Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Book Blitz

Ok, here it is. The list and thumbnail review of every other book (besides the ones listed in the previous post) that I have read since mid-June. I've got to find my groove on the regular postings once again, but am doing these annotated lists to get myself current and start again with a clean slate. It was horrible being immobilized for so long with back pain, but I did get an amazing amount of reading done - some of it wonderful, some only so-so. Here goes...

Magic Time - by Doug Marlette. A novel about Mississippi during the Civil Rights Movement. Marlette does a good job of weaving real history and people with fictitious characters, making the narrative that much more believable. If you like Civil Rights era stories, you should pick this one up.

36 Arguments for the Existence of God - by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein. A satirical novel about academia and the ongoing philosophical and ontological debates about the presence of a Creator/Divine Being. It's a good story, and at times hilarious. However, even as she lampoons the hubris of academia, Goldstein also participates in it (she has a Ph.D in philosophy). There is a "look how smart I am" tone to the writing that eventually grates. But two of her characters (Lucinda Mandelbaum and Jonas Elijah Klapper) encapsulate the insufferable nature of some (not all) academics.

The 19th Wife - by David Ebershoff. A fictional look at the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (also known as Mormons) and they polygamous lifestyles. Weaves in a juicy murder mystery, but also gives us a lot of history of the FLDS and the twisted, patriarchal theology of polygamy.

Lark and Termite - by Jayne Anne Phillips. This was a re-read for a sermon series, and I loved it even more the second time. Beautiful story about unconditional love, mysticism, and self-sacrifice. A must read.

Every Last One - by Anna Quindlen. Quindlen's novels do not disappoint. Her characters are terribly real. This one deals with a mother and a son groping their way through the days after unspeakable tragedy hits their family. The only disadvantage is that her writing is so smooth and goes past so quickly that I frequently devour her books in a day or so and then cannot remember them very well afterwards. But still very much worth reading.

Songs Without Words - by Ann Packer. A novel about long-term friendship, and how two women handle it when the bonds of their friendship are tested and challenged. How do we cope when life circumstances stretch our patience with the people who are most important to us? Packer shows us a realistic scenario that depicts a rent in a relationship and its fragile, tentative repair.

Hunger and Happiness - by L. Shannon Jung. I actually have a review of this coming out in the Presbyterian journal Interpretation. A thoughtful meditation on how millions of people in the world are starving while the rest of us live in excess. Jung writes convincingly about how the spiritual health and happiness of all of us is inextricably tied to that of our neighbors, and how helping those in need also feeds our souls. Definitely worth reading.

Homer and Langley - by E.L. Doctorow. A moving novel about two brothers who actually did exist in the early to mid-20th century. They were smart men who lived together in a large house in Manhattan, but over time they became isolated hoarders. Raises questions about what constitutes a "good" life, how we care for one another, and when our neighbor's "business" should become our own.

True Compass - by Edward M. Kennedy. Like them or not, the Kennedys are fascinating people. This is Ted Kennedy's memoir, and it is interesting to read his personal reflections on some of the major historical events of the last 60 years, including the assassinations of two of his brothers (JFK and RFK). Even acknowledging that Kennedy no doubt put his own spin on things and of course believed that his views were the correct ones, I was touched by his admissions of his own responsibility for the failure of his first marriage, his being haunted by the death of Mary Jo Kopechne, his candid discussion of his own faith, and his humble acknowledgment of his own ongoing need for redemption and grace. Shows a depth to the man that went far beyond his partying playboy image.

Oh the Glory of It All - by Sean Wilsey. If you had a weird childhood, read this. You will realize that you are not the only one. Wilsey's memoir is funny at times, but also sad. His two incredibly self-centered parents pretty much let him raise himself. The results could have been disastrous, but incredibly Wilsey is a together guy who is now a sensitive, responsible parent.

Prayers for Sale - by Sandra Dallas. A sweet story about the power of a mentoring relationship between an older and younger woman who both have suffered the loss of a child. Full of colorful characters (the quilting group reminded me of the lively cast of How to Make and American Quilt) and poignant moments. Melancholy in places but ultimately hopeful and life-affirming.

Madness Under the Royal Palms - by Lawrence Leamer. Leamer is probably most known for his biographical work on the Kennedy family. This is a non-fiction book about society and snobbery in Palm Beach, Florida. Honestly, those people need to get a life. If Leamer's portrayal is accurate, those are some of the most vapid, self-absorbed, clueless persons on the planet. Completely morally and spiritually bankrupt. Interesting read about boring people.

The Perfectionist: Life and Death in Haute Cuisine: by Rudolph Chelmenski. The chronicle of the rise and fall of French chef Bernard Loiseau. Largely self-taught, he became an accomplished enough cook for his out of the way restaurant to earn the coveted Michelin "three stars" designation. However, the pressure of maintaining that status, and the rumor that he might lose it, became too much for him to endure. Loiseau committed suicide in 2006. Thought-provoking look at our need for recognition and adulation that went to tragic extremes in this one man. Also contains lots of fascinating history of French cuisine and its major innovators.

The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates: by Wes Moore. Compelling read (non-fiction) about two kids with the same name, close in age, who grew up in the troubled neighborhoods of West Baltimore. One became a Rhodes scholar. The other is serving a life sentence without possibility of parole for murder. Reinforces the need for stable support in young kids' lives, and the power of community to pull someone away from the brink. One sentence stuck with me especially. Moore writes: "The tragic truth is that my story could have been his. The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine." The story inspires the reader to pay attention and to let our young people know we care about them.

The Women - by T.C. Boyle. If you enjoyed Nancy Horan's Loving Frank, you will also like this. It is a biographical novel about the architect Frank Lloyd Wright and the series of women with whom he had relationships in his adult life. It covers some of the same ground that Horan's novel did - Wright's long-term affair with Mamah Borthwick Cheney and the burning of his mansion Taliesin by a disgruntled employee - but also his subsequent relationships after Cheney.

Unsqueezed: Springing Free from Skinny Jeans, Nose Jobs, High Heels, and Stilettos - by Margot Starbuck. A hilariously true book by a fellow Presbyterian clergywoman about how we as women get too caught up in our culture's idea of beauty. Starbuck challenges us to spend the time and money that we normally spend obsessing about our looks and redirect those resources to living in closer relationship with each other and especially people in need.

The Vagrants - by Yiyun Li. A haunting novel about Communist China in the immediate aftermath of Chairman Mao's Cultural Revolution. Li has captured the suspicion and fear that people under a totalitarian government must constantly live with, as well as the small acts of kindness and grace that people extend to one another in spite of those fears.

America America - by Ethan Canin. A novel about the political climate of 1972, with a fictional presidential candidate thrown in with all the real ones. Narrated by a young boy who finds himself swept into the maelstrom of a political campaign before he understands the flawed nature of leaders and the contrasts that lie within the human heart. Canin writes some sentences that are hauntingly beautiful and heartbreakingly true, but somehow the pacing of this story dragged for me. It's an interesting story that should be more gripping than it is. I enjoyed it but was also ready for it to end.

Well, this post and the previous one sum up about three months of reading for me. I hope each of you find something in here that interests you. Send me any recommendations that you have!

Reverent Reader


At 10/5/10, 4:30 PM , Blogger Margot said...

Hi Reverent Reader. Thanks for the shout-out. : ) Margot

At 11/9/10, 12:40 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Welcome back - good to see a list of delicious books. I am reading the last 10 pages of The Women. I like Boyle, but FLW is fatiguing me a bit.


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