Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Never-ending Memoir of Jayber Crow

April 27, 2008

The Sunday

Yes, I am still reading Wendell Berry's Jayber Crow. I am quite certain that this is my third week in the mind of Jayber Crow, and I am barely halfway through. I know I am not giving Berry the careful reading he deserves. He is obviously a superb writer. He is my favorite kind of writer: poetic and lyrical, with a careful ear for language. Nearly every page has a liberal dose of breathtaking wisdom. But I'm just so sleepy at night when I finally have a chance to begin reading, and I'm afraid Berry's simple profundity is overtaxing my weary brain. It's been one of those months.

I did manage to review a couple of children's books this week: three titles by Barefoot Books and a picture book called Boston Tea Party.

Tomorrow is my last American Literature class at our co-op. We'll finish discussing John Knowles' A Separate Peace, which I've been re-reading over the past two weeks. I've thoroughly enjoyed teaching this class and revisiting these eight classic novels (as well as poetry, short story, and drama) has been wonderful. Some I hadn't read myself since college, and reading with teaching in mind adds another whole dimension to the experience. In spite of how much I've loved teaching the class, I am tremendously glad that it'll be over after tomorrow! Now I can return to my regularly scheduled voracious reading.

Last week I posted the most recent books added to my TBR list. This week I'll post the ones that have been on my list the longest--the first page of the list. But first, here are the books I've added this week. I'm trying to get better about recording where I originally saw the book reviewed; my apologies to those I forget to record:

Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman (reviewed by Literary Feline)
Three Cups of Tea by G. Mortenson
Trauma and Ghost Town by P. McGrath
Papua New Guinea: Notes from a Spinning Planet by M. Carlson (reviewed by Clean Reads)

And back to the beginning of the TBR list. Some of these have been on here so long, I have no idea why I added them in the first place. If you have something to say about any of them, please do! Perhaps it'll renew my interest in some of them, as I tend to gravitate more toward more recent additions to the TBR list:

Aprons on a Clothesline by T. DePree
Mater Biscuit by J. Cannon
Queen of the Big Time by A. Trigiani
Winter Seeking by V. Wright
Minding the South by J. Reed
Sweet Potato Queen by J. Browne
Mad Girls in Love by M. West
Little Altars Everywhere by R. Wells
Living End by L. Samson
All Good Gifts by K. Morgan
Last Storyteller by D. Noble
The Departed by K. Mackel
Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote
Breakfast at Tiffany's by Capote
Summerland by M. Cabon
Short Guide to a Happy Life by A. Quindlen
Mariner's Compass by E. Fowler
God Is the Gospel by J. Piper
Heaven by R. Alcorn
Family Nobody Wanted by Doss
Other Side of the Bridge by Mary Lawson
Confederate in the Attic
Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank by Celia Rivenbark

Thus ends page one.

Post A Comment!.....


Monday, April 28, 2008 - Great List

Posted by Anonymous (

Thanks for posting on Berry. I love his writing as well, but like you, sometimes I get bogged down in him.

Thanks, too, for the list of reads and for the comment on my blog.
Andi Lit

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Monday, April 28, 2008 - Aprons on a Clothesline

Posted by Anonymous (

I loved this series. I read it a while ago-- before I had a blog or was writing reviews but I really enjoyed it. I recall that I liked Aprons even better than the first two.(I think) ;)


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Wednesday, April 30, 2008 - Untitled Comment

Posted by Anonymous (


Could you suggest some good books to read to a 4 or 5 year old? I must have read a 1000 or 2000 books, and I'm running out of ideas. I'm also getting tired of just pulling a bunch off the library shelf and hoping some of them are good. Maybe some good, but basic, little chapter books?

Christina from Oregon

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Wednesday, April 30, 2008 - Untitled Comment

Posted by SmallWorld (

I would LOVE to suggest books for kids! Give me a day or so and I'll have a post!

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Wednesday, April 30, 2008 - Untitled Comment

Posted by JenIG (

ok, that last title just made me laugh. but i have to sadly admit... a book like that is needed nowadays

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Saturday, May 3, 2008 - Untitled Comment

Posted by Margaret (

You asked for comments on the books on your list. I read Little Altars Everywhere years ago and thought it was a terrible book. All the worst aspects of contemporary fiction: bleak with no redeeming value. As I said it was a long time ago, but I still remember hating it. Check out some of the 1-star reviews on Amazon. I know that's not always the best gauge of quality, but...

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Saturday, May 3, 2008 - Untitled Comment

Posted by SmallWorld (

Margaret: thanks--I'll cross that one off my list!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Boston Tea Party

Here in our own small world, we have been immersed in the Revolutionary War era for several weeks now. This fabulous picture book written by Pamela Duncan Edwards and illustrated by Henry Cole really ties it all together in a way that was perfect for both my 1st and 5th graders. The story is actually told in imitation of the nursery rhyme "This is the house that Jack built," which sounds really silly, but it was incredibly effective. The narrative opens with "These are the leaves that grew on a bush in a far off land and became part of the Boston Tea Party" and builds from there, to ultimately lead to "These are Americans, independent and free..." In between the story of the prelude to the Revolutionary War is told. At the bottom of each page, a chorus of mice spout off more details about this time period. Sounds weird, I know, but those are smart little mice. And the illustrations are absolutely gorgeous. This is a book that needs to start being on all of the lists of "recommended reading for the Revolutionary War."

Saturday, April 19, 2008

To Kill a Mockingbird

I've been putting off this review for a couple of weeks now. How can I possibly express the utter perfection of this novel? I first read Harper Lee's phenomenal debut when I was in high school. I fell madly in love with it and read it again. Read it again in college, again in my 20s and in my 30s. It is the only book I have read more than twice (other than the Bible) since I was a child. I have always maintained that it is my favorite book, and after reading it again in my 40s, I wish that a spot existed higher than #1.

Why do I love this novel so much? I think because everything that matters is here. Jesus said that that the two greatest commandments are to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength" and to "Love your neighbor as yourself." And in this novel, Harper Lee puts these beautiful words into action through her characters. Take, for example, these quotes:

Love Your Neighbor as Yourself:
I think there's just one kind of folks. Folks. ~Scout
You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it. ~Atticus

Don't matter who they are, anybody sets foot in this house, they are company and don't let me catch you remarking on their ways like you were so high and mighty. ~ Calpurnia

Folks don’t like to have somebody around knowing more than they do. It aggravates them. You’re not going to change any of them by talking right, they’ve got to want to learn themselves, and when they don’t want to learn there’s nothing you can do but keep your mouth shut or talk their language. ~Calpurnia
On Religion vs. Following Christ
We're so rarely called on to be Christians, but when we are, we've got men like Atticus to go for us. ~Miss Maudie.

If spitting in my face and threatening me saved Mayella Ewell one extra beating, that's something I'll gladly take. ~Atticus

Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don't eat up people's gardens, don't nest in corncribs, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts our for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird. ~Miss Maudie

Footwashers believe anything that's pleasure is a sin. Did you know some of 'em came out of the woods one Saturday and passed by this place and told me me and my flowers were going to hell? … They thought I spent too much time in God's outdoors and not enough time inside the house reading the Bible. ~Miss Maudie

Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whiskey bottle in the hand of--oh, your father. ... If Atticus Finch drank until he was drunk he wouldn't be as hard as some men are at their best. there are just some kind of men who--wh're so busy worrying about the next world they've never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results. ~Miss Maudie

On Equality and Justice:
The one place where a man ought to get a square deal is in a courtroom, be he any color of the rainbow, but people have a way of carrying their resentments right into a jury box. As you grow older, you'll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don't you forget it - whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash. ~Atticus
If there's just one kind of folks, why can't they get along with each other? If they're all alike, why do they go out of their way to despise each other? ~Jem

How can you hate Hitler so bad an' then turn around and be ugly about folks right at home? ~Scout
On Courage:
I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do. ~Atticus
It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived. ~Scout
It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. ~Atticus
On Integrity:
They're certainly entitled to think that, and they're entitled to full respect for their opinions... but before I can live with other folks I've got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience. ~Atticus
Atticus Finch is the same in his house as he is on the public streets.~ Miss Maudie
On Growing Up:
The sixth grade seemed to please him from the beginning: he went through a brief Egyptian Period that baffled me - he tried to walk flat a great deal, sticking one arm in front of him and one in back of him, putting one foot behind the other. He declared Egyptians walked that way; I said if they did I didn't see how they got anything done, but Jem said they accomplished more than the Americans ever did, they invented toilet paper and perpetual embalming, and asked where would we be today if they hadn't? Atticus told me to delete the adjectives and I'd have the facts. ~Scout
There was no doubt about it, I must soon enter this world, where on its surface fragrant ladies rocked slowly, fanned gently, and drank cool water. ~Scout
Atticus said that Jem was trying hard to forget something, but what he was really doing was storing it away for a while until enough time passed. Then he would be able to think about it and sort things out. When he was able to think about it, Jem would be himself again. ~Scout
On Parenting:
When a child asks you something, answer him, for goodness' sake. But don't make a production of it. Children are children, but they can spot an evasion quicker than adults, and evasion simply muddles 'em. ~Atticus
Bad language is a stage all children go through, and it dies with time when they learn they're not attracting attention with it. ~Atticus
Before Jem looks at anyone else he looks at me, and I've tried to live so I can look squarely back at him. ~ Atticus

There's a lot of ugly things in this world, son. I wish I could keep 'em all away from you. That's never possible. ~Atticus
On Education:
Miss Caroline caught me writing and told me to tell my father to stop teaching me. "Besides," she said, "we don't write in the first grade, we print. You won't learn to write until you're in the third grade." ~Scout

The remainder of my school days were no more auspicious than the first. Indeed, they were an endless Project that slowly evolved into a Unit, in which miles of construction paper and wax crayon were expended by the State of Alabama in its well-meaning but fruitless efforts to teach me Group Dynamics. What Jem called the Dewey Decimal System was school-wide by the end of my first year, so I had no chance to compare it with other teaching techniques. I could only look around me: Atticus and my uncle, who went to school at home, knew everything-at least, what one didn't know the other did. Furthermore, I couldn't help noticing that my father had served for years in the state legislature, elected each time without opposition, innocent of the adjustments my teachers thought essential to the development of Good Citizenship. Jem, educated on a half-Decimal half - Duncecap basis, seemed to function effectively alone or in a group, but Jem was a poor example: no tutorial system devised by man could have stopped him from getting at books. As for me, I knew nothing except what I gathered from Time magazine and reading everything I could lay hands on at home, but as I inched sluggishly along the treadmill of the Maycomb County school system, I could not help receiving the impression that I was being cheated out of something. Out of what I knew not, yet I did not believe that twelve years of unrelieved boredom was exactly what the state had in mind for me. ~ Scout

The second grade was grim, but Jem assured me that the older I got the better school would be, that he started off the same way, and it was not until one reached sixth grade that one learned anything of value. ~Scout

I could go on and on. If you haven't read the book, please read it, and then read it again. I get more out of it upon every reading. I can understand why Harper Lee never wrote another novel. Some say she must have a world of writing stored inside of her, but it seems to me just pretty much covered everything already.

Friday, April 18, 2008

We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda

I presume you are reading this book because you desire a closer look, and that you, too, are properly disturbed by your curiosity. Perhaps, in examining this extremity with me, you hope for some understanding, some insight, some flicker of self-knowledge--a moral, or a lesson, or a clue about how to behave in this world: some such information. I don't discount the possibility, but when it comes to genocide, you already know right from wrong. The best reason I have come up with for looking closely into Rwanda's stories is that ignoring them makes me even more uncomfortable about existence and my place in it.
I struggled to read this book by Philip Gourevitch for two entire weeks. Like Gourevitch says, there is a moral obligation to know about what went on in Rwanda. What was I doing when 800,000 human beings were murdered by their neighbors? I was enjoying my first child, who had just turned one. I spent my days pushing a baby in a blue stroller on clean sidewalks in a college town in Ohio. If I heard of "Rwanda" at all, it was while I cut up bananas and placed them on my baby's high-chair while the evening news played in the background.
The piled-up dead of political violence are a generic staple of our information diet these days, and according to the generic report all massacres are created equal: the dead are innocent, the killers monstrous, the surrounding politics insane or nonexistent. Except for the names and the landscape, it reads like the same story from anywhere in the world: a tribe in power slaughters a disempowered tribe, another cycle in those ancient hatreds, the more things change the more they stay the same. ... The generic massacre story speaks of "endemic" or "epidemic" violence and of places where people kill "each other." and the ubiquity of the blight seems to cancel out any appeal to think about the single instance. These stories flash up from the void and, just as abruptly, return there. The anonymous dead and their anonymous killers become their own context. The horror becomes absurd.
Here is a story, then, of what went on in Rwanda in 1994 when the government of Rwanda called everyone in the Hutu majority to kill everyone in the Tutsi minority. In a period of three months, genocide swept through the country. Hutu uncles murdered their Tutsi nephews. Neighbors who once dined together took up machetes and murdered.

It is all, still, impossible to grasp. I'm not crazy about Gourevitch's writing style, but it doesn't really matter. Read this book, or any book about the Rwandan genocide, because we don't know anywhere near enough.

Knitting Circle

This book by Ann Hood was the perfect book to read on the heels of Stories from Rwanda. This story is a nice blend of familiar and predictable, with a few stereotypical characters sprinkled in, mixed with likeable characters and some good moments. Forty-something Mary Baxter has just lost her 5-year-old daughter and in desperation takes to knitting, which she has been assured will be strangely comforting. (Apparently this story is semi-autobiographical, as Hood lost her own 5-year-old daughter to a rare form of strep.) Eventually Mary joins a knitting circle and meets other women with tragic tales: cancer, assault, divorce, loss. Ultimately Mary and the others work through their grief by telling their stories and form a strong bond of friendship. It’s a story that’s been told a thousand times in as many different ways, but Hood is a good writer with strong, interesting characters.

Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

This will not be a funny book. I cannot tell jokes because I do not understand them. Here is a joke, as an example. It is one of Father's: His face was drawn but the curtains were real. I know why this is meant to be funny. I asked. It is because drawn has three meanings. ... If I try to say the joke to myself, making the word mean three different things at the same time, it is like hearing three different pieces of music at the same time, which is uncomfortable and confusing and not nice like white noise. It is like three people trying to talk to you at the same time about different things. And that is why there are no jokes in this book.
The narrator of this book by Mark Haddon is a 15-year-old autistic boy. Late one night Christopher discovers that his neighbor's dog has been killed by a garden tool, and he sets out to find the murderer. In the course of his investigation, he must step outside his comfort zone over and over again, and he discovers all kinds of frightening and confusing information. Christopher is also a mathematical genius, and he works through his world by processing events in a logical, mathematical way--as much as he can.

I stayed up way too late for two nights reading this book. It was absolutely fantastic. The author is never sentimental about Christopher. He leads us into Christopher's world immediately, without commentary. it really is Christopher's book--not a book about Christopher. Thanks to Kristina for suggesting this book. I'd absolutely pass on the recommendation.

The Journal of Callie Wade

I have to say that I had some issues with this book that had nothing to do with the book itself. This is how weird I am: the book came via Paperback Swap. The very first thing I noticed about it were the stamps all over that declared it to be "PROPERTY OF CCAA HUERFANO COUNTY CORRECTIONAL CENTER." Something about this creeped me out, so I flung it aside for a couple of months. Actually, I intentionally placed it far away from my usual stack of TBR books, which is right beside my bed. Something about the thought of this book being in a prison made me feel icky, but I also had twinges of sadness imagining a sad woman in prison, escaping in her mind as she read this book about pioneer travel.

I am not normal. Well, eventually I needed some light reading, and I decided that, having been on my floor for a few months, the book was probably released of its prison affiliation. So I began reading it. The books itself was fine. The inside flap calls it the "marvelous debut novel" of author Dawn Miller, which is going way too overboard. It's interesting and the characters were well-drawn, but there are hundreds of mediocre books like this out there. I'd recommend it as a good in-between read.

Oh, and about half-way through the book I was overcome with curiousity about the "correctional center," so I googled it. Why in the world did I assume it was women's prison? This is actually a medium security men's prison. So that weirded me out even more.

I have issues.

A Town Like Alice

I’ve had this book by Nevil Shute on my reading list for at least two years, and I finally was in just the right mood for it. My only previous encounter with Nevil Shute is his On the Beach, which is the story of the aftermath of a worldwide nuclear war. I read this nearly 20 years ago, although that seems impossible because I still remember vividly one particular apocalyptic dream I had after reading this book.

A Town Like Alice is much different, though just as engrossing and wonderfully written. The story centers around a young woman, Jean Paget, who learns she has inherited a good bit of money from her uncle. Jean decides to return to Malaya, where she had been a prisoner during WWII, to build a well for a village there. The middle of the book then flashes back to Jean’s experiences as a POW in Malaya, where she meets Australian Joe Harmon. Both Jean and Joe are remarkable characters. So often in books, the action is son contrived and characters are always making silly decisions that will make the book last longer but are annoying. The kind of decision that make you sigh with irritation at the author and at the character. But Jean is always making sensible decisions. Shute doesn’t have to employ any cheap literary devices to make his story good. The characters themselves: Jean, Joe, and the solicitor Noel, are fantastic.

I highly recommend this book. It’s not necessary an easy read, but it is a completely satisfying read. I will also be on the lookout for the 1981 movie.

Without a Trace

My friend Blogless Leigh gave me this one by Colleen Coble to read, saying it was the only readable one out of a stack of books someone gave her. I actually really enjoyed this mystery/romance. The characters were rather flat and stereotypical, but there were some good moments, and I absolutely enjoy a good plot read now and then. The story centers on Bree, a search-and-rescue team member, whose husband and son were killed in a plane crash the year before. Throughout most of the book, she is determined to search every inch of the wilderness in Michigan's Upper Peninsula to find the remains of her family. And of course, all sorts of intrigue develops along the way.

This is the first in a series of books that take place in Rock Harbor. Will I read the others? Yes, if someone were to had them to me, but I probably won't search them out or add them to my TBR list unless I get through the other hundred or so and really need something to read...

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Way the Crow Flies

This happens at least a couple of times each year: I severely chastise myself for spending days--in this case 10 days--reading a terrible book. This book by Ann-Marie Macdonald was just such a book for me. Nevermind that reviewers consistently give it a 5-star rating; I thought it was dreadful. Macdonald's writing is fine; she's a good storyteller. But the subject matters are horrible (child murder, abuse, war crimes, etc.) and kept getting worse and worse throughout the novel. I wouldn't recommend this to anyone.

I thought I loved her book Fall on Your Knees, but when I looked back to read my review, I saw that I also likened this previous novel to a train wreck! I hope I remember, next time I see an Ann-marie Macdonald novel that gets a good review, that we simply don't mesh.

Sign of the Beaver

My kids love The Sign of the Beaver almost as much as The Witch of Blackbird Pond, both by Elizabeth George Speare. This book fits in perfectly with any study of the colonial period in American History. The story centers on Matt, a 12-year-old boy who must fend for himself for a few months in the Maine wilderness while his father returns to bring back the rest of the family. Actually, Matt does not have to fend for himself; if the Indian boy Attean and his grandfather hadn't helped, Matt surely would have died in the wilderness. With the help of Attean and Saknis, Matt learns survival skills and gains an appreciation and love for the Indians.

After reading the book aloud, we watched the movie by the same name. While the movie was very enjoyable, there was much deviation from the book. My kids enjoy this and expect it, however, and we always have a good discussion after watching the movie version of a book.

I read this to my 1st and 5th graders, and both loved it. My 5th grader could certainly have read this on her own, but it is a great book to share.

Booking Through Thursday: Vocabulary

April 17, 2008

btt button

This week's Booking Through Thursday asks:

I’ve always wondered what other people do when they come across a word/phrase that they’ve never heard before. I mean, do they jot it down on paper so they can look it up later, or do they stop reading to look it up on the dictionary/google it or do they just continue reading and forget about the word?

Don’t forget to leave a link to your actual response at the link above to BTT.


To answer this question, I'll have to tell a story from the Year I Homeschooled Myself:

So about six weeks into my six-month stay in Germany during junior year of high school (my father was a Fulbright Scholar), I finished all the work that had been assigned to me for the year. The next 5 months I/we did three things extensively: traveled, shopped, and read. We lived near an army base in Giessen, W. Germany (which it was called back then, remember?), and for some reason they let us use the base library (perhaps because my father was a veteran?). We all (my mother, father, and I) checked out stacks of books each week.

Well, being finished with my public school work for the year, I had to come up with my own educational plan, and part of this involved Vocabulary. I had a notebook. I had books. And I had words that I didn't know. So I began my Vocabulary Study, which involved keeping a notebook by my side while I read, writing down all words I didn't know, and then writing the definition. Well, and then I also, of course, needed to use those words in my everyday speech in order to truly understand them, right?

That worked fine with my parents, who could appreciate and share my love of words. But that doesn't work so well when you are writing letters to your friends back home in the States, who are trapped in their little world of steel lockers, fluorescent lights, and football games while you are out visiting the Louvre. I distinctly remember one "friend," Anne, giving me the news by airmail (gleefully, I might add), that my boyfriend-before-I-left had asked some other girl to the fall dance, and they were madly in love. (She wasn't a very good friend ever, which makes me wonder: why was I writing to her?) Well, I can't remember the whole letter, but I do remember a line that included: "I don't care that they are going to the dance together. He is minutiae to me now."

Minutiae. It took me years to live that one down. Because of course, Anne had to share that letter with everyone in school. Even years later during a college Christmas break, when this boy and I sat talking, he asked me: "Did you really say I was minutiae?"

Is there a moral to this story? Probably not. But I do know that I tempered my vocabulary usage after that incident, always conscious of my audience. Fortunately I married a man who loves words, too, and so the big red dictionary is always accessible.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Five Love Languages of Teenagers

This is one of the books I've been meaning to read for years. My first teen is nearly 15 and I've finally gotten around to reading it. I have a great deal of appreciation for the five love languages as presented by Dr. Gary Chapman. Randy and I have explored this from both a marriage point-of-view and from a parenting point-of-view as we've taught a couple of parenting classes at our church in the past few years. I think the whole concept if phenomenal and can effect a positive life-change in relationships of all sorts, from marriage to parenting to friendships.

Being quite familiar with the five love languages, I admit I skimmed a great deal; however, I'd recommend taking notes and taking your time on this if the concept is relatively new. I am surprised that Dr. Chapman doesn't include a "test" to see what your/your teen's love language is. I found several online. This one and this one are abbreviated on-line versions of the test. At this site, you can download the extended tests, here called TouchPoints of Love (one is for adults and one for children). If you've never done this with your spouse or your kids, I'd highly recommend it. You may confirm what you always knew ("My son loves gifts!") or you might be surprised. I always assumed my primary love language was words of encouragement, but I was wrong.

On a personal level, I alternated between two main emotions while reading this book: sheer terror at the awesome responsibility of being a parent and parenting a teen (with more to come), and relief/consolation that we seem to be doing a lot of things OK. Basically, I went between, "Oh no! We messed up!" and "Oh good! We do that!" I have made it a habit to read parenting books once-a-year or so. Even if much of the information is repetitive, just the reminders serve us well and force me reevaluate how I'm parenting. I think this is about the best book for parenting teens that I've read. Come to think about it, I think it's the only one; but I've read a lot of parenting books and this ranks right up there with the best!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Book Review: Stone Diaries

And the question arises: what is the story of a life? A chronicle of fact or a skillfully wrought impression? The bringing together of what she fears? Or the adding up of what has been off-handedly revealed, those tiny allotted increments of knowledge?

Daisy Goodwill is a woman "arbitrarily named" and "accidentally misplaced." This novel is the chronicle of her life, but in the telling, many life stories must be revealed. Stories that precede Daisy's and are touched by Daisy's. All the characters are given their own rich lives, and sometimes Daisy is just a meeting place.

Carol Shields is a strikingly perceptive writer. I found myself reading certain passages again and again. Like this one: "How did this happen? She's caught in a version of her life, pinned there." And this one I really loved because it so sums up childhood through 30 for me personally: "She is overwhelmed at times-- and this is one of those times -- with the wish to ask forgiveness." (Boy, am I glad I've been released from that. Mercy and grace are good things.)

The novel starts with Daisy's mother and father and travels through the lives of them, and her neighbors, children, grandchildren, and a cast of other characters. This sounds like a lot of people to keep track of, but it's not at all confusing. While I didn't necessarily love all the characters themselves, I loved the book and its bittersweet telling of a life. (This book won the Pulitzer Prize in 1995, back when I was in the oblivion of early motherhood.)

Book Review: Year of Wonders

The year is 1666, and the plague suddenly and unexpectedly infects the tiny village where Anna Frith, a young widow, lives with her two babies. Anna works as a maid for the minister, Michael Mompellion, and his gentle wife, Elinor, who teaches Anna to read. When the plague arrives in the village, Mompellion insists that the villagers close themselves off from the rest of the world so as to avoid spreading the plague. Only the village's noble family leaves; the rest of the community waits to see who the plague will take and who it will leave. The year that follows is one of constant death, horror, chaos, religious fervor, witch-hunting, heartbreak, and survival. In the midst of the horror, Anna turns from an illiterate servant to a skilled healer.

Geraldine Brooks has woven a superb tale in this novel, which is based on the true story of Eyam, a mountain village in England. I've always been fascinated by stories of the bubonic plague, and this one takes the reader right into the midst of it. Brooks' writing style is lyrical and haunting. The characters are richly developed, and the novel is vivid in its description of humanity and our ability to cope. While it's only January, I imagine this novel will make my 2008 Top Ten list.

Book Review: Peony in Love

"I finally understand what the poets have written. In spring, moved to passion; in autumn, only regret."

For Peony, on the cusp of her 16th birthday when she''ll leave girlhood behind and be married, the words from the Chinese opera The Peony Pavilion feed her poetic spirit and her longing for love. In celebration of her birthday, her father arranges a special 3-night performance of the opera, during which Peony sneaks away and meets a young man in the garden. They fall madly in love but both are betrothed and realize they will be condemned to a life of misery without one another.

And the rest, I can't tell.

If you are going to read Lisa See's Peony in Love, you'll need to be prepared to suspend your disbelief for much of the novel. See's Snow Flower and the Secret Fan was one of my Top 10 Books for 2007, not only because she tells a riveting story with vivid characters, but because of her descriptions of life for Chinese women in seventeenth and eighteenth century China. Like this:
"Another lush and warm night. In our women's chambers we enjoyed a banquet that included beans dried in spring sunshine and then steamed with dried tangerine peel, and red seventh-month crabs, which were the size of hen's eggs and available from our local waters only at this time of year. Special ingredients were added to the married women's dishes to help them get pregnant, while others were left out for those who were or might be with child: rabbit meat, because everyone knows it can cause a hare lip, and lamb, because it can cause a baby to be born ill. But I wasn't hungry."
See's novels are positively packed with such details, and I thoroughly enjoy her writing style. This one wasn't as fantastic as Snow Flower, but it was a great read.

Book Review: Me and Emma

The story told here by Elizabeth Flock is a heartbreaking one, along the lines of Kaye Gibbons' Ellen Foster or Dorothy Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina. Eight-year-old Carrie is the narrator, and her life is one painful event after another. She and her younger sister, Emma, live with her emotionally exhausted mother and abusive, alcoholic stepfather. Carrie and Emma are strong fighters and depend wholly on each other. Carrie is fortunate to have memories of her real Daddy, who was kind and loving, who died a few years before the story begins. The book jacket promises "a shocking turn" which I thought, with disappointment, that I had figured out midway through the book. I was wrong.

I have one complaint about the book: Carrie didn't seem like an eight-year-old, and this was somewhat irritating. Why not make her ten or twelve? But aside from that, the book was fantastic--in the sort of way that a heartbreaking novel can be fantastic.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

At a Glance

April 13, 2008

The Sunday

What I’m reading now:
A Separate Peace by John Knowles (3rd re-read)
Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry

What I finished this week:
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (for about the 6th time)
Without a Trace by Colleen Coble

What I’m reading to the kids:
Meet George Washington
Nancy Drew and the Mystery of the 99 Steps (my very own copy from my girlhood)

What I read last week and reviewed this week:
A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute

What I have in a stack to review:
The Crucible

American Adventure series
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
Children’s books from Barefoot Books
Without a Trace

What I got in the mail from PBS this week:
Astrid and Veronika

What I have coming in the mail from PBS:

Winter Wheat
Walden and Civil Disobedience

Books I’ve seen on today’s Sunday Salon participants thus far today that I’m adding to my list:
Kabul Beauty School on Can I Borrow Your Book
Land of a Thousand Dreams on These Words
The Cellist of Sarajevo on CaribousMom
No Time for Goodbye on Book-Blog
Bird by Bird on These Words

What I’m looking forward to:

Reading voraciously in May, June, and July

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

About SmallWorld Reads

In an effort to keep my family life somewhat separate (publicly, anyway) from my reading life, I've created a separate reading blog here at SmallWorld Reads. I'm slowly moving my book reviews over from my other site, but it may take a long time!