Category Archives: Dusty Shelves

Pet Sematary

Stephen King  |  Fiction

A friend sent an article that posed a challenge … to read something you don’t normally read. Now, I SUPPOSE that meant I should read a book about the history of the relationship between North Korea and South Korea, or maybe a tome on the rise of the drug cartels in South America.  But no!  The first thing that popped into my mind was to read a genre I had assiduously avoided ... a horror novel by Stephen King.  And so I picked the one King himself describes as “the most frightening book I’ve ever written.”  I was curious to see why this author is so popular.

Well, okay, I am now done with horror again.  Not because it was so scary, but because it was boring!  King writes to a general audience, and so he does not provide a lot of depth or subtlety or complexity. I like his use of short quick sentences, however. I found them engaging and fast-moving.

This story line in this book is what you might imagine – bury your pet it this place and it will come back to life, though typically meaner and scarier and more evil than it was before it died.  Of course, the characters in this book begin to see applicability for humans as well.

About half-way through I really wanted to put the book down, but I decided to complete my commitment to myself.  What I learned about this style of writing is that while there are hints of horror to come, really there is a lot of plot and storyline that needs to happen before the horror can have any emotional impact.  The horror in this book all happened in the last 50 or so pages (it’s a 400-page book).

So, don’t waste your time.  And, in the future, I promise to consider carefully what challenges I accept.

To the Bright Edge of the World

Eowyn Ivey | Fiction

four-hearts

This novel is based on an actual 1885 expedition by Lieutenant Henry T. Allen.

Eowyn Ivey’s character, Colonel Allen Forrester, travels up the Wolverine River with a small band of men (and soon, one woman and one dog) into the vast untamed Alaska Territory.   There are three simultaneous story lines. Forrester’s journals create the main story line.  He writes of the Alaska expedition, complete with cold, ice, encounters with native peoples, near starvation -- all the challenges you would expect.  His wife Sophie, a feminist who has been left behind in Oregon, also keeps a journal, which makes the second story line.   The third story emerges from the delightful current day letters between one of Forrester’s descendants, Walt, and a museum curator, Josh, in Alaska. In addition, there are period photographs, drawings and diagrams sprinkled throughout the book.

I wondered what magical realism might appear, given Ivey’s predilection towards it in her first novel, The Snow Child.  And there is a rich theme of magic in To the Bright Edge of the World that shows up in the Old Man, a raven, the woman Nat’aaggi, and various events, which would prove to be spoilers if I told you about them! 

My friend Mary suggested this novel as a preparatory read before I travel to Alaska later this month. An excellent choice!  It isn’t dry history, but it did imbue me with a sense of the vastness and the hardships of Alaska, brought alive by Ivey’s fine imagination.

If you read it, please weigh in on who you think is the author of the infrequent journal entries that begin with latitude, longitude and the weather (page 84 and 207 are but two examples of these.)  One person I know thinks these writings belong to Pruitt, one of the men on the expedition.  I think it is the Old Man and the raven, who I believe are one and the same.  Or are they reports from Nat’aaggi?  Who do YOU think it is?

 

Someone Knows My Name

Lawrence Hill | Fiction

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The book is the perfect follow-up novel after reading Homegoing and learning about the slave trade, and appreciating The Underground Railway about slavery and the fight for freedom.  Someone Knows My Name is another fictionalized book about slavery, but in this novel, the slave truly does gain her freedom.  Her journey from Africa to South Carolina to New York to Nova Scotia to Africa to London is a truly remarkable story.

Solidly based in history, Aminata Diallo is stolen from her African village in 1756 when she is eleven.  She endures many hardships, cruelties, and humiliations.  However, this novel explores her journey towards freedom, with its myriad of experiences -- disappointments, setbacks, mistrust, trust, and occasional compassion.  Aminata becomes the author of the Book of Negroes, a record of 3000 black women, men, and children who served the British during the Revolutionary War, in exchange for freedom and transport to Nova Scotia from New York and other places in the east.  (You can see The Book of Negroes in the National Archives of the United States, Canada, or England).

I loved this book!  It is well written, compelling, and fascinating.  It is about 500 pages, so it takes a while, but it is one of those long books that you don’t want to end ... every chapter reveals something new and intriguing.  Three times I checked to confirm that Someone Knows My Name was written by a man.  I am always in awe when I feel a male author can truly represent the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of a woman, and Lawrence Hill does that unerringly.  And then to reach the end and discover that he is a Canadian, born and raised in Toronto – I was even more impressed.  While he wrote about slavery in the not-yet-united-states, I suspect he was inspired by the role Nova Scotia played in the salvation of these slaves.

I fully recommend Someone Knows My Name. And I am very grateful to Jan D, from the Casting Crew book club, who suggested in this book as a 2016 read, and when we rejected it, fought for it again in 2017.  She was right all along! 

 

Wonder Woman

Movie

three-hearts

Yes, I'm traveling outside my own box here and reviewing a movie, Wonder Woman, viewed yesterday with my friend Deby.  There's a lot of hype about this movie, especially from, about and for women.  And hype it is.

I enjoyed the first two-thirds or so.  I thought the story of Wonder Woman's roots in the community of Amazons, and the visual imagery in this portion were both quite beautiful.  I also quite enjoyed her transition to London, and her wonder (no pun intended) at this world of men, poverty, filth, cars, fashion and general malaise. 

But then Wonder Woman saves the world. And again. And again.  There was too much violence for me in the last third and, more important, the fighting sequences became boring.  I was anxious for it to be over.  There is a bit of a twist, but I saw it coming, so even that little surprise fell flat for me.  My chair was squeaking in the theater, so I was trying to be really quiet and sit perfectly still and it was HARD. 

So, IMHO, see it, but don't expect to walk out awed.  Or inspired to save the world.

News of the World

Paulette Jiles |  Fiction

three-hearts

Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd is a “runner” after the Civil War. He travels throughout north Texas giving readings to people from worldwide newspapers, for 10 cents a listener.  He eschews Texas newspapers, because they excite his audiences and wreak havoc and fistfights among his listeners due to the divisive post-war politics in Texas.  One day he agrees to deliver Johanna, previously stolen by an Indian tribe, to her aunt and uncle in south Texas.  This is the tale of their journey.

This short book (I read it flying home from Dallas) is sweet, but predictable.  There are few surprises and, other than the intrigue of learning about the profession of a runner, I found it not all that compelling.  It's a nice book for a plane ride, but not something to put on your “must read” list.  I think, too, this book did not have an editor!  Before you are too far into this book, you will read that Johanna’s hair is colored honey, biscuit, taffy and ocher. And then taffy again.  I have no idea why the author is obsessed with describing Johanna's hair.  (Late in the book, Jiles uses a clear word to clarify her hair color. I won't tell you what that word is … it would be a spoiler, in a book that requires few spoiler alerts). Likewise, Ms. Jiles more than once describes the moon as “rolling backwards.”  It is irritating that no one seemed to read and edit this book for repetition.

If you want a sweet little read, go for it. Otherwise, there are many juicier books calling to you and me!

 

You Don’t Look Your Age … and Other Fairy Tales

Sheila Nevins |  Biography/Memoir

three-hearts

You Don’t Look Your Age is a collection of short stories and poetry, loosely yet clearly woven together, about the life of Sheila Nevins. Sheila Nevins is the President of HBO Documentary Films and has made over 1000(!) documentaries.  She has been credited with the “rebirthing” of documentaries.

Not typically a short story reader, I found my own self on these pages.  As a woman entering business in a similar time frame (she is 14 years older than me, but had a later start in the professional world), I related to many, though not all, of her stories about work, men, friendship and personal growth.  The decade of the 60’s, the decade that Ms. Nevins and I did not share, DID make a difference for the role of women in the workforce.  However, friendships and the trials of womanhood seem to remain much the same.

The very last story particularly resonated with me, as she writes about her mother’s struggle with an inherited disease, Raynaud’s phenomenon. This is a disease I was diagnosed with 45 years ago, inherited from my own mother.

I like Nevins’ style – she writes interesting and important stories from her life, but not in a boring chronology.  She emotes -- at times funny, at times sad, at times angry.  This is a quick and easy read, though once or twice emotionally painful.  I give it three hearts because of the short story format – not my personal favorite.  Such a successful woman, I find she almost seems to take herself too lightly.  Otherwise, it is a four heart memoir.

 

Fingersmiths

Sarah Waters | Fiction

four-hearts

It was 1862 in London when Sue Tinders, orphaned at birth, comes to live with Mrs. Sucksby and her “family” of fingersmiths – petty thieves, all.  By the time Sue turns 17, she finds herself in the midst of an elaborate conspiratorial plot.  The plot evolves to reveal truth and falsehood, loyalty and disloyalty, love in many forms, betrayal, exploitation, manipulation … well, the list goes on!

I loved this book!  Because it was difficult to get my hands on, and it was a book club read, I had five days to read this 600-page book cover to cover. It wasn’t hard. Water’s writing creates a page-turner, attested to by most members of the Casting Crew Book Club.

Here is but one example of her evocative and visual writing (page 114):  “Besides, the days at Briar were so very regular, it was quite like some great mechanical show, you could not change it.  The house bell woke us up in the mornings and after that we all went moving on our ways from room to room, on our set courses, until the bell rang us back into our beds at night.  There might as well have been grooves laid for us in the floorboards; we might have glided on sticks.  There might have been a great handle set into the side of the house, and a great hand winding it …”

Sarah Waters is a fine storyteller. This book will stay with you and haunt you for a while.  There are twists, turns and inevitable conclusions.  I highly recommend this book, especially for a summer read; it is engrossing and unique.  Personally, I am going to explore Sarah Waters’ five prior novels.  I have already requested Tipping the Velvet at the library.

 

What do the Hearts mean?

In thinking about The Stars are Fire (blog posting is on its way!) I was struggling between two hearts and three hearts and decided it would behoove the Dusty Shelves Book Blog if I defined the hearts system a BIT more clearly.  Given that it is really a complication of scales, and rarely all one rating or another, here’s my best attempt to explain what my hearts mean:

four-heartsLike it a lot or loved it; I recommend it; put it on your list!

three-heartsLike it; I recommend, with some reservations.

two-heartsI don’t recommend it, though it was compelling enough for me to finish reading.

one-heartI couldn’t get through it

Hillbilly Elegy

J.D. Vance |  Memoir

three-hearts

I wanted Hillbilly Elegy to explain to me why Appalachia voted for Trump.  I guess if I really want to know, I better read a non-fiction that attempts to answer that question.  Any recommendations?  Hillbilly Elegy gave me some insight with which to answer that question, but not much.  More on this below.

This is a tough blog to write!  Hillbilly Elegy is difficult to compartmentalize.  The book is a memoir by a man who grew up in Appalachia and eventually left.   He tells his personal story about being poor and white in Appalachia, and attempts to draw sociological conclusions from it.   His memoir is much larger than the analysis.  This disappointed me.  I wanted more of a researched, nuanced analysis.

The first half of the book is pure story.  I was rather amazed at the direct parallels to my own life.  JD writes a great deal about the physical and emotional connection among family in Appalachia.  My mom, in Detroit,  married the boy across the street.  Two of her sisters married two brothers from a few doors down.  There was a time when all of my family was concentrated in just a few blocks in Detroit.  And then came “white flight” to the suburbs and the next generation departed, leaving only my grandparents to die in the city.  While my mom was not quite as addicted as Vance’s mom (prescription drugs for my mom, not street drugs) and certainly did not go through boyfriends and husbands like Vance’s mom, still there were parallels in how these women related to and abandoned their children.  And I had to laugh at the section about Appalachia adults hating Japanese cars.  Well, being from Detroit, this was a common sentiment!

I later learned that many readers could not relate to this family dynamic at all.  It occurs to me that it is a common dynamic, perhaps, in the cities that were populated by early 1900’s immigrants … Italians, Poles, Serbs, Germans ... all looking for better work in America.  Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis ... all of these towns experienced some of what Appalachia did, though with less debilitation.

In the center of the book, pages 139 – 142, the author begins to hypothesize how Appalachia Democrats became Republicans.  It is an interesting, if very cursory, explanation.  Frankly, it is not very complimentary, making Appalachia sound reactive and resentful.  A bit later, around page 191, he talks about sentiment regarding President Obama and social changes of that era, and he presents the opinion of his people as though it is all made up; not grounded in any fact.

Near the end, Vance attempts to rescue his book (okay, I KNOW I am attributing to him something he would never attribute to himself!!) and he presents some useful and insightful arguments for what has occurred in this region of the country, and what can help.

My friend Deby found the author’s writing “annoying.”  I did too, though neither of us could put our finger on precisely why. My best explanation is that this is written like a “How I spent my summer vacation” essay.  It is chronological and rather immature in writing style.

That all being said, I actually think you should read this book.  I am completely confident you will not agree with all of my opinions, and that is what is interesting and where the learning is.  I am fascinated to hear what you think of this book. I know many of you have already read it. Please opine!

 

For my Blog Readers

After hearing from some of you that you don't see replies to your comments, I did some research. It is below.  If this doesn't help, I will contact my web designer and see if there is something else to be fixed!

 

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