Reading Challenge #6

Oh, my…  I believe that “Lincoln in the Bardo” is one of the best books I have ever read.  I am moved beyond words at this beautiful story, so uniquely told.

The title intrigued me right away, as I am familiar with the Tibetan Buddhist definition of Bardo: “a state of existence between death and rebirth, varying in length according to a person’s conduct in life and manner of, or age at, death.”

Bardo is the “in-between place” a “transitional state,” the period of the afterlife between two states, sort of like a waiting space before you enter into your next birth (or not).  I would say this applies to the bereaved, as well as the deceased. If you’ve lost a loved one, you know that it takes some time of grieving before you can transition to the reality of your life without them.

At the time of his 11-year-old son Willie’s death,  it was reported that Lincoln often visited the crypt where he was interred to hold his son’s body.  Note that:  he would go to the mausoleum, pull the corpse out of the coffin, and Hold his son’s Body.  The grief that one can feel in that image is the essence of this book and has been fully and imaginatively depicted, told by the deceased in the cemetery who remain in the bardo.

The conversations are more like rambling monologues, all speaking at once, creating a cacophony of thoughts of past lives, current obsessions, and watching as Willie is laid to rest, watching as his father removes him from his “sick box”, watching as Willie waits for his father to return. There are “historic references” interspersed between the dialogues (monologues?)   Lincoln does return, and the ending is so True…

The story is told in such a unique way—like a play—and yet each character becomes as real as a dream.  I’ve always enjoyed George Saunders’ short stories, but this format is as brilliant as his prose is moving, presenting Lincoln’s grief so poignantly that it will break your heart.

I haven’t done it justice, really.  You just need to read this one…

Next up is “A book set in a place you want to visit”….hmmm

definitely not the bardo…

Peace

Reading Challenge: Nos. 4 & 5

I cheated a little.

#4 challenge was “A book with a color in the title”.

Whilst searching for such a book, I wanted something kind of short, frankly.   We’re so busy in the garden that I’ve gone into REM before I can get in my usual bedtime reading, but I’m determined to complete this challenge.   When I came across “A Study in Scarlet”, 108 pages of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, I was delighted.  I had read several Sherlock Holmes mysteries, but not this one, and it just so happened to be the First!  To top it off as an inspired choice,

#5 on the challenge is “A book that’s more than 100 years old”, so I get a twofer…

Plus, I love detective stories starring old-fashioned sleuths like Nero Wolfe, Hercule Poirot, and, of course, Sherlock Holmes. Holmes has been the most portrayed fictional character in film history: 75 actors have played him in 211 movies. Having seen many of those movies before I read the books, I pictured him as Basil Rathbone, a fella who never did much for me, so I judged them a little stuffy.  It wasn’t until Benedict Cumberbatch and the excellent BBC series “Sherlock” that I picked up a collection and, envisioning Cumberbatch, fell in love with Sir A.C. Doyle’s cerebral detective.

A Study in Scarlet (1888)

Ward, Lock & Co. published the first separate book edition of A Study in Scarlet in July 1888.  This small and fragile 7×5 inch book had paper covers glued to the spine and included six line drawings for the story by Charles Doyle, the author’s father.  Shown here is the rare first impression.  A second impression, issued in March 1889, came with a slightly different cover.

 

Study in Scarlet 1888 Ward Lock cover

 

A Study in Scarlet, 1888, First British Edition.

Lent by Dr. Constantine Rossakis.

Photo © Private Library of Constantine Rossakis, M.D.

(from the website http://www.bestofsherlock.com)

 

Can you imagine a time when Sherlock Holmes hadn’t been created?  Detective fiction started with the 1841 publication of Poe’s “Murder in the Rue Morgue”, featuring the brilliant and eccentric C. Auguste Dupin.  There were some others following, but it’s intriguing to imagine what an impact this story made to our reading world.

 Part one of this very first Sherlock Holmes story is subtitled

Being a reprint from the Reminiscences of John H. Watson, M.D., Late of the Army Medical Department.  

 Watson is a British surgeon whose health was ruined in one of those unending wars in Afghanistan.  He’s drifting around, lost and depressed.  He needs a flatmate, as does Holmes, and they are brought together by a mutual friend.  From the first, Sherlock is already Sherlock, seeing clues and putting them together instinctively to Wow the room with his brilliant deductions.  Watson is amazed at his jaw-dropping genius.  It all goes along and Sherlock solves the crime…but…Suddenly, you are in Part Two, subtitled

The Country of the Saints

 This is a totally different book full of Mormons and frontiersmen and no Sherlock.  I almost thought that there had been a problem with the printing and another book had been mistakenly placed there, but I kept reading.  I was transported to another time, another place.  Somehow everything ended up coming together and this story is as riveting as the happenings on Baker St.

You ought to read it.  It’s great.  And it took me a lot less time to read than it did to write this post.  I actually finished it up last week and am now working on

 #6 of the challenge…A Book you chose for the cover…

I’m reading “Lincoln in the Bardo” because its cover said “Lincoln in the Bardo” and that is a book I want to read…

I’ll tell you all about it later…

Peace

Reading Challenge: #3

#3 on our book challenge list:  Read a young adult novel.

Coincidentally, Kindle First free books offered up just such a tome, “The Odds of Loving Grover Cleveland”, so my choice was made.

It’s been a while since I read a YA novel, but the kids-in-the-nurse’s-office (KITNO) often had their heads buried in Twilight or Mockingjay or The Perks of Being a Wallflower.  I considered those titles, and still do.

Grover Cleveland, however, was a pleasant little book that I read in a couple of sittings while we were on vacation. It’s the story of Zander, a girl from Arizona who is sent to a camp in Michigan for troubled teens.  The teens at Camp Padua are cutters, bulemics, anorexics, compulsive liars, rule-breakers…and some have even tried to break Rule #1: thou shalt not kill thyself.

Zander  seems so normal compared to her bizarre cabin mates.  A straight-A student, she dutifully follows her mother’s extreme eating rules. She wins swim meets to please her father. She’s the perfect teen daughter every parent dreams of, so what’s she doing at a camp full of crazy kids?

Zander meets Cassie, an abrasive, foul-mouthed anorexic girl who slings insults and hides pills.  Zander and Cassie become friends with Grover Cleveland, a kid who is convinced that he is going to grow up to be shizophrenic like his father.  There is Alex Trebek, a compulsive liar (is that his Real name?), who is hilarious.

While a lot of the conversations were so witty and wise that they seemed unrealistic, I’ve heard some pretty smart-ass, messed-up kids that really are that funny/tragic.  Unrealistic was the part where the camp counselors don’t seem to be watching the kids very closely….

We find out Zander’s tragic secret (the reason she is at camp).  Her friendship with Cassie saves her (Cassie).  Grover and Alex are a hilarious duo.  I laughed one minute, cried the next…  Everything ends predictably, but happily, and they all agree to meet up back at camp next year.

The author, Rebekah Crane, writes the dialogues well, keeps the scenes moving, and develops these characters into kids we’re really rooting for.  As mentioned, I’ve been around a lot of kids with emotional problems and I wish they all could meet a Grover, though they would probably dismiss Zander as too “prep” for them.

I love happy endings, but these are kids, and I find myself wondering how things turned out in the long run.  If Ms. Crane writes a #2, I’ll be right there to catch up with them.

Next up on the challenge:  Read a book with a color in the title.

Peace

 

Reading Challenge: #2

It was a pleasure to knock out #2 on my Reading Challenge:  Read a collection of short stories.

Quite a while back, I decided to write short stories. I have loved the genre since reading “The Night the Bed Fell” (James Thurber)(yes, I am that old) and it seems to suit my particular strain of laziness.   To educate myself, I bought up several “Best American Non-Required Reading” collections, edited by Dave Eggers, and dove in.  Intimidated by the brilliance of writers, I was inspired to just read…

So I have quite a nice collection of short stories by the likes of Eudora Welty, Alice Munro, Kurt Vonnegut, George Saunders, Flannery O’Connor, Frank O’Hara, Alice Walker, and others.   I do not necessarily read all of them completely (the beauty of short stories), and I wanted to choose one that I hadn’t started yet.  It was between Frank and Alice, and Ms. Walker’s was shorter.

Can I assume that you are familiar with Alice Walker’s books?  At least, The Color Purple?  She is one of my favorite authors, as well as one of my most admired people.  Go here  to find out all about the woman.

When it was originally published in 1973, the  subtitle for this book was “Stories of Black Women”.  (I wonder why this edition decided to truncate it?  These are stories of black women.) The reader is immediately dropped into tense, sad stories of everyday people frequently having horrifying things happen to them. Some have a sense of hopelessness. Most have the context of reluctant, but inevitable acceptance of the long centuries of abuse and mistreatment of blacks by whites.  Like Lemonade, these stories speak from a perspective that is nothing like my own, but Walker’s poetic prose blends tragedy and comedy, recognizing the absurdity of the situation while staying in touch with the emotions that her protagonist can’t quite articulate. Even the villains have depth.  This book was incredible.

Every story is a gem.  Some of them tear your heart out, and I had to close my eyes as I read the particularly troubling, “The Child Who Favored Daughter”.   “The Welcome Table,” is a parable worthy of JC.

Fans of Flannery O’Connor should definitely check out this most perfect collection of short stories. While firmly placed in a Southern Gothic tradition, Walker applies her  Womanist values to create a unique artistic space in which to look at Southern Black women in all sorts of crises, without flinching at the racism, sexism, and ugliness.

Next up on the reading challenge:   Read a Young Adult Novel…

Peace

Reading Challenge, anyone?

Attention, Readers!  Are you wondering what to read next?

My favorite used-book store, Better World Books,  put out an interesting 2017 Reading Challenge.  Instead of them assigning you some books to read, you pick your own from their prompt.  They started the first of the year, so they are well ahead of us, but we could start now and see how many of the 25 challenges we complete before the end of the year..!  I have tried to link you to the list, but the best I can do is to link you to the blog and you’ll have to dig a little for it here

Let’s get started!  I’m headed to the library to choose a book to fulfill the first challenge:

Read a food memoir…

Ideas?  Suggestions?  What are You going to read?