Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Phoenix - Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

I love this series called the Morland Dynasty that I was introduced to by my friend, Teddi.  It's the history of England from the 14th century and the War of the Roses up through this volume, which begins in 1931.  It has taken a while to get here, this being the 35th book in the series!

The author uses the fictional Morlands and the evolution of their family to reveal the history of each age.  It's sort of like Downton Abbey covering seven centuries.  I enjoy how the continuity of family perseveres through wars, economic downturns, and societal changes.  Like Prairie Home Companion, all the women are strong, all the men are handsome and all the children are above average.

Since about 1850, the books have gone from covering a lifetime of 50 years or so to focusing on less than 5 years.  This has brought greater detail to the historical recounting but the characters lives change much less.

The rumor is that this is the last of the series, though there's no tidy summing up and one can imagine the Morland's lives going on even to the present day.

Published: 2013  Read: April 2014  Genre: Historical fiction

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Caregivers - Nell Lake

Sub-title: A support group's sotries of slow loss, courage, and love

The title of this book grabbed me, as caregiving has been on my mind the past few years.  It was a different viewpoint on the struggles and realities of caring for elderly, disabled or impaired family members.  The book tells the story of a caregivers support group over the course of a few years.  The most striking take a way I had was the concept of an "ambiguous loss" - one where there is not a definitive end to losing a loved one for months and months.  Friends and family quckly adjust to the caregiver bearing the burden of the elder parent, spouse or child,  while the caregiver's life is a seemingly endless slide into greater loss, anger, frustration, sadness and most of all exhaustion.

The group leader used a phrase "automatic negative thinking" to identify the despairing attitude that can become a new norm for the caregiver.  The author quoted one professional as saying "the evaporation of a purpose is a sure sign that someone is at risk" when they were explaining the downward spiral of many elderly.  There was no tidy conclusion to this book.  Only a revealing, thought provolking glimpse of a future that may be there for many of us, both as receivers and givers.

Published: 2014  Read: March 2014  Genre: Nursing, caring for elderly

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage - Ann Patchett

I've enjoyed this author since I read her book, Bel Canto several years ago.  She is a meticulous writer, with her words carefully chosen.  She paints a scene in great detail and when a character is introduced, I feel I am living their experience.  So, I looked forward to reading this book, a collection of short stories, memoirs and speeches she has written over the past.  Along the way, she reveals her family background, her upbringing and education and her views of marriage and children.  I found I prefer her fiction more than her person.  I don't think we would be friends yet I continue to admire and be impressed with her writing.

Ann Patchett grew up going to Catholic schools and the discipline and respect she learned still reverbates through her writing.  She had a life off relative privelege and was encouraged from a very young age to pursue her belief that she would be a writer.  She earned an MFA and attended the Iowas Writer's Workshop.  She speaks of the need for would-be writers to study and practice their craft as would a scientist.  It was a differnt view of writing that I found refreshing, revealing writing as work and skill, as well as art and gift.

I learned she is a lover of opera (to the point of being a snob about it).  She married a much older physician after many years of dating him and prefers to remain childless. She is definite in her opinions and unapologetic for her viewpoints.  I recommend reading this book to get inside the mind of a talented author.

Publisehd:  2013  Read: April 2014  Genre: Essay, memoir