he found that to be too heavy of a subject. His obsession with K reminded me of the foreign men I knew in Japan who were obsessed with Japanese women...many of them ended up marrying them and staying in Japan. They were drawn to them because they were less likely to challenge them than western women. They liked the way the Japanese women looked up to them. Often, these men would not have been classified as "catches" in the US or UK. These relationships were not very equal.
That is the relationship between Franklin and K. He thinks he loves her, but she only views him as one more man who is taking advantage of her. In his case, perhaps he can help her a little. But he means nothing to her.
I appreciated this book more after discussing it with my book group. Some of them liked it better than I did, and one of my friends observed that perhaps it was the way she had been raised, with more distant parenting. That could be.
It was beautifully written, but a little bit disappointing for me. I expected more, and I found it to be really sad....more
A great book about boys, written by the author of Queenbees and Wannabes, who is actually the mom of boys (rather than girls).
Wiseman wrote this book after interviewing hundreds of boys and trying to figure out how they think. As a woman living in a house with four males (three sons and a husband), I can honestly tell you that their brains are wired differently, and they are also conditioned to behave in a different way. It's called Boy World, and I'm often out of my element!
I learned some helpful tricks from this book, such as not bombarding my sons with questions. I am a detailed person, and they, alas, are less so. When I pepper them with questions at the end of a school day, or when they come home from college, it is less than effective.
Boys are faced with entirely different challenges than girls are, and this book identifies those challenges and helps parents figure out a way to assist their sons in navigating those challenges....more
Wow. I know a few people who have transitioned from woman to man, but Janet Mock's book gave me great insights on what it feels like from the other perspective. And even deeper, it also enlightened me about what happens if a person feels uncomfortable in one's own skin and does not have the financial resources to change that. I read this book for my pastor's book group, and I'm grateful to be part of a church community that grapples with these questions!
Janet Mock knew she wasn't a boy from a very early age, but to make the changes she had to make, she had to resort to selling her body to get there. This broke my heart, as did her experiences of trying to become accepted by her own father.
She was lucky in that she had a great fount of self-confidence and assurance, which led her through the process. And she was also lucky to live in an environment, in Hawaii, that was accepting of her transition.
This book is an important story about finding out who you are and the journey to getting there. Janet Mock is a truly brave, inspirational woman. ...more
Score one point for Ruth Ware for prompting me to think about this book in the middle of the night. In a Dark, Dark Wood is about Nora (formerly Lee), an antisocial, reserved writer in England, who is invited to a hen night (the UK version of a bachelorette party). The strange thing is she hasn't seen the bride for 10 years, since she was a teenager.
Bride Clare brings her "friends" from far and wide to a hidden-away, isolated glass house in the country where they drink heavily and have many an awkward conversation, especially since Nora and Claire fell out of friendship when they were teens.
And then someone is murdered, and Nora doesn't know whether she is the killer.
It's sinister, but not too grisly, and it's hard to care much about what happens to most of the characters. The characters, with the exception of Nina, are spoiled yuppies who thought the world revolved around them.
This was not bad for an airplane or beach read...but Nora annoyed the hell out of me. I don't have much sympathy for someone who cannot move on after a lost teenage love affair. Nora needed to get a life....more
I debated whether to read Go Set a Watchman for quite some time, but finally curiosity got the best of me! It's worth reading if only to explore this progression of a writer and a book, as it preceded To Kill a Mockingbird.
What I liked about it:
--Scout, or Jean Louise, is a grown woman. And she is a crusty, opinionated, and stubborn one at that.
--As one reviewer noted, Go Set a Watchman is not the book we wanted about race...but it was the book we need. Others have said Atticus was always a racist.
--The writing, at times, was beautiful...when it was not meandering. It showed a slice of history, and perhaps a more realistic one, in the South during that era.
What I didn't like about it:
--Oh, the meandering! Lee often goes off on various flashbacks, and I found myself questioning when we would get back to the main story. Not a good sign, and it reflects the need for the novel to be polished...which it was by the time To Kill a Mockingbird was published.
--Some characters are mere shadows (Jem and Dill) of their evolved selves. I'm not sure why she even included them in this draft, as they appear only as memory fragments.
--Many reviews discuss Atticus' racism while ignoring Jean Louise's own racism. Perhaps she wasn't as flawed as Atticus, but she was no saint. As "the book we need," it is a better representation of the south during this era than To Kill a Mockingbird, because it showed the many layers of racism. Yes, Atticus and Jean Louise's love interest Hank were worse, but Scout too was racist. Although Jean Louise was horrified by the KKK and its ilk, she was just as horrified by school segregation and interracial marriage.
I'm glad I read it if only because I'm a curious reader and wanted to form my own opinion (similar to why I read Twilight). But it's easy to see why Harper Lee's first editor advised her to take a different tack.
Ultimately, this book disappoints because Jean Louise is an old-school Southerner through and through, in spite of the higher hopes the reader might have in the beginning and middle of the novel. As Michiko Kakutani wrote in The New York Times, "The difference is that Mockingbird suggested that we should have compassion for outsiders like Boo and Tom Robinson, while Watchman asks us to have understanding for a bigot named Atticus."...more
When I asked our global sustainability director how I could learn about natural capital and natural infrastructure, she recommended I read Nature’s Fortune, written by the CEO of The Nature Conservancy (TNC), Mark Tercek.
When I read in the introduction that he’d majored in English and then lived and taught in Japan like I did, I was hooked. We English majors who’ve been called gaijin have to stick together! I was fascinated to learn about his pathway into sustainability…he came into it through the back door, with a business background at Goldman Sachs, where he created a sustainability business and began partnering with TNC and other environmental nonprofits and exploring ways to make conservation profitable. "I was a late bloomer but protecting nature became my cause and my passion."
Tercek has transformed TNC into an organization that collaborates with business instead of fighting against business. As he says, "Hard-core environmentalists can be quick to criticize organizations such as TNC when they build alliances with companies. They sometimes see such collaborations as consorting with the enemy." But Tercek saw opportunity in working with businesses, because they "control huge amounts of natural resources, often more than governments." Companies are often quicker to act than government, especially as increasing numbers of businesses realize how dependent they are on natural resources and how critical they are for their survival. "The bigger the company's footprint, the bigger the opportunity for the company to reduce its impact on the environment by changing its behavior."
Nature's Fortune is jam-packed with illuminating examples of how the world's natural resources can be put to work, preserving the environment and the supply of these resources. In case study after case study, Tercek explains how cities, counties, states, and businesses are realizing how investing in green infrastructure is the best investment they can make.
For example, back in 1996, Dow Chemical Company's facility in Seadrift, Texas needed to increase its water treatment capacity...the logical (engineering) option would be to pour concrete and build a plant, at the tune of $40 million. But an innovative engineer proposed building a wetland instead, a solution that cost a mere $1.4 million. Now the wetland treats 5 million gallons of water per day, but it also provides habitat for wildlife. Environmentalists can fault Dow as a multinational chemical company, but the fact is that these multinational companies have enormous environmental footprints. When they take steps to reduce these footprints, it benefits us all. When companies invest creatively in nature instead of building traditional infrastructure, they reap many opportunities beyond just saving money. They protect the natural resources they rely on for their business.
Or take the case of Louisiana, where floods from climate change pose increasing threats. Scientists and engineers are realizing the value of floodplains, which have been replaced with hard-constructed levies, dams, and floodwalls. But nature's own resource, floodplains (flat lands near rivers where water can overflow) relieve pressure on levee systems, reduce flood risks, and filter agricultural runoff. Hard structures alone, as we saw during Hurricane Sandy or Hurricane Katrina, are often not enough to stop rising water and can actually make flooding worse for communities downstream.
A 2009 Harvard Business Review article concluded that "the current economic system has placed enormous pressure on the planet...traditional approaches to business will collapse, and companies will need to develop innovative solutions." Further, "failure to have a culture of sustainability is quickly becoming a source of competitive disadvantage. The argument about sustainability is over."
While Tercek encourages cooperation and collaboration with businesses to protect the environment, he also appreciates the value of environmental organizations that prefer to work as watchdogs on business, commenting that the pressure they place on business partnerships results in better transparency and more successful approaches to protect nature.
I recommend this book as an excellent overview of how natural infrastructure can help organizations conserve resources, save money, and create more reliable, sustainable solutions to our changing world. ...more
This was my summer light read; I took it with me to Florida in August.
It was a psychological thriller about a troubled, hard-to-believe protagonist and psychopaths in her life. Perhaps too many coincidences and unlikely events, but if you can suspend belief, it's worth a read.
Aaron Hartzler grew up in an extremely conservative, religious home, where just disagreeing with his parents was tantamount to being seduced by Satan. For example, one day the young, fashion-conscious Aaron wanted to go to church without wearing socks with his Sperry Topsiders (because that's what you do). His father commanded him to put socks on, and Aaron resisted...and thus ensued a huge power struggle, with his father pouring on the guilt and shame...over a lack of socks.
I had to laugh when I read that Aaron got in trouble at his conservative Christian school for singing a Sandi Patty song! She was popular back when I hung out with some evangelical Christians in college, but apparently she fell from grace after she got divorced and had an affair.
Aaron is gay, but as a child he didn't know that. He felt himself drawn to fashion, theater, and music...and he also felt himself desperately torn between wanting to please his parents and wanting to express himself, in spite of his strict evangelical upbringing.
I found myself getting really annoyed with his parents, who on one occasion told Aaron he couldn't be in his school play because he had pop music tapes in his car (or some such extreme infringement of their rules). The book ends before Aaron comes out to his parents, so we don't learn how they reacted to the news...but follow-up research indicates he's still in touch with them, so that's good.
My book group enjoyed this book, and many commented on how Aaron deeply loved his parents in spite of their deep religiosity and their strict demands on him.
Patrick Ness and Jim Kay collaborated on this illustrated novel based on an idea by novelist Siobhan Dowd, who died of breast cancer. As Ness said in his author's note, "She had the characters, a premise, and a beginning. What she didn't have, unfortunately, was time."
A Monster Calls refers to the visits in young Conor's bedroom. Conor's mother is battling cancer, and as he and his family members struggle to adjust to her worsening condition, a huge yew tree outside of his bedroom comes to life and tells him a series of stories. "Stories are wild creatures," the monster said. "When you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreak?"
The monster is the only creature who's listening to Conor and speaking to him honestly. His father arrives from the U.S. for an incredibly brief visit and has created a new family where Conor doesn't have a place, and his parents skirt around the fact that his mother is dying. He's sent to stay with his grandmother, who is overly strict and controlling and doesn't seem to appreciate him. His classmates either bully him or pity him because of his sick mom. The monster's the only one who understands the fear and rage inside of his head.
My book group debated whether the monster was real or if it was all in Conor's head. I disagreed with a few others; I believe the monster was real. This is, after all, a young adult fantasy novel. The monster teaches Conor things no one else could. And helps him get in touch with feelings that he didn't know he had. We had an interesting conversation about the way our culture handles illness and dying, both in the U.S. and the UK, where the novel is based. People in the UK are much more likely to tamp down feelings and suppress them, and therapy is often not considered to be necessary. Stiff upper lip and all that!
A Monster Calls is a beautiful tale of loss and love. ...more
Can you believe that I've never read a Nancy Drew book? This was my first! I read it because of a delightful little second grader--daughter of a close friend--who's obsessed with them at the moment.
I'm glad to be able to say I have read Nancy Drew--she was a plucky detective but she was awfully concerned with her looks and her friend's weight! But I understand that many of the original Nancy Drew books were rewritten in the 1950s to make her more feminine. I'd love to read the actual original story written in the 1930s. I understand that this book diverts from the usual Nancy Drew template because it's set in the desert, away from her home.
The other class "girl" novels I haven't read are Anne of Green Gables--maybe that's a goal for later in the year. I've been told by many that I would like them.
I gave my little friend Grace a copy of the first two "Boys Against Girls" books by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, which I enjoyed with my boys. We'll see what she has to say about those!...more
I always enjoy reading stories about my hometown or seeing it on film (e.g., Grimm), so that's what drew me to The Residue Years. Our local library syI always enjoy reading stories about my hometown or seeing it on film (e.g., Grimm), so that's what drew me to The Residue Years. Our local library system featured it for its "Everybody Reads" program.
But this book represents a different part of Portland than where I grew up (in the predominantly white suburbs). What makes it most interesting is that it's an autobiographical novel, based on the author's own life experiences.
Grace is a drug addict, even though she loves her children. She just can't escape the appeal of losing herself (and her troubles) in a haze. And Champ ends up selling drugs, largely because he sees so many people dealing around him...it's the easiest way to make money.
It took me a few chapters to get into this book, but Jackson's writing is beautiful: “She’s been through fire and got a soft spot for folks that seen the flame.”
The Residue Years raises questions of class and privilege. If I had been born and raised in another part of Portland, perhaps to black parents, would I have faced similar obstacles in my path? Probably.
Jackson opens up our city to bring in different perspectives...some of them not always easy to see....more
An excellent choice for a book group discussion, The Circle is like a 1984, updated to the Internet age.
Young Mae Holland is thrilled to land a job at The Circle, which is like a combination Facebook/Google...a company for the cool kids. As a main character, she falls a little flat. She's unlikable and no reader could affirm the choices she makes in her life, especially as the story progresses. She is completely desperate for attention and selfish.
But this book is not so much about character development as it is biting satire and a parable for our like-and-tweet-obsessed, voyeuristic culture. As each of The Circle's projects are unveiled, what initially sounds like a good, democratic, society-improving idea turns out to be creepy and sinister, reducing any shred of privacy we have left. Life = work, and work = life. And nothing is secret any more, anywhere.
This book made me question the time I spend on the Internet and how I too have gotten sucked into wanting "likes" or shares. It's about our need for instant gratification, coupled with our desire to know everything about everyone. Sinister and thought-provoking. I recommend it....more