teelgee tackles 125 - Part Two
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71. The Earth Hums in B Flat by Mari Strachan. I seem to be drawn to books narrated by adolescent girls lately. Perhaps it's because there's something so true and honest about them and that they're full of questions, trying to find their way into the complicated and confusing world of adults.
Gwenni Morgan tells the story of her family and that of some of the other residents in her small Welsh village. Her family is coming apart at the seams throughout this journey. Gwenni makes some startling discoveries about them and about other townsfolk as she plays detective while trying to find a missing man, the father of two young girls she sometimes babysits.
There is a touch of magical realism to the novel; Gwenni believes she can fly in her dreams and has some premonitions. She strives to fly while she's awake. Her older sister thinks she's loony and her mother fears that others will think her odd. Her father loves unconditionally.
This is a beautifully told story of family, love, coming of age and honesty. (4/5)
72. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. It's been many decades since I first read this book and I remembered nothing about it (big surprise). It wasn't as spooky as I remembered, but it is full of intrigue and surprises. Just when I thought I had something figured out, the plot twisted. Wonderful characters, expertly written. (4/5)
73. Home Safe by Elizabeth Berg. I was leaning toward a 3 - 3.5 for this newest of Berg's books - it felt predictable and a bit ho hum. But it really picked up for me toward the end and turned out to be not so predictable after all.
The story centers on 59 year old Helen, a novelist who's been recently widowed. She hasn't been able to write since her husband's death; it becomes apparent that she was dependent on him for many things and she must find her way through the maze of finances, home repair and navigating around her city, Chicago. She comes to depend on her 27 year old daughter Tessa a bit too much and is also forced to let go of trying to control Tessa's life.
There are many nice moments and bits of prose in this novel. I especially liked the writings of the adult students she taught (an experiment in diversity). Berg was able to come up with consistent voices for each of the students, and these scenes showed glimpses of astonishing writing by people who wouldn't consider themselves writers or be considered writers by others.
Well written, very enjoyable book. (4/5)
74. Telex from Cuba by Rachel Kushner. I read this for my book group, else I probably wouldn't have finished it. The setting is Cuba - a sugar plantation and a nickel mine, both run by Americans - in the 1950s (with a fair amount of jumping around to other time periods).
I enjoy a book that is narrated from several different points of view when it's done well. This one was not. It was clunky and confusing, went from first person to third person and back. The story would have flowed much better if the author had stuck to one third person narrator.
I enjoy historical fiction when it's done well. This one was not. I'm not real familiar with the revolution in Cuba. But my sense is that Kushner took a lot of liberties with the historical characters - Fidel and Raul Castro in particular - and she threw in cameos of Hemingway and Sartre, among others, that served no purpose to the story.
I love metaphors when they're done well. Some of Kushner's metaphors made me smile or nod, but many made me groan. From the same page, here are two examples:
Paris resituated to the tropics, with its humidity, deluges, and brine, was like a transplanted organ a body had begun to reject. *smile*
...a layer of rhetorical dust piling on the cryptic words like lint from a vacuum cleaner bag *wha? groan*
One thing Kushner did well was to show how American imperialism has affected countries like Cuba and Haiti. I hated most of the characters, their pomposity and privilege, their sense of entitlement and their racism. And the ruination of such exquisite land for a profit by the big corporations that take and take and take and give back so little. And we wonder why Cubans, Mexicans, et al want to leave their countries and come to America? For the most part, we've left them with little or nothing.
75. Love and Summer by William Trevor. I sometimes get impatient with books that are quiet and understated. But maybe I'm mellowing as I age - I did finally fall in love with Gilead after all. Love and Summer is a gorgeous book set in mid-20th century Rathmoye, Ireland, a small farming community. We spend a summer with Ellie and her farmer husband Dillahan (I don't believe we ever learn his first name); with Joseph Paul Connulty and his sister, Miss Connulty (her first named hasn't been uttered since her great betrayal); Florian Kilderry, a bachelor who lives a town or two over and causes a stir when he shows up with a camera at the funeral of the town matriarch; and a few other minor characters.
Early on there are hints of a great tragedy in Dillahan's life before his marriage to Ellie. She was a servant on his farm after he was widowed, then they married out of convenience which, up until this summer, was satisfactory to both of them but not much more.
Past and present weave together gently as we learn the stories of each of the main characters. It is not a huge story overall - they are ordinary people with ordinary lives, some happy and some not so. But the telling is so compelling that each event looms large.
This is a novel of love and loyalty, of grief and forgiveness (of self, primarily). Trevor is an author I plan to read much more of in the years to come - this is only the second of his novels I've read and there is a banquet awaiting me! (4/5)
I just took Love and Summer out of the library and hope to get to it soon. I know Trevor only through his short stories and am ready to explore him on a "bigger canvas."
76. The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa. Beautiful book, for its simplicity and poignancy. (4/5)
And I'm OK with that! I realized as I started to put back Life and Fate because it was "too long" that I'd be missing out on some great literature, and what's more important? Reaching an arbitrary number or reading something fantastic?
How am I doing with the justification so far?
Seriously, I've learned the last couple of years about savoring books, how much more I can get out of them if I don't rush through them to reach a goal. I've still met most of my challenges (What's in a Name; Orange Prize books; Classics; Published in 2009 and a few others). So if I reach 100, great. If I don't, no one will take away my reading privileges.
I'm just trying to figure out how I managed 108 last year when I worked most of the year!
I also loved Housekeeper. It was such a charming read.
Good on you for embracing the savouring of books! Stopping by the reading highway and smelling the roses!
Personally, I just want to teach myself to stop reading books I'm just not enjoying.
I just finished my first year at LT and have loved the whole experience, but now that my challenges are over--especially my 999--it's a lot easier to do that. Plus, I've got my "Best of Your Best, 2009" list to work from for the rest of this year and on into the next, so I'm less likely to get a book that I won't enjoy. I sort of know now, too, which LT-ers (e.g., you and teelgee) are more apt to like the books I like, so that helps as well.
Bonnie - what is the "Best of Your Best, 2009".
Sorry to take over your thread Terri, but if anyone cares to look at my "to read" list in my library and make a few recs, I would appreciate it. I stuck with what to read next.
P.S. I'll go over to your TBR's and give you my opinion. Take it for what it's worth! ;-)
77. The Snow Geese by William Fiennes. Non-fiction. I wanted to love this book. A couple of my book buddies raved about it. The writing was good. The story was interesting - Fiennes, a Brit, becomes fascinated by snow geese and follows them on their migration from Texas to the northern wilds of Canada.
This read more like a novel - which, for this book, did not work for me. Fiennes seemed almost obsessed with the clothes of the people he encountered on his journey - lengthy descriptions of shirts and sweatshirts and hats and coats, which for the most part added nothing to the story.
He either has a knack for meeting unusual people or he embellished some of the characters. Everyone was folksy and funny and memorable.
I would rather have read more about the geese and less about the travels and the traveling companions. I'd be interested to read his book of fiction. (3.5/5)
78. Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence by Matthew W. Sanford. I heard Matt Sanford on an NPR program about a year ago and his story touched and fascinated me. In 1978, at age 13, he was in a terrible auto accident that killed his father and sister and left Matt a paraplegic. In this memoir he tells of years of pain, anguish and coming to terms with his paralysis and the grief of losing his father and sister.
Matt spends a number of years in a gray world, disconnected emotionally and spiritually from his body. At some point he becomes aware that his healing story will not involve walking or becoming like one of the super hero paraplegics paraded in front of him for inspiration. Eventually Matthew is introduced to yoga and experiences what he calls an "energetic sensation within my mind-body relationship." He pursues yoga intensely - though it is not a linear progression; he experiences many setbacks. Eventually, Matt goes on to teach yoga to both walking people and those with disabilities.
I was drawn to Matt's story partly because of my own experience with yoga and with progressive physical limitations. It is a good reminder to all of us to stay conscious of our bodies, not to take them for granted; and that we can change the healing stories that practitioners tell us and that we tell ourselves.
Beautiful writing; highly recommended. (4.5/5)
79. Stitches by David Small. Graphic memoir. Wow, I love this genre! This is an outstanding book, the illustrations are brilliant in the moods and information they convey. The story is sad; David's childhood was full of trauma and family secrets. The ending, obviously, came out OK since he's an award winning illustrator-author. Highly recommended. (4.5/5)
Will try to follow your lead and relax into some slow books.
80. Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth von Arnim (4/5)
More later. Whew, finally finished a book in November. sheesh.
I also loved Stitches - although I was VERY bad and read it in the bookstore as it is a quick read.
81. Cake Wrecks: When Professional Cakes Go Hilariously Wrong by Jen Yates.
This side splittingly funny book is a spinoff from the wildly popular Cake Wrecks blog. From naked mohawk babies riding carrots (on a baby shower cake) to simple misspellings, to could anyone really be that stupid, Jen covers them all. For example, who wouldn't be thrilled to find this on their holiday table?
People, these cakes are for sale!
Go get lost in the blog, it's great fun. Go get the book, it's a hoot. (4/5)
Yes yes yes!!! Call me. After the 20th I don't have much planned.
Just found your thread, with 20 days left of the year!
I liked Elizabeth and her German Garden earlier this year and have A Solitary summer by the bed at the moment.
82. The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver. Excellent book. I will write comments after I gather my thoughts. (4.5/5)
84. Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen. Amusing memoir by a woman brought up as a Mennonite who leaves the tribe as a young adult and drifts back into the safety of her family of origin in her 40s, after an automobile accident leaves her with some serious injuries. She has also divorced her husband, who, as you would read numerous times, left her for a guy named Bob whom he met on Gay.com.
Janzen is a good writer, though the humor wears a little thin at times. But what really bugged me was the jumbled up time frame, I was frequently confused about when and where she was. Also a bit repetitive (see above, re: Bob). Janzen does do a fine job painting her characters.
I learned quite a bit about the Mennonite culture and history. In the Appendix, told in a Sarah Vowell-ish style, Janzen describes the Mennonites' "three centuries of high-handed superiority" in Russia and Prussia. But then "in a shocking historical reversal, the very Mennonites who were once the cool kids on the block became not fifty years later the überdorks of the universe, just in time for my childhood."