Category Archives: Dusty Shelves

Black is the Body

Emily Bernard

Nonfiction, 2019

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Black is the Body is a captivating book written by a Black woman who chooses to live in Vermont.

What intrigues me about Bernard’s writing is what is not there.  She is not the least bit preachy.  I never feel like she is trying to make me understand the Blackness of her reality.  Instead, she tells us stories, about her twin daughters, about her family and her White husband, about her profession, about Vermont, and because she is who she is, there are, of course, racial and cultural implications in the stories she tells.  I feel she does an excellent job of enlightening us about her life and highlighting how she experiences life situations through the intimate and unavoidable lens of her race.

Yes, definitely four hearts.

Thank you, Claire, for this thoughtful recommendation. I began reading it on your birthday, in honor of you.

 

A Wolf Called Wander

Roseanne Parry

Fiction, 2019

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What a delightful book this is!  Wander is also known as Swift, and Journey, and yes, in the environmental world, as OR-7.  We follow Wander from the early days in his den with his pack-mates Sharp, Warm, Pounce, and Wag, through breathtaking adventures once he is forced to leave his home pack.  His solo journey takes him from the Northeast corner of Oregon, to the Southwest corner, the Rogue.

The novel is based on the real wolf OR-7 who was tagged with a collar at a young age.  While we don’t know if all of Wander’s encounters and challenges and adventures actually occurred, we do know the path he took (he traveled close to my home on the outskirts of Bend).  Oregonians who have followed the journey of OR-7 over the last ten years will particularly relish this tale.  It all seems so believable.  And whether you are familiar with OR-7 or not, you will learn fascinating wolf behavior, with little effort on your part.

A Wolf Called Wander is age-rated at 9+.  As a book for middle-schoolers, it is a simple and quick read for adults, but Parry’s descriptions and the illustrations by Mónica Armiño will draw you right in.  They are vivid and will stay with you.

Yes, I give this book a full recommendation.  Be sure to read a copy with the illustrations.

 

The Intuitionist

Colson Whitehead |  Fiction, 1999

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This is an odd book, with an odd plot. An elevator crashes in a new municipal building; Lila Mae Watson was the last elevator inspector to visit this building.   A battle ensues between the Empiricist elevator inspectors (who believe in structural details and mechanics) and the Intuitionists (who rely on instinct and intuition to inspect their assigned elevators) in the Department of Elevator Inspectors.  Theoretical Elevators, Volumes 1 and 2, are the textbooks for the Intuitionists at the Institute for Vertical Transport.  Lila Mae is an avowed Intuitionist, graduated first in her class of course from the institute, and is the first and only female Black elevator inspector in the department.

Is this tongue-in-cheek?  Well, yes.  Is it fantasy?  Yes.  Is the book about race?  That, too.  And it is also a mystery as Lila Mae attempts to unravel what happened with the crashed elevator.  To me, if was simply confusing, odd, weird. 

Yes, you know this author.  He wrote the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winning The Underground Railroad (see my review on 01/16/17).  I so enjoyed Railroad, I thought I would read something else by Whitehead, and I chose his first novel.  IMHO, what a long way this author has come from 1999 to 2016.  Positive reviewers use words like quirky, absurd, brainy, and bizarre about The Intuitionist.  I found it overwritten, as first novels often are.  I had wished I was reading a digital copy so I could check the meaning of his words.  In one few-page section where I wrote down words that seemed over the top to me, he used scofflaw, mithridatic, and longevous.

If you have read The Intuitionist, I would love to see your comments.  If not, check the “staff recommendations” shelf at your local library for your next read.  Don't bother with this.

Lost & Found

Jacqueline Sheehan|  Fiction

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Beryl and I, when on a road trip together, particularly enjoyed stopping in small, dusty, used-book stores in little tiny towns that had only a used-book store and a bakery.  I realized I had not done this since he died.  I had road time on my 14-day Alaska trip, and I made a stop.

I was looking for a particular book, which the shop didn’t have, so I perused the tables and saw Lost & Found on display.  I expected it to be a sweet little read, and, well, it was.  It was a NY Times bestseller, but not a literary giant.  It is about a woman, Rocky, whose husband dies suddenly, and Lloyd, the injured dog she adopts who helps her heal. It is also imbued with a mystery, archery, a woman with synesthesia, a teenager with anorexia, and a former-minister-turned-public-works-director, all living year-round on tiny Peak’s Island, Maine.

The first time we really hear Lloyd’s perspective, the big black Lab, is about half-way in.  He is watching Rocky sleep.  Rocky thought she was waking Lloyd at 4:50 AM every morning, "the hour of the distressed."  This paragraph simply blew me away.

“He fell through the waking and let himself wash away, perilously so.  There, there she was, rushing through houses, opening any door, searching.  A wave of acrid smoke caught him, with a flavor of desperation.  She would be willing to do anything to find the one she hunted.  Here is what he needed to know, she tracked a dead one.  Now he understood.  This was where she spent her nights.  Only sickness will result from this journey of hers.  He followed her all night, not needing to hide himself because she had eyes for nothing but her precious dead one.  He left her weeping in the dust and could finally stay no more.  He pulled himself out of the dream, back to his furred body, next to her in bed.  He rose from the bed, walked to her side and whined in alarm until she opened her eyes.” (pg 125)

 

My Brilliant Friend

Elena Ferrante | Fiction

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As I contemplated writing this blog, I kept picturing a graph with ups and downs from a center line ... most like an ECG or EKG.  Ferrante’s writing is hard to describe, but to me, she moves her story forward, developing one of her characters in Naples in the late 1950’s, then diving deeply into that character and his or her relationships or traits, then surfacing again back to the story line.  I found her writing quite intriguing in its breadth and depth.  I liked the depth she explored, and that I could breathe in-between periods of intensity.

This is the first book of a four-book series, in which she introduces us to the early days of the relationship between two lifelong friends, Lila and Lenù.  The entire book spans just about two years in their early teens, when morals and norms and expectations and families were very different from today.

As much as I enjoyed this novel, I choose to give it three hearts because the subject matter may not appeal to everyone.  Personally, I intend to read the second book in the series, and soon!

The Truths We Hold

Kamala Harris |  Nonfiction

No Rating

Racial – Restorative – Environmental – Reproductive – Economic – Healthcare – Gender – Social - Poetic

Those are the words I heard or read in the five days after declaring my intention to explore and rediscover the word “justice.”  Justice in my mind has become so ubiquitous that I’m not sure what it means anymore.  And it is a word applicable to every societal ill we can imagine.  Appropriate?  Perhaps.

On declaring my intention to re-educate myself about justice, an important concept to me, I asked my colleagues to recommend reading.  Two suggested this book. I decided not to rate Harris’s published work because I wasn’t reading it as a book, I was reading it as a research project.  I also wasn’t reading it to understand Kamala Harris’ policies or platforms in her attempt on the White House.  I read The Truths We Hold with a very focused lens: to learn what ‘justice” means to her. And I received an excellent education.

Harris was born breathing justice.  It was a part of her childhood, as she learned from and observed her mother; a passion of her adolescence; the source of her teenage and adult activism.  She has had jobs in the arena of legal justice, but even this taps on so many of the items listed above.  And below.

Aspects of justice she addresses in her book (I probably missed some)

  • Criminal justice 
  • Bail system justice 
  • Marriage equality justice
  • Hate crimes justice
  • Black lives matter
  • Human trafficking 
  • Transgender justice
  • Children’s justice
  • Justice for Dreamers
  • Labor justice
  • Women’s justice
  • Economic justice
  • Climate change justice
  • Water justice 
  • Health care justice
  • Education justice
  • Immigration justice
  • Mental health justice
  • Public health policy
  • Access to addiction treatment 
  • Environmental justice
  • Election infrastructure justice
  • Drought/fire/flood/pandemic justice  
  • Refugee justice

Wow.

 

Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve

Ben Blatt |  Nonfiction

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If you LOVE reading fiction and can manage simple arithmetic comparisons, such as 32% vs 78%, you just may love Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve as much as I did.  Blatt does arithmetic comparisons among 1500+ books by famous and successful authors, to answer such questions as:

  • Did Hemingway really use fewer “ly” adverbs than other authors?  And who uses them the most?
  • Do male and female authors use different words?  (we do)
  • Is there an underlying “signature” for an author that can identify who wrote the book, whether written alone or as a co-author?
  • What are our favorite authors’ favorite words (and oh, by the way, how do they differ for British and American authors)?  I am going to run a test on my blog posts for my “favorite” words.

The fascinating and illuminating patterns he reveals will inform your reading and your writing.  

Blatt also offers data-based evidence to support my occasional rant about the New York Times Bestseller list.  When considering the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Test, the median grade for books on the NYT list in the 1960’s was 8.0.  In the 2010’s, it has dropped to 6.0.  Our most popular books are filled with simpler sentences and have been “dumbed down.” This isn’t all bad, of course.  It makes books accessible to more readers.  AND there is a price we pay for less challenging reading.

I adore this book. (“Adore” is probably a word used more by female authors, I would venture).  I highly recommend it.

p.s.  My most used words are relevant to the topic.  I used “read” 397 times.  I used “write or writer or writing” 118 times.  Beyond that, more content related words I use frequently: “fun” or “funny(36); “style”(28); “engaging”(14); “warm 11); “profound”(10).

The Color of Law

Mark Gimenez |  Fiction

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What fun to read a page-turning legal thriller by an author I have not read before!  Scott Fenney is the lawyer, earning $750,000 per year and all the perks at a prestigious Dallas law firm, when a Judge assigns him a pro-bono federal murder case.  Fenney is thrust into the moral dilemma of his life, between his law career to date, and doing some actual good in the world.

Senator Mack McCall is a presidential hopeful, about to announce his intentions, when his son Clark is murdered, allegedly by heroin-addicted hooker Shawanda Jones, whom he picks up for a night of drugs and sex.  Significant pressure is exerted on Scott Fenney by the political machine that does not want Clark’s sordid past to be introduced in the trial.  Most of the novel is about Scott’s battle within himself, way before he battles in the courtroom.

This is an easy enjoyable read.  Gimenez isn’t a perfect writer, IMHO.  He rather obsesses with the dilemma Scott is facing, and I found him repetitive in his description of the internal challenges Scott is facing as he loses all the structures that have come to define his life.  I wanted more depth and less repetition.  That being said, this was not enough to reduce my rating of four hearts.  It is still an engaging read, and I would like to try this author on a different novel.  He has published 14 and this was his first.

Thank you, brother David, for the new author suggestion!

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.