Posts Tagged 'book'

Reading: One of Ours by Willa Cather

Willa Cather’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, One of Ours is an unexpected story of an unlikely hero whose life up until WWI seems rootless. We follow Claude Wheeler, from life as an alienated young boy, to a young college student who finds the culture he craves in Lincoln to have it taken away by life and choosing the wrong wife. I was honestly surprised by the desertion of his wife Enid (and her abrupt removal from the storyline). While I read, I idly wondered what the political climate was in China (siege of Tsingto in 1914?) during the outbreak of WWI, and if the pair would reunite, able to mature into a firmer relationship.

Everything seems set to move him from struggling to keep his father’s farm together while a new farm was being established in Colorado, to odd marriage (with a house built by his own hands on Nebraska farmland), and days drowsing in the corn he’s harvested, wondering what his purpose is. And events prime him to be excited at the thought of going where the trouble is, and enlisting as soon as he could. From Americans he met overseas who had enlisted in the Canadian air force prior to the US being in the war, to other farmers he met from other states, who were also swept up in the tide… the story moves at an introspective wandering pace.  If you want drama, and a look at how Americans (or possibly Nebraskans) of the time might have come to look at WWI and its aftermath, it’s worth checking out the book from the library. I bought mine at the Willa Cather Foundation (I couldn’t resist a paperback with a beautiful scene of Flanders poppies). If anyone else has read it, do you see similarities with The Song of Werther, by Goethe? I think it’s mostly the alienation of the main character, not writing style or subject matter, but I could be over-analyzing both.

Reading – Happy Families by Carlos Fuentes

And little by little, Alejandro, you begin to realize that your son’s individuality was the most faithful mirror of the life that still was yours, that leaving the movie sets was not a death certificate, as you believed before, but a window that opened to let air, sun, birds, rain, pollen, bees into the closed tomb of a movie set reeking of sawdust, cardboard, glue, the hair of wigs made with the tresses of corpses, period costumes never sent to the cleaner, stained under the arms and between the legs, the clothing of extras, the others, the surplus, the replaceable, the dispensable.

Now you’re the extra in your final film, Alejandro. Except that your secret resignation — or can it be your will? — to disappear into the vast anonymous nation of failure has been frustrated by the encounter with your son, by the spirit of comedy that Sandokán displays….”

Carlos Fuentes – “The Star’s Son”, Happy Families.

Happy Families is interesting. If you’re looking for happy bedtime stories, this isn’t exactly the right choice (think challenging reading of an alien society filled with people doomed to not find happiness). But if you want individual stories that make you think about a place very different from middle America, this might be worth trying. The New York Times reviewer summed it up as “traditions of suffering“, but I think the review may too smugly sum it up as not emotionally sympathetic enough to make us connect with the characters. I connected with the frailties that were shown, and spent a good bit of worry on how the characters would navigate through. In some ways, “The Star’s Son” was the most hopeful story, and I was left with the happy question of who redeemed whom. If you’ve read the book, and would like to talk about it, leave a message in the comments.

Current reading – Jane Eyre

JaneEyre-coverI’ve finished rereading Jane Eyre (thanks to the Cornflower Book Group). I was pleased that I remembered a lot of the book, and also pleased that I had reached the age in which I was able to identify what struck me as odd when I first read it. I still find it odd that every male that Jane met was flawed, weird, or too old to seem a good match (and now I also find it a bit ominous). As a teen, I think I assumed I would understand it later when I met people like Rochester, St. John, etc. In hindsight, I can see why this book was like mental catnip for a lot of the girls in 10th or 11th grade. Just like Romeo and Juliet — everything is heightened, a bit like a teen’s experiences of first freedom, first trip alone, first crush. JaneEyre-firstimage

I can’t remember if the paperback version I first read reproduced the illustrations, but I bet I would have enjoyed it more when I first read it.

How’s this for an opening image? Truly lovely, moody, Victorian printing throughout.

Reading: Owls in winter — from Mary Priestley’s A Book of Birds

While cold and sharp and shining sheer Orion’s dagger pricks my ear, Under an old fir’s grizzled cowl,

Big with his drowsy wide surprise

Wakens the hunched and pawky owl

And blinks his big moon-marvellous eyes…

Excerpt from the lovely poem “Too-Hoo” by James Mackereth. A Book of Birds is filled with notes about bird behavior, snippets of poems, extracts from people’s diaries, and lovely wood engravings by C.F. Tunnicliffe. Some of the diary entries quoted, about hunting, or eating pickled auks, aren’t my cup of tea. But the poetry is charming, the illustrations are lovely, and my copy has a little penciled note for my Uncle from his little sister “A very happy birthday — lots of love…” The perfect thing to read while anticipating spring, especially now that the robins have come back to the backyard, and we can hear small birds in the bramble bushes.

Reading – The Care and Management of Lies

Jacqueline Winspear’s book, The Care and Management of Lies had been on my “to be read” list for quite some time. So when it showed up at the library, I put it into my pile of books to read. And then I got distracted by Abdication by Juliet Nicolson, until I realized even if it was frothy and easy to read while I knit, all the characters in the book seemed hateful. So I went back to Lies, and I didn’t regret it. The book is more nuanced, although knowing enough about WWI makes you want to shake some of the characters (back by Christmas… no, I don’t think so).

I spent a lot of time thinking about Dorritt/Thea’s prospects, and her choices that looked outwardly brave, with an inner voice revealing how frightened she is by potential repercussions of being a part of the woman’s suffrage movement. Thea is one of the characters in the book who is able to identify enviable calmness in others, but her choices seem overly driven by a need to be seen “as good as” her brother Tom, who on the battlefront. Kezia – I’m honestly not sure about Kezia and what motivates her, beyond being strong for her husband, Tom. Kezia’s character grows and changes the most, while Tom remains steadfast and terse through everything. The book is well worth a try, even if (like many books set in WWI) it’s a 2 hanky story when the war gets more grim.

Book festival finds

scrabbleA while back, I mentioned book festivals. (in this post here). We went to the one in Baltimore, and wandered around in mazes of tents around the Inner Harbor. We darted in and listened to people read from books, gawked at vendor’s wares, and looked for something not in the library yet. Continue reading ‘Book festival finds’

Book Festivals

After finding out I missed the Brooklyn, NY Book Festival last weekend, I’ve been looking at others around the USA.

I missed the Library of Congress Book Festival earlier in the year, but they post videos from it are here. They also have downloadable former book festival posters, (my favorite book poster from it here). You might like the one with dragons better.

Here are some other upcoming book festivals:

Funding cuts have sadly affected some book festivals. Others just seem to be poorly advertised. A lot of the ones I wished to go to were so early in the year that I’m still reading my Christmas gifts, or they’re places too far away like Miami, Chicago, California, or London, UK and Edinburgh in Scotland. A book festival, no matter how small and quirky (see April Fool’s Day International Edible Books Festival), is still a lovely place to meet authors, to find out about new books, and to find others who speak your language (or are up for a long, pleasant debate).

Prepping for the Roosevelts

The new PBS documentary by Ken Burns focuses on the Roosevelt family, the presidencies, and the family loyalties (and lack of same) that defined them — from Teddy Roosevelt (26th president) to Franklin Delano Roosevelt (32nd president). To gear up for this, I’ve begun reading a biography called Alice: Alice Roosevelt Longworth, from White House Princess to Washington Power Broker, by Stacy A. Cordery. It’s a page turner. From the wild times of Teddy Roosevelt’s first daughter, Alice, to her marriage (with tribute from foreign dignitaries [Kaiser Wilhelm sent a bracelet with a diamond-ringed miniature of himself] and ordinary Americans caught up in the excitement [a hogshead of popcorn, bales of hay, a railway car full of coal from the United Mine Workers of America]) to her role as independent woman and political power broker.

Through the years, many children have lived in the White House, but only a few got married while their fathers were in office. Alice was modern, always in the news, and a trendsetter, with Gibson Girl style. I’ll be honest — it’s more interesting than I expected. Scandal, infidelity, and the search for publicity before any of our modern divas were born.

Flowers in the basement

tempura-flowersThe local library has a kids program, and there are seasonal art projects. For Spring/Summer, they painted flowers on cardboard or cardstock with tempura paints. Each flower is about the height of a 5th grader. I never see this library without kids being involved, or teenagers writing papers on the public computer for school, or providing outreach to people who are job searching or doing family history searches. (Go awesome librarians and library!) I get so much joy out of walking over there to browse the books, and find out the latest technological thing that I can do (download “books on tape” to an iPhone, iPod, or another similar device). Note I said “books on tape”… heh.

I do find myself reading lots of things I wouldn’t normally have bought from Amaz*n or a bookstore. And I do love audio books for when I’m driving. I have a huge Ken Follett book that I can’t wait to stick in the CD player on Monday, once my Irish mystery is done (Faithful Place, by Tana French – grim, dark, yet interesting, mostly because the voice on the audiobook beguiled me into liking a police procedural with lots of messy family details and shifting loyalties). So, any other books I should look for on CD to keep my commute interesting, or me knitting along? Anyone else have a fabulous little library?

Ghost story for a cold winter’s night

winterbooThe others have slipped away into darkness.”

Kate Mosse’s book, The Winter Ghosts, is a short read (about 260 pages) — Half ghost story and half historical fiction. I finished it in one day, pausing to knit a row or two on my current project when I got too nervous that things might go badly for the main character, Freddie. The progression from half-heard sentences (or omens) to full discovery, and the protagonist turning his shattering grief from WWI into something with purpose… is handled quite well in this elegant little story. It didn’t suffer from being read on a warm September afternoon. But low lamplight during a blizzard would add to the chill of reading ghostly words.


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