Sunday, July 22, 2012

The World Without You by Joshua Henkin

How does a family cope after loss?  Beloved son and brother, Leo, was captured and killed while working in Iraq as a journalist and his parents are bringing his siblings, their families and his widow and son together for a memorial ceremony on the Fourth of July a year later at their idyllic summer home in the Berkshires.  But the reunion is all but idyllic.  Leo's death has crazed the veneer of normalcy and each character brings extra emotional baggage to the gathering.  The family dynamics Henkin illuminates ring true and are as explosive as the backdrop of the fireworks on the cover image.  Although I began to feel mired in the middle, I woke up early to finish this great summer novel.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman

This book enticed me from the public library New Books shelf because of the library envelope on the cover against the backdrop of isolated trailer. The book that Rory Dawn Hendrix repeatedly checks out from the library is The Girl Scout Handbook, her instruction manual for life which takes the place of the missing wisdom from her bar maid mother and her barely educated grandmother. Hassman uses alternating chapters of experimental style ranging from story problems with multiple choice answers to assumed reports written by the social worker who visits the trailer to check up on Rory. This mix confused the story rather than supported it, but I suppose reinforced the patch work of the lives of these sorry characters. I must say this book sent me researching the historic Buck vs. Bell court ruling written by Oliver Wendell Holmes that mandated sterilization for women who were determined to be "feeble-minded" - a word Rory uses early in the novel to describe the women role models in her life. Hassman applauds the influence of The Girl Scouts of America in her acknowledgements. The book trailer for the novel is worth checking out -  Girlchild Trailer

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

This is one summer book I looked forward picking up from the library. Described as an apocalyptic novel, it begins when 11 year old Julia's southern California town begins to experience a phenomena called The Slowing. The earth simply slows. Suddenly every day is a few minutes longer than the one before, then a few hours, then so out of balance that society is divided into the Real Timers and the Clock Timers. Julia's nervous mother fears the changes, her father reveals changes of heart, and Julia changes as all adolescents do. She gauges it all against the reactions of the boy she has a crush on. Early in the novel, Walker drops her theme statement into the middle of a paragraph - middle school itself is the age of miracles. Walker's writing doesn't sparkle as much as the promise of the perforated book jacket might promise, but Julia reminds us of the not-so-apocalyptic miracles of adolescence.


Monday, July 16, 2012

Facing our Addiction

We spent the day cleaning the basement today. The main motivation - to find a new home for the 16 boxes of books we brought home when we cleared off our school bookshelves. Our classroom bookshelves held the books we loaned to students. Our office bookshelves were filled with references and the occasionalmbook we needed on to illustrate that one lesson every year.

Now they all sit in boxes in front of the already brimming bookshelves in the basement. If we we allow them to stay in the boxes, we will forget their covers. If we unpack them, other books will have to go to make room. We are book addicted and we don't know where to turn for counseling! We could open a book store now that we once again live in a town without one. We could donate a good portion of them, but what if we teach again? We could try bartering books for services and goods, but that doesn't seem likely in a suburb where the traffic slows around the mall and COSTCO entrance drive.

Truth be told - home is where our books are. There is comfort in being able to go downstairs late on a winter's night to pull that one book off the shelf and find that one marked passage on a dog-eared page that contains the quote that has been lodged in your mind all day - that you cannot sleep without rereading. And Google is a sorry substitute for the analog object with the college marginalia and the memories of time spent with text.

For the time being, we are making more frequent trips to the library where the books with the neon pink "new" stickers beckon, feeding an addiction that may not have an easy cure.


Sunday, July 15, 2012

Gold by Chris Cleave


This is it! If you have been reading these reviews looking for the perfect summer beach read, you won't be disappointed by this timely tale of rival female speed cyclists preparing for the London Olympics 2012. Cleave's Little Bee has been very popular and I think people will be talking Gold all summer. Part sports story, part love story, part parenting story - the suspense of the final race day helped me read long past sunset to finish this book in one day.

Sunset at my favorite beach


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams


I needed some non-fiction to ground me after John Irving, and Terry Tempest Williams writes with a lovely, transcendental voice. In fact, voice is the subject of her fifty-four short musings in this beautiful little book. Williams is an environmentalist, and a Mormon. As her mother was preparing to die from cancer she told Williams she was leaving her three shelves of her journals which were not to be opened until after her death. Her daughter obeyed only to find all of the journals were blank and her mother no longer alive to ask for an explanation. Instead, she authors her mothers musings - about nature, bearing children and the Mormon faith. The book is full of rhetorical questions and declarative statements defining the journals. Having waited 25 years to write about these journals has given Williams time to ponder. She concludes that the journals were left to her as a summons to listen carefully to what was not being said and what consider what can only be felt. The book touched be particularly because my mother has left me for the silence of Alzheimers. Although I spend time with her, the time is full of silences which I fill with her missing voice from the past. The book helped me to see these silences as a treasure of sorts.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

In One Person by John Irving


I have long been a John Irving fan. The World According to Garp may have been my first adult pleasure read as a freshman in college. Irving's new novel is so adult that I could never consider making it summer reading for AP, even though it is a very literary book with many layered Shakespeare references. Early Shakespearean actors playing female roles introduces the central issue of the novel which is filled with transvestites, transsexuals, bisexuals, and teens grappling with sexual identities. I am not a prude or a timid reader, but I tired of the sexual tension. I wanted a "normal mom character" or character I could identify with. I didn't find the usual humor I look for in Irving. Since David read this book before me, I knew he was conflicted in his review, but I urged him to withhold his evaluation until I had a chance to read it too. Turns out withholding information is the theme here. In retrospect, I love the literary quality of the novel, but it's subject matter made me squeamish.


Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Skios by Michael Frayn

Every summer I long for a funny book. Something absurdly entertaining that will take me out of this world into a madcap world of laughter and I expected Michael Frayn, whose famous play Noises Off is very funny, to deliver. At best, it reminded me of an episode of Three's Company. Set on the private island on Skios at Greek villa conference center where wealthy philanthropists have gathered to hear world-renowned lecturer Dr. Norman Wilfred speak, a case of switched personalities occurs. Enter the surprisingly younger, more handsome Oliver Fox, who assumes Wilfred's identity at the airport and is whisked off to Skios where everyone but this reader falls for his charm and fails to see he is not who he is supposed to be. I love dramatic irony, but not simplistic dramas where people taking off their clothes in front of the wrong people and purported geniuses can't keep a cell phone charged.