Sunday, November 29, 2015

Life: It Goes On - November 29

Hope that those of you who celebrate Thanksgiving all enjoyed the day! Did you spend it with family or have a Friendsgiving celebration? We spent time with both sides of the family; missed those that weren't there but sure had fun with those that were.

Heading through that tunnel there leaving autumn behind and straight into winter this week. Thanksgiving got cut short for three of the kids thanks to winter road conditions coming in and work schedules on Friday. And that was just the start of it - today we are scheduled to get freezing rain followed by the chance of snow starting today into Tuesday. Already ready for winter to be over!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I'll be continuing on with Cry, The Beloved Country for my book read but I'm also mixing in some podcasts, including Book Riot's "All The Books," and I'm easing myself into Christmas music.
It all started with planes flying without cockpits closed
and Lt. George Gay, who was rescued from the
ocean - thanks, Midway for all of the laughs!

Watching: Guardians of the Galaxy; college football, basketball, and volleyball; and Midway, a Thanksgiving eve tradition. A movie meant to be serious (just ask my history teacher dad) but one my siblings and I found hilarious the first time it chanced to come on. Amazing what a couple of cocktails will do. Hence, my siblings in the pic below with their pillow flotation devices. Next year, we're thinking we'll add Gone With The Wind. My mom even said she'll get us curtains from the Goodwill for props. Now just to figure out how to stage the burning of Atlanta without actually burning down the house.

Reading: Still Kafka On The Shore and Extra Virgin (as I try to get in one more nonfic read in November). But it's slow going - I just don't have the reading mojo right now even though I'm enjoying the books.

Making: Pork tenderloin, broccoli/cheese/rice casserole, pumpkin muffins, Starbucks coffee cake, brownies, spaghetti and meatballs, peanut butter granola. I'm contemplating throwing something in the crockpot today to have ready for tomorrow. I have a feeling we'll be very late getting home from work.

Planning: On putting up the holiday decorations this week. The bins are upstairs but I just can't quite make myself open them yet. Might need to pick up some eggnog, pop in the Elf dvd, and mix things up a bit this year to get myself in the spirit.

Grateful for: Traditions like the Turkey Trot (grandkids are working on the puzzle to find their prize in the middle picture), field goal kicking, and Black Friday shopping with the ladies (which is as much about the time together as it is about the actual shopping).

Enjoying: Seeing my kids having fun with their cousins. Seems like only yesterday they were all underfoot and now they are all great adults!

Feeling: Like this next month is going to fly by - so much to be done. Just hoping we make sure to take time to enjoy the special activities that will be going on and find time to spend with friends.

Looking forward to: Sharing the crafts we've been working on. But not until after Christmas!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to those of you in the United States!
Let us all take time today, and everyday, to remember all we have to be thankful for and to care for those who are not as fortunate.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Making Toast: A Family Story by Roger Rosenblatt

Making Toast: A Family Story by Roger Rosenblatt
Published February 2010 by Harper Collins Publishers
Source: bought for my Nook

Publisher's Summary:
When Roger's daughter, Amy—a gifted doctor, mother, and wife—collapses and dies from an asymptomatic heart condition at age thirty-eight, Roger and his wife, Ginny, leave their home on the South Shore of Long Island to move in with their son-in-law, Harris, and their three young grandchildren: six-year-old Jessica, four-year-old Sammy, and one-year-old James, known as Bubbies.

Long past the years of diapers, homework, and recitals, Roger and Ginny—Boppo and Mimi to the kids—quickly reaccustom themselves to the world of small children: bedtime stories, talking toys, play-dates, nonstop questions, and nonsequential thought. Though reeling from Amy's death, they carry on, reconstructing a family, sustaining one another, and guiding three lively, alert, and tenderhearted children through the pains and confusions of grief. As he marvels at the strength of his son-in-law and the tenacity and skill of his wife, Roger attends each day to "the one household duty I have mastered"—preparing the morning toast perfectly to each child's liking.

My Thoughts:
One of my favorite books of 2013 was Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking. It was not just wonderfully written, it also showed me what real grief was like, not just what the so-called experts teach us about it. I'd heard about Rosenblatt's Making Toast on NPR shortly after it was released and was intrigued. Still, just how many books about grief does one need to read. The answer is at least two.

Long past the days of diapers, car pools, and dance lessons, Roger and Ginny had to master their grandchildrens' schedules and reaccustom themselves to things about small children they'd forgotten when they moved into their daughter's home after her death. "There were playdates to arrange, birthday party invitations to respond to, school forms to fill out." The two of them had to find ways to be helpful, not step on their son-in-law's toes, and help their grandchildren deal with their loss all while trying to process their own grief.
"We begin to fit in to Amy's and Harris's house. We knew the house only as visiting family, having stayed for a few days at a time, perhaps a week. Now it is ours without belonging to us, familiar and strange."
Along the way, they were helped by an enormous group of people - their friends and family, co-workers, the parents of the children's friends, and Ligaya, Bubbies' nanny who said to them "You are not the first to go through such a thing, and you are better able to handle it than most." Which is true. A group organized enough dinners for the family to last for six months, a scholarship was set up in Amy's name with donations from friends and colleagues, a bench was dedicated in Amy's honor at the children's school.

Even so, each member of the family had to deal with their loss and grief in their own way. Ginny wanted an answer as to why Amy died; Roger felt that knowing more would only deepen his anger. Ginny did not view the open casket before the funeral; in retrospect Roger felt she may have been right. Harris kept his emotions in check, Roger remained angry for months, Ginny felt guilt about taking over her daughter's role. Along the way, Rosenblatt remains honest about his feelings and shares what he has learned from the professional their family did turn to. In teaching the family about grief, she also gave them permission to have their feelings and hope. She spoke of "three elements of death difficult to come to terms with: its universality, its inevitability, and the fact that the dead are unable to function."

Catherine Andrews, the children's psychotherapist, told Rosenblatt that "one of the delusions of people in grief is that once a year passes, things will start to look up. She reminds us of what she told Harris at the outset, that grief is a lifelong process for everyone of us...As for the demarcation of a year, "Things actually get now realizing the hard truth that this is how life will be from now on. One year is no time at all." Something to bear in mind in our own lives as we deal with our own grief and that of others.
"This is our life. Without Harris and the children to fill in, we would be sitting in Quogue, manufacturing conversations between dark silences. I know we are creating a diversion for the children as well as a differently constructed life for them. Yet we are doing the same thing for ourselves. When Amy died, Ginny and I never had to confer as to where we wanted to be. We had to ask Harris, but not each other. Now, out we to ask him again? We decide that he will tell us when he wants us to go. And until then, my original answer of "forever" [when granddaughter Jessie asked him on the first day how long they were staying, he replied "forever"] stands."

Monday, November 23, 2015

Life: It Goes On - November 23

Good thing I don't call this the Sunday Salon any more - seems I'm getting worse and worse about getting it posted on Sunday! Or even Monday.

Mini-me and his girl decided to spend the afternoon with us on Sunday and, while we love having them over, it did put the rest of my day behind schedule. And by schedule, I mean the very long list of things I'm still trying to work through.

Also, Christmas cards took five or ten times longer than I planned. They always do. You'd think I'd learn. But I did get them ordered - now to get them picked up, addressed and mailed!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Cry, The Beloved Country - beautifully read. I'm enjoying it a great deal.

Watching: The new Mad Max movie, "Fargo," "The Family Stone," "The Voice," and football, of course.

Reading: Still enjoying Kafka On The Shore, which I'm reading with Ti of Book Chatter but I did take a break to read Roger Rosenblatt's memoir, Making Toast: A Family Story, about life after the death of his daughter.

Making: Spaghetti pie, corned bread, chili - it's fall, time to bring out the heavier fare.

Planning: Thanksgiving with both sides of our family. The kids will all have to make a quick trip of it, with having to work on Friday. As for me, I'll be spending a good deal of Thursday scanning the ads for the annual plunge into Black Friday shopping with my sisters and nieces.

Grateful for: A snowfall Friday that was pretty but left no snow on the roads. Because I had a hair appointment first thing Saturday morning and my roots could not have gone another week! I feel ten years younger.

Enjoying: Seeing the light at the end of the tunnel in my office and Miss H's "new" room finally looking like her room.

Feeling: Tired. There is too much to do and not enough hours in the day.

Looking forward to: Family fun, cranberries, whipped cream with pumpkin pie, the biggest bowl of mashed potatoes you've ever seen, and our special Thanksgiving traditions. I only hope the sleet doesn't arrive before the annual field goal kicking contest can take place!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Nonfiction November: Nontraditional Nonfiction

This week's prompt is hosted by Rebecca of I'm Lost In Books. Rebecca challenged us to focus on the nontraditional side of nonfiction.

The vast majority of the nonfiction I read is traditional publication - your basic hardcover and paperback print books. But I have tried a number of other formats:

Graphic: I've read a couple of graphic memoirs. In fact, my first ever graphic book (other than the comics I read as a child) was a graphic memoir. It was Marjane Satrapi's Perselopis, though, that helped me really connect with this nontraditional medium.

Audiobook: Ditto with a couple of nonfiction audiobooks, including Sarah Vowell's Unfamiliar Fishes. Since I do all of my audiobook listening in the car, this is my least favorite way to "read" a work of nonfiction. It's too hard to focus, you can't stop and look up more information as you come across something you'd like to learn more about, and you miss out on any added pieces of the book, such as addendum. If I listened at home, I might enjoy nonfiction audiobooks more.

Ebooks: This might now be my favorite way to read nonfiction books since it's so easy to hit up the internet for more information as you go, including easy access to pictures. Another of Vowell's books, The Wordy Shipmates was my first Nook nonfiction. In fact, 20% of the books I have downloaded to my Nook are nonfiction reads. I'd love to get to a couple of those yet this month but with the holiday around the corner, I'm likely to get less reading down for the next couple of weeks rather than more.

Nonfiction Collections: For me, this means essays. Essays are something I've never read until the past couple of years. I've pretty much stuck to writers, so far, that had a good record for me before I even picked up their collections, Ann Patchett, Nora Ephron, and Anna Quindlen. Still, it's a type of nonfiction I'm definitely eager to read more of.

Clearly, I don't read enough nonfiction, and absolutely not enough nontraditional nonfiction, to be anything approaching an expert. But I'm dabbling and learning what I like. And while I'm not opposed to pushing myself to try new things, I think a lot of the enjoyment of reading comes from finding books that fall into your sweet spot.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Waiter Rant by Steve Dublanica

Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip - Confessions of a Cynical Waiter by Steve Dublanica
Published  July 2008 by HarperCollins
Source: purchased my Nook copy

Publisher's Summary:
According to The Waiter, eighty percent of customers are nice people just looking for something to eat. The remaining twenty percent, however, are socially maladjusted psychopaths. Waiter Rant offers the server's unique point of view, replete with tales of customer stupidity, arrogant misbehavior, and unseen bits of human grace transpiring in the most unlikely places. Through outrageous stories, The Waiter reveals the secrets to getting good service, proper tipping etiquette, and how to keep him from spitting in your food. The Waiter also shares his ongoing struggle, at age thirty-eight, to figure out if he can finally leave the first job at which he's truly thrived.

My Thoughts:
So, you know, all three have my kids have spent time in the food industry and they all have tales to tell about entitled customers, coworkers who don't pull their own weight, and management that has no idea how to manage. I've been listening to their stories for more than a decade so I knew this was a book I'd be able to relate it fits right into Nonfiction November and Fall Feasting. Perfect.

Dublanica is one of those people who, against his better judgement, fell into waiting when it was the only thing available to him. Turns out, he was good at it. Which is exactly why he found himself still waiting a decade after he started. Despite the long hours, the missed holidays, the demanding customers and petty complaints, the chance to make a lot of money in one evening was to great to give up.

Dublanica dishes on the ways in which restaurants wring money out of their customers, the unrealistic demands of customers, the power waiters have over customers that customers never see coming, and the power struggle that can happen among coworkers. During his years at The Bistro, Dublanica saw both the worst and the best of humanity. One night a young girl, eating with her parents, sees a homeless man peering into the restaurant's window. Dublanica's responses to her questions about the man, result in her father buying the man a meal.
"Maybe that dad felt guilty; maybe he was shielding his daughter from the coldness of the world; maybe he wanted to be nice. I stand there and try to figure out what that something was. After a while I give up. I don't need to know. I content myself with something I read on a bishop's coast of arms long ago - Love is ingenious. No matter how convoluted the motivations, loves impulses often triumph over our more selfish instincts. Maybe that's the very thing that makes life fit for living."
Thanks to his blog "Waiter Rant," Dublanica had the opportunity to write this book. His coworkers, many of whom must have felt trapped, were less than happy for him. Dublanica found himself less and less willing to play the game when faced with that kind of support. One particularly bad day, he just walked away from the job and into a writing career.

The book sometimes got bogged down in Dublanica's own story. It seems weird to say that, given that this is his story, but I was more interested in his experiences as a waiter than the work he put into getting this book published. Still, you're bound to learn some things about how to be a better restaurant customer. Or a better waiter, if that's where you find yourself. To that end, Dublanica even included three appendices in the back of the book including 40 tips on how to be a good customer. My favorite? "Do not snap your fingers to get the waiter's attention. Remember, we have shears that cut through bone in the kitchen."

Sunday, November 15, 2015

A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
Published June 2010 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: both my print and audiobook copies were purchased
Narrator: Roxana Ortega

Publisher's Summary:
Interlocking narratives circle the lives of Bennie Salazar, an aging former punk rocker and record executive, and Sasha, the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Although Bennie and Sasha never discover each other’s pasts, the reader does, in intimate detail, along with the secret lives of a host of other characters whose paths intersect with theirs, over many years, in locales as varied as New York, San Francisco, Naples, and Africa.

We first meet Sasha in her mid-thirties, on her therapist’s couch in New York City, confronting her long-standing compulsion to steal. Later, we learn the genesis of her turmoil when we see her as the child of a violent marriage, then as a runaway living in Naples, then as a college student trying to avert the suicidal impulses of her best friend. We meet Bennie Salazar at the melancholy nadir of his adult life—divorced, struggling to connect with his nine-year-old son, listening to a washed-up band in the basement of a suburban house—and then revisit him in 1979, at the height of his youth, shy and tender, reveling in San Francisco’s punk scene as he discovers his ardor for rock and roll and his gift for spotting talent. We learn what became of his high school gang—who thrived and who faltered—and we encounter Lou Kline, Bennie’s catastrophically careless mentor, along with the lovers and children left behind in the wake of Lou’s far-flung sexual conquests and meteoric rise and fall.

My Thoughts:
First, on listening to this one - while Roxane Ortega does an admirable job at the narration of A Visit From The Goon Squad, there are just too many different voices for one person to capture. This is an audiobook that would have greatly benefited by having multiple narrators. Egan has written a complex novel, which employs some very unique techniques, more a series of interconnected short stories than a novel. It's probably best read rather than listened to and I was glad to have a print copy.

A Visit From The Goon Squad won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize, the 2010 National Book Award, and was on most of the major 2010 "best of" lists. You'll get no argument from me that this is a well-written book. But I'm almost certain that its unique style played a big part in its winning the awards. It's daring and complicated and the award people love to reward daring and complicated. Rightly so in this case. Egan has managed to use multiple points of view, moving the story back and forth in time, all while carrying her story forward more than forty years. In fact, because I was listening to it, instead of reading it, I often found myself lost trying to keep track of how characters were related. I was happy to stumble upon this graphic, which I referred to often once I found it.

created by Tessie Girl:Arts + Charts + Life

As with any collection of short stories, there were narratives I thought were weaker than others, or at least narratives that didn't draw me in as much and didn't feel like they added as much to the book. But when they were good, they were exceptional with characters I cared deeply and storylines that looked deeply into the abyss. Egan has a lot to say about our society - our priorities, the impact of technology and marketing on our lives, elitism, music, the passage of time - and none of it ends happily-ever-after. But in the final chapter, a dystopian future where babies have purchasing power and the world is just recovering from fifteen years of war, Egan poses the question (through a text), "If thr childrn, thr mst b a Futr, rt?"

Life: It Goes On - November 15

We had our first snow this week, a bit of wet stuff that melted on the ground because hadn't even had our first freeze yet. I'm loving this autumn - I still have flowers blooming in pots on the patio and front porch. I'm fairly certain that has never happened this late in the year before.

Even though I'm reading two books right now that I'm really enjoying, it's been slow going on the book reading front this week. I've been voraciously reading everything I can find about the situation at the University of Missouri situation, the debates, and the terror attacks on Paris. It's been an interesting, often frightening week in our world.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I finished A Visit From The Goon Squad on Friday (review tomorrow) and will start Cry The Beloved Country tomorrow.

Watching: Miss H and I have been watching some movies this past week including "Cinderella," which I reviewed Friday, "Pitch Perfect 2," and "Bring It On." Every time we watch "Bring It On" now, I wonder what the heck I was thinking letting her start watching it as young as she did!

Reading: Kafka On The Shore, which I'm reading with Ti of Book Chatter and Lila for book club.

Making: Enchiladas, chocolate chip cookies, chicken burgers, and more BLTs - twice, because you have to when you still have homegrown tomatoes on your counter!

Planning: On finishing getting my office back in order so that I can start Christmas gifts this week. Also will be ordering my Christmas cards this week because, by golly, I am getting those things mailed early this year!

Grateful for: Friends that are always up for anything.

Enjoying: One on one time with Mini-me, even if it did mean driving all over town to help with a dead car battery.

Feeling: Proud. A local artist Mini-me befriended while working at the coffee shop had a gallery opening of his photography last night and he asked Mini-me to contribute a piece that he felt worked well with some of what he was exhibiting. So fun to go see his work hanging in a real gallery and hear people discussing it.

Looking forward to: Book club this week - you know how I love gossiping discussing books with these ladies!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Fairy Tale Fridays: "Cinderella

Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Starring: Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter, Ben Chaplin, Stellan Skarsgard, Derek Jacobi, and Richard Madden (Rob Stark for all of you Game of Thrones fans)

I always approach fairy tale adaptations with mixed feelings. So many of them have proven to be a major disappointment. But after enjoying Disney's "Maleficent" recently, I decided to give their 2015 movie adaptation of Cinderella a chance.

First off, it's Disney, so, yeah, no chopping off of bits of feet to try to fit into the glass slipper and no plucking out of eyeballs. And I'm okay with that. Because, honestly, if I'm taking a young child to a movie, I really don't think they need to see that kind of thing.

Secondly, did you catch who directed this adaptation? I've been impressed with almost every movie I've seen that Branagh's directed. Hopes were high but then I'd never known him to do anything for a Disney kind of audience.

Miss H and I watched the movie together and neither of us was disappointed. The sets and costumes are spectacular, there's not a weak link in the cast, and there are just enough new touches to make the story worth retelling. The story borrows heavily from Disney's own 1950 animated adaptation but this version also pulls in elements of other adaptations including 1998's "Ever After" (starring Drew Barrymore) and 2004's "A Cinderella Story" (starring Hilary Duff).

Branagh gives a more thorough background to the story, a depth to the wicked stepmother, and a healthy dollop of humor. Ella is sweet but realistic, the prince is not as one-dimensional as usual, and there are some additional characters that help round out the story. All in all, well worth the rental.

Monday, November 9, 2015

R.I.P. X Wrapup

I had thought to watch a movie, but instead I decided to watch a few episodes of the 1960's television show Dark Shadows. It was a scary show, back in the day, but the scariest thing now is the lighting and the sound. Still, I'm almost certain I'll make time to make my way through the series.

I've been wanting to re-read Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper since I listened to it a few years ago. If you've never read it, and you're a woman, I highly recommend it because we've come a long way, baby! A collection of journal entries by a woman whose doctor husband has rented a country home for her recuperation from a temporary nervous condition. His treatment involves plenty of fresh air and good food but no work of any kind. She is certain some activity would benefit her but even her journaling is forbidden by her husband and must be done secretly. Essentially trapped in the nursery, the woman slowly loses her mind even as she believes that she has escaped from the confines her husband has placed on her.

Victory is mine! I managed to succeed at all three of the Perils I chose! For this one, the book I read was Julia Heaberlin's Black-Eyed Susans (my review here). This is the first time I've completed this challenge. Now I'm looking forward to next year!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks

The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks
Published October 2015 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: Netgalley courtesy of the publisher

Publisher's Summary:
Peeling away the myth to bring David to life in Second Iron Age Israel, Brooks traces the arc of his journey from obscurity to fame, from shepherd to soldier, from hero to traitor, from beloved king to murderous despot and into his remorseful and diminished dotage.

The Secret Chord provides new context for some of the best-known episodes of David’s life while also focusing on others, even more remarkable and emotionally intense, that have been neglected. We see David through the eyes of those who love him or fear him—from the prophet Natan, voice of his conscience, to his wives Mikhal, Avigail, and Batsheva, and finally to Solomon, the late-born son who redeems his Lear-like old age.

My Thoughts:
"Now I hear there was a secret chord
That David played and it pleased the Lord"
In 2006, Geraldine Brooks' son took up the harp, which brought to Brooks' mind the stories of King David whom the Bible tells us was famed for his harp playing. Five years later, at her son's bar mitzvah, Brooks' heard him play an arrangement of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." The result of that inspiration is her interpretation of David's life, "the first man in literature whose story is told in detail from early childhood to extreme old age."

In historical fiction, writers walk a fine line between the known and the creative. Where there is a lot already known, where a writer feels compelled to stick to those details and work their story in around them, it takes some effort to tell the story from a new angle. I thought that's exactly what Brooks had found when the book started. When David commissions Natan to write his life's story, the journey begins with David's mother and I thought perhaps David's story was going to be told through the eyes of the many women in his life. While the women certainly played a major role in the book (much more so than they do in the Bible), the focus of the book, beyond that initial interview was definitively masculine - kings, princes, generals, wars and rape - when the story became more a recounting of David's life as seen through Natan's eyes.

Even though I knew there'd be a lot of fighting and war, it wasn't what I was expecting or hoping for. I really wanted a more intimate story, a story more focused on David as a man and less as a warrior.

Still, it's Geraldine Brooks so there's much to be said for The Secret Chord. No doubt Brooks can bring history to life and she's a master of description (although I could have done without less description during some of those battles scenes!). There are some really interesting relationships (particularly between David and several of his wives, as well as his relationship with one of his rival's sons) and, in Brooks' hands, David becomes much more than just a glorious hero who played a giant and united a kingdom.

Life: It Goes On - November 8

We're kicking off the second week of November and my backdoor and windows are open today. Loving it! The sunshine and warm temps this weekend kind of make up for the fact that by the time I get home from work it's dark out. Kind of.

This has been something of a lost week. Mini-him has spent this weekend at the Anime Nebraskon which means that he and I have spent the past week creating his costume (more on that later). He always has grand plans but never seems to get started on them until the last minute. The Big Guy keeps telling me not to spend so much time on the costumes but I always see it as a challenge I just can't refuse!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Since I had some extra driving time this week, I decided to start an audiobook and I'm now about half through A Visit From The Goon Squad. I've pulled my print copy off the shelves as well so that I'm not missing out on the unusual aspects of the printed work.
Miss H is in there somewhere!

Watching: We were happy to see the K.C. Royals win the World Series last Sunday (Miss H even drove down for the parade on Tuesday!) and, of course, we're watching lots of football. I've even been watching some live streaming curling as the Husker's team has kicked off its season this weekend. Also enjoying "The Voice" this season and "Elementary" started the other night.

Reading: I finished Waiter Rant yesterday and started Kafka On The Shore which I'm reading with Ti of Book Chatter (she's an rabid avid Murakami fan who turned me on to his work). So excited about this one!

Making: Foodwise: beef stroganoff, fried potato casserole, and BLT's with tomatoes we just picked. Sadly, the plants got pulled yesterday so no more of those. Otherwise: a Mad Max costume from the latest movie. That mask took us about 20 hours and had me working with materials I've never used before and wielding a heat gun. Turns out when you're trying to make clothes dirty, it's a lot harder than you'd think. How do kids manage to do it so easily?

Planning: On finally getting the rest of Miss H's things settled. Between how busy she's been and how much I've had going on, her things are still all over my office and her room is still full of boxes.

Grateful for: This beautiful fall! It's making it so much easier to face the winter when the fall is this nice...and long.

Enjoying: Bookstores. I went to two yesterday - an indie to pick up Kafka On The Shore then Half-Price Books to sell some books. While I was there, I picked up Ruth Ozeki's A Tale For The Time Being.

Feeling: Fallish. We've been playing in the leaves today and the Thanksgiving decorations are up. Might be time to make some pumpkin bars.

Looking forward to: A week with absolutely nothing on the calendar. So far, anyway.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

NonFiction November

Kim, at Sophisticated Dorkiness, is once again hosting Nonfiction November. I'm so excited about it, in fact, that I set Margaret Atwood aside for now.

I'll be getting back to my Fall Feasting reading list, starting off with Steve Dublanico's Waiter Rant, then I'll get back to Annie Hawes' Extra Virgin which I got about half through before I set it aside for R.I.P. X in October. After that? Maybe Richard Horan's Harvest: An Adventure into the Heart of America's Family Farms. Maybe The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian. Or maybe, finally, The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee.

For week one, Kim is asking that we take a look back at our year of nonfiction so far. This is going to be a little embarrassing for me, not having read nearly as much nonfiction as I wish I had. goes.

What Is Your Favorite Nonfiction Book of the Year?
This one's kind of a tie - for making me laugh uproariously, it would have to be Jenny Lawson's Let's Pretend This Never Happened; for teaching me and scaring me at the same time it would be Brain On Fire: My Month of Madness by Susan Catalan.

What Nonfiction Book Have You Recommended Most?
I'd have to be cautious about recommending either of the above. You can't be too sensitive and appreciate Lawson. On the other hand, you have to be good with going into medical details for Cahalan. So it might well end up being Extra Virgin because you can never go wrong with recommending a fish-out-of-water, stranger-in-a-new-land book.

What Is One Topic or Type of Nonfiction You Haven't Read Enough Of Yet?
Hmmm. I don't know that I have one topic or type that I would want to focus more on. I've got a wide interest in terms of nonfiction. I'd be tempted to say it would be easier for me to give a topic that I'm not interested in, like economics. But then I do enjoy the "Freakonomics" podcast so I'm bound to read about economics before long. Or political biographies. But then there are a lot of political historical figures I'm interested in reading about. Maybe I could narrow that down to current political biographies. Because I have no interest in reading the approved version of some candidate's life and philosophy nor the salacious version.

What Are You Hoping To Get Out of Participating In Nonfiction November?
I'm hoping to double the number of nonfiction books I've read this year. There are so, so many of them I want to read!

Are you a nonfiction reader? What's your all-time favorite nonfiction book?

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Published May 2014 by Scribner
Source: bought it
*Winner of the Pulitzer Prize*

Publisher's Summary:
Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

My Thoughts:
Doerr's writing is so beautiful and expressive and he paints his scenes vividly, so vividly you really can imagine a blind girl can see them.
"In her imagination she hears the bakers sliding about on the flour-slick floor, moving in the way she imagines ice skaters must move, baking loaves in the same four-hundred-year-old oven that Monsieur Ruelle's great-great-grandfather used. Her fingers pass the cathedral steps - here an old man clips roses in a garden; here, beside the library, Crazy Hubert Bazin murmurs to himself as he peers with his one eye into an empty wine bottle; here is the convent; here's the restaurant Chez Chuche beside the fish market; here's Number 4 rue Vauborel, its door slightly recessed, where downstairs Madame Manec kneels beside her bed, shoes off, rosary beads slipping through fingers, a prayer for practically every soul in the city. "
At 530 pages, All The Light We Cannot See is a surprisingly fast read because of the way it is written, with very short chapters and a lot of white space. I've heard people say that this was a tool Doerr used to help make the book a bestseller. Doerr may well have understood that he needed it to make the book accessible to the masses. It might also explain why he keeps from digging too deeply into the darkness of World War II, for which he has also drawn criticism. There are very few references to Jews, for example. There are, however plenty of books out there that delve into the atrocities, that don't shy away from the true of the Holocaust.

Not everyone who lived through the war, though, would have had the same experiences, would have seen the same things. And this is a book about the lives of two very young people, focused tightly on their experiences. It is not without darkness. Both Werner's and Marie-Laure's lives are filled with sadness, desperation, and loss.

As the title suggests, the book is filled with allusions to light and things both seen and unseen. The radio, and its unseen waves, plays a major role in the book. One of the radio programs Werner hears as a child even teaches him that "all of light is invisible."
"And this, she realizes, is the basis of his fear, all fear. That a light you are powerless to stop will turn on you and usher a bullet to its mark."
Although she is blind, Marie-Laure sees much more than those around her, certainly more than Werner who struggles throughout with his conscience.
"Mostly he misses Jutta [his sister]: her loyalty, her obstinacy, the way she always seems to recognize what is right. Though in Werner's weaker moments, he resents those same qualities in his sister. Perhaps she's the impurity in him, the static in his signal that the bullies can sense. Perhaps she's the only thing keeping him from surrendering totally."

At one point, I felt the book dragged, there was one characters in particular that felt like a stereotype, and there were somethings that were just a bit to tidy but those are all small quibbles given the way Doerr was able to draw me in emotionally. All The Light We Cannot See is one of my favorite books of the year.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Room by Emma Donoghue

Room by Emma Donoghue
Published September 2010 by Little, Brown and Company
Source: my audiobook purchased at my local library book sale
Narrators: Michael Friedman, Ellen Archer, Robert Petkoff

Publisher's Summary: 
To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It is where he was born and grew up; it's where he lives with his Ma as they learn and read and eat and sleep and play. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits.

Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it is the prison where Old Nick has held her captive for seven years. Through determination, ingenuity, and fierce motherly love, Ma has created a life for Jack. But she knows it's not enough…not for her or for him. She devises a bold escape plan, one that relies on her young son's bravery and a lot of luck. What she does not realize is just how unprepared she is for the plan to actually work.

My Thoughts:
I had a print copy of this for years, but, despite all of the hype, I just couldn't make myself pick it up. As has become my habit, when I found an audio copy, I knew that was the way to make myself finally give this one a shot. Which turned out to be fortuitous on more than one count. First, the multiple narrators are all extremely strong, bringing the characters in Room to life and making the audiobook the perfect way to "read" this book. Second, I managed to, completely without planning to, read this book just before the movie adaptation hit theaters. We have yet to get to it but it's getting great reviews and, thanks to Donoghue's screen play, the "voice" of the book seems to have translated to the screen.

Telling a story from a child's point of view is tricky. It's hard for an adult to stay in that mind frame and when you're telling the story from the point of view of a child in very unusual circumstances, it's even harder. Donoghue nails it, perfectly channeling a five-year-old who is both very bright but also very much a child. Jack's is not the only voice that rings true, though. In Room, Ma is a woman who is a young mother who has brilliantly managed to make a life for her son despite the tightrope she must walk with Old Nick and the realities of their lives. Outside of Room, Ma becomes the young woman she still is, a woman who has suffered tremendously, who has had to spend the past five years having to be strong for her son despite battling depression. I was so impressed with the ways Ma found to educate Jack, to make it okay for him that their world was that one room, to make him feel safe.

I wondered, going in, how Donoghue would be able to sustain the story within the confines of a single room. Turns out, that the crux of the story is actually what becomes of Jack and Ma once they leave Room. Is Jack really safer out of Room? How will Jack deal with having to share Ma? How will Ma deal when confronted by the changes outside of Room? Lots of questions, no easy answers.