Sunday, June 30, 2024

Life: It Goes On - June 30

Happy 7th anniversary to Mini-me and Ms. S! I can't believe it's only been/already been 7 years. In some ways time has just flown by. In other ways, so much has happened since this happy day that it seems like ages ago. Their present home is already the third city and fourth home they've lived in,  they've bought two houses and added two pets to the family. They have survived Covid, Mini-me's continuing and ever-changing treatments for an autoimmune disease, a house fire, and winters in Alaska. I've always said they were perfectly suited to each other and these seven years and proved the point. 

Happy Sunday! It strikes me today that I used to comment on whether or not the day was sunny, but some time ago I realized that Sunday mornings seemed to nearly always be sunny. As is this one. In fact the whole weekend will be sunny and cooler so yesterday saw us getting some outside work done and spending a lot of time on the patio enjoying the fruits of our labors. 

This week's reviews are tied together because the books both have to do with books/stories, are set in other countries, and involve dictators in some way. 

Last Week I: 

Listened To: I finished The House of Lincoln and now I'm listening to Lynn Painter's Mr. Wrong Number

Watched: A lot of the Olympic trials for swimming, track and field, and gymnastics. 

Read: I finished Tea Obreht's The Morningside and started Julia Phillips' Bear, both on NetGalley. 

Made: Nachos, BLT salad, and overnight French toast for a brunch that was supposed to happen yesterday but didn't. 

Enjoyed: Patio time in the afternoon with one set of friends and dessert with another set in the evening. 


This Week I’m:  

Planning: Finally, finally going to get started on projects this week. The question is just which piece to start with. Refinish a vanity, paint some dining chairs, paint Mini-him's dresser? 

Thinking About: The point, 15 years ago, of starting this blog was to keep a record of the books I read. The problem with it, though, is that it doesn't keep statistics. So I try to track those in my journal. This week I at least got all of the book listed that I'll have finished by end of day today. Forty-five. How did I get to forty-five already this year? Lots of audiobooks, for one thing. Requesting a lot of books through NetGalley and from the library with strict read-by dates has pushed me along as well. The thing is that I've mostly not felt like I was being pressured, even when I turned up the speed a bit to finish up an audiobook before it was returned. I've enjoyed almost every book I've read this year and really liked, even loved, several. It's been a good year for reading so far. 

Feeling: Refreshed from a slow day yesterday with lots of friend time. 

Looking forward to: Miss H is coming in for a couple of days and the 4th is Miss C's birthday.

Question of the week: If I stay on track with the number of books I've been reading a week, I'll hit 90 books read by the end of the year. I could shoot for that but I'd rather focus on enjoying my reading, and maybe even throw in a couple of really big books this year. How many books do you read a year? Do you prefer print, e-books, audio, or some combination of those? 

Thursday, June 27, 2024

All You Have To Do Is Call by Kerri Maher

All You Have To Do Is Call
by Kerri Maher
Read by Lauryn Altman
13 hours, 15 minutes
Published September 2023 by Penguin Publishing Group

Publisher's Summary: 
Chicago, early 1970s. Who does a woman call when she needs help? Jane.
The best-known secret in the city, Jane is an underground health clinic composed entirely of women helping women, empowering them to embrace their futures by offering reproductive counseling and safe, illegal abortions. Veronica, Jane's founder, prides herself on the services she has provided to thousands of women, yet the price of others' freedom is that she leads a double life. When she's not at Jane, Veronica plays the role of a conventional housewife-a juggling act that becomes even more difficult during her own high-risk pregnancy.
Two more women in Veronica's neighborhood are grappling with similar disconnects. Margaret, a young professor at the University of Chicago, secretly volunteers at Jane as she falls in love with a man whose attitude toward his ex-wife increasingly disturbs her. Patty, who's long been content as a devoted wife and mother, has begun to sense that something essential is missing from her life. When her runaway younger sister, Eliza, shows up unexpectedly, Patty must come to terms with what it really means to love and support a sister.
In this historic moment, when the personal was nothing if not political, Veronica, Margaret, and Patty risk it all to help mothers, daughters, sisters, and friends. With an awe-inspiring story and appealing characters, All You Have to Do Is Call celebrates the power of women coming together in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

My Thoughts: 
It didn't take me very long to figure out why my friend had recommended this book to me. She is well aware of my feelings about this subject and knows how I love a book that ties the past to events currently happening. 

She also knows how much I love to learn something new when I'm reading. Here I learned about the Jane Collective which was, according to Wikipedia, an underground service in Chicago, affiliated with the Chicago Women's Liberation Union, which sought to address the increasing number of unsafe abortions performed by untrained providers. As in the book, the service was started by a woman who went with another woman when she got an abortion and then began helping other women to get safe abortions. Eventually, when demand became too great for her to handle alone, she brought in others to help. Eventually, many of the women in the collective learned how to do D&Cs so that they could provide services to women who were too poor to afford other services and to women of color. 

In this book, we see the toll that kind of work would have had on the women involved. At a time when abortion was illegal, secrecy was paramount as so much was at stake. None of it would have been possible without the bond the women involved created, a great deal of strategy to keep things as secret as possible, and the help of officials and medical professionals who supported the work. It was a great deal of stress and we see how that plays out in the lives of these women, both those who provide the service and those who need to use it. 

The book is filled with interesting relationships between women: Veronica's with Patty, who doesn't know about Veronica's work and wouldn't support it; Siobhan's relationship with Veronica as they work together to provide the kind of care that Siobhan didn't get; Margaret's relationship with Phyllis, the work colleague who opens Margaret's eyes to life as a black person at that time and to the group she has become so passionate about helping; and Patty's relationship with Eliza, the sister who disappeared after their father died and who balks at Patty's attempts to mother her. 

To an extent, Maher is preaching to the choir with this book - I don't know that any reader who isn't already open to the idea would pick it up and have their mind changed. But I loved learning this history and being reminded of what life will once again be like for so many women if the country returns to a time when safe abortions are no longer legal. Kudos to Maher for tackling this piece of history. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

The Marriage Sabbatical by Lian Dolan

The Marriage Sabbatical
by Lian Dolan
288 pages
Published April 2024 by HarperCollins
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary: 
After twenty-three years of building careers and raising kids together, Jason and Nicole Elswick are ready for a break from their daily lives. Jason has spent years planning his dream sabbatical—ditching work for a nine-month-long motorcycle trip through South America. Problem is, that’s Jason’s dream, not Nicole’s. After years working retail and parenting in Portland, Nicole craves the sun of the Southwest and the artistic community in Santa Fe, where she wants to learn jewelry design.

A chance encounter at a dinner party presents a surprising—and intriguing—way out of their dilemma. Over a little too much wine, Jason and Nicole’s married neighbors sing the praises of the 500 Mile Rule: their policy of enjoying themselves however they wish—and with whomever they wish—when they’re temporarily far apart. It seems like the perfect solution: nine months pursuing their own adventures—with a bit of don’t-ask-don’t-tell—and then a return to their shared lives. It’ll be a sabbatical from their marriage as well as their day jobs.

As Jason bikes his way across a continent and Nicole reclaims the art she’s long neglected, they discover the pleasures and pitfalls of the 500 Mile Rule, confronting temptations of all kinds, uncomfortable truths about themselves, and gaining new perspective on their partnership.

But all sabbaticals come to an end…then what?

My Thoughts: 
When the publisher approached me about reading and reviewing Lian Dolan's latest book, there was no hesitation on my part, despite the fact that I had a lot of books I already needed to read and review. Dolan is a no-brainer for me; I've read and enjoyed all of her books. 

Here is what I know about them: 
  • there will be humor 
  • there will be relationships of all kinds to explore;
  • the setting will become a part of the story;
  • a look at marriage and what we know and don't know about the people we're married to;
  • some of the characters will feel like stereotypes but it always feels like they are proving that there's a reason those stereotypes exist; and 
  • and the ending will be exactly what you'd expect but also not the neat and tidy ending that always strikes me as so unrealistic. The Marriage Sabbatical gave me all of those things. 
**This is where I got to when my review apparently stopped saving and I'm struggling to recreate what I want to say, but I'll give it my best shot and cross my fingers that it saves this time. 

The Marriage Sabbatical gave me all of that as well as a couple of things I've never gotten from Dolan before. One was a man's point of view. The other was the premise of a married couple giving each other permission to have physical relationships with other people. It was this idea that came to Dolan first and then she created the book around that idea. But, if I'm honest (and I did say I would give the book an honest review), I struggled with this idea. From the idea of being separated from my spouse (and my children - although theirs are both overseas) for months on end with very little communication to the idea of either or both of us having intimate relations with other people, this was a tough one for me. It helped to find that both Jason and Nicole got what they needed from the experiment. I don't want to get too much into their relationships with others; but I was relieved to see that Dolan didn't make it easy nor without a little discomfort on both parties part. 

The stereotypes felt a little less organic this time around; the pieces just happening to fall into place a little less believable - a little more suspension of disbelief was required; and it felt, at times, a little too much like a PR piece for Santa Fe (although it was a good one - I really want to go there now!). 

Still, I liked the way Dolan explored all kinds of relationships, I liked that things didn't work out exactly how the characters expected them to work out, and I really liked Nicole rediscovering herself. She'd been in mom mode for so many years and for so long had felt like what she did for work was "less than." That's something so many women suffer from. She pushed herself out of her comfort zone, leaned into her strengths and found out how much they mattered to others, and gained a confidence in herself that showed in the way she presented herself. In the end, I got what I wanted - both an ending that is happy for the characters while also not being entirely tidy. 

This would make a really good book club selection - so much to discuss! 

Sunday, June 23, 2024

Life: it Goes On - June 23

Happy Sunday! It's hot and dry here (although humid) and the sun is shining. I'd far rather be too warm than too cold - thinking of days like this is what gets me through the winter. Now, if I had to be out in the heat too long, doing something where I wanted to look my best and couldn't because I was sweating too much, I might feel differently right now! But since my weekend consists of inside activities or working in the yard, I'm fine with it.  

I don't know if you've noticed; but I've been reading so fast lately that I've been able to find a common ground between the two books I've read each week. I'm going to try to make sure I let you know what that is, going forward, because they may not always be obvious to you. For example, this week's books both have ties to a friend; she was the one who introduced me to Lian Dolan and who recommended All You Have To Do Is Call.

Last Week I: 

Listened To: I finished All You Have To Do Is Call and started Nancy Horan's The House of Lincoln. I'm struggling with The House of Lincoln - I'm not liking the reading at all and I'm trying to figure out if I just need to pick up the book in print instead. 

Watched: As recommended, we watched the first episode of We Were The Lucky Ones. I don't know if I can continue with it, knowing that things will get so much worse for these characters (a Jewish family in Warsaw in 1939) and that some of them are going to die. 

Read: I finished Kathleen Grissom's The Kitchen House and Lian Dolan's The Marriage Sabbatical. Now reading Tea Obreht's The Morningside. So different from The Tiger's Wife, which is the only other of her books that I've read. 

Made: A pasta dish with caramelized onion, baked garlic and roasted tomatoes. So yummy but so much work! 

Enjoyed: Last night the temperature was absolutely perfect and there was no wind - it was the perfect night to enjoy a gin and tonic on the patio. It was lovely to sit and enjoy the fruits of our labors this spring and summer. 


This Week I’m:  

Planning: We came to the realization that our old cat can no longer jump on beds; hence, there is no longer a need to keep the doors of our guest rooms closed to prevent her from getting on those beds. The doors being open, though, mean that I can see into those room every time I walk upstairs. So now I've got the urge to make some changes in both of those rooms this week, just some little things that won't take too much time. 

Thinking About: We've removed a small shed in our backyard that frees up some space for a new garden area. I'd like to make it largely perennial but leave some room for some annuals. The question is what to get? I would love to have some hydrangeas, but don't want something that large in the garden. I may just have to go browse the nurseries. 

Feeling: A little frustrated - didn't feel well yesterday and didn't get nearly as much done as I was hoping to get accomplished. Meanwhile, though, Big Guy has been working outside and has accomplished so much so I'm also feeling a little guilty! 

Looking forward to: Book club, which was postponed this past week due to forecasted storms. AND, Mini-me texted me that he and Ms. S will be coming for the week of Thanksgiving this year so I'm already looking forward to that and planning where everyone will stay and where I'll sit so many for dinner!

Question of the week: Do you have any perennials you'd recommend for my new garden? 

Thursday, June 20, 2024

The Love Wager by Lynn Painter

The Love Wager
by Lynn Painter
Read by Kristen DiMercurio and Zachary Webber
7 hours
Published March 2023 by Penguin Publishing Group 

Publisher's Summary: 
Hallie Piper is turning over a new leaf. After belly-crawling out of a hotel room (hello, rock bottom), she decides it's time to become a full-on adult. She gets a new apartment, a new haircut, and a new wardrobe, but when she logs onto the dating app that she has determined will find her new love, she sees none other than Jack, the guy whose room she snuck out of. 

After agreeing they are absolutely not interested in each other, Jack and Hallie realize they're each other's perfect wing-person in their searches for The One. They text each other about their dates, often scheduling them at the same restaurant so that if things don't go well, the two of them can get tacos afterward. 

Spoiler: they get a lot of tacos together. 

Discouraged by the lack of prospects, Jack and Hallie make a wager to see who can find true love first, but when they agree to be fake dates for a weekend wedding, all bets are off. As they pretend to be a couple, lines become blurred and they both struggle to remember why the other was a bad idea to begin with.

My Thoughts: 
A friend recently met Lynn Painter (can't remember where or how) and asked me, the next day, if I'd ever read any of her books. I said I hadn't but since she's from Omaha, I decided I should give her books a shot, even if they aren't a genre that I regularly read. What better time than summer to read a rom-com? 

What Didn't Work For Me: 
  • The great guy who's with a terrible woman (who he's poised to propose to in Chapter 1) is such a confusing trope for me. Painter has Jack explain this by saying that things just sort of progressed to that point because it felt like that should be what came next. But seriously, how? Wouldn't he have wised up to what kind of person she was LONG before it came to an engagement? 
  • Both the almost-became-Mrs. Jack and a former classmate of Hallie's that we meet in the first chapter are terrible human beings. I felt like the same result could have been reached without making these women such reprehensible people. 
  • I was never clear why Hallie and Jack decided they couldn't date when they found each other on a dating app.
  • Ok, this is going to make me sound prudish, but the sex. Not that they had sex. Just that in the first chapter, things were largely left to our imaginations (although we learned a lot about what had happened as the book went on) and the focus was really on the friendship (and they way each of them begins to realize they have feelings for the other one but don't want to mess up the friendship so don't say anything). Then, suddenly, it's all about the hot, steamy sex that the two have one weekend while they are "pretend" dating at Hallie's sister's wedding. 
  • The narrating. I really enjoyed having the dual narrators and both readers were solid. 
What I Liked: 
  • While these two main characters had plenty of faults (Hallie actually moved out of an apartment she shared while the roommate was out of town without telling the roommate), I felt like they both showed some growth as the book went on. 
  • I really enjoyed the banter between the two characters. I found it witty and fun and would have enjoyed more of it. 
  • You know that the two will end up together in the end and you know that something will come up that will cause a deep rift before that can happen (and you even know well before it happens what it will be) and it still worked for me. 
I'll confess: I did look at Goodreads review before I wrote this and the reviews are largely very good (although a handful of people really disliked this one). I imagine a good many of them are fans of the genre in general and more are fans of Painter's in particular. So, while there was a lot that didn't work for me in this one, there was enough to like to make me consider trying another of her books. Those reviews that praised the book (and even some that didn't) recommended others of her book as better. So I'll give her another shot. In fact, I've just put another of Painter's books on hold. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

The Secret Book of Flora Lea by Patti Callahan Henry

The Secret Book of Flora Lea
by Patti Callahan Henry
Read by Cynthia Erivo 
12 hours, 24 minutes
Published May 2023 by Atria Books

Publisher's Summary: 
1939: Fourteen-year-old Hazel and five-year-old Flora evacuate their London home for a rural village to escape the horrors of the Second World War. Living with the Aberdeen family in a charming stone cottage, Hazel distracts her young sister with a fairy tale about a magical land, a secret place they can escape to that is all their own: Whisperwood.

But the unthinkable happens when Flora suddenly vanishes after playing near the banks of the River Thames. Shattered, Hazel blames herself for her sister’s disappearance, carrying the guilt into adulthood.

Twenty years later, Hazel is back in London, ready to move on from her job at a cozy rare bookstore for a career at Sotheby’s. With a cherished boyfriend and an upcoming Paris getaway, Hazel’s future seems set. But her tidy life is turned upside down when she unwraps a package containing a picture book called Whisperwood and the River of Stars. Hazel never told a soul about the storybook world she created just for Flora. Could this book hold the secrets to Flora’s disappearance? Could it be a sign that her beloved sister is still alive after all these years? Or is something sinister at play?

My Thoughts: 
This book was suggested by a friend to whom it was recommended. You know, lately if someone recommends a book, I immediately request it from the library, knowing that if I don't, it will live on the TBR list for, perhaps, decades. Because I seem to be able to "read" a book much faster if it's audio these days, that's what I requested and I'm glad that I did because it's the perfect kind of book for listening. Cynthia Erivo is an excellent reader and her being British made that much more of a connection to the book. 

What Didn't Work for Me:
  • That "cherished" boyfriend? It takes readers almost no time at all to figure out that he's going to be left behind, although he seems to have no flaws right up until the time that it's essential that he have them. And I didn't buy into the relationship that caused Hazel to leave him. 
  • Aberdeen seems to have made such a deep impression on Hazel that she cannot let it go. But while Flora seemed equally attached to the people there, Hazel had to continually tell her that she could not go to Whisperwood (aka the river nearby) because Flora was so eager to get away. 
  • Some things felt predictable, others a bit forced.
  • Although the ending is unexpected, it is also a little disappointing, in that it doesn't tie together with the book that suddenly appeared other than having the book inspire Hazel to begin her search again. 
What I Liked: 
  • The setting and the time frame. While I often feel I'm over reading WWII books, how the British survived still fascinates me, particularly the idea of Londoners sending their children off to the countryside to live with strangers. 
  • The world of Whisperwood that Hazel created to help help both Hazel and herself survive the upheaval in their lives. It felt so natural that she would do that to protect her sister's peace and fit in so well with the world they were living in at that time. 
  • Life in Aberdeen. There were plenty of interesting characters that felt just right for a small, countryside town and the descriptions of the land made me want to visit. 
  • The story of the author of the book that Hazel discovers who has her own battles to fight. 
  • Yes, I know I said the ending was a little disappointing, it was satisfying in other ways. The truth behind Flora's disappearance was a surprise to me and I appreciated the way that the characters involved in that piece reacted to the reveal. Things didn't end too tidily. 
It's not great literature but, as Kirkus Reviews said, it was enchanting for the most part. Book clubs would find plenty to talk about and, as I said, the reading is very good. 

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Life: It Goes On - June 16

Happy Sunday and Happy Father's Day! Raise your hand if you sent the father in your life off with one or more of your kids so as that it feels as much like a treat for you as it does for them. ✋ The Big Guy and Mini-him headed downtown today with the goal of scoring some cheap College World Series tickets; if those couldn't be found, they would just hang out and soak up the atmosphere, which is a thing unto itself. They did manage to get great tickets for a good price so are busy watching the Virginia-Florida State game.  BG even swung by to see my dad earlier and dropped off (as in hung outside his bedroom window) his Father's Day present. 

Meanwhile, I have the house to myself. I'm waiting on banana bread to finish baking so I can take my dad a loaf, one of his faves. When I get home, I'm planning to whip up a batch of oatmeal raisin cookies with walnuts for BG. That's a cookie I don't care for so rarely make so it will be a great treat for him. Cooking/baking is my love language! 

Last Week I: 

Listened To: I finished The Keeper of Hidden Books and am now about 2/3 of the way through Kerri Maher's All You Have To Do Is Call, which was recommended to me and is exceedingly timely. 

Watched: Once again, lots of college baseball.

Read: Kris Carr's I'm Not a Mourning Person: Braving Loss, Grief, and the Big Messy Emotions That Happen When Life Falls Apart. Next up, Tea Obreht's The Morningside. Still buried in Netgalley and library books so I need to find more time (and attention) to read books in print. 

Made: Some salads, some pasta, and the aforementioned baking. 

Enjoyed: Miss H was in town briefly Friday/Saturday so we got some time with her and then I had a long-call with Mini-me today. 


This Week I’m:  

Planning: I've been putzing around, reorganizing and picking up some things to make that work better for us and that will continue this week. 

Thinking About: Trips we'd like to take yet this summer. 

Feeling: Like weekends are much too short. I need another day! 

Looking forward to: Dinner with our Shep family tomorrow and book club Tuesday! 

Question of the week: Do you have travel plans for this summer? If so, where are you headed? 

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Table for Two by Amor Towles

Table for Two 
by Amor Towles
464 pages
Published April 2024 by Penguin Publishing Group

Publisher's Summary: 
Millions of Amor Towles fans are in for a treat as he shares some of his shorter fiction: six stories based in New York City and a novella set in Golden Age Hollywood.

The New York stories, most of which take place around the year 2000, consider the fateful consequences that can spring from brief encounters and the delicate mechanics of compromise that operate at the heart of modern marriages.

In Towles’s novel Rules of Civility, the indomitable Evelyn Ross leaves New York City in September 1938 with the intention of returning home to Indiana. But as her train pulls into Chicago, where her parents are waiting, she instead extends her ticket to Los Angeles. Told from seven points of view, “Eve in Hollywood” describes how Eve crafts a new future for herself—and others—in a noirish tale that takes us through the movie sets, bungalows, and dive bars of Los Angeles.

Written with his signature wit, humor, and sophistication, Table for Two is another glittering addition to Towles’s canon of stylish and transporting fiction.

My Thoughts: 
You've long heard me say of short story collections that there are always some stories that are better than others, some that don't work for me. Not so with this collection and the novella that brings Towles back to where it all began. That last sentence of the publisher's summary? Spot on. 

I was enchanted with the characters and the circumstances of every story, from the first about a Russian man who finds his place in Bolshevik Russia as someone who will stand in line for others and eventually found himself doing the same thing in the United States:
"Though the peasant Pushkin did not share his namesake's facility with words, he was something of a poet in his sod - and when he witnessed the leaves sprouting on the birch trees, or the thunderstorms of summer, or the golden hues of autumn, he would feel in his heart that theirs was a satisfactory life."
To the woman who discovers the secret life of her stepfather only to have it cost her mother the marriage:
"But before she'd walked a hundred feet, the opening riff of The Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive," suddenly started playing from a boom box to Nell's left, and that's where she saw him. If it weren't for his silver hairs, she would have missed him altogether. For the minutes that her stepfather had been out of her sight, he had experienced something of a transformation. Gone were the tan pants, white Oxford, and blue blazer. In their place, John now wore silky red jogging shorts, a blue T-shirt emblazoned with the figure of Mr. Met, a white headband a la Bjorn Borg circa 1975, and on his feet a pair of roller skates."
Every story was unique with a touch of philosophy, morality, and humor. None of the endings was predictable. I would have happily read more short stories. But, of course, the reason I was most excited to get to this book was to pick back up with Eve Ross who disappeared from NYC in Rules of Civility but not from readers' memories. Clearly not from Towle's, either. Expectations were high and I was not disappointed. Eve was exactly as I remembered her and the story is filled with all the glitter and seediness of 1938 Hollywood. Eve befriends a former police detective on the train ride across the country who, along with a portly former movie star, assists her when her new friend, Olivia de Havilland, is blackmailed. It give off the noir air of the films of an era that absolutely comes alive in Towle's hands. 

I checked this one out from the library. I might find myself buying a copy so that I can reread it (as much as I want others to read it, I might even loan it out if I own it). 

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

James by Percival Everett

by Percival Everett
320 pages
Published March 2024 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Publisher's Summary: When the enslaved Jim overhears that he is about to be sold to a man in New Orleans, separated from his wife and daughter forever, he decides to hide on nearby Jackson Island until he can formulate a plan. Meanwhile, Huck Finn has faked his own death to escape his violent father, recently returned to town. As all readers of American literature know, thus begins the dangerous and transcendent journey by raft down the Mississippi River toward the elusive and too-often-unreliable promise of the Free States and beyond.

While many narrative set pieces of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn remain in place (floods and storms, stumbling across both unexpected death and unexpected treasure in the myriad stopping points along the river’s banks, encountering the scam artists posing as the Duke and Dauphin…), Jim’s agency, intelligence and compassion are shown in a radically new light.

My Thoughts: 
In 1968 my family moved into the house my parents would live in for 54 years. In that house there was a bit of wall between the room my sister and I shared and our parents' room. After my siblings and I were bathed for the night and in our jammies, my dad would lean against that wall, with the three of us leaning into him, and read to us. We read the usual kid fare (Dr. Seuss' Yertle the Turtle was a particular favorite) and books my dad had grown up reading. But the real treat was when my dad pulled one of the red leather-bound classics off of the shelves and read a chapter of that to us each night. One of those books was Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I loved that book, in no small part, I'm sure, as much to the setting and my dad's wonderful reading as for the book itself. But that book pulled me into another world, where children were the center of the world and had marvelous adventures. It never occurred to me then, a girl growing up in the late 60's/early 70's and in a smallish city with very few persons of color, to question Twain's use of the "n" word or his depiction of Jim. 

For Percival Everett, Huckleberry Finn was a very different book. Fortunately for us, he decided there was another story to be told about Twain's characters, a story where the enslaved Jim is an intelligent, well-read family man who protects himself by code switching and playing ignorant. 

Having read Huckleberry Finn more than once, I couldn't help but track that book against the action in this one and I was pleased to see Everett follow that original story line; it allowed me to get an entirely different take on both novels (although reading Twain's work is not essential to enjoying this book). Here Huck is what he is, an largely uneducated, naive young man who relies almost entirely on Jim's ability to survive, even as Jim is forced to allow Huck to believe he is the one doing the thinking. With Jim as the central character in the events, though, slavery plays a much greater role - from Jim's usage of it to try to make the pair some money to the risk Jim is constantly in along the way to the way readers get a real impression of how enslaved people were used and abused to the abuse that James must watch others suffer in order for him to survive. 
“White people try to tell us that everything will be just fine when we go to heaven. My question is, Will they be there? If so, I might make other arrangements.”
Everett doesn't stick entirely to Twain's outline, though. Through all of the book, Everett finds room for humor, generally at the expense (justifiably) of the white characters. He also has some real surprises in store for readers and an ending that I couldn't help cheering for, even as I feared what would happen beyond the final pages of the book. This one is going on the best-of list for 2024 when it will likely end the year at the top of the list. It's a book I would reread, a book I want to discuss with other readers. 

Sunday, June 9, 2024

Life: It Goes On - June 9

Happy Sunday! As I type, I'm watching out the window for a truck to arrive with my new washing machine. Mine decided it would tumble long enough to fill with water and it was fine with draining and spinning. It was just all of that stuff in the middle that it didn't want to do any actually wash the clothes. I'd much rather be spending this money on a vacation! 

Last Week I: 

Listened To: I finished Lynn Painter's The Love Wager and started Madeline Martin's The Keeper of Hidden Books. Quite the change in mood from one to the other!

Watched: Lots of college baseball (again), game one of the NBA finals, and Jerry Seinfeld's latest movie, Unfrosted (a little stupid, but also fun with a lot of sly things thrown in and Hugh Grant was hilarious). 

Read: I finished Julia Alvarez's latest, The Cemetery of Untold Stories and started Kris Carr's I'm Not A Mourning Person: Braving Loss, Grief, and the Big Messy Emotions That Happen When Life Falls Apart

Made: Ravioli - both a spinach/ricotta and a sweet corn/spinach/ricotta type, chicken nugget salads, and a chicken pasta dish. 

The way you dress for a matinee
when you're following it up with
a trip to an arts festival. 
Enjoyed: Yesterday BG, Mini-him, Miss C and I went to a matinee performance (matinee because I was more concerned about getting seats where I wanted them than to pay attention to the fact that it wasn't an evening performance!) of Moulin Rouge, which we all thought was excellent. We followed that up with a trip to the Omaha Summer Arts Festival where we ate African, Mexican, Southern, and Indian food and came home with some art purchases. 


This Week I’m:  

Planning: This week should be quieter so I'm hoping to get caught up on paperwork, do some work in the basement, and get some extra reading time in because I have so many books I need to get read. 

Thinking About: Father's Day and what to get for my dad and my hubby. 

Feeling: Like a different woman. Got my hair done on Thursday and we went lighter than I have been in years (gotta move that way to make the grays not so obvious quite so soon!). 

Looking forward to: Evenings on the patio since we'll finally have evenings that are free this week when it's not raining. 

Question of the week: Have you seen the theatrical production of Moulin Rouge