Author Archives: Andrea Sigetich

Uncommon Type

Tom Hanks |  Fiction

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I would not likely pick up a random book of short stories, as many of you know by now if you have been reading Dusty Shelves for a while.  But I heard about these short stories by Tom Hanks, just after seeing The Post, and I thought it was worth a try.  As you may know, Hanks collects typewriters.  In this collection of his writings (geesh, how many talents can one person have?) a typewriter plays a role.  Sometimes it is a small and insignificant role; sometimes a central and vital role.

I thoroughly enjoyed the short stories of Uncommon Type, and Hanks book comes with my full recommendation.  I kept picturing his quirky and somewhat crooked smile as I turned the page and began a new story.  His tales have a light quality, and he develops his characters well in just a few pages.  I liked the way his endings did not always wrap things up with big red bow.

If you are not a Tom Hanks fan, (which I assume must be possible!) you may not appreciate this book as much as I did.  I can’t quite separate the stories from the author.  I hope you enjoy!

 

 

Alone on the Wall

Alex Honnold with David Roberts |  Nonfiction/Biography/Sports

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I am a sucker for books about real-life and (sometime disastrous) hiking and climbing adventures.  A true arm-chair aficionado, I immerse myself into these adventures on K2, in Montana, in the Sierra Nevada, or in the back deserts of Southern Utah.  From the safety of my back deck, I experience and enjoy fascinating stories and adrenaline rushes.

Alone on the Wall is the most technical of these books that I have read.  You have to be interested in understanding a bit about the difference between a 5.12c and a 5.13a climbing route.  But if you are, you will enjoy the completely true stories of seven free solo climbs completed by the now 30-year-old and legendary Alex Honnold.  Free soloing is climbing alone without a rope, a partner, or hardware such as pitons, nuts or cams for aid in climbing or for protection.

Alone on the Wall is a mix of excerpts from Alex’s journal as well as commentary and research by his co-author David Roberts.  This book inspired me to watch various videos of Alex’s climbs, and his 60 Minutes interview, as I read about his absolutely astonishing climbs.  This book is not for everyone, but if you enjoy outdoor physical adventures, you will appreciate this one.  Even if you don't like these stories, glance at a copy of the book and check out the photos in the centerfold.  They will take your breath away.

 

August Snow

Stephen Mack Jones |  Fiction

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August Snow was a delightful surprise in its early pages.  It is a novel about a Detroit cop who loses his job because he whistle-blows corruption, then receives a 12-million dollar settlement, travels the world for a year, returns to his former home in Mexicantown In Detroit, and proceeds to privately investigate a murder.

The delight was in Jones’ treatment of Detroit ... the interesting and often beautiful architecture, the varied and diverse food, the many generous residents, the disenfranchised poor and Black, the desperate and determined community struggle for revival.  It was fascinating to read for a native-Detroiter, and I think it would be intriguing for non-Michiganders as well.

While August Snow (the man) has some utterly delightful relationships (yes, Snow's persona reminded me of Robert Parker's Spenser), unfortunately I found the physicality too violent and gruesome for my tastes, so the last bits, where August is confronting, fighting, and killing the bad guys, turned this novel from 4 hearts to 3 for me.

Now, here is an important question for all of you who were NOT born and raised in Detroit.  Did you, in your growing up, go out for Maurice Salads, or is this a Detroit phenomenon?  Snow waxes eloquently about this dish and I was salivating, remembering those day-long trips to JL Hudson department store in downtown Detroit, typically with my mom, where the high point of the day was the lunch break for Maurice Salad.

 

The Dalai Lama’s Cat

David Michie |  Fiction

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A starving and weak kitten is rescued from the streets of New Delhi by none other than the Dalai Lama.  This is her story ... the cat with many names, but known throughout the monastery and the neighborhood most adoringly as HHC, His Holiness's Cat.

Seeing the Dalai Lama and his Buddhist teachings through the eyes of a kitten who is most concerned with the quality of the duck l'orange and whether or not the monks love Kye Kye, a dog they are fostering, more than her, is quite delightful!  HHC understands all conversations, knows who the famous visitors are, and is endlessly intrigued by the goings-on of the monastery.  It is fun to see this all through the eyes of a beloved cat.

You don't have to read far into this book to realize it isn't really a novel about a cat.  It is actually a presentation of some of the most important Buddhist wisdom through the author's use of a very smart cat.  I felt a bit duped by the front cover which clearly calls The Dalai Lama's Cat a novel.  It is, in my mind, creative nonfiction. Nevertheless, I am happy to have this gentle introduction to Buddhism.  This book appeared under my Christmas tree at the Tree Already Trimmed book swap, but the note inside did not indicate who left it there.

It's an easy and enjoyable read ... IF you want an easy entry into Buddhism.

 

A Discovery of Witches

Deborah Harkness |  Fiction

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My friend Lois recommended this book to me, and she has never once led me astray.  I loved this book, however I cannot recommend it to every one of my blog readers unhesitatingly ... you will have to choose on your own.  It is a fantasy, featuring witches, vampires, daemons, and humans.  It begins slowly, in my opinion, as we come to know our two main characters, Diana and Matthew, who are professors working and researching at Oxford.   One-third of the way through this 600-page read, I could hardly put it down.

A Discovery of Witches is about vampires, witches, daemons and humans at one level.  At another level, especially in the early context-setting pages,  it is an allegory of brown people, black people, white people, gay people, Muslims, Jews, Democrats, and Republicans and how we manage to live together – or not – with our diverse cultures, values, norms, rules, beliefs, and covenants.  Early in the book we learn that humans become nervous whenever the other creatures gather together in any sort of a group or crowd.  Sounds quite familiar.

This is decidedly not about vampires biting unwilling humans in the back alleys of New Orleans.  Never happens once.  It is actually about the discovery and manifestation of our individual and shared inner strengths and powers (whether we be witch or vampire!).

I realized on page 515 why Lois recommended this book to me; I can see what is looming in the second book of this All Souls trilogy by Harkness, which I will read!

And yes, there is a powerful love story that sparks both magic and war.

 

The Red Car

Marcy Dermansky |  Fiction

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This is an absurd book.  I will venture to call it dumb.  It has a story-line that is not believable, a primary character I didn’t like and didn't care about, and a red car that is possessed.  Don’t even consider it. 

(Yes, I finished it.  I kept hoping.  This is a Huffington Post recommendation.  Hmmm, causes me to look askance at their recommendations.)

 

 

 

The Weight of Ink

Rachel Kadish |  Fiction

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I liked this book a lot.  I didn't love it.  I loved it at first; a richly woven story told in beautiful language.  I described it to my friend Jan as a “cup-of-tea-by-the-fireplace” book; a 600-page book to be read with intention and attention.

And then (you can blame my modern-day distracted brain) I began to find it too dense.  The weight of the ink on the page grew heavy.  When we were in the modern days with PhD candidate Aaron Levy and the challenging Helen Watts, Professor of Jewish History, with whom he was working,  time passed quickly, as our two scholars read pages from the trove they found, called a Genizah.  As we  learned more of the 17th century backstory of the female scribe Ester and Mary, for whom she was a companion, and the rabbi for whom she scribed, Rabbi HaCoen Mendes, the stories at times became rather dense with Jewish history and knowledge. I slowed a bit and my interest waned. I found myself using my iPad often to look up words such as Spinoza, Sabbatean, jib and virginal (the noun).

But I took a deep breath, woke up from the intermittent naps I took while reading The Weight of Ink, and kept going.  The last 150 or so pages re-engaged me.  So, like many long books, I experienced a dip in the middle.  However, on total, I am giving this book four hearts.  I think it is definitely worth the read.  This is a book club book, and I am quite looking forward to our discussion in late January, as there is much to explore.

You may be considerably more knowledgeable than I am about Jewish history and the plague in London in the 17th century, but I learned a great deal from this novel.  It is, dare I say it, a feminist novel, as it is very much about the intellectual development of a woman in a time when women didn’t have many options.

So, with only minor hesitation, I recommend The Weight of Ink when you are ready to immerse yourself in a long read.  By the way, while long, it is not complex with characters.  Kadish manages to not inundate her tale with a multitude of characters.  There are, let me count, about a dozen significant characters, so you have ample opportunity to get inside their heads and hearts.

 

Borderline

Nevada Barr |  Fiction

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Last Thursday I found myself in-between books, and I wasn't going to the library until Friday.  So I put the grab on this Nevada Barr, which had been sitting on the credenza for about a year.  What a nice respite for the Christmas weekend!  Anna Pigeon at one of my favorite National Parks, Big Bend.  Love her character ...  and love that each Barr mystery takes place in a different National Park.

 

On Tyranny

Timothy Snyder |  Nonfiction

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This tiny book is big on making one think.  It is only 126 small pages.  The author, Timothy Snyder, is a Professor of History at Yale University and has written numerous historical books.  On Tyranny is 20 lessons.  In each lesson, 1-9 pages long, he writes of a historical event — tyrannical events primarily from WWII — and then ties it to a similar behavior, cultural element, or effect under our current administration.  Sometimes he caused me to gasp with the starkness of the similarities.

This is not a book to be read cover to cover in one sitting.  To allow and encourage its full impact, read one lesson at a time and let that lesson percolate for a few hours or days.  Think it over, muse on it, wonder about it, and notice how the parallels resonate (or not) with you. 

My one regret in reading this book is that I read it alone.  Snyder's lessons call to be read and discussed. It feels like On Tyranny is meant to be read with your life partner or your business partner or your book group or with friends.  It compels the reader to chew ... and you will want to hear the views of others in your life who you respect.  Truth be told, I didn’t comprehend all of it either, and it would be helpful to hear other’s understandings and interpretations.

For $7.99 US, On Tyranny could be that one last stocking stuffer for the thoughtful person on your list.

 

Turtles All the Way Down

John Green |  Fiction

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This isn't The Fault in Our Stars.  It isn't even on the same shelf.  I was looking forward to this next young adult novel by John Green, but was quite disappointed.  I find it interesting that all the commentary on the back cover of Turtles All the Way Down is about The Fault in Our Stars.

The main character in Turtles is Aza, a high school junior with mental health challenges.  She has “invasives” ... spirals, she also calls them.  These are obsessive thoughts, mostly about microbes and C. Diff (clostridium difficile infection) and bacteria and other ways our bodies can be infected.  These spirals, obsessive and ever-tightening, make relationships, school, and life itself difficult for Aza.  For this reader, they were simply boring and depressing.  I found no redeeming qualities in this story, and I read it all the way through.

If it is already on your reading list, my suggestion is to cross it off.  But, of course, if you have read it, I/we would love to hear your opinions, especially if they differ from mine!