Friday, March 17, 2017

A Good Kick

We all have a curmudgeon in our lives. Someone who laments the loose morals of today’s kids. Someone who doesn’t get the Internet. Someone whose jaw twitches when the student driver stalls out when he’s teaching her how to drive a standard. Someone who takes his cat for a walk and gets hamburgers thrown at him from passing cars. Someone who gives his grandkids permission to go swimming, but only if they don’t get wet.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman chronicles the days in the life of one such curmudgeon after his wife has died. Ove is the man who is flabbergasted that the neighbors can’t back up a trailer without knocking over his mail box. On his morning inspection of his neighborhood, he muses, “Can’t a man calmly and quietly stand over a cat-shaped hole in a snowdrift in his own garden anymore?”

Only wanting to reunite with his wife, he finds suicide attempt after suicide attempt thwarted. He’s interrupted by his pregnant neighbor Parvaneh, the cat he’s reluctantly adopted, and the man whose seizure causes him to fall on the very tracks Ove is about to jump onto. This leaves him no choice but to save the man instead.

Eventually, despite his distaste for engaging with others, he begins to see a way to begin living again through small acts of kindness. Begrudgingly he concedes, “Tomorrow’s as good a day as any to kill oneself.”

And those people in your life that make you cringe or cry? They are just as likely to make you smile or even laugh because maybe like Ove’s, their hearts are too big. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

News Break

Sometimes I need to turn off NPR and turn up the song that comes on KISS FM. It helps if the kids are in the car because they actually know the lyrics.

Sometimes I need to set aside The New Yorker and dog-ear the pages of a recipe book. It helps if I don’t check the mail for a while.

Sometimes I need to eat cereal for dinner instead of salad. It helps if my husband has to work late.

Sometimes I need to log out of Facebook. It helps if I hide my phone.

Sometimes I need to close the book club book and open one of these. It helps.

Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen
For fans of Jenny Han and Nina Lacour

The Hopefuls by Jennifer Close
For fans of Maria Semple and, well, Jennifer Close

Mystic Summer by Hannah McKinnon
For fans of Emily Giffin and Elin Hilderbrand

The Ramblers by Aidan Donnelley Rowley
For fans of Claire Messud and Emma Straub

When It Happens to You by Molly Ringwald
For fans of Maile Meloy and Celeste Ng

Friday, March 3, 2017

Losing Track

This week’s challenge was to read a book set in South America by a South American author.

The Blue Line by Ingrid Betancourt opens on a middle-aged Julia in Connecticut. Blessed, or rather cursed, with the gift of premonition from the time she was a little girl in Uruguay and Argentina, Julia has always been compelled to seek out the scene of her visions in hopes of intervening.

While living in Buenos Aires as a child, she became close to her grandmother, Mama Fina, who also has visions. As Julia grows, Mama Fina helps her to analyze each vision and develop a plan to intercede. Whether it’s protecting a priest, escaping political imprisonment, or later, uncovering an affair, Julia’s experience (and foresight) is harrowing, thrilling, and horrifying to read.

It’s not an easy read. Shifting in time from 2006 America to 1970s Argentina to 2002 France and several times in between, Julia lives with Theo, meets Theo, loses Theo, and finds Theo. The reader must pay attention but is rewarded as the story begins to make sense, the loss understood.

Betancourt, herself, was held by a Colombian guerrilla organization for more than six years. If truth is stronger than fiction, Even Silence Has an End will be a knockout. 

Friday, February 24, 2017

"The cottage sat at the edge of the lough..."

Traveling to Bainbridge Island this past weekend, we happened upon this bookstore.  Browsing in the clearance section, I found a copy of TransAtlantic by Colum McCann. Standing in the aisle I flipped through it. Even though the words were familiar, I had read it a few years ago, I was mesmerized again.Taking it up to the cash register, I was charmed by the sales clerk who was so pleased I had found it. And on sale!

The title refers to journeys taken by wind, sea, and plane. Two pilots attempting to fly from Newfoundland to Ireland agree to carry a letter written by a journalist. Frederick Douglass makes an appearance on a book tour of Ireland and inspires a housemaid to seek her freedom in America.  A Senator is well-known to the transatlantic crew of British Airways for his trips back and forth from Ireland to New York, tasked with brokering peace. The journalist’s granddaughter, herself advanced in years, attempts to sell the original letter which has remained unopened.   

TransAtlantic manages the rare feat of beautifully blending plot and poetry. Read it once for the writing. Read it again for the story. And read it a third time to savor both. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

Executive Order 9066

This year local organizations are commemorating the 75th anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066 in 1942 with events titled "How Could Concentration Camps Happen?" and "Never Again."

I originally posted this in April of 2009, but contemplating the whys, hows, and consequences of the internment of US citizens has never seemed more relevant.

When I lived in Japan, the junior high school assistant principal asked me to come up to his desk one day. He handed over a small book that had belonged to his grandfather. In it were his grandfather’s notes taken in an English class. But as I read “dig the latrine,” I realized the English class had taken place in a prison camp. Both horrified and fascinated, I read through the rest of the book and carefully returned it to my boss. Hopefully my red face conveyed what my Japanese could not.

Surrounded by Hello Kitty, sushi and Ninja Warrior , it’s easy to forget there was a time when our two countries were enemies. But Sandra Dallas takes us back to that world where "Nip" does not refer to a cheese cracker.

By the third page of Tallgrass, I had to double check the cover to make sure this wasn’t Harper Lee’s long awaited second novel. Dallas’ characters channel the precocious observations and level headed charm of Scout and Atticus. In this case, Rennie (“Squirt”) and her father Loyal Stroud deal with WWII racial tensions surrounding the internment of Japanese-Americans to a camp near their Colorado beet farm.

The Strouds hire some of the camp residents to help out on the farm, and Loyal becomes the unofficial spokesman for the Japanese-are-decent-folks side of town. Hooligan Beaner Jack and his sidekick Danny do more than their share to represent the opposite view. A couple of murders, pregnancies, and telegrams from the front later, all in the town are examining where they stand.

If you like Hisaye Yamamoto and love Harper Lee, you’ll eagerly mow through Tallgrass.

Friday, February 10, 2017

"redlining on espresso"

“Did you see the mountain today?” my husband and I will ask each other on clear days. Even after a year, the view of Mt. Rainier never disappoints. Despite living only 45 miles from another iconic Seattle site, the Space Needle, we don’t see that one nearly as often. It usually takes an out-of-town visitor to motivate us to venture into the city.

In the novel Truth Like the Sun by Jim Lynch, the Space Needle is still a novelty. It’s 1962 and the World’s Fair is in its opening days. In Lynch’s books, Roger Morgan is Mr. Seattle. It is Roger that came up with the idea for the Space Needle. It is Roger that directs the fair that attracts visitors from across the nation and world, along with dignitaries such as Prince Philip and Elvis. Morgan spends his days at the fair making friends and deals. Nights see him in the underground gambling rooms spread around the city.

Fast-forward four decades. Helen Gulanos, a new hire at the Post-Intelligencer, is less than charmed by the city.  Assigned to cover Roger Morgan’s 70th birthday party, she discovers Roger is running for mayor. Even though Roger has been involved in the political world as a consultant, he has never run for office. Helen begins researching his past to find out who the man is behind the myth.

As the novel flip-flops between time periods, it takes us into the backrooms of political corruption and into the equally fascinating newsrooms of a city paper. We see the role the media plays in vetting those running for office. It also reveals the wisdom of hindsight in knowing which stories to publish and when. As Roger says, “You could line up a whole bunch of truths about anyone and still miss the ones that really matter.”

Friday, February 3, 2017

book lust

When I moved to Washington, I started hearing a woman named Nancy Pearl talking about books on the radio. Curious, I checked out her book called More Book Lust. Already hooked by the title (and subtitle: “1,000 new reading recommendations for every mood, moment, and reason”), I dug in. Trying not to feel overwhelmed, I began by browsing.

In Dewey Deconstructed, she recommends books from the naughts (where you can find Pearl’s books) to the 900s (where you can find All the Shah’s Men or Night Train to Turkistan).

The Lewis and Clark: Adventures Extraordinaire section highlights a few fictional titles about the explorers namely I Should Be Extremely Happy in You and From Sea to Shining Sea.

Since Atonement by Ian McEwan is one of my top 10, I was happy to find other Tricky, Tricky titles like Anita Shreve’s The Last Time They Met and Connie Willis’s Passage.

You can find another good list about reading a book about books hereSome of my favorites from that list include:

84Charing Cross by Helene Hanff
Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer
End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe
Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
Ten Years in the Tub by Nick Hornby