Thursday, January 25, 2018

Book Riot Read Harder #13 An Oprah Book Club selection

I have tried several of Oprah's recommendations, going back to The Deep End of the Ocean and the disgraced A Million Little Pieces.  Just recently I started, The Underground Railroad, but I will not finish it I just can't get into it.  So I thought I would try a book I've been meaning to read for at least 4 years - The Road by Cormac McCarthy.  I was very excited to start it - years ago my brother and I tried doing our own book club, but it never happened. I've been saving the book to read with him.  But, since he is busy with his kiddos, I decided I'd read it.

I must be missing something - I didn't like it.  I've read apocalyptic stories before - one of my very favorite YA books is the Girl Who Owned a City by O. T. Nelson. I read and reread that book in middle school.   I didn't find the story too depressing, I just didn't like the writing style. Now, I know it won a bunch of awards, so it must be me.  But, I read it, so that's done.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

#MMDRead: A book recommended by someone w/ great taste - The Nightingale

Years ago my mother-in-law recommended The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, and my mother-in-law is a reader of great and varied tastes.  I found a signed copy at a library sale, and it's been sitting on my shelf.  Several people in the Silent Book Club have been talking about the book, so I decided to settle in and read it. (It's a chilly winter in Kansas, BTW).

I generally enjoy historical fiction, especially WWII historical fiction, and I've read numerous ones over the years - along with teaching ones like Number the Stars by Lois Lowry and The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen.  Several years ago I read Sarah's Key  and it still sticks with me.

The Nightingale is the story of two French sisters during the occupation of France by Germany. As young girls, their mother died and they were sent to live at other people's home and boarding schools.  They grew in seperate directions - Vianne settles into the country-side and married, Isabelle rebels and gets kicked out of school.  When the Germans invade Paris, Isabelle is sent to Vianne's, whose husband was sent to Germany.  Not content to be invisible, Isabelle becomes part of the resistance and leads downed Allied pilots to Spain.  Vianne's house is used to billet  a German captain, who is nice and homesick. However, situations escalate and the sisters have to make difficult choices.

There is a little non-linear storytelling, as one of the sisters are invited to a reunion in the 1990s. The reader doesn't learn which one until the very end.

I enjoyed the book and was constantly asking myself, "What would I do?  How much would I compromise?"  And, that is one of the reasons we read fiction - to create empathy.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Sharing Knife: Beguilement

Fantasy is my escape genre - especially series.  I've read and re-read Sharon Green, Mercedes Lackey, and Lisanne Norman across the years. I stumbled on The Sharing Knife series by Lois McMaster Bujold through GoodReads recommendations.  It was a fun, easy read that drew me into the world of Farmers (average folk) and Lakewalkers (magical protectors) which is being menaced by dark forces called malice that consumes and twists life.  Fawn, a farmer on the run from an embarrassing family problem, runs into Dag, a lakewalker, and inadvertently helps him destroy a malice.  Through this, they bond, even though their backgrounds and abilities are very different.

I enjoyed escaping into the world. Like many other sci-fi or fantasy stories, Fawn begins to learn her value in the world, that goes beyond what others think about her as she develops her own voice and choices. (Though there is an undercurrent of Prince Charming at the rescue.) 

Saturday, January 6, 2018

A Piece of the World

That year I discovered  The Silent Book Club. The idea is simple - people who love books and want to read books, sometimes gather together and sometimes talk about them.   I went to one event in my town - but it was a bust.  However, there is a thriving and interesting Facebook group. I've been reading people's recommendations and engaging in some conversations about books.  It was through the Facebook group that I read about A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline, who also wrote The Orphan Train.

One of my very favorite authors is Susan Vreeland, who often writes about art and artists.  I heard her speak at NCTE one year and she read part of Life Studies and I was hooked. I loved and reread her book Luncheon of the Boating Party, which tells the story, based on research, of the painting by Pierre-Auguste Renoir.  I enjoy considering the stories behind the works of art that I admire - like Clara and Mr. Tiffany which tells the story of the women who designed and worked at the Tiffany light company, but got no credit for their art and work.

A Piece of the World is in the same style - the author researched the people and places that influenced the painting by Andrew Wyeth called Christina's World.   It shows a young woman in a pink dress in a field crawling and reaching toward a large colonial farmhouse.  The artist spent summers with the subject of the painting, Christina Olson. Using a non-linear narrative, Kline traces Christina's story from her grandmother's stories of their family in Salem, through her childhood, first love, death of her parents, and introduction of Andrew Wyeth, the artist.  At times, it was hard to track the story as each chapter shifted time periods.  It was also fairly bleak - as the once thriving bed and breakfast at the colonial farmhouse dwindles to just Christina and her brother Alvaro.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Bright Hour: Book Riot Task #1 A book published posthumously

I've joined the Book Riot Read GoodRead group and have been enjoying browsing people's ideas for their reading tasks.  I've never really had a plan for my reading, though I know both Lucy Calkins and Donalyn Miller encourage teachers to help their students' develop plans for reading. Or, as one I've the teachers I've worked with would say, "What's on deck?" (Baseball metaphor).  I'm enjoying the mild structure of a task without the rigidity of a list.

Someone suggested the book Bright Hour by Nina Riggs.  I've hesitated to read things like The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch or When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, even though they are highly recommended, because my parents' deaths are still too fresh for me.  But, when I read the Nina Riggs was related to Emerson, I was intrigued.

When my father was taken off of chemo and put on hospice, he was told it could be weeks or days.  After almost 7 years of chemo, there was nothing else that they could try for his colon cancer that metastasized to the liver.  It was mid-March, and when the Jung Garden catalog came, he still planned for a garden.  The week after Mother's Day (the unofficial start of planting season), Dad and I were in the front of the house planting flowers.  It struck me that there was a good chance that he would not eat any of the produce of the garden, but he had ... not hope... but acceptance that life would continue and things would continue to grow without him and we could enjoy it. He died July 1st. After that, Mom and I had fresh tomatoes, fried zucchini, and wilted lettuce (see recipe), mid-summer.  Although I know we are all mortal and death can come at any time, I wondered,  how does one feel when the countdown begins - the inevitable becomes now.

Nina Riggs articulated a lot of what I imagine my parents thought, felt, and said to each other. Dad did not want to leave, he fought as long as he could, and he was concerned about what would happen to his family after he was gone. But in the midst of that, he also lived - like Nina.  He got up each morning and lived - watched movies, read the paper, had coffee and muffins with his sister, and prayed.

I know this post isn't so much about the book, but more about me - yet isn't that one of the reasons we read? To make sense of our experiences and get perspective on them?   It was a good book, I enjoyed the deftness of Nina Riggs in her use of language and connecting her story with the stories and authors before her.  Her story was filled with the ordinariness of life alongside the profound reckoning of death, but without self-pity. 

Right after I finished reading, this story was posted about her surviving spouse: Two dying memoirists wrote bestsellers about their final days. Then their spouses fell in love. For me, that was like seeing Dad's garden after his death - it was sad, but also nourishing.   It also reminded me that all things are transient. "This too, shall pass. When things are bad, remember: It won't always be this way. Take one day at a time. When things are good, remember: It won't always be this way. Enjoy every great moment."

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Book Riot Read Harder 2018 Task #15, 16, & 17

I've finally read The City of Ember series by Jeanne DuPrau, and it fulfills Tasks 15-17. 15) A book in one sitting, 16)  The first book in a new-to-you YA or middle grade series, and 17) A sci fi novel with a female protagonist by a female author.   I started The City of Ember and just kept downloading the rest from the library, and I read the whole series in two days.

Although, I have to admit, I only skimmed the third one because it seemed like a lecture and was only tangentially related to the other three (plus, it hits too close to home right now with potential nuclear war).

In some ways, it reminded me of the Pern series by Anne McCaffrey - one of my very favorite authors.  Both deal with the loss of history and memory over time and the importance of literacy.  I wish I were still in the middle school classroom, because I'd love to recommend and talk with students about the series.

A couple of quotes I'd like to remember:

“The trouble with anger is, it gets hold of you. And then you aren't the master of yourself anymore. Anger is.”
― Jeanne DuPrau, The City of Ember

“When someone has been mean to you, why would you want to be good to them?' 'You wouldn't want to. That's what makes it hard. You do it anyway. Being good is hard. Much harder than being bad.”
― Jeanne DuPrau, The People of Sparks

"It wasn't because they had extraordinary powers, really, but because of how well they used the ordinary powers everyone had: the power of courage, the power of kindness, the powers of curiosity and knowledge.”

Jeanne DuPrau, The Diamond of Darkhold

Monday, January 1, 2018

Waking In Time - #MMDRead a book in one day

I learned how to get Kindle books from my local library.  I know that it isn't hard, but I hadn't sat down to set up accounts etc. until now.   I am such a lover of paper books - the feel, the smell, the ability to browse - that I have procrastinated in moving to a Kindle.  But, I do love being able to check-out books from my couch!

I stumbled on Waking in Time by Angie Stanton as I browsed the Kindle book - UW-Madison stood out bolding in the summary.  I knew I had to read it, having recently graduated from UW.  The first few chapters hit all the major locations on campus with accuracy and nostalgia.  I'm also a sucker for a good time-travel story and I love the attention paid to how the campus changed over time.  That is one thing I'd be fascinated with had I journeyed like Abbi - she travels backward in time, about a decade at a time. Her connections are to a forward traveler, Will; a physics professor who tries to figure out time travel; and her recently deceased grandmother's quilt and hat box filled with hints to a mystery.  Each time Abbi travels, she has to figure out her place in the era while trying to connect the pieces of the mystery, plus she falls in love with Will.

It was a fast and delightful read - especially knowing all the UW-Madison landmarks. This was a fun, first book for my #MMDRead #MMDChallenge - a book to read in one day!