Monthly Archives: July 2015

WILL YOU OR WON’T YOU?

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As the media ratchets up coverage of the release of the Harper Lee novel Go Set A Watchman, written years ago but previously unpublished, many readers are mulling over the decision of whether or not to read this book. Some readers report they are enjoying the book, some consider it a must-read. Others voice skepticism of one kind and another.

I have been in the skeptic’s camp. The novel was an early draft of the beloved classic To Kill A Mockingbird. It became that book when a skillful editor suggested changes in viewpoint, focusing on Jean Louise “Scout” as a youngster telling the story. Entertainment Weekly reviewer Tina Jordan articulates my viewpoint better than I can. In the July 24 issue, she writes, “Look, I’m very aware of the fact that no reviewer is going to stop the Watchman juggernaut, I just want people to understand two things: First, this is all about the money, And second, reading Watchman will forever tarnish your memories of one of the most treasured books in American literature.” The Time Magazine reviewer Daniel D’Addario tells us we have what we wanted, another book by Harper Lee, more Scout Finch, but at great cost.

So while Watchman may well accurately reflect the South of the 1950s, is that what you want to read? Do you want a fleshed out Atticus Finch, struggling and real, or is the hero more comforting?

Ann Patchett spoke recently in Petoskey, MI and is quoted in the McLean and Eakin newsletter. I found her remarks helpful. She reminds us that this is Scout’s story as an adult, an adult discovering that her parent is not perfect. And, I would add, an adult discovering the layers of ideas, meanings and actions in her town. When we grow up, or as we grow older, we make painful discoveries about those we love and those we thought we knew well. It happens not just as young adults, but more often as we grow older and learn new things about people, see people through different eyes. The summary of her talk closes like this: “Remember the adage, you can never go home again.” Does she mean that if you read the newly published book, you views of Scout, Atticus, and Alabama in the 50s may be changed, perhaps less hopeful?

We all change, our ideas and our viewpoints, that’s what experience is, and reading too: new learning, traveling to different places, geographically and culturally and personally. Maybe reading this book is a risk worth taking.

Many readers are interested in your decision about this book. Will you read it? Are you reading it? Please, let us know what you think. There is no right or wrong. We want to hear what you think? Is Watchman a good read? How do you feel after reading it? What has influenced your decision?

OK! Bring it on! A lively discussion is one of the joys of reading!

WHAT SUSTAINS HUMAN LIFE?

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Station Eleven
Author: Emily St. John Mandel
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014
Hardcover edition: 333 pages
Source: Library copy

This imaginative, inventive book is a winner of many awards and a finalist for the National Book Award. Impossible to categorize, it dances across genre lines. Some call it science fiction as it colors in a future world changed by a pandemic causing the collapse of our world as we know it. A surviving troupe of traveling musicians and Shakespearean actors move through parts of Michigan entertaining others and surviving.

The author tells her story in scenes that travel between time and place in a most interesting, and always understandable way. To my mind, one of the genius aspects of this novel is the ease, connectedness and clarity she achieves as she tells this story of different people from and in different places at different times. Any reader will be convinced of the connectedness of human beings.

In an interview posted at the National Book Organization internet site, the author said she thinks of the book as a requiem to the amazing world we live in and enjoy (my paraphrase). The story is like a beautiful piece of music.

It addresses the role of art in our lives and as part of a sustainable future. For the first time, (I’m ashamed to admit) I am willing to climb to the top of the battlement and wave a flag for the importance of art in education and community. I mean that I feel its necessity with a passion that was perhaps lacking before.

The author’s attention to story, character and construction come together in beautiful prose. The experience of reading this book is a true blessing. When I come to the close of this wonderful tale, it seems clear that questioning humanness and civilization provides no easy answers.

My rating: 4 Stars. Don’t miss it.

INTERVIEW WITH INDIANA READER MINERVA BELOTE

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May I introduce a dedicated reader who is willing to share her thoughts on books and reading. Thank you, Minerva, for participating in the readeatlive/blog Reader Interview Series.

Tell us about what you are reading.

I’ve been reading books for possible selection for a book club. The Nightingale, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, A Spool of Blue Thread, A Man Called Ove, Me Before You. In between I’ve read David Baldacci’s latest book, and also Erik Larson’s book Dead Wake.

Do you have a favorite book of the last year or two? What did you like about it?

I read the book Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand several years ago and I think of the situations faced by this young soldier during WWII, his struggles during the war and then returning to civilian life. He found strength in later years to forgive his captors for their brutal treatment during his captivity.

Another book that stays with me is Gift From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. I first read it as a young mother, returning to school, caring for three children and family. I found a contentment in her words, I’ve read it since in my later years and still find an appreciation in solitude and thoughts to consider.

Do you have a favorite author or two?

An author I’ve just become acquainted with is Daniel Silva. He has written a whole series based on an Israeli spy and art restorer, Gabriel Allon. The books all revolve around espionage, lots of twists and turns and international intrigue.

Do you have a favorite genre?

I enjoy historical fiction. There is usually something to question, something I wasn’t aware of that I can research and learn more about the characters in the story as well as the time the story takes place. It’s interesting to look into character’s lives and realize often people do the best they can do under their circumstances.

What books might we be surprised to find on your shelves?

Not literature, but I still have my old set of World Book Encyclopedia 1976. With all the availability of information on the internet, I have no reason to keep this big set. They just have a spot on my book shelves and they still fit!

What book was a disappointment and why?

I can’t really think of a disappointing book. If a book doesn’t hold my interest, I feel there are so many books I’d rather read, and I just let it go.

Do you have a place you most often read, your best reading spot?

I enjoy sitting in my recliner, a cup of coffee or glass of wine depending on the time of day. I can “rest my eyes” by watching the birds at the bird feeder or taking a dip in the bird bath.

How do you decide what to read?

The title and subject are usually the first step, the author may weigh into the decision. I read the introduction, skim several pages. If I have a strong doubt, I usually return the book to the shelf. If I have a question, I may give the book a chance. If I read in earnest and it isn’t what I enjoy, I’m done with it.

What books are in your waiting-to-be-read stack?

I’m waiting on Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee and We Never Asked For Wings. I’ve read some disappointing reviews on the Harper Lee book. I loved To Kill a Mockingbird and have trouble thinking of Atticus with a racist mind set.

If you were planning a book luncheon, what authors might you invite or why?

There would be a smorgasbord! John Grisham, David Baldacci, Erik Larson, Sue Monk Kidd, Harper Lee, Daniel Silva, Jeannette Wall, Leon Uris. I would love to hear the why, the how, etc, they have developed with their stories. The research they’ve had to do, their characters real or imagined. I heard a lecture given by Jeannette Wall, author of The Glass Castle and Half Broke Horses. She told her life story behind her books. I was amazed she was so normal! She shared how her father, while they were all living out of their car, told her to pick out a star in the sky, that was hers, how no one else would own that star, how that impacted her far from normal life. How much he gave to her imagination when he could barely provide food and a place to live.

There is just so much to read, so little time! A day of bliss is spending it with a good book!

Note from the blogger: When I read through someone’s interview, I glean reading tips. Minerva reminds me I need a better place to read in my house, a place with a comfortable chair where I can put my feet up and enjoy good lighting. I plan to work on that. Minerva, I envy you your recliner.

And, I resolve to find more days of bliss. No doubt many of us agree on that one.

WHERE ARE THE WOMEN GOING?

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Girl On the Train
Author: Paula Hawkins
Publisher: Riverhead books
Genre: Fiction
Hardcover Edition: 323 pages
Source: Borrowed Copy

This quote comes to mind as I think about this book. “Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” I believe it is from Scottish poetry, Sir Walter Scott. This novel Girl On the Train, filled with what these days are called unreliable narrators, is a tangled story of a group of people, whose search for life is filled with lies. It is also described as a thriller. This reader did turn the pages in hopes of knowing who had perpetrated evil against one of their number, a young woman named Megan. But it is Rachel who is at the center of the story as a young woman who has known heartache and tried to cure it with wine and strong spirits. This tale of liars has been a best seller since its debut 24 weeks ago.

So if you want to read a modern thriller, a story of young people stumbling as they try to find their way into adult life, and don’t we all stumble, this may be the book for you. You will join legions of readers. Many readers and reviewers call this book fun. An element of the read is the search for which male character will be a hero, save the day so to speak. Something of a fun activity, perhaps? The reader will likely be surprised.

The author scrambles the timing of scenes. This adds uncertainty and ups the reading game. Or does it simple add to the tangled web? Pay attention, my teen granddaughter told me, and she was right, as usual. Her reading and interest in this book provides evidence that this book is gripping for readers of all ages.

The story may have something to say about the plight of young women today, in terms of their choices, and how society views them, as opposed to their male counterparts, or their older sisters. To many of us, young or old, life on the other side of the tracks or down the street looks so much more inviting than our own. What are the expectations of young women today? How much do they continue to bear responsibility for happiness of husband, lover, children, and friend. Is it disproportionate? Is the pain and trauma they sometimes endure deserved, of their own making, or exacerbated by societal pressures? Think of the stories of runaways, dead children, selling drugs from the kitchen etc. Think of the number of women in our prisons. It may be a short step from mindless riding of the train as a pretense for going to work to prison life a la Orange Is the New Black.

The opening of the book is particularly gripping and beautifully written. The author does well with multiple viewpoints, suspense, and structure. There is much to be admired in her presentation of the story. However, this reader felt so sad for the characters that I simply am not able to call the book fun in any sense. Admirable, gripping, well-done. Yes. Still, a sad-sack female protagonist struggling against tall odds takes the fun out of the read for me. But obviously many readers and reviewers disagree. That’s the nature of reading choices. They are personal.

WIN A BOOK OF POETRY

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“I tremble with gratitude
for my children and their children…”

This opening from a Wendell Berry poem brought to mind the heart full of thankfulness I felt at our recent family reunion. Though we don’t often think of summer as the time to read poetry, I do believe anytime is a time for poetry. It lifts the heart and soul.

So, now in the center of summer, readeatlive.com/blog is giving away five books of poetry. All have been used by this poetry reader and there are occasional notations. Still, they are gifts to be enjoyed. You could be one of the lucky winners.

Enter by commenting on this post. Click on the word “Replies” at the top of the post under the title. Finish this sentence: I would like to win a book of poetry because…..
Or say anything you would like to say. Entries will close at midnight on Friday, June 10 and poetry volumes for the winners will be mailed early the next week.

Among the poets whose work you could win are Mary Oliver, Wendell Berry and Pulitzer winner Louise Gluck, as well as others.

From Mary Oliver – “Take your busy heart to the art museum and the chamber of commerce but take it also to the forest.” That’s what a poem can do for you.

Good luck. Thanks for entering the contest.
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Ready Set Celebrate

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Happy Fourth of July to you and yours. Hope you are gearing up for a great weekend .

Family Reunion time in our clan. I’m preparing fresh veggie platters: Brass Band Bean Platter and Local Heirloom Tomato Platter with herbs, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, slices of fresh mozzarella cheese, yellow beets and olive garnish. I hope pictures and recipes will be upcoming. What are you prepping?

And do you have your week-end reading in hand? I’ve just begun (finally) The Girl On The Train. I’ll say this. It has a terrific opening. We’ll see how the rest of the book goes.

A sincere thank-you to all those who serve in our military! Our lives are enriched by your sacrifice. We celebrate you!

Wishing all the blog readers out there a special week-end. Do tell what’s happening for you!