Monday, December 31, 2012

Out of My Life and Thought - Albert Schweitzer

A perfect foil to the last book I read and a nice finish to the year.  This is the autobiography of Albert Schweitzer, written in 1931 and with a postscript for 1933-39.  I knew of his charitable work as a doctor in Africa but knew nothing of his background as a theologian, lecturer, teacher, philosopher, author and organist.  He was amazingly prolific in his writings and acquired an extensive education through single minded focus and will.  As a young adult he had realized that:
 " struck me as incomprehensible that I should be allowed to live such a happy life while I saw so many people around me wrestling with care and suffering....there came to me...the thought that I must not accept this happiness as a matter of course, but must give something in return for it".
He finished a doctorate in philosophy and preached and lectured before choosing at the age of 30 to pursue a doctor of medicine with the plan of volunteering to serve in the French Congo, now Gabon, as his means of giving something back.  Imagine taking on a second career requiring seven years of school in order to "give something in return"!  Dr Schweitzer founded a hospital to care for the natives of the Congo which is still in operation today.  While working the rest of his life as a doctor, he continued to write and and develop a universal ethic for life, resulting in his philosophy of the Reverence for Life which he describes as:
"my fundamental principle of morality, namely, that good consists in maintaining, assisting and enhancing life, and to destroy, to harm or to hinder life is evil."
He speaks of all we know for sure is that we have a "will to live" - this is in contrast to Nietzsche's "will to power". He rejects nihilism and embraces a positive meaning to man's existence and lived his beliefs out in caring for others.   "I stand and work in the world today as one who aims at making men less shallow and morally better by making them think".

Reading Nietzsche and Schweitzer exposed me to some of the thinking of the early 20th century when men pondered the meaning of life and existence, where they pursued learning and spoke of serious thoughts.

Published: 1933 with postscript 1932-1949  Read: December 2012   Genre: auto-biography

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Genealogy of Morals - Friedrich Nietzsche

I'll admit, I picked up this Modern Library edition of the classic work written in 1887 because of the word "genealogy" in the title (genealogy being a recent passion of mind) and because I knew very little of Nietzsche's philosophical writings.  It was a difficult read, partly because the language is out of date and largely because it is theoretical beyond my knowledge - stretching the mind is good though!  It took me several nights to read in small bits and I'm sure I missed most of the points being made.  I read up on interpretations of the work and its influence on other writers and philosophers and grasped pieces of understanding.  I won't try to summarize the writing nor recommend it.  My impression reading it from today's perspective is that Nietzsche was wildly passionate about his subject and had difficulty keeping to the point.  Reviewers explained that he was considered witty and ironic and fond of metaphors.  He died at 56 after 12 years in a complete mental collapse (brought on, it is speculated, by advance syphillis), so finished his works by age 44.  I did learn that his philosophy was twisted by Nazi Germany as Nietzsche himself adhered to none of their beliefs.

From a genealogical viewpoint, 1887 would have seen it published when my great-great grandparents were young adults and they and their children could have read it when it became more well-known after his death in 1900.  Being of German descent, maybe they heard of his writings.  The reference to it in the title had nothing to do with generations of people but rather the evolution of thoughts and beliefs over time.  A "genealogy" of a subject was a method of exploring the chronology of and idea or trend or belief.

I won't let this be my last read for 2012, I've another that's about half finished!

Published: 1887  Read: December 2012  Genre: Philosophy  

The End of Men - Hanna Rosin

Subtitle: and the Rise of Women

I bet that title got your attention!  This non-fiction book makes the case for the declining dominance of men in society and the rise of women.  The author explains how women in the last few decades have benefited from changes in society's attitudes and practices toward sex, marriage and education of women and how men have been declining in power.  She refers to the Plastic Woman and the Cardboard Man - plastic in the sense that women have adapted to the demise of the industrial age and taken advantage of sexual liberation, property rights and higher education while men have remain inflexible in adapting to these changes.

Her arguments are a mix of factual statistics and anecdotal cases of women's changing roles.  She uses interviews with 30-somethings dealing with the changing roles to illuminate the trends and changes occurring.  She states that women have less need for marriage because of their ability to support themselves and control childbirth while noting that many of the generation are embracing new models of marriage with stay-at-home Dads and fluid parental and spousal roles.  She explains and provides examples of how the passing of the industrial age and the rise of the knowledge/technical age is to women's advantage as brawn and brute strength skills give way to communication and detail-oriented ones.

In all I thought the evidence was cherry picked and felt that while the trends may be valid they are hardly as widespread as she would claim.  It did give me a different perspective on the lifestyles and environment that the next generation is living and experiencing.

Published: 2012   Read: December 2012   Genre: Non-fiction

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Handle with Care - Jodie Picoult

I did not like this book.  I sort of knew I wouldn't like it about the first 50 pages in but it was a quick read and I wanted to see how the story unwound.  I'd read another of the author's books and realized pretty quick that her stories have a "formula"; main character with a condition (this time "brittle bones" disease; last read was Asperger's), parents who tell their side of the story and a snotty sibling for a different perspective.  I so disliked the mother in this book, a martyr claiming to do the best for her child while she destroys everything around her.  The story is a downer from the beginning and just gets more depressing as the trial for a wrongful birth approaches.  According to Wikipedia, 25 states allow wrongful birth lawsuits which claim negligence on the party of the medical professional in not letting the parents know their unborn child would be disabled.  Presumably, the parents would have aborted the child if they had known.  I reject the premise but then I guess having strong feelings about the issue is exactly what the book meant to do.  Tread carefully if you decide to read this one.

Published:  2009  Read: 12/2012  Genre: Fiction

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Outermost House - Henry Beston

Subtitle: A year of life on the great beach of Cape Cod

I'd had this title on my TBR (To Be Read) list for some time and picked it up in a used bookstore several months ago.  It was written in 1928 and according to the jacket "is considered one of the classics of American nature writing".

The author spent an entire year by himself on the Atlantic Ocean side of the Cape Cod  "hook" of land in a cottage constructed near the beach.  The book reminisces on his observations of nature; tides, waves, marshes, ponds, beaches and the creatures there; birds, deer, fish, even insects.  The writing successfully painted a picture and put me in the experience of a wild, windswept and ocean pounded shore.  Although written 84 years ago, it was as contemporary as if it were written last year.  I doubt the same level of isolation could be accomplished as easily in this age of instant communication.

I've put Cape Cod National Seashore on my bucket list thanks to this book.

Published: 1928  Read: December 2012  Genre: Non-fiction, nature

Sunday, November 25, 2012

House Rules - Jodi Picoult

A teen with Asperger's syndrome is accused of murder when his inability to interpret social cues and communicate normally puts him under suspicion.  But this story is so much more.  The author authentically reveals the history, symptoms and reality of Asperger's.  She shows the dedication and singular focus of a mother trying to love and protect her son.  And she weaves in the experiences of all the family and friends that surround them.

I read this in a couple of late nights and thoroughly enjoyed every page.  The characters were fully developed and real, the plot plausible and I really could not predict how the ending would come out.  One of my reading groups had chosen it but I didn't get to participate in discussion of it.  It was a good balance of factual information and telling a story with characters you care about.  The disease is on the "high functioning" end of the autism scale and has been tied to childhood vaccinations.  It's heart wrenching to read the effect on the child and his parent, brother and every day relationships.  I am left with a greater compassion for families dealing with this illness.

Published: 2010  Read: November 2012  Genre: Fiction

Friday, November 23, 2012

Flight Behavior - Barbara Kingsolver

I've been a fan of Kingsolver for a while and I looked forward to another fiction story from her.

This is the story of Dellarobia Turnbow, a country girl, married in haste, sharing property in the Appalachian mountains with her in-laws, consumed with caring for her two children and unsatisfied with life.  While escaping to a potential trist, she witnesses millions of monarch butterflies that have landed in the forest above her home.  The discovery makes her a local celebrity and provides the backdrop for a lesson in climate change.

It takes the first few chapters to figure out what she's seen and her initial interpretation of it as "flames" just didn't make sense to me.  I was annoyed too in the first third of the book with how Kingsolver described the daily life of Dellarobia.  It didn't feel authentic.  Maybe that's my own inclination to romanticize instead of seeing things for what they are.  The character is painted as a simpleton in the beginning, with no "edge" of modern day which was a disconnect for me.  The story moves on to use the migration of the butterflies as a lesson in the impact of global warming and climate change.  A clumsy transition I felt.  A better story is the relationship between Dellarobia and her mother-in-law, husband and girlfriend.  The ending ties up things too neatly and quickly.

The writing is very descriptive and evokes the scenes in detail, making the reader feel they are standing in Dellarobia's kitchen or the makeshift laboratory observing the characters' interactions.  I tired of the preaching and felt Kingsolver's voice as an outsider to the part of the country and the people she portrays.

Published:  2012  Read: November 2012   Genre: Fiction

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Starting Out in the Afternoon - Jill Frayne

Sub-title: A mid-life journey into wild land

What a delightful gem of a book!  This is an auto-biographical memoir of a Canadian woman driving from her home in the Toronto area to the west coast of Canada to canoe around the Queen Charlotte Islands and take the ferry north to the Yukon.  It's a story of self discovery and finding an anchor in the storm of life.

She camps in a tent from her car, alone, which I found astounding.  Some quotes:

"I like being alone when there's no one around.  It's a nice freedom to be the only one there, humming and coping."

[ This comment reminded me of my Colorado River trip [about the canoe trip guide] "Bob isn't a dynamo, but he is a set-up for fantasies the way guides always are.  All that casual skill."

[On meeting new people]  "What would it be like, I wonder, if our first thought regarding anything was to perceive the kinship, the non-distinction, rather than shouting out to the difference between things?"

[On having a new partner] "What do old new lovers have for each other? The death of their parents.  Their own decline. Humour, if they're lucky.  Thankfulness.  Skill.  Not so bad, perhaps."

She returns home and continues to visit the West Coast to renew herself.  I enjoyed her story.

Published: 2002  Read: November 2012  Genre: auto-biography

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Aftermath - Rachel Cusk

Subtitle: On marriage and separation

A slim autobiographical novel that looked interesting on the library "new releases" shelf, the author had previously written on Motherhood to some acclaim.

She reflects on her feelings and experiences after separating from her husband and sharing their two young daughters.  Some quotes reveal her thoughts:

"My mother may have been my place of birth, but my adopted nationality was my father's.  I got into Oxford, my sister to Cambridge, immigrants to the new country of sexual equality achieving assimilation thorough the second generation."

"What I lived as feminism were in fact the male values my parent, among others, well-meaningly bequeathed to me."

She describes a contributing factor to the failure of her marriage to be her experience of trying to be feminine and yet equal.

I enjoyed some of her writing, she has "a nice turn of phrase" as some writers are described.  The story overall though is whiny and too revealing and the book ends with a strange short story that I frankly didn't get, it was probably intended as a allegory.  I am embarrassed for her daughters to read it when they grow older.

Published:  2012   Read:  November 2012   Genre: Autobiography

Eden's Outcasts - John Matteson

Goodness, I haven't posted in awhile!  I have been reading a lot though, travelling took me away and so its time to catch up.

This is the story of Louisa May Alcott, the author of Little Women, and her father, Bronson Alcott.
It was a fascinating, complex, historic relationship.  (Amos) Bronson Alcott was a member of the transcendentalism movement of the 1830's and 1840's, centered around Concord, Massachusetts. He was a friend and colleague of Emerson, Whitman, Hawthorne and Thoreau - heavy hitters!

Bronson's high ideals did not bode well for the real life care of his wife and 4 daughters, of which Louisa May was number 3.  He was an advocate of the values and beliefs exhibited in the book Pilgrim's Progress and Aids to Reflections by Samuel Coleridge and a devoted father though not a consistent provider.  For example, he kept diaries of the lives of each of his daughters from the time they were born through adolescence to develop a better understanding of childhood development.  The author notes that the children were exposed  to "an almost impossibly dissonant combination of superior intellectual opportunities and frightful worldly deprivation".  The first two thirds of this biography focuses on Bronson's life and work and his friendships with men who would become giants in literature.  Bronson eventually posted some of his own writings but they never rose to the level of his contemporaries in enduring popularity.

If you are like me, you'll keep plugging through, getting a picture of what the U.S. was like prior to and during the Civil War, some distance from the front lines.  Louisa May responded to the calamity by volunteering as a nurse in a hospital for Civil War soldiers   The experience contributed to her maturing from a sheltered childhood to the gritty reality of adult life.

She began writing quite young and published short stories.  Her writing style involved going into a "vortex" of concentrated, frenzied writing, so intense that the author speculates she may have suffered from manic episodes.  Her fictionalized story of four sisters growing up in Little Women, based heavily on herself (as Jo) and her sisters and parents, was a big success and resulted in her readers clamoring for more stories of the lives of the March family, leading to the books, Little Men and finally Jo's Boys.  The influence of her father's teachings is brought out and examined and adds a richness to my memories of Little Women.

She was seen as a champion for women's rights (she was the first woman to register to vote in Concord) and the biographer explores the reactions to her books by the young women of her day.  He states that "altruism lies at the root of Alcott's feminism".  His discussion is well thought out and weaves the stories of Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy into his evidence.  He won the Pulitzer Prize in 2008 for the story.

Louisa May Alcott never married or had children of her own and died only a few days after her father.

Published: 2007  Read: October 2012  Genre: Biography

Friday, October 12, 2012

A Lost Lady - Willa Cather

I'd enjoyed reading the classic by Cather, My Antonia, with one of my reading groups last year.  So when I saw this slim volume at a used bookstore I had to pick it up.  I was not disappointed.

The Lost Lady tells the story of Marian Forrester, wife of a pioneer of the West who unravels as the West migrates from a frontier to a capitalist market.  It's a gently told story from the point of view of a young man, Neil, who idolizes Mrs. Forrester and over time comes to see her all-to-human failings.  I liked the portrayal of the men who came West to create towns and businesses.  Like Neil, I was led to admire, then be disappointed in, Mrs. Forrester as the wife of one of these men.

Published: 1923  Read: October 2012   Genre: Fiction

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

In the Penny Arcade - Steven Millhauser

I picked this book up in a used bookstore because it said the author was a winner of the Pulitzer Prize.  He certainly is an excellent writer.  This is a collection of short stories telling small snippets of life in great detail.  The pictures painted in each tale are vivid and personal, bringing the characters experience into sharp focus.  He weaves in the supernatural occasionally, in the way our minds wander to imaginary happenings.  I may look for his novel, Martin Dressler.

Published: 1981   Read: October 2012   Genre: Short Story fiction

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Paradise of the Blind - Duong Thu Huong

I read this while on a camping trip, sitting in the dappled shade of a pine tree.  All that was blotted out by the hopelessness and misery of this story.  I mistakenly thought it was autobiographical and didn't realize until after finishing it that it was fiction.

This is a story of a young Vietnamese girl who grows up in North Vietnam during the 70's and 80's.  The communist regime's repression separates her family and she is caught between the two sides, a pawn in their battle to eek out some meaning in life.

I felt the author wanted us to see the government as being responsible for the attitudes and actions of the characters.  However, I felt the traditional role of women in Vietnamese culture was more to blame.    The subservient, fatalistic attitude of the main character, her mother and aunt made me want to scream at them.  Their resignation to fate persisted throughout the story, making it difficult to read for me.

The book is banned in Vietnam where it is considered subversive by the government.  The author is now exiled in Paris and continues to write of her homeland.

Published:  2002  Read:  October 2012  Genre: Fiction

Monday, October 1, 2012

Education of a Wandering Man - Louis L'Amour

This is a different kind of auto-biography.  L'Amour wrote a story of his life by describing the books he read.  He was a voracious reader who had a collection of over 1700 books in his private library.
He was born in North Dakota in 1908 and well-known as the author of over 100 "frontier stories"; fiction novels of life on the West frontier.  He read from the time he left home to work as a laborer, merchant seaman, mine assessor and other odd jobs, traveling the world and always seeking out books to learn more of the places he was in.  He engaged locals in conversation and listened to their tales that later enriched his stories.  There were some wonderful observations and a long list of books I'd never heard of.  His story is a testament to the value of reading widely for a lifetime.

"A great book begins with an idea; a great life with a determination."

He didn't attend college, and said "No matter how much I admire our schools, I know that no university exists that can provide an education; what a university can provide is an outline, to give the learner a direction and guidance.  The rest one has to do for oneself."

"We do not at present educate people to think but rather to have opinions, and that is something altogether different."

"Those who have never ventured away from the security of their cities...must understand that there is a half-world out there, a place that lies beyond the pale of the law."

"Politics is the art of making civilization work".

The author died in 1988 and this book was published posthumously with a complete list of the books he read in 1930 through 1935 and in 1937; over 780 books.  An indicator of what we could accomplish if we didn't watch television!  I gained a new respect for the author and hope to dip into some of the books he discussed as well as read a few of his own works.

Published: 1989  Read: September 2012  Genre: Auto-biography

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Play - Stuart Brown

Subtitle: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and invigorates the Soul

I have never been a fan of playing.  I didn't participate in many organized sports (there was that tennis phase) and I didn't like getting sweaty (ladies don't sweat, they glisten!).  After recognizing that all these years of work (which to be honest, I enjoy) is pretty solitary and while it can rack up piles of dough its just not FUN.  I want to learn how to play more.  Learn to goof off or be silly like a kid again (was I ever a silly kid?  I don't think so).

The author is the founder of the National Institute for Play and a medical doctor who has researched the topic of playing through conducting "play histories" with people, from the everyday Joe to mass murders and identifying their "play personalities".  His book addresses the "why" and "what" of play and goes on to discuss its impact throughout our lives and the lives of those around us.

He spends a chapter on parenting and play (I think I flunked that one) and points out the importance of playing with children to create the parent/child bond and the impact that imagination and fantasizing has on developing empathy, understanding and trust as well as coping skills.

He devotes a chapter to explaining how the opposite of play is not work arguing that work that is fulfilling and satisfying can be like play.  His chapter on playing together advocates spouses being playful together to relieve the serious responsibilities of adult life.

Leave it to me to read a BOOK to start figuring out how to play.

Published:  2009  Read: September 2012   Genre: Non-fiction, science, psychology

Saturday, September 15, 2012

In the Garden of the Beast - Erik Larson

This is the second book of non-fiction I've read by this author.  Both book clubs that I belong to had chosen it for this month so I heard many different reviews and opinions.  First, a synopsis.

This is a biography of William E. Dodd, the ambassador to Germany in the early 1930's during the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party.  The book is written from letters and journals of Dodd and his daughter, Martha.  Martha was a flirtatious party girl who had many affairs and dalliances with famous and infamous men and who fancied herself a writer (she did publish a book or two later in life).

The details of their daily lives reveal the unawareness of those living in those times to the evil that was Hitler and his group.  The U.S. government was focused on having Germany repay their debts from WWI and there was an attitude of isolationist.  The diplomatic culture of the time was an elite class  that shunned Dodd, a frugal college professor whose qualifications were that he spoke German and had lived there for a time.

I disliked his daughter Martha because I felt she dishonored her role as a diplomat's daughter.  The detail provided painted a vivid picture of Berlin and the members of the Nazi party who were part of the Dodd's acquaintances.

My learning from the story is that I should not judge but I must try and understand how the evil around us can masquerade as decent people.  I would recommend the book for an in-depth history lesson on the period in Germany.

Published: 2011  Read: September 2012  Genre: Non-fiction

Saturday, September 8, 2012

All He Ever Wanted - Anita Shreve

Loved this read!  The story of a fussy college professor who falls in love with a woman he rescues from a fire and it builds to an obsession despite being rebuffed.

Nicholas tells his story as he is traveling by train to his sister's funeral.  I recognized shortly that he had  limited self-awareness and never questioned the appropriateness of his passion until it had destroyed those he loved.  As he reveals the relationship with his wife and their life the sense of pending tragedy grows.  At times I wanted to shake him into reality and I ached for his wife's situation.

I finished the book in one long day, returning via air from vacation in Florida. Some quotes that I noted:

"A train of though is an out-of-control vehicle..."
"I cannot help but wonder, however, if we do not invent our own destiny, our own fate, to suit our circumstances."
"...I would advise young lovers to be as attentive to the first embrace with the beloved as one would be to a soothsayer."
"Without trust there can be no marriage..."

I recommend this one and anyone who already has read it, please share your thoughts.

Published: 2003  Read: September 2012  Genre: fiction

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Desert Queen - Janet Wallach

Sub-title: The extraordinary life of Gertrude Bell: Advenurer, Advisor to Kings, Ally of Lawrence of Arabia.

After the Iraq wars of the past decade and Iran terror, learning the background of this part of the world provided context for the feelings of the people of this region toward the Western World.

The arrogance of England as a ruler of the world and the belief in mainfest destiny is well illustrated in the main character and her co-workers in the English diplomatic corps.

I enjoyed reading about a woman adventurer.  Her intellect was powerful: she spoke multiple languages (English, French, German, Arabic) and her love of working was evident. She was skillful at bringing people together to resolve their differences and worked  to create Arab nations out of warring tribes and people of different religions.  Its also revealed how the desire for oil was the catalyst for the western world to establish control in the region.  There is a lot of discussion of the details of her travels  and

Published: 1996  Read:  8/2012  Genre: History

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Emily - Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

Book 3 of the Kirov Trilogy

In this last volume the author covers the history of the build up to the Russian Revolution and World War I through the life of her heroine, Emily, the great-granddaughter of Fleur Hamilton.

Once again, the female characters are so naive as to be annoying.  After finishing the trilogy I wonder if the author was dabbling in writing a romance novel.  If so, I'm glad she decided to stop at three and get back to the Morland Dynasty series.

In this novel as in the earlier ones, the Russian given names of the characters are often made into nicknames that confuse and complicate keeping track of whose who.  I was reminded again that I struggle to read stories where I can't pronounce the characters names.  Next time I read a novel with unfamiliar names I'm going to find out how their names would sound and maybe that will help with remembering the characters.

I enjoyed reading about the early 1900's from the Russian perspective.  I've been watching Downton Abbey, a PBS series that covers the same time frame from the English point of view and the contrast really makes this history come alive for me.  I enjoy too, thinking about my ancestors and where they were in their lives at this time; how they dressed and lived, what news they heard, what were the attitudes and mores of the day.  All in all, a pleasant escape from the heat and the high tech world of today.

Published: 1992   Read: August 2012   Genre:  Historical fiction

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Fleur - Cynthia Harrold-Eagles

sub-title: Part Two of the Kirov Saga

I read the first part of this trilogy a while back and while I liked the history lesson on Russia, the characters weren't interesting.  I'd put off reading the second installment until I'd finished some other books and picked this up a few nights ago.

This is the story of Fleur Hamilton, an Englishwoman who falls for a Russian count and pines for him throughout the Crimean War period (1851-1856 for those, like me, who may be history challenged).  I learned more about Russia and the Russian temperament but I think the author is better when she sticks to her own culture (English).  Her heroine is a ninny and not believable, even in mid-1800's.  The characters are again too shallow and much writing is spent on describing the homes and clothing and uniforms of the period.

The Kirov trilogy was written after she'd done about 10 books of the Morland Dynasty, a series of hers I love and highly recommend and is now up to book 34.

I'll finish the third volume because I can't stand incompleteness!  The second novel is available on

Published: 1991  Read: July 2012  Genre: Historical fiction

Thursday, July 19, 2012

And Eternity - Piers Anthony

This is Book Seven of the Incarnations of Immortality, the last in the series.  Written in the late 80's, it is opinionated about the state of the world, from the environment, religion, politics, feminism and war.  It's the final installment telling of the roles of the 7 incarnations: Nature, Fate, War, Death, Time, Evil and Good and their struggle to save the world.  It's fantasy and has been a hoot to read.

My favorite read of this author's was the first of the series, "On a Pale Horse".  And, his "end notes", the stories he tells at the end of every book of how the book was written and what was going on in his life at the time.

If you've never dabbled in reading Fantasy this series might be a good place to start.  Anthony is better known for his Xanth series, now on its 26th volume.

Published:  1990  Read:  July 2012  Genre: Fantasy fiction

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Someday this All Will Be Yours - Hendrik Hartog

Subtitle: A history of Inheritance and Old Age

I picked up this non-fiction read at the library because it talked about aging, one of my favorite topics.  The author reviewed law cases from the late 19th and early 20th century in New Jersey to analyze the evolution of caring for older adults.  His intro references a poem he says was popular at the time "Over the Hill to the Poor-House" the source of the "over the hill" phrase.  He identifies the "market revolution"  as being responsible for a move away from raising lots of children to insure care to bartering with property.  The "market revolution" was the explosion in opportunity in America that set children away from home to seek their fortune leaving their elder parent to fend for themselves.  Their parents responded by offering property and assets to keep them or other family members and even caretakers around.  He also identifies the fear of loneliness being touted as the inevitability of old age and the "transcendent destiny" to be realized in caring for one's parents.  He concludes his book by comparing today's social systems that support the elderly and questions whether it really suffices.

The book was well researched and thorough, in a dry lawyer tone.  While the jacket touts his compassion it didn't come through to me in the story.  His epilogue refers to caretakers as "trapped kin" who "may not want pay" and "may discover enormous satisfaction in doing the work well; still few are doing real work--following a calling or destiny--when caretaking." [my emphasis].  His tone here and other comments throughout hinted at a bitterness and resentment at having to care for his own parent or parents.  His closing comment that "the real mystery is why some younger people still stay home to provide care" reveals to me he learned nothing from his study.

Published: 2012  Read: July 2012   Genre:  Non-fiction

Monday, July 2, 2012

Swimming to Antarctica - Lynne Cox

Tales of a Long Distance Swimmer

This is a memoir of the many open water swimming records achieved by the author since age 16.  It's fascinating to me how she thinks when taking on physical challenges, how she pushes her limits and continues to set new goals.  The writing is awkward and choppy at times but her spirit, will and determination to make a difference in the world is inspiring.

Lynne Cox swam the English Channel, Cape of Good Hope, Bering Strait and several other never before attempted distances as well as over 1 mile in the Antarctic Ocean - 38 degree water!   And, in just a swimsuit, cap and goggles.  The book tells how she prepares for her swims, what it is like to swim in these places and the crew that supports her.  She has written two other books, most recently one on Roald Amundsen's Antarctic expedition that I will be adding to my TBR.

Published: 2004   Read: June 2012   Genre: Non-Fiction

Friday, June 29, 2012

Blessings - Anna Quindlen

A touching story of redemptive love.  I enjoy this writer very much.  Her descriptions of the setting and of her characters feelings are so well chosen; she makes every word count.

"The happiness or contentment or resignation or whatever it was a person felt when the repeated customs of her life had become that life itself."

It's a story of a caretaker who finds a baby left on the door step and the landowner near the end of her life who shares his love and care for the child.

I would read this one again.

Published: 2002  Read: June 2012  Genre: Fiction

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

On the Grid - Scott Huler

Subtitle - A plot of land, an average neighborhood, and the systems that make our world work

I like quirky books.  I especially like finding out how things work or evolved or came to be.  I read an earlier title by this author [click here] and looked for his latest one.

The book traces the development and functioning of public works that we couldn't live without but hardly give any thought - land management, water, electric, gas, sewer, and more.  The author sets out from his own home in Raleigh, North Carolina, to discover how all these services came to be and how the provide for his family.  I've had an article in my "do some day" pile of stuff that describes how to trace where your water comes from.  Living in Arizona, I thought that would be a worthwhile effort but I've never gotten to it.  Huler gets it done and more.

He sings the praises of engineers and all those who work behind the scenes to keep these services running.  Makes me wish I'd studied some engineering (I could never of hacked the math!).  I recommend it for an enlightening read.

(Library book)

Published: 2010  Read: June 2012   Genre: Non-fiction

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Ask Me Why I Hurt - Randy Christensen, MD

Subtitle: The kids nobody wants and the doctor who heals them - with Rene Denfeld

This is the story of the Phoenix Arizona Children's Hospital's Cruz'n HealthMobile, a hospital in a Winnebago that serves the homeless children of the valley.  It's an inspiring book and the stories of some of the children are heartbreaking.  The dedication and commitment of Dr Christensen and Jan and the others working in the unit is remarkable.

I won't make a lot of comments here because I read this for my reading group and we haven't discussed it yet.

Published: 2011  Read: June 2012  Genre: Non-fiction

(library book)

Friday, June 8, 2012

We the Animals - Justin Torres

A first novel of an Iowa Writer's Workshop graduate is a slim book that tells the story of 3 brothers growing up.  Their parents, a Puerto Rican father and white mother married at 16 and 14 are alternately madly in love and mad, mentally and physically.  The plural first person drew me into the boys'  point of view and their desperate young lives.  I liked the writing style.  The author says the story is semi auto-biographical and the ending is a bit of a shock.

I picked this up in the library.  My branch has a "new releases" shelf that I review when I go to pick up the books I've put on hold and since there were 3 copies I thought it might be interesting.  I'd love to do the Iowa Writer''s Workshop, I'll have to find out what their criteria are.

Published: 2011   Read: June 2012   Genre: fiction

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Hillbilly Gothic - Adrienne Martini

Subtitle: A Memoir of Motherhood and Madness

This book was a recommendation from a blogger I follow on the topic of postpartum depression.  The author experienced PPD with her first child.  Her stories were eerily familiar and had me crying at the memories. We still have so far to go in understanding this horrible disease and its effects on families.

She traces the history of depression in her family tree and the unwillingness of family to discuss it.  The lack of information even in 2002 when she had her baby is disheartening.  She has a wry wit that I suspect helped her get through the dark days.

Published: 2006  Read: June 2012  Genre: Biography

(library book)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

What is the What - Dave Eggers

This is the true story of one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, Valentino Achak Deng.  Achak told his story to the author to create the book.  It tells of his experience of being driven from his home in Sudan, walking to Kenya and being brought to the United States.  It is eye opening to realize the chasm between his culture and experiences and our everyday life.

Tribalism in Africa, slavery, greed for precious metals and natural resources create a powder keg that explodes into ongoing civil wars and the murders of thousands of people.

I devoured this novel in a few days and recommend it highly. It was a New York Times notable book and Best Book of the Year for Time Magazine and many others.  I learned much about the politics and history of Sudan and the heartbreaking experience of an immigrant to America.  Google Achak to learn "the rest of the story".

Published: 2006   Read: June 2012   Genre: biography link to purchase

Let Me Finish - Roger Angell

What a delightful read!  This is a memoir from a long time contributor and fiction editor of the New Yorker magazine.  He tells stories from his growing up in New York and Maine and his family, including stepfather E.B. White, the author of Stuart Little.

I enjoyed the easy, conversational tone as he shared stories and insights of the people he met and the way life was in the 30's and 40's.

Published: 2006  Read: June 2012   Genre: Memoir

(this one has already moved on to swap land!)

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Female Nomad and Friends - Rita Golden Gelman

This is a travel book I snagged for our road trip last week.  I'd read the author's first book, "Tales of a Female Nomad" and loved her adventurous spirit.  This book continues with short essays from kindred spirits sharing their adventures and recipes from their travels.  I probably marked over 20 pages of authors to seek out and recipes to try.

Gelman is a children's author with many published works.  She divorced in her early 50's, sold everything she owned and became a nomad, travelling the world by sharing homes of members of the Serva organization.
I'm not nearly as risk-taking or trusting but I find her stories and those of her contributors to be inspiring to step a little bit farther out of my comfort zone.

Published: 2010    Read:  May 2010    Genre:  Travel

[I will loan this if you would like to read it]

The Ghost in the House - Tracy Thompson

subtitle: Real mothers talk about maternal depression, raising children, and how they cope.

Over 30 years ago, I had a very bad case of postpartum depression.  The stories shared in this book recalled that time when I felt so helpless.  And, they put into perspective the worries I have had over the impact on my child.

The author describes maternal depression as "what happens when a mother's depression reaches out to ensnare her child".."it can be transmitted from mother to child via learned behavior, environment, genetics or any combination of the three" so it goes beyond just the postpartum experience.

The author, who's own mother was depressed and who had depression before having children and after, surveyed 393 women who had received a medical diagnosis of major depression and worked with a psych professor at Emory University to analyze and present their results.  The book is a powerful picture of the impact of depression on mothers and their children.

Some quotes:

"So unrealistic cultural expectations, the demands of an increasingly complex society, the inherent difficulty of the work, combined with lack of social recognition - they all add up to mother stress."

" turns out...the so-called maternal instinct is ...hardly foolproof".

The author noted that depressed mothers don't necessarily have depressed children but states "When we asked, "Do any of your children ever say things that sound similar to what depressed people often say, such as blaming themselvs for things that weren't really their fault, or being super critical of themselves, not giving themselves credit for good things they've done, or thinking pessimistically about the future?" 42% said "occasionally" and 15.7% said "yes, often".  Children do learn what they live.

The chapter on coping covered the different familiar treatments - medication, exercise, counseling - as well as escaping for a time, keeping busy and opening up to family and friends.

I would recommend this book to all mothers - to understand how difficult it can be for so many.

Published: 2007   Read: May 2012    Genre: Non-fiction link

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Blood of Flowers - Anita Amirrezvani

Set in 17th century Iran, this is the story of a young country girl making her way in the city through her skill in weaving carpets.  Along the way we learn of life in the 1600's under the rule of the Shah; the food, the households, men and women, family and fairy tales.  The book is historical fiction, using a fictional character to illuminate the reality of the past.

I enjoyed this book and got wrapped up in the story, wondering how the heroine's life would turn out.  The tidbits of every day life I contrasted in my mind with what I have read of Western Europe history of the same period.  The importance of carpets and carpet making comes alive:

p. 359  "..a carpet directs us to the magnificence of the infinite, veiled, yet ever near, closer than the pulse of the jugular. ..."In each pattern lay the work of the Weaver of the World, complete and whole; and in each know of daily existence lay mine."

In today's world when we speak of Iran as a place of war and extremist, the story provides a sorely needed contrast to modern times and a perspective on a country I know so little about.

Published: 2007    Read: May 2012    Genre: Historical fiction

Not on - email me if you'd like my copy.

Friday, May 11, 2012

For Love of Evil - Piers Anthony

This series has been one of my guilty pleasures.  This volume is the 6th in the series "Incarnations of Immortality".  This is a fantasy series that explores Death, Time, War, Fate, Nature, Evil and Good, personifying each.  It's a clever and complex constructed tale. The author also has a quirk of writing notes at the end of each book about his writing experience which are equally as entertaining as the story.
They were written in the late 80's so some parts are a bit out of date.  If you like fantasy, these are some classics.

Published: 1988   Read: May 2012   Genre: Fantasy

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Beginner's Goodbye - Anne Taylor

Finally a good read!  I have enjoyed all the books that I've read by this author and this one did not disappoint.  I was so hungry for a good story I finished it in one day.  I picked it up at the library that I'm lucky enough to be able to walk to when it isn't too hot.

It's the story of a widower struggling with the loss of his wife in a sudden accident and his way through grief.
I was taken in by the first paragraph and savored every chapter.


"That was one of the worst things about losing your wife I found; your wife is the very person you want to discuss it all with."

"I used to toy with the notion that when we die we find out what our lives have amounted to, finally.  I'd never imagined that we could find that out when somebody else dies."

Anne Taylor writes with a true feeling for people and their relationships, without getting sappy.  Highly recommended.

Published: 2012  Read: May 2012  Genre:  Fiction
(library book)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Get up and Get Out - John Tartaglia

sub-title: The Geezer's Guide to Living Your Dreams on the Road

I love to travel.  As a kid, we went camping several times and crisscrossed the country by car to visit family.  As an adult I traveled mostly by plane, logging many miles visiting five continents, many countries and cities.
Since getting married, we've traveled across the country to visit grand kids and explore our national parks. We spent a summer in Northern California in an RV.  We don't travel as often as I'd like so I read blogs and books about the RV life style as a poor substitute.  I'd read of this book on a blog and ordered it through Amazon.  It's cute and covers the basics and a couple of topics I enjoyed - making art on the road and doing nothing, both things I'm not very good at!  Not great literature, but fun!

Published: 2006  Read: May 2012  Genre: Travel non-fiction link

Story of Howe Caverns - Virgil H Clymer, ed.

I think I picked this slim hardback volume up in a used bookstore somewhere.  I'd heard stories of how my great-uncle Ted helped build some of the paths and visitor areas within the Cave.  His daughter still lives in the area.  With that connection in mind, I'd picked up the book.

Written in 1949, the book tells the story of the surrounding country, the finding of the cave and perspectives from an engineer, electrician, geologist, paleontologist and biologist.  It describes the tour through the cave that included a boat ride on the underground river that helped carve the cave.

I hope to visit the Cave and compare the descriptions from the book to the way it is today, 63 years later.

Published: 1949  Read: May 2012  Genre: Travel non-fiction

(I plan to give this to my cousin who lives near the cave)

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Little, Big - John Crowley

Long time ago, I always finished books.  Life is short and now if I don't like a book I put it down and move on.
That's the way it is with this novel.  I don't remember where I got the recommendation for it, but it was on my TBR.  I read the first 187 pages and quit.

It is a fantasy novel, fairies and a family living together in an estate for generations.  I agree the writing paints beautiful pictures but the characters never clicked with me and the story was going no where.  If you've read it, fill me in on what I missed.


Published: 1981.  Read:  April 2012 (not-finished)  Genre: Fantasy

Buy it now: link 

Friday, April 27, 2012

Blindsided - Richard M Cohen

sub-title: Lifting a Life Above Illness

This is the autobiography of the author, who, at age 25, discovered he had multiple sclerosis and later in life also battled colon cancer.  He is a former CBS News producer and a journalist by training.  I found his explanation of coping with illness to be enlightening and thought-provoking.

(p. 40) Life, after all, is a meritocracy.  Happiness is earned, at least until serendipity steps in with that inevitable moment that proves the silly assumption untrue.

(p. 56) There are no secrets in a community that cares.

(p. 130) I was beginning to view myself as a diminished person and holding myself accountable.

(p. 171) The strength to get by, I realized, is understated and powerful.  We all do what we must as we try to make our lives work.  Work, it is.  Coping is quiet.

(p. 219) The final battle of illness is for the high ground of emotional health, to accept limitations and pursue the dream of a successful life.  My crusade is to make peace with myself.

I was surprised he makes no mention of spirituality but only describes his battle with his illness as something for him and his family and friends to wage.  I would recommend it for insight into daily life with a chronic illness.

Published: 2004   Read: April 2012   Genre: Biography

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson

This was a selection for one of my Reading Groups; I would not have found it on my own.  The author is from Norway and the writing is similar to other Scandinavians - understated, quiet, thoughtful.  It's a story of a man who retires to the country on the border of Norway to live the rest of his life and when he meets a neighbor recalls his youth with his father. The story slowly unfolds to reveal the losses in his life in his youth and the effect it has on him as an adult. From his father he learns "we decide for ourselves when it will hurt".

"People like it when you tell them things, in suitable portions, in a modest, intimate tone, and they think they know you, but they do not, they know about you, for what they are let in on are facts, not feelings..."

"...I wonder whether that is how we get to be after living alone for a long time, that in the middle of a train of thought we start talking out loud, that the difference between talking and not talking is slowly wiped out..."

I enjoyed the writing, the descriptions of the scenery, the mood of the story and the slow way we learn bits of his life both in the past and present.  A recommended read from me, and one of the NYT Book Review 10 best books of the year.

Published: 2003  Read: April 2012  Genre: Fiction

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Winding Road - Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

There are some books that I just savor every word, like a very rich dessert or perfect meal.  The Morland Dynasty books have been such a find.  This latest tome I had to get from the library and it finally was available earlier this month

Back in 2007 my friend Teddi offered me a series of books on English history.  Beginning in the 14th century, the story of the fictional Morland family unveils the evolution of English culture, politics, religion, royalty and peasant.  I devoured the first 20 or so of the series that year and collected the rest and read them all over the past few years to come up to this one, The Winding Road, #34, which covers 1925 into 1931.

The author makes me feel I am living with her characters.  Their hopes, dreams, tragedies and everyday life are woven into the real stories of the events and people who shaped history.

I passed the 30+ paperbacks on to another friend.  Teddi passed away last August and these books are only one of many blessings she brought to my life.

Published: 2011  Read: March 2012   Genre: Historical fiction


Monday, March 19, 2012

The Hiding Place - Corrie ten Boom

I've been exploring the act of forgiveness and this book was recommended to me on the subject.  It's the story of a Dutch woman and her family who helped rescue Jews during WWII in Holland.  Corrie and her family were eventually arrested and imprisoned and when she was released she embarked on helping those affected by the holocaust - both its victims and its perpetrators.  I am awed that someone could forgive those who harmed them so terribly and inspired.

I marked several passages [Note to book lovers, I don't actually "mark" books - I use little sticky tapes that I can remove after I've read the book]:

p. 33 ..our wise Father in heaven knows when we're going to need things.  Don't run out ahead of Him.  When the time comes that some of us will have to die, you will look into your heart and find the strength you need--just in time.

p. 37  Happiness isn't something that depends on our surroundings.  It's something we make inside ourselves.

p. 48 Do you know what hurts so very much?  It's love. Love is the strongest force in the world, and when it is blocked that means pain.  There are two things we can do when this happens.  We can kill the love so that it stops hurting.  But then, of course, part of us dies too.  Or, we can ask God to open up another route for that love to travel.

p. 209  The real sin lay in thinking that any power to help and transform came from me.

p. 231 And so I discovered that is it not on our forgiveness any more then on our goodness that the world's healing hinges, but on His.  When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.

At the conclusion of the book she shares her dying sister's wish,  "Tell people what we have learned here [in the concentration camp]..that there is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still!"

In all, a thought-provoking read that I would recommend.  I got in from the library so no link.

Published: 1971    Read: March 2012     Genre: Non-fiction

Friday, March 9, 2012

Sleepwalking Land - Mia Couto

I ordered this online because I had read about the author being a celebrated African writer and that the book had been chosen as one of the 12 best African books of the twentieth century.

It's the story of an old man and a young boy who are wandering a road in their war torn country, Mozambique.    They discover a journal of another displaced young man in an abandoned bus.  Their circumstances and the story in the journal are interwoven in a dream-like manner to portray the devastation and upheaval of war.  This style is challenging to follow and though a short book, it took me several evenings to read.

The author paints the landscape and characters in wispy images.  A quote I noted:
p. 39 - "Ideas, we all know, are not born in people's heads.  They begin somewhere out there, loose wisps of smoke swirling directionless in their search for a befitting mind."

I can't say I'd recommend the book, but it was a different choice.

Published: 1988 (English translation 2006)  Read: February 2012  Genre: Fiction listing

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Year of Pleasures - Elizabeth Berg

I think I've enjoyed this author in the past**, so I picked up this title in a used bookstore nearby.  Once again, I enjoy her writing and characters.  This is the story of Betta, a recent 50ish widow who has to start her life over after losing the love of her life.  In little steps and starts and some big changes she moves in to her future.
Her husband left her little notes that she finds after he's gone and she has to decipher their meaning.

Some quotes I liked:
p. 50 - "Healing hurts," someone at John's [her husband] service told me. "But hurting heals".
p. 123 - It seemed to me that every woman past a certain age who looked closely at herself in a mirror had the same reaction: Oh well.
p. 158 - You don't dishonor the one you loved by being happy.
p. 190 - [When caring for a cantankerous woman in a nursing home] John would call it acknowledging the fact that people truly are all connected, and that we are, at least in some sense, meant to care for one another -- all the time, not just in time of catastrophe.

I know her women are a bit too perfect in their understanding and her male characters are not quite real but her stories touch me.

Published: 2005  Read: February 2012  Genre: Fiction

**I've read four other books by her, The Pull of the Moon being my favorite so far.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Wicked by Gregory MaGuire

The saga of the Wicked Witch of the West is imagined in this story that became a hit Broadway play which I get to see next month, a Christmas present from my BFF.

I found the book over long with too much description and not enough flow.  I felt sympathy for Elphaba and her search for forgiveness but she never was softened into understanding and compassion.  I remember there were several well-stated observations about human nature, but I didn't mark them and they were drowned in all the words.  My own version of crankiness, I suppose!

Published: 1995  Read: 2/2012

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins

A Christmas present book that I finished up in 3 days is the story of two young people fighting to survive a national tournament to the death in the future.  It's the first in a trilogy and it leaves you wanting to jump right into the next volume.

Is it just because I'm older that this feels like a re-make of Logan's Run?  Or does each generation have to tell a story of the those in power controlling the future generation?  I did find myself rooting for the heroine and her skills and cunning are somewhat plausible.

This is also a "screen play" book, i.e., it's not to hard to see it's easily made into a movie, which is suppose to be out soon.  It was a fun read.

Published: 2008  Read: 2/2012

Click here for my link

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The checklist Manifesto - Atul Gawande

subtitle - How to Get Things Right

What a delight!  A simple idea applied to complex specialized areas works wonders.  The author has written previously with clarity on complex topics.  This time he provides examples to support his idea that the use of checklists in professional, complex situations improve outcomes.  Some quotes:

P. 13 -...the volume and complexity of what we know has exceeded our individual ability to deliver its benefits correctly, safely, or reliably.  Knowledge has both saved us and burdened us.

p. 73 - The philosophy is that you push the power of decision making out to the periphery and away from the center.  You give people the room to adapt, based on their experience and expertise.

p. 79 ...under conditions of true complexity...efforts to dictate every step from the center will fail [Katrina example]

p. 79 - ...checklists..check to ensure the stupid but critical stuff is not overlooked...another set ensure people talk and coordinate and accept responsiblity

p. 123 DO-CONFIRM checklist or READ-DO checklist

p. 175 - ..[pilots] they adhere to a strict discipline - the kind most other professions avoid

Definitely food for thought for healthcare and government!

published: 2009  Read: 1/2012  Category: Non-fiction

Friday, January 27, 2012

Anna - Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

This is the first book in a trilogy called the Kirov saga.  I've already read the author's epic series, The Morland Dynasty, that covers the history of England from the 14th century up through World War I and loved it, so I wanted to read one of her other series.

Anna is an orphaned young woman who becomes a governess for a Russian aristocrat in 1802.  The story continues through Napoleon's retreat in 1812.  The writing was lyrical, painting wonderful images of the Russian countryside and famous cities and revealing the horrors of war.

I found my old barrier of not being able to pronounce the names of the characters getting me less invested in the book.   That, and my lack of knowledge about Russian geography.  I won't be reading the rest of the series right away but I do look forward to learning more Russian history and culture.

The good news is that due to the clamoring of her readers, the author is working on another installment of the Morland Dynasty.  Now that I'll eat right up!

Published:  1990  Read: 1/2012 link to my copy

Monday, January 16, 2012

Defining the Wind - Scott Huler

Sub-title: The Beaufort Scale, and how a 19th-century admiral turned science into poetry

What a gem this book is!  I love the genre I think of as "history bites".  They are books that illuminate an obscure bit of history and tell a story of a key discovery or invention.  

In this work of non-fiction, Scott Huler, an NPR regular, tells how Francis Beaufort's name came to be attached to the scale describing the power of the wind.  He describes the scale as "110 words of poetry" and I came to appreciate his viewpoint.  Such a simple looking list giving so much information in such a concise manner.  It speaks to writing clearly for the layman, being precise, organization and consistency.  Beaufort kept track of the wind in notebooks for most of his life and they are still able to be viewed.

The book also describes the men at the end of the 18th century as science and technology emerged and defines the difference between the two as science being systematic knowledge about the real world vs technology which are things we create to solve problems or to do work  (p.91). Language then is one of the first and oldest technologies. 

The author spent many years researching the history of the scale because of his admiration for its writing and its writer to find out who they were and how they came to create the scale.

Links this book led me to:
The BBC Shipping Forecast that uses the scale in their daily broadcast

Published: 2004 Read: 1/2012

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Kristin Lavransdatter - Sigrid Undset

Author Winner of Nobel Prize 1928

What a wonderful beginning to a New Year! The story of a fictional maid, Kristin Lavransdatter in 14th Century Norway is really 3 books:
 --The Bridal Wreath Kristin, the daughter of a landowner is doted on by her father. She falls in love with a dashing, reckless man, Erlend, and betrays her family's trust and all to get her way and marry him.
 --The Mistress of Husaby Kristin moves with Erlend to his estate at Husaby where she takes responsibility for running it and bears seven sons. Erlend is arrested for treason.
 --The Cross Erlend is stripped of his possessions and his family moves back to Kristin's childhood home. As her children grow, her and Erlend's relationship deteriorates and Kristin anguishes over her motherly love, Catholic faith and passion for Erlend.

The story today would be called an "historical" novel as the author weaves in facts of medieval Norway. Details of daily life,dress and worship permeate the tale. This translation uses the language of the times which can take time to absorb but adds to the authenticity. But the book is much, much more. The relationships between father/daughter, husband/wife, mother/child, and many more demonstrate the meaning of love, honor, loyalty, faithfulness and forgiveness and the consequences of disobedience, imprudence, pride and anger.
I found my own heart aching at Kristin's heartbreaks and wanted to shout at her and Erlend when their headstrong ways brought pain and suffering. I plan to look for the later English translation and skim it for comparison. How wonderful that a book almost 90 years old still rings true today.  I also enjoyed being immersed in the daily life of the 14th century where snippets of historical events came to life in the ways it affected the people living in those times.  I was struck by how all encompassing was their catholic faith.  Truly a recommended read.

Click here for link to version I read
Published: 1923, English translation Read: 1/2012

2011 Book List

I didn't stick with my plan to post reviews of all the books I read. I did do my annual list so email me if you'd like a copy. I'm going to try again in 2012 to post reviews here.