Friday, September 26, 2014

The Sixth Wife - Jean Plaidy

I picked this up at Goodwill for a camping trip to Mt. Lemmon, in Tucson, Arizona.  It's a historical fiction account of the 6th wife of Henry VIII.  I enjoyed the writing style as the author made her characters come alive while intertwining the facts of history.  I found out after finishing that this is a pen name of Eleanor Hibbert also known as Victoria Holt.  She was a prolific author and there are many others written by her that cover English history.

Katherine Parr was twice widowed when she caught the eye of the bad tempered, egotistical King of England in 1543 and became his sixth and last wife.  I was struck by the persistence over the centuries of women submitting to men, being married against their will for political or financial gains and the ridiculous emphasis on having children, and as many as possible.  This queen failed to provide more heirs and was possibly in line to be murdered, but the Henry VIII died first.  She was stepmother to his successors, Edward, and the mighty Queen Elizabeth I.   A good read and a different slant on tracking genealogy!

Published: 1953  Read: September 2014  Genre: Historical fiction

ISBN: 0-609-81026-X

The Lust Lizard of Mealancholy Cove - Christopher Moore

What a hoot this book was!  The author has the strangest imagination, providing a quirky, weird, satirical take on small towns, heroes and giant pre-historic lizards.  A fun escape.

Published: 1999  Read: September 2014  Genre: Fiction

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Wheat Belly - William Davis, MD

This was the non-fiction audio book I'd deliberately put on hold at the library.  I wanted to understand some of the science behind the effects of modern wheat on our bodies.  The author provides exhausting recaps of studies, from medical institutions and his own practice as a cardiologist, that go on for ever.  It's convincing enough to try to eliminate wheat from my diet.  The "calories in - calories out" balance has kept me at a plateau and too often hungry and resentful of exercise's paltry results.  So along with my yoga habit I am mindfully addressing the food I eat and cutting the wheat.  We'll see what happens.

Published:  August 2011   Read: September 2014 (audio book)  Genre: Health

Housekeeping - Marilynne Robinson

I was looking for some audio books and picked this up at the library because it indicated the author was a Pulitzer Prize winner.  It's the story of two sisters who are left in the care of their grandmother, then two maiden great aunts, and finally a younger aunt.  Their lives are full of tragedy; their grandfather is killed in a train accident, their mother drives off a bridge, their grandmother dies, their young aunt, Sylvie, is a life long hobo who can't provide for them in an anchored life.

The reader really spoiled this story.  She was an actress who had the annoying habit of raising her voice at the end of sentences, the lilting, sing song style of reading nursery rhymes.  Boring, boring, boring.  If I hadn't been determined to "listen" to a book, I wouldn't have finished it.

Published: 1980 Read: September 2014 (audio)  Genre: Fiction

The Song of the Lark - Willa Cather

I don't know why it took me so long to discover Willa Cather.  I read her "My Antonia" for one of my book clubs in recent years and enjoyed her writing style.  She honors the simple, striving person in a harsh world.  Her characters are gritty, long suffering, and self aware.

In this story, Thea recognizes and is recognized by those around her as someone different.  Not in our mentally disturbed, troubled, quirky, weird focus of today, but as a person with a gift, a vision, a future different than the rest of us.  She struggles in her youth to listen for her muse amidst the gaggle of siblings and daily life as a preacher's daughter in a small farming community.  It's a simple story that allows the author to demonstrate the power of the human will.

Some quotes I noted:

Thea befriends the Mexicans on the "other side of the tracks" and after they are insulted by a local the author notes that "A Mexican learns to dive below insults or soar above them, after he crosses the border."

"The clamor about her drowned the voice within herself."

"Nothing is far and nothing in near, if one desires.  The world is little, people are little ,human life is little.  There is only one big thing--desire.  And before it, when it is big, all is little."

"Ugly accidents happen, Thea; always have and always will.  But the failures are swept back into the pile and forgotten.  They don't leave any lasting scar in the world, and they don't affect the future.  The things that last are the good things.  The people who forge ahead and do something, they really count."

I don't know if I agree with that one.  I've seen accidents have tragic, long-lasting effects that are never forgotten.  I think Cather was championing those that persist despite setbacks.

"It came over him now that the unexpected favors of fortune, no matter how dazzling, do not mean very much to us.  They may excite or divert us for a time, but when we look back, the only things we cherish are those which in some way met our original want, the desire which formed in us in early youth, undirected, and of it own accord."

"If our dream comes true, we are almost afraid to believe it; for that is the best of all good fortune, and nothing better can happen to any of us."

Published:  1915   Read: September 2014   Genre: Fiction

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle - Barbara Kingsolver

Sub-title:  A Year of Food Life

written with Steven L Hopp and Camille Kingsolver (husband and daughter)

This book had been on my TBR list for quite some time.  I've enjoyed the author's fiction tremendously and it was fascinating to peek into her real life, living a year off of the land.

I've always thought of Kingsolver as an Arizonan but her roots are in Appalachia and its to there that she returns to live with her husband and two children.  They decide to spend a year living off of homegrown, locally sourced, in season food.  The books relates the results of their experience.

Its a different sort of writing, where her husband, Steven, a scientist and her older daughter, Camille, a budding nutritionist, contribute their own viewpoints throughout the book.  It also has recipes for the meals the concoct throughout the year.

I was a bit overwhelmed at how much work raising your own food and meat can be.  Her extensive garden, chickens and turkeys were a constant demand on their time.  Canning, butchering, baking, harvesting puts them in touch with the seasons and gives a glimpse of what life must have been like when many people owned their own farms.

In all its a simpler though more demanding lifestyle.  We have so much idle time that we pay little attention to what we put in our mouths each day and have even less appreciation as to how it got to us.  Its also a testament to family.  The necessity to work together, share daily chores and respect each person's contribution.

Published:  2007   Read:  August 2014   Genre: Memoir

Authors referenced:
Ricki Carroll, New England Cheesemaking Supply , book, Cheesemaking Made Easy
Deborah Madison - Local Flavors
five color silverbelt - swiss chard - a green I'd like to try growing.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Sprial Staircase - Karen Armstrong

sub-title: My Climb Out of Darkness

I picked this book up at Goodwill (my new favorite used book store) because I had read the author's book, A History of God, some time ago.  This is an auto-biography that tells her story of joining a convent at 17, leaving seven years later, and her journey to becoming a comparative theologian. She was accused of hysteria and did not find out for many years that she actually had a form of epilepsy.  She became a journalist post WWII in England and went on to research, write and speak on Christian, Jewish and Islamic beliefs.

She uses the T.S. Eliot poem, Ash Wednesday, where he describes his ascent heavenward through turning and turning, as if on a spiral staircase, as a metaphor for her own life changes.

"But what thrilled me most about Eliot's poem were the words 'because' and 'consequently'. There was nothing depressing about this deliberate acceptance of reduced possibilities.  It was precisely 'because' the poet had learned the limitations of the 'actual' that he could say: 'I rejoice that things are as they are.'"
I liked this quote and interpretation of Eliot's verse; it endorses an acceptance of life as it is.

More quotes:

"The nuns, I knew, were good women, and it must be almost unbearably painful for them to realize that they had damaged us.  It is always difficult to forgive people we have harmed".
I thought this was an interesting perspective to say that we need to forgive those we have harmed.

[The story of Rabbi Hillel, one of the leading Pharisees in Jesus' time] "Some pagans came to Hillel and told him that they would convert to this faith if he could recite the whole of Jewish teaching while he stood on one leg.  So Hillel obligingly stood on one leg like a stork and said: 'Do not do unto other as you would not have done unto you.  That is the Torah.  The rest in commentary.  Go and learn it.'".
The author points out that, "it takes more discipline to refrain from doing harm to others.  It's easier to be a do-gooder and project your needs and desire onto other people"...."He told me that in most traditions, faith was not about belief but about practice".  Religion is about ..."doing things that change you".

"All the world faiths put suffering at the top of their agenda, because it is an inescapable fact of human life, and unless you see things as they really are, you cannot live correctly."

"The one and only test of a valid religious idea, doctrinal statement, spiritual experience, or devotional practice was that it must lead directly to practical compassion.If your understanding of the divine made you kinder, more empathetic, and impelled you to express this sympathy in concrete acts of loving kindness, this was good theology."

"Compassion has been advocated by all the great faiths because it has been found to be the safest and surest means of attaining enlightenment. It dethrones the ego from the center of our lives and puts others there..."

And one I particularly felt was meaningful in today's contentious "us vs. them" society:
"If we cannot accommodate a viewpoint in a friend without resorting to unkindness, how can we hope to heal the terrible problems of our planet?  I no longer think that any principle or opinion is worth anything it it makes you unkind or intolerant".

[Speaking of the inability to sense of the presence of God] "And yet the very absence I felt so acutely was paradoxically a presence in my life.  When you miss somebody very intensely, they are, in a sense, with you all the time."

A very thought provoking, intelligent and deeply felt book.

Published:  2004   Read: August 2014  Genre: auto-biography

Keep Going - Joseph M Marshall III

sub-title: The Art of Perseverance

This slim novel is a discussion between a grandson and his grandfather after the death of the boy's father.  The traditional stories are lessons on "going on" after adversity and reflect the beliefs and values of the Lakota people.  In some ways in reminded me of Buddist teachings; the acceptance of life as it happens, the appreciation of the now.

Published: 2006   Read: August 2014   Genre: non-fiction, advice

ISBN: 13: 978-1-4027-3607-0

*Note:  I am starting to record the ISBN for the book.  Any of the online bookshelf apps seem to do lookups based on it so if I ever want to get everything I've read into an online bookshelf I'll need these.

The Sweetheart Season - Karen Joy Fowler

A 60's boomer tells her WWII mother's story of growing up in a small mill (cereal) town and being a member of a woman's baseball team.

I found this book in the rental we stayed at in Siesta Key, Florida.  It's after WWII and their are few eligible men left in a small town in Minnesota.  Irinia and her friends work at the mill under its owner, an irascible gent who schemes to promote his products by having a travelling, all-women baseball team made up of the workers.  The story of the women is told by Irinia's daughter, a child of the 60's Vietnam and hippie era.

I found the writing uneven and tired a bit of the eccentricities of the mill owner and his wife and his invented "Margaret Collins" spokeswoman, a Betty Crocker clone.  The story was entertaining nonetheless and could provide fodder for a discussion of women's roles.

Some quotes:

"...and we still think we live in a Disney cartoon"  Comment by Irinia's father about Americans after WWII.

"Back then there were no street lights so people could still see the dark [by starlight]"

"It was part of growing up, you began to enjoy nasty things like onions, broccoli, coffee and sleep."

Published: 1996  Read: August 2014  Genre: Fiction

  • ISBN-10: 0345416422
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345416421

The Lost German Slave Girl - John Bailey

This was a great find at a Goodwill before I took off for vacation a couple of weeks ago.  The author was researching laws related to slavery to write a scholarly piece and ran across the story of Salome Mueller (Sally Miller).  She was a very young (5?) German immigrant to New Orleans in 181who disappeared along with her father and siblings, when they left their ship to work as indentured servants.
She is discovered in her 20's by a fellow immigrant living as a slave.  The German community takes up her cause to have her freed, as no white person can be a slave.  The story of her lawsuits all the way to the Louisiana Supreme Court are full of intrigue and revelations of the laws of slavery before the civil war.

I found it interesting in that it provided context for the period that explained that many Germans immigrated to America after 1813 because of volcanic eruptions in 1813 (West Indies), 1814 (Philippines) and 1815 (Indonesia) that resulted in widespread crop failures in the Rhine Valley and elsewhere in Europe.  It also explained the financial panic of 1837 that left the slave owner, John Miller, bankrupt.

The author does a good job of presenting legal proceedings in understandable summaries.  Whether the woman discovered at 20 was the real German girl or a very clever slave I'll leave you to find out.

Published: 2003  Read: August 2014  Genre: History

  • ISBN-10: 080214229X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802142290