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It’s after noon, and the boys are still in their pyjamas. Today we woke to cloudy skies and icy rain. “The grey bars of my prison fall around me,” groans Donn dramatically, who is not dealing well with a lack of sunshine. (Oh right–like he’d actually go out and do something if it was sunny and warm? Whatever) The kids and I roll our eyes at him. We got up late, had French toast and blackberry sauce made from frozen berries. I’m about ready for more coffee.
In my last post, I was griping about my life’s lack of bloggable material. After all, who wants to read about what I had for breakfast, and I’ve got a post or two on the Decline of Western Civilization as Evidenced by Waiters and Verizon kicking around in my head, but I haven’t had the energy to get it out just yet.
But I forgot that I’ve got a post nearly ready to go! I started it in early December, to help you with your Christmas shopping, and then I nearly finished it in late December, to help you spend your Amazon gift certificates (assuming any of you were that lucky). Now I present it to you to help you find good reading material to fight the January doldrums.
Note: The following is a list of books I read and enjoyed between Sept and Dec 2007. To make this list, it had to be a book I read for the first time between those months, and be a book I loved. I’ve divided the list into 3 genres:
Kid’s Books:
First of all, for those of you with kids, grandkids, nieces/nephews, neighbour kids, or who ever were children once (as Berkeley Breathed once said, it’s never too late to have a happy childhood), I highly recommend The Dangerous Book for Boys and The Daring Book for Girls. These are fantastic books that I wish I’d had as a child, but at least I–that is, the twins–have got them now. I know, you can’t enter a store without tripping over large stacks of them, but seriously, if you’re one of the 2 or 3 homes without a copy yet, now’s your chance to get them. They are lots of fun.
Here are testimonials from actual live children:
“It tells you how to juggle and how to hunt and skin a rabbit. It tells you how to do a lot of things you’re not sure you’re going to need in your life.” Elliot, 12.
“I love it! I like it that it showed how to put my hair up with a pencil even though I didn’t succeed. It talked about girl pirates and girl heroes and girl spies. I love girl spies! But I‘m going to be an actor who acts like a spy instead of a real spy, because if you‘re a real spy it can be dangerous, but if you‘re an actor you still get all the cool gadgets.” Ilsa, 10.
“I like that it tells you all about arrows, and it’s got some interesting history about the brothers who built the first plane, and it’s really interesting. It’s got some atlas stuff and it’s got coin tricks.” Abel, 10
Angels of a Lower Flight: One Womans Mission to Save a Country . . . One Child at a Time. This is the autobiographical story of Susan Scott Krabacher, beginning with her abusive childhood, and including her time as a playboy playmate. The bulk of the story, however, has to do with her work with Haitian orphans, and it is inspiring. One thing I really appreciated was how she dealt with the corruption. Here she is, working hard to save children from starvation and neglect on the shattered streets, and those she employs to help her, to whom she pays a good salary, are stealing her blind. She deals with this frustration with determination and good grace, not giving up where I think I would have washed my hands in disgust of the whole affair.
It’s not for the faint of stomach. This is a book that will take your emotions for a roller-coaster ride. From the opening scene of the death of an emaciated Haitian baby through the terrors of her childhood and the ups and downs of her charity work, she does not shrink back from sharing her reality with her readers. But it is an inspiring story, in the true sense of the word, not the Hallmark-movie-of-the-week weak pablum sense of the word. You will be moved.
The Glass Castle: A Memoir. This is an unusual memoir, a fascinating story that I just couldn’t put down. Raised by parents who were loving, creative, impulsive, alcoholic, paranoid and delusional, Jeannette Walls’ story is named for her father’s wild plan to build a glass castle, but the title implies much more about this fragile yet resiliant family. It will have you thinking in a new way about what constitutes healthy families and mental well-being.
All of the following manage to combine good writing with a good story line, something that is often rare.
Peace Like a River: This is a great read. The story is intriguing, and the writing is fantastic. I have read many reviews on it lately, so I won’t add much–just that Debbie recommended it to me for years and I don‘t know why I didn‘t read it sooner. The story of a faithful, loving father, a poetry-writing younger sister, an older brother who does what it takes to defend his family–or was there more to it?; the book is written from the point of view (narrateur interne–the twins just had a test on this in their French books yesterday) of a middle son growing up with asthma, adoring his family unconditionally and yet recording all their quirks, leaving you wondering just a tiny bit about the truth before the end. It’s gorgeous writing.
Tolstoy Lied: A Love Story I actually want to quote long sections from the beginning of this book. I loved it! She takes the old Tolstoy quote from Anna Karenina; “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” I just want to state that I have always hated that quote. I remember all my friends at Portland State going on about it, but I always resented the implication that to be happy was to be boring and static. If anything, I feel even more strongly about this now. I‘ve seen many more unhappy families and I find a depressing sameness about them. Ok, just one long quote from the first chapter of the book:
“If Tolstoy is to be taken at his word, a person must be unhappy in order to be interesting. If this is true, then certain other things must follow. Happy people have no stories you might possibly want to hear. In order to be happy, you must whitewash your personality; stream roll your curiosities, your irritations, your honesty and indignation…Happiness, according to this witticism of Tolstoy’s, is not a plant with spikes and gnarled roots; it is a daisy in a field of a thousand daisies. It is for lovers of kitsch and those with sub par intelligence.
Yolanda would say I’m taking this far too personally. Yolanda thinks any idea that keeps a person home working on a Saturday night is hideous. Also, that I need to start wearing tighter clothing if I want my weekends to headline something more exciting than collating.”

It’s a great read. I was a little disappointed in later parts, because I thought from the opening section that the book was going to be about love after the wedding rather than ending with a wedding, but it’s still a great read.
Those Who Save Us: Another fantastic read. This story deals powerfully with the idea of family secrets, and what it took to survive everyday life in Nazi Germany. I almost don’t want to tell you anything about the plot so that you can just enjoy it developing before your eyes! The narrative goes back and forth between modern-day Trudy, born in Germany and now conducting a series of interviews on German survivors of the war, and her mother Anna, who lived in Weimar near Buchenwald and who refuses to discuss her past with her daughter. Trudy remembers a man from her childhood…no I’m not going to tell you. Just read it. One thing I really appreciated about it was that the characters are nuanced; even the Nazi commandant (I forget his title and my mother-in-law has the book now), thoroughly evil, has his human side, and comes across as a real person not a caricature.
So go. Read.
I am thoroughly enjoying being in this land of plentiful reading material, especially with the icy rain (this is Donn’s problem, obviously. He needs to read more). Libby dropped two new books off for me a week or two ago and I haven’t even started looking at them yet because I have to finish my library books, plus I‘m reading the ones Janean loaned me. My in-laws bought me a subscription to the New Yorker for Christmas. I get the daily paper. Who has time to read blogs, much less parent? Yes, I’m wallowing in reading material here, and yet I still yearn towards bookstores and am Not to be Trusted in Powells. Basically, when it comes to reading, I’m a greedy pig.
What books have you enjoyed lately?

January 2008

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