Thursday, March 31, 2016

Disobedience - Jane Hamilton

I've read "The Book of Ruth" and "Laura Ryder's Masterpiece" and tried to read "A Map of the World" by the same author. This one gave me the same feeling as her previous ones - almost worth reading, but in the end, unsatisfying.

This title is the story of a teenager who reads his mother's email and finds out she is having an affair.  Over the course of about a year, he angst over her infidelity.  Intertwined is the story of his father, a history teacher and his sister, a preteen obsessed with the civil war and its reenactments.  It's a story of family relationships and family tolerances, secrets and weaknesses.

For me, the son's character was inconsistent; at times sounding childish and at others mouthing adult observations for the author's convenience.  I just didn't care much for any of the characters.

Published: 2000  Read: March 2016  Genre: Fiction

I Had To Survive - Dr Roberto Canessa

co-author, Pablo Vierci

This is the story of one of the 16 people that survived the plane crash in the Andes Mountains in 1972, that was told in the movie, "Alive".  Dr Canessa was one of the two boys (they were 19 years old) who hiked out from the crash.  All these years later, it is still astonishing that so many of the 45 passengers and crew survived for 70 days.

The story is told in first person by Roberto and then later in the book through interviews with his family and patients.  Dr Canessa became a renowned pediatric cardiologist, working to save newborns with malformed hearts.

His story of survival is inspiring but it is what he did with his life afterwords that is worth reading. How he provides hope to families whose children have heart problems and how he cares for them as people and not just patients is evident in the testimonials of the parents and their children.  He comes across as a modest, humble, but driven individual.

I think the story read unevenly, however because of the translation from Spanish.  The language at times seemed flowery and overly dramatic, like reading newspaper stories from the late 1800's.

I took from this book the lesson that we all have survived some experience in our lives that has shaped who we are today.  It is what we've done going forward from that experience that can make our life continue to make a difference in the world.

Published: 2016  Read: March 2016  Genre: Auto-biography, memoir


Friday, March 25, 2016

Becoming Odyssa - Jennifer Pharr Davis

Sub-title: Adventures on the Appalachian Trail

I picked this up on the library's "Get Outdoors" shelf.  My husband has hiked the trail to various lengths for several years and I was interested in reading another person's account.

Before reading, I knew nothing about the author.  The jacket told me she'd become a record holder in hiking the trail in the fewest number of days.  This story is about her first hike at the tender age of 21 after finishing college.  She was naive and inexperienced and sheltered and the hike changed her life.

I enjoyed the fast pace of the story, with each chapter beginning with an introduction to the next stretch of the trail and then her experiences traversing that stretch.  She chose to hike alone for most of the way, reflecting on her reactions, her thoughts and her ability to persevere.

As my husband, who also read the book, pointed out, everyone hikes their own hike.  Just like life; we all have our own view of how we experience our existence and those with share it with.

Published:  2010  Read: March 2016  Genre: Adventure, auto-biography

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Mockingbird Next Door - Marja Mills

subtitle:  Life with Harper Lee

Two years ago in November I went with my good friend Kathryn to the Nashville book festival.  It was marvelous.  A weekend of listening to southern writers discuss their books and the writing process.

We heard Marja Mills explain the writing of this book at the festival.  At the time, there was a controversy going on as Harper Lee had denied authorizing the biography.  When Harper Lee died recently, my library displayed this book and several others related to the famous author and I finally picked it up to read.

Marja Mills was a journalist sent from the Chicago paper she worked for to research and report on Harper Lee the year Illinois made "To Kill a Mockingbird" the Illinois book of the year.  She makes a connection with Nelle Harper Lee and her sister Alice and returns to their small town when physical disability forces her to leave her job for a while.  She lived next door to them for over a year.

As I read the story, I felt I was reading about the unfolding of a friendship.  Two people from different parts of the world find their commonalities and share the everyday activities of life.  I didn't feel the author exploited their friendship, though she was aware of its special qualities. Some may see it as taking advantage of a pair of older women who wanted to have their memories recorded.  I think everyone has a need to tell their story before they are gone and forgotten and Marja happened to be there with a sympathetic ear and a journalist's skill for capturing those stories.  I also think Marja was where she needed to have someone help her see what her own life was shaping up to be.  I suspect that the fuss was due to Lee's declining capacities as she was nearing the end of life and lost her sister, Alice, and not any betrayal of their friendship.

To me, it's the story of Marja learning to slow down and appreciate the daily rhythm of life and of Nelle deciding to trust and share that life with someone.  Nelle Harper Lee is revealed as a lover of words and writing, fun loving and shy, intensely private and loyal.  It is a shame she did not keep writing while she was alive.

Published:  2014  Read: February 2016  Genre: Biography

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up - Marie Kondo

subtitle: the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing

What a delightful little book!  One of my book club ladies recommended this to the group in January as a good way to start the year.  The author is a professional organizer but she doesn't advocate using bunches of boxes and clever storage solutions.  Her emphasis is on only owning what brings you joy.

Her advice begins with noting that if you declutter a little bit at a time you'll never finish.  She advocates you "tidy up perfectly and completely in one fell swoop", that is, less than six months or so.  There are only two kinds of work involved; deciding whether or not to dispose of something and deciding where to put it.

At this point in the first couple of chapters I could relate.  I've always been a neat person and like things clean and in their place.  But as I read on, I realized just having a place for something doesn't mean I should continue to keep it.  More specifically, we need to chose what we want to keep, not what we want to get rid of.  The way to decide what to keep is to "take each item in one's hand and ask: 'Does this spark joy?'  If it does, keep it.  If not, dispose of it."  Easier said than done.  So, the further chapters describe how to proceed.

She points out that things have physical, functional, informational and emotional value - a thing is worth something, we insist, or it could still be used, or has information we might need or has sentimental value.  A thing might even be rare.  She recommends piling things up of each group in one spot from all over the house and going through them in this order: clothing, books, papers, miscellany and lastly, mementos.  She points out "that to truly cherish the things that are important to you, you must first discard those that have outlived their purpose."  I smiled at her suggestion of thanking each possession for how it served you before getting rid of it.  So often I find myself mourning what I was going to do with something, the dreams or plans it represented.  Saying thank you for serving as a part of that dream to an object is more positive.

When getting to the "where to put it" part, she recommends asking your house.  That is, look around your house and see where it makes the most sense for a thing to be stored.  She points out to store things vertically, rather than stacking them, for ease of access and visibility.  She dismisses the use of elaborate storage systems and recommends simple shoe boxes for gathering up small items.

Toward the last chapters she addresses the hardest items - those that represent an attachment to the past or a fear for the future and points out that "the question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life."

I found the book inspiring and a different way of viewing the stuff that I've accumulated.  I think I'll pursue her ideas in choosing what I really want to live with.

Published in U.S. : 2014  Read:  February 2016  Genre: Self-help, non-fiction