Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Places in Between - Rory Stewart

This was a great read, providing recent and historical context for the people and country of Afghanistan.  The author tells of his walk in January 2002 across the country surviving on the generosity and kindness of the Afghan people.  Reading it humanized the people I've been conditioned to think of as our enemies and gave me insight into the multiple cultures that exist today and have been there for centuries.  Rory weaves ancient Persian history into the war-torn reality of the present to illustrate the complexity of applying modern Western democratic ideals to the region.

Highly recommended.

Published: 2006  Read: September 2016  Genre: Memoir

That's Not a Feeling - Dan Josefson

Now for something completely different.  This book was weird and hard to read and that was intentional.  We're taken inside the mind and memories of a teenage boy hospitalized in a strict, behavioral modification school for troubled teens.  We experience the  psychobabble lingo and eccentric headmaster and baffled staff.  It's funny in parts but dark and sad in whole.

Published: 2012  Read: September 2016  Genre: Fiction

The Nun - Denis Diderot

Where do I find this books?  Maybe I should start including pictures of the covers because in most cases that's contributes to my decision to pick them up from the used bookstores.

This is a very old book about a joke that was played on a soft-hearted gentleman.  His friends pretended to be a young woman forced into a convent who pleads with the gentleman to help her break her vows and leave the convent.  She tells her story of being a child of her mother's lover passed off as a daughter of her husband, but shunted to the cloistered life to prevent her from making claims on her family's estate.

It still has relevance for today because it illuminates the way women were treated as property to be bought or disposed of as desired.  It shows the strength of character required to stand up for oneself and stay true to your convictions.  A different read.

Published: 1972 (originally written 1760)  Read: September 2016  Genre: Fiction, Classics

Loving Frank - Nancy Horan

Frank Lloyd Wright is an icon here in Arizona and I was interested in reading some historical fiction about his life.  This is the story of his love affair with one of his clients, Mamah Borthwick Cheney (that's a real name).  She was a feminist in the early 20th century and they admired each other's intellect which sent sparks flying.  It's quite a story.

The tale had an added bonus for me because it describes the life of women (albeit the upper class) during the 1900-1920 time period and I'm researching that era for a story about my great grandmother.  The women advocating for women's rights are referenced throughout: Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Jane Addams, Emma Goldman, Grace Trout, Else Lasker-Schuler, as well as detractors like the Reverend Billy Sunday.

Mamah was a translator for Ellen Key (author of Beauty for Everyone and The Morality of Woman). Elsie explains the name-calling she's received, saying "It's a very effective method: Attack the personal character of the thinker, and you will kill her ideas.  I have been forced to live a careful life as a result".

I learned the source of the name of FLW's Taliesin - it was the name of the main character in a play by Richard Hovey about a Welsh bard who was part of King Arthur's court, a truth-seeker and a prophet, who's name meant 'shining brow'.

I noted this quote while reading:

"It is not sufficient to be a mother; an oyster can be a mother.  Charlotte Perkins Gilman."

A great read with lots to offer.

Published:  2007   Read: September 2016  Genre: Historical fiction

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand - Helen Simonson

I put off reading this because when my book club discussed it I didn't think I'd be interested in it.  I was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed the story, however implausible.


"It's a fact of life, I suppose, that the younger generation must try to take over and run the lives of their elders.  I think my son tries to organize my life because it's easier than his own---give him a sense of being in control of something in a world that is not quite ready to put him in charge."
 "...the Major marveled anew at the way so many people were willing to spend time and energy on the adverse judgment of others."
 "At our age, surely there are better things to sustain us, to sustain a marriage than the brief flame of passion?"  'Your are mistaken Ernest', she said at last.  'There is only the passionate spark.  Without it, two people living together may be lonelier than if they lived quite alone'."
 "But we, who can do anything, we refuse to live our dreams on the basis that they are not practical."
"Sometimes I think God created the darkness just so he didn't have to look at us all the time."

Published:2010  Read: September 2016  Genre: Fiction

Bitter is the New Black - Jen Lancaster

Sub-title:  Confessions of a Condescending, Egomaniacal, Self-Centered Smartass, Or, Why You Should Never Carry A Prada Bag to the Unemployment Office

Sarcastic, witty, funny, poignant 20 something reels from being laid off in the bust and gets her priorities straight - maybe.  Enjoyable read.

Published: 2006  Read: September 2016  Genre: Memoir

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Aviator's Wife - Melanie Benjamin

This is an historical fiction account of Ann Morrow Lindberg, the wife of Charles Lindberg who was the first to cross the Atlantic solo.  I didn't enjoy this book at first.  I was frustrated at the passivity of Ann and her acceptance of whatever she was told to do.  Later in the book I realized this set the stage for her futuer growth as a person with her own ideas and desires.  I was familiar with Lindberg's Nazi admiration but was not aware he had fathered other children with three other women in Germany.

It was sad and disturbing to see how celebrity and public life is so destructive and disruptive to the individual and their family.  A good read.

Published: 2013  Read: August 2016  Genre: Historical fiction