Sunday, June 4, 2017

"Lincoln in the Bardo"

my take: Wow.

Legend has it that after President Lincoln's son Willie died, he went to the cemetery and took the boy's body out of the casket to hold one last time. This myth/event is the impetus for this graveyard tale.

The inhabitants of the bardo are those who seem to be keeping themselves in a state of purgatory, in the liminal space between life and what comes next. They are shocked and awed that Mr. Lincoln does what no one has done and this sets the entire crazy ghoulish community atwitter.

At time hilarious and at times utterly moving, I loved this conversation of the deceased and the journal/letter entries of Mr. Lincoln's contemporaries. After Team of Rivals I adored the 16th President; after this, well, I feel I've walked a mile in his shoes. I also wonder if Mr. Saunders has read C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce.

Daughter Anne reports that the audio version is a production, nearly a radio play, with all different voices: Author Saunders takes a role with 165 others joining him. The book is a bit confusing at first, so the audio definitely will be to start. And very worthwhile. I think this would make an amazing movie.

my source: Stephen Colbert interviewing George Saunders, my interest in Mr. Saunders having grown since I saw him at the Festival of Faith and writing last year. Loaned from bookie Bea - whose hubby gave her a book a month for Christmas (!) from their local St. Joseph, MI bookstore; she gets an email with suggestions and then saunters down there and makes her pick. I may have encouraged this one.

my verdict: excellent off-beat read

Friday, June 2, 2017

"The Jesus Cow"

my take: Literature can take you anywhere; I do love reading about all kinds of places. As a midwest girl born and bred, there's something particularly homey and wonderful about midwestern writing. Although not a farm girl (by any means) nor a small-town gal, I loved the farmer, Harley, and rural Swivel's inhabitants.

Harley has a few beefers and a milker on what's left of his father's farm. On Christmas Eve his milker gives birth to a calf with the face of Jesus on its hide. Enter a the wise veteran, a biker girl friend, and a blabber-mouth mail lady and his quiet solitary life is over.

The story is fun, low-key, easy and could be taken just as a nice beach read ... and the thoughts are deep and deserving of inspection and reflection if you've got the time and energy. Michael Perry brings us the intersection of religious belief with the practical, gritty real world.

           "What you have there is people assigning meaning to coincidence. Forcing theology into
             place between nature and chance. There is a mighty space between the known and
             the unknown, and a lot of folks use theology to spackle the gap." p 219

Deep thoughts, beautifully crafted language, and earthy characters in a wonderful conglomeration of Michael Perry's life and interests. Even though I could see how some of the plot was gonna play out and the last chapter was more of an epilogue, I loved this.

my source: Spotted this hardcover for $7 at the wonderfully fabulous Unabridged Bookstore on Broadway in north Chicago. If you are in the area: GO. Also, a huge Michael Perry fan. Also read: Population 485, Coop, Truck: A Love Story to get to know him.

my verdict: Very good feel good. And just what I needed.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

"The Dry"

my take: A triple family suicide/murder in a small Australian farming town re-kindles the unsolved murder/suicide from twenty years earlier when the main character returns to town for the funeral of childhood friend.

Everybody's on high alert as the crops and cattle fail in the drought. Maybe it's just the title's suggestion, but it felt dry. The dryness came through in making you want to jump in a pool or drink hardily. (I was sitting between the Mediterranean Sea and a lovely pool)

This is an easy read and kept me guessing who done it. (Good vacay read)

my source: daughter Anne (she carried along to Malta and shared ... big love)

my verdict: good fast read

Friday, January 27, 2017

"The Association of Small Bombs"

my take: Doesn't this cover look kind of fun? Strings and colorful dots! Lower case letters! Do not be taken in. The bombs referenced in the title are the real deal.

The characters in the novel are forever changed by a terrorist bomb in a marketplace in Delhi. We see the story from all points of view ... the parents of the victims, the survivor and his parents, the bomb makers, the activists. Each of their lives is intimately entangled with each other's though they can not see their connections.

Written in a style that mimicked the imprecision of bombings in the shrapnel that imbeds itself into both the body and the psyche.  A little chaotic, random, penetrating, hidden.

     "If you had horrible thoughts, if you carried rage against your parents and sexual fury against women in your head, as he had--how could you be healthy, happy? Your body imploded. You became the bomb." p170

This writing style reminded me of Let the Great World Spin in which all the words and stories felt like they were spinning out of control. In this case, it feels like the words flying off the page, scattering and leaving marks.

I found this book incredibly difficult to read because it hit too close to home: the actions taken by a few causing lasting damage to those within its perimeter. As the actual bombs explode in the novel, political bombs were detonating in real life. I felt battered by both.

my source: Book Chicks January 2017 pick

my verdict: Worth a read. Maybe in a sunnier month. Bombs, January, India ... what was I thinking?

Thursday, January 12, 2017

"Today Will be Different"

my take: I saw this title and thought: YES PLEASE. Isn't that what we hope for in mid-life? I'll get it together today! I'll drink 64 ounces of water TODAY! Or the epigraph:

  "Today will be different. Today I will be present. Today, anyone I speak to,
    I will look them in the eye and listen deeply. Today I'll play a board game
    with Timby. I'll initiate sex with Joe. Today I will take pride in my
    appearance. I'll shower, get dressed in proper clothes, and change into
    yoga clothes only for yoga, which today I will actually attend. Today I
    won't swear. I won't talk about money. Today there will be an ease about
    me. My face will be relaxed, its resting pale a smile. Today I will radiate
                                             calm. Kindness and self-control will abound. Today I will buy local.                                                     Today I will be my best self, the person I'm capable of being. Today will
                                             be different."

Oh, such good intentions from our beds. We meet Eleanor as she is waking and follow her well-intentioned day through Seattle with far-flung flash-backs to Aspen and New Orleans and meeting Eleanor's crazy cast of life characters.

Part of it reads like a voice-over ... and it includes a small graphic novel in the middle (part of the story line) ... which got me thinking ... who is this Maria Semple? She majored in English at Barnard College and worked on TV shows such as Mad About You, Arrested Development, 90210.

Funny, snarky, fast-paced, circuitous. Fun female fiction. Julia Roberts will be playing Eleanor in the TV movie version.

my source: LOVED Where'd You Go, Bernadette so when I saw this IN HARDCOVER at Costco...I splurged.

my verdict: A pleasant diversion. Not terribly memorable and NOT AS GREAT AS Bernadette.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

"A Gentleman in Moscow"

my take: Wow. Wow. Wow. I had really high expectations for this book based on my love of the author's previous novel. And in an era where disappointment is running high for me ... it was lovely to be out-expected.

Count Alexander Rostov inhabits the Metropol Hotel in Moscow. Never mind he is under house arrest and will never leave. He inhabits it fully. Through him we meet the staff, the rising stars of the State, the international visitors; peek into suites, closets, attics and basements; and enjoy meals and wines in the restaurants and bars.

One evening as he orders his dinner and bottle of wine, it is revealed that the Bolsheviks have ordered all the labels removed from the wine collection. Here, the Count goes down to the cellar:

     "As we age, we are bound to find comfort from the notion that it takes generations for a way of life to fade. We are familiar with the songs our grandparents favored, after all, even though we never danced to them ourselves. At festive holidays, the recipes we pull from the drawer are routinely decades old, and in some cases even written in the hand of a a relative long since dead. And the objects in our homes? The oriental coffee tables and well-worn desks that have been handed down from generation to generation? Despite being 'out of fashion,' not only do they add beauty to our daily lives, they lend material credibility to our presumption that the passing of an era will be glacial.
     But under certain circumstances, the Count finally acknowledged, this process can occur in the comparative blink of an eye. Popular upheaval, political turmoil, industrial progress--any combination of these can cause the evolution of a society to leapfrog generations, sweeping aside aspects of the past that might otherwise have lingered for decades. And this must be especially so, when those with newfound power are men who distrust any from of hesitation or nuance, and who prize self-assurance above all.
     For years now, with a bit of a smile, the Count" had remarked that this or that was behind him--like his days of poetry or travel or romance. But in so doing, he had never really believed it. In his heart of hearts, he had imagined that, even if unattended to, these aspects of his life were lingering somewhere on the periphery, waiting to be recalled. But looking at the bottle in his hand, the Count was struck by the realization that, in fact, is was all behind him. Because the Bolsheviks, who were so intent upon recasting the future from a mold of their own making, would not rest until every last vestige of his Russia had been uprooted, shattered, or erased." (page 144)

I could quote so many passages for their insight and beauty. With 462 pages, there are plenty of options. Playful, witty, grand, cautionary, celebratory ... loved. this. book.

my source: Gifted for Christmas ... on my wanted list ever since publication date. Amor Towles Rules of Civility was a top pick a couple years ago.

my verdict: Excellent. Top notch. Five stars. I laughed, I nearly cried, I came away a better person.

Friday, December 30, 2016

"The Truth According to Us"

my take: What is history, if not the truth according to us?

Set in the American depression, the tale of a city girl doing WPA work in small town and the family she boards with. Secrets abound in the small town, as well as lots of folk lore about their history.

I loved this behind-the-scenes kind of look at how history is recorded - reminding me that who tells and who records it are what mostly make "history."

my source: My sister Carey recommended; my momma birthday-ed

my verdict:  Great feel good read