Wednesday, October 24, 2012

wild From Lost To Found On The Pacific Crest Trail

 wild by Cheryl Strayed has been a wildly popular book (pun intended) that I have been waiting all year (or so it seems) to come out in paperback.  It hasn't yet, but I just could no longer wait, so I bought the hardcover copy last Friday.  I began reading it Saturday night in bed and finished it yesterday (Tuesday) afternoon.  With tears in my eyes.  For quite awhile.  Apparently, I ended up feeling like I knew Cheryl well!  It's a beautiful and very powerful story that I just could not put down.

The book is a memoir of Ms. Strayed's three month journey hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.  Alone.  Never having hiked or backpacked before.  I can't even imagine the courage summoned up for even considering such a trip, let alone actually doing it.  But it seemed, that at that time in her life, Ms. Strayed really didn't feel like she had anything to lose.  And was hoping that she might find purpose or meaning to her life.

Ms. Strayed's mother died of lung cancer when Ms. Strayed was twenty-two.  She was the oldest of her mother's children and was the one there to care for her mother through her illness.  How does a twenty-two year old female get through her mother's death?  It raised all kinds of thoughts and feelings for me, after just losing my mom a few months ago, also from lung cancer...but I had an extra forty years to know my mom before she died.  Clearly, a twenty-two year old would be so lost...

Anyway, shortly after her mother's death, her siblings went their own ways and Ms. Strayed married.  Four years later, her marriage was unraveling and so was she.  She began living a life that she soon realized she didn't want.  And one day, she came upon a guide book about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and something in her grabbed at the idea...the idea of doing it by herself and picking up the pieces of her life along the trail.

Ms. Strayed began the eleven hundred mile hike in the summer of 1995.  She began with hiking boots that very soon proved to be too small and a backpack that she was unable to lift off the ground because it was so heavy.  The backpack took on the name of "Monster".  She was fearful of running into bears and rattlesnakes, and had to face those fears.  She could only hike seven to nine miles a day when she first started.  (I say "only", because she ended up being able to hike right along with the best of them..."only" is a relative term...I could have maybe hiked one mile each day with her conditions!)

Over the months, Ms. Strayed came across other hikers and they would share whatever they could with each other.  One helped her sort out what she was caring in "Monster" and lightened her load considerably.  She suffered all kinds of hardships as you can imagine, from hunger and lack of clean clothes, showers, etc. to physical injuries to terrible weather conditions.  And then at some point, she realized that she could do it.  And she did. And that changed everything for her.  She learned that she was a survivor and that she could take care of herself.

wild is a beautiful book.

Monday, October 22, 2012

11/22/63 by Stephen King

A very famous date...if you are old enough, you know exactly where you were that day and moment when you first learned that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.  Stephen King's latest novel, 11/22/63, is about that time!  What would the world be like if that moment could be changed?  What would the world look like now if Kennedy had lived?  Very interesting to ponder.

Jake Epping was an English teacher who also taught GED classes in the evening.  He had his GED class write an essay about a life-changing event that had occurred to them.  One of the students wrote about his father killing his family over fifty years ago.  Jake couldn't get the event out of his mind.  Soon, Jakes' friend, Al who owned a diner, confided to Jake that the diner had a portal that led to the past...time travel. Al said that the portal led to 1958.  Al wanted to return to prevent JFK's assassination.  But Al was dying and could not carry out his "mission", so he asked Jake to take it on.  Jake realized that he could change the circumstances of his student Harry's life-changing event.

Jake entered the portal in 1958 and began his life as George Amberson.  He set out to make things right, first for Harry, his GED student, then to study Lee Harvey Oswald, so that he could prevent the assassination in 1963.  Jake starts out in Maine (where he was from), then traveled to Florida for awhile, then on to Texas.

This is a great story.  I will have to add, however, in warning, that the novel is 842 pages long.  It is a LONG book!  My only complaint about the length, though, was that the book would get really physically heavy to hold!  There aren't many books that I have ever complained about that before.  But here's the just can't put it down!  The story is that good...the writing is that good...the whole thing is that good!  As one of my daughters said of the book "I inhaled it."

So many people (and for a long time, myself included) avoid Stephen King novels.  Too scary or whatever.  But the thing is...he is an outstanding writer.  I have read only a few of his books, and each time, I am amazed at what a great writer he is. 11/22/63 is not a scary is about time travel.

Hey, you don't even have to take my word for it... 11/22/63 won the 2012 Thriller Award for Best Novel and was also named as one of New York Times Book Reviews Top 10 Books of 2011.


I had not read Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier for thirty or thirty-five years, but remembered it fondly as a book that I enjoyed.  When my girls book group chose it for one of our classical reads (this year we have been reading a classic book every other month), I was pleased to return to it.  The book felt like an old friend whom I hadn't seen for a long time.  Warm, comforting and still a pleasure! 

If there is anyone out there who has not read Rebecca, it is the story of a young woman (interestingly, unnamed in the book) who goes from being a servant/companion to becoming the wife of a handsome wealthy English gentleman.  She met Maxim de Winter in Monte Carlo, where she was traveling with her employer.  It was said that Maxim was traveling in order to remove himself from Manderley, his manor in England, where he had lost his beautiful wife, Rebecca,  to the sea.

The young woman and Maxim began a friendship, that soon turned to a marriage proposal and the couple wed.  After the wedding, Maxim took his new bride home to Manderley.  She was introduced to the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, who very quickly made it clear that all would remain as Rebecca had left it.   Everyone talked of the beautiful Rebecca and the parties and dinners and balls that she gave.  The new Mrs. de Winter felt quite inadequate to live up to Rebecca's reputation. Soon, however, things were not as they seemed and the real fate (and nature) of Rebecca became a mystery...

Ms. Du Maurier's writing in this book is beautiful...Immediately the first line of the book was like a coming home:

"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again."

My favorite example of Ms. Du Maurier's writing was this:

"We can never go back again, that much is certain.  The past is still too close to us.  The things we have tried to forget and put behind us would stir again, and that sense of fear, of furtive unrest, struggling at length to blind unreasoning panic-now mercifully stilled, thank God-might in some manner unforeseen become a living companion, as it had been before."
Beautiful!  Rebecca is a great old classic mystery!  Not deep, just enjoyable.  If you haven't read it, I recommend it...and if you have, read it again! You will enjoy it either way!

The Round House

I am a fan of Louise Erdrich's books.  I just want to state that right from the start!  Her latest novel is The Round House, published this year.  I don't consider it to be the best of her novels that I have read, but, that being said, I still thought that it was quite good.

The Round House is told by Joe, a thirteen year old only child of Bazil and Geraldine Coutts.  The family lived on a reservation in North Dakota.   Bazil Coutts was a well-respected tribal judge, and Geraldine was a tribal enrollment specialist.  One Sunday afternoon, Geraldine got a phone call and left the house to go to her office. When, after several hours, she had not returned home, Joe and his father borrowed a car to go find her.  She was not at her office, so they headed to the grocery store to see if she was there.  Upon realizing that the store was closed on Sunday, they headed back home.  They returned the borrowed car, then begin walking up their driveway.  As they came to the house, they saw that Geraldine was sitting in her car.  Thus begins the journey for Joe.

Geraldine had been attacked and was severely traumatized by the event.  She would not leave her bedroom or talk or share anything that had happened to her, leaving Joe and his father trying to put together pieces of exactly what had happened.

Joe wanted to help his mother heal, but she remained resistant. Meanwhile, Joe became frustrated with the lack of progress being made in the case and decided to find out who had attacked his mother.  His three childhood friends joined him.  The boys began to find some clues and evidence of the crime, and Joe began the struggle of what constitutes justice.

The book is a good story.  I especially enjoyed the stories that were included that were told by Joe's old grandfather.  The story is a good mystery with lots of humor, and serious struggles.

The Round House was a National Book Award Finalist for Fiction for 2012. (In 2009, Ms. Erdrich's novel Plague of Doves was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize). The Round House is her fourteenth novel.  Her novels are all based on Native American themes.  Ms. Erdrich's maternal grandfather was the tribal chairman for the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians in the 1950's (taken from Wikipedia).

(Want to know my favorite Louise Erdrich novel?  It is The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No House, published in 2001).

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Cat's Table

The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje was the October pick for one of my book groups.  I have to admit that I was not wildly crazy about the book, but the second half of the book did get much better (my opinion).
The story is narrated by Michael, an eleven year old boy who had been put on a ship for a three week journey to England to be with his mother, who he had not seen for years.  Michael was seated at the "cat's table" for his meals, along with two other young boys who were also traveling alone to England.  The boys did not know each other before the journey, but by the end of the three weeks, the trip became part of the makeup of their lives.  The cat's table was for "insignificant" people on the ship.  There are also some adults seated at the cat's table.  For three weeks, the boys shared adventures and lessons learned on the ship, as it traveled to England.  I didn't find their journey to be especially interesting, although others in my book group found it fascinating, so don't just go by my observation!

I did, however, find the aftermath of the journey very interesting, with Michael as an adult trying to sort out what the three week journey meant for him and how it affected his life. It was at this point that I began to really appreciate the author's was beautiful:

"I am someone who has a cold heart.  If I am beside a great grief I throw barriers up so the loss cannot go too deep or too far.  There is a wall instantly in place, and it will not fall.  Proust has this line: We think we not longer love our dead, but...suddenly we catch sight again of an old glove and burst into tears."

"Some events take a lifetime to reveal their damage and influence."

"We all have an old knot in the heart we wish to loosen and untie."

Great writing, don't you think?

Do I recommend the book?  I do, if only for the great writing in the second half of it.  I would love to hear how others felt about this book.

Just a side note: this is the same author who wrote The English Patient.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Anyone dealing with Wheat Belly?

Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis is quite an interesting, perhaps eye-opening book.  The book is about eliminating all wheat from one's diet.  Dr. Davis maintains that wheat in the modern day form is not the same wheat of old and is the cause of many health problems.   He even feels that the modern day wheat is addicting. He makes a compelling case.

"A wheat-free diet has been associated with significant benefits, including:
-Weight loss of 20, 30, even 50 pounds in the first few months
-Alleviation of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes
-Recovery from intestinal woes, like ulcerative colitis and celiac disease
-Marked improvement in overall cholesterol and LDL counts
-Improvement in bone density and reversal of osteopenia
-Cessation of skin conditions from psoriasis to oral ulcers and hair loss
-Reduction of inflammation and rheumatoid arthritis pain."

What more could you want?  The thing is, I am serious...what if he is right? He has lots of studies and patient trials to prove his point.  The book is very easy to read, although some of it was too much information for me.  But others may find it quite interesting.  Definitely a book to read and consider!