Tuesday, April 13, 2021

How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C. Pam Zhang

How Much Of These Hills Is Gold
by C. Pam Zhang
Read by Catherine Ho and Joel de la Fuente
Published April 2020 by Riverhead Books
Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
Ba dies in the night; Ma is already gone. Newly orphaned children of immigrants, Lucy and Sam are suddenly alone in a land that refutes their existence. Fleeing the threats of their western mining town, they set off to bury their father in the only way that will set them free from their past. Along the way, they encounter giant buffalo bones, tiger paw prints, and the specters of a ravaged landscape as well as family secrets, sibling rivalry, and glimpses of a different kind of future.

My Thoughts:
I've been struggling with writing this review. I've put it off repeatedly. I know I'm supposed to have been blown away by this book; it was on the Booker Prize long list, for heaven's sake. It's like nothing I've ever read before, the writing is impressive and the narrators are terrific. Zhang shows us the Wild West in a way that we've never seen before, an American West populated by the kind of people who have been conspicuously absent in other stories about the settling of America. 

Finally I decided it was time to really think about this book. It was another one of those books that made me wonder if I just wasn't smart enough to "get it." Then two things came to me. As original as this story is, it is also a quest story, a trope I'm very familiar with. And then there are the similarities to William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying. Zhang's book is entirely her own story but much of it also entails a family carting a dead body around, looking for a place to bury it, and even has a chapter where Ba takes over the narration, much as as Faulkner's Addie Bundren did. Once I realized those things, I knew that my feelings about this book had nothing to do with me not being smart enough. 

There were, though, a number of things played against this book for me. First, it was a terrible time for me to be reading a book so focused on death and so unremittingly sad. It was too soon after my mom died. Then I listened to about two-thirds of it before my loan expired and it took several weeks for me to get it back. I'd lost the flow. The things that had pulled me in seemed to be gone. All I was hearing, when I picked it back up again, was unrelenting trauma. 

I began to be a little upset with Zhang for all the terrible things she was putting Lucy through, for all that pain she had heaped on Sam. Clearly it was a book that made me care about the characters. It's a book that I'll be thinking about for a long while. Which makes me really wish that I had read it at a different time, without that break, and maybe with a better understanding, going in, how very dark it is. 

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Life: It Goes On - April 11

Happy Sunday! 

I signed up yesterday for the next Dewey's Readathon, coming up in two weeks on April 24th. I haven't done well with a readathon in a long while but I'm trying to put myself in the mindset that I deserve to take a full day to do nothing much other than read. We'll see. I may deserve it, even need it, but it really means losing a whole weekend because I'll need to sleep on Sunday. If you want to join us, sign up here

Friday I went into Target for the first time in over a year. Once I parked, I sat in my car for a while, trying to decide if I really needed to go in. I didn't need to go in to buy anything in particular; but I finally went in because I did need to start getting back to life as it used to be. It was stressful and I'm not sure I'll do it again any time soon. But it was a good first step. 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: Sunburn by Laura Lippman, which is this month's book club selection. Now I have to figure out how to discuss this one. Today I'm starting Imbolo Mbue's Behold The Dreamers, which is our book club selection for May. 

Watched: The Trial of The Chicago Seven, starring Mark Rylance, Eddie Redmayne, Joseph Gordon Levitt, and Sasha Baron Cohen. Four thumbs up from this house - terrific history lessons and fantastic acting. 


Read:
 I'm reading entirely too many different things at once. So many good books right now including two that are really providing the healing I need.

Made: If it wasn't quick and easy, it wasn't getting eaten this week. Some salads, some readymade spinach ravioli, leftovers from Easter. I wasn't really cooking and I wasn't making any other kind of thing, either. 

Enjoyed:
 A couple of years ago my sister gifted me a set of peg dolls of the ladies of the Supreme Court. A while later, a peg doll suffragette showed up in my mail. Thursday a new peg doll arrived to add to my collection of strong women. My sister had commissioned a peg doll of my mom. She's wearing a sweatshirt of my mom's alma mater, which was so important to her, and holding a can of Pepsi, which my mom always had nearby. I love it so much!

This Week I’m:  

Planning: A quick trip north to pick up my dad, who went home with my sister last weekend. We'll meet in Rochester, which gives us a chance to see Mini-me and Ms. S. Very excited to get to see them, especially since we haven't seen Ms. S since last summer. 

Thinking About: Mother's Day. I'm dreading it and trying to think of a way to keep myself busy that day so that I don't think about it. 

Feeling: I was asked to return to the office full time. I'm going to miss the slow mornings, starting work still in my pajamas, and being able to start supper, do laundry, and snuggling with my cat. But I also know that being in my house 24/7 hasn't necessarily been the best thing for me. Mixed feelings about this but grateful that I got a year mostly working from home; I felt so much safer. 

Looking forward to: My second dose of the vaccine. Well, I'm sort of looking forward to it but not looking forward to having the same side effects that I had with the first dose. At least I know it only lasts a day. 

Question of the week: If you've lost your mom, how did you navigate that first Mother's Day without her?

Thursday, April 8, 2021

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

High Fidelity
by Nick Hornby
Read by David Case
Published August 1995 by Riverhead
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
Rob is a pop-music junkie who runs his own semi-failing record store. His girlfriend, Laura, has just left him for the guy upstairs, and Rob is both miserable and relieved. After all, could he have spent his life with someone who has a bad record collection? Rob seeks refuge in the company of the offbeat clerks at his store, who endlessly review their top five films; top five Elvis Costello songs; top five episodes of Cheers. 

Rob tries dating a singer, but maybe it’s just that he’s always wanted to sleep with someone who has a record contract. Then he sees Laura again. And Rob begins to think that life with kids, marriage, barbecues, and soft-rock CDs might not be so bad.

My Thoughts:
I adore the movie adaptation of this book, mostly because I adore John Cusack who plays Rob Fleming. I already knew that but this book reinforced that it was Cusack who did that for me, rather than the character, because on the written page I really, really did not like Rob. 

Maybe it's because as the mother of a men and aunt of more men who are nearly the same age, I have no tolerance for men who suffer from Peter Pan Syndrome. Sure, it's fine for you to really, really enjoy records (or gaming, or sports, or even Dungeons and Dragons) but they cannot...I repeat cannot...define your life at the expense of doing things like making sure you can support yourself. And records define Rob (and Barry and Dick). Also, Rob is just not a very nice guy. Early in his "romantic" life, he engineers the breakup of a friend just so he can pursue the ex-girlfriend. As an adult he cheats on his live-in girlfriend. He sleeps with another woman just because she has a recording contract and he's hoping that maybe she'll include him on a record cover. 

In the movie, because Rob was played by Cusack it was understandable to believe that there was a good person in there just waiting to come out. And, in the end, he did. In the book, we don't get that preconceived idea about Rob so that even as Rob and Laura work to patch things up, you're never entirely sure that Rob has what it takes to make a relationship work. Luckily, by that point in the book, I did finally like him enough to hope that he did. 

Now I need to go watch the movie again. Because the parts of this book that are funny (and there is quite a lot of funny here) shine in the movie. 

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Catstrology: Unlock The Secrets of The Stars With Cats by Luna Malcolm

Catstrology: Unlock The Secrets of The Stars With Cats
by Luna Malcolm
Published October 2020 by Grand Central Publishing
Source: Christmas present from my daughter

Publisher's Summary: 
A delightfully quirky, cute, and funny guide to horoscopes told through adorable cat photographs. 

With the help of a collection of sweet and hilarious cat pictures, Castrology will unlock all the secrets of the stars that you need to know, including: 

Each of the signs at their best and worst (and the perfect cat to illustrate them) 
The common traits of each element and modality in the zodiac 
What do you and your “sister sign” have in common? Find out, with the perfect cat picture to complement it… 
And of course: the right cat for you, based on your star sign!

My Thoughts: 
For Christmas my daughter bought me a gift that hadn't arrived by the time she left to come home for the holidays. An emergency to trip to Target was in order so that I could have something to open from her. One of the things she got me was an Idris Elba coloring book because she knows I love that man. This was the other thing she got. Because she knows I love cats, even more than I love Idris Elba. Also, I think she secretly hoped that when I was finished gleaning all the knowledge this book has to offer, I'd pass it on to her because she, too, loves cats and also astrology. 

Of course, I loved the cute kitty pictures, like the cat curled up napping inside of two hula hoops and the kitten snuggled in on the back of a pony. Seriously, how does anyone not like cats? If you prefer dogs, you can find Dogstrology, which I'm sure is filled with adorable pictures of puppies. 

As for the astrology, I can't speak to how accurate it is but I suspect someone who goes by Luna might know a thing or two about it. Because I've never studied astrology, I did brief lessons about the impact of planetary positions, inner and outer planets, the elements, and modalities. 

Malcolm tells me that, as a Scorpio, I'm passionate, resourceful, and distrusting. All true. On the other hand, on a page entitle "What To Know Before Inviting Each Sign To A Party," Malcolm says that a Scorpio will trap someone in an intense conversation for hours. I would prefer not to be at the party in the first place and I'm more likely to find a spot to sit and hope that people will come talk to me. I discovered that I'm best paired with a Taurus, which is surely news to the Aquarius I've been married to for 38 years. And now I know that my next cat should be a black moggy, a cat breed I've never heard of before. Looky there, even a just-for-fun book has me off to do more research and you know how much I love that in a book!

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Life: It Goes On - April 4

Happy Easter Sunday! If you celebrate, in whatever way you celebrate, I hope you had a good day. 


Every week, since my mom died, when I type that title I think of new ways in which life, as it turns out, does go on, even when we think it won't. We've celebrated a baby gender reveal, a few birthdays, and now our first holiday without my mom. Some have told us that they were advised that it was a good idea to start new traditions so the loved one's absence isn't quite so palpable. It's a great idea and I know that it's been exactly what some people needed to do. For us, we needed to honor our mom by doing Easter dinner the way she would have done it. We put out the china and the Easter decorations; we made the traditional foods, and a couple of new dishes. It was hard for a bit but we think she would have been proud of us. 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: I finished, finally, How Much Of These Hills Is Gold and started Laura Lippman's Sunburn, which is this month's book club choice. 

Watched: A lot of college basketball, This Is Us, Hometown on HGTV, and the first games of the MLB season (thanks T-Mobile for the free subscription to MLB.com!). 

Read: I'm bouncing around a bit. I started Peter Geye's latest, Northernmost, but then Steve Leder's The Beauty of What Remains came in and I'm more focused on that right now. It's the comfort I need right now. Thanks for recommending it, Ti!

Made: My contributions for Easter dinner were Ree Drummond's French Silk pie, a strawberry pie, cheesy hash brown casserole, and deviled eggs. I tried a new deviled egg recipe and then didn't even try one but they must have been good because they were gone when the meal was done. 

Enjoyed: It has been warm here this weekend and we spent a lot of time sitting on my parents' front porch. Last night we had a fire, today we had mimosas out there, all weekend we had laughter. It was good to be together and laugh. 
This Week I’m:  

Planning: 40 Bags in 40 Days may just run through April. I have gotten rid of 30 bags but still have so many areas I want to work on. This week I want to focus on my office and start the basement. 

Thinking About: Flowers and gardens - I'm so ready for a trip to the nursery!

Feeling: I got happy hour with friends Monday and lots of family time this weekend and this introvert loved all of that people time!

Looking forward to: Ya know, I still look forward to weeks with nothing on the calendar even though there's been almost nothing on the calendar for a year!

Question of the week: We had chocolate pie, strawberry pie, and red velvet cake for my nephew's birthday for dessert today. Which would you have picked? 

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women by Harriet Reisin

Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women
by Harriet Reisen
Published October 2009 by Henry Holt and Co.
Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
Louisa May Alcott portrays a writer as worthy of interest in her own right as her most famous character, Jo March, and addresses all aspects of Alcott’s life: the effect of her father’s self-indulgent utopian schemes; her family’s chronic economic difficulties and frequent uprootings; her experience as a nurse in the Civil War; the loss of her health and frequent recourse to opiates in search of relief from migraines, insomnia, and symptomatic pain. Stories and details culled from Alcott’s journals; her equally rich letters to family, friends, publishers, and admiring readers; and the correspondence, journals, and recollections of her family, friends, and famous contemporaries provide the basis for this lively account of the author’s classic rags-to-riches tale. 

Alcott would become the equivalent of a multimillionaire in her lifetime based on the astounding sales of her books, leaving contemporaries like Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Henry James in the dust. This biography explores Alcott’s life in the context of her works, all of which are to some extent autobiographical. A fresh, modern take on this remarkable and prolific writer, who secretly authored pulp fiction, harbored radical abolitionist views, and completed heroic service as a Civil War nurse, Louisa May Alcott is in the end also the story of how the all-time beloved American classic Little Women came to be. This revelatory portrait will present the popular author as she was and as she has never been seen before.

My Thoughts:
I'm pretty sure that I've told you before that I received a copy of Alcott's Little Women when I was eight years old. It is one of my treasures and no amount of the truth behind the book will ever change that. When I read Geraldine Brooks' March, the truth about Bronson Alcott began to be clear, as it did in Kelly O'Connor McNees' The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott. Still, I'm sure I was hoping that Alcott's real life hadn't been so very terrible as those ladies portrayed in their fiction. 

The truth was much worse. Bronson Alcott was a terrible selfish, single-minded man who had no real idea how to handle his headstrong second daughter and didn't seem to notice the burden he placed on his wife. Myth of Father March completely busted. What was new here was finding out that my beloved Marmee (Alcott's portrayal of her mother in Little Women) was not the saint she was made out to be, either. She followed her husband from place to place as he pursued his vision, despite the hardship to herself and her children and seems to have felt as if it were her family's and their friends' duties to support the family when times were hard (which was pretty much always). 

On the other hand, who might Louisa May Alcott have been if she had not been introduced to Ralph Also Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Nathanial Hawthorne, and a host of well-known abolitionists? In that regard, her father served her well in drawing the family into those circles. 

I couldn't help but wonder what Louisa might have become if writing weren't the only way she could reliably make money, money that her family desperately needed. And what might she have written if she had not felt obliged to write so much of what she wrote simply because she knew that kind of story would make money. Still, Alcott turned out a mountain of writing in her lifetime, in a lot of different genres, including poetry. Reisen certainly has me wanting to scout out more of Alcott's writing than simply the works for young people which I'm so familiar with. 

Reisin was able to obtain some interviews never before published which add a lot of new information to Lousia's adult life. It wasn't an easy life, despite eventually becoming well off, able to support her family and be very generous with others. Alcott became sick nursing soldiers during the Civil War and never completely recovered; in fact, Reisen theorizes (as did Alcott) that Louisa eventually died of mercury poisoning from the calomel given to her in the hospital to treat typhoid pneumonia. She used morphine, opium, and hashish to ease her chronic pain; never married; lost two of her younger sisters; and became of the caretake of her mother and, to some extent, her father. Top all of that off with the fact that she didn't much enjoy her popularity; Reisen even called her "curmudgeonly." 

Louisa May Alcott lived an incredibly interesting life but one that, sadly, lacked the happily-ever-afters found in her most popular books. If you're a fan of Alcott's, I definitely recommend this book, as well as the documentary of the same name.