Friday, September 19, 2014

What I've Been Reading: September Edition!

The Best of September

I'm not one for many self-help books, or popular religion books either, but when a group I belong to wanted to read it, I joined in. This book really struck a cord with me. I remember buying my second house and needing a lawn mower. I was overwhelmed by Lowe's and Wal-mart. I went to the hardware store on the square in the small town where I was then living. They had a choice of lawn mowers: This one, that one, or the other one. Perfect! [For the record, I bought "that one"].  Nancy Sleeth writes such readable prose and puts such sincere emotion into her words that I was swept along just reading the story. But something else happened. I stopped all along the way to reflect, to remember and, best of all, the VALIDATE the choices I have made along the path to a saner life. No cable, satelite or broadcast tv. (We do watch dvds). No wi-fi (though this is changing -- we have up-to-date phones now and make due with our data plan at home), cooking at home, eating real food, etc., etc.

I did feel that she glossed over some of the problems in Amish life--emotional claustrophobia, genetic defects from closely related people marrying and lack of "new blood," the harsh shunning of those who do not choose to join the church, the mistrust of outsiders, the running of puppy mills, and the often semantic games played over what is and is not allowed. (No electric appliances, but propane stoves and fridges are fine--really??). The rigid structure of occupation, both paid and unpaid, by gender. I felt this needed a more serious discussion, though she did at least look at some of these issues.

I did giggle  a bit at her taking it for normal that, just like in her cool neighborhood in a big-college town, everyone should shop at farmer's markets and support local craftsmen, etc. That's fine and I do--when its available. But we can't all walk where we want to go due to distance. Some farmers markets are overpriced and not well stocked. CSAs are province of the upper-middle class for the most part and much of the country has never heard of one. I'm sure they are the be-all and end-all in a big-college town and I KNOW they are in affluent suburbia, but in the rest of America they are a luxury.

She also seems to forget that all of us do not have husbands how can walk away from a thriving medical practice and the money that he justifiably earns with his talents (I do not begrudge doctors a dime of their earnings--I simply cannot think the way they do and am grateful for their perseverance in all that schooling!) to bankroll our moves to a slower life in a place where a car isn't necessary or at least is only rarely necessary. Many of us WOULD love that, but how do we make it happen? Many of us ARE working toward that, but it may not happen or it may not happen until retirement.

These are small things--I highly recommend this book to anyone searching for a less hectic, more reflective life, for a more caring life,  for more community. I also highly recommend Asbury College--a great little college for anyone, but especially for those interested in Communications majors. State of the art facilities for would-be movie makers, recording artists, writers and other creative types, but in a Christian environment. (And the food is Good!!!) And, I second her recommendation of the More With Less Cookbook and the book Living More With Less.

Almost Amish: One Woman's Quest for a Slower, Simpler, More Sustainable Life by Nancy Sleeth.

I'm not sure how to review this fun book without giving spoilers! Part Harry Potter, party mystery, part almost, but not quite, sci-fi--this is such a great read!!! Just go read it!!! Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan.

The Rest of September......

I've always wanted to go to India. I've read quite a lot of Indian novels (or novels about Indians) so when I saw this series--and saw that it was favorably compared to the Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency series--I knew I'd like it! What's not to love about Vish Puri,  middle aged man whose Mother snoops around helping him solve mysteries? I loved it from start-to-finish. I will definitely read more in this series! The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall.

 Americans, if they know any history at all (sadly, that is not a given today) think of the Civil War as the one that may have split families. The Schoolmaster's Daughter presents us with a family eccentric loyalist British schoolmaster and his three renegade "American" children at the time of the Revolution. These "children" are a teenage son, a young adult daughter and an older son and the story follows their actions at the start of the war. Mrs. Paul Revere (the second one) is also included in the characters. I pleasant book, very readable, that tells of a time almost glossed over now in mile wide, 1/16 of an inch deep history courses in school. The Schoolmaster's Daughter by John Smolens.

[Note: Why f-*& mandatory in books these days? And why must seemingly every novel have some idiotic character yammering on graphically about sex? When I read this I felt like a teenager had defaced the book with such a monologue. Admittedly the f---- and one very short graphic sex rant was from a prostitute, but the other such diatribe came out of nowhere, added nothing to the story, and seemed like it was forced in with a crow bar just to titillate--totally unnecessary to the story. Happily, these "ick" moments were barely more than a line or two in total so I say this just to warn the reader, not to condemn the book.)

It's rare that I read the book AFTER watching the movie. I LOVE the Best Exotic Marigold Motel movie--Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy and my favorite--Judi Dench. When I re-watched it recently, I saw it was based on a book. I recalled the tie-in book, but assumed (wrongly) that it was the script made into a book. The book is just as fun as the movie only more believable. (Hands up if you thought Graham's story unbelievable in the movie?) I'm a back-story lover--I like to KNOW the characters, and not just on the surface. I'm no longer sure which I like more--the book or the movie, but I can tell you that I'm anxiously awaiting the Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel movie sequel.The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by Deoborah Moggach

I've always been fascinated by boarding school and the notion of "an elite" or aristocracy, of privilege and all that goes with it.And, I like to study great men and women and what makes them leaders. The Rector of Justin has all of this. At Justin Martyr, a school like Groton (alumni include T.R. and F.D.R.), Choate (J.F.K.), Andover (George H.W. and W. Bush), founder and revered headmaster Frank Prescott has reached the end of the line--retirement. His successor has been named and things will begin changing. A young man arrives to start teaching at the school and comes to know Prescott and his ailing wife and eventually is chosen to write the great man's biography. The story is told thru the persectives of the people who know Prescott best. They say writes should write what they know and author Louis Auchincloss (a relative of Jackie Kennedy's step-father) attended both Groton and Yale and spent his life among the strata of society profiled in many of his books.The Rector of Justin by Louis Auchincloss.

The problem with writing historical fiction is we know how the big things turn out--in this case we know about germs, about cholera transmission etc. We know that Crimea is a turning point for nursing. But sometimes this leads us to put too much on characters and it makes them too modern to be believable.Rosa stays "just this side" of being too modern--and stays annoying. Mariella is a ninny who finally gets over herself. In spite of this the story is well told and interesting. There is one MAJOR FLAW in this book though. It is another book that made me feel someone had taken the chapters, tossed them in the air, then published them in the order they landed. Non-linear storytelling, in this case, was a HUGE distraction. I got whiplash being jerked back and forth thru the decades.
The Rose of Sebastopol by Katharine McMahon.

I'm not an Austen freak--in fact I prefer to watch the movies. There. I've said it. I listened to Mansfield Park by Jane Austen having started it before in both audio and print. This time I enjoyed it. I'm slowly working my way thru all of Austen and think I will stick with audio.

I started the Tenant of Wildfell Hall a few years ago but got so confused I let it languish on my kindle unfinished. Finally the right time appeared to try it again. Having gleaned the gist of the way the story was told from a summary I went back to it and enjoyed it thoroughly. My summary? Silly girl thinks she can change rogue into a nice Christian husband and fails miserably. Slinks off to lick her wounds and save her child from depravity by isolating him like a modern day ultra right wing homeschooler!! Ha! Snarky, I know. I enjoyed the book once I understood how it was being told. Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte.

Sadly, I gave up on this. It had such promise, but I've never spent this long on such a short book! It just does not move. That said it is not boring. I can't really explain it. I will likely give it another try some other time, but after more than a month I only reached at page 144.......  The Gondola Maker by Laura Morelli.

What are you reading this month? Leave me a comment!! 


A Dusty Frame said...

I reviewed this awhile ago--I didn't really like it at all.

Susan said...

the Amish book has me curious -- although, ornery as I am, I am sure that I, too, would have some disagreements with her. Mr. Penumbra has me intrigued! I, too, have read a lot of Jane Austen but she's never totally pulled me in, at least not to the extent that many seem to love her. Good summary of Wildefell Hall -- that seems to be kind of what the Bronte sisters were trying to do (turn these wild men into good Christian guys).

Kara Keenan said...

So happy you loved Mr Penumbra! It ranks up there with Where'd You Go Bernadette? as one of my favorite books of the past couple years. It's fun grown-up fiction.