Sunday, January 17, 2021

Life: It Goes On - January 16

Happy Sunday! How's your week been? Remember last week when I told you that we were going to be in quarantine because a family member had tested positive for CoVid-19? That person was The Big Guy. The next day I got tested and, no surprise, I have it, too. We have no idea where BG got it and feel almost certain that he was wearing a mask when he got it. For those who don't believe masks work and think that situations like this prove it, we are convinced that our cases have been relatively mild because of that mask. So I will continue to be a huge mask advocate.

Last Week I: 

Listened To: It was hard for me to focus, and I was sleeping a lot, but I did listen to a couple of hours of David Chang's Eat A Peach, which I'm very much enjoying. 

Watched: We finished The Queen's Gambit, which we both enjoyed a lot, and Season 3 of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (we didn't love Season 3 so we're glad to see the story line move on). And, of course, football.

Read: I finally finished my first book of the year, Miss Benson's Beetle. Yesterday I started J. Courtney Sullivan's latest, Friends and Strangers. 

 I made a loaf of sourdough bread last Sunday and it was the last thing I really made until yesterday, when I made a batch of chili for today. 

 Homemade chicken noodle soup and a loaf of homemade bread that a friend dropped off. Bless her, she brought us enough for two suppers and a lunch. It tasted so good and it was so nice not to have to cook! Not only did she bring us food, she brought us a stack of New York Times' Book Review sections. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: Not knowing what my energy level will be this week, I'm not planning much. 

Thinking About: Cleaning. Because you can imagine that I haven't done any of that, other than keeping the kitchen cleaned up, all week. 

Feeling: Very fortunate - in that we didn't get sicker, that we got pampered, and that so many family members and friends checked in on us regularly. 

Looking forward to: Having energy again!

Question of the week: How are you? Are you staying healthy? Feeling safe?

Thursday, January 14, 2021

The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi

The Death of Vivek Oji
by Akwaeke Emezi
Read by Yetide Badaki and Chukwudi Iwuji
Published August 2020 by Penguin Publishing Group 
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
What does it mean for a family to lose a child they never really knew? 

One afternoon, in a town in southeastern Nigeria, a mother opens her front door to discover her son’s body, wrapped in colorful fabric, at her feet. What follows is the tumultuous, heart-wrenching story of one family’s struggle to understand a child whose spirit is both gentle and mysterious. Raised by a distant father and an understanding but overprotective mother, Vivek suffers disorienting blackouts, moments of disconnection between self and surroundings. As adolescence gives way to adulthood, Vivek finds solace in friendships with the warm, boisterous daughters of the Nigerwives, foreign-born women married to Nigerian men. But Vivek’s closest bond is with Osita, the worldly, high-spirited cousin whose teasing confidence masks a guarded private life. As their relationship deepens—and Osita struggles to understand Vivek’s escalating crisis—the mystery gives way to a heart-stopping act of violence in a moment of exhilarating freedom.

My Thoughts:
Yep, this is another one I had no clue about when I started "reading" it. It's clear from the title that this is a book about the death of a man but I expected that it was we would be working up to the death. Instead, we learn in the first sentence that Vivek Oji has died. Through flashbacks, Emezi takes us back in time to find out how, and why, this troubled young man died. 

Imagine growing up believing you were born in the wrong body. Then imagine that you are doing that in an African country, where homosexuality and transsexuality is even more hated that it is here by so many. Vivek is trying to balance his own needs and desires with the expectations and hopes of his parents. It is heartbreaking to watch him struggle and even more heartbreaking that his story can only, for the most part, be told by others. 

It is a beautifully written, very raw book that is difficult to read on many levels, with some fairly graphic sexual scenes. Some of the supporting characters were not as well developed and I was surprised that so many of the characters were homosexual, not because I have any problem with homosexuality but because  it just seemed unlikely that in such a small group of people, so many would be. I imagine that's what Emezi felt it took to fully tell Vivek's story, to allow him sanctuary. And I so badly wanted him to have sanctuary, even if that did feel a bit forced.

This is another book that I highly recommend "reading" on audiobook. Both narrators are wonderful, fully capturing the emotions of the characters. 

Monday, January 11, 2021

The Cold Millions by Jess Walter

The Cold Millions
by Jess Walter
Read by Jess Walter, Cassandra Campbell, Charlie Thurston, MacLeod Andrews and Gary Farmer
Published October 2020 by HarperCollins
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
An intimate story of brotherhood, love, sacrifice, and betrayal set against the panoramic backdrop of an early twentieth-century America that eerily echoes our own time, The Cold Millions offers a kaleidoscopic portrait of a nation grappling with the chasm between rich and poor, between harsh realities and simple dreams.

The Dolans live by their wits, jumping freight trains and lining up for day work at crooked job agencies. While sixteen-year-old Rye yearns for a steady job and a home, his older brother, Gig, dreams of a better world, fighting alongside other union men for fair pay and decent treatment. Enter Ursula the Great, a vaudeville singer who performs with a live cougar and introduces the brothers to a far more dangerous creature: a mining magnate determined to keep his wealth and his hold on Ursula.

Dubious of Gig’s idealism, Rye finds himself drawn to a fearless nineteen-year-old activist and feminist named Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. But a storm is coming, threatening to overwhelm them all, and Rye will be forced to decide where he stands. Is it enough to win the occasional battle, even if you cannot win the war?

Featuring an unforgettable cast of cops and tramps, suffragists and socialists, madams and murderers, The Cold Millions is a tour de force from a “writer who has planted himself firmly in the first rank of American authors” (Boston Globe).

My Thoughts:
I discovered Jess Walter in 2009, when I read and reviewed The Financial Life of Poets. I like to think that I am literally the person that brought him to the attention to the world, because . But I'm pretty sure that was his 2012 bestseller, Beautiful Ruins, which was a big critical hit. Needless to say, his name alone is reason enough for me to pick up a book and this one was no exception. Which meant that I ended my reading year with a book that included union organizers battling in the Pacific Northwest, a subject that I also read about early in the year in Long Bright River. Coincidentally, both books have landed on my top ten list for 2020. Telling you that now probably makes any further review unnecessary. 

And we go. I'll make it quick and easy - here's why you should read this book:
  • This is another of those books that's undoubtedly terrific in print but I can't recommend the audiobook enough. Everyone of the readers does a marvelous job and I loved having a full cast so that as different characters took the narrative, you got a new voice. 
  • Gig and Rye are marvelous main characters surrounded by a interesting characters who are mostly multi-dimensional. Near the end Walter allows, for example, Acting Policy Chief Sullivan to take the narrative and he has a lot to say in defense of himself, making me reconsider him as a one-dimensional bad guy. And the good guys? They're not all saints.
  • Walter builds the tension throughout the book but allows for plenty of introspection and quiet personal interactions. And you've got a love a book in which Tolstoy plays a big role. 
  • I can see this book as a movie. Not only because I can clearly picture what these characters look like, but because I can picture every inch of what they're wearing, where they live, and the prison many of them spend time in. Please tell me someone has already optioned it. 
We love some authors because we know what to expect from them. Walter is different; I love his books because they are all so different. And yet his writing only gets better and better. 

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Life: It Goes On - January 10

Happy Sunday! Well, at least I hope you are having a happy Sunday. As if the past week weren't bad enough, we are now in quarantine because of a family member testing positive. So frustrating when we have all been so careful for all of these months. So this is a less than happy Sunday in our house! I'll be cleaning the heck out of the house, setting up a containment area for my patient, and hoping like hell that I don't catch it.

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: Akwaeke Emezi's The Death of Vivek Oji. It's a heartbreaker. 

Watched: A lot of the news, a lot of football, and What's Up, Bernadette, finally.

Read: Rachel Joyce's Miss Benson's Beetle, which is charming and filled with quirky characters and even though I sort of feel like quirky characters are getting to be a trope, I've enjoyed it.

My latest find
Made: Sourdough bread, homemade mac 'n' cheese, chicken parmesan risotto - in other words, comfort foods.

Enjoyed: Getting my hair done and a little thrifting yesterday.

This Week I’m:  

Planning: On doing more sorting of paperwork and other things I've kept as keepsakes for my kids. Mini-me once told me that many of the things I've kept from his childhood recall memories for me more than they do for him. I'm trying to go through things with that thought in mind.

Thinking About: The events in Washington this week and the reactions that have surprised me by so many.

Feeling: Fine, just fine. Let's hope it stays that way. 

Looking forward to: Getting to be in charge of the clicker this week!

Question of the week: How are you all doing, what with everything that's going on?

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Jack by Marilynne Robinson

by Marilynne Robinson
Published September 2020 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Source: check out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:

Marilynne Robinson’s mythical world of Gilead, Iowa—the setting of her novels Gilead, Home, and Lila, and now Jack—and its beloved characters have illuminated and interrogated the complexities of American history, the power of our emotions, and the wonders of a sacred world. Jack is Robinson’s fourth novel in this now-classic series. In it, Robinson tells the story of John Ames Boughton, the prodigal son of Gilead’s Presbyterian minister, and his romance with Della Miles, a high school teacher who is also the child of a preacher. Their deeply felt, tormented, star-crossed interracial romance resonates with all the paradoxes of American life, then and now. 

Robinson’s Gilead novels, which have won one Pulitzer Prize and two National Book Critics Circle Awards, are a vital contribution to contemporary American literature and a revelation of our national character and humanity.

My Thoughts:
On my phone, this book was 615 pages long. It is not really 615 pages long; it's 320 pages in hardcover. But it takes every bit as long to read those 320 pages as it would 615 actual pages because Robinson's writing simply cannot be rushed, it pulls you in and holds you down. Robinson's books must be read slowly; she insists that you stop and think about what is in the minds of her characters. 

And there is here, as in all of her books, so very much on her characters' minds and Robinson writes it so beautifully. She writes of faith, family, self-respect, responsibility, redemption, addiction, race, and love. Jack battles his addictions as well as his guilt at the choices he can't seem to help himself from making. He wants to be a better man but there's a part of him that believes he is past redemption. He has vowed to be harmless, that much he can do; and he knows when he meets Della that being with Della will harm her. But she is the first person who truly understands him,"You are living like someone who has died already."

I love Robinson's characters and Jack may be one of my favorites. He has caused so many so much pain but he is also a gentleman. He works so hard to battle his demons and to do right by the people he loves. There is supposed to be a final book in the Gilead chapter and I so hope that Jack and Della reappear in it. But it little matters. I will read it and I will be blown away by the beauty of Robinson's writing. This is a woman who can write about buildings in a lovely way:
"There is nothing cordial or accommodating about buildings, whatever they might let people believe. The stresses of simply standing there, preposterous constructions, Euclidian like nothing in nature, the ground heaving under them, rain seeping in while their joints go slack with rot. They speak disgruntlement, creaks and groans, and less nameable sounds that suggest presence of the kind that is conjured only by emptiness. Grudges, plaints, and threats, an interior conversation, not meant to be heard, that would startle anyone."
I like to say that I don't read romance novels but Jack is absolutely a novel about romance. It is subtle, it is about knowing one another, it is about the moments together.
"It will be made up entirely of stolen minutes and hours every now and then, for years and years, and we will pity all the people whose lives are diluted with time and habit and complacency and respectability until they can hardly savor the best pleasures - we will live for a month on just once passing on the street."
Seriously, doesn't that touch your heart? This whole book did that to me. As I knew it would.