Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Scout, Atticus & Boo

I can hardly describe how excited I was to see the book Scout, Atticus & Boo by Mary McDonagh  Murphy at my favorite Canton, Illinois library! I had read about it last year when it was coming out, and then had totally forgotten about it.  In honor of To Kill A Mockingbird's 50th anniversary,  Ms. Murphy interviewed 26 various influential people (all in their own way) about their experiences of reading To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  Anyway, the interviews are fascinating to read.  I especially enjoyed the ones by Tom Brokaw, Lee Smith, Oprah Winfrey, Alice Lee, Wally Lamb and Mary Badham (who played Scout in the movie).  I was sad that Gregory Peck is not around to add his opinion of the book!

I am sure that faithful readers of this blog have picked up that To Kill A Mockingbird is my all-time favorite novel (as the movie is also my all-time favorite).  I was either 11 or 12 years old when one weekend I was (as usual) spending the weekend with my grandparents.  My lovely, wonderful grandmother (see picture circa 1960) had the paperback edition of To Kill A Mockingbird laying out on the table, as she was in the midst of reading it.  I picked it up, and may not have put it down for the rest of the weekend.  I was absolutely enthralled with the book and finished it before it was time to go home.  That was about 50 years ago! Just another reason to love my grandmother!

Jump ahead about 11 or 12 years, and I was pregnant with my first child.  If the baby was a boy, he was to be called "Jem".  I had a girl, so no Jem!  But, again, that's how much I loved that book!

This past Christmas, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of To Kill A Mockingbird, I gave each of my 3 children copies of both the book and the movie, telling them that it is one of my legacies to them to be sure that they had my favorite book and movie!

As you can see, I feel strongly about To Kill A Mockingbird!  And now to have found a book where others are talking about their experiences of reading the book???   Heaven!  I loved reading the different interviews.  And I was so struck with the similarities, both among the interviewees and my own experiences of reading the book.  I would say that most of those interviewed first experienced the book around the same age that I did, which I thought was very interesting!  And like some, my first reading of the book, was primarily about the children, Atticus, and Boo Radley.  It wasn't until later readings that I fully experienced and appreciated what Ms. Lee was telling about the South.

If you are a fan of To Kill A Mockingbird, read Scout, Atticus and Boo.  You will definitely appreciate all the various opinions.  Just a word of warning, however: after reading it, be prepared to re-read the book and watch the movie!

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Kitchen House

One of my daughters recommended The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom after she had read it for her book group.  I initially had some trouble getting interested in the book, but stuck with it and soon was unable to put it down!  The Kitchen House begins in 1791 and is narrated alternately by the two main characters, Lavinia and Belle.  Lavinia is an orphaned seven year old indentured servant at the Tall Oaks plantation in Virginia.  Belle is the daughter of the master of the plantation and of one of his slave mistresses.  Belle works in the kitchen house and when Lavinia arrives, Belle becomes a big sister/mother to Lavinia.  Lavinia is raised among the kitchen house slaves, who become her family.  The book covers about twenty years as Belle and Lavinia go on to live different but intertwined lives.  As Lavinia becomes older, she is sent to live with her mistresses' sister and her family, where she is taught how to live in the "white world".  Eventually, Lavinia makes her way back to Tall Oaks as an adult.  Meanwhile, Belle is left at Tall Oaks to endure a slave's life there.
Over the twenty years the violence, and corruption of the plantation is a strong contrast to the love and sense of family that exists on the plantation. It was very interesting to read about slavery in the early 1800's, compared to most of what I have read of slavery during the Civil War times.
Belle and Lavinia were both very interesting, likable characters.  I really cared about what happened to them.  I would love to read a sequel to this book to learn of what became of all of the characters.  All of the characters were interesting and rather well-developed by the author....at least enough so that the reader is left wanting more information about them!

I found the Author's Note at the end of the book to be quite fascinating.  She wrote: "A few years ago, my husband and I restored an old plantation tavern in Virginia.  While researching its past, I found an old map on which, near our home, was a notation: Negro Hill.  Unable to determine the story of its origin, local historians suggested that it most likely suggested a tragedy."

She went on to say that after a few months of pondering Negro Hill, she was inspired to begin writing a story about it, which became the prologue of the book.  From there, the book began to take off in her mind! 

I am so envious of anyone who can write a book!  Why can't I be so inspired and able?  Thank goodness, there are many that can do that!

Olive Kitteridge

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout was chosen as the June read for one of my book groups.  I had read this book in April of 2009 and did a blog posting about it dated April 29, 2009.   I loved the book then and I loved it even more with this second reading!  If you haven't read it, give it a try!  And don't give up early on with it, it gets better and better!  I would love to hear reader's thoughts about the book and particularly about Olive herself! 

PS-the book made for great discussion in our book group!

Some early summer reading

I have been gone on vacation so I have gotten a little behind in my blogging!  However, I have finished three good books while missing!

Drowning Ruth by Christina Schwartz was chosen for the June selection for one of my book groups.  I had read it several times, but it was years ago.  The book was published in 2000 and was an Oprah pick.  I have always loved this book, so I was quite pleased when my group chose to read it.  It is primarily the story of Amanda Starkey, a nurse during WWI who becomes overwhelmed with her duties, and flees home to Nagawaukee Lake, where she goes to live with her sister Matilda and her young niece, Ruth.  Matilda's husband, Carl, is off fighting in the War, so the three females live together. One evening in the winter of 1919, Matilda disappears, and is later found beneath the ice where she has drowned.  Over the next few years, Amanda works hard at keeping her secrets, both about Matilda's death, and about Amanda's own past.

The story is told in chapters by different characters, moving back and forth in time.  Eventually, the family secrets are revealed and as they are, you learn the truth about the night that Matilda drowned.

The story has been described as "a gripping psychological thriller" and I would concur with that!  Each time I have read this book, I have enjoyed it more!  Fascinating characters!

Next, I read Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.  I realize that I may be the last woman on earth to have read this book, so I won't go into it too much.  I don't know what my reluctance was to read it, but I thoroughly enjoyed the story!  I love stories told by elderly people as they tell about their pasts!  Briefly, the story is told by ninety year old Jacob as he recalls being a young man who joined the circus when he was unable to complete his veterinary schooling during the great Depression. Jacob was employed to care for the circus animals.  Jacob meets up with the various circus characters,  and falls in love with Marlena, who is married to August, a trainer who is struggling with severe mental health issues.  The circus acquires Rosie, a difficult elephant, who in the end is Jacob and Marlena's salvation!

And then I read The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff.  I struggled a bit with staying with this book for a while in the beginning, but I ended up liking it!  It is the story of Willie Upton, a graduate student in archaeology who became pregnant with her married professor while on a dig in Alaska.  Willie returns home to Templeton, New York on the very same day that a huge monster dies in Lake Glimmerglass in Templeton.  Willie's family has lived in Templeton for generations and she thinks that she will be safe to hide out there while trying to figure out what to do with her life.  However, after arriving, Willie's mother, Vi, informs her that the story about her unknown father has been a lie, and that her father was someone who lived right there in Templeton.

Willie decides that she needs to learn the truth about her ancestry and begins doing research about her family.  Dark secrets begin to be revealed, some mysteries are solved and you learn that there are more monsters than just the one from the lake! Good story!