Author Archives: Andrea Sigetich

Why Fish Don’t Exist

Lulu Miller

Nonfiction & Memoir 2020 | 240 pages

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Wow!  I would NEVER have picked up a nonfiction book about a taxonomist/ichthyologist born in 1851, until Josie, a member of our book club, convinced us this was the perfect read for our February discussion.  This is an astounding book!

David Starr Jordan (some of you may know this name ... I did not) was obsessed with identifying new fish.  He ultimately is credited for discovering more than 2500 fish species.  He carefully stored and tagged thousands of them in glass jars, until the great San Francisco earthquake hit in 1906, and his life's work lie broken amid shards of glass on the floor.  He immediately picked up a needle and began to sew the fishes' tags onto their bodies.

Miller, a reporter for NPR, was captivated by Jordan, wondering what made him so hopeful, so resilient, when he met numerous disasters and roadblocks.  How did he maintain his optimism?  Why was he obsessed with Chaos (yes, with a capital C).

Miller's writing is what makes the book so fascinating, so engaging.  She isn't simply doing a biography of the man, she in interacting with every part of his life story, and sharing with us, her readers, her reactions, opinions, desires, hopes, disappointments about Jordan and about how these feelings are a mirror for her life.  Yes, she too was obsessed, with the curly-haired man who would never come back to her.  She too observed and interacted with Chaos.  Jordan, as a scientist, was compelled to attempt to create organization and categorization out of Chaos. Miller feels a similar compulsion in her career as a journalist.

Yes, this is the same Jordan who was later to be the Founding President of Stanford University.  Miller's view of the man, her admiration of his remarkable talent, is destroyed as she learns more about his life.  She says in her interview on NPR (April 17, 2020, All Things Considered),   "I mean, the breadth of his wreckage, his violence, his cruelty is utterly stunning. Like you can't imagine that a single person can harm so many people's lives."

David Starr Jordan becomes an ardent, passionate, vocal, powerful proselytizer for eugenics.  Other topics in this book, in Jordan's life, in addition to fish and Stanford, include rape, forced sterilization, Nazism, childhood incarceration, delusion, self-grandeur, and murder.

Absolutely, unquestionably, read this excellent book.

February 2023

 

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows

Balli Kaur Jasmal

Fiction 2017 | 298 pages

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This is a delightful read!  (Thank you, René!)

Nikki, about 22 years old, lives alone in London and tends bar at the local pub, having quit law school to figure out what she wants to do with her life.  Of Indian descent, she has spent her years distancing herself from the traditional Sikh community of her childhood, even as her sister Mindi decides to seek an arranged marriage. Trying to find herself, and also wanting to be of service, Nikki takes a job teaching a brand-new creative writing course that is marketed to widows at the community center in the heart of London's closed-knit Punjabi community, Southall.

However, the women who arrive are not literate.  Nikki goes in search of "learn your ABC's" books and is disappointed she will not be teaching creative writing.  But then she discovers that, while they cannot write, these women can tell stories, and especially fantasies ... sexual fantasies.  Some are made up; some they experienced when their husbands were alive.  News of the class gets out and more and more women come.  News also travels to the Brotherhood, a group of highly conservative young men who have appointed themselves the "morality police" in Southall.

Lest you think this is just some sexy, light reading, that is only the stage for exploring patriarchy, indoctrination, cultural and societal norms, and the unsolved and unattended murders of young women.  This is a thought-provoking tale about East-meets-West, with several important subplots.  The diversion into steamy stories helps to normalize the characters and to remind us of our similarities as well as our differences.

The eroticism is lively and sexy.  The story line is serious and educational. The seven or eight erotic stories play a decidedly positive role in the relationships of women who are still with men.

I surely recommend this book!

January 2023

Listening Still

Anne Griffin

Fiction 2021 / 342 pages

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Regular readers of Dusty Shelves know that I have an affinity for debut novels.  It is refreshing to hear a new voice, and you can just FEEL how hard they worked to get it right.  And then they publish their second novel.  And sometimes the artistry and magic do not carry over into manuscript number two.  I fear that is the case with Anne Griffin.  Listening Still is just not in the same ballpark as When All is Said (see my review in Dusty Shelves).

The plot is wonderful!  Jeanie Masterson can hear the last words of the dead and they can hear her. Her father also has this gift, and together they run the family business ... a funeral home in Ireland.  The ONLY Irish funeral home that talks with their dead.  We watch Jeanie as she enters her teenage years, falls in love twice, and tries to manage her varied emotions when her parents tell her they are retiring to the coast, and leaving the business to her.

Sometimes when you hear the dead speak their last words (while lying in their coffin), you decide the words are too painful to pass on to friends and relatives.  Sometimes not.  But Jeanie and her father find themselves in such situations often ... and this sometimes-withholding and sometimes-giving becomes the way of not communicating with her family and friends as well.

There are a variety of secondary characters who serve as foils to Jeanie and are often delightful.  Her Aunt Harry who works as an embalmer in the business; her friend Niall from the toddler days who waits and watches while Jeanie falls in love with someone else; her deliciously autistic brother Mikey; her best friend Peanut; and Arthur, the postman, all move the story forward.

However, the fatal flaw in this book is the main character, Jeanie.  A number of reviewers wrote that Jeanie frustrated them, because she cruelly spends years not answering the questions of people who love her, leaving herself and them hanging, with no end in sight. I didn't find Jeanie as frustrating as I found Anne Griffin.  Jeanie is a shallow character, and we see only her external behaviors and not her inner soul.  I checked twice to see if this is a YA book, and it is not. It has that sense of action with no depth to it ...

This was a quick read and an easy read.  If you are looking for something to lightly entertain you this weekend, this is a good choice.  If you are seeking something with profound meaning that will cause you to think, I suggest you look elsewhere.

January 2023

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (corrected)

Jonathon Safran Foer

Fiction 2005 | 335 pages

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Oskar, the nine-year-old protagonist of this novel, is vegan and only wears white.  He is extremely precocious and incredibly imaginative; always creating new inventions in his mind.  After his father is killed in the Twin Towers on 9/11, with his body never found, Oskar's tendency towards fear, worry, and anxiety is further augmented by grief and survivor guilt. Oskar describes his sorrow and sadness as "heavy boots" ... a delicious and meaningful metaphor.

Oskar finds a key in a blue vase in his dad's closet after his dad dies. He decides to find the purpose of this key, which is in an envelope with "Black" written on it. He figures out that Black is last name of the person who knows something about this key, and he decides to visit everyone in New Your City with the last name of Black, in alphabetical order of their first name, not geographic order.  He walks wherever he goes in New York City, as he has a fear of public in transportation, heights, and bridges.  He always carries a tambourine, which he shakes to try to calm himself. Oskar is also insatiably curious, brilliant, and has a huge range of interests and an amazing memory for obscure facts.

There is a strong secondary plot in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, through which we are exposed to a long series of letters written by Oskar's grandfather to his unborn child (a bit confusing at times, this.)

The novel is extraordinary.  It has an odd and quirky plot.  The writing is magnificent.  Just a single sentence from page 165, to offer a flavor of the writing: "He looked at me and through me at the same time, like I was a stained glass window."

This is the second time I read this book. RARE for me!   It came up in a recent conversation and sounded like a good idea to reread.  Thanks, Joanne.

Yes, I recommend Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.

January 2023

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Jonathon Safran Foer

Fiction 2005 | 335 pages

four-hearts

Oskar, the nine-year-old protagonist of this novel, is vegan and only wears white.  He is extremely precocious and incredibly imaginative; always creating new inventions in his mind.  After his father is killed in the Twin Towers on 9/11, with his body never found, Oskar's tendency towards fear, worry, and anxiety is further augmented by grief and survivor guilt. Oskar describes his sorrow and sadness as "heavy boots" ... a delicious and meaningful metaphor.

Oskar finds a key in a blue vase in his dad's closet after his dad dies. He decides to find the purpose of this key, which is in an envelope with "Black" written on it. He figures out that Black is last name of the person who knows something about this key, and he decides to visit everyone in New Your City with the last name of Black, in alphabetical order of their first name, not geographic order.  He walks wherever he goes in New York City, as he has a fear of public in transportation, heights, and bridges.  He always carries a tambourine, which he shakes to try to calm himself. Oskar is also insatiably curious, brilliant, and has a huge range of interests and an amazing memory for obscure facts.

There is a strong secondary plot in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, through which we are exposed to a long series of letters written by Oskar's grandfather to his unborn child (a bit confusing at times, this.)

The novel is extraordinary.  It has an odd and quirky plot.  The writing is magnificent.  Just a single sentence from page 165, to offer a flavor of the writing: "He looked at me and through me at the same time, like I was a stained glass window."

This is the second time I read this book. RARE for me!   It came up in a recent conversation and sounded like a good idea to reread.  Thanks, Joanne.

Yes, I recommend Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.

January 2023

The Heart of Tantric Sex

Diana Richardson

Nonfiction 2003, 256 pages

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So, this is a rather odd posting, eh?  I am a little embarrassed, but not so much that I will keep quiet!

Tantric sex originates from ancient Hinduism and revolves around sexual practices that focus on creating a deep, intimate connection. During tantric sex, the aim is to be present in the moment to achieve a sensual and fulfilling sexual experience. Tantric sex is not about excitement and orgasm ... simply put, it is about relaxation, fulfillment, satisfaction, and connection.

This is a delightful and potentially very satisfying book for couples to read together.  (Unfortunately, she only addresses heterosexual couples.  I have looked at her other books, and only found a podcast where she touches on same-sex couples.  https://vitalveda.com.au/learn/emotional-health/tantric-sex/)

I read and applied the first half of this book when I was partnered.  It is a major shift in how one makes love, with its focus on awareness and relaxation and not on excitement, tension, and orgasm.

I read the second half when I was no longer in a relationship and found it almost as valuable.  While Tantric Sex may be revolutionary for female/male couples, it can also be an insightful experience for someone on their own.  What you learn about in reading this book includes lessons in: connection, presence, awareness, relaxation, energy, physical energy channels, breathing, eye contact, peace, inner awareness, polarities, and consciousness.

I know this won't resonate with all my readers, but especially if you are in a long-term relationship, Tantric Sex may offer you a delightful adventure and shift your sexual relationship.  BTW, if you are uncomfortable with seeing the words penis, vagina, erection, and orgasm on the printed page, this book may not be for you!

Enjoy, if you choose!  I am going to lose myself in a novel now!

January 2023

The Guide

Peter Heller

Fiction 2021 | 257 pages

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25-year-old Jack leaves his father's ranch for a job as a fishing guide at an upscale resort, Kingfisher Lodge, on pristine river waters in Colorado.  Dealing with grief over the loss of his best friend, Jack knows he finds solace, relief, and serenity whenever he stands in his waders and fishes.  And what a gorgeous place to be able to do so!

Except, upon his arrival, he begins to question his decision.  The lodge sits behind a locked gate, surrounded by barbed wire, and a sign that shouts "Don't Get Shot!"  There are hidden cameras everywhere ... on a bridge crossing the river, fastened onto trees in the woods, even in Jack's cabin.  He is assigned as a guide to a well-known singer, and his job is to carry her gear, set up her line, and find the best trout he can for her adventure.  And then ... a human scream pierces the night, death is revealed, and Jack comes to realize that his lodge, a respite for wealthy clients during the time of a pandemic, may be a cover for a way more nefarious operation.

This is a wilderness story, a mystery, and a love story.  What could be better?  Heller’s writing simply astounds me,  especially as he writes about fishing,  I am not a fly fisher-woman, but Heller’s vivid description of the sparkle of the river, the beauty of the surrounding land, and the excitement of the chase, once you have a trout hooked, is spellbinding!  He also paints a vivid picture of our two main characters, Jack, and his singer-star client, Alison K.  And the mystery pulls you in … where are those breakfast trays going, and why is there a young girl in a hospital gown fleeing on the road?  And what about the boot in the dirt, that disappeared?

The Guide is a selection in our local county library’s annual community read (they selected four books this year).  I can see why!  Over the last few days, I carried this book with me, and was eager to find moments to read a few pages or a chapter.  Delightful!

I heartily recommend The Guide.

January 2023

 

Interbeing

Thich Nhat Hanh

Nonfiction 2020 (fourth edition), 182 pages

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There is an apple sitting on my counter. As I look at it, if I bother, I can envision the interconnection of this apple. I think about the person at Whole Foods who piled it attractively.  Was it the handsome guy with the beard, or the woman who is often grumpy?  I imagine the truck driver who brought the apple and a myriad of other fruits and vegetables to the loading dock. Then I travel back to the person who picked the apple. The apple itself was fed by the rain and warmed by the sun.  The tree on which the apple grew has deep roots into the earth to tap the nutrients there.  The squirrel or pica consumed a seed and dropped it where it took root and apple tree grew (or maybe a human planted it there). And, if this is not enough, think about the path and the people involved in making the box that the apple was shipped in.  Think about the origins of the truck and the metals and the fuel that brought the box that carried the apple.

This is all the concept of interconnection, and I became very aware of it by reading Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer.  (Please check out my blog posting).  Interconnectedness among native populations is (author not identified):  "This all-encompassing world view embraces the idea that people are tightly connected to their communities, to their ancestors, to future generations, to the lands on which they live and to all of the animals, plants and even inanimate objects that reside on these lands."

I was delighted to discover a similar concept in my research on Buddhism. Thich Nhat Hanh coined the term "Interbeing" and although similar, it is not quite the same. This book, Interbeing, gives you a sense of what all this means in Buddhism ... all fourteen mindfulness components, including Freedom of Thought, Awareness of Suffering, Taking Care of Anger, Right Livelihood, and ten others,   Thich Nhat Hanh turns this concept into something complex and diverse.  And thus, this can be an interesting, useful, and educational read.  Pages 29 - 84 explain and teach about the 14 “trainings.”  This is where the wisdom is.  These pages are preceded by 48 pages of introduction and context setting that doesn’t say much, and the last large section is irrelevant to new learners as it is about the Order of Interbeing ... the structure and the organization that is dedicated to understanding, educating, and revising the mindfulness trainings.

Hahn has a delightful, engaging tone.  I understand he is wonderful to listen to.  AND, I now know just a modicum about Buddhism; just barely enough to begin to have an opinion.  And my present opinion is, "My goodness, so many people/Buddhas have made this all very complicated and complex!"  So far in my learning I have read about Four Noble Truths, the Eight-Fold Path, 14 Mindful Trainings, Ten Precepts, Nine Virtues, Three Sins, Five Powers, and 31 Realms. As with every Buddhist book I have read so far, Interbeing loses a lot of meaning when the teaching is made so complex and non-memorable.  Another case of a large amount of filler to turn a simple concept into a book.  So, enjoy the middle of this book if you wish!

January 2023

The Night Watchman

Louise Erdrich

Fiction, 2022, 451 pages

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Louise Erdrich has written 28 books, and won a Pulitzer Prize for this novel, The Night Watchman, based upon her own grandfather's life, who was in fact, a night watchman, and fought against Native dispossession in 1953.

Thomas Wazhashk is the night watchman at the first factory located near the Turtle Mountain Reservation in rural North Dakota. He is also a Chippewa Council member who is trying to understand the consequences of a new “emancipation” bill on its way to the floor of the United States Congress. The bill is actually a “termination” bill that threatens the rights of Native Americans to their land, their cultures,  and their identity.

Patrice, trying to overcome her childhood name of Pixie, works at the plant also.  With a devastatingly alcoholic father, and a delightful mother, Zhaanat, Patrice works both hard and competently.  She takes a short leave from work to attempt to track down her sister Vera and Vera’s baby, who have disappeared.  Patrice travels by train to Minnesota, where she immediately is thrust into a world of exploitation and violence and endangers her life.

Before the story is complete, a number of the significant characters make their way to Washington DC on a three-day train trip, to testify to Congress against The Termination Act of 1953.

One reviewer described this book as “a mosaic of voices.”  An apt phrase!  Yes, there are many characters (I sought out and downloaded a character list), and they DO create a mosaic, because no two are alike.  They each have their own personalities, quirks, views, and histories.

Erdrich is an elegant writer. I enjoy her words, phrases, sentences, and flow.  I believe she did a phenomenal job with the development of the main characters (something I often grouse about in my blog postings, eh?) ... Thomas, Patrice, Zhaanat, (even the ghost, Roderick) and a few others.  But the novel won three hearts from me because I felt the story was disjointed.  At times it was hard to follow.  At other times, it simply didn't flow; it was choppy.  Great writing, great characters, troublesome plot line.  It is a good thing for Ms. Erdrich I am not on the Pulitzer Prize selection committee!  Ha ha!

All in all, I suggest you read The Night Watchman and form your own opinion.  I don’t think you will be disappointed.  This is our January book club read, so I look forward to a juicy conversation!

January 2023

The Hour of Land

Terry Tempest Williams

Nonfiction 2016 | 400 pages

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Terry Tempest William's writing is gorgeous, literary, torturous, visual, revealing, thought-provoking, sweet, humorous, powerful, inspiring, inciting, creative. This book portrays her personal reactions, responses, and thoughts about eight of our National Parks, two National Monuments, one National Seashore, one National Military Park, and one National Recreation Area. She inspires us to visit, protect, and preserve these national treasures, and understand what they represent for our future, if we are to be an environmentally healthy planet.

I am biased.  Canyonlands National Park is my favorite wilderness in this country.  But what she writes!  Oh my!  This chapter is filled completely with letters she wrote to the likes of Edward Abbey, John Wesley Powell, Sally Jewel, Tim DeChristopher and numerous news media editors.  Here, Williams gives us an intimate view of her values and principles and how this parks entices them.

A few chapters earlier, she shares Big Bend National Park with us through the lens of 13 colors, among them are purple, blue, red, and pink.  Clever; engaging.

You should read this book if you love literature.  You should read this book if you are inspired by our National Parks. You should read this book if you have any interest at all in protecting our environment.  I received it as a gift from Thom 18 months ago and wish I had not put I on the "to be read" shelf for so long.  It is a stunning piece of literature.

December 2022