I give it five stars because it's quite riveting. Not only is this the usual memoir about discovering who the abusive parent really was and what drove...moreI give it five stars because it's quite riveting. Not only is this the usual memoir about discovering who the abusive parent really was and what drove that person, but there's a parallel story about Alan's being on the show, "Who Do You Think You Are?" in which they unearth stories about his maternal grandfather. It's well-written and interesting. I already liked Alan Cumming because of his character in The Good Wife, but this shows us his non-actor, real-life side. PS I love how close he is to his mum and brother, Tom. What a lovely family; survivors, all.(less)
This was a beautiful story of the entire lifespan of a good girl who lives in biblical times. Diamant fleshes out the lives of historical characters b...moreThis was a beautiful story of the entire lifespan of a good girl who lives in biblical times. Diamant fleshes out the lives of historical characters by envisioning their daily challenges, triumphs, and tragedies. Thanks to her vivid imagination we're able to see these people, primarily Dinah, an overlooked daughter of Jacob, great-granddaughter of Abraham. No walk through Pompeii could better portray the drama, rituals, tools and medicines, living habits, communities, and family bonds than this one. A very entertaining story which I highly recommend. (less)
I am embarrassed to admit that I never read this before, and I turned 60 this year. But what a wonderful story. I enjoyed Jane's strength of will and...moreI am embarrassed to admit that I never read this before, and I turned 60 this year. But what a wonderful story. I enjoyed Jane's strength of will and common sense. She is resilient and resourceful. Scholars have debated this book for over a century, including the aspect of feminism and self-determination. As to the former, Jane thinks this:
Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts, as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.
One of my favorite passages was when Jane is debating with Helen Burns. Helen seems robotic and passive, only waiting for the day God will call her home. She counsels Jane to be more pliable. Jane argues back:
"If people were always kind and obedient to those who are cruel and unjust, the wicked people would have it all their own way: they would never feel afraid, and so they would never alter, but would grow worse and worse. When we are struck at without a reason, we should strike back again very hard; I am sure we should—so hard as to teach the person who struck us never to do it again.” This lesson about standing up for oneself is one I only learned when in my 40s, and I value it immensely. So that resonated, too.
Jane Eyre is an empowering book. Not to belabor the excerpts, but here is an example of that:
“It is hard work to control the workings of inclination and turn the bent of nature; but that it may be done, I know from experience. God has given us, in a measure, the power to make our own fate; and when our energies seem to demand a sustenance they cannot get—when our will strains after a path we may not follow—we need neither starve from inanition, nor stand still in despair: we have but to seek another nourishment for the mind, as strong as the forbidden food it longed to taste—and perhaps purer; and to hew out for the adventurous foot a road as direct and broad as the one Fortune has blocked up against us, if rougher than it."
Part of my enjoyment in reading this book is that it was published in 1847, and I still struggle - we still struggle - with many of the same issues. To know that Charlotte Bronte was thinking of these things 167 years ago, and thought them important enough to build a story around, pleases me very much. What a great book.
This was a good, fast-paced read that included good character development as well as a busy plot. I was particularly struck by the idea of Artificial...moreThis was a good, fast-paced read that included good character development as well as a busy plot. I was particularly struck by the idea of Artificial Intelligence developing into something more, and the questions that brings up. The only bummer in this book is the feeling we're all doomed and it's just a matter of a few years before idiots destroy the planet. Other than that, hey, a fun read!(less)
An interesting read. It covers the life of a majestic and friendly wolf who spent several years in the company of humans. The narrator, a kind-hearted...moreAn interesting read. It covers the life of a majestic and friendly wolf who spent several years in the company of humans. The narrator, a kind-hearted but realistic writer, first discovered the wolf who would be named Romeo when the young animal moved in on a community near the Mendenhall Glacier. The book is almost as interesting for its descriptions of human behavior as compared to the wolf variety. In the end, you're left pondering the various subspecies of humans as much as the real animals among them. An interesting look at the divergent political and social forces in modern Alaska.(less)
This book was recommended to me as erotica for older people, and it is erotic, but the sex is a metaphor.
At least, I assume that's what Rae, the 58-ye...moreThis book was recommended to me as erotica for older people, and it is erotic, but the sex is a metaphor.
At least, I assume that's what Rae, the 58-year-old author, intended. Rae suffered through a horrific childhood. At some point, as an adult, she fell in love and began living with (and taking care of) Eli, who toward the end of their 18-year relationship is bipolar, sick, and has threatened her.
At the beginning of this memoir, Eli is in agonizing decline, and has no one but the long-suffering Rae to help him. Here's how that looks to Rae, just as Eli is about to be sent home from a psychiatric hospital:
"I'm filled with dread. My worry is that, because Eli is unstable and I have no idea what his medicines are anymore, I once again have no control over my life. His mood is my reality. His rage is my nightmare. Because his hospital psychiatrist has refused to speak with me since Eli was admitted (since Rae and Eli aren't married), I have no idea about the current status of his treatment and state of mind. What will I be walking into?"
In despair/desperation, Rae begins an affair with Eli's best friend, Jim. Yes, I know. It sounds like a non-sequitor, but bear with me. Jim, 67, is tall, beautiful, confident, bohemian, adventurous, and horny, and Rae hasn't had sex in five years. Jim is realistic; at one point early on he says, "It's occurred to me that you are probably the last girlfriend I'll ever have." Rae says her Catholic upbringing, which has always taught self-restraint, is in the distant past. "The deeper I get into this, the deeper I'm willing to go." She has been serving and sacrificing for Eli, and she and Jim are, even as they make mad, passionate love, ever-aware of their mortality. Both would incite appetite. Rae sees herself as breaking free, finally doing something for herself, reawakening her 58-year-old body, making discoveries. Cool if it were true.
But there's something missing in this story. Rae may see it differently, but I don't think she's describing her evolution as much as (a)distracting herself from horrific problems, and (b)finding another man to run her life, albeit a compelling and pretty man. In spite of asserting that she trusts Jim absolutely, she describes him as willing to do just about anything, anywhere to satisfy his sexual hunger, to the point where she is frequently embarrassed in public.
In what I consider borderline rationalization, Rae explains Jim's sexual aggression as her preference. She declares that she will never tell him "no" (except for certain agree-upon exclusions like torture.) She cautions the reader against deciding she is being deferential to Jim; no, she is the one in the drivers' seat. She wants to find out where he can take her. "I want the best of Jim, all that his sixty-seven years of experience with sex and women and fantasy and longing have brought to him...I wish for him to perform as a high-functioning artist does...I desire spontaneous and creative flow..."
At first I was convinced. It seemed a fresh, new way of thinking: to respect the experience of this vibrant and interesting man, to present herself as a palette upon which he, the artist, will paint - for her pleasure. She makes a pretty good case. And maybe one view might be that in doing so, she is living, really experiencing life, giving herself one last, best meal at the finest table she'll ever see.
I have mixed feelings about that. There are clues here to the contrary, in support of believing that maybe she sees Jim as someone she'd really like to depend on, if only that were a more reasonable expectation of this confirmed bachelor. For example, she calls him a couple of times during various awful emergencies with Eli, and then castigates herself for laying this on Jim - for asking for his help, for bringing her problems into his life. She is a camp follower in some ways, escaping into the fantasy that is Jim. Not that that isn't a therapeutic way to handle her tough circumstances, but there's too much indication here that she's still not ready to decide for herself how she will live her life. But that is only my opinion, and you may see it differently.
In any case, the sex is very hot, and this book does illuminate the experience of life in later years. It also, and this is no small thing, exposes how completely f***ed-up this country is in re: caring for poor and mentally ill people.
I rated it four stars because it's compelling and interesting, and also good discussion material for book clubs (and maybe therapy groups.) Worth checking out. (less)
Maggie's Turn is a missed opportunity. There's no particular narrative voice, not much emotion, and the main character doesn't face any real challenge...moreMaggie's Turn is a missed opportunity. There's no particular narrative voice, not much emotion, and the main character doesn't face any real challenge while she's on her journey. In fact, this book could have been written in the POV of the husband, who gets hit with many character-forming challenges while Maggie kind of sails along. I think the writer has promise, but this story feels too careful, as if she were afraid to cut loose and just write.(less)
Woodroof has put together an entertaining cast of characters in a small university town. Nicely paced, good character development, good descriptions....moreWoodroof has put together an entertaining cast of characters in a small university town. Nicely paced, good character development, good descriptions. Only a couple of knocks. Most of the characters speak with the same voice, and three characters have either the first or last name of "Mason," but they're not related, either by blood or storyline. I think that was an oversight. The strength of this novel is its author's wide-ranging imagination. The weakness is that it treads a safe middle ground without seriously engaging the stakes, which could be high (a very rich little boy could be fought over and isn't; a kidnapping situation ends amicably) but end up petering out without much real danger. In a way, though, that was sort of a relief, given all the violence in the world today. A good read. (less)
I like stories about people who are at middle-age or older. This was a good, down-to-earth main character trying to find her way with plenty of obstac...moreI like stories about people who are at middle-age or older. This was a good, down-to-earth main character trying to find her way with plenty of obstacles in her path. A fun beach read.(less)
This was a page-turner. I still can't believe what I just read. What a fabulous memoir. The writing was great, and my emotions ranged from one extreme...moreThis was a page-turner. I still can't believe what I just read. What a fabulous memoir. The writing was great, and my emotions ranged from one extreme to another. Such resilience this little girl had, and bit of luck too, as she could have died at the hands of these animals who raised her, no matter how wounded they themselves may have been. I congratulate Ms. Person on her tenacity, and for managing to create a good life for herself in the end. (less)
In this spellbinding debut memoir, Kathleen Pooler describes growing up in a loving and nurturing family, only to have her life turn dark with two abu...moreIn this spellbinding debut memoir, Kathleen Pooler describes growing up in a loving and nurturing family, only to have her life turn dark with two abusive marriages. The big question of why is the compelling story line of this book, and informative to all who read it.
Kathy is a Baby Boomer, and her descriptions of childhood evoke rich nostalgia. I enjoyed reading about the cultural touchstones of our early years. However, like many girls at that time, Kathy was reared to be of service by loving, well-intended parents and a Church that preached obedience, loyalty, and self-sacrifice. She matures into a hard-working, fun-loving and intelligent young woman. She earns her nursing degree and a full scholarship to postgraduate school. She builds a career, raises two great kids, and develops many solid and nurturing friendships.
Yet when it comes to choosing a husband, she somehow ignores all the red flags. As we watch Kathy endure two soul-crushing marriages, we wonder how she could make such choices, but she comes to understand her reasons, and they are universal. I have personally made those mistakes, and I'll bet many readers have, as well. This book not only sheds light on Kathy, me, and perhaps you, but how we raise our daughters in this culture. In fact, I was angered by the complicity of the families of the two husbands. I don't want to spoil the story, but the insights she gains and shares in the final chapters of the book are illuminating. It's almost as if this book is an owner's manual for life itself. I enthusiastically recommend it.(less)
(spoiler alert) Often I wish I could ask an author what thematic question drove the need to write a particular book. In the case of "The Sense of an E...more(spoiler alert) Often I wish I could ask an author what thematic question drove the need to write a particular book. In the case of "The Sense of an Ending," judging by my own reactions and those of reviewers, I think the answer doesn't matter. The reactions are so varied and from one extreme to the other, that I must conclude the story is a Rorschach test. Like the famous ink blot, what you see in it reflects yourself.
For me, a person obsessed with aging thoughtfully as opposed to sleepwalking through one's life, the story was really satisfying. It begins with Tony telling of his first twenty years, but the next forty - all of his adulthood to this point - are addressed in a few dismissive sentences. Then, in his retirement, an incident occurs that goads him to try to return to the circumstances of his youth, and this, finally, prompts introspection.
"In Adrian's terms, I gave up on life, gave up on examining it, took it as it came. And so, for the first time, I began to feel a more general remorse, a feeling somewhere between self-pity and self-hatred, about my whole life. All of it. I had lost the friends of my youth...the love of my wife. I had abandoned the ambitions I had entertained. I had wanted life not to bother me too much, and had succeeded-and how pitiful that was."
Some provocative thoughts in this book. For example, Tony considers the "question of accumulation." In the same way that one can accumulate wealth, or build on experiences, cannot one also accumulate negativities? "Sometimes I think the purpose of life is to reconcile us to its eventual loss by wearing us down..." You may not agree with him on this or any other observation, but at least, now in his sixties, he's finally thinking, and his thinking prompts our own.
Again, back to the ink blot. Elizabeth Gilbert's "The Signature of All Things" addresses the suitability of certain humans for a life on earth. Some don't have the drive to survive, in spite of great gifts. And here we are again, in "Sense...", with Adrian, a genius, who as a college student commits suicide rather than bear up under a horrific development he has caused. Whereas unremarkable Tony lives a long and comfortable if unexamined life.
And how Tony worshiped Adrian - Tony, who always imagined the grass being greener everywhere outside his own self. Tony was drawn to the exotic, the extremes, in Adrian and Veronica, but neither was particularly functional. Yet Tony, functional and unremarkable, survived much more ably than either of these two.
The title of this book seems appropriate. In the last part of his life, Tony gets a sense that he has wasted his adulthood, that his chance is past. In internal dialogue, he says, "There is unrest. There is great unrest." Let's hope so. (less)