Monday, May 26, 2014

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry - Rachel Joyce

I got the recommendation for this book from a blog I follow.  The blog's author reflects on retirement and full time RVing and posts reviews of the books she reads.  This one was highly recommended.

Harold Fry is a recently retired man that receives a note from a former co-worker who is dying in a hospice. He decides he needs to go to her and takes off walking totally unprepared for 600 miles across England to see her before she dies.  He leaves his bewildered wife, the two of them living a lonely marriage after their only child, a son, had left many years ago.  His journey opens him to seeing the life still has meaning and love can survive.

Some quotes:
People [were doing ordinary things] and what no one else knew was the appalling weight of the thing they were carrying inside.  The inhuman effort it took sometimes to be normal, and a part of things that appeared both easy and everyday.  The loneliness of that.
Beginnings could happen more than once, or in different ways.  You could think you were starting something afresh, when actually what you were doing was carrying on as before.
I enjoyed the story as Harold reflected on his life while traipsing across the country solo.  As he gets closer to his goal he gets some "groupies", reminding me of the people that followed Forest Gump as he ran across country and I wanted him to leave them behind instead of taking responsibility for their devotion.  They eventually separate and Harold meets his old friend before she dies.

It is a story of attempted redemption and the the possibility of second chances.  A touching tale worth a read.

Published:  2012  Read: 2014  Genre: Fiction

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Geography of Memory - Jeanne Murray Walker

Subtitle: A Pilgrimage through Alzheimer's

This book is a memoir of the author's experience with her mother at the end of life.  She is one of two sisters, living in Delaware while her sister and mother are in Dallas, Texas.  It was hard to read her perspective at times when I thought of her sister who was with her mother all the time, while the author flew in to visit or telephoned.  The tension of carrying for a parent long distance was plain and the negotiations between siblings honest.  There are insights into the function of memory and the author explains a belief that Alzheimer's patients and others with dementia are not making meaningless babblings but instead are using metaphor to bring their past to the present.  There was an honoring of her mother and her ability to retain her dignity and personality despite the progression of the disease, a message we all need to embrace.

Published:  2013  Read: May 2014  Genre: Memoir

The Ornament of the World - Maria Rosa Menocal

Subtitle: How Muslims, Jes, and Christians created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain

I need something to read for a long plain ride and this book ended up in my suitcase, a novel I acquired from a friend's library after she passed away.  It was written by a scholar of medieval Spain history.  It's a historical account I knew little about, seven centuries from 750 to 1492 in the Spanish penisula.  It was a bit dense with names and places and successions of rulers but the concentrated focus needed was perfect for screening out dull air flight.

The author's epilogue explains her thesis that different religious cultures can co-exist and flourish.  It's only when one persuasion decides there's is the only true belief and enforces fundamental furor on non-believers that the society falls apart.  In her postscript the author explains that the book was finished and to the publisher before 9/11 and that, though tempted, she did not alter it prior to publication but let it speak to our new reality.

Published: 2002  Read: May 2014  Genre: History

Side note:  I often find bookmarks left in books that are a story themselves.  This one had a ticket stub from the Arizona opera and a news article about the Persian poem, Shahnamen.  Some day, I plan to write a story about bookmarks and other bits I've found in books.

Oil! - Upton Sinclair

I've been cleaning off my bookshelves, part of my "2014 in 2014" goal to get rid of 2014 things from my life in 2014.

This book was the basis for the movie, "There Will Be Blood" which I didn't watch bu made me pick up the book.  It was published in 1926 as a scathing criticism and thinly veiled commentary on the corruption of government and abuse of power by the big oil companies of California that led to the Teapot Dome scandal during the Harding administration.  The story is told from the perspective of the privileged son of one of the oil company owners, nicknamed Bunny.  He's a naive, idealistic, romantic innocent that has an inside seat to the wheeling and dealing of his father and his partners.  Farmers are cheated of their land rights, workers are exploited and politicians bought.  The news is manipulated to present only the story the owners wish to make known.

It's an astonishing parallel to politics today and the power of corporations in the lives of every citizen.  It also portrays the thinking about communism and socialism when it was emerging in the early 1900's as a political force.  I'm glad I read it.

Published:  1926  Read: April 2014  Genre: Fiction

The Death of Santini - Pat Conroy

I admire this author.  His book, Prince of Tides, and the subsequent movie, was a favorite of mine.  His writing is emotional and gut wrenching.  This is the story of his relationship with his father, the inspiration for many of his stories and the real person behind his book, The Great Santini.

I was fascinated how two people who had such a stormy relationship could still love each other and be there for each other.  The family portrayl is brutally honest and sad.   It's a peek into the events and circumstances that create a great author.

Published:  2013    Read:  April 2014   Genre: Auto-biography

The Open Mind - J Robert Oppenheimer

Oppenheimer was a physicist and the head of the Manhattan Project that developed the first nuclear bomb.  This book is a series of presentations he gave through the 1950's when he was working to establish a global cooperative means of controlling the use of nuclear weapons.  It was interesting to read the perspective of the times and get a better understanding of the cold war mentality.  The quote from the book that gives it the title is as follows:

"An indispensable, perhaps the indispensable, element in giving meaning to the dignity of men, and in making possible the taking of decision on the basis of honest conviction, is the openness of men's minds, and the openness of whatever media there are for communion between men, free of restraint, free of repression, and free even of that most pervasive of all restraints, that of status and hierarchy".

An interesting commentary in today's age of "news" pundits.

Published: 1955  Read: May 2014  Genre: Essay