If there's one thing my lapsed Catholic self is always going to jump on, it's a book that compares the historical facts about the life of Jesus to the...moreIf there's one thing my lapsed Catholic self is always going to jump on, it's a book that compares the historical facts about the life of Jesus to the religious beliefs that surround him.
Like most academic books, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth is dense with information. This isn't a quick read, and I don't think author Reza Aslan intends it to be. As the introduction notes, the author was raised Muslim, embraced Christianity after a camp experience, and finally developed a more academic approach to religion.
For those raised to appreciate the Bible as a literal report, Zealot will be a difficult book to internalize. We're taught to believe that the Gospels are pure fact, that there is no confusion about Jesus' intentions, that certain tenets of the faith are indisputable. Aslan cites historical knowledge about the region and culture at the time Jesus would have lived, and compares it to Biblical verses, showing ways in which Christianity may have been molded to better fit the political climate it found itself in at the time.
For those willing to look at Christianity with an open mind and interested in its evolution, this is a can't miss read, and far more preferable to the inanity of a Dan Brown novel.
This book was provided by the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.(less)
It's taken me ages to getting around to writing this review, mainly because I didn't know how to frame it. I'm going with Facebook status "It's compli...moreIt's taken me ages to getting around to writing this review, mainly because I didn't know how to frame it. I'm going with Facebook status "It's complicated" for this review.
I first "met" Madge Madigan on Twitter, after hearing some local buzz about When Life Gives You Lemons... At Least You Won't Get Scurvy and naturally, I wanted to read anything by a local writer.
It took a little bit, but then she retweeted her daughter and I realized she had to be the ex-wife of a cousin I haven't seen in years. And I'd never met her.
So with that frame of reference, I have to state that it's just a little bit odd reading about things that happened involving a cousin you knew since birth but haven't seen in probably 15 or 20 years. And obviously, it makes it just a little awkward reviewing the book.
Madigan takes a brutally honest yet humorous look at life -- specifically hers as a single mother of three teens. As those of us who've been down that road know quite well, the whole Carol Brady routine doesn't exactly work out that way in real life. We're often doing the bulk of -- or in Madigan's case, all of -- the parenting, have to field questions we never thought we'd have to answer (boy things), and do all of that on what's probably a severely reduced income.
Madigan's voice is likeable and very easy to read, and the essays she includes in the book are quick reads, yet make it easy to put the book down and come right back to where you were. I read it over a couple of days in small chunks, and once I got past the inherent awkwardness in knowing a lot of the players as she described her married life, found it both poignant and humorous. I relate all too well to many of her stories.
If I have one quibble, I'd like to have seen more flow through the book tying the essays together. Most of them are reprinted blog posts, and while they have introductions, I'd love to see more of a continuous flow. Unlike most humor books, this one is about the reality that is a divorced single mom's life, and I found myself wanting to have more information, especially as it related to the timeline of events.
That's a small quibble however, and I'd recommend this book for anyone, not just those of us who are single moms, although I think we're the ones who'll "get it" more. (less)
Being a huge fan of John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, to the point where I dragged my then-husband along on the walking tour of...moreBeing a huge fan of John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, to the point where I dragged my then-husband along on the walking tour of Savannah based on the book during our honeymoon, the promise of Marilyn Bardsley's After Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil was too tempting to resist. Billed as a background and "true facts" version of Berendt's book, Bardsley's takes a journalistic approach to the events surrounding the four(!) murder trials of Jim Williams.
While the interviews with Williams' friends and associates were interesting, overall, the book felt like an overlong term paper. On at least one occasion, Bardsley breaks the fourth wall, noting that something will be discussed "in the next chapter" and self-inserting more than once, distracting from the story itself.
The title alone may be responsible for some of the lackluster feelings I had reading it; linking the book so closely with a book known for its remarkable characters, you go in expecting the same larger-than-life drama that Berendt's book had. Instead, you find yourself reading a very dry recitation of facts. Berendt may have oversold Jim Williams, but for someone who led such a colorful life, Bardsley undersells him to the point that the book would probably hold few readers' interest without the tie-in to Berendt's version of events.(less)
It feels like I may be the last person to read Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, a New York Times Bestseller now out in paperbac...moreIt feels like I may be the last person to read Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, a New York Times Bestseller now out in paperback (which is how I picked it up: on an impulse-buy sale table at a bookstore).
The book, which took Skloot over ten years to research and write, tells the complicated story of Henrietta Lacks, a poor black woman treated for cervical cancer in the early 1950s, whose cancer cells were taken for research without her knowledge or consent and gave rise to much of the medical research we take for granted today, including cancer research, vaccine research, etc. The cells are still bought and sold, and Lacks' family had no idea any of this was going on for over twenty years -- until researchers began to wonder about the person the cells came from.
Skloot tells the story by going back and forth in time: from present time to when the story about where the cells came from was first breaking, to when Henrietta was still alive and the research was first occurring. Some may balk at the presentation of Lacks' family: many still live in poverty, without education, and have had multiple run-ins with the law. Others may be frustrated at the lack of detailed explanation of the science behind the cell research, and want Skloot to have delved into this area more.
What Skloot has done, however, is provide an overview that makes it easy for most to understand the complicated area of ethics when it comes to medical research. The juxtaposition of Lacks' family's current position vs. the multi-billion-dollar corporations that have been built on the back of the HeLa research should be enough to make any reader wonder.
Having participated in medical research as a subject, and knowing what now goes into informed consent compared to what happened to Henrietta Lacks (and other "studies" mentioned in the book like the Tuskegee syphilis experiment), its amazing to see how far the medical industry has come in just sixty years -- and how much further it has to go.
There may be readers who want more details about cell research or other types of medical research after reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, or who wished that the parts about Lacks' family were omitted, but with the number of uninsured Americans we have in the face of a huge medical industry (of which I am one), I think the social commentary is one worth looking at beyond just the science.
When I spotted Sew Iconic by Liz Gregory in a list of titles I could request at NetGalley, I jumped at the chance. What novice costumer hasn't wanted...moreWhen I spotted Sew Iconic by Liz Gregory in a list of titles I could request at NetGalley, I jumped at the chance. What novice costumer hasn't wanted to recreate some of Hollywood's glamour in his or her own home? I devoured the galley in a single evening, and will, in all likelihood, be purchasing the real thing when it comes out this June so I can have the patterns; at the list price, the patterns for six dresses is a steal.
::: Like Crack for Costume Nuts :::
Gregory takes 10 dresses she deems iconic, from one of Audrey Hepburn's dresses from Breakfast at Tiffanys to the green gown Keira Knightly wore in Atonement and breaks them down for the at-home sewer, providing patterns as well as a synopsis of the movie the dress appeared in, interesting trivia about the costume designer, and directions for sewing the dresses. Each section has pictures of the dresses as they appeared in the movies as well as the recreations that should result from the book's directions, with multiple views of each. Gregory also includes basic sewing instructions before the reader even begins getting into the dresses (including how to alter each pattern for your own size) as well as suggestions for updating the dresses or changing them up to match your own wardrobe.
::: If There's a Sequel ... :::
... and I hope there is, there are a few things I hope are changed. As the dresses get more complicated (Rose's gown from Titanic, anyone?), they begin to look less like their movie inspirations, simply because it costs thousands to make some of the more complicated movie costumes. I'd rather have seen Gregory pick other, simpler dresses that are less expensive to recreate and look closer to the real thing; with so many popular movies to choose from, there have to be more than the 10 she chose. Branching into television, you can go even further, and venture into cosplay ideas. I'm more likely to make the iconic Lucille Ball polka dot dress than Rose's from Titanic with all that beading, and if Gregory is shooting for accuracy, simpler is better.
Still, the book is a quick read and has helpful tips for even experienced sewers. I'm excited to see how the actual patterns work out.(less)
I jumped at the chance to obtain an advance reader copy of Margaret Overton's Good in a Crisis: A Memoir via NetGalley; as a divorce survivor myself,...moreI jumped at the chance to obtain an advance reader copy of Margaret Overton's Good in a Crisis: A Memoir via NetGalley; as a divorce survivor myself, the opportunity to read someone else's version of how it goes, especially when the book is being compared to Nora Ephron's Heartburn, was a must-read.
Good in a Crisis: A Memoir starts out as a compelling read; Overton has a witty voice that's easy to read, and her ability to laugh in the face of just about any embarrassing event, including the discovery of the aneurysm that followed her separation from her husband, is to be envied. Overton is blunt and succinct, and usually able to sum up in one sentence what many of us discover during a divorce: There are no winners, only bigger jerks. Her tales of online dating and friend fix-ups had me near tears from laughing so hard, because they were so familiar an experience to those friends have gone through.
About halfway through, however, Good in a Crisis: A Memoir suddenly becomes an entirely different book. Where it began as what felt like witty banter among friends, it becomes, for the second half, a far more serious and reflective book, focusing on death and sorrow and depression. The second half was much harder to read, possibly because it felt like a completely different book than the one I'd thought I was reading. It was still good, and still had much to say about life and loss, and rated separately, I'd probably have given it a four-star rating, but the jarring transition from the first half to the second was a difficult one to make. It may have been a different read for me had I known what to expect going in, but as it was, I was somewhat disappointed in the second half, which seemed to drag.
Overall, it was still a very worthwhile read, but at this point in my life, I'd have preferred to read more of the first half and less of the second.
I'm something of a Bourdain addict, having first discovered him via his Travel Channel show eating his way through disturbing things in out-of-the-way...moreI'm something of a Bourdain addict, having first discovered him via his Travel Channel show eating his way through disturbing things in out-of-the-way locales, then via his book A Cook's Tour, so I came to Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly in a somewhat backward fashion.
That said, this is a brilliant piece of work. You don't expect celebrity chefs to write this well (even if they do have a couple of works of fiction under their belts), and you assume ghostwriters come into play, but Bourdain manages to come off as completely self-effacing, while at the same time, as point-blank, often vulgar, and offensive as his television persona would suggest.
Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly takes you through every back room and secret of the world's kitchens you might ever want to know (and plenty you probably don't want to know; I may never eat chicken again). However, it's impossible to not want to eat everything in sight while reading this, and none of the processed food you buy in the grocery stores, either. Bourdain speaks of food, and the cooking of same, with such love, and reverence, that you can't help but be drawn in.
The book isn't without its humor, however, and the characters he describes, including himself, aren't to be missed.(less)
William Styron's Darkness Visible has been on my TBR list for years, probably since its release. He was one of the first authors to be open about his...moreWilliam Styron's Darkness Visible has been on my TBR list for years, probably since its release. He was one of the first authors to be open about his battles with mental illness, and having written a thesis on the seemingly inextricable tie between authors and suicide for a psychology seminar I needed to cobble together a minor for graduation while in undergrad, Styron's memoir intrigued me.
While he is candid about his struggles with depression, the memoir is written in a very stream-of-consciousness manner, and Styron often went off on tangents about others he knew who struggled with mental illness, or historical factoids about figures such as Lincoln who were rumored to have dealt with depression. In addition, he spoke of his struggles with an almost emotionless detachment -- probably necessary for him to get through it, but it leaves the reader feeling just as detached from the writing.(less)
When I first found out that I was pregnant, I ran right out and bought myself a copy of What to Expect When You Are Expecting ("WTE"). By the end of m...moreWhen I first found out that I was pregnant, I ran right out and bought myself a copy of What to Expect When You Are Expecting ("WTE"). By the end of my third month, I had pitched it into the corner of my bedroom in terror (come to think of it, I never did find that book when we moved...) and ran out and got The Girlfriends' Guide based on the recommendations of the women I had met at BabyCenter.com. I'm so glad I did.
Unlike most pregnancy books that you will find, Vicki Iovine comes to you with the style that is exactly what the title describes: it's just like a Girlfriend talking to you on the phone. In all my 29 years as a woman, only one friend ever told me what pregnancy was really like, and I had forgotten most of what she said! Vicki and her cast of Girlfriends are upfront and honest about everything from hemorrhoids to incontinence. Who knew that there was so much no one shared?
Narrated in a light-hearted tone, Vicki (and I call her that because I'm a Girlfriend now) seems to be whispering over a table at lunch in a conspiratorial, gossipy tone. From encouraging you to lie to your husband about when the ban on sexual relations is over to encouraging you to take advantage of your husband's amazement at the ordeal of childbirth, you really feel like you have your best friend with you while you are pregnant.
There were many a day when I was scared of some new pregnancy development. Rather than consult the gloom and doom of WTE, which had me convinced from the get-go that I was doing it all wrong, I checked in with Vicki, who reassured me that what was happening happened to a LOT of pregnant women. I wouldn't recommend not calling your doctor if you have a real concern, but on subjects like what a hemorrhoid feels like, it's a lot less embarrassing having Vicki share than calling your doctor to ask.
Needless to say, I was so thrilled to have my new Girlfriend that I went out and got Vicki's book about baby's first year. And I'm hoping someone gets me the toddler book for Christmas. Now if she will just write one about pre-teens and teenagers, I'll be able to face the rest of this job as a parent. I'm looking forward to a Girlfriends Guide to Your Daughter Dating. Maybe my husband will even read it.
In adding shelves for Jon Krakauer's Three Cups of Deceit, I was tempted to add "true crime" to the list, because that's essentially what this is. The...moreIn adding shelves for Jon Krakauer's Three Cups of Deceit, I was tempted to add "true crime" to the list, because that's essentially what this is. The insanely popular and motivational story behind Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea is tragic only in its reflection on American society. While Mortenson may have started off with good intentions, the intense desire for fame and fortune and the pile-on of Americans looking for a feel-good story may have contributed to one of the most obscene scams in recent history.
Krakauer, a former supporter of Mortenson's organization, provides an exhaustive look at Mortenson's lies, omissions, and exaggerations that include everything from the back story (he claims he was held hostage by terrorists when photographs show him joking around and holding weapons alongside his "captors") to where the donations to his organization are actually going (it's alleged that his organization buys scores of copies of his books to prop up sales).
If even half the allegations in Three Cups of Deceit are true, Mortenson has a lot to answer for. At the very least, it should encourage people to look closely at the organization they are sending their money to. It may never reach where you intend.(less)
My husband is an avowed Food Network addict. From his game of playing Spot the Pot (finding his favorite Le Creuset dutch oven used by his favorite ch...moreMy husband is an avowed Food Network addict. From his game of playing Spot the Pot (finding his favorite Le Creuset dutch oven used by his favorite chefs) to his laughter at mocking Rachael Ray's lousy tipping, Food Network shows occupy approximately half our evening television watching. Every so often, a show comes on that we both like, and when I found the book version of Anthony Bourdain's A Cook's Tour: In Search of the Perfect Meal, I grabbed it for him for Christmas. Little did I know that I'd read the book first, but that's life.
::: Anthony Bourdain, Gonzo Chef :::
Anthony Bourdain has been referred to as the "Hunter S. Thomspon" of the culinary world, and that description might not be too far off the mark. If you caught even one episode of the Food Network show bearing the same name as the book, you probably spotted Bourdain doing one of two things: smoking or drinking, and probably both. A Cook's Tour: In Search of the Perfect Meal is the unedited version of his quest to travel the world for the perfect meal, or, as he confesses in the book, to travel all over the world eating and drinking his face off on someone's expense account.
A Cook's Tour: In Search of the Perfect Meal is not for the faint of heart. Even if you watched some of the more "out there" episodes of the television show, you might not be prepared for Bourdain's no-holds-barred descriptions of some of his experiences, from slaughtering a pig in Portugal to bouts of food poisoning in Asia.
::: Non-Sequential Ramblings :::
A Cook's Tour: In Search of the Perfect Meal does not follow Bourdain's tour sequentially, but rather, follows his own stream-of-consciousness recollections of his tour. The book begins with a letter home to his wife that describes the utter lack of glamor of the trip, and follows along a rambling path that takes us to Europe, Vietnam, Mexico, Cambodia, the former Soviet Union, back to Vietnam, and through the rest of his tour. Bourdain describes not only the fantastic meals featured on the show (every piece of a cobra including its still-beating heart, anyone?), but also the people he met, and the overall ambiance of the countries he fell in love with.
Bourdain minces no words when it comes to his feeling of selling out by agreeing to the television show, and his obvious distaste for some of the "created" moments the producers and camera crews foisted on him is all too clear. As a loyal watcher, I felt vindicated in the uneven feeling I had when watching, but having read Bourdain's own account of his trip, I can now see that the episodes I enjoyed were parts of his journey where he enjoyed himself, and the parts I didn't were more of the "forced" situations.
Regardless of whether or not you have a cast-iron stomach, most of the food that Bourdain describes will have your mouth watering. His descriptions of the meals he loved left even my currently pregnancy-poisoned mouth watering, and I swear that he can make even haggis sound like a tempting treat. His obvious delight in native culture is never so apparent than in his descriptions of his time in Mexico and in Vietnam, where he seems almost like a child in a candy store with an unlimited pocket of change: out to experience every single morsel of goodness that he can. From roasted goat in Morocco to caviar in St. Petersburg to a simple bown of pho in the morning in Vietnam, Bourdain describes an entire experience, from the food to people to sights and sounds.
::: Reader Discretion Advised :::
Bourdain pulls no punches in his writing, which might make A Cook's Tour: In Search of the Perfect Meal unsuitable for a gift for grandma. He makes no secret of his drug use (both former addiction to heroin and current recreational use of marijuana and hash) and lets fly with his opinions at the drop of a hat. His utter disdain for Food Network hosts had me laughing out loud, because I truly thought there was no person on Earth who found Bobby Flay as annoying as I did until I read the book. He describes his wife punching out another woman in a bar, and doesn't bat an eye when discussing the prostitution prevalent in areas of Asia he visits. And woe betide the card-carrying PETA member, for Bourdain does not suffer vegans silently, nor anyone who prevents him from smoking.
However, for anyone who has always wanted to have a foodie tour of the world without the innate fears many of us have about eating from street vendors or being served possibly endangered species, A Cook's Tour: In Search of the Perfect Meal is a must-read.
While I can't name a favorite band or composer or movie, I've never had a problem naming my favorite author: Madeleine L'Engle. With the exception of...moreWhile I can't name a favorite band or composer or movie, I've never had a problem naming my favorite author: Madeleine L'Engle. With the exception of out-of-print titles I've never been able to track down, I've read most of her work, from poetry to short stories to children's books to her journals. One of my favorites, however, is Two Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage, L'Engle's part journal, part tribute to her husband.
::: Parallels :::
Two Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage appears to be written over the course of a summer, a summer in which L'Engle is slowly but surely losing her husband unexpectedly to bladder cancer. As L'Engle works her way through the summer, and each stage her husband's illness moves through, she is brought back to points in her own life and relationships, meditating as much on what is past as what is present.
L'Engle's own life was rich for fiction mining, and any devoted reader will be delighted at the insights they are given into how much of herself she put into her characters. Like Meg from the Time books, L'Engle herself had "hair-colored hair" and was extremely nearsighted. She shares that when she was dating her husband, she refused to wear her glasses so he wouldn't see her in them, and on a movie date, she was unable to even see the movie. Like Philippa Hunter in And Both Were Young, she had a very unconventional childhood, raised by parents who were very focused on the arts, and she spent her youth in boarding schools. Like Katharine Forrester of The Small Rain and A Severed Wasp, L'Engle played piano several hours a day (though she wasn't a performer), had problems with birthing her children that were nearly fatal, and she lived in a cherished apartment on Tenth Street in New York City. Best of all, the devoted reader will learn that Canon Tallis, who appears is so many of L'Engle's books, was a real person.
::: An Ideal, Not Perfect, Marriage :::
L'Engle was married to actor Hugh Franklin, a successful stage actor who is probably best known for his role as Dr. Tyler on the soap opera All My Children. Their social circle included a close friendship with Walter and Jean Kerr (the famous critic and author, respectively) and other famous people, but L'Engle never sounds as if she is name-dropping, or makes the reader feel that he or she should be impressed by who they knew. Famous people are people like anyone else, and have their own joys and heartaches, and L'Engle conveys a true sense of gratitude that she has been surrounded by such talented and creative people, focusing more on the gifts of friendship rather than the so-called glory of fame.
The real heart of Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage, however, is her relationship with Franklin. She looks at her forty years of marriage with a great sense of accomplishment, and while her memories of the past may seem to focus on the "better" described in so many marriage vows, the suffering she describes when a spouse and soulmate is terminally ill can definitely be said to be the "worse." L'Engle is very much human in her anger and frustration at her husband's continuing deterioration, and it is amazing to see the process through which she works through all her emotions to get to the point where she can truly pray for what is best for her husband, rather than pray for what she wants, which is obviously a cure.
One of the most amazing things to me has been the repeated claim that L'Engle must be anti-Christian because of some of the themes she has written about, especially in the Time books. Without bonking the reader over the head with a Bible, L'Engle conveys the same strong faith that I have always found laced through her books, while still allowing herself to question that faith. She is never preachy, but rather shows how her faith is woven seamlessly into her life.
There is a Conrad Aiken quote repeated in the book; it makes its first appearance when Franklin uses it as part of his proposal to L'Engle, and she shares it again when the book reaches the end of his life:
Music I heard with you was more than music, and bread I broke with you was more than bread.
There is no doubt that L'Engle's life was enriched by her marriage to Franklin, and reading Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage allows the reader to feel that she has been given a great treasure in sharing even a piece of what they had together.
After reading Marjane Satrapi's first novel, Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood, I was riveted, and felt as if I was left hanging at the end, wantin...moreAfter reading Marjane Satrapi's first novel, Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood, I was riveted, and felt as if I was left hanging at the end, wanting to know what happened to this girl who would suddenly be on her own in Europe after her parents sent her out of Iran to safety. Persepolis: The Story of a Return continues this story, and the events are almost more difficult than those of the first book.
::: Europe :::
When Satrapi left us at the end of the first book, she had just been sent to Europe by her parents, to get her away from the war in her native Iran. She was to stay with her mother's best friend, but that situation quickly deteriorated, and at 14, Satrapi found herself living in a boarding house run by nuns. She now finds herself alone, with no friends and no family, in a country where she doesn't even speak the language.
Compounding the trouble is the bigotry that she meets up with as someone of Middle Eastern descent. She doesn't feel that she belongs anywhere, has a difficult time making friends at school, ends up being kicked out of the boarding house due to a confrontation with one of the nuns who ran it that included some ethnic slurs, and generally, does what any teen would probably end up doing in the same situation: falling in with the wrong crowd.
Satrapi spirals downward into a life of drugs and depression, finally ending up living on the streets before she falls ill and returns to Iran, where she once again is a displaced person; not quite still feeling like a native, and not quite feeling like a European.
::: Depressing :::
Satrapi's drawings in this graphic autobiography are the same style as in her first volume, but for some reason, they seem all the more depressing this time around. While it's still fascinating to see the perspective of someone who lived through the war there, especially someone who has spent time in the West, there is such a sense of futility and gloom that permeates Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return.
In the first book, Satrapi seemed a beacon of hope in a time and world full of horrors and strife. When she left for Europe, you hoped that she would be safe and have a normal life, but the "normal" she found in Europe was actually anything but. I actually had a difficult time getting through this continuation just because it was so depressing, and the return to Iran seemed more like a defeat than a homecoming.
Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return was still a great read, but sometimes knowing that you are reading the story of a real person weighs much too heavily.
Occasionally, I browse through Amazon.com looking for out-of-print books that I remember loving as a child, searching for something for my five-year-o...moreOccasionally, I browse through Amazon.com looking for out-of-print books that I remember loving as a child, searching for something for my five-year-old daughter Beanie to enjoy as well. One of my favorite books was a worn Scholastic version of Helen Doss' The Family Nobody Wanted, and when I saw it had been rereleased, I added it to my very next order.
::: Creating a Family :::
The story of The Family Nobody Wanted starts with Helen Doss and her husband Carl, a journeyman painter who decides to quit fighting his calling, go back to school, and become a minister. Unable to have children of their own, the couple attempted to being adoption proceedings, only to be turned away every time due to the instability of finances, long waiting lists, and all the familiar stories. After years of waiting, Carl and Helen finally are able to adopt Donny, the child they've been waiting for, but when they attempt to add on to their family later, they discover that there are many children considered "unadoptable" because of their race.
Carl and Helen soon realize that their best chances of adding to their family are by taking in some of these children that "nobody wants" and so begins an amazing story of a couple who eventually adopted a total of 12 children, all but Donny and Suzie being of mixed or "undesirable" race.
::: The Original Super-Mom :::
While the premise of The Family Nobody Wanted sounds like something you'd find in just about any issue of People magazine, adopting multi-racial children wasn't accepted as it is now in an age where foreign adoptions seem almost more commonplace than domestic adoptions. The Dosses had to deal with not only economic issues with adopting their children, but also the typical prejudices of the age.
Even the social workers that they came in contact with seemed stunted by bigotry; one suggested that their one daughter who was part Mexican might have a harder time making friends than their Caucasian daughter. Other people asked if the Asian babies wanted chop suey instead of formula, and criticized Helen for not giving the Hispanic children spicy food. For the most part, however, the reaction to their multi-racial family takes a back burner to a far more inspirational story; how a couple could sacrifice time and time again to provide a home for children who might otherwise have ended up in an institutional setting until they reached adulthood.
The Dosses were actually made famous in a Life magazine spread in the 1950s, at which point they had nine of the 12 children they would end up with. Helen Doss actually wrote the book after the article appeared in Life, which generated interest in their story, and then the book disappeared. The reprinting includes an introduction by Mary Battenfeld, which talks about the impact that the book had, and also an epilogue by the author, which gives a brief overview of what had happened to the family in the almost 50 years since the book was published.
The best part for me was that, after I'd reread the book for myself, Beanie took off with it. Less than a day later, she returned the book (having skipped the introduction), and told me how much she loved it. I'm so happy that the book has been rereleased for another generation to love.
After rereading A Year in Provence, my next logical book to read was Toujours Provence, Peter Mayle's follow-up to the wildly successful A Year in Pro...moreAfter rereading A Year in Provence, my next logical book to read was Toujours Provence, Peter Mayle's follow-up to the wildly successful A Year in Provence. To be honest, while I could remember reading the first book, I had no recollection of reading Toujours Provence and now I remember why.
::: When a Sequel Isn't a Sequel :::
A Year in Provence dealt with Mayle and his wife's move to Provence, near the Lubéron, their struggles with the language, their interesting neighbors, and the renovations they were making to their house while they explored their new neighborhood. That book progressed logically a month at a time; relationships developed over periods of months; and renovations progress or don't progress as the year goes by.
Toujours Provence takes the familiar neighbors, workmen, and narrative structure and tosses them all right out the window. No longer is there any sort of continuity to Mayle's writing, but rather a collection of short vignettes, some of which might tie into an earlier story or theme, but most that just seem like a glimpse into lives we were given a front-row seat to in A Year in Provence.
Chapters in Toujours Provence are given actual titles, a departure from the month titles of the previous book, and it's very telling. The titles feel like titles to magazine articles, which each short section might very well be. We get short stories without much follow-through, and as the book progresses, the readers is left to feel almost as if they are being pushed back from an interesting scene by a police barricade. A first glimpse of the Mayles' life as Madame Mayle adopts a new dog (bringing their total to three) toward the beginning of the book gives way to fewer and fewer mentions of Madame Mayle, fewer interactions with the fascinating neighbors like Massot and Faustin we met in A Year in Provence, and more and more of a feeling that Mayle is saying the "nos" to his readers that he isn't able to say to the guests who invite themselves for vacations at his house.
::: Is It Horrible? :::
Toujours Provence is in no means a horrible book, and if expectations after A Year in Provence weren't so high, it would probably be a very decent read: witty and interesting. But I don't find it odd at all that there were several reviews of the first book, which won awards, and no reviews of Toujours Provence, because it just isn't that memorable a book. I think that Mayle kept the reader at too far a distance with this book for it to be the must-read that its predecessor was, and that's a great loss.
In the course of thinning out my book herd, I've been reading books that I haven't read in years, trying to determine whether I should keep them, or m...moreIn the course of thinning out my book herd, I've been reading books that I haven't read in years, trying to determine whether I should keep them, or move them along. Going back to Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence was like going back to an old friend's house, but I've never been so hungry in my life as the two times I've read this book.
::: The Dream :::
Mayle and his wife live out a dream come true, dropping everything, selling their home, and moving full-time to Provence, a region of France generally known to span from the Alps to the Rhône River, with the Côte d'Azur in the southern section. Known for its food, its wine, and its perfumes, it is a popular vacation destination in Europe, with a generally Mediterranean climate. Mayle's book chronicles their first year in the 200-year-old farmhouse that they bought in a rural area of Provence, including their struggles with the language, renovation of the house, and settling in with their new neighbors.
::: The Year :::
A Year in Provence is broken into twelve chapters, one per month, beginning in January as they start out their new life in Provence and ending with their first Christmas. What makes the book so interesting (and for me, misplaced in the travel section) is that it focuses much more on the culture of Mayle's area of Provence rather than on the scenery. He includes tales of restaurants and meals eaten there, but even more memorable than the food are the chefs and servers that he meets, the additional knowledge and culture that they often impart. One woman sends Mayle to an olive oil mill, and we learn about the world of olive oil, which is almost as intricate as that of wine.
Even better are the characters Mayle introduces us to. We meet Faustin, who runs the vineyard on Mayle's property, the curmudgeonly neighbor Massot, and a host of skilled laborers who are in and out most of the year while working on the home renovations. Each individual the Mayles meet helps them on their journey from tourists who moved to Provence to something resembling natives. Each experience, from goat races to plumbing issues, is related in such detail that you almost believe you are there, and reading this book on an empty stomach will leave you pricing flights online.
::: The Final Say :::
A Year in Provence is one of those books that you can read a chapter every so often, or all at once. Like one of the excellent meals Mayle describes, it's a delicious read, and leaves you hungering not only for the food, but also for more on some of the characters. You feel as if they have become old friends, and I'm eagerly anticipating re-reading the follow-up, Toujours Provence.
My mother recently brought me over boxes of books I haven't seen in years, one of which was Genie: A Scientific Tragedy. When I was still in college,...moreMy mother recently brought me over boxes of books I haven't seen in years, one of which was Genie: A Scientific Tragedy. When I was still in college, I had planned on doing my senior psychology thesis on "unattached" children as they were called at the time, children who never properly bonded with a caregiver, and as a result, seemed to have no conscience. I was first drawn to Genie because her story begins with such unbelievable abuse and neglect that I assumed the story was about such a child.
::: Genie's Story :::
When Genie was first discovered, it was accidental. Her mother walked into the wrong office at social services, and a story of horrific abuse was discovered. A child they thought was approximately six was, in fact, thirteen. She was malnourished and couldn't speak. They soon learned that her father had abused her, tying her to a potty chair by day and caging her at night.
During the ensuing hospital stay, a team of doctors and other specialists determined that Genie would make an excellent research study, and for the next four years, she was studied in an attempt to learn how children developed if they were deprived of any normal conversation, toys, play, or human interaction.
::: The Book :::
Russ Rymer, the author, originally did a shorter version of Genie's story before expanding it into a book. Interspersed with Genie's story are concepts and figures in the field of linguistics (since that was the final focus of the study of Genie) as well as comparisons to the most famous story of a feral child before Genie: Victor, the Wild Child of Aveyron, who was immortalized in a film by Francois Truffaut.
The parallels between the two stories are striking. In both instances, the research became more important than the welfare of the child. Not long after Genie's story begins, the inevitable infighting among the professionals who reportedly want to "help" her. At first, Genie seems to make progress by leaps and bounds, but as her progress stalls and the grant money dries up, the infighting gives way to even more neglect. The end of the story is nearly as tragic as the beginning.
::: Rymer's Telling :::
The story of Genie has been told before Rymer's book, perhaps more famously at the time in the dissertation/book Genie: A Psycholinguistic Study of a Modern-Day "Wild Child" by Susan Curtiss, the graduate student who followed Genie's language acquisition.
Genie: A Scientific Tragedy seems to undertake a retelling of the story, exposing where helping a child was undermined by her viability as a research subject. The parts of the story that actually involve Genie are riveting, and you find yourself wanting to know what became of her, and how the book ended up. However, you are thwarted in your quest by the next exposition section, in which Rymer offers more background on the study of linguistics than anyone but a student might be interested. There are some interesting sections, especially where he refers to studies of brain development and how it applies to the theories made about Genie, but ultimately, he uses more too many linguistic theories and bandies about one too many French phrases without benefit of translation, and comes across as far too pedantic, making the reader feel inferior.
::: Overall :::
Rymer's book is categorized as science, but seems to fail both as a case study and as a scientific inquiry. If approximately 90 or so of the 221 pages were excised, it would be a fascinating read for anyone, but as it is, I'd recommend it only to those with an interest in child development or linguistics.
I found the subtitle to be very appropriate, because science is what added to the tragedy of Genie's life.