Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Catching Up with 3 Books

Well, the good news is that I am getting a lot of reading in with this cold weather, and the bad news is that I am getting behind in my blogging.  I blame this on my recent adventures with taking up knitting! Anyway, I have gotten some good read in lately...

I read Barbara Kingsolver's newest book, Flight Behavior, for book group.  I almost always like her books, so I was pleased to have this chosen as our February pick.  I have to admit that it took me a little while in to the book before I began to be interested, but by the end, I was liking the story very much.

The story begins with a young woman, Dellarobia, climbing up a mountain in her Appalachian homeland to meet up with a younger man.  Dellarobia  was searching for meaning after becoming pregnant and marrying at age 17.  After two children and 10 years living on the farm with her husband, Cub, Dellarobia was tired of and disappointed with her life.  Her in-laws owned the farm and ran Dellarobia and Cub's life.  As she  climbs the mountain, she encounters what appears to be a raging fire.  It turned out to be butterflies...so many that it appeared that the mountain was in flames.

This strange phenomena brings the media, observers, and scientists to the area, and Dellarobia's life is changed, as is the town's life.  The study of the butterflies takes over Dellarobia's life in all areas, as she begins to work with the scientists, and is no longer "just a farm wife"  The changes challenge her home life, her marriage, and her relationship with her church and her friends.

I liked how much of the story symbolized other things...lots of comparisons to be made, most clearly, the butterflies flight behavior and Deelarobia's flight behavior...The book is based on climate change, certainly a very timely subject, and Kingsolver did an excellent job with the story to make climate change an interesting read.

Next I read a book that I came across at Books-A-Million down in Edwardsville, Illinois.  I had not heard of it, but it sounded interesting, so I gave it a try...Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin.  This book was nominated for the Edgar Award  for Best Novel....that in itself is a good recommendation for me.  I have to admit, I had trouble rading this book for the first few chapters...really until about the middle of the book...I was often confused about who and when the story was about as I was reading.  Perhaps it was just me.  I ended up enjoying the book a lot, though.  Good mystery.

The story is set in rural Mississippi and tells the story about a late 1970's disapperance of a young girl and how the incident affected those involved over the years until present time.  Two young boys became rather unlikely friends for a few months...Larry Ott was the son of parents who lived on the families land for generations, but were struggling financially.  Larry was a different...kept to himself mostly and appeared to have difficulty socially with others.  However, he met and became friends with Silas Jones, a young black boy who lived with his single mother in an old cabin on Larry's father's property.  Soon, Silas began playing baseball, became popular, and moved on into a different crowd at school and Larry watched from the sidelines.  One day, one of the more popular girls at school showed interest in Larry and she agreed to go to a movie with him.  He took her on a date to the local drive-in and she was never seen or heard from again.  With no body ever found, Larry was never charged with anything, but he became Scarey Larry and that is who he became.  Meanwhile, Silas left for college and did not return to his boyhood home for almost 20 years.  When he did return he became the constable.  Larry was living there as a mechanic and avoided contact with most people (as they did him). 

Then another girl disappeared and again, all eyes were on Larry.

What happens after this became the most interesting part of the story for me.  Silas is forced to confront his past and secrets are revealed.

This was a good book...good mystery and not predictable to me.  I looked up the author and learned that his first book, Poachers was named as a Best First Book of Fiction by Esquire and that he received a 1999 Edgar Award for the title story.

Home, by Toni Morrison, is her most recent book.  It has been presented, but not chosen a couple of times at book group, so when I saw that it was out in paperback, I grabbed it up.  I didn't find Home to be as spiritual or mystical as some of her other works.  The story seemed pretty matter of fact to me.  It's a small book, but there is lots there.

Home is the story of Frank Money, a black man who escaped his life in Lotus, Georgia by joining the army with his two best friends.  The three of them ended up fighting in the Korean War and only Frank came home, a rather shattered man who could not find his way.  One day Frank got a message that his little sister, Cee, was dying back in Georgia.  Frank had always taken on the protector role with Cee and was immediately drawn back to Georgia to save her if he could. Frank arrived and took Cee out of the home where she had been working and they returned to Lotus where the older women took over Cee's recovery and Frank settled into their old home.  As Frank settled into his boyhood home, he began to face up to some old buried secrets and slowly began to discover what it truly means to come home and to be a man.

I probably will reread this book later at some point...I think that there is more to be had after the first time reading it.  I love the cover of the book...doesn't this just summarize a man coming home?


Monday, February 18, 2013

In the Sanctuary of Outcasts

I loved In the Sanctuary of Outcasts by Neil White.  It is a non-fiction book, a memoir actually, about White's year spent in prison in Louisiana.  The odd thing is that for several years, the prison also doubled as a community for people with leprosy.  White was a successful early 30's business man living "the American Dream" with money, family, fame, seemingly having it all.  However, he was in over his head and began kiting checks to cover his bills.  It caught up with him.   He was sentenced to a year and a half in prison and lost everything.

White was sent to Carville, a prison in Carville, Louisiana, that had been a sugar plantation at one time, then became The Louisiana Leper Home in 1894. It was only from 1991 to 1994 that the Home was also used as a minimal security prison. The former residents still remained living there, also.  And it was these residents who changed White forever.  As he began his sentence, he assumed that he would quickly serve his time, then return to his wife and children and begin again to build his life.  But as he began to get to know some of the residents who were living there and had lived there for years (some for most of their lives) he began to understand that there is much more to life and money and success (as he had defined it).  The dignity and wisdom of those living with leprosy began to sink into him slowly, and life began to change.

This is a beautiful, thoughtful book that seemed like a privilege to read.  I am thankful for White writing this book, and thankful for the friend who recommended it (thanks, Chrissy!).

The Maze Runner

My eleven year old grandson recommended The Maze Runner by James Dashner to me.  His recommendation?  "Best book that I have ever read."  So who could resist that? I had to order it from the library so that meant a week wait, but it arrived and I dived in.  Good book.  Very reminiscent to me of The Hunger Games.  It is an Young Adult Book, but certainly interesting enough to hold an adults attention. It is the first of a trilogy.

The Maze Runner began with Thomas awakening in the Glade with no idea where he is or what is going on.  He was surrounded by other adolescent boys who appeared to be reluctant/hesitant or refusing to tell him what was happening.  Thomas quickly learned who to trust, and who to ask questions about whatever he wanted answered.  It appeared that no one else knew how they got there either.  Outside the Glade was the Maze, which assigned Maze Runners ran every day, seeking a way out.  Meanwhile, creatures who appear mechanical wandered the Maze, mostly at night, and appeared to mean certain death if they were encountered, so it was imperative that everyone remain in the Glade during the evening until the next sunrise.  As Thomas began to adjust to being in the Glade, he struggled with trying to recall memories from his past.  And, oddly, something about the Glade seemed familiar to him.  Shortly after Thomas' arrival, a young girl showed up.  This threw everyone off balance as there had always only been boys there before.  And she seemed to have more information for Thomas.

The Maze Runner is a good mystery, that ends with the predictable ending perfect for the next book...I may read the next book at some point, but right now, I have many other books to read, so it is going to have to wait awhile.  I did find the story fairly predictable, but it is good writing and I think has good messages for young readers.  I know that my grandson flew through all three of the series, then learned that there was a prequel and he devoured it over a weekend.  You can't beat that for getting young readers interested!

Monday, February 4, 2013

A First-Rate Madness

A First-Rate Madness by Nassir Ghaemi is also titled as "Uncovering the links between leadership and mental illness"  I was, of course, attracted to the title and was curious to read it.  Dr. Ghaemi is a professor of psychiatry at Tufts University.  In the book he examined the lives of General William Sherman, Ted Turner, Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and Adolf Hitler, and touched upon some other leaders as well.  As you might guess, his premise is that they all suffered from mental illness.

I did not care for the book.  Based on my own clinical experience, I think that most (probably all) of us have some degree of any number of "disorders", just as the many disorders have great ranges of severity.  The labeling of those described in the book made me uncomfortable.  While I don't doubt that they had the disorders, I don't buy that the disorders made them leaders, or that the disorders necessarily affected their leadership and decisions.  Possible? yes, of course.  Definitely? no.

(Just as a side note: my husband found the cover of the book to be quite "creepy"!)

Fifth Business

Fifth Business by Robertson Davies was one of the books on the list of books that my Mom had left that she had wanted to read.  It is the first of a trilogy (The Deptford Trilogy).  It was published in 1970, first in Canada, then in the United States.  The author was a Canadian and the story takes place in Canada.    Mr. Davies was born in 1913 and died in 1995.  I read a bit about him on Wikipedia and he sounded like a very interesting man.  His life also sounded a great deal like the life of Dunstan Ramsay, the  main character of Fifth Business.

 Dunstan Ramsay was a man who was raised in a small Canadian town.  The first line of the book is the following:

"My lifelong involvement with Mrs. Dempster began at 5:58 o'clock p.m. on the 27th of December, 1908, at which time I was ten years and seven months old."

And that began the story of Dunstan Ramsay and his lifelong involvement with not only Mrs. Dempster, but with Percy "Boy" Staunton.  Dunny and Boy were throwing snowballs at each other, when Dunny ducked and a snowball with a rock in it accidentally hit Mrs. Dempster. As it turned out, the rest of Dunstan's life was irrevocably influenced by this one event. As Dunstan's life went on, he went off to fight in WWI and came back a wounded veteran, who had lost a leg, and was decorated with the Victoria Cross.   He settled into teaching young men for the rest of his life. The book is actually a letter/report to the Headmaster of the school, written by Dunstan because he "was deeply offended by the idiotic piece that appeared in the College Chronicle..."  that was written about Dunstan upon his retirement.  Dunstan felt that the piece left the impression that he was a senile, doddering old fool, rather than the author of many books and other accomplishments.  So he wrote this letter/report to correct the record and tell that story of his life.

What is "Fifth Business"?  Here is how it is defined by one of Dunstan's friends in the book:

"You don't know what that is?  Well, in opera in a permanent company of the kind we keep up in Europe you must have a prima donna-always a soprano, always the heroine, often a fool; and a tenor who always plays the lover to her; and then you must have a contralto, who is a rival to the soprano, or a sorceress or something, and a basso, who is the villain or the rival or whatever threatens the tenor.
So far, so good.  But you cannot make a plot work without another man, and his is usually a baritone, and his called in the profession Fifth Business, because he is the odd man out, the person who has no opposite of the other sex.  And you must have Fifth Business because he is the one who knows the secret of the hero's birth, or comes to the assistance of the heroine when she thinks all is lost, or keeps the hermitess in her cell , or may even be the cause of somebody's death if that is part of the plot.  The prima donna, and the tenor, the contralto, and the basso, get all the best music and do all the spectacular things, but you cannot manage the plot without Fifth Business!" 

And she tells Dunstan that he is Fifth Business.  It is the perfect description of him and his life. 

The book was rather slow reading at first, but picked up as it neared the end.  I will go on to read the other two of the trilogy at some point this year.  I was glad that I read it.  Good book, Mom.  I think that you would have enjoyed it!