Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Teatime for the Firefly - Shona Patel

Another suggestion from one of my reading groups and for this one we get to meet the author!

The story is set in India in Assam in the 1940's where there were large tea plantations.  The main character is an independent thinking girl who marries a manager of one of the tea plantations.  The first third of the book tells or her growing up an orphan raised by her grandfather.  After her marriage we're taken to her life on the plantation.

I felt that the character changed personality and was inconsistent with her portrayal as a single woman, almost as if the story had been written about two different people.  I liked learning about the plantation life and India though there is only tangential mention of the strife and struggle for independence as the story becomes the tale of the couple.

I could use a pronunciation gazetteer for the Indian names of things, or a dictionary at the end.  The picture painted of the life of the couple was very vivid and detailed.  Worth reading.

Published:  2013  Read: September 2015  Genre: Fiction

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Go Set A Watchman - Harper Lee

I liked this book.  I know, the literature critics didn't and I have to agree with them, it is not well written, or more accurately, it doesn't feel like it was edited closely.  That said, it is another viewpoint on the Finch family, from all accounts, the original approach taken by Lee.  It reads like a young woman rejecting her upbringing, her eyes opened by living in New York, and realizing the very human flaws in her adored father.  I felt the book might have been "closer to the bone" for the author than To Kill A Mockingbird.

It took a while to get into the story and the initial relationship of Jean Louise and her family and boyfriend seemed to bog down.  I liked this quote about family relationships, she doesn't get along with her Aunt:
"...they had never been able to sustain fifteen minutes' conversation with one another without advancing irreconcilable points of view, invigorating in friendships, but in close blood relations producing only uneasy cordiality."

It's over half way through the book before the crisis of the story is revealed.  The story proceeds much quicker from that point as Jean Louise moves on to become  her own person.  She comes to see her father as a human being rather than a hero.  Her Uncle explains to her how her father and her are different:
"'ve a bigot.  ...'One obstinately or intolerably devoted to his own church, party, belief, or opinion'.  What does a bigot do when he meets someone who challenges his opinions?  He doesn't give.  He stays rigid.  Doesn't even try to listen, just lashes out. You turned and ran. ...You said, in effect, 'I don't like the way these people do, so I have no time for them.'  You'd better take time for 'em, honey, otherwise you'll never grow."
As the back jacket states "Every man's island, Jean Louise, every man's watchman, is his conscience.".

Worth reading no matter how high the pedestal we've put Harper Lee on.

Published: 2015  Read: September 2015  Genre: Fiction

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Our Souls at Night - Kent Haruf

This is a lovely story, the last book from the author before he died.  The story of two widowed friends, a man and woman, getting together for company.  It's sweet and touching and oh so believable.  What will old age be like?  Read this and explore the possibilities.

Published:  2015  Read: September 2015  Genre: Fiction

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Unspeakable - Meghan Daum

I enjoy browsing the "best pics" that the library puts out right inside the entrance.  This one popped out at me and I'm glad I picked it up.  The author is a Generation Xer, known for her first book "My Misspent Youth".  This is a group of short stories or essays reflecting on her life many years later.

She's unconventional and speaks out on things that aren't normally said out loud (her chapter entitled "Matricide" about her mother's dying is a good example).  She chooses not to have children and reflects at one point on her and her husband feeling sad after she has a miscarriage:

"Were we sad because we lacked some essential element of lifetime partnership, such as a child or agreement about wanting or not wanting one?  Or were we sad because life is just sad sometimes -- maybe even a lot of the time?  Or perhaps it wasn't even sadness we were feeling but, simply, the dull ache of aging?  Maybe children don't save their parents from this ache as much as distract from it.  And maybe creating a diversion from aging turns out to be the whole point of parenting."
It was an interesting read and I'll think I'll look for more of her writing.

Published: 2014   Read: September 2015  Genre: Memoir/Essay

Saturday, September 5, 2015

One Summer in America - 1927 - Bill Bryson

By all accounts, 1927 was a memorable year in America and the author set out to blend all the events of the time into a coherent story line.  Bryson takes historical events (Lindbergh's solo flight across the Atlantic) sports (Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig memorable seasons with the Yankees), politics (Calvin Coolidge's presidency and the rise of Herbert Hoover), and the rise of the Hollywood movie industry and tells how they launched lasting impacts on America and the rest of the World.

One seeming omission that rankled my reading of the book was scarce mention of significant accomplishments and contributions of women.  Where was Margaret Mead or Margaret Sanger? Jane Addams? Amelia Earhart?  It reminds me that history becomes what is recorded and if it is recorded by men, then the contributions and stories of women may be overlooked or diminished.

Some parts I noted:

"[Pinedo, an Italian aviator, doing a cross country tour after an Atlantic crossing] On April 6, en route to a civic reception in San Diego, he landed at a reservoir called Roosevelt Lake in the desert west of Phoenix...a youth lit a cigarette and threw the match in the water..." and his plane was engulfed in flames.

He describes the use of the new Standford version of the Binet-Simon test, which eventually became the modern IQ test and says "it is interesting to reflect that the IQ test was invented not to determine how smart people are, but how stupid."

Overall, the book was a good read, providing a snapshot of the U.S. at that time and the influences and impacts of the events.

Published:  2013  Read: August 2015  Genre: History, Non-Fiction

ISBN: 9 7807 919401

In Defense of Women - H.L. Mencken

This is a very old book I got from the collection of my friend, Teddi, who passed away and left me her books.  H. L. Mencken was a critic and writer who commented on society.  This book is satirical at first, with a tongue in cheek take on women as the superior gender and men being bamboozled by their actions.

His thoughts on women and marriage:

"She seeks a husband, not sentimentally, but realistically; she always give thought to the economic situation; she seldom takes a chance if it is possible to avoid it."

After several chapters he seems to applaud instead of criticize the evolution of the female gender and changes to praise.

In describing the "New Age" [the coming 1920's] he points out that:

"There already appears in the world, a class of women who, while still not genuinely averse to marriage, are yet free from any theory that it is necessary...who, with their economic Independence assured, either by inheritance or by their own exactly as they please, and make no pother about it."

I wish I'd known Teddi had this book when we could have talked about it.  It would have been a lively discussion.

Published:  1922  Read: August 2015  Genre: Essay