Monday, September 28, 2020

The Overstory by Richard Powers

The Overstory
by Richard Powers 
Source: checked out from my local library…twice 

Publisher’s Summary: The Overstory, winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, is a sweeping, impassioned work of activism and resistance that is also a stunning evocation of—and paean to—the natural world. From the roots to the crown and back to the seeds, Richard Powers’ twelfth novel unfolds in concentric rings of interlocking fables that range from antebellum New York to the late twentieth-century Timber Wars of the Pacific Northwest and beyond. There is a world alongside ours—vast, slow, interconnected, resourceful, magnificently inventive, and almost invisible to us. This is the story of a handful of people who learn how to see that world and who are drawn up into its unfolding catastrophe.

My Thoughts: The New York Times called this book “magisterial.” Ron Charles, of The Washington Post, called it “fascinating.” The notoriously cranky (at least in my mind) Kirkus Reviews called it a “magnificent achievement.” It won the Pulitzer Prize, for heaven’s sake. So, while I had no idea what the book was about when I picked it up, I knew it was supposed to be great and I had high expectations. But this was one of those books that made me wonder what I was missing that made everyone else love this book so much. Thank heavens for The Guardian, whose reviewer seemed to feel much the same way I did: “Richard Powers’ novel has its heart in a fine place, but it works by browbeating the reader with lectures and daft melodrama.” 

There are nine, count ‘em nine, main characters in the story. Powers introduces readers to them in what seem to be short stories, each having, at least peripherally, something to do with trees. Eventually their story lines will intersect, some much more than others. It was impressive that Powers was able to create nine characters that I found interesting and unique and that I came to care about. But some of these characters interact in such a small way with the other characters that they might well have been in their own books (and those would have been interesting books to read). But, as the reviewer from The Guardian says, “There’s nothing…Power doesn’t spell out for us. If there’s a moral dilemma, the characters will pick it over. If there’s something to spot, it’s always clearly signposted.” I kept thinking about that old adage about writing, “show, don’t tell.” 

In fairness to this book, my feelings about it are colored by the fact that I read half of the book before it had to be returned to the library and then it was weeks before I got it back again. It’s hard to pick back up where you left off – details have been lost, it takes a bit to remember who is who, and feelings about the book have faded. I can’t be sure what my final thoughts would have been about this book had I read it straight through. Well, that’s not entirely true. 

Guys, there is a lot of information about trees in this book. How they grow, how they communicate, what they give back to the universe, and lists and lists of the different kinds of trees. I learned a lot about trees, no doubt about it; but, golly, it often felt repetitive and I reached the point where I was skimming over a great deal of it. Powers have felt that he needed readers to understand all of that in order for us to understand his characters’ environmental activism but I didn’t feel like I needed to get hit over the head with it. Which was another area where I felt like things got repetitive and, to be honest, preachy. Although the reviewer in The Atlantic does point out “Most Americans do not understand the perils of climate change – or of deforestation, clear-cutting, habitat loss.” I can’t really argue with that; maybe Powers is right to believe that people need to be schooled on what the loss of trees is doing to the environment. Unfortunately, I’m fairly certain that the people who most need to learn those lessons aren’t the kind of people who will read this book. 

One of Powers’ characters says, “The best arguments in the world won’t change a person’s mind. The only thing that can do that is a good story.” The reviewer for the Atlantic says of that, “There is a term for stories written with the purpose of converting minds to support a cause. And it is the opposite of literature.” Powers is clearly trying to convert minds with this book. If that is the opposite of literature, I’m back to wondering how this book won the Pulitzer.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Life: It Goes On - September 27

Happy Sunday! It's grey and rainy here - good thing we knocked out most of the outdoor projects yesterday when it was warm and sunny. Heading out the door shortly to have lunch with my parents and pick up some landscaping stones they are getting rid of - part of my next project! Because, apparently, I've got to have a project going at all times. 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: I'm listening to Robin Diangelo's White Fragility: Why It's So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism. This one picks up on some things the other books I've been reading lately brought up - the things that white people do and say - and explains why we are the way we are. Hint: we were raised that way. Which is not to say anything bad about our parents - very often they were teaching us things they thought felt were not racist. Heck, I did some of these things with my kids. Like saying "I don't see color" or hushing my kids when they were little and pointed out that a person was black, as though that were something to be embarrassed about. 

Watched: Lots of cooking shows, baseball, basketball, and, football.

Read: I'm working on Joyce Carol Oates' Night, Sleep, Death and Stars. I'm really enjoying it but, guys, it's really long and I'm feeling like I'm in desperate need of something light and quick when I finish this. 

Made: Homemade tomato soup for dinner tonight which will be finished with fried cheese curds instead of grilled cheese sandwiches. I also pulled out the bread machine for the first time in months. I think I'm the only person in the country that didn't take up bread making during the pandemic. 

Enjoyed: Perhaps just a little too much wine on the patio last night when we did our weekly get together with friends. But it was so much fun and just the kind of therapy that works best for me. 

This Week I’m:  

On finishing up my latest project (my brother-in-law gave me some old, old kitchen drawers that I'm turning into wall hangings for one of the guest rooms which I'll change out seasonally) and continuing my work on sorting the things I've saved over the years for the scrapbooks that never happened. The goal is to get all of the mementos paperwork into that cabinet and out of the dozen or so boxes that it's currently in. It's a lovely trip down memory lane as I go!

Thinking About: Soups and breads. Now that I've busted the seal on fall cooking, I'm ready to get back in the kitchen and create.

Feeling: Even though the kitchen is giving me the fall feels, watching all of my beautiful potted plants slowly dying has been feeling blue. I'm off to get some mums to replace some of them to try to perk myself back up again. We'll see if I can keep them alive this year!

Looking forward to: Well, I was looking forward to a trip north next weekend but my sister had some very good news this week and it won't work for her any  longer and CoVid has gotten more active in Rochester, which makes visiting Mini-me and Ms. S more risky. So that trip's getting pushed back. I'm hoping that means that I can talk The Big Guy into cleaning out the garage. How sad is that that I'm looking forward to that. Can you say "middle-aged?"

Question of the week: Is it feeling like fall there yet? Are you breaking out the soups or pumpkin spice yet? 

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult

The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult 

Published September 2020 by Random House Publishing Group

Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:

Everything changes in a single moment for Dawn Edelstein. She's on a plane when the flight attendant makes an announcement: prepare for a crash landing. She braces herself as thoughts flash through her mind. The shocking thing is, the thoughts are not of her husband, but a man she last saw fifteen years ago: Wyatt Armstrong.

Dawn, miraculously, survives the crash, but so do all the doubts that have suddenly been raised. She has led a good life. Back in Boston, there is her husband, Brian, her beloved daughter, and her work as a death doula, where she helps ease the transition between life and death for patients in hospice.

But somewhere in Egypt is Wyatt Armstrong, who works as an archaeologist unearthing ancient burial sites, a job she once studied for, but was forced to abandon when life suddenly intervened. And now, when it seems that fate is offering her second chances, she is not as sure of the choice she once made.

After the crash landing, the airline ensures the survivors are seen by a doctor, then offers transportation wherever they want to go. The obvious option for Dawn is to continue down the path she is on and go home to her family. The other is to return to the archaeological site she left years before, reconnect with Wyatt and their unresolved history, and maybe even complete her research on The Book of Two Ways--the first known map of the afterlife.

As the story unfolds, Dawn's two possible futures unspool side by side, as do the secrets and doubts long buried beside them. Dawn must confront the questions she's never truly asked: What does a life well-lived look like? When we leave this earth, what do we leave behind? Do we make choices...or do our choices make us? And who would you be, if you hadn't turned out to be the person you are right now?

My Thoughts:

You might recall that not long ago I finally read my first Jodi Picoult book. Two things had put me off before that: the snobbish idea that good books cannot be written as fast as Picoult writes books and the idea that her books seem to always be about the latest "big" controversy. I still don't know that you could write the great American novel in a year but Picoult proved to me that you can write a book that will engross and entertain readers that quickly. And that if you can write well about whatever the latest big topic is, then it's good to write about those things in a way that will make people think about them. So we come to this book, which I was eager to read when it was offered to me. It is most decidedly not about the latest talking point. In fact, it is about two of the oldest subjects: love and death. 

Having not long ago read God, Graves, and Scholars, it was interesting for me to find myself back in Egypt, uncovering the mysteries of ancient burials. According to Wikipedia, "The Book of Two Ways is a precursor to the New Kingdom books of the underworld as well as the Book of the Dead, in which descriptions of the routes through the afterlife are a persistent theme. The two ways depicted are the land and water routes, separated by a lake of fire, that lead to Rostau and the abode of Osiris." Taking that as her starting point, Picoult has tied ancient superstitions with physic's theory of a multiverse. As explained by Brian, in the book, the idea is that every action has multiple outcomes and that each of them exists in a different universe. 

Picoult has structured her book so that I was never quite sure where in time I was or if I were reading two possible different outcomes which, instead of finding confusing, I found really intriguing. In her current life, Water/Boston, Dawn is a death doula, wife, and mother; in her past, Land/Egypt, she is a graduate student on the cusp of a major archaeological discovery and passionately in love with a fellow student. In both locations, Picoult spends a lot of time sharing with readers what she has learned about hospice work, quantum physics, and Egyptology. A lot. It was certainly interesting, and Picoult has done an incredible amount of research, but it often distracted from Dawn's story. 

Speaking of Dawn's story: you know the old trope where our two leads hate each other in the beginning and then end up falling in love? Yeah, that's Dawn and Wyatt. Unfortunately, that story's grown old for me and I have a hard time buying the idea that the guy that was a jerk in the beginning turns out to be Mr. Wonderful. Which is a problem here - we have to believe that Wyatt was so incredible that Dawn never fell out of love with him and I never entirely bought that. 

And yet...despite that fact that I felt like Picoult took a couple of story lines too far and that some of the plotting was predictable...I liked this book, to a large extent, I think, because I liked the structure and the idea of wondering what might have happened if. I appreciated that Picoult doesn't make either of the men in Dawn's life less than the other; both have their flaws but plenty of reasons for Dawn to be love them. Which makes the ending of the book unknown to readers and I really liked the way that Picoult left things open in the end. For fans of Picoult, I think you'll enjoy this one. 

Monday, September 21, 2020

Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall

Hood Feminism: Notes From The Women That A Movement Forgot
by Mikki Kendall 
Read by Mikki Kendall
Published February 2020 by Penguin Publishing Group 
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library 

Publisher’s Summary: Today's feminist movement has a glaring blind spot, and paradoxically, it is women. Mainstream feminists rarely talk about meeting basic needs as a feminist issue, argues Mikki Kendall, but food insecurity, access to quality education, safe neighborhoods, a living wage, and medical care are all feminist issues. All too often, however, the focus is not on basic survival for the many, but on increasing privilege for the few. That feminists refuse to prioritize these issues has only exacerbated the age-old problem of both internecine discord, and women who rebuff at carrying the title. Moreover, prominent white feminists broadly suffer from their own myopia with regard to how things like race, class, sexual orientation, and ability intersect with gender. How can we stand in solidarity as a movement, Kendall asks, when there is the distinct likelihood that some women are oppressing others? 

In her searing collection of essays, Mikki Kendall takes aim at the legitimacy of the modern feminist movement arguing that it has chronically failed to address the needs of all but a few women. Drawing on her own experiences with hunger, violence, and hypersexualization, along with incisive commentary on politics, pop culture, the stigma of mental health, and more, Hood Feminismdelivers an irrefutable indictment of a movement in flux. An unforgettable debut, Kendall has written a ferocious clarion call to all would-be feminists to live out the true mandate of the movement in thought and in deed. 

My Thoughts: Almost four years ago, I marched in the first Women’s March. Almost immediately, there was an outcry that the movement didn’t represent women of color. “What are they talking about,” I wondered. “Aren’t all of the things feminism has been fighting for thing all women want?” The answer, as it turns out, is yes…and no. Yes, all women should be fighting against sexual harassment and assault; but white women need to recognize that women of color suffer from this issue in far greater numbers. Sure, all women may want to see the glass ceiling broken; but white women need to acknowledge that they are in a far better position to benefit from that than women of color. And do you remember when being a feminist meant you didn’t shave your legs? It seems silly now (and, honestly, it was probably a silly gesture 40+ years ago), especially when you consider that women of color are far more concerned about basic survival than whether or not they can stop shaving their armpits. 

Some years ago, I decided to try to read more diversely. I picked up books by Asian authors, books set in Africa, books about minorities here. But it really wasn’t until this year that I’ve really started waking up to the fact that reading diversely sometimes means reading books that make me uncomfortable, that challenge what I have believed or wake me up to things that I had no idea were happening in this country. This is one of those books. I tend to get defensive when I start reading (I’m working on that), so it can take a bit before I stop defending and start listening. But it’s hard to argue with the idea that white women have been so myopic in their fight for equal rights that they’ve ignored the fact that millions of women don’t know how they are going to feed their families, receive subpar educations, don’t earn a living wage because of our minimum wage, live with violence daily, and watch their men being criminalized in disproportionate numbers. 

Kendall is, understandably, angry about what she feels like is a betrayal. And, let’s be honest, it’s not the first time that white women have left women of color behind to further themselves. White women wouldn’t have earned the right to vote when they did had it not been for the work of black women; but when push came to shove, white women saved themselves. Perhaps they promised to circle back and bring up their sisters; they never did. It’s easy to imagine that women of color feel like the same thing has happened to them again. Not only have white women not worked to pull up their sisters, a majority of middle-aged white women voted for a man who has done everything in his power to keep people of color down. 

Perhaps the best way to make change is to be in positions of leadership where doing that is possible but Kendall wants us to remember that too many women continue to suffer while white women try to climb their way up to those positions. Almost four years ago, millions of women captured the world’s attention by rising up and demanding change. We weren’t waiting then for our chance to be on top (although we were angry that we had just lost that) and we need to stop waiting now.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Life: It Goes On - September 23

Happy Sunday! It's been a good week at Casa Shep. Lots of things to report enjoying and today will be more of the same. It's been cool here this week but the 80's are coming back this week and, while I know a lot of you are thrilled that fall is here, this girl is going to enjoy the warmer temps again. I did finally finish  swapping out the summer decor for fall and I may make a trip to the pumpkin patch this week. All of which kind of sums up both Nebraska's and my mindset in September!

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: I did a double-time re-read of Furious Hours to prep for book club. It had been so long since I read it that I couldn't remember enough details to set up the game I wanted us to play so a re-read was in order. Then I started the Omaha Reads book for this year, After The Flood, which my book club will be discussing in October. 

 Lots of sports, several episodes of Grace and Frankie, and last night The Big Guy, Miss H, and I watched Wine Country, starring Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. None of us was expecting all that much out of it but we were all in the mood for something light that none of us had ever seen before. Turns out this one had all three of us laughing...a lot. The 20 minutes or so fell a little flat and was predictable; but, overall, we all enjoyed it. 

Read: I finally finished The Overstory. I have very mixed feelings about this one. As so often happens, I don't get why it won the Pulitzer Prize. Yes, it's unique and makes readers think about our place in the universe, but...Well, the rest is for my review. 

Made: It's been a busy week and not much cooking has been going on. I made a chicken pesto bake which was a do-again meal. BG was on a roll in the kitchen; he made an apple pie with homemade crust (very good for his first solo effort at crust) and a loaf of what I will generously call sourdough "bread." Not sure what went wrong with that; knowing BG, he'll be trying it again sooner rather than later. 

Enjoyed: So much people time (now there's something you won't hear me say very often!). Tuesday was book club, Wednesday was happy hour with two of my besties, Thursday I went into work (I love, love working from home but it is nice to work with people once in a while), then Friday Miss H arrived for the weekend. 

This Week I’m:  

On moving this beauty to its new home. My father-in-law built this library table when he was in high school, eighty years ago. Some of their family friends actually had it for a long time until BG talked them into giving it back to the family. Some years ago, when there really wasn't a good place for it upstairs any more, it got relegated to the basement where the kids used it as a desk. Sadly, the top took a beating and at one point, the back brace even got broken. It was a sad looking piece of furniture. A couple of years ago, my dad repaired it and last week I finally brought it out of the basement to get it cleaned up. The plan was just to clean up and restore the top. But, as all of my plans do, I decided to do more than I had planned, completely sanding it down to bare wood then bringing it back to life with just oil. Now it will serve as a vanity space in one of the guest rooms. I like to think that Jack would be pleased with what it looks like now!

Thinking About: Fall deep cleaning. Heck, I might even finally get the windows cleaned outside!

Feeling: Devastated by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She was such an inspiration for so many, the first Jewish female on the Supreme Court, a champion of the common person and women's rights. 

Looking forward to: Lunch with Mini-him and Miss H then we're headed to BG's hometown for dinner with dear friends we haven't seen since March. 

Question of the week: I can't believe it took us six months to jump on the sourdough bread bandwagon. Have you one of the many who have tried their hand at making sourdough bread through this pandemic?

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The Grownup by Gillian Flynn

The Grownup by Gillian Flynn

Read by Julia Whelan

Published November 2015 by Crown Publishing Group

Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:                                                                                        A canny young woman is struggling to survive by perpetrating various levels of mostly harmless fraud. On a rainy April morning, she is reading auras at Spiritual Palms when Susan Burke walks in. A keen observer of human behavior, our unnamed narrator immediately diagnoses beautiful, rich Susan as an unhappy woman eager to give her lovely life a drama injection. However, when the "psychic" visits the eerie Victorian home that has been the source of Susan’s terror and grief, she realizes she may not have to pretend to believe in ghosts anymore. Miles, Susan’s teenage stepson, doesn’t help matters with his disturbing manner and grisly imagination. The three are soon locked in a chilling battle to discover where the evil truly lurks and what, if anything, can be done to escape it. “The Grownup,” which originally appeared as “What Do You Do?” in George R. R. Martin’s Rogues anthology, proves once again that Gillian Flynn is one of the world’s most original and skilled voices in fiction.

My Thoughts:
One thing I've learned about Flynn at this point is that you never know where she's going and she's always going to make you feel uncomfortable. I picked this book up with no idea what it was about so while I was surprised to find out from beginning of the book that "Spiritual Palms" has more than one meaning, I also wasn't. Let's just say you don't want to be picking up your groceries when you're listening to the beginning of this story; the young man who brought out my order might have been a little startled. I must admit that I was also a little started and wondered where this one was going. I certainly didn't see a book that began with a young woman bragging about being the best at giving hand jobs turning into a haunted house story. 

Our unnamed narrator has spent her life doing whatever it takes to get by in the world. She's developed inside jokes with her regular male customers to make them feel like she's a friend and learned the tricks to make her female customers believe her readings. She's spent so many years doing whatever it takes to get by that she's confident in her ability to read people and get what she needs from them. So when Susan Burke walks in, our narrator soon becomes certain that she'll be able to "help" Burke in a way that will lead to bigger, more lucrative things, and, maybe, even a chance to be respected. 

This being Flynn, you know that things aren't going to work out quite that way. In fact, you know you probably don't have any idea where Flynn is headed. I certainly didn't which is what's alway so marvelous about Flynn's work. This being a short story, it's only about one hour long (64 pages in print) and I was impressed with how complete the story was, with complicated characters, a complete backstory, and plenty of action. Some reviewers weren't thrilled with the ending (endings might be Flynn's one weakness) but it seemed to me to be exactly what the story called for. The perfect little bonbon before I launched into another book that's going to make me feel uncomfortable. 

Monday, September 14, 2020

The Mirage Factory: Illusion, Imagination, and The Invention of Los Angeles by Gary Krist

The Mirage Factory: Illusion, Imagination, and The Invention of Los Angeles
by Gary Krist

Published May 2018 by Crown Publishing Group

Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
Little more than a century ago, the southern coast of California—bone-dry, harbor-less, isolated by deserts and mountain ranges—seemed destined to remain scrappy farmland. Then, as if overnight, one of the world’s iconic cities emerged. At the heart of Los Angeles’ meteoric rise were three flawed visionaries: William Mulholland, an immigrant ditch-digger turned self-taught engineer, designed the massive aqueduct that would make urban life here possible. D.W. Griffith, who transformed the motion picture from a vaudeville-house novelty into a cornerstone of American culture, gave L.A. its signature industry. And Aimee Semple McPherson, a charismatic evangelist who founded a religion, cemented the city’s identity as a center for spiritual exploration. 

All were masters of their craft, but also illusionists, of a kind. The images they conjured up—of a blossoming city in the desert, of a factory of celluloid dreamworks, of a community of seekers finding personal salvation under the California sun—were like mirages liable to evaporate on closer inspection. All three would pay a steep price to realize these dreams, in a crescendo of hubris, scandal, and catastrophic failure of design that threatened to topple each of their personal empires. Yet when the dust settled, the mirage that was LA remained.

My Thoughts:                                                                                                                                                  The more nonfiction I read, the more I find that I'm a gal of many interests I didn't even know I had. Thank heavens for people who can convince me to take a chance on a subject like the rise of Los Angeles, a place I've never even been. 

Krist's book focuses on how three people changed the course of history for Los Angeles. They are all three people I knew of but I had no real idea the impact they had on the growth of Los Angeles from a place that should have remained a remote town to the second-largest city in the U.S. Krist covers the period from 1900 - 1930 and moves the book between these three players. Each of their stories and each of their industries would make for great reading, especially in the hands for a storyteller as good as Krist. That they all came about as part of the growth of Los Angeles makes for a fascinating read. 

As Krist moved back and forth between the three industries - movies, water, and religion - I kept thinking that the one I was reading about was the most interesting. Which wasn't altogether surprising when I was reading about the movie industry; I knew a fair amount about it and have always found it interesting. And religion? It certainly can be interesting. But water and engineering? How in the world did Krist manage to make me interested in that? Well, there were intrigues, land battles, ruined friendships, and a major disaster, so there's that. But Krist also makes it about the players and the David and Goliath aspect of it all. 

Perhaps part of what made this book so compelling was that, while it was historical, it was also incredibly timely. The battle between urban and rural, the machinations of the media, the impact of technology, race, corruption, and the  influence of big money on politics, religion, and the movie industry are every bit as relevant today as they were in the 1920's. 

The Mirage Factory is clearly meticulously researched but it hardly even feels like nonfiction and it certainly doesn't feel like Krist is trying to force facts into the narrative, as so many writers do. Krist also wrote City of Scoundrels, a book I've had on my Nook for a long time; somewhere along the way someone had convinced me that a book about the rebirth of another city, Chicago, was worth reading. As much as I enjoyed this book, I'm really looking forward to finding time for that one soon. 

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Life: It Goes On - September 13

Happy Sunday! The sun is shining this morning and it's finally going to be warm again. We had to turn on our heater on Tuesday; it was rainy, cold and grey for five days. It was hard to make myself get up off the sofa and do anything. But I had only to turn on the tv or pick up my phone to know that I had it so much better than the people on the west coast.  Sending prayers for those who have lost so much, those in the path of the fires, and those fighting the fires and hope that the weather soon offers them some relief. 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: I have books ready to listen to but I just couldn't make myself start one. So I listened to a lot of music, including a French Cafe Lounge playlist I found. 

Watched: Basketball, baseball, and football. I'm so happy to have football back but so worried for the young men playing, knowing that some of them are literally putting their lives on the line. 

Read: I finally got The Overstory back from the library. So weird to pick up a book again, half way through it, weeks after you put it down. It took me some time to remember who was who. 

Made: Soups, homemade spaghetti sauce, salmon...and also grilled burgers, caprese salad, corn on the cob. It's a weird time of year in the kitchen!

Enjoyed: Lunch with my parents last Sunday, sometime with Mini-him yesterday, and a chilly evening with friends last night. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: Because of the weather, I didn't get to work on any furniture last week so I've got a couple of pieces that I want to work on this week. But those may wait for a couple of days - I think I've got The Big Guy talked into cleaning out the garage today!

Thinking About: Making a trip north to see my kiddos and trying how figure out how to do it safely since it means traveling through states where CoVid numbers are rising, no matter which route we take. 

Feeling: Like I want to take a few days off to putter around the house getting things in order. Some people spring and fall clean. I get the spring and fall urge to organize and declutter. 

Looking forward to: Miss H's visit this coming weekend. 

Question of the week: How the heck are you all doing? Really, how are you holding up through this year that just seems to keep getting worse?

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Cover Reveal - Mary Kay Andrews' The Newcomer

You all know how much I love and fiercely hang on to summer. So even though it's September now, I'm not above looking forward to next summer just as summer 2020 has come to a close.

THE NEWCOMER by @Mary Kay Andrews will be making the scene next May as the first beach read of the season! It's never to early to start thinking about your summer 2021 reading! I know my sister, who is a big fan of Andrews, will certainly be adding this to her reading list. Hopefully, you'll even be able to sit on the beach safely next summer while you're reading this one! So, mark your calendars for May 4, 2021 when @St. Martin’s Press will release MKA’s 28th novel! Summer begins—and never ends—with Mary Kay Andrews! Pre-order NOW! 

#TheNewcomer #coverreveal #summerneverendswithmka #tandemliterary 


SYNOPSIS: Letty can't forget her sister Tara's insistence: “if anything bad ever happens to me, it's Eli. Promise me you'll take Maya and run. Promise me.” With Tara found dead in her glamorous New York City townhome, Letty Carnahan is on the run with her four-year-old niece, Maya, in tow. Tara left behind one clue—a faded magazine story about a sleepy mom-and-pop motel on Florida's Gulf Coast. So, Letty and Maya find themselves at The Murmuring Surf—the suspicious newcomers amidst a quarrelsome group of snowbird regulars. As Letty tries to settle into her new life and heal Maya's trauma, she's preoccupied as her late sister's troubled past and connection to the motel are revealed. And then there’s that attractive detective and his unwelcome advances. Will he betray Letty’s confidence, or is he her next shot at love? 

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

The Fire This Time edited by Jesmyn Ward

The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race
edited by Jesmyn Ward
Read by Cherise Booth, Michael Early, Kevin R. Free, Korey Jackson, Susan Spain
Published August 2016 by Scribner
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher’s Summary:
In light of recent tragedies and widespread protests across the nation, The Progressive magazine republished one of its most famous pieces: James Baldwin’s 1962 “Letter to My Nephew,” which was later published in his landmark book, The Fire Next Time. Addressing his fifteen-year-old namesake on the one hundredth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, Baldwin wrote: “You know and I know, that the country is celebrating one hundred years of freedom one hundred years too soon.”

Award-winning author Jesmyn Ward knows that Baldwin’s words ring as true as ever today. In response, she has gathered short essays, memoir, and a few essential poems to engage the question of race in the United States. And she has turned to some of her generation’s most original thinkers and writers to give voice to their concerns.

The Fire This Time is divided into three parts that shine a light on the darkest corners of our history, wrestle with our current predicament, and envision a better future. Of the eighteen pieces, ten were written specifically for this volume.

In the fifty-odd years since Baldwin’s essay was published, entire generations have dared everything and made significant progress. But the idea that we are living in the post-Civil Rights era, that we are a “post-racial” society is an inaccurate and harmful reflection of a truth the country must confront. Baldwin’s “fire next time” is now upon us, and it needs to be talked about.

Contributors include Carol Anderson, Jericho Brown, Garnette Cadogan, Edwidge Danticat, Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, Mitchell S. Jackson, Honoree Jeffers, Kima Jones, Kiese Laymon, Daniel Jose Older, Emily Raboteau, Claudia Rankine, Clint Smith, Natasha Trethewey, Wendy S. Walters, Isabel Wilkerson, and Kevin Young.

My Thoughts:
Jesmyn Ward kicks off this book with a startling recollection from a visit she and some high school classmates made to the office of Trent Lott, then one of her state’s senators, in Washington.
“Trent Lott took a whip as long as a car off his office table, where it lay coiled and shiny brown, and said to my one male schoolmate who grinned at Lott enthusiastically: Let’s show ‘em how us good old boys do it. And then he swung that whip through the air and cracked it above our heads, again and again. I remember the experience in my bones.” 
Given Ward’s age, this must have been in the mid-1990’s. It is shocking to think that Lott found that behavior perfectly acceptable. James Baldwin wrote in The Fire Next Time that love would allow us to “end the racial nightmare, and achieve our country…” Sadly, more than 20 years after Wards encounter with Lott and almost 60 years since Baldwin’s book was published, Lott’s actions seem to speak to the way some white Americans still think about black people. Consider that this book was published four years ago, just as our first black president was finishing out his second term and just before we elected a president who has courted the kind of people who think like Trent Lott. Four years after it was published, this book feels even more timely.

Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah perhaps says it best, “If I knew anything about being black in America, it was that nothing was guaranteed.” Again and again, the names Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Abner Louima, and those killed at Charleston’s Emanuel Church are invoked as a reminder of this. But Ward also wants to remind us, “We are writing an epic, wherein black lives carry worth.” How sad that we need to be reminded.

The authors of these pieces want us to understand both points. Claudia Rankine writes about being the mother of black sons; Garnette Cadogan writes about how different walking as a black man was when he moved from Jamaica to New Orleans, where he suddenly was perceived by some as being a danger; Mitchell S. Jackson reflects on the father figures in his life, good and bad; Ghansah writes about being the first person of color working for an employer; and Edwidge Danticat writes about needing to have two conversations with her daughters to explain “why we’re here” and “why it’s not always a promised land for people who look like us.

The reading for this book is excellent; but, in listening to it, I did this book a disservice. If you were, say, sitting on your patio listening to a book while relaxing, sure, it would be great. But if you are listening to this book while you are doing other things (which I was), it will not have the impact it almost certainly would have had if you had picked it up and read it in print. I wish I had done that. I’ve had to go back and re-listen to a number of passages before I could write this review and it has made all the difference. This book deserved my full attention.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Life: It Goes On - September 6

Happy Sunday! Or as I like to call it on this three-day weekend, happy second Saturday! It's going to be hotter than the gates of hell today so I need to wrap this up quickly and get outside to do the things that need to be done out there before it gets too hot. Like figure out a way to drain out my giant fern plant that is drowning in its pot after then sprinklers somehow got set to go off every day. Can't tell you how much I'm not looking forward to doing that - it smells horrible and I'm going to be filthy before it gets done. So many things I'd rather be doing!

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: I'm finishing up Mikki Kendall's Hood Feminism today and it's such a good wake up call for white feminists.

Watched: Hamilton with Miss H. Again. The Big Guy doesn't get our want to do that despite the fact that he will watch Office Space every single time it is on t.v.

Read: I finished The Mirage Factory and am hoping to finish The Book of Two Ways this weekend. I think Joyce Carole Oates' latest, Night, Sleep, Death, and Stars will be up next.

Made: Lots of salads, cucumber dip, pasta caprese, and grilled burgers. We're still eating like it's summer here, although, looking at the forecast, we will probably be having soup later this week. 

Enjoyed: A day with Miss H yesterday. We got up early and headed to K.C. - we got somethings done around her house for her, went out for lunch (Banksia - highly, highly recommend them!), hit up the City Park Market (although we are second-guessing our choice to stand in line for spices), and made a late run to Ikea once there was no line to get inside. 

This Week I’m:
Those blue legs will give you an idea of 
where this piece started.

On finishing up this table I've been working on all week (today it will get its final finish), finishing the paperwork project I started a couple of weeks ago, and, hopefully, talking BG into cleaning out the garage. This time I'm really hoping to talk him into getting rid of a lot of stuff that's making it hard to even find things out there.

Thinking About: How happy I will be when I don't have to watch or read any more campaign ads. Every election seems to notch up the level of negativity but this time the fear mongering has reached new highs (or lows, I suppose). 

Feeling: Lazy. But the to-do list is too long for a day of rest. 

Looking forward to: Seeing my parents tomorrow. 

Question of the week: For those of you with kids, how are you handling the return to school?

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

In A Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

In A Dark, Dark Wood
by Ruth Ware
Published August 2015 by Gallery/Scout Press
Source: bought my copy ??? years ago

Publisher’s Summary:
What should be a cozy and fun-filled weekend deep in the English countryside takes a sinister turn in Ruth Ware’s suspenseful, compulsive, and darkly twisted psychological thriller.

Leonora, known to some as Lee and others as Nora, is a reclusive crime writer, unwilling to leave her “nest” of an apartment unless it is absolutely necessary. When a friend she hasn’t seen or spoken to in years unexpectedly invites Nora (Lee?) to a weekend away in an eerie glass house deep in the English countryside, she reluctantly agrees to make the trip. Forty-eight hours later, she wakes up in a hospital bed injured but alive, with the knowledge that someone is dead. Wondering not “what happened?” but “what have I done?”, Nora (Lee?) tries to piece together the events of the past weekend. Working to uncover secrets, reveal motives, and find answers, Nora (Lee?) must revisit parts of herself that she would much rather leave buried where they belong: in the past.

My Thoughts:
I feel like this book came out long before 2015. Ware has, after all, written four books since then with a fifth coming out soon. And it feels like I’ve been wanting to read it for ages. But, as I so often tell you, it’s been languishing on the shelves…yadda yadda yadda.

Then a couple of weeks ago, when I was about ready for another book in print, and not quite feeling like picking up either of the big books I’ve checked out from the library, Ti (Book Chatter) said that she was reading this one and ended up really enjoying it. So I decided it was time for this one. I’m a fan of Ware’s, having read and enjoyed her The Turn of The Key, The Death of Mrs. Westaway, and The Woman In Cabin 10 so I figured this one was a safe bet, particularly since so many people had told me it was her best work. Those people were right.

Yes, yes, the unreliable narrator is getting to be standard character but here Ware gives us an unreliable narrator who considers herself every bit as unreliable as she does to us. She’s lost her memory of some key time periods and begins to wonder if the police might not be right about what has happened, of her own sense of what she is capable of is off. Exactly who is she? Is she still Lee? Is she Nora? Ware moves back and forth between Nora in the hospital gradually realizing that she is a suspect in a death but initially not even sure who has died. 

When this book was released, some compared it to Gone Girl and Girl On A Train. I'm not sure I would compare it to those books, which had some really major surprises that changed the entire book. Here the reveals are less startling and provide clarity more than they take us in a new direction. As much as I enjoyed those other books, I think I preferred this book, which slowly revealed its secrets but still managed to amp up the suspense. I kept trying to remember how Ware had ended her other books. Did our heroines end up being saved? Or did Ware let them take a fall? I really, really wanted to look to find out but I also did not want to spoil this book for myself.