Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Stitches - Anne Lamott

sub-title: A handbook on meaning, hope and repair

This book was very short, as will be this review.  A mish mash of thoughts and mind dump of some ideas that aren't pulled together very well and too under developed to offer any real meaning.  Not recommended, look for one of her earlier books for some real meat.

Published: 2013  Read: March 2014  Genre: Self-help, religion

Live at Home in the Twenty-First Century - Jeanne E Arnold

subtitle: 32 families open their doors

I found this book via the blog, Becoming Minimalist, which I started reading a few months ago.  The blog discusses one person's journey to getting rid of stuff, rejecting consumerism and focusing on the relationships in life that really matter.

This book is an anthropology/sociology/archeology journey into how people in the U.S. (Los Angeles area, specifically) live with all their stuff.  It's sad and eye-opening and thought-provoking.  The authors are scientists in the fields mentioned who decided to explore how families are living today.  They videoed and took pictures of these homes over an extended period of time, generating 1000 of hours of video and 1000's of pictures.  Their analysis revealed several themes; namely:

  • material saturation - people are living with mountains of stuff, more personal possessions than ever in history.  Childrens' items in particular have taken over every room of the house.
  • food - families have food in large quantities but eat out over one-third of the time and when eating at home only occasionally eat sitting at a table together.
  • vanishing leisure - while most families had lovely outdoor spaces with toys, pools, Jacuzzis, and other entertainment, they spent very little of their time out of doors and instead if they had leisure time, spent it with TV or computers.
  • kitchens as command centers - kitchens aren't just for preparing food and eating - today's kitchen is a hub of calendars, homework, work space, art projects and the like.  Particularly revealing is the correlation of the amount of things on the refrigerator door with the amount of things throughout the house.
  • bathroom bottlenecks - many of the families had only one bathroom which created jams in getting ready in the morning but conversely created a place for parents to share with their children.
  • master suites as sanctuaries - this phenomenon is a way for the adults to get away, although in several cases the desire was undermined by babies in the room and a lack of time to relax.
I suspect readers will dismiss the study as too narrowly focused and dismiss it as part of the California life style.  While all the families were in the LA area, the study encompassed a wide range of incomes, varying ethnicities and ages.  All the families had children, ranging from 17 to 1, and all of the families had both parents working.  

I found it a fascinating, sobering view into the lives of many of the families in the U.S. today and I suspect their are parallels across the nation.

Published:  2012  Read: March 2014  Genre: Non-fiction, science

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Man Who was Thursday - G. K. Chesterton

I can't remember where I got the recommendation for this book, I think from a blog.  The blogger raved about it so I thought I'd check it out.

G.K. Chesterton was someone who inspired C.S. Lewis.  He wrote in the early 1900's and was considered witty.  This story is touted as a mystery detective tale.  It starts out clever enough with comical asides and observations on men in high society of London of that time.  It gets weirder the further along it goes.  Turns out its a bit of a parable, and a bit of a philosophical commentary.

A young poet, Syme, meets an anarchist, Gregory and is swept into a secret council of anarchists who intend to destroy the world.  They refer to themselves by the days of the week and Syme becomes "Thursday".  Syme has been secretly recruited by the police to be a detective and infiltrate the council.  As the story unfolds he finds other detectives have been recruited for the same mission.

I kept waiting for some clever twist but the story just sort of unwound into chaos.  I should have paid attention to the sub-title: "A Nightmare".  The reviews I read of it are similar to my impression (What is this...?)  and wildly enthusiastic, drawing all sorts of deeper meaning.  It was more popular with men than women readers.    Not an author I will seek out again unless someone can recommend a reason why.

Published: 1908  Read: March 2014  Genre: Fiction

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Light Between Oceans - M L Stedman

I read this for my reading group at my church, what a wonderful story!  The writing is superb and there are observations on human nature that are lessons for life.

It is a story of Isabel who marries a lighthouse keeper, a man scarred emotionally from WWI.  She has two miscarriages and a stillbirth and when a boat washes up with a dead man and a baby inside, she convinces her husband to raise the baby as their own, laying the seeds for heartbreak.

Some of the quotes I noted:

--Doing what's right, regardless of the cost.
-- Being honest doesn't mean you get to chose your punishment.
-- Bravery is standing by the consequences of your mistakes.
-- [on forgiving and forgetting]...It's so much less exhausting [to forgive].  You only have to forgive once.  To resent, ou have to do it all day, every day.  We always have a choice.  All of us.
-- I've learned the ahrd way that to have any kind of a future you've got to give up hope of ever changing your past.
--Scars are just another kind of memory.

Our group of 22 had a spirited discussion, I think everyone liked the book and I would recommend it.  The best I've read this year so far.

Published:  2012  Read: February 2014  Genre: Fiction

Friday, March 7, 2014

Left - Tamar Ossowski

I can't resist a tempting book jacket or an intriguing title, so I picked this up from the "New" shelf at the library when it caught my eye and the flyleaf write-up cinched it; home it came.  I read it in a couple of nights.

Two sisters, about 6 and 11, are hustled from home by their mother and the younger one is dumped off at a stranger's home, a long ago friend of their mothers.  The story is told from the girls and then the Mother's perspective, as the two sisters attempt to understand their separation and reunite. Terese, the Mom, was abandoned by her father and is raising her two girls without one.  Her best friend, Leah, has been betrayed and hurt by men.  Their struggles to survive abuse, heartbreak and still be able to love and try to do the best for the children is told through detailed character portrayals.  The story is not as strong and the male characters are mere backdrops.  The younger girl is "special" but her condition is never labelled specifically in the story, a detail that adds to the tale.  A good read, nonetheless.

Published: 2013   Read: March 2014   Genre: Fiction

Prince of Annwn - Evangeline Walton

This fable is the last in the series although the first chronologically of the tales of the Mabinogion, the ancient celtic folk stories of the Welsh people.  This particular volume focuses on Pwyll, King of Dyved, and his battle with the powers of the Underworld to win the Goddess Queen, Rhiannon (that's where Stevie Nicks got the name from!).  Once again, there is the recognition of the power of women and of the earth as mother of all life.  Having been published in the 70's, there's a good dose of environmentalism as well.  The tale rounds up the pieces hinted at in the previous volumes I'd read.  If I had it to do over again, I'd read the stories in the order they were originally intended, this one first.  I was surprised to read in the introduction to this story that J.R. Tolkien drew heavily on these tales and when I think of the Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, I see the parallels and borrowings.

Having completed the series, I'm glad I read them and I take away an imagined understanding of some of the folk tales that may have trickled down over the centuries to my Welsh ancestors.  I'd like to rent the movie made of the books to learn how to pronounce the names of the characters.  The spelling will help me in researching my own branch of the family from Wales (both my fraternal great-grandmothers were Welsh).  I still think that a visit to Wales is in order.

Published:  1974   Read: March 2014  Genre: Fantasy