May 2007 archive

Old Filth – Book Review

Old Filth dozed off then with this picture before him, wondering at the clarity of an image thirty years old when what happened yesterday had receded into darkness. He was nearly eighty now. -From Old Filth, page 24-

Old Filth (“Failed in London Try Hong Kong”) is a surly, retired Judge who begins to remember his past as he enters the final years of his life. The story is told in a series of flashbacks, taking the reader to Malaya where Filth was born, to Wales where he is fostered by the evil Ma Didds, to England where he attends school, and to Hong Kong where he finds his professional niche. Along the way, people from Filth’s past surface to fill in the gaps of his memory – and a crime is uncovered.

This book was hard to rate – there were moments of brilliance from Jane Gardam. She likes to play with words and metaphor, such as when Filth meets a character by the name of Loss.

Loss’s defection was the metaphor for Eddie’s life. It was Eddie’s fate always to be left. Always to be left and forgotten. Everyone gone, now. Out of his reach. For the first time, Eddie was utterly on his own. -From Old Filth, page 230-

Gardam also uses this same style to explore the idea of revelation – a central theme in the novel.

The suitcase was immense. He got it out of the roof like a difficult birth. Its label called it a Revelation.  “Revelation was once the very best luggage,” said Filth. “They were revelations’ because they expanded.” -From Old Filth, page 282-

And just in case the reader misses it,  Gardam ties it up in a neat bow when Filth strikes up a conversation with a character he meets on a plane.

“I always feel tip-top. I say – you’re not by any chance…?”
“Yes. Old Filth. Long forgotten.”
“Well, you’re still remembered out here.”
“Yes. Well, I dare say. I hope so. Ha. Did you ever come across a chap called Loss?”
“No. I don’t think so.”
“Or Islam?”
“They’re all called Islam.”
“He’s probably dead. Certainly retired. I’ve got one of his suitcases. Called a Revelation.” -From Old Filth, page 287-

Gardam is a natural storyteller who writes stellar dialogue, heavy with meaning. Despite this, Old Filth is not an easy novel to read. At times the story becomes dreamlike and the characters warp into odd, almost surreal figures. Gardam’s style tends to be circular, which ultimately leaves the reader with a satisfying end.

Not great, but good. Recommended for those readers who enjoy literary puzzles and creative use of language.

Wanna Play???

Dewey at The Hidden Side of a Leaf is having a little fun – it’s called the Blog Roll Game. Get to know your fellow bloggers, increase the traffic on your own blog…and there’s prizes too! If you want to get in on the action, click on the logo:

Beyond The Shadow of War: The Living Memorial Sculpture Garden

I wrote this article and it first appeared in The Piker Press in November 2005.

I thought I’d post it again here as a tribute to Memorial Day.

Situated in the high desert of Northern California, in the shade of Mt. Shasta, there lies a sculpture garden dedicated to all veterans. The USDA Forest Service offered this land for the creation of a memorial. Bronze artist Dennis Smith served his country as a Marine and brings to life a personal and intimate portrayal of our history. His philosophy of art (“…to uplift, edify and educate”) is apparent throughout the garden and labyrinth.

On a perfect late spring day, my husband Kip and I drive away from Redding, north on highway 5. We exit in Central Weed and head north on highway 97 toward the stark beauty of the high desert. To our southeast, Mt. Shasta rises into a clear blue sky, her snow covered peaks shining in the sun. We find the Living Memorial Sculpture Garden one mile north of County Road A-12, in the heart of Siskiyou County and are greeted at the entrance by The Peaceful Warrior sculpture.  With one bronzed arm raised to the towering pines, the figure appears triumphant. As our car enters the parking area, my eyes are drawn to the Hot LZ Memorial Wall, which on this day (only a week after Memorial Day), is covered with the red, white and blue of small American flags and the rich colors of dozens of bouquets of wildflowers. Names of veterans, living and dead, are etched in the wall’s granite surface. Glinting in the sun atop the wall are two bronzed sculptures of helicopters.  Mt. Shasta’s snow covered slopes soar behind them and I can imagine the helicopters, blades whirring, lifting into the Spring sky.

We drive away from the parking area and down a dusty road where junipers and pines blow in a gentle breeze.  Purple Penstemons, Northern Buckwheat and Hawks Beard are just a few of the dozens of species of wildflower which cover the ground. Dennis Smith’s sculptures catch the sun’s rays, throwing light toward the rocky outcroppings on the northern end of the park.

Kip and I climb out of the car. The breeze blows away the heat of the sun and wild thyme and sage flavors the air. We walk out to the POW-MIA sculpture. A soldier lies in a cage, ankles bound, hands curled limply at his side. People have placed wreaths, bracelets, flags and notes in front of him. An American flag, sun bleached and tattered, flutters. My throat tightens and tears blur my vision. The silence here is broken only by the occasional rumble of a truck making its way along highway 97; and the sweet trill of a single bird.

Kip and I take our time wandering among the sculptures. We wait for awhile at the site of The Flute Player, symbolic of peace and tranquility. It is said when the wind blows just right, the sound of a flute comes forth. But not today.

We walk out to The Nurses memorial. An injured soldier rests on a stretcher carried by two men; a nurse, hand outstretched as if giving a blessing, leans over him. Someone has tucked a tiny bouquet of blood red Desert Paintbrush inside the injured man’s hand. I imagine the thump-thump of a helicopter’s rotors, the thud of distant bombs, and the soothing voice of a nurse in the chaos. I imagine a soldier in pain who looks into the eyes of another and is comforted.

Kip and I move on. We feel the despair at the Korean War Veteran Monument; and hope as we gaze at the outstretched arms of the central figure in The Why Group.

The  minutes tick by. I am filled with a peace that is hard to define. This site is dedicated to war veterans and one might think the violence of war would find a place among the monuments. But Dennis Smith, who believes that “through art we have the means to peacefully consider violence,” has created a remembrance that fills the observer with reverence and tranquility. On this day, Kip and I are alone among the bronze and dwarfed by a mountain. We stumble upon other tributes left where once only wildflowers grew. “To Papa,” says one; “To my brother,” says another. Crude bunches of flowers, small flags, piles of rock nest in the desert grasses, almost hidden; and their presence touches us, makes us feel this place is special.


When finally we climb back into our car, our words have been silenced. I roll down my window, allow the wind to blow past my face. Dust sifts and billows beneath the car’s tires. We leave the parking lot and turn south onto highway 97 toward home. I glance back once more to see the Peaceful Warrior standing guard.

Terms of Endearment – Book Review

Flap’s cheeks had thinned, but he still had something of his old look, part arrogant, part self-deprecating – though the arrogance had worn thin after sixteen years. Somehow that look had won her, though she couldn’t remember, looking at him, what the terms of endearment had been, or how they had been lost for so long. -From The Terms Of Endearment, page 400-

Larry McMurtry’s gift as a writer is to fully inhabit the lives of his characters, and then bring the reader into their world. He is one of the few male authors who writes convincingly from the point of view of a female protagonist. In Terms of Endearment, he captures the essence of Aurora Greenway – sharp, sarcastic, in control of everyone (including her numerous ‘suitors,’ and yet with a heart that is full of love for those around her – and her daughter Emma – fiesty and loveable, a free spirit.

Some of my favorite parts in this novel were McMurtry’s characterizations of Aurora.

She had not really meant anything by her accusation – it was her habit, on occasion, to toss out nets of accusation just to see what she could drag in. -From Terms of Endearment, page 61-

“Vernon, you have a great  many irritating physical mannerisms,” she said. “I hope you mean to try and whittle those down. I’m sorry, but I’m afraid I’ve always felt fee to criticize people immediately. I don’t see that it can hurt to try and improve someone. I’ve never quite been able to improve anyone up to the point where I could accept them, but I do fancy that I’ve improved a few men enough to make them palatable to others.”  -From Terms of Endearment, page 154-

In the end, the book is about the connections we make with others and how those connections fortify us in the face of all that life throws in our paths. McMurtry does not disappoint the reader in this heartfelt novel. Be prepared to laugh out loud, but have tissues handy for the tears you will undoubtedly shed.

As I was reading this novel, I couldn’t help but remember moments in the movie – which, by the way, is one of my favorite all time movies. The casting of the movie was true to McMurtry’s characters. Shirley McLaine (as Aurora) and Debra Winger (as Emma) were perfect – their chemistry was beautiful, and I could believe they were mother and daughter. For once, a movie lives up to the book upon which it is based. The winner of five Academy awards (Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Director and Best Screenplay Adaptation), Terms of Endearment is a movie not to be missed.  If you haven’t seen it, I would encourage you to do so. I own the DVD and plan to watch it again this weekend – just so I can laugh and cry some more!

Highly recommended.

Something About Me Challenge

AUGUST 1 – DECEMBER 31, 2007

Lisa at Breaking the Fourth Wall is hosting a new challenge: Something About Me.

Each participant nominates up to five books which represent them in some way. Once all the books are nominated, participants choose the books from that list they want to read. Sound like fun!??!?

Lisa has started a blog for participants to post their lists and share their progress. Interested participants need to go here for further details and to sign up! This is going to be a GREAT challenge!!!


Here are the five books I nominated which tell people something about me:

1. Place Last Seen, by Charlotte McGuinn Freeman – This book is a touching novel about a lost child and the search which ensues to find her. It represents me on a couple of levels. I have been involved in Search and Rescue for almost ten years now (the first 7 of those years was with a my Search and Rescue dog – Caribou- and now I’m a certified Tracker I for my county team). In addition, the child in this novel has Down’s Syndrome. As a licensed Physical Therapist, I work with children and adults with developmental disability. McGuinn Freeman does an outstanding job of portraying both the search teams and the family of this little girl.

2. A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson – A non fiction memoir of the author’s trek along the Appalachian Trail. I am a hiker and a lover of nature, and I have a good sense of humor. Bryson’s account is hysterically funny and I found that although I have never hiked the Appalachian Trail, I could relate to his escapades!

3. In The Shadow Of Man, by Jane Goodall – Non fiction book about Jane Goodall’s work with chimpanzees in Gombe National Park in Africa. As a child I wanted to be Jane Goodall! I love animals and her job seemed like the perfect job to me. I was lucky enough to meet Ms. Goodall several years ago after she gave a talk at the Oakland Zoo in Oakland, California. I had a lot of things I wanted to ask her, but I was struck dumb in her presence! She is an incredible woman. My copy of this book is autographed, so I treasure it even more!

4. The Borrowers, by Mary Norton – This was one of my favorite books as a child. I loved the idea of a family of little people living under the floorboards – with my wild imagination, I could almost hear them in my own house! I actually read the entire series several times, borrowing the books over and over again from my local library. I have vowed to get a copy of this series for my home library – I can’t believe I don’t have it already!

5. The Hotel New Hampshire, by John Irving – This was the first Irving book I read and the one that made me a die-hard fan of his. I grew up in rural New England (New Hampshire) and I was captivated by Irving’s quirky characters. I think I relate to John Irving’s novels because of his character development; the way he captures the eccentricities of people; the way he demonstrates the fine balance of weaknesses and strengths. And who can resist a book about a family with a pet bear?


Now I’m supposed to chose  books from other participants’ lists to read for the challenge. My dilemma has been that there are just too many great books being nominated – and there are a lot of participants. Many of the books I’ve read at one time or another. So, I’ve decided to play with the ‘rules’ a little on this one. I am going to list all the books here that I’ve already read or plan to read BEFORE the challenge starts on August 1st. I’m also going to list ALL the books I WANT to read, even it they go beyond the challenge date. Of these books, I’m going to choose a pre-determined amount that I will complete within the dates of the challenge (and I’ll highlight these on my list by August 1st). I’m putting the name of the participant who nominated the book in parentheses with a link to their site. Sound good? Here goes….

Books Read PRIOR to the challenge start date of August 1st:

1.   The World According To Garp, by John Irving (Chasida AND Dewey) – I’ve read this book more than once (the last time in 2006) and it makes my list of all time wonderful books.
2.   March by Geraldine Brooks (Dewey) – Read April 3, 2007; To read my review of this book click here.
3.   The Tortilla Curtain, by T.C. Boyle (Dewey) – Read March 2, 2007; To read my review of this book click here.
4.   Anne Of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery (Tiny Librarian, EnnaVic, Gracie, AND Trish) – A childhood favorite; I’ve read the entire series.
5.   The Stand, by Stephen King (A Book In The Life) – Another book I’ve read more than once which makes my Top Ten Book list of all time.
6.   Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy (Athena) – I read this one a few years ago and loved it.
7.   The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield (Kristin) – Read in December 2006.
8.  Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, by Ronald Dahl (Maryanne) – One of my favorite childhood stories.
9.   Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, by Kate Douglas Wiggin (Stephanie) – Another fondly remembered childhood book.
10. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee (
Stephanie AND Janet) – Read March 21, 2007; To read my review of this book click here.
Operating Instructions, by Anne Lamott (Nattie) – A wonderful non-fiction that I read several years ago. Lamott is one of my favorite authors.
12. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen (Pattie) – Read January 2, 2007; rated 5/5 – a wonderful classic.
13. Anne Frank: A Diary of a Young Girl (Pattie) – I read this many years ago, but the memory of this wonderful story is just as clear as if I read it yesterday.
14. Cheaper By The Dozen, by Frank Gilbreth (Raidergirl) – I read this as a teenager and loved it!
15. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, by Kim Edwards (3M – Michelle) – Read February 19, 2007; To read my review of this book click here.
16. Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White (3M – Michelle) – Oh how I love this book; it brings back so many memories of my childhood.
17. The Talisman, by Stephen King (Dana) – One of my all time favorite King novels. I’ve read it twice.
18. Fall On Your Knees, by Anne-Marie MacDonald (Christina) – Read April 26, 2007; To read my review of this book click here.
19. Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck (KookieJar) – This book reminded me why I love Steinbeck so much. Read January 18, 2007; To read a review of this book, click here.
20. In The Shadow of The Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (Christina) – Read July 7, 2007; Read my review here.
21.  Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen (Bookworm) – Read January 2, 2007; To read a blurb about what I thought of this book click here.
22.  The Lord Of The Rings, by JRR Tolkien (Rhinoa) – I read this book a long time ago as part of the series. I thought the whole series was amazing.
23.  Memnoch The Devil, by Anne Rice (Rhinoa) – I’ve read just about every Anne Rice book except her last 2 or 3. I liked this one, but thought some of her other books were more engaging.
24.  On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King (Jill) – I read this book when it came out in paperback. I love Stephen King and this book was terrific.
25.  Flowers in the Attic, by Virginia Andrews (Margo) – I remember when I first read this book – I was spellbound. I then went on to read all the sequels too!
26.  These Happy Golden Years, by Laura Ingalls Wilder (Becky) – I’ve read all the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. They remind me happily of my childhood.
27.  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith (Becky) – A classic read; highly recommended.
28.  Anne of the Islands, by L.M. Montgomery (Becky) – I loved the Anne books and have been to see her “home” on Prince Edward Island as well.
29.  Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (JMC) – I read this book in 2006 for a book group. Wonderful classic. A must read.
30.  The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath (Soleil) – I read this book years and years ago and remember the impact it had on me – a stunning novel.
31.  The Art of Mending, by Elizabeth Berg (Diane) – I read this book in May 2007. Berg is one of my favorite authors, although this wasn’t her best (in my opinion) I still enjoyed it; read my review here.
The Talisman, by Stephen King and Peter Straub (Juli) – One of my favorite Stephen King novels – a wonderful, fantastical novel!
33.  Snow Flower and The Secret Fan, by Lisa See (Juli) – One of my favorite reads from 2006.
34.  Runaway Jury, by John Grisham (Historia) – I went through a phase where I read all of Grisham’s books and loved them.
35.  Harriet The Spy, by Loise Fitzhugh (Karlene) – Oh, this one brings back memories. I loved Harriet The Spy and for a period in my childhood I carried around a little notebook and “spied” on people everywhere!
36. Dune, by Frank Herbert (Karlene) – I’m not a big Sci Fi reader, but I remember liking this book.
37.  Time and Again, by Jack Finney (Gracie) – This was a fun book with lots of history. Finney is a talented writer.
38.  The Thornbirds, by Colleen McCullough (Andrea) – I read this book many years ago and loved it!

Books I WANT to read DURING (highlighted in PINK) and AFTER the challenge dates (*those books highlighted in GREEN are alternate reads):

1.   We Need To Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver (Dewey)
2.   Bridget Jones Diary, by Helen Fielding (Tiny Librarian)
3.   The Mayor of Carterbridge, by Thomas Hardy (A Book In The Life)
4.   Of Human Bondage, by W. Somerset Maugham (Athena)
5.   A Cook’s Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines, by Anthony Bourdain (Athena)
6.   Nicholas and Alexandra, by Robert K. Massie (Kristin)
7.   Enduring Love, by Ian McEwan (Kristin)
8.   The History of the Seige of Lisbon, by Jose Saramago (Maryanne)
9.   A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson (
10. Evening Class, by Maeve Binchy (Raidergirl)
11. The Five Gifts of Illness, by Jill Sklar (Dana)
12. The Echo Maker, by Richard Powers (3M – Michelle)
13. Rebecca, by Daphne Du Marier (Christina)
14. Raptor Red, by Robert T. Bakker (KookieJar)
15. The Country of the Pointed Firs, by Sarah Orne Jewett (Megan)
16. The Amateur Marriage, by Anne Tyler (In memory of Nattie)
17. The Robber Bride, by Margaret Atwood (Ellen)
18. Marley and Me, by John Grogan (Lynne)
19. Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte (Suey AND Trish)
20. Booked To Die, by John Dunning (Bonnie)
21. Biblioholism, by Tom Raabe (Twiga)
22. The Essays of E.B. White (Dana)
23. So Many Books So Little Time (Sally AND A Book In The Life)
24. Lying on the Couch, by Irvin Yalom (Lisa)
25. Harvesting the Heart, by Jodi Picoult (Heather)
26. The Awakening, by Kate Chopin (Pattie)
27. The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri (HeidiJane)
28. The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver (Bookworm)
29. She’s Come Undone, by Wally Lamb (Bookworm)
30. Blindness, by Jose Sarmago (Vasilly)
31.  East of Eden, by John Steinbeck (Vasilly)
32. Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte (Kathrin)
33. Winter Wheat, by Mildred Walker (Alisonwonderland)
34.  I Am The Messenger, by Marcus Zusak (
35.  The March, by E.L. Doctrow (
36.  Chocolat, by Joanne Harris (
Margo AND Chasida)
37.  Because it is Bitter and Because it is My Heart, by Joyce Carol Oates (Judith)
38.  The Secrets of a Fire King, by Kim Edwards (Kelly)
39.  Seeing, by Jose Sarmago (Kelly)
40.  Persuasion, by Jane Austen (Gracie AND
41.  Good Grief, by Lolly Winston (
42.  The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold (
43.  Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry (Booklogged)
44. I, Elizabeth, by Rosalind Miles (Solei)
45. The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant (Sarah Miller)
46. Sea Glass, by Anita Shreve (Diane AND Beachreader)
47. Nantucket Nights, by Erin Hilderbrand (Diane)
48. The Inn at Lake Devine, by Elinor Lipman (Diane)
49. The Loop, by Joe Coomer (Diane)
50. An Inconvenient Wife, by Megan Chance (Diane)
51. The Winthrop Woman, by Anya Seton (Beachreader)
52. Gift From The Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh (Beachreader)
53. A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Housseini (Becky Rech)
54. A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth (Lucca)
55. Breakfast At Tiffanys, by Truman Capote (Lucca)
56. Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro (Lucca)
57. Durable Goods, by Elizabeth Berg (Janet)
58. Fahrenhet 451, by Ray Bradbury (Faith)
59. The Archivist’s Story, by Travis Holland (Alyson)
60. My Sister’s Keeper, by Jodi Picoult (Trish)
61.  The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk
(Karlene AND EnnaVic)
62. A Room of One’s Own, by Virginia Woolf (Valentina)
63. Crossing to Safety, by Wallace Stegner (Andrea)
64. Cowboys Are My Weakness, by Pam Houston (Andrea)
65. There Is No Me Without You, by Melissa Fay Greene (Leslie)

Books Completed with Date Read and Link to Review:

The Country of the Pointed Firs, by Sarah Orne Jewett (Completed August 26, 2007; read a review here)
The Echo Maker, by Richard Powers (Completed September 6, 2007; read a review here)
East of Eden, by John Steinbeck (Completed October 12, 2007; read a review here)
A Thousand Splendid Suns (Completed December 8, 2007; read a review here)

I Am The Messenger, by Markus Zusak (Completed December 17, 2007; read a review here)

Eat The Document – Book Review

Anyone can start a new life, even in a small town. Everyone moves so much these days. You get a divorce, you move and start over. Try it. See how little people ask about you. See how little people listen. Or, more precisely, think about how little you really know about the people you know. -From Eat The Document, page 198-

Dana Spiotta’s novel, Eat The Document, is an edgy expose` on the American countercultures of the early 70s and late 90s. The story revolves around Mary Whittiker and Bobby Desoto, two idealistic and passionate characters who get caught up in the radical Vietnam protests of their time. Told from multiple points of view and leaping back and forth in time from the heady days of the early 70s to the angst driven world of the late 90s, the novel uncovers Mary and Bobby’s rebellion gone awry and the reinvention of their lives as they go underground.

Spiotta excels in the development of her female characters and portraying the intricacies of relationships and how those complexities shape one’s decisions.

This was the power of a couple – their doubts occurred at different times and canceled each other out, making them much more fearless as a pair than they would ever be on their own. And that’s how a life changes – it could go either way, and then it just goes one way. -From Eat The Document, page 229-

I must admit to being somewhat impatient with Spiotta’s exploration of some of her male characters – especially Jason, who I found annoying and overwritten. Jason perhaps encapsulates the angst of youth, but his intellectualizing and preachiness reminded me he was a character in a story rather than bringing him to life on the page.

I am the center of the culture. I am genesis, herald, harbinger. The absolute germinal zero point – that’s me. I am the sun around which all the American else orbits. In fact, I am America. I exist more than other Americans. America is the center of the world, and I am the center of America. I am fifteen, white, middle class and male. -From Eat the Document, page 123-

Spiotta laces her novel with a subtle and sarcastic humor which saves it from becoming just another overly serious interpretation of the Vietnam years and the rebellion of America’s youth.

Miranda also began to notice things in the meetings Nash led (or “facilitated,” because naturally there were no leaders). They were held on Tuesday and Thursday nights under Nash’s highly mannered and hermetic nomenclature: SAP (Strategic Aggravation Players and/or Satyagraha by Antinomic Praxis); or the Neo Tea-Dumpers Front; or Re: the “Re” Words – Resist, Reclaim, and Rebel; or the “K” Nation (single-tactic group that merely inserted the letter k or removed the letter k – dislokations were what they called them – to cause psychic discomfort and disturbances. As in blac bloc instead of black block, or Amerika instead of America. They sent out ransom-note-style missives to unnerve their targets: Welkome, konsumers! you have been under attac. Better watch your bac, et cetera). -From Eat The Document, page 62-

Eat The Document is a smart, witty novel that falls just shy of being very good.

2007 Summer Reading Challenge

JULY 28, 2007: I have now COMPLETED this challenge! Thank you Amanda for hosting it!!

Amanda over at Amanda’s Weekly Zen has decided to host the Summer Reading Challenge part Two and has set up a special blog for readers to record their summer reading challenges, post reviews and have discussions! It all gets underway on June 1st and runs through August 1st.

I almost didn’t do this one – I’m a little “over challenged” right now! BUT, Amanda is being very generous with the rules. I can pick any books I want, I can overlap other reads – I think I can pull this off.

My goal is to read some of my book group reads (which I’ve been struggling to keep up with lately). I have two months – I’m choosing four books. Here they are:

1. The Flea Palace, by Elif Shafak (Completed June 15, 2007; to read my review click here.)
2. Slow Man, by J.M. Coetzee (Completed June 4, 2007; to read my review click here.)
3. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck (Completed July 13, 2007; to read my review click here.)
4. Birds Without Wings, by Louis de Bernieres (Completed July 28, 2007; to read my review click here.)

Winner of a Book Drawing

For quite some time now, I have been entering the weekly drawing over at The Elegant Variation in hopes of winning one of their book drawings. And today my persistence finally paid off! I am now the proud owner of Katharine Weber’s new novel: Triangle. I am really excited because this book has been on my wish list from the first day I read a review on it.

The Road – Book Review

He woke before dawn and watched the gray day break. Slow and half opaque. He rose while the boy slept and pulled on his shoes and wrapped in his blanket he walked out through the trees. He descended into a gryke in the stone and there he crouched coughing and he coughed for a long time. Then he just knelt in the ashes. he raisedhis face to the paling day. Are you there? he whispered. Will I see you at the last? Have you a neck by which to throttle you? Have you a heart? Damn you eternally have you a soul? Oh God, he whispered. Oh God. -From The Road, page 10-

Cormac McCarthy just won The Pulitzer Prize for The Road, a novel of profound bleakness and beauty which almost defies definition. I was worried about reading this book, which has garnered praise but has also been described as dark and depressing. It is dystopian literature which I usually avoid because the genre always struck me as so pessimistic. That being said, The Road blew me away and will make my list for one of the best books I’ve read in 2007.

The story appears to be a simple one: a father and his young son are traveling along a road somewhere in America after a devastating event which has killed almost every living thing and left the world in a gray haze of floating ash and weird weather. There are “bad guys” and there are horrors; there are moments of sheer terror which seem to be nightmares instead of actual life. Layered beneath this story is a larger story – one about a boy and his father and the love they share, one about faith and hope and the will to survive. It is heartbreaking and beautiful and written in an unembellished language which somehow makes it that much more powerful.

I found myself compulsively turning the pages, unable to stop reading the story. I would lay the book down, and then pick it up only moment later. Just a few more pages. McCarthy carries the reader along on this journey, looking for the hope around every curve in the road, holding their breath, wondering if God has survived the devastation after all.

McCarthy uses metaphor and symbolism throughout the novel – the fire which the boy carries inside him (is this spiritualism? hope? humanity?), and the road itself – to just name two. This is a deep book, one that deserves to be discussed and thought about. It is certainly worthy of the Pulitzer.

There are some wonderful reviews of this book out in the blogosphere. You can go here to read several in one place, and to take part in some interesting discussions of the book. Ariel at Sycorax Pine has written a stunning review of this novel.

Highly recommended.

Stolen Lives – Book Review

Do not hold against us the sins of the fathers; may your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need.
-From The Bible, Psalm 79:8-

Malika Oufkir, in collaboration with Michele Fitoussi, writes a stunning memoir of her nearly 20 year imprisonment at the hands of the Moroccan King – Hassan II. In 1972, when Malika was only 17 years of age, her father – a man of high standing in the political world of the royalty – failed in his attempt to overthrow and assassinate King Hassan II. Malika’s father was executed for his crime, but the King was not satisfied with only that. Malika, her mother and her five siblings – the youngest of whom was only three years old – were arrested and imprisoned for the sins of their husband and father.

The cruelty of Hassan II is told in captivating detail. Malika and her family faced beatings, starvation and abysmal living conditions. They survived through sheer will, creativity, humor and the love they had for each other.  Oufkir relates their moments of desperation, hopelessness, and quest for freedom in language which is powerful in its simplicity.

I found myself more than once being grateful for the life I have been given, and the freedoms I often take for granted.

Stolen Lives is a memoir of despair, hope and ultimately triumph. It will stay with the reader long after the final page has been turned.


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