Wednesday, June 29, 2011

State of Wonder

During college, I spent a week in Ecuador with the Rostro de Cristo program. I remember walking to buy fresh bread in the morning, playing games with the neighborhood kids, and fighting off hoards of hungry mosquitoes.

Many of these images of South America came back as I was reading Ann Patchett’s book State of Wonder. In her latest book, Patchett writes about a research scientist for a pharmaceutical company. She has been sent to a remote jungle of Brazil to uncover the cause of her colleague’s death and assess the status of the development of a new fertility drug. Bullet ants, deadly snakes, and the unconventional doctor who heads the study are but a few of the foreboding obstacles she faces.

Again I’m writing about a book I haven’t quite finished. Its menacing tone was a little off-putting at first, but the intrigue has kept me itching to turn the pages. But that may just be those pesky memories from before.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

"Well, my young friend. Do you remain uncurious?"

"SeƱor, I confess, I maintain that position with increasing difficulty."

Like the protagonist of Barbara Kingsolver's The Lacuna, I remained somewhat indifferent to seeking out this novel. But the other day, the bold yellow and blue of its dust jacket beckoned. I've been in Rivera's Mexico ever since. Told in diary entries, the story follows Harrison Shepherd from his childhood with his Mexican mother, a short stint at boarding school near his American father, and his young adulthood working for Rivera and Kahlo and subsequently their house guest - Lev Trotsky.

As for what happens next, I'll have to let you know since I'm only about halfway through.

But maybe not giving away the ending is a good thing. I've found Kingsolver's work is best when discovered by chance. More than a decade ago, I came across one of her earlier works in the English section of a Japanese bookstore. Starved for anything in English, I grabbed it mainly because of its thickness. My plan for stocking up on reading material backfired. Instead of savoring it slowly over the next few weeks, I greedily finished it in a few days.

Curious? I hope so.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Mermaid Vs. Panda

As I was doing an inventory of the kids' books the other day and making sure we didn't accidentally pack any library books, I realized to my chagrin that my daughter owns not one but FOUR books featuring Barbie. With an endless cast of characters who have names ending in -liah and at least one magical puppy, these books are painful to read out loud.

Luckily in my hunt, I unearthed a book from behind the bed that is more interesting to read and will capture even a two-year-old's attention. Zen Ties by Jon J. Muth features a panda named Stillwater. His nephew Koo has come for a visit. Together they picnic with Stillwater's friends and help comfort the neighborhood curmudgeon who is under the weather. She softens under the kind attention and teaches them how to make apple tea.

With its beautiful illustrations and compelling storyline, this is one book that will not get lost in the move. As for Barbie...

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Take That, Read This

All it takes is a little sibling ribbing to resume. To recap my reads for the last few months - Anthony Doerr.

I started About Grace while on a plane. I don't remember a word of the safety spiel or what flavor the peanut was I dropped between the seats. Instead I remember snowflakes and floods, Caribbean heat and Oedipal fear. Doerr's substantive details withstand the busiest of reading environments. It can be somewhat of a nail-biting read, but the landing is spot on.

Next came Memory Wall, a book of short stories dealing with memories and loss. Disturbingly well-crafted.

Then I arrived at The Shell Collector, another collection of stories. A boy loses his sight and is turned on to the fascinating textures of sea life. A wilderness hunter travels into civilization to marvel at his wife's magic. (Drunken) fishermen vie for the biggest fish in Europe.

Finally, summer reads to feel good about. I should know. This book and this one are waiting on my nightstand.