Author Archives: Andrea Sigetich

Girlhood

Melissa Febos

Nonfiction Biography, 2021 | 320 pages

two-hearts

I certainly have earned my wings as a Feminist.  About 50 years ago and ever since.  However, some of you might want to banish them (or me!) when you read this post.

I struggled to finish this book (though I enjoyed her use of the language). I simply could not believe the truth of this biography, and I checked numerous times to confirm it was a biography and not fiction.

Febos talks about the difficulties and trauma associated with developing breasts and hips before her contemporaries, and how she was treated, what she was subjected to, and challenges to her own evolving sense of self.  She writes about events that occurred when she was 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14, as well as events as a young woman. Now, I know I do not have the best memory.  But the manner in which she replays these stories … with extreme detail, emotional understanding and maturity that could not have possibly existed at 12, intellectual understanding that I believe can only come with considerable time … caused me to doubt her veracity. I did not believe her stories.  I DO believe these stories exist; I DO believe she could have presented them as examples of experiences, if she was quoting a woman or girl who was just a few years from the experiences, but as biographical truth, I could not convince myself.

Further, and this makes me angry, later in the book she discusses “empty” consent versus “affirmative" consent versus “enthusiastic” consent.  Her very small sample of interviews confirms in her mind that every young woman has given empty consent to sexual experiences she did not want.  I believe she lets women off the hook and, more damaging, seems to make it “okay” for young women to use empty consent because everyone does it or did it.  (In simple words, “empty” consent means allowing a boy or man to do what he wants to your body rather than expressing your wishes, setting boundaries, saying no, angering the male, or, god forbid, embarrassing him).  To me, this is irresponsible, and likely the opposite of what she was writing to accomplish.

Finally, I do not have a prudish bone on my body.  I enjoy reading (and more!) about sex.  Girlhood, however is about sex, sex, and more sex. Though this enticed me early in, I became quite tired of it.

I do not recommend Girlhood.

July 2021

 

The Third Pole

Mark Synnott

Nonfiction 2021 | 428pages

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The picture in my mind is a mature tree, tall and strong, with many branches, limbs, twigs.  That's what The Third Pole brings to mind.  The trunk of the tree is the main story line … the search for the body of Sandy Irvine on Mt Everest, and for his Kodak camera.  Brits Sandy Irvine and Gregory Mallory have held the distinction of being the first to summit Mt Everest, in 1924.  Except, we don’t know for certain. They died on the mountain. Did they die on their way back down after summiting, or did they die on their way up?  This is the story of the author and a group of supporters who embark on a journey to find the answer.  And it is a fascinating journey!

So, back to the tree.  The main line of the story could have been told in about half as many pages. But Synnott adds an enormous amount of context — about many of the deaths on Everest; about the politics of the Chinese who claim to have been the first and are very protective of information and access; about the evolution of mountaineering clothing; about the many nationalities represented among the ranks of porters, climbing sherpas, cooks, guides and other support roles; the history of Everest climbs; the weather, etc. etc.  He dives into these contexts artfully.  I find the branches and twigs to be quite informative, though I occasionally longed for a return to the main story, with just a bit more focus.

One of the components of the search for Irvine that I particularly enjoyed was the team’s use of drones, for the first time at such an altitude, to gather footage for a National Geographic special.  There were political challenges to overcome, as well as interesting technical hurdles.  I have not yet watched Lost on Everest.

Yes, I recommend this long but engaging read.  Thank you Mary (?) for this suggestion.

July 2021, read while camping on the Oregon coast

 

Midnight Library

Matt Haig | Fiction, 2020

288 pages

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Nora Seed, depressed and suicidal, is stuck between life and death, in a place called the Midnight Library.  In the Midnight Library she selects books, with the assistance of her former school librarian, Mrs. Elm.  There are an infinite number of books Nora can select, and each takes her to a different life.  One decision away from her “root life” or one choice or a series of choices creates a plethora of lives.  We see Nora actually marry Dan, whom she left at the altar; not give up on an Olympic swimming career; stay with the highly successful band The Labyrinth and become a superstar; actually accept the coffee date with Ash; become a glaciologist in the Arctic; teach philosophy at Cambridge University.  She explores what she sees as “better” lives, guided by her own personal “Book Of Regrets.”  In the end, of course, it isn’t the circumstances of her alternative lives that are essential … it is her perspective.

This is a clever story line I think, with its bits of magic.  So I keep asking myself why I am giving it three hearts instead of four?  I believe it comes down to Nora.  I don’t really like Nora.  She is shallow and I cannot find her redeeming or endearing qualities.  I want a richer, deeper character.  More introspection, more angst perhaps, more joy.  I recommend Midnight Library with hesitation.

July 2021

 

 

Your Body is Your Brain

Amanda Blake | Nonfiction, 2018

300 pages

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Because of some jaw-dropping experiences in which I discovered that my body held wise answers to puzzling situations in my life, I began to seek a person or book to help me notice and read more clearly the wisdom of my body sensations.  I have to say, I don’t think such a resource exists.  Your Body is Your Brain came highly recommended, and it did not match my request.  However, I was able to glean a modicum of answers to the question I am pondering.  Particularly useful is chapter three, “Embodied Self-Awareness.”  Also, the author’s many case studies about how individuals were unaware of their bodies gives clues about how to be more attuned.  Most of the book, however, addresses how to use your body, not how to read your body.  Amanda Blake excels at this.  She takes a magnifying glass to leadership and writes about how your body can help you with courage, compassion, credibility, composure, confidence, collaboration, and other important characteristics.  If you are interested in that topic, you may find this book delightful and insightful.

July 2021

 

The Four Winds

Kristin Hannah

Fiction 2021 | 464 pages

four-hearts

What I knew about The Dust Bowl could have filled a very small thimble.  This novel graphically teaches us an important piece of history about the Depression, the Dust Bowl, and the mistreatment of US residents who went west to find work after their farms and ranches were destroyed by drought.  Hannah’s characters are gripping, rich, and deep.  Her ability to tell a tale is astounding.  We follow the life of Elsa and her two children, Loreda and Ant, thrust into unimaginable poverty and the desperate struggle to survive.  We witness the physical, emotional, financial, and familial devastation of the Dust Bowl. And we are viscerally educated about the rise of the farm-workers’ rights movement in the west.  I highly recommend.  This is a good summer read that is hard to put down.

July 2021

 

 

House of Rain

Craig Childs

Nonfiction 2006 | 496 pages

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Monochrome and polychrome pottery styles, doorways, kivas, cliff dwellings, home designs, turkey feathers, ancient roads and waterways … these and more give us clues about the cultural, societal, and geographic evolution of the vanished civilizations of the Southwest US and Mexico.  Craig Childs is the perfect author to tell us about them.  He is an extraordinary writer and an amazing researcher and explorer.  This book, recommended by many on my Great Old Broads raft trip on the San Juan River, tells history from a perspective that is unique, interesting, and informative. Childs tells the tale of multiple migrating cultures over many centuries, by traveling and writing about their apparent journeys. This is what is so remarkable about House of Rain.  Childs catalogs recent knowledge of the journeys of the Anasazi, Salado, the Puebloan people, and numerous other communities, through his own and other academics’ research, and he conveys this to us as he travels from the north … Utah and Colorado … to northwest Mexico, along the same routes the indigenous peoples traveled over hundreds of years.  If you visit Chaco Canyon or Mesa Verde, you will see and learn about a place and a point in time. What Childs captures in House of Rain is the geographical movement of civilizations across many centuries, through prerecorded history.

This book is an excellent read, whether you are a connoisseur of the southwest ancient peoples, or know very little about their communities.   A small example of his vivid writing (page 197): “We found red pottery at nearly every site, rose petals lining the path.”

(A note to my Audible readers ….  Thom and I read this book together, and he listened to it on Audible, as read by the author.  It seems Childs is a superb writer; however, he is not a good orator.  Read House of Rain instead of listening, if you can.)

June 2021

 

 

The Island of Sea Women

Lisa See | Fiction, 2018

375 pages

three-hearts

I just finished reading a somewhat interesting novel (a little bit of a slow read) based upon truth, about the haenyeo, the women who dive in Korea and lead the society and its matrifocal culture.  Two young girls become best friends, and we watch Mi-ja and Young-sook as they become baby divers, internationally traveling divers, wives, and mothers, through the considerable turmoil and chaos prior to and during WWII.  I found, by the way, the decline of their friendship rather implausible.  I cannot fathom how people can forgo forgiveness for 40, 50, 60 years. And I know I can be a Pollyanna sometimes.  You may find this quite plausible, given the pain they endured.

Just over half-way in, Lisa See begins to describe the atrocities that occur under the confusion and disregard of American invaders.  She describes in extremely graphic detail murder, rape, torture, and psychological trauma, and I became literally sick to my stomach.  I felt abandoned by this author.  I thought she took an Intensely hard left-hand turn and changed the tenor of her novel dramatically.  I was floored and upset.

My friend Marian tells me it was important for her to do this, to explain the contexts of WWII and the Korean War.  She is probably right, but I was quite shocked.  Now that you have been warned that this is going to happen, The Island of Sea Women is a strong novel, and one you may quite enjoy.

June 2021

 

 

As Long as Grass Grows

Dina Gilio-Whitaker

Nonfiction, 2019 | 210 pages

two-hearts

This is perhaps the most poorly written and boring book I have ever navigated.  She uses ridiculously obscure words when easy words would suffice.  Her sentences run on, with numerous clauses.  And there is very little feeling, virtually no emotional connection in her writing.  It is facts, pure and simple.

I wanted to learn something about the topic, “The indigenous fight for environmental justice” so, after many pages, I finally figured out how to read As Long as Grass Grows.  I simply read every word without attempting to comprehend the complexity of the sentences, knowing that some of the information would sink in.

Eventually, much of it did.  I DID learn by reading this book; have some ah-has; entertained some new perspectives; discovered some history I knew nothing about; have some new views about colonization, a word I am still attempting to truly understand.  And this is worthwhile.  However, I find history to be most valuable as context to assist us in addressing current situations and planning for and envisioning the future.  Gilio-Whitaker does not address present-day implications or possible actions until the 8th and final chapter; the last 15 pages of the book.

This was a huge disappointment for me.

While there is much to learn about the history of colonization of the indigenous peoples, this book does not stand alone.   If you read it, you will learn new perspectives on history, but you will be left powerless about what to do with your new knowledge.  Perhaps there is a broader, more action-oriented book on this topic.

June 2021

 

What Comes After

Joanne Tompkins

Fiction 2021 | 419 pages

four-hearts

Two teenage boys die tragically.  Daniel is killed by his best friend Jonah, who later kills himself.  Two families are torn apart.  There is grief and shock in this small coastal town in Washington.  And then a teenage girl, house-less and pregnant, abandoned by her mother, emerges from the woods and is taken in by Daniel’s father, Isaac.  Yes, Evangeline knew these boys in the last two weeks of their lives.

This is Evangeline’s story.  How difficult it is to trust, to maybe accept love, to give compassion.  She is “fiery in hair and spirit” ... a red headed enigma.  And she is about to have a baby and, for the first time in months, perhaps a roof over her head. We experience Isaac’s grief, as well as the complicated grief of Jonah’s mother, Lorrie, and Jonah’s sister Nells.  We witness resiliency, confusion, sorrow, miscommunication, deep communication, love. Amazingly, we can see into the souls of the two adults, especially Isaac, as well as 16-year-old Evangeline.  There are also some very interesting minor stories, like Isaac’s best friend Peter, and the role of Quakers in the lives of the characters.

What Comes After is powerful and engrossing.  It is very emotion-centric.  Why I mean by that is we are privileged to observe the feelings and depth of the characters.  Nothing is shied away from.

This is Thompkins’ first novel, and it is astounding.  Well written, but also the most interesting plot I have read in a long time.  No surprise, I recommend What Comes After wholeheartedly and enthusiastically!

May 2021