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