Monday, February 26, 2018

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Originally Published 1937
Source: my copy purchased for my Nook

Fair and long-legged, independent and articulate, Janie Crawford sets out to be her own person -- no mean feat for a black woman in the '30s. Janie's quest for identity takes her through three marriages and into a journey back to her roots.

My Thoughts:
Their Eyes Were Watching God is the Omaha Bookworms' classic book selection for 2018; I picked it, as I've done so many of the books I've picked in the past couple of years, because I thought it was a book that would take us out of our comfort zone, a book that "should" be read. It's a short book, just 200 pages; but it is not a quick read.
This is a book that's dialogue heavy and the dialogue is written in dialect. I suggested to a friend that I would have enjoyed the book more if I'd listened to it, rather than read it. That's even more true once I found out that Ruby Dee reads the audiobook. While I very much appreciate the use of dialect, particularly in light of when the book was written, it makes reading this book more difficult and I often felt that I lost the beauty of the book in the work it was to read it. 

There is so much beauty in this book; Hurston's writing is often stunning.
"Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men.
Now, women forget all those things they don't wan tot remember, and remember everything they don't want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly."
"So Janie began to think of Death. Death, that strange being with the huge square toes who lived way in the West. The great one who lived in the straight house like a platform without sides to it, and without a roof. What need has Death for a cover, and winds can blow against him? He stands in his high house that overlooks the world. Stands watchful and motionless all day with his sword drawn back, waiting for the messenger to bid him come. Been standing there before there was a where or a when or a then. She was liable to find a feather from his wings lying in her yard any day now."
Their Eyes Were Watching God is not a book now considered a classic because it was beloved from the moment it was first published. Readers in 1937 didn't know what to make of a woman like Janie, who simply walked away from her first marriage because it was loveless and who refused to grieve for her second husband in the expected way because she was more than a little relieved to be rid of him. Other readers may not have known what to make of Hurston's exploration of race in the book.

The very things, though, that made this a tough book for readers in 1937 to "get" are what makes this book one that is now considered so important and what makes it still so timely. Hurston explores gender roles, the value of women in relationships, the liberation of women, and women looking to find their own voices and equality. She also looks at race but primarily as it has created a divide within black communities and the impact it has had on African Americans' way of looking at the world.

Janie represents all of the women now fighting vigorously to find their own voices and make them heard. We find that in the #metoo and #timesup conversations, in the Women's Marches, and in all of the women now running for political office. The divides within the black communities in this book are still seen in the divides that blacks are struggling with today (favoring lighter skin over darker skin, for example). In the wake of the Black Lives Matter surge, I often heard black voices saying to other blacks things very much like this:
"Us talks about de white man keeping' us down! Shucks! He don't have tuh. Us keeps our own selves down."
I liked this book when I finished reading it. I appreciated it much more after taking some time to explore what makes it a classic. Because it truly is a book that should be taught and read and understood.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Life: It Goes On - February 24

credit: Max Lyrata
I am so over winter at this point - an entire week of precipitation of one sort or another, icy commutes, grey skies. We even had thunder sleet the other night. It's not even enough snow to make things pretty. Hurry up spring!

It hasn't been all bad. I had an exceptionally social week. Tuesday was book club, Wednesday I met friends for happy hour, Thursday I met Mini-him for lunch, and Friday Mini-him and I went to a play (The Cripple of Inishmaan). That's a whole lot of spending time with other people for this woman; I may hide in my room all day today! Not really. I have to get taxes started. Yuck.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I'm about half way through The 19th Wife. It's one of those books that has been running to research, which is always a good thing.

Watching: The Olympics, duh. I may have watched the men's curling team's gold medal match more than once. As much as I'll miss them when the Olympics are over, there's also a part of me that's looking forward to getting back to watching other things.

Reading: I'm finally focused again on The Revolution of Marina M. Although last night I finally bought Jesmyn Ward's Sing, Unburied, Sing and I really, really want to pick that up. So maybe focused is not really the appropriate word for my current reading.

Making: Winter comfort foods: breakfast for dinner, cauliflower and backed potato soup, goulash. Also, croutons with what was left of last week's loaf of homemade bread. And I tried my hand at sourdough bread. Not sure what I did wrong but let's just say that we'll soon have what we hope will be a lovely batch of sourdough croutons. We're going to have to start eating a lot of salads at this rate!

Planning: Bridal shower planning is in full swing. I got the invitations designed and printed yesterday and those will go out in the mail tomorrow. They went surprisingly smoothly and maybe took less time to do than it would have to write out the details on prepackaged invites. Maybe too smoothly? I keep wondering if there's a glaring typo I have missed that everyone else will notice immediately!

Thinking About: How much I could accomplish if I just had a week off work to get things done around the house.

Enjoying: See second paragraph. I am blessed with the people I have in my life and especially grateful to have raised children who want to spend time with me and who I very much enjoy as adults.

Feeling: Like it's time to make some changes in my life. I'm tired of not wanting to go to work everyday.

Looking forward to: A quiet week. I need to get caught up after last week.

Question of the week: I need game ideas for the bridal shower. Any suggestions?

Monday, February 19, 2018

Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley

Frankenstein. or the Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, read by Simon Vance*
Published: originally in 1818
Source: bought the audiobook at my local library book sale

Frankenstein tells the story of committed science student Victor Frankenstein. Obsessed with discovering "the cause of generation and life" and "bestowing animation upon lifeless matter," Frankenstein assembles a human being from stolen body parts but; upon bringing it to life, he recoils in horror at the creature's hideousness. Tormented by isolation and loneliness, the once-innocent creature turns to evil and unleashes a campaign of murderous revenge against his creator, Frankenstein.

My Thoughts:
Frankenstein is one of those books that I've long felt like I "should" read but I really didn't have any interest in it. This was, of course, entirely based, almost entirely, on the movie adaptations I've seen of it. I envisioned a great lot of discussion of the piecing together of body parts, long passages of trial and error. But when I found the audiobook for only $2 at the library book sale, and it was only seven discs long, I decided to knock this one off the need-to-read list.

Certainly this is the perfect book for the R.I.P. challenge in the fall, but it is so much more than a horror story. Is it a science fiction story, then? Not entirely, even though science plays a big part in it early on and some sources say that it may well be the first real science fiction story written. For me, Frankenstein is more a psychological morality tale than anything else. It is certainly a book that remains relevant.

Recently scientists cloned monkeys; certainly there have to be those who think that humans can't be far behind. Mary Shelley seems to suggest we should rethink that. What of the consequences? Victor Frankenstein was certainly a man who allowed his obsession and intelligence to carry him into uncharted waters without thought of the ramifications.

Over the years, people have mistakenly called the creation "Frankenstein." More recently, the popular opinion has become that Victor is the real monster. I defy you to read this book and not come away from it still wondering about that.

Certainly Victor, immediately upon seeing what he had created, walked away, leaving his creation to fend in a world Victor knew would not accept him. On the other hand, the creation is a thinking being, who educates himself and then chooses violent revenge. And would it be right or wrong for Victor to create a mate for his Adam, as the creation demands?

There is so much to think about in this book and there are no easy answers.

*If you have never read this book, I highly recommend the audiobook. Simon Vance is, as ever, amazing. He truly makes the story come alive. Even though I often sat in my car a little longer than necessary to keep listening, I was never tempted to pick up a paper copy of the book so that I could keep reading because I wanted Vance to read me the book.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Life: It Goes On - February 18

The Olympics have started and that means nothing much is getting done around my house that can't be done while I'm sitting in my family room. I've got a problem, no doubt about it!

I did start 40 Bags In 40 Days on Wednesday. I've largely been going over areas that I've gone through in the past few months so the bags that have been going out of my house have been small. The Big Guy, who told me a couple of weeks ago that he was ready to start getting rid of some things, has now dug in his heels against being made to go through his things. Argh! So frustrating!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I finished Frankenstein; I'm so glad I finally read this book but even more glad that I "read" it on audio. Simon Vance is so good! Friday I started The 19th Wife, by David Ebershoff. I do have this one in print so may make it a read/listen combination at some point.

Watching: When I'm not watching the Olympics, I have watched a couple of episodes of The Crown.

Reading: I'll finish up Their Eyes Were Watching God today for book club this week then I'm back to The Revolution of Marina M.

Making: Chicken noodle soup - Miss H's new boyfriend tells me his mom has competition now. Always good when you can measure up to a boy's mom's cooking!

Planning: A dance-themed bridal shower for my nephew's fiancee for next month. We've found it's easy to find ballet-themed party ideas but I'd like the decor to include other forms of dance as well. Any ideas?

Thinking About: Starting taxes today. At least I can do that while I'm watching the Olympics!

Enjoying: BG and I went with some friends to a chamber music concert on Monday held at a local art gallery. It was a night of tango music and dancing, wine and chocolate. Thursday I met a former work friend for drinks. Yea for time with friends!

Feeling: Cranky. I hate when the idea of tomorrow being Monday makes me cranky on Sundays!

Looking forward to: Book club this week.

Question of the week: What was your favorite job you ever had?

Friday, February 16, 2018

In Every Moment We Are Still Alive by Tom Malmquist

In Every Moment We Are Still Alive by Tom Malmquist
Published January 2018 by Melville House
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
When Tom’s heavily pregnant girlfriend Karin is rushed to the hospital, doctors are able to save the baby. But they are helpless to save Karin from what turns out to be acute Leukemia. And in a cruel, fleeting moment Tom gains a daughter but loses his soul-mate. In Every Moment We Are Alive is the story of the year that changes everything, as Tom must reconcile the fury and pain of loss with the overwhelming responsibility of raising his daughter, Livia, alone.

My Thoughts:
Tom Malmquist is a poet which becomes immediately apparent. There is not a word wasted nor does Malmquist waste any time in pulling readers into the pain that is to become Tom's life. From the moment the consultant stamps down the wheel lock of Karin's hospital bed in the opening sentence to the moment he leaves his daughter off a preschool alone for the first time, Malmquist makes readers feel every moment of the balancing act that Tom's life becomes in a moment.

Because the book is more memoir than work of fiction, the pain feels so much more palpable. It's hard to read the vivid details of Karin's rapid decline, the agony of her parents who are kept, inexplicably, away from her deathbed, the mad pinball existence Tom lives as he watches his wife die and his premature daughter grow, and the terror he feels knowing he will be left to raise her on his own. But all of that is not where his sorrow ends because, just months after Karin dies, Tom must deal with the death of his father, a man he has had a complicated relationship with all of his life.

Although the book is only 240 pages long, so much is packed into it, and it is so intense, that it feels like a much longer book. But it is not just all of that pain that makes it read that way, it is also the style of Malmquist's writing. The book moves back and forth in time, allowing readers to visit Karin and Tom as they meet and become a couple. But that can be extremely jarring at times as it usually happens without a break in the writing. Also, be forewarned, those of you who must have quotation marks in your books, there are none here. Not only that but whole conversations are often lumped into a single paragraph. I often found myself re-reading passages to make sure I understood who was talking.

When the book moved into Tom's relationship with his father and his father's death, the back and forth in time became even more complicated and hard to follow. For me, it also overwhelmed the story, although, it retrospect, it seems it was important to understand Tom's relationship with his father to understand his fears about being a father himself.

The longer I've blogged, the less often I find myself taking chances on books, which is a shame. Because without doing that, I would not have discovered this book. Despite it being a tough read, it's a book I'm very glad to have read.

Thanks to the ladies at TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. For other opinions about this book, check out the full tour.

Tom Malmquist is a poet and sportswriter. He has written two highly acclaimed poetry collections. In Every Moment We Are Still Alive is his first novel. He lives in Sweden.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Published February 2018 by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Source: my ecopy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:

Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.

My Thoughts:
When you request book through Netgalley, they would like you to let them know if certain things caused you to request the book. I keep hearing about this book? Nope, hadn't heard a thing about this one when I asked it. Now, sure, Oprah's picked it for her book club but she hadn't when I requested this one. Cover? Sure, it's a lovely cover and perfect once you read the book but it's not attracted me to the book. Description? Didn't even read it and I'm really glad I hadn't before I started reading it. Author? Check. This is entirely the reason I requested this book. I've been hearing about Jones' Silver Sparrow since before it came out and knew she was an impressive writer. Why not start with her latest? Well, maybe because it's going to be hard for Silver Sparrow to measure up to this one when I finally get to it.

Is it enough of a review for me to simply tell you that you have to read this book? I need you to read this book so I can talk about it with you!

It's so good in so many ways, as an examination on marriage, as a commentary on our criminal justice system, and as a commentary on racial injustice. It sounds dark and heavy and it is. Jones doesn't pull any punches. But she also gives readers humor, sass, beautiful stories of family, and such lovely writing. Jones made me tear up, she made me smile, she made me hold my breath, and she made me so angry. In the end, she made me sad to leave these characters. I miss them.
"But home isn't where you land; home is where you launch. You can't inc your home any more than you can choose your family. In poker, you get five cards. Three of them you can swap out, but two are yours to keep: family and native land."
An American Marriage is not merely heartbreaking, it is devastating. But, in the end, Jones leaves readers with hope.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Life: It Goes On - February 11

credit Max Lyrata
Why, yes, I did just lose an entire week. I wish I could tell you I'd been off on an unexpected great adventure. Sadly, just your everyday common cold as only I can do it. Missed two plus days of work, went through a box and a half of Kleenex, and drank more orange juice in five days than I did in the past year.

On top of that, it snowed and snowed this week. Never a lot but just enough to make commutes a pain and to ruin Miss H's and my trip to my brother's house this weekend. Needless to say, I'm ready to move onto a new week!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Still Frankenstein. Still really enjoying it. Part of me would like to pull out my print copy of finish it but I'm so enjoying Simon Vance's reading that I want to let him keep reading it to me.

Watching: You know me - I'm glued to the Olympics! I'm relearning the words I only hear during the Olympics like "twizzles" (ice dancing), "fakie" (snowboarding), and "clicks" (biathlon).

Reading: Here is the one thing I actually did manage to accomplish this week...when I wasn't sleeping or blowing my nose. I read Tayari Jones' An American Marriage and Tom Malmquist's In Every Moment We Are Still Alive. Next I'm onto this month's book club choice.

Making: Not much but I did cook a pork tenderloin and I made broccoli cheese soup.

Planning: On playing catch up this week and starting on our taxes.

Thinking About: My spring to-do list.

Enjoying: The Oscar-nominated animated shorts - I actually got out of the house last night and went to the theater with friends. We actually saw more than the ones that were nominated and, I must say, I'm not sure all of the best ones were nominated.

Those are my legs under there
Feeling: Better, finally. The kitties are going to be sad, though. They've very much enjoyed spending so much time cuddling with me this week.

Looking forward to: An evening of music, tango, wine, and chocolate tomorrow night. We did a similar thing last year the week of Valentine's Day that was so much fun.

Question of the week: One of our theaters is showing An Affair To Remember for free on Valentine's Day which I'm considering but I think tomorrow night will be our big Valentine's celebration. Do you have special plans for Valentine's Day?

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Life: It Goes On - February 4

credit Max Lyrata
It snowed last night. When I went to bed it was snowing heavily and blowing. I expected to walk up to a beautifully white landscape. Perfect for a Sunday when we don't have to go anywhere.

We got a half inch of snow.

That's how this winter has been going. Because I have to get out on the roads five days a week, I'm mostly ok with this; I hate risking my life to get to and from work. But when I used to stay home with my kids, I loved the days when we got 5, 6, 9 inches of snow and we got to stay home. My job on those days was to make sure there were replacement dry hats and gloves ready, to keep the cocoa coming, and to sit at the window, sipping on coffee, enjoying the view and loving watching my kids have fun. I miss those days.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Because I always felt like it was a book I "should" read, I picked up an audio copy of Frankenstein, or A Modern Prometheus a few months ago. I didn't even realize until I started listening to it this week that it's read by Simon Vance. Those of you who are familiar with Vance already know how much better he can make any book.

Watching: We finished the final season of Longmire the other night and we are so sad to be done with those characters but I can't say that I loved the finale.

Reading: Ack! I finally took a moment and checked the archive dates of books I've downloaded from Netgalley. Which means that, while my sidebar shows I'm reading In Every Moment We Are Still Alive, right now I'm actually racing through An American Marriage by Tayari Jones before I can't access it any more.

Making: Fajitas, breakfast for dinner, meatball pizza, salad, steak and smashed potatoes. It's been kind of a lazy week in the kitchen.

Planning: A quick girls trip to Missouri next weekend, weather permitting. We need a Miss E fix!

Thinking About: Making some soup for this week.

Enjoying: Movies. The Big Guy and I went to Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri last night (wow, what incredible acting!), Mini-him and I are going to see a one-night showing of Moulin Rouge tomorrow night (he's my kid that "gets" movie musicals), and Miss H and I are hoping to grab a friend and see Pitch Perfect 3 sometime this week.

Feeling: Tired in more ways than one.

Looking forward to: Hoping to catch dinner with a friend this week that I haven't seen in a while.

Question of the week: What's the best movie you've seen this year?