Sunday, November 29, 2015

Almost There - Nuala O'Faolain

Another used bookstore find.  I'd read the wildly popular first book by this journalist turned author, titled "Are You Somebody?" back in 2003 and I recognized the author's name.  Nuala wrote her first book as a memoir of her life up until about age 50.  She'd grown up in Ireland with an alcoholic mother and detached father, one of nine children.  This book was the continuation of her story, written when she was in her early 60's.

Her books talk of her loneliness, her "sour" disposition, her struggles with love and life.  Some quotes:
"The lonely life pays off...And because it is lonely you think you deserve it - you never really confront the fact that solitary pleasures erode your ties to the human race".
She has an ongoing struggle with the memories of her mother:
"The fact that it was our mother who wouldn't allow us to mean anything to her, that it was our mother who gave us daily proof of as much dissatisfaction with her lot as if she'd been a queen sold into slavery, opened my feeling in the memoir to all comers...What there is to say about fathers is specific, but what there is to say about mothers is easily generalized." 
She reflects on the impact of her mother's rejection on her own inability to accept the daughter of her partner, John:
"I didn't even know she [her mother] was inducting me into her own resentment of children.  And if I had known, I would have thought it doesn't matter - that I could re-educate myself anytime.  What if I can't?  What if I can't lift this weight off my heart?"
 I liked this observation when she's talking about money worries:
"Middle-aged people do eventually catch up with as much money as they need." 
She goes on a family vacation with her siblings and reflects on the family relationships:
"My days had purpose because I had the others to report to in the evening, even if I made my reports fairly short - only someone who loves you personally tolerates a full account of your experiences.  My sisters have been listening to me all my life and vice versa, and there's a limit to how interesting we find each other." 
There's irony and humor hiding vasts amounts of pain in her stories.  Through it all, she struggles to enjoy her life.  I was sadden to learn that she died in 2008 of lung cancer.  She spoke with a voice that many could relate to.

Published:  2003  Read: November 2015  Genre: memoir

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Paris Wife - Paula McLain

I picked this up at the used bookstore because I'd read a blogger's review.  I hadn't known that it was the story of Ernest Hemingway's first wife, Hadley and had passed it over before.  Hadley was almost six years older when they met in their 20's.  Their marriage was spent mostly in Paris during the jazz age, among friends like Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound and F. Scott Fitzgerald.  They had a son (one of three sons of Hemingway; he had two others with his second wife) and she was his muse during the writing of his novel, The Sun Also Rises.

I enjoyed reading of how passionate Hemingway was about writing and how much he struggled to write and get published.  At one point his wife brings all his writing to him and loses the valise carrying the papers.  It was a crushing blow and seems to have been a turning point in a relationship that was already deteriorating.

Hadley is portrayed as a traditional woman who lived a sheltered life and never embraced the wild, reckless life of the 1920's after WWI.  She was his steady anchor as he threw himself into life, running with the bulls in Paloma, skiing in the Alps, drinking in Paris.

A good read.

Published: 2011  Read: November 2015  Genre: Historical fiction

The Yacoubian Building - Alaa Al Aswwany

This is a story of the lives of people living in Cairo, Egypt in a large and and once exclusive, fancy apartment building and those living on the roof of the building in what used to be storage units for the apartments.  It describes the contrast between the newly rich and the desperately poor living in the same space but very different worlds.
I liked learning a little bit about the culture of  contemporary Egypt and the day to day lives of the people.  None of the characters are very likable, all conniving and manipulative and backstabbing.  There are multiple character threads that come together a little too neatly in the end.  The book was made into a movie that I might seek out.  A different read.

Published:  2004 (American version)  Read: November 2015  Genre: Fiction

ISBN: 978-0-06-087813-9

The Almost Moon - Alice Sebold

I had liked the author's book, Lucky, her memoir, and was impressed with her fiction, The Lovely Bones, for its unusual viewpoint and exploration of dark evils.  I remember liking her raw style and honest reflections on her feelings.  And with a story that starts with the protagonist admitting to killing her mother, I thought this book would be a good read.  It falls far short because it blunts the normal reaction of horror and dismay at the character's actions an seeming to excuse them as a consequence of a dysfunctional family.

It's a strange story as the daughter, a mid-50's woman, tries to keep her mother's death a secret, then recruits her ex-husband to help tell their children and seduces her best friend's son.  Not recommended.

Published:  2008  Read:  October 2015   Genre: fiction

ISBN:  978 0 316 06736 2

Monday, November 16, 2015

A Room of One's Own/Three Guineas - Virginia Woolf

I recently had someone inventory all my books which made it easier to see which ones I need to get rid of and which ones I haven't read in so long I can't remember them.

I'd read a fictionalized biography of Woolf earlier this year and though it would be a good idea to read (or re-read, like I said, I can't remember) the author herself, so I pulled this one from the shelf at home.

A Room of One's Own makes the case for a woman of the early 20th century being able to become a writer and be independent if she were to have a fixed income and a room of her own away from the demands of household life in which to write.  Woolf was writing about the educated, upper class women of her time who she saw as shackled by the definitions of a woman's place and restricted from earning an income.  It was originally written as a speech given at a woman's college.

Three Guinea's was written later in 1938 and responds to requests for donations from three separate entities.  In her response, Woolf gives explanation as to why the causes being appealed were related and why her help as a woman would be different from that of the patriarchal expectations of the writer.  It is written almost as a dialogue between herself and the requester and we are invited to eavesdrop.

It was easy to see why this book has endured and its appeal to feminist and pacifist.  Both stories contrast the nature of militaristic (male) society with that of the (peaceful) female one.  Woolf's missteps in only viewing the issue from the point of view of the upper class society to which she belongs but it doesn't entirely distract from her message.

It took some time to read as I found myself pondering if things are that much different these days and if so, is it for the better?

Published:1929 (A Room of One's Own) 1938 (Three Guineas)  Read: November 2015 Genre: Essay

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Coincidence - J. W. Ironmonger

The perfect book to take on a cruise; philosophical yet not too heavy. A young woman comes to a professor who analyzes the probability of what seem to be coincidences, to assert her belief that she is predetermined to die based on the coincidences that have aligned in her life.

The professor takes on her case to disprove coincidences as a case for predetermination and the existence of a God.  The book explores the meaning of serendipity, luck, miracles and our tendency to look for non-randomness in a random world.

The woman advocates coincidences as evidence of someone being in control claiming that "everything happens for a reason but not always a good reason"and argues that he "can't dismiss my views simply because they make no sense to you".

The professor points out the lazy logic of claiming something was caused by something that happened before it just because the result occurred after the initial event; the Latin being "post hoc ergo propter hoc" literally "after this, therefore because of this".

There's a lot of strange happenings in the woman's life and the story gets messy and runs down some dead ends making for a sloppy path to the end.  The professor falls in love; he confesses that someone must be in control of everything but finds it hard to believe.

My take away was that we are all responsible for our own problems or at least the attitude we take toward them.

Published: 2014  Read: October 2015  Genre: Fiction, Philosophy

ISBN-13: 978-0062309891

Act One - Moss Hart

I picked this up at the half price book store for my October trip but finished it before I left!

Moss Hart was a famous playwright and theatre director in the 30's and 40's, dying in the late 50's, married to Kitty Carlisle of the "What's My Line" game show. His auto-biography is considered a classic in the description of life in the theatre. It's an intimate portrayal of his difficult early poverty with alcoholic and disturbed parents and his escape from that life to the magic of Broadway.  I enjoyed the insight into play writing and the collaborative method he used to create many of his plays.

He does come off as rather pompous and overwrought, working himself into a tizzy with worry and doubt.  He was a tremendously hard worker and relentless in writing for his audience.  In any case, the story vividly reveals the behind the curtain activities of the theater and the people who create it. If you know anyone who wants a life in theatre, this is a good gift.

Published: 2014 (2nd edition, originally 1959  Read: October 2015  Genre: auto-biography

  • ISBN-13: 978-1250050892

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Insane City - Dave Barry

I was away on vacation in October and read several books that I need to catch up on.

Dave Barry is a journalist turned novelist out of Florida.  I like his zany sense of humor and the predicaments his characters bumble through.  This book is a story of a groom's (Seth) bachelor party and wedding preparation against that of a Haitian woman and her children trying to get to America.

The madcap hi jinks of Seth's buddies and the quirky characters he meets trying to get back to his wedding after a night of drunken revelry made me laugh out loud.  Seth is marrying a rich, gorgeous Wall Street type attorney with a millionaire Daddy who is none-to-pleased with his soon to be son-in-law.  All these "problems" are contrasted with the story of Laurette, a woman escaping from Haiti with her young children, left adrift in a boat of the shore of Florida and found bobbing near the beach by Seth as he wakes with a hangover.

Seth persists in doing what's right by Laurette despite the harassment of his father-in-law and disapproval of his wife-to-be.  Dave Barry is not all a funny man and makes some serious observations about what is really a problem in our lives.

Published:  2013  Read: October 2015  Genre: Humor

  • ISBN-13: 978-0425264720