Tuesday, April 30, 2024

The American Daughters by Maurice Carlos Ruffin

The American Daughters
by Maurice Carlos Ruffin
304 pages
Published February 2024 by Random House Publishing Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary: 
Ady, a curious, sharp-witted girl, and her fierce mother, Sanite, are inseparable. Enslaved to a businessman in the French Quarter of New Orleans, the pair spend their days dreaming of a loving future and reminiscing about their family’s rebellious and storied history. When mother and daughter are separated, Ady is left hopeless and directionless until she stumbles into the Mockingbird Inn and meets Lenore, a free Black woman with whom she becomes fast friends. Lenore invites Ady to join a clandestine society of spies called the Daughters. With the courage instilled in her by Sanite—and with help from these strong women—Ady learns how to put herself first. So begins her journey toward liberation and imagining a new future. 

The American Daughters is a novel of hope and triumph that reminds us what is possible when a community bands together to fight for their freedom.

My Thoughts:
In that way that the books we're reading can sometimes have remarkable similarities, I chanced to be reading The American Daughters just as I was listening to Jesmyn Ward's Let Us Descend. Two books about young women enslaved in the antebellum South but the similarities didn't end there. Both young women were raised by strong women who gave them hope where there seemed no possibility of it. Two young women who find themselves in New Orleans. 

Here there is no supernatural element to allow Ady to escape, only her own strength and a secret society of free and enslaved black women who use their positions, wits, and courage to undermine those who enslave and keep them down. In The American Daughters we see all of the brutality and horror we expect to see in a novel about enslaved people. We see the complicated relationships between slaves, the communities they formed, the ways they found to survive. In Ady, we also see how some enslaved persons had the ability, limited as it was, to move about in cities and how free blacks allowed to flourish while also being kept down at the same time. 

A person can read this book simply for the surface story it tells and enjoy reading about these strong women and the ways they fought back and survived the psychological and physical torture that was their daily life. It would be a good book on that count alone (although the reader might notice some jarring places in the narrative). 

It is always amazing to me the way that authors can find new and original ways to tell stories we thought we already knew. Here Ruffin tells us, early on, that this is the work of a number of people, that it has been added to over time. We are looking at this story from the outside, as people in the future examine the text, trying to determine what is original and true, what has been added, who has the authority to make alterations and additions. It's a work of fiction that makes us question what is true in the nonfiction we read. This book makes me wonder how much of the South's failure might have been because their efforts were being undermined by the very people they were fighting to keep down. Of course, it also makes me question whether or not those other works are accurate, either, relying as they will have done, on the works that survived that time. 

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Life: It Goes On - April 28

Happy Sunday! I can, very fortunately, wish you a happy Sunday today because our home was spared from the devastating tornadoes that tore through Nebraska and Iowa on Friday afternoon/evening, one of which caused catastrophic damage in a part of town just north and west of us (in fact, in the neighborhood that Miss H used to live in). In the immediate aftermath of this kind of thing, everyone always says "we're just happy to be alive." Miraculously, everyone is. But in the days that follow, as reality really sinks in, I can't imagine the grief those who have lost everything are feeling. 

People often ask (as I do myself during the depths of winter) why people continue to live in a place where this kind of damage can happen. Here is why: when Mini-him and Miss C reported to the place they were to meet, there were 3,000 people at that location alone. Food trucks are providing free meals to the families affected and to the volunteers, vehicles are lined up along the roads nearby of people waiting to drop off donations. Most tell of all, the emergency shelter has had no one spend the night there because family, friends, and even strangers have stepped up to offer refuge for those impacted. This is how the Midwest responds. Life truly does go on. 

Last Week I: 

Listened To: Zadie Smith's latest, The Fraud

Watched: We spent a good deal of Friday watching the local weather people as the storms moved in. The meteorologists all said they'd seen nothing like it and were too busy reporting on the movements of the tornadic cells to even show footage until much later. Since then, we've seen so much unbelievable footage of the aftermath. 

 I finished Percival Everett's James. Highly recommend it. 

Made: Fried potato casserole, homemade macaroni and cheese, taco salad. All while trying to watch our calories. I will happily skimp on calories early in the day for a dinner of homemade mac and cheese!

Enjoyed: Turning in the keys to the apartment my dad lived in for 32 hours and putting an end to a chapter that has been nothing but work. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: We'll head out shortly to take another load to my dad's new place and will spend the next couple of days getting him, finally, settled into the new place. Things will go on the walls, the desk and his computer will get set up, his clothes will get moved into his own dresser and the ugly stuff they provide will move out. It won't be his dream place but it will be homey. 

Thinking About: Everything that needs to be done in my house. And the five-day weekend I have scheduled at the end of May with nothing on the calendar...yet.

Feeling: Happy that Miss H's wisdom teeth removal went off without a hitch and that she's had very little pain. A mama never stops worrying, especially when she can't be right there to help. 

Looking forward to: A couple of quick trips to KC soon. 

Question of the week: How is your weekend going? Are you getting things planted yet, making your gardens and yards look beautiful?

Thursday, April 25, 2024

The Maid by Nita Prose

The Maid
by Nita Prose
Read by Lauren Ambrose
9 hours, 37 minutes
Published January 2022 by Random House Publishing Group

Publisher's Summary: 
Molly Gray is not like everyone else. She struggles with social skills and misreads the intentions of others. Her gran used to interpret the world for her, codifying it into simple rules that Molly could live by. 

Since Gran died a few months ago, twenty-five-year-old Molly has been navigating life’s complexities all by herself. No matter—she throws herself with gusto into her work as a hotel maid. Her unique character, along with her obsessive love of cleaning and proper etiquette, make her an ideal fit for the job. She delights in donning her crisp uniform each morning, stocking her cart with miniature soaps and bottles, and returning guest rooms at the Regency Grand Hotel to a state of perfection. 

But Molly’s orderly life is upended the day she enters the suite of the infamous and wealthy Charles Black, only to find it in a state of disarray and Mr. Black himself dead in his bed. Before she knows what’s happening, Molly’s unusual demeanor has the police targeting her as their lead suspect. She quickly finds herself caught in a web of deception, one she has no idea how to untangle. Fortunately for Molly, friends she never knew she had unite with her in a search for clues to what really happened to Mr. Black—but will they be able to find the real killer before it’s too late? 

A Clue-like, locked-room mystery and a heartwarming journey of the spirit, The Maid explores what it means to be the same as everyone else and yet entirely different—and reveals that all mysteries can be solved through connection to the human heart.

My Thoughts: 
I recently saw that the 2nd book in this trilogy will be coming out soon so I decided it was time to get to this one that I've been hearing about for more than two years. Plus, I could get the audiobook from the library right away. So that was a win. But it was the least of the wins with this book. 

Win number two - Lauren Ambrose's reading. I loved it; I can't help but thinking that, had I been reading this in print, Ambrose's voice for Molly is exactly what I would have been hearing in my head. But even better. 

Win number three - this is just a really fun, really sweet book. There's a lot of humor in the book, keeping the book light enough to race through; but also so much heart. My heart went out to Molly as she struggled to know what to do without her Gran, who was her number one fan but also the person who understood her the best and was best able to help Molly navigate in the world. 

Molly doesn't read social cues very well. She doesn't always know when people are trying to hurt her feelings and she doesn't know when people are using her, preying on her desire for companionship. Fortunately, Gran wasn't the only person who understands Molly and knows that she's incapable of the murder of which she stands accused. Molly's not totally naive - when it comes down to it, she'll do what needs to be done to make things right and to protect the people she cares about. Molly has so much to give - she's a hard worker, eager to learn, and a very caring person. Those who mock her would do well to take a lesson from her. 

Some of my favorite books are books with neurodivergent lead characters. We learn so much from them - how to see the world from a different point of view and that we need to give grace to others who aren't "like us." I can't wait to get my hands on the next book to see what happens to Molly next! 

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

The Heiress by Rachel Hawkins

The Heiress
by Rachel Hawkins
304 pages
Published January 2024 by St. Martin's Publishing Group

Publisher's Summary: 
When Ruby McTavish Callahan Woodward Miller Kenmore dies, she’s not only North Carolina’s richest woman, she’s also its most notorious. The victim of a famous kidnapping as a child and a widow four times over, Ruby ruled the tiny town of Tavistock from Ashby House, her family’s estate high in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

But in the aftermath of her death, her adopted son, Camden, wants little to do with the house or the money—and even less to do with the surviving McTavishes. Instead, he rejects his inheritance, settling into a normal life as an English teacher in Colorado and marrying Jules, a woman just as eager to escape her own messy past.

Ten years later, his uncle’s death pulls Cam and Jules back into the family fold at Ashby House. Its views are just as stunning as ever, its rooms just as elegant, but the legacy of Ruby is inescapable.

And as Ashby House tightens its grip on Jules and Camden, questions about the infamous heiress come to light. Was there any truth to the persistent rumors following her disappearance as a girl? What really happened to those four husbands, who all died under mysterious circumstances? And why did she adopt Cam in the first place? Soon, Jules and Cam realize that an inheritance can entail far more than what’s written in a will––and that the bonds of family stretch far beyond the grave.

My Thoughts: 
If you want to get the full enjoyment out of this one, DO NOT READ the publisher's summary. I only give it to you so that if you're someone who really, really needs to know what the book's about, you'll have it. But if you're someone, like me, who likes to go into a book completely blind (other than to know that someone thought you'd like it), that summary ruins some of the fun of the book early on. 

I can't remember who recommended this one to me - if it was you, thank you! 

So...if you can't read the publisher's summary, and I can't really tell you, either, how will you know if you want to give it a shot? Maybe this will help - this is what I liked about it: 
  • Hawkins litters the book with reveals (which is, of course, why it's impossible to write a synopsis without giving something away. 
  • It's told from three perspectives: Jules, her husband Camden, and letters from his deceased mother. That made me race through to get back to Jules' story, or Ruby's letters, or Camden's story. 
  • Everyone of the three has secrets to reveal and Hawkins keeps them coming right up until the end of the book. 
  • Some readers will find it predictable (although I certainly didn't)
  • Some of the characters are stereotypes
  • The ending fell a little flat for me. 
In the end, none of that mattered. It kept me entertained and I raced through it. It was just the right book at the right time. 

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Life: It Goes On - April 21

Happy Sunday! It's a beautiful morning here and looks like we're finally past the last gasps of freezing weather so I'll be moving the herbs back outside for the next six months and heading to the nursery shortly. Maybe stopping by to pick up some new cushions for patio furniture. I'm so ready to start spending time gardening, eating on the patio, working on projects outside. 

Last Week I: 

Listened To: I finished Poverty, by America by Matthew Desmond and started Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions by Amy Stewart. 

Watched: The Big Guy's been gone this weekend so I've had the tv to myself and I must admit that I may have spent more time picking what to watch than actually watching anything. I've watched some episodes of The Crown and Lessons In Chemistry and rewatched Steven Spielberg's West Side Story and Guys and Dolls because I couldn't sit still long enough to watch something new. 

Read: Same as last week. Need to finish both of them this week. 

Made: Not much - mostly just opening packages, like gnocchi, or salads, because it's getting to be salad season. 
A little project piece 

 Drove into Lincoln yesterday to pick up some auction winnings and grabbed lunch with my sister-in-law and later met some friends from California at my dad's. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: We'll finish clearing out my dad's apartment and finish up settling him in his new place. Next week, it's time to focus on my house again! 

Thinking About: What I want to get done in the yard and gardens this year. We started a big landscaping project last year that needs to be finished this spring, I want to finish some shady perennial gardens, and we'll be making some changes to patio furniture. 

Feeling: Relaxed. At least this morning. 

Looking forward to: Miss H and I have begun planning a girls trip. 

Question of the week: What's your favorite annual to plant? 

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

The Guest by Emma Cline

The Guest
by Emma Cline
Read by Carlotta Brentan
8 hours, 36 minutes
Published May 2023 by Random House Publishing Group

Publisher's Summary: 
“Alex drained her wineglass, then her water glass. The ocean looked calm, a black darker than the sky. A ripple of anxiety made her palms go damp. It seemed suddenly very tenuous to believe that anything would stay hidden, that she could successfully pass from one world to another.”

Summer is coming to a close on the East End of Long Island, and Alex is no longer welcome.

A misstep at a dinner party, and the older man she's been staying with dismisses her with a ride to the train station and a ticket back to the city.

With few resources and a waterlogged phone, but gifted with an ability to navigate the desires of others, Alex stays on Long Island and drifts like a ghost through the hedged lanes, gated driveways, and sun-blasted dunes of a rarefied world that is, at first, closed to her. Propelled by desperation and a mutable sense of morality, she spends the week leading up to Labor Day moving from one place to the next, a cipher leaving destruction in her wake.

Taut, propulsive, and impossible to look away from, Emma Cline's The Guest is a spellbinding literary achievement.

My Thoughts: 
I read Emma Cline's debut, The Girls, in 2016 and was impressed with her writing and looked forward to reading more of her work. A lot of people were impressed with Cline's writing - so impressed that she was given a $2 million advance for three books. This is her third (the second was a collection of short stories). Was she worth $2 million? Hard to say; there are so many incredibly skilled authors who have earned so much less that it would seem she isn't. Unless publishers are going to start paying authors an amount of money that allows them to do nothing but write great novels. 

Still, she's absolutely a skilled author. Here she made me care about what's going to happen to Alex, a call girl who can't return to her apartment (her roommates have kicked her out, due to her not paying her rent and stealing from them), a drug addict, and there's so little to really know about her. That's intentional. Alex is a girl who lives her life pretending to be the person that she needs to be for the people she's with. We're well into the novel before we even find out that she has stolen a lot of money from Dom, a man who is incessantly reaching out to her, trying to track her down. It's hard to feel sorry for her, except that she seems to be a person who has exhausted all possibilities and who is in real trouble. 

When we meet Alex, she's with Simon, a wealthy older man who wants a Barbie on his arm. Alex knows it won't last...until he kicks her out and she is suddenly certain that he likes her well enough to take her back, if she can just wait him out and time her re-entry into his world at the right time. Meanwhile, Alex has no money, no car, only a bag of clothes, and a phone that's hardly working. But Alex is clever, more clever than the people who live in the area Simon lives in. She is able, again and again, to insinuate herself into people's lives, getting a night of sleep here, a meal there. People are slow to believe a person who seems to belong might not so they allow her into their privileged lives...until they don't. But while they're doing it, Cline gives us a window into the dark side of the lives of the rich and famous. 

Monday, April 15, 2024

Life: It Goes On - April 15

I'd like to say "happy Monday;" but I've been doing taxes for several hours now and it's definitely NOT a happy Monday. On the plus side, we've had three days in the 80's and I'm loving wearing shorts and short sleeves and being warm! 

It's been a busy last six days, in fact. My brother arrived last Wednesday evening and left midday Saturday after helping so, so, so much with getting my dad's apartment sorted and ready to move to his new place. We worked so hard for three of those days, but we did find time for fun Friday night. There's still a lot to do, most of the furniture still needs to find its new home, but we'll get to that later this week and into next week. 

Last Week I: 

Listened To: The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O'Farrell and The Maid by Nina Prose. This week I'll finish Poverty by America by Matthew Desmond and I'm also listening to Amy Stewart's Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions. 

Watched: The NCAA basketball finals, The Voice, and not a lot else. 

Read: The American Daughters by Maurice Carlos Ruffin. This week I started Lucky by Jane Smiley and James by Percival Everett. 

Made: Hmmm...can't say that I recall. Pretty sure I wasn't the one cooking most of the time. 

Enjoyed: Friday night my brother, The Big Guy, Mini-him and Miss C sat on the deck of a local winery/brewery and enjoyed the beautiful weather and some live music. It was the first time it's really been nice enough this spring for us to do that and we had so much fun. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: On continuing to get my dad settled in his new home. 

Thinking About: How much I want to get back to decluttering my own home. Every time I've moved my dad, it reiterates to me how much I don't want to find myself with so much to sort through when it's time for us to move. 

Feeling: Exhausted. And we're supposed to get severe weather in the early hours so I'll likely be up during the night, only making the situation worse. 

Looking forward to: Book club tomorrow night. 

Question of the week: Do you do your own taxes? Do you have to do them for any other family member? 

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Let Us Descend by Jesmyn Ward

Let Us Descend
by Jesmyn Ward
Read by Jesmyn Ward
8 hours, 12 minutes
Published October 2023 by Scribner

Publisher's Summary: 
Let Us Descend describes a journey from the rice fields of the Carolinas to the slave markets of New Orleans and into the fearsome heart of a Louisiana sugar plantation. A journey that is as beautifully rendered as it is heart wrenching, the novel is “[t]he literary equivalent of an open wound from which poetry pours” (NPR). 

Annis, sold south by the white enslaver who fathered her, is the reader's guide. As she struggles through the miles-long march, Annis turns inward, seeking comfort from memories of her mother and stories of her African warrior grandmother. Throughout, she opens herself to a world beyond this world, one teeming with spirits: of earth and water, of myth and history; spirits who nurture and give, and those who manipulate and take. While Annis leads readers through the descent, hers is ultimately a story of rebirth and reclamation. 

From one of the most singularly brilliant and beloved writers of her generation, this “[s]earing and lyrical...raw, transcendent, and ultimately hopeful” (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution) novel inscribes Black American grief and joy into the very land-the rich but unforgiving forests, swamps, and rivers of the American South. Let Us Descend is Jesmyn Ward's most magnificent novel yet.

My Thoughts: 
I've been a fan of Ward's since I read Salvage The Bones, Ward's sophomore effort which I read in 2016. I've now read five of her books and I am always impressed by her writing skills, lyrical as they are, and her storytelling ability. Ward is never spares readers the brutality of her characters' lives and never allows us to turn away from them as we become attached to them against all hope. 

Despite the fact that Annis is born into slavery, we have some hope for her early on, as her mother teaches her the way of her warrior grandmother and Annis begins to learn by eavesdropping on her half sisters' lessons. But hope is not something we should expect from Ward. In fact, she goes into great detail as Annis travels south, forcing us to understand what so many enslaved people endured (and often didn't survive); it's the length of this piece that really makes us consider the horrors clearly. 

And here is where my opinion of this book, beautiful and haunting as it is, differs from others' opinions. You are all aware that I struggle with the supernatural in a book. This book is filled with the supernatural. While I can understand why Ward turned to it (why Annis would turn to believing in it), it often overwhelmed the story for me, making me question what was really happening to Annis. Perhaps that was Ward's point. Often the supernatural elements at play here appear to be doing Annis more harm than good. Perhaps precisely Ward's point - sometimes the things we cling to so desperately are harmful. As beautifully written as these parts were, and as much of a relief as they give readers from the reality of Annis' life, they didn't work for me. I know that I'm in the minority in feeling this way and wish I weren't. 

The genesis of the title is from Dante's Inferno and the descent into hell. It's an apt title, as Annis, who surely started in one hell, plunges further and further down. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Life In Five Senses: How Exploring the Senses Got Me Out of My Head and Into the World by Gretchen Rubin

Life In Five Senses: How Exploring the Senses Got Me Out of My Head and Into the World 
by Gretchen Rubin
Read by Gretchen Rubin
7 hours, 20 minutes
Published April 2023 by Crown Publishing Group

Publisher's Summary: 
For more than a decade, Gretchen Rubin had been studying happiness and human nature. Then, one day, a visit to her eye doctor made her realize that she'd been overlooking a key element of happiness: her five senses. She'd spent so much time stuck in her head that she'd allowed the vital sensations of life to slip away, unnoticed. This epiphany lifted her from a state of foggy preoccupation into a world rediscovered by seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching. 

In this journey of self-experimentation, Rubin explores the mysteries and joys of the five senses as a path to a happier, more mindful life. Drawing on cutting-edge science, philosophy, literature, and her own efforts to practice what she learns, she investigates the profound power of tuning in to the physical world. 

From the simple pleasures of appreciating the magic of ketchup and adding favorite songs to a playlist, to more adventurous efforts like creating a daily ritual of visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art and attending Flavor University, Rubin show us how to experience each day with depth, delight, and connection. In the rush of daily life, she finds, our five senses offer us an immediate, sustainable way to cheer up, calm down, and engage the world around us-as well as a way to glimpse the soul and touch the transcendent. 

Life in Five Senses is an absorbing, layered story of discovery filled with profound insights and practical suggestions about how to heighten our senses and use our powers of perception to live fuller, richer lives-and, ultimately, how to move through the world with more vitality and love.

My Thoughts: 
I'm a big fan of Rubin's. I regularly listen to her podcast, Happier (which gave me one of my greatest rules - if it can be done in one minute or less, do it immediately) and this is the third of her books that I've read. Every time I read one of her books, I'm inspired to follow suite. In 2017, when I read The Happiness Project, I launched my own happiness project. To be fair, I never finished it, life having intervened; but I took away the idea that I should look for happiness in life with intention. In 2020, when I read Outer Order, Inner Calm, I was reenergized to declutter my home (8 months after I read it, my mom died, upending my life and ability to work on my own home as much as I wanted). Still, I have carried with me the golden rule from that book that there should be nothing in my home that I do not find to be useful or believe to be beautiful; whenever I'm working on a space, I bear this in mind and it has allowed me to part with things I was struggling to purge. 

As I was listening to Rubin talk here about how she came to realize that she was under appreciating her five senses, I realized that I was doing the same thing. We are all aware that we can see, smell, hear, taste and touch. But how often do we really think about what we're seeing, smelling, hearing, tasting and touching? How often are we intentionally looking for ways to use our senses and to learn more about them? If you're like me, the answer is not often enough. As always, in listening to this book, I was inspired by Rubin to do better. 

Rubin always goes all in on her projects. Some of the things Rubin tried for this project were things that definitely seemed out of her wheelhouse (apparently I feel like I know her well enough to know what is and what isn't in her wheelhouse!), including a sensory deprivation tank and experiencing ayahuasca. Kudos to her for being brave enough to try them. They would definitely be a hard pass for me, as would be the three days weekend she spent in complete silence. But taking a perfumery course? I could see myself giving that a try. Has she convinced me to rethink ketchup? Maybe. 

I think that I'm pretty in tune with my senses; it's more a matter of being daily aware of them and working to expand them. For example, textures are something I'm keenly aware of and know what I like and don't like. Coconut? Might be ok as a flavor but I can't abide the texture. Microfiber cloth? Cannot stand the feel of it and refuse to use it to clean or sleep on it. Could I learn more about why I like or dislike certain things? Certainly. I love music, but not all music. What is it about some songs that I like and others that I don't? Taste - could I train myself to appreciate different spices more and to really be able to pick flavors out in foods? Probably and I'm surely willing to work on that. 

Will I start my own project to learn more about my senses? Probably not. I learned a lot about the senses from Rubin's own research, to begin with; and I don't have the bandwidth for it right now. I am going to try to be more aware, day to day, of the ways life around me impacts my senses and to go out of my way to find new ways to experience them. 

Saturday, April 6, 2024

Life: It Goes On - April 7

Happy Sunday! Anyone else feel like they're living in limbo with the weather for the past few weeks? We had such a nice jump on spring in March and then we backslide into winter and are only ever so slowly making our way back out of it. The stupid crabapples that stay on the tree in my front yard all winter (and, to be fair, are quite lovely when all else is brown and dead) are still falling off (onto my driveway - exactly the reason I told my husband, when he went to get a tree 25 years ago, NOT to get a crabapple!) so we're a few more weeks from the flowers.THAT'S my sign that spring has really arrived. 

Last Week I: 

Listened To: Maggie O'Farrell's The Marriage Portrait (loving it!) and a lot of music, including Godspell (after watching it on tv on Sunday) which, naturally lead to Jesus Christ Superstar which lead to the Opening Numbers playlist on Spotify which, somehow led to the Avett Brothers. Ok that last one was a result of my Tier One sending me their latest video.

 More college basketball, including the men's 3-Point Contest, which was won by Nebraska's Keisei Tominaga. We just love him here! 

Read: The Heiress by Rachel Hawkins. I could not put it down and stayed up late Friday to finish it. 

Made: More butterscotch sauce and more cheesy hash browns to take to Miss H, who was supposed to have a couple of her wisdom teeth pulled on Wednesday. 

Enjoyed: A two-day trip to KC, ostensibly to care for Miss H after said wisdom teeth were removed. But she didn't find out that the dentist was sick until I got her to her appointment so we had some time to shop, eat out, set up her new turntable (her birthday present from The Big Guy and me), and do a lot of decluttering and organizing. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: A big decision was made on Friday. My dad will be staying at the facility that he was admitted to after his most recent hospitalization and will not be returning to the apartment he had so hoped to spend the rest of his life in. A very tough decision; but, we his children feel, the right one. So the next few weeks will be spent emptying the apartment that he got to spend all of 32 hours in. This is almost of emotionally tough as it was to move him out of his home of 50+ years was a year and a half ago. 

Thinking About: See above. 

Feeling: Also, see above. I do finally feel like, once this move is done, that my dad will be at a place where I will have to care for him far less. He will be safe, well cared for, well fed, and be able to settle in and make new friends.

Looking forward to: My brother is coming up for a few days to help get things packed up and moved. It will be a lot of work but we'll enjoy his company. 

Question of the week: Come May, I am going to get out of town. I don't where to yet, just know that I need a change of scenery for a few days. What do you like to do when you take a long-weekend road trip? 

Thursday, April 4, 2024

The Buddha In The Attic by Julie Otsuka

The Buddha In The Attic
by Julie Otsuka
Published August 2011 by Knopf 
144 pages

Publisher's Summary: 
A novel that tells the story of a group of young women brought over from Japan to San Francisco as "picture brides" nearly a century ago. 

In eight unforgettable sections, The Buddha in the Attic traces the extraordinary lives of these women, from their arduous journeys by boat, to their arrival in San Francisco and their tremulous first nights as new wives; from their experiences raising children who would later reject their culture and language, to the deracinating arrival of war. 

Julie Otsuka has written a spellbinding novel about identity and loyalty, and what it means to be an American in uncertain times.

My Thoughts: 
This is one of those books that's been on my radar for years, but like so many books, it just keep sliding down the list of books to read (because, you know, shiny new books). But when I made my book club read a 500 page book in February, I knew I needed to give them a short read in March and suddenly this one popped to the top of the list. The Buddha In The Attic has everything in a novel that I want when I pick books for my book club: diversity, uncomfortable themes (and history), and timely themes. 

The Buddha In The Attic has the added advantage of being written in an entirely unique way. Told from a first-person-plural point of view, there are no characters that readers will follow throughout the book. Repeatedly Otsuka refers to "we" or "our," allowing her to tell many stories at once, in a cadence that is nearly poetic and often hypnotizing. It would have been impossible, without needing 800 pages, to tell so many stories if each option of what these women lived through had been told by a specific individual woman. These women come to the United States as "picture brides" for Japanese men who were already here. Most had been deceived into accepting the marriage but most had very little choice, regardless. Many found good lives with good men, more had very hard lives, often with very hard men. Some ended up in brothels. 
"On the boat we were mostly virgins. We had long black hair and flat wide feet and we were not very tall. Some of us had eaten nothing but rice gruel as young girls and had slightly bowed legs, and some o us were only fourteen years old and were still young girls ourselves. Some of us came from the city, and wore stylish city clothes, but many more of us came from the country and on the oat we wore the same old kimonos we'd been wearing for years...Some of us came from the mountains, and had never before seen the sea, except for in pictures, and some of us were the daughters o fishermen who had been around the sea all our lives." 
The women adapted. Areas developed that were strictly for the Japanese. Many became housekeepers or worked in shops, or did laundry. They farmed. They had families. Their children sometimes died, sometimes turned from their Japanese heritage, often found themselves ostracized both the whites and the Japanese. 

Only in the final section do we get the point of view of a white woman, describing the town she lives in after the Japanese have gone. Some she says, are happy to see them gone, some sorry, others wondering if they should have done more. 
"We wonder if it wasn't somehow all our fault. Perhaps we should have petitioned the Mayer. The governor. The President himself. Please let them stay. Or simply knocked on their doors and offered to help. If only, we say to ourselves, we'd known." 

"People begin to demand answers. Did the Japanese go to the reception centers voluntarily, or under duress? What is their ultimate destination? Why were we not informed of their departure in advance? Who, if anyone, will intervene on their behalf? Are they innocent? Are they guilty? Are they even really gone? Because isn't it odd that no one we know actually saw them leave." 

But how quickly the Japanese are forgotten. They're places in society taken up by others; their names blurring, their faces even more so. It feels a bit jarring to end the novel with a chapter told from the white point of view but it works as a reminder of how easy it is for those of us with power and privilege to stand by in the face of injustice, to move on with our lives, to succumb to fear mongering. It's a reminder to readers that, while this novel is a work of historical fiction, it could just as easily have been written about current events. History does, indeed, repeat itself. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Signal Fires by Dani Shapiro

Signal Fires
by Dani Shapiro
Read by Dani Shapiro
7 hours, 30 minutes
Published October 2022 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Publisher's Summary: 
An ancient majestic oak stands beneath the stars on Division Street. And under the tree sits Ben Wilf, a retired doctor, and ten-year-old Waldo Shenkman, a brilliant, lonely boy who is pointing out his favorite constellations. Waldo doesn't realize it but he and Ben have met before. And they will again, and again. Across time and space, and shared destiny. 

Division Street is full of secrets. An impulsive lie begets a secret-one which will forever haunt the Wilf family. And the Shenkmans, who move into the neighborhood many years later, bring secrets of their own.. Spanning fifty kaleidoscopic years, on a street-and in a galaxy-where stars collapse and stories collide, these two families become bound in ways they never could have imagined.

My Thoughts: 
This book opens in 1985 with a terrible car accident. Fifteen-year-old Theo Wilf is driving his sister, Sarah, and her friend home because the girls have been drinking. But Theo doesn't know how to drive and crashes the car into a giant tree in the family's front yard. When their father, Ben, rushes out of the house, Sarah tells him that she was driving. Ben, a doctor, pulls Sarah's friend out of the front seat when he sees that she is bleeding heavily from a head wound; once he gets her out of the car, though, he realizes that her neck is broken and moving her was the worst thing he could have done. 

Then we jump forward to 2010 where we begin to see how that one night has impacted the Wilf family. We find that, in some way, that night impacted Ben's career but Sarah has walked away, legally at least, unscathed. But none of them is unscathed we learn as we travel back in forth in time. And no family is without secrets, we learn as we meet the Shenkmans, who will come to play an important role in Ben's life, in particular. Through that connection, the message of the book becomes clear - everything in connected, a lesson that Waldo Shenkman teaches the Wilfs and the readers. 

Whenever I read a review of a book and the word "brilliant" is used, I will almost certainly wind up wondering why I don't "get it." It's not that I didn't find a lot to like in Signal Fires, but I've come away without the impression that it is "brilliant." Shapiro's characters are exceedingly well developed and I appreciated the movement of the book in time, the idea that people who appear to have it all can be struggling in ways that others don't see, and the way Shapiro deals with grief. But there were several points where I felt like Shapiro was expecting readers to suspend disbelief, at least one place where I felt like she dropped a detail in that contradicted what had been revealed early but never explained how that would have worked out, and, I'm sorry, but I just didn't get why Ben was so drawn to Waldo. 

I liked this one, I did. But I didn't find it brilliant. So many others did. So I can only recommend that if you think this one sounds like one you'd be interested in reading, you certainly will find plenty to like about it. And you, too, might even find it brilliant.