Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Go Set A Watchman

Go Set A Watchman is the much-anticipated novel recently found by Harper Lee, the author of To
Kill A MockingbirdAnyone who knows me knows that To Kill A Mockingbird is my all-time forever favorite book.  So it was with trepidation that I waited to read it.  Could it ever live up to To Kill A Mockingbird? Would I be terribly disappointed?

I finished Go Set A Watchman yesterday afternoon and I haven’t stopped thinking about it.  It left me with many thoughts.  I first read To Kill A Mockingbird in 1962 when I was twelve years old.  It had a profound effect on me and I have probably read it ten times since, along with watching the movie several times over the years.  Reflecting back now, I would say that Atticus has been my standard for a good man.

I will admit to having a little bit of difficulty with Ms. Lee’ writing in Go Set A Watchman. There were often times that the writing was reminiscent of To Kill A Mockingbird, but there were a few lines that I read over a couple of times because I had no idea what Ms. Lee was talking about.  And then there was the “theme” of Atticus being a racist.  That was very difficult for me.  As I read the book, I wasn’t sure that I even liked it.  Until the end.

I don’t remember if the book states what the time period of it is, but Go Set A Watchman was written in the mid-1950’s, so I am assuming that is the time period.  The first half of the book is about life in Maycomb and Scout’s history there.

In the story Scout was a twenty-six year old woman who lived in New York City.  She had returned to Maycomb, Alabama for a two week visit with her father, family and friends.  Scout was met at the train station, not by Atticus as expected, but by Henry Clinton, her lifelong friend and perhaps future husband.  This was indicative of how Atticus’ health was-he wasn’t well enough to meet her at the station because his arthritis was acting up.

Scout spent her first couple of days spending time with Henry and visiting her uncle Jack Finch. 
But her first Sunday afternoon in Maycomb changed everything for Scout.  And her life was turned inside out as she struggled to make sense of it.

“Integrity, humor, and patience were the three words for Atticus Finch.”

Suddenly, Scout no longer believed those words.  What she had always believed was:

 “She did not stand alone, but what stood behind her, the most potent moral force in her life, was the love of her father.”

It seemed that it all came crashing down as she came to a realization:  Atticus was a racist.

The end of the book had me in tears. 

I recalled an especially heated discussion with my beloved grandfather in 1969 when I was nineteen years old and knew everything.  We were discussing the Vietnam War, which I was bitterly against.  My grandfather’s view was that “one fought and died for our flag” irregardless of views.  What I heard was never mind any of the reasons for the war, the politics of the war…just fight for the flag.  I left in tears, because my grandfather seemed to not be who I always thought he was.  We never spoke of that afternoon, but because of our love for each other, we carried on and we still adored each other.  It took many years, though, before I understood his view.

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view...  until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” (from To Kill A Mockingbird)

My grandfather was born in 1907.  He lived through two World Wars and the Korean War, and though he did not serve in the military because of his age, his life was certainly profoundly affected by the wars, and the patriotism that was part of the culture.  I had no experience of that and did not understand it.

In this same way, I look at Atticus.  He was born in the mid-1880’s in the Deep South.  When and where he was born and raised was deeply affected by the end of slavery, the destruction of the South and its economic demise.

This is in no way a defense for racism.  Atticus was human and he had flaws. He lived the best life that he knew. As Scout’s Uncle Jack told her:

“Every man’s island, Jean Louise, every man’s watchman, is his conscience.  There is no such thing as a collective conscious.”

Which brings me to this: a month or so ago, there was a contest sponsored by Waterstones in England to illustrate the above line from the book.  My son-in-law, Kelly Brasel, entered and was one of ten artists who won.  His illustration was shown at a reception at Waterstones in London last week.  And though, he had not read the book (it wasn’t released yet), I think he captured it perfectly.

There is Maycomb in the background with Atticus standing between Scout and Maycomb. Atticus couldn't be her watchman, but he could be the buffer.  Love it!

I highly recommend the book to lovers of To Kill A Mockingbird.  I haven't quite figured out how the book would stand on its own...I would love to hear from others what their thoughts are both about this issue and about the book in general.  My personal thoughts: Well done, Ms. Harper Lee!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

a long time gone

I read a long time gone while waiting for Go Set A Watchman to come out.  It was good enough that even after Go Set A Watchman was delivered to my house, I continued to read and finish a long time gone before I began Go Set A Watchman!

A long time gone by Karen White is one of those stories that I love...set in the South about generations of women. In this story it is about four generations of the Walker women who were born and raised in the same old house and bed in the Mississippi Delta.  And the women all have histories of leaving their home there and their children.  But something brings them all back.

Vivien had been gone for nine years when she returned to the old yellow house where her grandmother Bootsie lived.  When it felt like all was falling apart-her marriage had ended and she wasn't allowed to have contact with her step-daughter-Vivien knew that she need to go back to see her grandmother.  Sadly, when she arrived she found that Bootsie had died and that Vivien's estranged mother, Carol Lynne, was living there, along with Vivien's brother, Tommy, who had remained there through the years. Tommy was caring for their mother who was suffering from early Alzheimer's disease.

After Vivien arrived, there was a storm and lightening hit an old tree in the yard.  And where the tree had been, a very old female skeleton was found.  Vivien began to seek out the stories of her female ancestors through old diaries, newspapers and an old neighbor. She slowly discovers lots of family secrets, including murder, love and betrayals.  And, eventually, learns about herself.

[A note of caution: I do have to add that each chapter is told by one of three of the Walker women.  However, the story is about four Walker women.  That confused me for a long while into the story.  I thought one of the narrators was Bootsie, but it wasn't.]

The Secret Wisdom of the Earth

The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton is another book read for one of my book
groups.  It is the author's debut novel and he hit a home run!  The novel reminded me of Ordinary Grace in that it is a book about a young boy's coming-of-age story.

Fourteen year old Kevin and his very grief-stricken mother were sent to Medgar, Kentucky to stay with Kevin's grandfather for one summer following the accidental (and bizarre) death of his three year old brother.  His grandfather, "Pops" was a veterinarian who lived in Appalachia in the old coal town. There Kevin met Buzzy Fink, a boy his age who taught Kevin the ins and outs of the town and the woods around them.  And his grandfather hired Kevin to be his assistant that summer, so he took Kevin out on calls with him. And during their time, "Pops" introduced Kevin to books and, as it turned out, the wisdom of the earth.

Over the summer, Kevin became aware of many new things: the land around the area being destroyed by big mining companies, the cruelty of poverty, and the hate crime that was witnessed by Buzzy against a gay man in town.  When his grandfather takes Kevin and Buzzy on his annual trek/camping trip, they find themselves the target of an assassin. That journey is the turning point of Kevin's life.

I loved the author's writing style.  Very easy to follow and relate. Near the end of the book, when Kevin was visiting Buzzy, Buzzy asked Kevin how his mom was.  Keven replied:

"She seems a little better, but Pops says she may never be like she was.  Says losing a kid is like a piece of your soul dying........I guess when terrible crap happens, how much of your soul that's left behind is how much you can heal."


Halfway through the summer-some summertime reading

A few of the books that I have read this summer.  One I love, one was an interesting read, and the other I found lacking.  Two are fiction, the other is non-fiction.

The Zookeepers Wife by Diane Ackerman is the true story from World War II Poland.  I am usually
quite interested in stories from this time period, and really the actual story is fascinating. I didn't care for the author's seemingly rambling on, however.

This is the true story of Jan Zabinski, who was the director for the Warsaw Zoo, and his wife, Antonia. The bombing of the zoo in 1939 shattered the Zabinski's world.  Many of the animals were killed and/or wounded.  And as it became clear that the Nazi's intended to exterminate the Jews in Warsaw, Jan and Anotonia began to work with the Polish resistance to help as many Jews as they could.  Some three hundred Jews were smuggled to the zoo where they were hidden in either cages or the villa.

That is an amazing and fairly unknown story. But it seemed that the author would go on about other things that were happening, that while were important in history, didn't seem to relate well to the story.

I re-read Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger for this book group.   I wrote a blog on this site about this book on June 24, 2013 and at that time, stated that it was one of my favorite books.  That still holds true! All I can add is, if you haven't read it, do it! Great book!  Check out the blog for my summary of it.

I read another book by William Kent Krueger-Windigo Island. I didn't realize that Krueger had a Windigo Island is the 14th of the series.
series of books involving private eye Cork O'Connor.

The story takes place in Wisconsin where the body of a fourteen year old girl washed up on the shore on Windigo Island.  The body was of Carrie Verga who had disappeared a year before along with her friend Mariah Arceneaux.  Mariah was still missing and her mother begged the wise old Indian, Henry Meloux, to find her. Henry enlisted the help of Cork, who with his daughter Jenny, began investigating the disappearance of the two girls.

This was an interesting, entertaining story.  It highlighted the difficulties for many young Native Americans in these times who are trying to survive and escape poverty. This story was primarily about runaway children on the reservation and the abuse and deprivation that many of these children experience as they try to make their way.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

May Reading

So far this month I have read five books.  And so far, they have all been winners in my opinion!

I have to begin with the new book by one of my favorite authors.  The Bone Tree by Greg Iles came Natchez Burning (the first book) last year.
out last month.  It is the second book of a trilogy and I had very anxiously been awaiting it since reading

The Bone Tree picks up where the story ended in Natchez Burning.  Iles does a good job bringing a new reader up to speed on the story that one may have missed if they hadn't read the first book.  The catching up seemed too long to me, but that was probably because I had read the first book.

Penn Cage continued to search for answers regarding the civil rights murders that had occurred in the Natchez area during the 1960's.  His father, Dr. Tom Cage, was in hiding after he had jumped bail on the charge of murdering his former nurse who had returned to Natchez after years away.  Meanwhile, Penn was dealing with the Double Eagles, an extremist sect of the Ku Klux Klan.  The "Bone Tree" was supposedly where the murders either occurred or where the bodies were taken.  It was rumored to be deep in the Mississippi swampland.  Penn and his fiancee, newspaper writer Caitlin Masters, were hot on the search for the bone tree.  Meanwhile, it was also rumored that the Double Eagles had been involved in the assassination of JFK.  However, Penn is mostly concerned over learning where his father was hiding out and trying to save his life.

It was a good read, and one of the main characters died, which really surprised me.  However, it wasn't quite as riveting as Natchez Burning.  I expect that the third book of the trilogy, Unwritten Laws, will be, though.  I really can hardly wait for it to come out.  It is expected out in 2016.

Galore by Michael Crummy was our May read for one of my book groups.  And this book is a great
example of why I love my book groups...Galore is a book that I don't think that I would have ever picked up and read on my own.  It's very different.  I loved the story, but had a quite difficult time keeping the family genealogy straight as I was reading.  And there is even a family chart included in the front of the book!

The story begins with a beached whale found on the shore of Paradise Deep.  The people of the village waited until the whale died, then began butchering it for the meat, fat, etc.  What they never expected to find was a man inside the whale.  He smelled of fish and did not speak, but he was alive.   the townspeople decided to call the man Judah.  Because of his smell, he had to live alone.

Judah was not the only unusual character in the town....The Sellers family and the Devine family were both full of interesting characters, who interacted with each other through-out the decades.

The book is divided into two parts.  Part One may have taken place in the early 1800's (we never determined exactly when, but before the Civil War), and Part Two picked up just before WWI.

There was so much to all of the different stories of the various people in this book.  Besides the two families, there was also a priest and a doctor who both figured in the stories.  Galore was a story of love, bitterness, feuds, and finding ones' way.  I really had never read a book quite like it.  As you can probably guess, there are many Biblical similarities in the stories.  The book made for quite interesting discussion for our book group!

In my last blog entry, I reviewed the book What She Left Behind.  I read that the novel had been based on The Lives They Left Behind by Darby Penney and Peter Stastny. I immediately had to order it and read it.  The Lives They Left Behind is the true story about the actual Willard State Hospital in New York that had opened around 1869.  After it closed in 1995, it was discovered that there were more than 400 suitcases left in the attic of the hospital.  These suitcases were brought with a patient when they were admitted to the hospital, then stored in the attic (along with the belongings in the suitcase) until the patient left, which didn't usually happen.  The authors chose ten of the suitcases that were found there and examined and researched the lives of the owners of the suitcases.
off a book called

The Lives They Left Behind is a fascinating look at the lives of ten people and how they ended up at the state hospital.  It's moving and sad, and unfortunately, so true of the treatment history of mental illness.

I am a huge fan of Tom Brokaw.  His newest book, A Lucky Life Interrupted, is the story of his battle
with cancer.  He began by struggling with his back aching, which initially he attributed to his age and active lifestyle.  And as he wrote, he was always known as "the lucky one", so he didn't really believe that anything bad would happen to him.  Doctors persisted and it was found that he had Multiple Myeloma.  A treatable cancer, but not curable.

The book does a good job telling of what Brokaw had to go through and endure, from diagnosis to remission over about a years time.  Interspersed in the book, are stories from his life and career that I found intriguing.  I also found the book to be surprisingly personal.  It's an easy read and, in my opinion, well worth it!

And finally, I read Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. I read this on my iPad (the first novel that I have read on it) since I was traveling and had already read the two books that I had brought with me.

The story begins with:

  “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” 

So, you know right off the bat that Lydia is dead!  The story is about a Chinese American family
struggling to deal with the death of their beautiful, talented daughter.  Lydia's body was found in the lake in the small town where they lived. Lydia did not know how to swim and never went into the water, so her parents were convinced that someone had killed her. Lydia's brother is sure that their teenage neighbor was involved in Lydia's disappearance, and Hannah, the youngest, is rather left alone to deal with everything going on.

As would be expected, the family began to fall apart dealing with the loss of Lydia.  Secrets came out, mistakes were made as the family went through their grieving, and trying to understand and make sense out of everything.  It was a good book, easy to read.

So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos. A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.