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: #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

Remember the Book Challenge?

From 2/9/17:

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?……

The food memoir I chose:

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle:  A Year of Food Life

by Barbara Kingsolver

with Steven L. Hoff and Camille Kingsolver

animalvegetable

With Barbara Kingsolver as our guide, we live out the year that she took her family from Tucson, AZ to a farm in Virginia to homestead, specifically eating only from their own garden or from local growers.  Kingsolver preaches quite a bit about the evils of the agriculture industry, but she writes so well that you don’t mind the manipulation..at first. I think she could have cut the diatribe short, and her husband’s contributions were pretty technical and dry.  Kingsolver was at her best as she took us through her year of growing and learning from the land and its seasons.    Her daughter, Camille, provides little journal-type entries that include interesting and doable recipes.  They have some funny moments with their animals (they raise turkeys, chickens, cows), and overall the family seems to just delight in their project.   It’s not only their story, but also has a huge amount of information about topics ranging from organics to lactose intolerance, to bad attitudes toward food.

I’m inspired to become totally locally sourced…but…I can’t imagine not having my blueberries and strawberries in winter.  We can’t let them go to waste…  When I walked by the asparagus at the grocery store today, I felt guilty for the longing I felt.

What the author and her family did is out of reach of most, if not all, of us (they are obviously well-off and living on a family farm in Appalachia).   They planned this for years, knew exactly what they wanted, and the 2 daughters are remarkably well-adjusted.   I can really appreciate the work, and their love of it, but I’d make a terrible farmer…too lazy.

Overall, I thought this book was just okay.  It is good for reference.  I like the recipes, and Kingsolver’s prose is seductive.  As mentioned, she’s a little preachy.   The book has a website (click here) with recipes, farm tours, and book info that I highly recommend.

When I was a visiting nurse, my “route” was up in Warrick County farmland, worked by the 80-year-olds who had spent their lives turning that earth.  They were the most inspiring folks I’ve ever come across and I started gardening because I wanted to be like them.   I do my best, and I’m planning a bigger, better garden this year, so this lovely book has reinforced my commitment to growing.  I’m also determined to meet more local growers and am looking forward to Farmers Market season in my area.

Next up on the challenge:

Read a collection of Short Stories…

Oh, good, that’s an easy one…

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?