Category Archives: Dusty Shelves

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

Mildred D. Taylor |  Fiction

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Washington Post “100 Books for the Ages” Age 12

The Washington Post put together a very interesting list … 100 of the best books, one for every age.  I have already read 29 of them (assuming you count the Outlander series, age 66, as one book!)  I have selected 11 more to read.  So, over the next few months, I will weave these books in.  The link for the list is below, and I would love to hear what you select to read from the list!!

https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/entertainment/books/100-books-for-the-ages/?utm_term=.3d716c18b4d4

I quite liked Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry for many chapters.  The time is 1933, deep in the depression; the main character is Cassie, a fourth-grade black girl living with her two younger brothers, one older bother, mom, dad, and Big Mama in Mississippi on cotton-growing land they bought.  They are poor, black, and living at a very difficult time in our country.  I really appreciated Cassie’s innocence and what you could see right from the start was going to be big learning for her … painful, difficult, important learning.  In her naivete, she wants to know why the white kids have a bus to take them to and from their school, but the black kids all have to walk to their school.  She is curious about the bus, but it never even occurs to her to raise the question, why are there two schools?  I really liked seeing the world through her eyes, and I thought the author did this well.  I was ready for four hearts and a recommendation that this was a book we all should read … to be reminded again.

But then the author threw in a whole cadre of adult relationships, difficulties, racism, and lynching.  I could not keep track of these white and black families … the Wallaces, The Simmes, the Avery family, Mr. Granger, Mr. Jamison, Mr. Harrison.  I couldn’t keep straight who was who, I am uncertain that a 12-year-old could.  Then again, maybe they would do a better job than me.

More than anything, I felt sadness at the loss of voice, of perspective.  While Taylor kept returning to Cassie and her thoughts, feelings, and reactions in the situations that presented themselves, I felt we lost Cassie’s voice, and for that I was disappointed.

Aging: An Apprenticeship

Nancy Narboe, Editor |  Nonfiction

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This is a book of essays, 56 in all, about aging.  It starts with “Nearing 50” and ends with “The 90s and Beyond.”  It is an interesting collection.  This is NOT a book about “How to have a New Career in Retirement” or “Managing Your Money so that the Last Check Bounces” or “What to Do When You Become Obsessed with Reading the Obituary Column” or “Foods to Keep You Alive ‘til 95.”  There’s no advice.  Instead, we read writers, famous writers, accomplished writers, writing about their perspectives on growing older.  Sometimes they are quite funny.  And sometimes they are sad.  But always they are provocative.

Here is a sampling of some that I liked, or have cool titles:

  • On Interruptions by Sarah Ruhl
  • Lessness by Lance Olsen
  • Women Over Fifty - The Invisible Generation by Hilary Mantel
  • Passing Fifty by Mark Greene
  • Beyond Chagrin by David Bradley
  • On Not Wanting Things by Jane Miller (in which she discuses non wanting to shop for clothes anymore, much to the disdain of her four granddaughters)
  • Passing for Young-ish by Christian M Lyons 
  • On Throwing Out My Journals by Jane Bernstein (just the title alone makes my heart skip a beat)
  • Where Have All the Old Ladies Gone by Molly Giles 

Some of the places we visit to look at our age

  • A crazy bike ride down Ninth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan  
  • Grandmother’s house in Japan
  • A small university town with a roadrunner
  • Two-inch hail and a tornado in the Black Hills of South Dakota  

And, of course, I will read anything by Ursula K. LeGuin.  And Ram Dass has an essay in here.  Gloria Steinem, too.

If you are growing older and are “Nearing 50” or beyond, you will find something to like in this book.  You won’t like every single essay.  I didn’t.  But it has much fine writing to keep your attention.  Most of the essays are three pages long; some are as long as seven pages, so if you don’t like a particular writer’s voice, you won’t have to commit to him/her for very long. I look forward to our book club discussion, where we are all beyond “Nearing 50.”  Thanks, Linda, for an evocative suggestion.

Comics for Choice

O.K . Fox, Hazel Newlevant, & Whit Taylor, Co-editors | Nonfiction

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I was quite excited to read this anthology of abortion stories, written and drawn by 60 contributors and artists and compiled into a “graphic novel” format.  It disappointed a bit because I was hoping for more personal stories about women and their choices.  In the beginning of the book especially, there were more educational and historic stories rather than personal stories, but the personal individual stories are more frequent in the second half.  Also, for some unknown reason, many of the stories about laws are about Texas laws.  I don’t know why.  I have reread the editors’ notes twice now, looking for an explanation of this, but it seems the editors didn't notice!

That being said, I recommend this quick read.  I learned a lot about a topic I know something about.  Have you heard of Jane?  I had not. Fascinating.  Do you know about the drug combination of Mifepristone and Misoprostol?  Important.  I will say that this book inspired me to donate to the National Network of Abortion Funds before I gave myself permission to write my blog posting.  That says a lot for the power of the book.

I bought a used copy of Comics for Choice.  The single copy my library had has “gone missing.” I wonder what happened to it.  Did a pro-choice person keep it and give it away to a friend?  Or was it an anti-choice person who wanted it removed from the shelves, and therefore stole it?  Either way, I would love to give my copy to one of you who wants to read it.  If you like it, you can pass it on.  Be the first to request it!  It will make you think.

 

Little Bee

Chris Cleave |  Fiction

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I could tell you that Little Bee is about a Nigerian refugee who is put in a detention center in London, detained for two years, and then released and finds the only two people she knows in London.  That would be accurate and you would yawn and stop reading this blog post.  So instead I will tell you that Little Bee is a colorful story about a young Nigerian woman who escapes horrific violence and makes her way to England, where she is housed is a sub-standard detention center (does this sound familiar so far?) Through a fluke, she and three other young women are spewed out into the outskirts of London without any papers, illegal and scared.  Little Bee finds her way to the home of the only people she knows in London, Andrew and Sarah.  She met Andrew and Sarah when they were “vacationing” in Nigeria.

Sarah and Little Bee form a profound, complex, and complicated relationship (reminded me of the Netflix show, Dead to Me), which is necessary for both to heal and perhaps to be saved ... if that is possible.  While the characters are fiction, the context of the story, the violence in Nigeria and why it has occurred, and the detention center crises, are very real.

I will say at one point, at about page 100 in the 270-page book, I was ready to scream if the author Chris Cleave made one more reference to “what happened in Africa” without telling me what happened in Africa.  But he did so, immediately.  

I found Cleave’s writing to be energetic and clear.  I recommend it.  Thank you, Mary for this interesting suggestion.

Walking to Listen

Andrew Forsthoefel | Nonfiction

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Walking to Listen is the story of 23-year-old Andrew who, after graduating from Middlebury College,  walks across the country to listen to everyday people and their stories, on a quest to discover guidance about how to live his life.  Thousands shared their story with him.

With that much information, I was expecting writing akin to one of my favorite books of all time, Working, by Studs Terkel.  Well, of course, that was not Forsthoefel’s book.  He only spends about 10% of the book giving his readers direct quotes from the people he met.  The rest is about him ... his journey, and his thoughts and feelings and reactions to those he meets.

At the beginning, I was put off by this.  First, by my dashed expectations that Walking to Listen was going to be another Working; and second, by my lack of desire to read the self-absorbed angst of a young man whose brain has not fully developed yet.  For these reasons, Walking to Listen earned three hearts.

Still, the story of Andrew’s travels was interesting.  He walks from his mother’s home in Pennsylvania, south to the Gulf of Mexico, and then west to Half Moon Bay on the Pacific coast of California.  The people he meets are the salt of the earth.  The further he walks, the wiser he seems to become (which was, I guess, the whole point of his journey!)  I read the final chapter with tears streaming down my face, I was so moved.

So, if this type of story appeals to you, by all means read it.  I think it isn’t for everyone but I, for one, am glad to have come along for this walk.

Martin Marten

Brian Doyle|  Fiction

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I searched in my brain for a long time for the right word to use to describe this book.  Then, in a review, I found it.  Magic. To see through the eyes of Martin the Marten, and Louis the Elk, and Dave the 14-year-old boy, and his younger sister Maria, and Miss Moss and Moon – what a gift!

All these creatures and, literally, millions of other sentient beings, live on Wy’east,  high in the mountain.  You and I know this mountain as Mt. Hood in Oregon, but Doyle never mentions the name Hood; he calls it by the ancient Multnomah name.

We mostly follow Dave in the years he is 14 and 15, and Martin from his birth to his nearly-full-grown 3-foot-long body at 17 months.  Their paths run parallel, with an occasional intersection – a tribute to the relationships humans can have with other animals.  But this isn’t a mushy “Dave and Martin” story.  The way Doyle explains their relationship is, frankly, quite believable.  Even if it is still magical!  The story of the small community of Zigzag is completely interwoven with the story of the mountain and its myriad other communities. 

Doyle’s style is filled with intriguing visual images and playful words and delicious lists.  His writing style is more than half the fun of reading Martin Marten.  Doyle draws us in, sometimes quite directly.  There are moments when he speaks to us, his readers, and he often refers to the page we are reading as part of a book. 

This is a book to read, savor, and read again.  It is a joyous celebration of life.  Tell your friends.

(Thank you Marian for this fine selection for book club.)

Crashing Through

Robert Kurson|  Nonfiction

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What, another Robert Kurson?  Yes!  Crashing Through was written between Shadow Divers and Rocketmen.  Though not as popular as either of these bestsellers, I just may have liked Crashing Through best of all!  It doesn’t struggle with a massive amount of technical data, like Rocketmen does, nor is it a mystery awaiting revelation, like Shadow Divers.  It is simply a story about one man.  A story that wants to be told and to be read.

At three years old, Mike May is blinded by an explosion.  43 years later he discovers that he may be a candidate to have his vision restored.  He has developed an amazingly full and rich life as an adventurous, courageous, and very curious blind person.  What will happen to his life if he can suddenly see again?  It is a momentous decision.  The first third of the book is about him making the decision to pursue the surgery that would change his life.  I really appreciated the care Kurson takes in presenting May’s thoughts and decision-making processes.

May does decide to go through with a highly risky procedure.  Then we get to witness what happens when he sees his world for the first time in 43 years, but with underdeveloped, inadequate, and insufficient vision.  I found it fascinating to be inside his brain, which Kurson communicates so very well.  

Just one little oddity that bugged me.  Kurson refers to Mike by his last name, May.  Many, many times he talks about Mike May and his wife Jennifer, and he always refers to them as “Jennifer and May” or “May and Jennifer.”  I found this quirk jarring; I don’t know why he didn’t call him “Mike”.  Writer's prerogative, I guess!

This was a faster read than the other two Kurson books I have read, and well worth your time.  It is an insight into the human spirit.

Nine Perfect Strangers

Liane Moriarty |  Fiction

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From the sublime to the absurd.

Moriarty introduces us to nine people who sign up for ten days at a remote health spa.  I had visions of Agatha Christie.  Unfortunately, her character development is nil.  The nine characters, along with three staff, are transparent stereotypes of potentially real people.  There is no depth to these characters … I never developed much of an interest in most of them.  Had she been able to create complex, real characters, I think the book would have had promise.  But she didn’t.

And then the plot takes a bizarre turn.  This was the one time where the book was  interesting.  It was so absurd, I wanted to know what each of the nine thin characters experienced.  That lasted a few chapters.  I think she needed this absurd twist because her characters were so shallow.  I mean, nine of them – 12, really – and she couldn’t find enough to say about them and their interactions without a bizarre twist?  It seemed to me to be something a highschooler would do in writing class.

I read the whole thing.  I was entertained by it in a bizarre sort of way. It was just so, um, light.  But I cannot think of a single person I would recommend this book to, so I had to go with two hearts.  I hope my next choice of books to read is better!

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

John LeCarré |  Fiction

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 My credibility as a blogger may be called into question with this post.  The Spy Who Came in from the Cold spent 34 weeks on The NY Times bestseller list, and most everyone knows the title, at least.  But I didn’t get it.  Literally.  The first time I understood the story line at all was at the beginning of Chapter 20, “Tribunal” on page 167.  The entire book is only 225 pages.  I felt no tension, couldn’t figure out who the bad guys and good guys were, and there was no spying in the entire book.

My friend Jan W is on a journey to read all of John LeCarré’s books.  I haven't read him, but Jan’s commitment inspired me to try him on for size.  It will be a while before I venture into another LeCarré.

I have read everything by Robert Parker (which is why two of my cats are named Spenser and Hawk), and, when much younger, J.D. Salinger and Kurt Vonnegut.  Have you intentionally read everything published by a particular author?  If so, who?

 

Where the Crawdads Sing

Delia Owens |  Fiction

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Three out of the last five books I read were non-fiction, and I claim to be primarily a fiction reader, so it was terrific to be deposited into the arms of a wonderful novel.  I felt like I was lying in a big pile of pillows whenever I read a few chapters from Crawdads.

This is the story of Kya, “The Marsh Girl” who grew up completely alone in the marshland of North Carolina.  When her tale begins, it is 1952, Kya is six, and for a few chapters she has family around her.  And then no more.  We live with her for 18 years, through 1970, and participate in her remarkable development as a marsh specialist, having attended school for only one day.  In 1969, this isolated young woman who has no friends and no standing at all in the nearby community, except as an anomaly to be feared, is accused of murder.

This is a great read!  I am quite enamored.  I must eat a bit of crow, however, for my criticism in other blog posts of The New York Times Bestseller List. During my reading of Where the Crawdads Sing, it was in the top spot on The NY Times list.