Monday, October 27, 2014

The Loved One - Evelyn Waugh

This book was another one I picked up for my recent trip.  It's a strange little tale about people in Hollywood during the 1940's.  It took awhile to understand the tongue-in-cheek perspective of the writer.  I imagine it was very sarcastic and biting in its time.  The title refers to the phrase used to refer to those who have died - humans as well as pets.  Funny and a quick read.

Published: 1948   Read: October 2014  Genre: Fiction

ISBN 0-316-92608-6

Sunday, October 26, 2014

X - Rated - Bonnie Louise

[I took a writing class this summer and have been digging around in some writing I've done in the past.  This is a short piece I scribbled out after being laid off from the company I'd been with for over 25 years back in 2001.  The author's "name" is all mine, not appended with the surname of anyone else's.]

I went out for a walk this morning to enjoy the clear blue sky and warm sun in the middle of January, threading my way through the neighborhood to return library books and check my post office box.  I came upon a large pine tree, squeezed between the sidewalk and a masonry block fence, it's branches towering over my head.  There was a large white "X" painted on it and underneath was scrawled the word "remove".  Someone had decided that just for growing beyond it's bounds and potentially disrupting the even monotony of the wall, the tree had to go.  Perhaps too, there was a danger of it falling over into the street, in the path of some vehicle guided at breakneck speed by its owner who would be too engrossed in a cell phone conversation to avoid the tree as it reached out for the pavement.

I couldn't help but wonder if some force somewhere is painting X's on some of us these days. When you finally seem to finish all the growing prescribed for you, when you've reached your full potential and stand tall for all the world to see, someone comes along and declares you an excess person.  Maybe we too have just grown beyond our boundaries and it's time to toss off new seeds in other directions. 

I can't imagine that removing the tree will add much to the area.  The shade it once provided will be gone and the wall that comes and goes nowhere will be exposed. In all likelihood, few folks will notice the footstool-size stump that eventually gets covered over by decorative desert stone.  A new tree might even be planted in the same spot, a good place to add a little cover for the yard behind the wall and breakup the view from the street.  So too, will our replacements be hired and set about solving with enthusiasm and excitement the same old problems that we'd figured out years ago.

The tree could end up consumed in hot, angry flames, burning itself to a pile of ashes.  Or it could lie forgotten in landfill far from the city and slowly decay, unnoticed.  There are other uses for the tree and us.  Both may prove beneficial, our remaining assets turned into creative works of art, our contribution lasting years into the future, maybe even someday considered an antique or collectible.  Maybe that's the point of branching out, to see just where we might be taken. Maybe the X just marks a crossroads of sorts.

Women of the Silk - Gail Tsukiyama

I read this for my book group that I didn't get to attend while I was travelling.  It's the story of young girls in China before WWII who were given to the silk factories as workers.  Their wages were sent home to their families but they would usually not return home for the rest of their lives.  They could marry but many chose to remain single and formed a sisterhood that could live independently at a time when women were little more than property.

I found the story tedious and the ending rushed through the last days before the Japanese invaded China, almost as an afterthought, it seemed.  The women's relationships were well portrayed and their friendships deep and supportive.  Not something I'd recommend.

Published:  1991   Read: October 2014   Genre: Historical fiction

The Painted Veil - W. Somerset Maugham

A shallow, vain young beauty marries without love and has an affair only to learn her lover is far less a man than her husband when it is too late.

p 88 Do you cease to love a person because you had been treated cruelly?

p 125 What was it in the human heart that made you despise a man because he loved you?

p 152  But it's loving that's the important thing, not being loved.

p 206 - Remember that it is nothing to do your duty, that is demanded of you and is no more meritorious than to wash your hands when they are dirty.  The only thing that counts is the love of duty; when love and duty are one then grace is in you and you will enjoy a happiness which passes all understanding.

This is a classic moral lesson on the shallowness of youth and the importance of recognizing the true nature of others.  I enjoyed it and recommend it, a quick read.

Published: 1925  Read: October 2014  Genre: Fiction

ISBN: 0-307-27777-1

Nothing Is As Bad As the Second World War - Connie Caster

Sub-title:  the true life story of Vera Schwartz Palmieri

This was painful to read, not because of the story it tells but because of the way its written.  One sentence after another of "I did this, and then I did this.." Just awful. The jacket says "she started life as a spoiled, pampered child" and the story never changes that viewpoint of the main character, despite some horrific experiences.  There's a story to tell here but it isn't done with this book.  A great example of the dangers of self-publishing and no editing.

Published:  2013   Read: October 2014  Genre: Biography

I Feel Bad About My Neck - Nora Ephron

This is a memoir of a great film director and writer written when she was 65.  It's sarcastic and witty and very New York upper class.  There were some stories that made me smile but overall not something I would recommend.

One quote I liked:

"a MOUSE potato - some who's as connected to her computer as couch potatoes are to their TVs" - boy, can I relate!

She mentioned some books that were very influental that I might check out:
The Golden Notebook, by Doris Lessing
The Woman in White, by Vickie Collins

Published:  2006  Read: October 2014  Genre: Memoir

Mrs Poe - Lynn Cullen

**I was on the road for a couple weeks and am catching up on my book posts for my reading during the trip.

I'm a fan of historical fiction.  I enjoy learning about something while at the same time reading a good story.  I'm often drawn to exploring more of the facts of the characters or events described in the story.

This story tells of the love affair of Frances Osgood, a married woman with two small daughter and an absent, philandering husband, and Edgar Allen Poe, in the 1840's.  In the center of their relationship is Poe's first cousin, Virgina Poe, who he'd married when she was 13 and he 26.  Woven through the tale is the struggle of writing and of the writer.  There's the moral struggle of Mrs Osgood, the guilt of Mr. Poe and the suspicions of Mrs. Poe for tension.  Who is the villain here?  A good read with a genuine portrayal of 1840's New York and the lives of the characters.

Published: 2013  Read: October 2014  Genre: Historical fiction

ISBN 1476702918

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Practical Magic - Alice Hoffman

This was a strange little story.  It tells the tale of the Owens family, a group of females with powers that affect love and life in strange ways.  Two sisters come to live with their two spinster aunts when their parents die.  The aunts allow them to live practically unsupervised as they assist their neighbors with their problems with love.  The girls have their own relationship problems but their abiding love for each other sustains them through life.

Some quotes:
"The aunts tried to encourage her (Sally) not to be so good.  Goodness, in their opinion, was not a virtue but merely spinelessness and fear disguised as humility."

"It doesn't matter what people tell you.  It doesn't matter what they might say.  Sometimes you have to leave home.  Sometimes, running away means your running in the right direction."

"...when people ask her what the secret of a happy marriage is...She knows now that when you don't lose yourself in the bargain, you find you have double the love you started with..."

I wouldn't recommend this book as its dis-jointed and doesn't succeed at creating the atmosphere I think the author was aiming for.

Published:  1995   Read: September 2014   Genre: Fiction

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Invention of Wings - Sue Monk Kid

My reading group recommended this book and I'd read the author's previous book, The Secret Life of Bees.  The story is based on the life of two feminist abolisionists in the early 1800's.  They were sisters who adovcated to free slaves and provide equal rights for them as well as women.  The author took the facts of these sisters lives and juxtaposed it with that of an imaginged slave girl who was given to one of the sisters for her 11th birthday.

I am not a fan of a story that flips back and forth between characters every other chapter - I think it's a lazy gimmick.  I'm always tempted to just read every other chapter.  The first half of the book also annoyed me because I get upset at characters that either put up with a bad situation beyond reason or rebel in self-destructive ways.   I guess I'm not a fan of hopeless situations.  I think I would have much preferred a story of the two sisters with more facts.

Published: 2014  Read: September 2014  Genre: Historical fiction