Thursday, October 26, 2017

We May Not Finish the Book... but we always finish the beer

Tonight was a first. Not only did I not finish Pet Sematary, I didn't ever start it! Yet I went to the meeting and drank the beer.

I've read some Stephen King (Carrie, The Shining, and 11/22/63). I was in college when I read Carrie and The Shining. My reading preferences were different. I loved 11/22/63. But then again, I really enjoy speculative (historical) fiction. When Books & Beer started tossing around Stephen King novels for tonight's meeting, I hoped they'd pick a good one. Pet Sematary didn't sound like something I'd enjoy but I did plan to at least start it.

Came home after the meeting where it was selected and tried to request the e-book from any of the libraries I have access to. Hard to believe that only one of the libraries owns the e-book. I went to request the print book from my local library. They don't own it. I put in the request for the e-book and decided then and there that if I got the book, I'd try to read it. If I didn't get the book, I wouldn't worry about it.I didn't get the book.

I was one of only two at the meeting who hadn't read the book. I probably should have read a summary about the book. I'd only read a little blurb explaining the spelling of the title. I had no clue what anyone was talking about. If there's a next time, I suppose I should at least read a synopsis. I sat quietly, taking it all in. I asked one question and one question only. Did anyone have any idea why the book was so difficult to find? A few people had different thoughts on that so it wasn't a totally stupid question.

I'll be curious to see when I come to the top of the e-book list and receive notification that the book is available for downloading. Otherwise, I'm ready to move on to next month's title, The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

When Breath Becomes Air - after the meeting

In August, I read and reviewed When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalinithi back in August. You can read my review here. This was a book I only liked, but I was anxious for the book club discussion which I correctly expected to be excellent.

My community book club had a very small turnout for the discussion of “When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi. This memoir was penned by a physician who received a diagnosis of Stage IV lung cancer at the age of 36. Did people not want to read a book about death and end-of-life decisions? Did people not want to discuss it? Those in attendance were all in agreement that the book wasn’t really a downer. Of the six members attending, two liked the book and 4 loved the book. All agreed that this is a book they could easily recommend to others. 

Dr. Paul Kalanithi was determined to live every moment of his life until he wasn’t living any longer. Everyone determined that the theme of the book was living a purposeful life. Further discussion not only involved determining what Kalanithi’s purpose was and what made his life meaningful, but purpose and meaning in general. How does one live a purposeful life? And how might they, the readers, make meaning out of their lives? Interestingly, Kalanithi always wanted to be a writer. Was this the book he wanted to write?

The group talked about the road that brought Kalanithi to his calling as a neurosurgeon. In his case, it truly was a calling. The facilitator of the discussion brought information about Kalanithi’s education that wasn’t included in his end-of-life memoir.  Kalanithi spent most of his life trying to figure out relationships. That was definitely a help for him in his chosen career and towards the end of his life. Other matters pondered were whether fears of terminal illness are larger than death itself and what place does suffering have both in life and towards death. No conclusions were reached but that was a very thought-provoking time during the meeting.

“When Breath Becomes Air” was on several best sellers lists. It was on the NY Times bestsellers list for over a year. Kalanithi has achieved prominence as a writer. He has reached so many people with his bestselling memoir. One member wondered if he would have reached such prominence as a neurosurgeon. Deliberating that was the conclusion to what all agreed was a very successful, stimulating  meeting.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

This is not a political post

I try so hard not to post anything political on my Facebook page. As I finished reading Katy Tur's memoir of covering the Trump presidential campaign of 2016, I wondered how I was going to present the book without being too political.

The memoir was interesting. I wanted it to be fascinating. I had very high hopes for it and on many levels they were met. It was much more about Katy Tur and her career than about the campaign, but that was okay. She spoke with an authentic voice and her writing style was very easy to get through. This wasn't meant to be a historical accounting by any means - although it does cover some pretty important history. It's more about Katy's life during the campaign. I'd recommend it to anyone who got to know Katy Tur and enjoy her reporting during the campaign. She also gives you much of her personal self. It was a pleasure getting to know her.

Prior to reading Unbelievable, I wondered how different correspondents got selected to cover which particular candidates. Turns out that it was probably a little more random than I'd thought about before. That was surprising. I learned why I'd never really heard of Katy Tur before.

What was very remarkable was Katy Tur's upbringing. I'd heard her speak on "Take Your Child to Work" day last spring, about how she had been in a news helicopter over LA during the Rodney King riots. At the time, I was fascinated. This part of the book did not disappoint.

Katy Tur was the embodiment of "fake news" during the last presidential campaign. She was called out often by Trump at rallies. Sometimes it seems like he was flirting with her. Other times it seems as though he was threatening. Even when he wasn't threatening, it seems as though some of the mobs at his rallies did threaten Katy. Reading about her fears was absorbing. A few times she mentioned her mother fearing for her safety. My kids are not much younger than Katy is. Putting myself in her mother's place, there would have been a very fine line between being proud of my daughter for the job she was doing and frantically worrying about her safety at all times. Not to mention what a grueling job it is to follow a presidential campaign from start to finish. She covered the campaign with polish and class.

I think that's all I'm going to say.

Feel free to comment or ask questions about the memoir. Please don't post anything political. Thanks.

Monday, October 9, 2017

My library

I am on the Board of a club whose monthly meeting is held at my local library every month. Many months, I walk into the meeting room and then walk straight out when we're done.

Today, I walked into the library to see if I could find Stephen King's Pet Sematary, the October title for Books & Beer Club that I really have no desire to read. I didn't find that book. I guess our library system doesn't even own it. Oh, well.

I spent some time browsing the shelves and added at least a dozen more books, some old, some new, some fiction, some non-fiction, to the list I have running in my head of books I'd like to read.

If only there was more time for reading...

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Miller's Valley

At about 5 o'clock this morning, I finished Miller's Valley by Anna Quindlen. It's the coming of age story of Mimi. It's also the story of a place, Miller's Valley, and it's the story of the Miller family. Mimi tells us her story of growing up from the vantage of "older" age. Can't say old age since my age is pretty close to Mimi's in the epilogue of the novel.

The book was a comfortable read. There was lots in the book that I could relate to. Could easily relate to. I'm happy to report that I had an easier life than Mimi did, at least the years leading up to college and during college. However, there are so many universal themes to coming of age stories of girls who were born in the 1950s.

I expected the book to be a little bit more about water management and how dams can be manipulated to flood low lying areas. I was a little disappointed with the way it was relegated to a very minor sub-plot, after a much more significant build-up at the beginning of the novel. The floods and the study of the dam were more of a vehicle to prove how smart Mimi was as a youngster and as a means to manipulate the lives of some of the characters. 

I wondered what kind of rating I should give Miller's Valley. I enjoyed reading it, but I didn't really love it. The character of Mimi went to the University of Pennsylvania, just a few years earlier than I did. You'd think that would make me love a book. But Mimi was so busy working and studying (pre-med) super hard that there wasn't much at all about the University. Her mother liked to brag that Mimi was at an Ivy League school rather than "State" (which they never referred to ask Penn State - I found that interesting), but otherwise there was nothing that made me feel like that part of the novel was set at my alma mater. As a young married, Mimi and her husband lived in an apartment in Philadelphia that from her description could very easily be my daughter's apartment in Philadelphia today. But again, the Philadelphia portion of the book did not have a Philadelphia feel. I was considering giving Miller's Valley 3 stars. Maybe 3.5 would have made more sense, had there been half stars. But alas, there aren't.

When I turned the last page, I read thru the discussion questions. And that's when something about the book struck me in the head ... and in the heart. All of a sudden, my head was filled of thoughts of my own life... and I knew that this was a 4 star book for me.
1. Miller's Valley begins with an epigraph from James Baldwin; "Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition." Think about what home means to you. What does home mean for Mimi? Do you equate home more with people or places?
10. Think about a time when you had to leave home. Did you go back? Why or why not?
As did this paragraph taken from the description of the book.
Miller’s Valley is a masterly study of family, memory, loss, and, ultimately, discovery, of finding true identity and a new vision of home. As Mimi says, “No one ever leaves the town where they grew up, even if they go.” Miller’s Valley reminds us that the place where you grew up can disappear, and the people in it too, but all will live on in your heart forever.
 I'm in the process of selling the house that has been home to one member of my family or another for over 80 years. I've never really ever had to consider "leaving home" because no matter how far I roamed, or for how long, home was always there. As were my parents. Once my parents died, the house was still there. And strangely, I've always felt closer to them in the house than anywhere else. I miss them less when I'm there.

My brother, my adult kids and I have been having a tough time coming to terms with the loss of "home." Of the 5 of us, only my son lives in the area. It shouldn't feel like such a loss to us. Yet it does.

Different books effect us in different ways. It wasn't until I read the lines quoted above that I started to think about the connections I might have with the book to "loss of home." When you read something counts almost as much as what you're reading.

If you've enjoyed Anna Quindlen in the past, you'll probably enjoy this most recent book of hers.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Outlander #8

Outlander fans who were with Diana Gabaldon from early on had to wait from 2010 until 2014 to read the 8th book in the series, Written in My Own Heart's Blood. I only had to wait 5 months. 

Truly, I wasn't sure how quickly I'd pick up the 8th book, but when I went to look for Stephen King's Pet Sematary (the next Books and Beer Club book - October is our horror month) in e-book form and couldn't find it, I decided to browse the e-book catalog of one of my libraries and see what was available. When Written in My Own Heart's Blood  was available without a hold (in other words, without a wait), I grabbed it. A sign that it was time to continue with the series.

I finished this book in a record 15 days! I'm not sure if this was my favorite book or not, but I just breezed through it. And now, like everyone else who has made it to book 8, I anxiously await book 9.  Go Tell The Bees That I Am Gone is the title for the next book, but still no word on when it will be published.

I'm not sure what I loved most about this book. Part of the book was set in Philadelphia, a city that is close to my heart. I loved living in Philadelphia and I love visiting my daughter that lives there now. 
A blast of Philadelphia rushed in, fluttering the stacks of paper: smoke from a dozen nearby chimneys, an acrid stink from the manure pile behind the livery stable down the street, and the intoxicatingly resinous scent of leaves and bark and brush and flowers that was William Penn's legacy. Leave one acre of trees for every five acres cleared, he'd advised in his charter, and if Philadelphia had no quite met that ideal, it was still a particularly verdant city.
That wasn't it. Or at least that wasn't only what I really liked about the book. I guess I really enjoyed the way Jamie and Claire's story intersected with Lord John Grey's story (and that of his brother, Hal). I appreciated getting to know William a little better. We got to know Lord John's niece, Dottie, and her brother, Henry a little bit better. Many of the young people have matured and were entering relationships of their own. We got to learn more about Jamie's past through the eyes of Roger. Some of Bree's story in this installment seemed a bit far fetched. As if time travel isn't far fetched enough to begin with.

As I was reading, I tried to remember what I had and hadn't learned about the American Revolution. I realized that I knew more of the big themes rather than the smaller details. Some of the historical names were well known (George Washington, Benedict Arnold) and some seemed familiar. How much of the Revolution did I really have no idea about? A lot of it. I felt a little ignorant, but I never stopped to wonder how Claire might have known so much about the Revolution. She was born and raised in England. Her only exposure to US history was through her daughter attending school in Boston. Then I came to this bit of text, written from Claire's perspective.
"Why didn't I bloody know what was going to happen? I asked myself in frustration - and not for the first time.Why hadn't I thought to brush up on American history when I had the chance? Well, because I hadn't expected to end up in America, was the answer. Just went to show, I supposed. Pointless to spend too much time in planning, anyway, given the propensity of life to make sudden left-hand turns without warning."
That's exactly it! How do we know what we'll need to know in the future, what is important to study and when it's okay to simply go with the flow.

Another line that jumped out at me was about Henri-Christian, the dwarf son of Fergus and Marsali. He was playing with some neighbor children, those of the Phillips family.
"The Phillipses were Jewish, though, and apparently felt some kinship with a person whose differences set him apart."
 I could certainly relate to that as well.

The final bit of text that jumped out at me were some of Claire's thoughts on life in general. I read this section on the afternoon of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. The sermon at our service was about life. It's never too late to change. Make the most of life. That sort of thing. As I approach the age of 60, I often think that I had so much more time behind me compared to what I have ahead of me - even if I live a good, long life. Daunting to think about. And how often have I looked at my own hands and knuckles and wonder how did my hands get so old looking so fast. But has it been so fast?
'I can't explain,' I said, defeated. 'It wasn't there - or I wasn't looking at it - after I was shot. It wasn't nearly dying that made me look in, see it yawning there. But being so ... so bloody frail! Being so stinking afraid.' I clenched my fists, seeing the knobby bones of my knuckles, the blue veins that stood out on the backs of my hands and curved down my wrists.
'Not death,' I said at last, sniffing. 'Futility. Uselessness. Bloody entropy. Death matters, at least sometimes.'
'I ken that,' Jamie said softly, and took my hands in his; they were big, and battered, scarred and maimed. 'It's why a warrior doesn't fear death so much. He has the hope - sometimes the certainty - that his death will matter.'
Now, like every other Outlander fan, I have to wait for the next book. I'm waiting patiently for a free Starz weekend or a way to get to see Season III of Outlander on TV. Perhaps I'll pick up the novellas that go along with the Outlander series. I believe there are many of those to keep me busy while I wait.

Yes, I strongly recommend the Outlander series to anyone who is a fan of historical fiction. Or time travel. Or both. And if you like romance, all the better!