This is a collection of essays about time - the author letting his mind run wild about "what if time were this way? Or what if time was like that?"
heThis is a collection of essays about time - the author letting his mind run wild about "what if time were this way? Or what if time was like that?"
here's one example:
On this late afternoon, in these few moments when the sun is nestled in a snowy hollow of the Alps, a person could sit beside the lake and contemplate the texture of time. Hypothetically, time might be smooth or rough, prickly or silky, hard or soft. But in this world, the texture of time happens to be sticky. Portions of towns become stuck in some moment of history and do not get out. So, too, individual people become stuck in some point of their lives and cannot get free.
Many other fascinating variations on time... highly recommend this celebration of imagination. The only flaw is there are no characters to fall in love with, only ideas. ...more
The front of the book says "probably the most important book since To Kill a Mockingbird - if you read one book, let it be this one"
AGREE AGREE AGREEThe front of the book says "probably the most important book since To Kill a Mockingbird - if you read one book, let it be this one"
AGREE AGREE AGREE!
Aibileen and Minnie are two black maids in the south in the 1960's and Skeeter is the idealistic white girl who wants to write their stories. And oh, the stories they have to tell! The heart and the heartbreak, the funny, sad, scary and outrageous. All written with three amazingly different voices that never let you down.
What kind of guts does it take for a white woman to write a book in the point of view of two black women, in a time period before she was born? I can imagine how every black person who reads this is going to be critically evaluating her attempt. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, was still written from a white girl's perspective. This book is a white author giving voice to black women. Putting her own words into their mouths. Risky, but with amazing results. I haven't fallen in love with characters like this since Scout stole my heart... and here you get three of them.
I loved the writing: esp. the word choices. You can tell the author put some time into thinking of description. For instance this sentence starts offI loved the writing: esp. the word choices. You can tell the author put some time into thinking of description. For instance this sentence starts off with a run-of-the-mill description of anger, but ends with striking metaphors:
"This begrudging, this I'm-so-stinking-pissed feeling is foreign, unfamiliar, and I want to let it go, but it's stuck there, taffy in my bloodstream, emotional static cling."
More to love: the realistic relationships between Tilly and her sisters, her childhood friend that she drifted away from in high school that she connects with again, and her father. Her younger sister Darcy is especially well-written.
Another thing I liked is the main character is a high school guidance counselor. Okay, maybe that's subjective, but in my experience the counselor plays a pivotal role in a high school student's life (I had a good one), and the counselor is privy to lots of high school drama. I think the author could have played this us a lot more, but what she did develop out of it was interesting. Especially how the 32 year-old-Tilly, jaded by how her life is turning out, looks with longing on how her young students view life with such expectancy and excitement. It's a bittersweet something that I think most of us, at least by our mid-thirties, can relate to. Life turns out to be a lot more difficult than we imagined in high school, and Scotch captures the transition between the heady days of youth and the hard realities of life. ...more
From the very first line "My mother did not tell me they were coming." this book is compelling.
The sixteen year old main character, Griet, finds hersFrom the very first line "My mother did not tell me they were coming." this book is compelling.
The sixteen year old main character, Griet, finds herself hired out by her parents as a maid to a wealthy family - the family of the famous 17th century Dutch painter, Vermeer. In the first couple pages the author sets up the perfect balance of characters, tension, foreshadowing, symbolism - you know you are in the hands of a master storyteller.
This book is deceptively simple, with many scenes revolving around Griet's plain and exhausting life as a maid, but laced with tension as she navigates the uneasy waters of the new household. The book is a buffet of sensory details without going overboard. Griet has a perceptive eye and appreciates Vermeer's paintings far more than his family and clients appreciate them, with the exception, interestingly enough, of his mother-in-law (a fascinating character).
Through Griet's eyes you will fall in love with his paintings, too, if you haven't already. As I read about each scene he painted, I couldn't resist to look his paintings up on the internet and match them up.
Interesting, but I never felt I got to know Vermeer very well in this story, not like the other characters. The author never gave him a personality, just hints of this and that. But in hindsight, I actually sort of appreciate it. It left my mind open to wonder who Vermeer really was. The book provides a suggestion as to why he painted the Girl with a Pearl Earring, but left the rest of him in privacy, perhaps out of respect for the real man.
I wanted to let other readers know there is one sex scene. There is also a lot of sadness in this book because Griet is basically so helpless to do anything about her circumstances, because of her poverty and being a female. Also as a maid, she has almost no privacy. One thing she is able to keep to herself, but I don't want to spoil the secret. It's not what you would expect.
Top notch YA literature, just as fast to read as the best action-packed stories, but with richly layered subplots and themes and skillful, graceful wrTop notch YA literature, just as fast to read as the best action-packed stories, but with richly layered subplots and themes and skillful, graceful writing.
I am very, very impressed. This is a book I could easily re-read a dozen times and still find new wonderful things inside of it.
Set in 1906 in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, the story is billed on the back cover as a murder mystery: 17 year old Mattie works at the resort hotel where a girl just a year older than herself is found dead, with her lover missing.
But it's so much more than a murder mystery. The main plot is Mattie's scholarship to Barnard college in NYC, but since her mother died of cancer the year before and her older brother ran away, Mattie's the only one to help her father take care of her four younger sisters. Plus she made a promise that she can't bear to break...
What I loved about Mattie is that she's smart enough to realize the pros and cons of both paths, and even when she's caught up in Royal's arms she knows that love has blinders.
Then you've got the character subplots. Now I'm not going to give away how any of the plots turn out, but I should warn anyone reading this that I love all the characters so much I'm going to talk about ALL of them.
There's Mattie's father, refusing to speak his native Canadian French, and who is still lost in grief over the loss of his wife.
Royal Loomis, the young farmer with a vision, is sparking Mattie (in other words, courting, but don't you love that term sparking?)
Mattie's best friend Minnie has just had twin babies.
Her other best friend, Weaver, the only black kid in the county, also wins a scholarship, but he might just as easily end up in jail as a result of his bitter temper.
Crazy Emmie who paints beautiful pictures, can't afford to pay her taxes, and all her kids have lice.
Miss Emily Wilcox who encourages Mattie's writing and helps her get her scholarship but has her own dark secret she's trying to hide.
The letters entrusted to Mattie by Grace, the dead girl, which contain the answer to why she died.
And last but not least, Mattie's mother's old dictionary.
Mattie loves to write and she loves to learn new words, so everyday she or one of her sisters pick a new word out the dictionary and learn its different meanings and synonyms. The fun part of this is how Mattie weaves her word-of-the-day into each of the situations she encounters. Weaver is also a word-lover and they often have word-duels while they are walking to school or later working together in the kitchen of the resort (resorts were called "camps" back then, though they were epitome of luxury).
Even the minor characters are complex in this story: giving you reasons both to love and shiver at the things they do. Uncle Fifty with his gifts and his French accent and his wild stories of riding log jams; Aunt Josie who sounds like she crawled out of an Austen novel; Royal's xerophilous mother and philandering father; Mrs Weaver and her plan to earn money; Mr Eckler and his pickle boat; the man at Table Six and his unfortunate encounter with the leavings of Hamlet the Great Dane.
The book has all these humourous vignettes, but each one is multi-dimensioned - they aren't just humorous, they are also sad or bitter or twisted in some way that makes you smile and wince at the same time.
A Northern Light was also written with a very different, perhaps experimental structure. I like it, but I could see it being an issue for some, because it jumps between different time periods. Though it's all written in Mattie's first person present tense, it starts when Grace's body is discovered in the lake by the resort, and then jumps back to several months prior. Almost every chapter alternates between the present and past, and your only clue that you are back in the past again is that the past chapters all have Mattie's word-of-the-day as the chapter title, where the present chapters have no title at all. Once I figured out the pattern, I really liked the jumps back and forth which I thought added tension and dimension to the story, just like alternating points of view do sometimes.
And now for my favorite quotes from A Northern Light.
Weaver says freedom is like Sloan's Liniment, always promising more than it delievers.
Once in a while the main library in Herkimer sends up a new book or two. It's nice to get your hands on a new book before everyone else does. While the pages are still clean and white and the spine hasn't been snapped. While it still smells like words and not Mrs. Higby's violet water or Weaver's mamma's fried chicken or my aunt Josie's liniment.
[When Royal picked me up] I realized I would be a topic of conversation amongst my friends for the rest of the day, if not the rest of the week. It was a strange feeling - worrisome and exciting all at once. Wexanxilicious?
More about Royal:
Maybe he appreciated things other than words - the dark beauty of the lake, for example or the awesome majesty of the forest. Maybe his quietness masked a great and boiling soul. It was a quaint notion he soon dispelled. "Skunk et all my chicks last night," he said. "Guts and feathers all over the yard."
I'd never heard him talk so much in all the years I'd known him. I guess I never had him on the right topic. Start him off on farming and he waxed downright poetical. For the first time, I saw what was in his heart. And I wondered if he might ever want to look deep enough to see what was in mine.
Mattie talking to her teacher, Miss Wilcox:
"People in books are good and noble and unselfish, and people aren't that way... and I feel, well... hornswoggled sometimes. By Jane Austen and Charles Dickens and Lousia May Alcott. Why do writers make things sugary when life isn't that way?" I asked too loudly. "Why don't they tell the truth? Why don't they tell how a pigpen looks after the sow's eaten her children? Or how it is for a girl when her baby won't come out? Or that cancer has a smell to it? All those books, Miss Wilcox," I said, pointing to a pile of them, "and I bet not one of them will tell you what cancer smells like. I can though. It stinks. Like meat gone bad and dirty clothes and bog water all mixed together. Why doesn't anyone tell you that?"
...I realized then that Miss Wilcox had stopped smiling. Her eyes were fixed on me, and I was certain she'd decided I was morbid and dispiriting like Miss Parrish said and that I should leave then and there.
"I'm sorry, Miss Wilcox," I said, looking at the floor. "I don't mean to be coarse. I just... I don't know why I should care what happens to people in a drawing room in London or Paris or anywhere else when no one in those places cares what happens to people in Eagle Bay."
Miss Wilcox's eyes were still fixed on me, only now they were shiny. Like they were the day I got my letter from Barnard. "Make them care, Mattie," she said softly. "And don't you ever be sorry."
...she took two books..."Therese Raquin", she said solemnly, "and Tess of the D'Urbervilles. Best not tell anyone you have them." Then she took her writing paper out of its box, put the books in the box, covered them with a few sheets of paper, and handed the box to me.
I smiled, thinking that my teacher sure was dramatic. "Cripes, Miss Wilcox, they're not guns," I said.
"No, they're not, Mattie, they're books. And hundred times more dangerous."
Marina is asked by her boss (and lover) to travel to the Amazon to find out about the death of another co-worker. I almost felt like I'd traveled to tMarina is asked by her boss (and lover) to travel to the Amazon to find out about the death of another co-worker. I almost felt like I'd traveled to the Amazon with her; the book so deeply immerses you in the humidity and claustrophobic rainforest with a horde of beatiful and scary details.
But even better than an Amazon adventure (complete with one anaconda scene that may give you nightmares), is the second aspect of the plot.
Marina isn't just hunting down her lost co-worker, but an eccentric woman scientist (who she has a past history with) being paid big bucks to develop a drug. But Dr Annick Swenson won't correspond with the company that is paying her and has even hired a pair of amusing characters to be gatekeepers - keeping anyone from finding her.
There's a good reason for this - a really thought-provoking reason. But of course I shan't spoil the secret!
Even though Dr. Swenson is a battle-axe, she will grow on you - all the characters grow on you. Patchett definitely does great characters (and settings). There's a young deaf-mute native, Easter, who was my particular favorite - all the more impressive since he has no dialogue.
Beware, though, of the ending. It's definitely bittersweet and left me both sighing and shaking my fist. Darn literary novels. ...more
Ah, a really beautiful interplay between present time and historical flashbacks. There is constant tension in both past and present, and a twist thatAh, a really beautiful interplay between present time and historical flashbacks. There is constant tension in both past and present, and a twist that end that was exquisitely constructed.
Definitely for anyone who loves classical ballet and/or poetry; while the plot kept me flying through the pages (I couldn't put it down), it is Nina's description of the artistry of ballet versus the crowd-pleasing showy moves and Grigori and Zoltan's description of poetry and thoughts on journals that made this truly memorable.
The plot is an interesting interweaving of three tragic love stories, one of which is redeemed in the end. But far more satisfying than the love story that does finally succeed was Grigori's rediscovery (at age 50!) of the work he had loved in his early twenties, now made possible in a whole new powerful light with opening of the Iron Curtain and access to materials that had been confiscated by the communist party for decades. It made my heart soar. ...more
Oh my goodness what a grand book to start the New Year with! I can see why this won both the Nebula and Hugo awards, though it wasn't anything like IOh my goodness what a grand book to start the New Year with! I can see why this won both the Nebula and Hugo awards, though it wasn't anything like I expected.
I started off the year 2015 with my nose in a book. Yup, that's what I was doing at 12:01 January 1st, and most of the rest of January 1st, too, gobbling up this wonderful book. The main character in Among Others was 15 and attended an English boarding school that was decidedly NOT a Hogwarts kind of school: the most unmagical of schools, in fact... but Mori brought her magic with her. This book is a great example of the fascinating magical realism genre. It's also a got a main character with a disability, (#weNeedDiverseBooks) and that disability and the cane it required played a fascinating part in the story.
Despite attending a regular public American high school, not an English boarding school, and not needing a cane to walk, I still really identified with Mori... more than most mc's in young adult books. Here's why....
I had a split personality in high school (I still do, somewhat). Personality #1: a girl who painted her nails a new color (almost) every day; spent (many) afternoons browsing through clothing stores at the mall, or leafing through L.L. Bean and J. Crew clothing catalogs; highlighted her hair with peroxide; and ran on the track and cross country teams and got really competitive about it.
Personality #2: a girl who, when she skipped classes or lunch, could be found in the school library reading or searching for new books to read. And who when wasn't reading, was often sketching characters in the margins of her history notes, or staring off into space daydreaming about the fantasy and science fiction worlds she'd just read. Ages 13 through 15 was when I devoured books like Dune, the Earthsea books and the Lord of the Rings (and many others, but those were the ones that stuck with me most memorably) and these books, especially Lord of the Rings, play their own fascinating role in Mori's story.
So freaking cool how the books play a role, almost become characters themselves, in this story!
Since Mori's personality wasn't split like mine (and she was partially crippled, having to walk with a cane, so she couldn't get involved in as much as I could)... she devoured books at a stunning pace, especially after discovering interlibrary loans:
Interlibrary loans are a wonder of the world and a glory of civilization.
“Libraries really are wonderful. They're better than bookshops, even. I mean bookshops make a profit on selling you books, but libraries just sit there lending you books quietly out of the goodness of their hearts.
“I'll belong to libraries wherever I go. Maybe eventually I'll belong to libraries on other planets.”
Among Others is a book about family, friends, fairies, boarding school, and books. The fairies fit in that sequence in a very straight-forward way; Mori has grown up always seeing (and sometimes in even playing with) fairies in the valleys and abandoned coal works of her native Wales. This is the first story I've read set, at least in part, in Wales. What a fascinating country! I googled maps and sometimes Welsh history while I was reading.
Mori refuses to live with her mad witch mother any more. Yes, her mother really is a witch, and a pretty evil one, too, by Mori's account - her mother is at least partly responsible for her daughter's death, Mori's twin. Mori lives in a children's home for a while until her father is located. Then her father sends her to an all girl boarding school in England, where she is far removed from the fairies and magic she grew up with, and can't relate to anyone at the school (one of the references to the title... living "among others" - though the others might refer to the fairies, too).
In her loneliness, Mori finds solace in books, but longs to find a few like minded souls (a "karass" - a reference to a group of like minded souls from Kurt Vonnegut's book, Cat's Cradle). Eventually she even tries working a magic spell to help her find a karass - and succeeds - but her use of magic has the unwanted effect of attracting her mother's attention.
The karass that Mori finds wasn't quite what one might expect - but it was perfect! - here's a hint: one of the kindred spirits in her karass makes this comment:
Bibliotropic," Hugh said. "Like sunflowers are heliotropic, they naturally turn towards the sun. We naturally turn towards the bookshop.
Another member of her karass is Wim (a British nickname for William - LOVE IT!!!) Wim is judged by others and is surprised that Mori doesn't judge him... it's clear her open-mindedness is related to all the literature she's drenched in. She also has a plethora of insightful comments and observations about life, often framed as questions, which I really liked.
Does it mean that it doesn't matter if it's magic or not, anything you do has power and consequences and affects other people?
On waiting for God’s plan to unfold:
If I were omnipotent and omniscient I think I could have come up with a better [plan]. Lightning bolts never go out of fashion.
A word on the fairies: they appear on a spectrum from little ugly gnome-like things to tall, beautiful LOTR elvish creatures. They don't play a large role, but they show up just often enough to add a fascinating dimension to the story, and a climax that ties in gloriously with the very beginning of the story.
And a word on the magic, which was unique and subtle and amusing:
At home I walked through a haze of belongings that knew, at least vaguely, who they belonged to. Grampar’s chair resented anyone else sitting on it as much as he did himself....My mother’s shoes positively vibrated with consciousness. Our toys looked out for us. There was a potato knife in the kitchen that Gramma couldn’t use. It was an ordinary enough brown-handled thing, but she’d cut herself with it once, and ever after it wanted more of her blood. If I rummaged through the kitchen drawer, I could feel it brooding. After she died, that faded. Then there were the coffee spoons, rarely used, tiny, a wedding present. They were made of silver, and they knew themselves superior to everything else and special. None of these things did anything. The coffee spoons didn’t stir the coffee without being held or anything. They didn’t have conversations with the sugar tongs about who was the most cherished. I suppose what they really did was physiological. They confirmed the past, they connected everything, they were threads in a tapestry.
(Also loved the reference to how the Christmas ornaments were full of magic, but Mori wasn't sure if the three aunties realized it, but she was fairly sure they knew about the magic in their earrings, and that getting Mori to pierce her ears and wear their earrings would... oops, that's a spoiler, sort of).
In addition to friends and fairies and a very subtle magic, this book is also about family: Mori getting to know her newly discovered father and grandfather (Sam!) and three new "aunties" (who are love-to-hate characters almost picked out of some yet-as-undiscovered Jane Austen book).
There's also her beloved Welsh Grampar (her other grandfather) and Auntie Teg... and memories of her twin sister and the epic battle they fought against their witch mother to keep her from using her magic to control the fairies.
All the characters in this story felt like real people (they probably were real people) and so vivid that I remember all their names very distinctly, even 3 weeks after finishing the story. Most of the lovable characters are book worms (but not all of them, like Auntie Teg and her fairy-seeing cat). I was especially delighted that the librarians become Mori's friends.
Friends, family, fairies... I still need to mention the boarding school and, I'm not yet done mentioning the books. I sincerely hope that English boarding schools these days put doors in bathroom and shower stalls; in the 1970's doors and privacy were not permitted. Also, who knew that boarding schools were so loud?? No wonder why Mori spent most of her time in the library. I had a sudden terrible thought while reading this story: the fact that these kids had to suffer through high school cafeterias not just for lunch but for breakfast and dinner, too. Oh the poor dear souls!
However, the real life boarding school did have one similarity to Hogwarts: a magical train. Well, sort of magical:
I love the train. Sitting here I feel connected to the last time I sat here, and the train to London too. It is in-between, suspended; and in rapid motion towards and away from, it is also poised between. There's a magic in that, not a magic you can work, a magic that's just there, giving a little colour and exhilaration to everything.
And while I'm at it, I simply must mention the mountains, and Mori's love of maps:
I love the mountains. I love the kind of horizon they make, even in winter. When we went down again, towards Merthyr first and then over the shoulder of the mountain to Aberdare, where Auntie Teg walked, once, when she was still in school, it felt like nestling back down in a big quilt.
"I bought a map of Europe, with Germany huge and no Czechoslovakia. I think it must be from the war, or right before...I couldn't resist it…I don't know what I'm going to do with it. But maps are brill.
But oh the books in this story, oh the books! Truly this story was written as an ode to books and bookworms. I especially loved the blend of reality, fantasy and science fiction:
I wonder if there will be fairies in space? It's a more possible thought in Clarke's universe than Heinlein's somehow, even though Clarke's engineering seems just as substantial. I wonder if it's because he's British? Never mind space, do they even have fairies in America?
(Note to self: revisit a couple Arthur C. Clarke books) (and try some Delany books. And Zelazny).
Every reference to the Lord of the Rings just made my heart sing, and the ending is where books and magic intersected in a breathtaking and stand-up-and-cheer way. A few of my favorite LOTR references:
I am reading The Lord of the Rings. I suddenly wanted to. I almost know it by heart, but I can still sink right into it. I know no other book that is so much like going on a journey. When I put it down to this, I feel as if I am also waiting with Pippin for the echoes of that stone down the well.
"The thing about Tolkien, about The Lord of the Rings, is that it's perfect. It's this whole world, this whole process of immersion, this journey. It's not, I'm pretty sure, actually true, but that makes it more amazing, that someone could make it all up. Reading it changes everything.
"Oaks hang onto their leaves all winter, like mallorns, so it's easy to find them.
"Finished LOTR, with the usual sad pang of reaching the end and there being no more of it.
LOTR certainly changed my world, though it's hard to say exactly how. It made my life deeper, somehow... and also broader....more