Wednesday, March 18, 2015

We Are Called To Rise - Laura McBride

Last summer I attended the Nashville book fest and they handed out pre-release paperbacks at one of the seminars.  My friend was given this one and sent it along to me as a good read.  I agree!  It's the story of four people's lives intersecting in tragic and uplifting ways.  Bashkim, a young Albanian trying to straddle his family life and a new life in Las Vegas; Avis, weathering a divorce while her son struggles after returning from Iraq; Luis, recovering from an injury and memories of his actions and Roberta, the social worker advocate trying to help.

First off, I was intrigued by the portrayal of Las Vegas as a boom town; I'd not thought of it in that way and it changed my perception of those who chose to live there.  I was also pleased to see a 53 year old first time author have success.

I'm not a fan of the multiple story lines switching with each chapter that is so popular these days but I kept reading and overlooked it as the story deepened.  One criticism I had was that the child's voice, Bashkim, who is about 8 or 9, is unconvincing.  In fact, all four voices are not significantly different.
Some lines that resonated with me:

[when Avis, the divorcee, is deciding what to toss when moving] "If I don't save these things, I have lost something.  It's not just that objects release memories, it's also that they keep them in check.  ...If I just have this one life--if I made all these mistakes in it, felt all this joy and all this pain--I want to know what it was.  I want to know what it really meant".

[Roberta] "..I'd rather live knowing I made a mistake than wondering if I could have made a difference if I'd tried."

[Avis] "Failing isn't proof that nothing matters or that we were fools to care.  We fail even though things matter very much; it's the possibility of failure that makes them matter even more....It all matters....What is most beautiful is lease acknowledged.  What is worth dying for is barely noticed."

A book well worth reading.

Published: 2014  Read: March 2015  Genre: Fiction

ISBN: 978-1-4767-3896-3

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Rosie Project - Graeme Simsion

I enjoyed this book, it was an extended story of a character like Sheldon on the Big Bang Theory television show.  Don is a genetics professor who is seeking the perfect mate by developing a questionnaire to identify her.  Instead, he runs into Rosie, a PhD student his lecherous friend sends to his office and Don mistakes as someone who fit the questions.

Rosie is everything Don thinks he doesn't want.  She smokes, she's impulsive, she drinks to much, she's outspoken.  She's also looking for her "real" father and they come together to test the DNA of all the candidates that were at her dead mother's college graduation party.

It's obvious to the reader that Don, like a group of kids and parent he lectures to help out his friend, is on the autistic continuum, although Don fails to realize this himself.  His misinterpretations of human interaction are funny and sad at the same time.

There's a message here about being an individual and accepting yourself in order to be accepting of others.  And there's laugh out loud moments too.

Published: 2013  Read: March 2015  Genre: Fiction

ISBN:3 1740 08616 9103

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Sycamore Row - John Grisham

At almost 700 pages, this is a heavy paperback.  Thank goodness Grisham still knows how to tell a good story.  I ripped through this in a few evenings, enjoyed the entire thing.  Grisham revisits Jake, the young lawyer from his first novel, "A Time to Kill".  Jake gets a civil case this time, protecting the estate of a wealthy local who leaves everything to....well, I won't spoil it.  The legal ins and outs are convincing and the twists and turns makes you appreciate how complex our laws have become.  A good story and a great escape.

Published: 2014   Read: March 2015   Genre: Pulp fiction

A Rocket in My Pocket - compiled by Carl Withers

Subtitle: the Rhymes and Chants of Young Americans

I remember quite vividly finding a worn hardback copy of this book when I was in grade school.  I was fascinated with the rhymes, riddles and sayings.  Many years ago I ordered my own paperback copy.  I re-read it recently for a bit of nostalgia.

There's something to jog our memories, from tongue twisters like "Peter Piper" to counting games like "One potato, two potato" to riddles like this one:

I washed my hands in water
That never rained nor run;
I dried them with a towel
that was never wove nor spun.
  -- Dew and Sun

Published:  1948  Read: March 2015  Genre: Poetry

The Forgetting - David Shenk

Subtitle: Alzheimer's: Portrait of an Epidemic

I have pursued learning about aging in general and dementia in particular since my Nana died with dementia after too many years in a nursing home.  This book weaves real life anecdotes and history with facts as they stood in 2002, twelve years ago.  The author takes us through each stage of the disease, describing the characteristic behavior and loss of functions.

It confirmed what I had learned - Alzheimer's can't be diagnosed definitively without an autopsy. It described the mini-memory quiz called the Mini Mental Sate Examination (MMSE) as well as the Clock Test that pinpoints incipient dementia.

I thought one interesting suggestion was to consider rehabilitation for people with Alzheimer's, a proposal from a victim of the disease, that suggested the patient be encouraged to "control what you can control, communicate, express your feelings, look death in the face, find meaningful life-tasks and do them, search out and challenge dysfunctional negative thoughts".

It describes the discovery of a gene called ApoE, on chromosome 19, at the time the only verified genetic discovery related to the more common form of the disease.  I've gotten my DNA for genealogical purposes but I'm not ready to take the step of having it analyzed for any potential diseases.

An interesting part discusses that our rates of survival into old age due to advances in medical science has created a "prolongation of morbidity" and the revelation of "hidden diseases" like Alzheimer's that primarily occur in very old age and are also hidden from the forces of natural selection since it occurs when the person is no longer able to reproduce.

There's a whole chapter on "things to avoid", none of which are guaranteed to prevent the disease but may postpone it to a later age.

I thought the book a great summary of the disease, its history and progression.  I wish there was a new volume that brought the research up to date.

Published:  2001, 2002  Read: March 2015  Genre: Science

ISBN: 9 780385498388

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone? - Mark Zwonitzer

sub-title: The Carter Family and their Legacy in American Music

I know next to nothing about country music.  I picked this up as a chance to educate myself a bit.  What a lesson!  Their story took me back to the roots of country music - Appalachia, traditional tunes, folk ballads, gospel and spirituals, all gathered, interpreted and shaped into the country sound my this iconic family.  They were no angels though.

The behind the scenes look at their family life and careers shows ordinary people with extraordinary talent living hard lives and suffering heartaches.  It's the evolution of the music that's the triumphant story.

In one early session in 1928, they recorded songs that are still be performed today; Wildwood Flower and John Hardy, for example. Maybelle, the guitarist, developed styles of playing that are still marvelled at by musicians.

It was a history lesson I enjoyed.

Wondrous Words Wednesday (a day late, again!)

I like participating in this over at Bermuda Onion's blog but I am derelict in getting my entries done!

A new term I learned in reading the story was "melungeon".  Reporting on A.P. Carter's travels to gather music, his buddy, Riddle, said they stayed with "a group of Cherokee or melungeons...and ate rabbit".  It refers to a group of people of "tri-racial isolate", a mix of European, Native American and African American found in the mountains of the Southeast Appalachians and was used derisively.

Published:  2002   Read: February 2015  Genre: Biography

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Lifeboat - Charlotte Rogan

I enjoyed reading this intense, thought provoking book.  It's a first person account by a survivor of a ship sinking who is on trial for murdering one of the other survivors in the lifeboat.  She's a recently married young woman who thought her life was on its way to being perfect when she married a successful businessman and they were travelling back to his family in America when their ship sinks.

She's alternately shallow, conceited, compassionate, thoughtful, naive and cunning.  Your not sure which.  As she says "admirable traits are often exactly the same as negative ones, only expressed in a different way".

The story made me wonder, what I would do in her situation.  How my personality traits would be perceived by my fellow survivors and count for or against me when returning to the real world.    Recommended reading.

Published: 2012  Read: February 2015  Genre: fiction