Thursday, August 28, 2014

In the Kingdom of Ice - Hampton Sides

Sub-title: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette

Into the Wild, Alive, Annapurna; these are adventure/survival books I've read in the past.  The struggle of man against nature, the strength of character required to continue striving against impossible odds, the belief in the importance of achieving something important, of making history are all elements of these stories.  In this story the author tells the tale of an attempt in the early 1880's to explore the north pole by piercing the polar ice cap that was imagined to surround a temperate ocean at the top of the world.  I enjoyed the back story of how the expedition was conceived and funded and staffed.  I liked too the story of the captain and his wife and how their love was portrayed through her letters.  Almost half of the book was involved in bringing us to the point of the Jeannette setting sail from San Francisco via the Bering Strait to the pole.  Sides does a good job too of setting the period when America was seeking new frontiers and surging forward after the Civil War.  The actual journey surprised me when they planned on being trapped in the ice over winter, expecting to drift to the open sea beyond.  I was surprised they chose to continue on north, after determining that their assumptions were all wrong and their way forward was blocked.  After finishing the story, I wonder if there were other versions, some of which the author hinted at.  A good read that reveals the character of men willing to sacrifice their lives to advance mankind's knowledge of the world.

Published: 2014  Read: August 2014  Genre: History

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The End of Your Life Book Club - Will Schwalbe

The author is a former book publisher whose mother is dying of pancreatic cancer.  Through the many doctor's appointments, chemotherapy treatments and all the phases of her dying, they read and discuss books, forming a two person book club.  I enjoyed reading their story on many accounts.  The lists of books they read over the course of her final illness appears as an appendix which was a good thing, as my first impulse as I read was to jot down the titles of the books. Having removed that distraction, the author shares his deep love for his mother and their shared respect and passion for reading.  He drew me in to their discussions of the books they read, their reflections on their meaning to each of them amidst her failing health.

His mother, Mary Anne Schwalbe, was an educated woman of many firsts, working and raising her three children at the same time. She was the founder of the Women's Refuge Commission, a charity dedicated to saving the lives of refugees around the world and travelled extensively in service to the cause.

Their relationship was portrayed as loving and caring, a son who was very close and unwilling to let her go.  She recognized his need to connect and used the stories they shared to discuss those topics so difficult to broach at any time and especially at the end of life.

Some of the books I would like to read that they shared:
Continental Drift Russell Banks
A Long Way Gone Ishamel Beah
People of the Book Geraldine Brooks
The Lizard Cage Karen Connelly
Murder in the Cathedral T. S. Eliot
The Etiquette of Illness Susan Halpern
Full Catastrophe Living Jon Kabatt-Zinn
Big Machine Victor Lavalle
Too Much Happiness Alice Munro
Daily Strength for Daily Needs Mary Tileston

and that's only a handful of their list.

Published:  2012  Read: August 2014  Genre: Biography

addenda:  I found some notes I'd taken on this book, quotes shared below:

Crossing to Safety - Stegner

I often forget that other people's stories aren't simply introductions to my own, more engaging, ore dramatic, more relevant, and better-told tales, but rather ends in themselves, tales I can learn from or repeat or dissect or savor.

That's one of the tings books do.  They help us talk.  But they also give us something we all can talk about when we don't want to talk about ourselves.

The world is complicated, You don't have to have one emotion at a time.

[from Gilead book] when you encounter another person, when you have dealings with anyone at all, it is as if a question is being put to you.  So you must think, What is the Lord asking of me in this moment, in this situation?

I realized then that for all of us, part of the process of Mom's dying was mourning not just her death but also the death of our dreams of things to come.

It's important to read about cruelty's easier to recognize [it].  Evil almost always starts with small cruelties.

She felt whatever emotions she felt, but feeling was never a useful substitute for doing, and she never let the former get in the way of the latter.  the emphasis for her was always on doing what needed to be done.

...a thank you note isn't the price you pay for receiving a gift, but an opportunity to count your blessings.  And gratitude isn't what you give in exchange for something; it's what you feel when you are blessed.
Hence the joy from thanking.

The Bolter - Irina - book

People don't have to do everything.  You can also express yourself by what you chose to admire and support.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Husband's Secret - Liane Moriarty

Oh, this was delicious!  A wife finds an envelope that says "If you are reading this, I have died" from her husband - but he hasn't died yet.  As she wrestles with opening it, another woman is told her husband loves someone else and yet another mourns her daughter.  Their stories intertwine in unexpected ways.  The author does a wonderful job of switching between characters without making it seem like she wrote three stories and crammed them together.  It's about guilt and grief and heartbreak and forgiveness and the difficulty of relationships.  Most of all its about the impact of secrets and whether we really know the people we think we know.

Some passages I liked:

[Rachel reacting to the condolences from a young priest] "Oh, you sweet, innocent young man, you know nothing about blame.  You have no idea of what your parishioners are capable.  Do you think any of us really confess our real sins to you? Our terrible sins?"

"Falling in love was easy.  Anyone could fall.  It was holding on that was tricky."

"Marriage was a form of insanity; love hovering permanently on the edge of aggravation."

Read this one, it's well written, a good story and some thoughts to ponder.

Published: 2013  Read: August 2014  Genre: Fiction

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister - Gregory Maguire

Has everyone else read this?  I found it at my trusty used bookstore, Half Price Books at PV Mall and picked it up in trade for some books I was purging.

It's the story of the "ugly step sisters" of Cinderella.  It was a very clever way of telling how they came to be sisters and a history lesson on the Tulip Mania in the Netherlands in 1637.  I really enjoyed how the story took its time to reveal the situation of the characters and introduce their relationships.  We also learn a bit about the art world of the time as Iris, the "plain" sister, develops an eye for painting as an apprentice of a master painter.

I didn't  mark passages as I read so I haven't any interesting quotes.  I've been reading just for the pleasure of consuming a book lately.  My next one might have some bits to share.

Published:  2002  Read July 2014  Genre: Historical fiction