Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Let's end 2014 with a big AMEN, Amen, Amen!

As it approaches midnight, ending the year when I moved to St. Louis, this song is on my mind.  I listened to several versions of it on YouTube, and this one appeals to me the most.  "A-men, A-men, A-men, Amen, Amen!"  Let Sidney Poitier do all the other words.  I'll sing along with the nuns, "A-men, A-men, A-men, Amen, Amen!"

This 3-minute version was uploaded to YouTube on July 17, 2007, showing the final scene in the film directed by Ralph Nelson.  It's the scene where Homer Smith, played by Sidney Poitier leaves Mother Maria, played by Lilia Skala, after building them a chapel.  After taking one last look at the chapel he built, Smith, knowing that his work is done, slips into his car and drives quietly off into the night.  If this video quits working, view it on YouTube:

Library Loot ~ ends today, December 31

Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America ~ by Linda Tirado, 2014
"I’ve been waiting for this book for a long time. Well, not this book, because I never imagined that the book I was waiting for would be so devastatingly smart and funny, so consistently entertaining and unflinchingly on target. In fact, I would like to have written it myself – if, that is, I had lived Linda Tirado’s life and extracted all the hard lessons she has learned. I am the author of Nickel and Dimed, which tells the story of my own brief attempt, as a semi-undercover journalist, to survive on low-wage retail and service jobs. Tirado is the real thing." — from the foreword by Barbara Ehrenreich, New York Times bestselling author of Nickel and Dimed, which I have read.
Esquire called this "One of the Best 5 Books of 2014."
We in America have certain ideas of what it means to be poor.  Linda Tirado, in her signature brutally honest yet personable voice, takes all of these preconceived notions and smashes them to bits.  She articulates not only what it is to be working poor in America, but what poverty is truly like — on all levels.  Tirado discusses openly how she went from lower-middle class, to sometimes middle class, to poor and everything in between, and in doing so reveals why "poor people don’t always behave the way middle-class America thinks they should."
The Trouble with Physics: The Rise of String Theory, the Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next ~ by Lee Smolin, 2006
In this groundbreaking book, the renowned theoretical physicist Lee Smolin argues that physics — the basis for all other sciences — has lost its way.  For more than two centuries, our understanding of the laws of nature expanded rapidly.  But today, despite our best efforts, we know nothing more about these laws than we knew in the 1970s.  Why is physics suddenly in trouble?  And what can we do about it?  One of the major problems, according to Smolin, is string theory:  an ambitious attempt to formulate a “theory of everything” that explains all the particles and forces of nature and how the universe came to be.  With its exotic new particles and parallel universes, string theory has captured the public’s imagination and seduced many physicists.  But as Smolin reveals, there’s a deep flaw in the theory:  No part of it has been tested, and no one knows how to test it.  In fact, the theory appears to come in an infinite number of versions, meaning that no experiment will ever be able to prove it false.  As a scientific theory, it fails.  And because it has soaked up the lion’s share of funding, attracted some of the best minds, and effectively penalized young physicists for pursuing other avenues, it is dragging the rest of physics down with it.  Smolin charts the rise and fall of string theory and takes a fascinating look at what will replace it.  A group of young theorists has begun to develop exciting ideas that, unlike string theory, are testable.  Smolin not only tells us who and what to watch for in the coming years, he offers novel solutions for seeking out and nurturing the best new talent — giving us a chance, at long last, of finding the next Einstein.
Okay, I'm aware that most of you reading Library Loot posts read only fiction, which this (obviously) is not.  I read fiction, and I also think physics is fascinating.  Am I alone in my interest in science?

Library Loot WAS a weekly event that encouraged readers to share the names of books we checked out of the library.  Interest has lagged, and now there appears to be nowhere to link up and share.  So it's over.  It's been fun.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Sunday Salon ~ boys, books, and 'bout time

My great-granddaughter, who loves books, recently became the big sister of twin brothers.  For Christmas, she got two dolls so she has her own twins.  Will her brothers become avid readers?  Time will tell.

  • Recently finished:  Pearl of China ~ by Anchee Min, 2010, fiction (China), 9/10
  • Currently reading:  The Signature of All Things ~ by Elizabeth Gilbert, 2013, fiction ~ I can't say I'm particularly impressed by it, as I near the end.  I'm just tired of it.
  • Looking forward to:  Gossip ~ by Beth Gutcheon, 2013, fiction ~ which I put on hold at my library a few minutes ago.
...for a new year and something else to read.
Bloggers gather in the Sunday Salon — at separate computers in different time zones — to talk about our lives and our reading.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Beginning ~ with useless information

The Book of Useless Information ~ 2011

Apparently, whoever edited this book considered it TRULY useless information and didn't bother to give us the name of the person or persons who collected these 704 pages of stuff.  The only thing on the title page besides the name of the book is the publisher, whose name is a non-name:  Publications International, Ltd.  The "introduction" gives us more non-information:
What exactly makes information "useless"? ... Whether you're looking for odd facts and trivia to share with friends at your next cocktail party, or if you simply love learning about the stranger facets of life, The Book of Useless Information is bound to entertain and enlighten.
But the first actual bit of useless information we find is on the cover.  You can see it for yourself in the illustration above.
Earth is the only planet not named after a god.
On the back of the hardback edition (I doubt if there's a paperback) is another bit of useless information:
It is a very sad thing that nowadays there is so little useless information. — Oscar Wilde
My daughter Sandra sent me this book for Christmas.  Did you get any books over the holidays?

Gilion at Rose City Reader hosts Book Beginnings on Fridays.  Click here for today's Mister Linky.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Reading with tea and cats ~ or imagination

The only time I remember my legs being this short, I was at church on a Sunday morning, bored to tears by the proceedings, which seemed to be droning on and on and on.   I entertained myself by swinging my feet — which activity, I soon discovered, was reflected in the polished wood of the pew in front of me.   I was fascinated by the fact that my legs appeared to be walking.   There I was, stuck in a boring situation with my mother sitting to my right, others to my left, and no way of escape except through my own inventiveness.  So I "walked away" from my boredom into my own mental adventure.

The woman in this illustration has a book.   And cats (notice the second tail under the chair).   She has snack crackers and a cup of tea and, best of all, she has a book to get lost in.   Maybe my need to always have a book with me traces back to that day in church when I realized I had no way of getting lost in a story without dreaming one up myself.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Library Loot ~ December 24-30

Suspicion Nation: The Inside Story of the Trayvon Martin Injustice and Why We Continue to Repeat It ~ by Lisa Bloom, 2014
What went wrong behind the scenes in the Trayvon Martin case?  Why does America endure so many tragic shootings like this one?  These are the questions at the heart of Suspicion Nation.  Bestselling author, trial attorney, and NBC News analyst Lisa Bloom covered the murder trial and was appalled by what she witnessed.  Bloom now exposes the injustice, conducting new in-depth interviews with key trial participants and digging deeper into the evidence.  Suspicion Nation outlines the six biggest mistakes made by the state of Florida that guaranteed it would lose this “winnable case,” and the laws and biases that created the conditions for this tragedy.  The only nonwhite juror tells her story of painful isolation in the jury room.  Rachel Jeantel, the state's star witness, reveals how poorly the state prepared her to testify and what went through her mind on the stand.  The medical examiner reveals scientific evidence he wasn’t allowed to present.  And a new examination of Trayvon's school suspensions raises questions about racial profiling, all in a country divided over issues of race, gun laws, and violence.  Suspicion Nation is a riveting courtroom drama that shines a bright light on a case we only thought we knew.
Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire @ The Captive Reader and Linda @ Silly Little Mischief that encourages us to share the names of books we checked out of the library.  See what others got this week.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Monday Mindfulness ~ a lesson from Kermit

Who knew Kermit was a mindfulness trainer?  Who knew he could fold himself into this position?  (I can't.)  Who knew he was into meditation?  Who knew?  (Not I.)  Whatever.  This photo of Kermit looks very Christmas-y for this time of year, so it's my choice for today.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Beginning ~ with choosing a name

Pearl of China ~ by Anchee Min, 2010, fiction (China)
Before I was Willow, I was Weed.  My grandmother, NaiNai, insisted that naming me Weed was better.  She believed that the gods would have a hard time making my life go lower if I was already at the bottom.  Papa disagreed.  "Men want to marry flowers, not weeds."  They argued and finally settled for Willow, which was considered "gentle enough to weep and tough enough to be made into farming tools."  I always wondered what my mother would have thought if she had lived.
This novel is based on the life of Pearl Buck.  Years ago, I read The Good Earth, which is Pearl Buck's most famous novel.  The last question in a discussion guide says:  "If you have read The Good Earth, discuss similarities and differences between Buck’s novel and Min’s Pearl of China.  How does each author portray the people, land, and troubles of rural China?"  I wonder how different this book will be.  I'm reading it for my book club's first discussion of 2015.  Here's a summary:
It is the end of the nineteenth century and China is riding on the crest of great change, but for nine-year-old Willow, the only child of a destitute family in the small southern town of Chin-kiang, nothing ever seems to change.  Until the day she meets Pearl, the eldest daughter of a zealous American missionary.  Pearl is head-strong, independent and fiercely intelligent, and will grow up to be Pearl S. Buck, the Pulitzer- and Nobel Prize-winning writer and humanitarian activist, but for now all Willow knows is that she has never met anyone like her in all her life.  From the start the two are thick as thieves, but when the Boxer Rebellion rocks the nation, Pearl's family is forced to leave China to flee religious persecution.  As the twentieth century unfolds in all its turmoil, through right-wing military coups and Mao's Red Revolution, through bad marriages and broken dreams, the two girls cling to their lifelong friendship across the sea.  In this ambitious and moving new novel, Anchee Min, acclaimed author of Empress Orchid and Red Azalea, brings to life a courageous and passionate woman who loved the country of her childhood and who has been hailed in China as a modern heroine.

Gilion at Rose City Reader hosts Book Beginnings on Fridays.  Click here for today's Mister Linky.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

BTT (#44) ~ young adult books

Deb at Booking Through Thursday asks:  "Do you read books written for children or teens?  Or do you stick to books for adults?"

I read a variety of books, fiction and nonfiction for adults and teens (YA).  I also read children's "chapter books" and picture books for the very young.  One of my favorite YA fiction books was....

Out of My Mind ~ by Sharon M. Draper, 2010, YA fiction, 9/10
Click on the title, and the link will take you to my review of the book.  The excellent writing really pulled me in and held my attention.
One of my favorite children's picture books was...

Old Turtle and the Broken Truth ~ by Douglas Wood, illustrated by Jon J Muth, 2003, children's, 10/10
I've loved this one for years — and have my own copy in a box somewhere.  The earth and all its creatures are suffering, because the people will not share their truth with those who are different from them.  Their truth gives them happiness and power.  Then one brave little girl seeks the wisdom of the ancient Old Turtle, who sees that the people's truth is not a whole truth, but a broken truth.  Old Turtle shows the girl the missing part of the truth, and the little girl returns with it to her people.  When the pieces are brought together, the broken truth is made whole at last — "You are loved ... and so are they."  It's a ten (10 of 10), couldn't put it down.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

TWOsday ~ two "found" books

I went to the library to pick up the book I had on reserve and — AFTER checking it out — I noticed a display with bookmarks in every book that said...
A Best Book of 2014!  Chosen as a best book of the year by two or more publications including:  Library Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and more.
Right in front of me was the one my friend Donna had already told me looks good.  Beside it was another book I'd read about and meant to look up sometime.  I checked out both.

Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever's Search for the Truth about Everything ~ by Barbara Ehrenreich, 2014, memoir
From the New York Times bestselling author of Nickel and Dimed comes a brave, frank, and exquisitely written memoir that will change the way you see the world.  Barbara Ehrenreich is one of the most important thinkers of our time.   Educated as a scientist, she is an author, journalist, activist, and advocate for social justice.  In Living with a Wild God, she recounts her quest — beginning in childhood — to find "the Truth" about the universe and everything else:  What's really going on?  Why are we here?  In middle age, she rediscovered the journal she had kept during her tumultuous adolescence, which records an event so strange, so cataclysmic, that she had never, in all the intervening years, written or spoken about it to anyone.  It was the kind of event that people call a "mystical experience" — and, to a steadfast atheist and rationalist, nothing less than shattering.  In Living with a Wild God, Ehrenreich reconstructs her childhood mission, bringing an older woman's wry and erudite perspective to a young girl's impassioned obsession with the questions that, at one point or another, torment us all.  The result is both deeply personal and cosmically sweeping — a searing memoir and a profound reflection on science, religion, and the human condition.  With her signature combination of intellectual rigor and uninhibited imagination, Ehrenreich offers a true literary achievement — a work that has the power not only to entertain but amaze.
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History ~ by Elizabeth Kolbert, 2014
Over the last half-billion years, there have been five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted.  Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs.  This time around, the cataclysm is us.  In prose that is at once frank, entertaining, and deeply informed, New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert tells us why and how human beings have altered life on the planet in a way no species has before.  Interweaving research in half a dozen disciplines, descriptions of the fascinating species that have already been lost, and the history of extinction as a concept, Kolbert provides a moving and comprehensive account of the disappearances occurring before our very eyes.  She shows that the sixth extinction is likely to be mankind’s most lasting legacy, compelling us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Monday Mindfulness ~ consciousness

"You exist in time, but you belong to eternity.
You are a penetration of eternity into the world of time.
You are deathless, living in a body of death.
Your consciousness knows no death, no birth.
It is only your body that is born and dies.
But you are not aware of your consciousness.
You are not conscious of your consciousness,
and that is the whole art of meditation —
becoming conscious of consciousness itself."
— Osho

Friday, December 12, 2014

Beginning ~ at the window

The Altered I: Ursula K. Le Guin's Science Fiction Writing Workshop ~ edited by Lee Harding, 1976, 1978
Miriam stood at the big window of the infirmary ward and looked out at the view and thought, For twenty-five years I have been standing at this window and looking out at this view.  And never once have I seen what I wanted to see.  Nor will I ever see it.  Never again.  O Jerusalem, if I forget thee!
This is the first paragraph of Le Guin's short story "The Eye Altering" (pages 17-28 of this book) that she wrote in the spring of 1975.  She calls it a "first typed draft."  Here's the blurb from the back of my paperback copy of the book:
The Dandenong Experiment.  The astounding science fiction in this book is the result of an even more astounding — and unsettling — experiment.  In 1975 twenty SF writers isolated themselves in the remote Dandenong Range of Australia and began, under the leadership of Ursula K. Le Guin, a bizarre series of exercises designed to deliberately alter their human and literary perceptions, with the intention of exploring, and if possible expanding, the outer limits of science fiction... The experiment was judged a success.  That success is now in your hands:  a unique work of the imagination that has opened unforeseen new horizons!
I've read this book three times already: in 1978, in 1981, and in 1990. It's been 24 years since the last time, and I've forgotten all the details. I'm ready to read it again.

Gilion at Rose City Reader hosts Book Beginnings on Fridays.  Click here for today's Mister Linky.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Library Loot ~ December 10-16

Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference ~ by Cordelia Fine, 2010, women's studies
A brilliantly researched and wickedly funny rebuttal of the pseudo-scientific claim that men are from Mars and women are from Venus.  It’s the twenty-first century, and although we tried to rear unisex children — boys who play with dolls and girls who like trucks — we failed.  Even though the glass ceiling is cracked, most women stay comfortably beneath it.  And everywhere we hear about vitally important "hardwired" differences between male and female brains.  The neuroscience that we read about in magazines, newspaper articles, books, and sometimes even scientific journals increasingly tells a tale of two brains, and the result is more often than not a validation of the status quo.  Women, it seems, are just too intuitive for math; men too focused for housework.  Drawing on the latest research in neuroscience and psychology, Cordelia Fine debunks the myth of hardwired differences between men’s and women’s brains, unraveling the evidence behind such claims as men’s brains aren’t wired for empathy and women’s brains aren’t made to fix cars. She then goes one step further, offering a very different explanation of the dissimilarities between men’s and women’s behavior.  Instead of a "male brain" and a "female brain," Fine gives us a glimpse of plastic, mutable minds that are continuously influenced by cultural assumptions about gender.  Passionately argued and unfailingly astute, this book provides us with a much-needed corrective to the belief that men’s and women’s brains are intrinsically different — a belief that, as Fine shows with insight and humor, all too often works to the detriment of ourselves and our society.
The line that jumps out at me is that "we tried to rear unisex children — boys who play with dolls and girls who like trucks — we failed."  I have two daughters and one son.  The twins are three years older than their brother, and I was a feminist when they were growing up in the 1960s.  I gave toy cars and trucks and dolls to all three children, but yes — "we failed."  My children didn't become "unisex," but I do have competent daughters and a compassionate son.  What "failed" was that, although each of them played with the same toys, their play was different.

Cars and trucks
My daughters "talked" as they pushed little cars from place to place.  "We go around the corner and over the bridge to grandmother's house, and we park the car and go inside."  My son, on the other hand, pushed his cars while making noises for it:  "Vroom!  Vroom!  VROOM!  Screeeech, BANG!"  I didn't teach them how to play, so it must have been innate.

The girls cuddled their dolls and rocked them to sleep.  They put them to bed and covered them up with doll blankets as they played "house" with each other.  My little boy insisted on having G.I. Joe dolls, not baby dolls.  His idea of playing with dolls was to tie a handkerchief or wash cloth to the doll with strings and throw it off the deck to see if his make-shift parachute would work.  G.I. Joe usually fell rapidly to the ground, landing with a splat!

How scientific is that anecdotal evidence?  Not very.  But I'll be interested in seeing what Cordelia Fine has to say about society and neurosexism.  I can debunk the idea that "men’s brains aren’t wired for empathy and women’s brains aren’t made to fix cars."  I could do a better job of fixing what was wrong with my car than the man who pulled up behind my stalled car one day, jumped out and ran up to grab the pliers out of my hand (he was truly trying to be helpful).  But then he just stood there, staring at the motor of my car.  I took back my pliers, thanked him, fixed the problem, and drove off.  Meanwhile, I can assure you I raised a perfectly fine young man with oodles of empathy, who cares for others.
Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire @ The Captive Reader and Linda @ Silly Little Mischief that encourages us to share the names of books we checked out of the library.  See what others got this week.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Mindfulness ~ coping with stress

Source of photo
Mindfulness helps teens cope with stress and anxiety, according to an article I read last week.  The photo (from the article) shows a room that I find peaceful because of the painting on the wall of what appears to me to be autumn leaves blowing in the wind.  See the swirls of "white wind" and loose leaves of all sizes?  I think I'll start alternating days of exercise with days of mindful meditation.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday ~ exercise an hour        Tuesday ~ mindful meditation
Wednesday ~ exercise              Thursday ~ mindful meditation
Friday ~ exercise an hour         Saturday ~ mindful meditation
Sunday ~ a day of rest

Friday, December 5, 2014

Beginning ~ with Alma's birth

The Signature of All Things ~ by Elizabeth Gilbert, 2013, fiction
Alma Whittaker, born with the century, slid into our world on the fifth of January, 1800.  Swiftly — nearly immediately — opinions began to form around her.  Alma's mother, upon viewing the infant for the first time, felt quite satisfied with the outcome.
I'm reading this one with the book club formed by readers at my church.  Here's the story line:
Spanning much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the novel follows the fortunes of the extraordinary Whittaker family as led by the enterprising Henry Whittaker — a poor-born Englishman who makes a great fortune in the South American quinine trade, eventually becoming the richest man in Philadelphia.  Henry’s brilliant daughter Alma, who inherits both her father’s money and his mind, ultimately becomes a botanist of considerable gifts herself.  As Alma’s research takes her deeper into the mysteries of evolution, she falls in love with a man named Ambrose Pike who makes incomparable paintings of orchids and who draws her in the exact opposite direction — into the realm of the spiritual, the divine, and the magical.  Alma is a clear-minded scientist; Ambrose a utopian artist — but what unites this unlikely couple is a desperate need to understand the workings of this world and the mechanisms behind all life.  This novel soars across the globe — from London to Peru to Philadelphia to Tahiti to Amsterdam, and beyond.  Along the way, the story is peopled with unforgettable characters:  missionaries, abolitionists, adventurers, astronomers, sea captains, geniuses, and the quite mad.  But most memorable of all, it is the story of Alma Whittaker, who — born in the Age of Enlightenment, but living well into the Industrial Revolution — bears witness to that extraordinary moment in human history when all the old assumptions about science, religion, commerce, and class were exploding into dangerous new ideas.

Gilion at Rose City Reader hosts Book Beginnings on Fridays.  Click here for today's Mister Linky.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

TBT ~ one of Kiki's posts

I used to walk on Bonnie's desk, back when I first moved in with her.  Kinda like this cat on Hemingway's desk.  Bonnie doesn't have a nice clean desk like this, though.  She has papers on her desk.  I would cross the desk between the twin beds, occasionally taking time to nudge a pile of papers onto the floor.  That accomplished two things:
1.  It was fun to watch paper flutter to the ground.
2.  It always got Bonnie's attention, no matter how busy she was.
2-1/2.  It always got Bonnie's attention, even when she was asleep on one of those beds.
It did NOT always convince her to get up and feed me, so now I don't bother.  Besides, those papers are piled too high to walk on now.  If I tried, I'd slide off the desk and have to scramble to land on my feet.

I'd rather take a nap.

Kiki Cat, signing off

Footnote from Bonnie:  Some of you may remember that my cat used to help me blog and review books.  This is from Kiki's notes that I found under the green chair after she died.  It may have been among her earliest musings, since that "desk between the beds" thing happened back in 2001 shortly after my friend Carol thought I needed a cat and 13-month-old Kiki came home with me.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Library Lust ~ hammock?

Claire @ The Captive Reader sometimes shares "library lust" posts showing home libraries we may or may not like.  I thought of Claire when I saw this photo.  Do you like this room?  Would you use that hammock?

Library Loot ~ December 3-9

A Friendship for Today ~ by Patricia C. McKissack, 2007, YA fiction (Missouri)
The year is 1954, the place is Missouri, and twelve-year-old Rosemary Patterson is about to make history.  She is one of the first African American students to enter the white school in her town.  Headstrong, smart Rosemary welcomes the challenge, but starting this new school gets more daunting when her best friend is hospitalized for polio.  Suddenly, Rosemary must face all the stares and whispers alone.  But when the girl who has shown her the most cruelty becomes an unlikely confidante, Rosemary learns important truths about the power of friendship to overcome prejudice.
Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire @ The Captive Reader and Linda @ Silly Little Mischief that encourages us to share the names of books we checked out of the library.  See what others got this week.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Readers' Workout ~ a merry month of movement

Hosted by Joy's Book Blog
Joy wrote this morning:
"How was your November?  What are you planning for December?  Do you expect it to be easier or more difficult than most months for exercise?"
Last week, I was on my own.  Yesterday, I went to my exercise class only to discover it was cancelled, again.  Since people were slipping and sliding in St. Louis because of ice on the roads — and on the sidewalks and on the cars — I could understand that.  In my case, since the exercise class meets on the ground floor of my high-rise senior living center, it's only an elevator ride away.  A few older adults from the neighborhood attend, but most of us live in the building.  So I went, prepared to lead the group myself, if our fearless leader couldn't make it.  Our teacher sometimes goes around the circle, having each of us pick the next routine, whether squats or stretching our exercise bands or whatever.  We could do it!  Yes!

Nope!  I arrived to find a dark room.  No one else was there.  I waited around a bit, and one other woman showed up.  I told her we could do our own exercise routine, but she said she wasn't feeling up to it, and we ended up in my apartment, talking.  Maybe I'll have to work it out with the office that we would be willing to be self-taught next time, if no leader shows up.

Today, Joy called December "A Merry Month of Movement."  I'll try to make it exactly that — even if I must do it on my own.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Library Loot ~ Nov. 26 - Dec. 2

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics ~ by Daniel James Brown, 2013, history (Washington state)
Nonfiction that reads like a novel.  Traces the story of an American rowing team from the University of Washington that defeated elite rivals at Hitler's 1936 Berlin Olympics, sharing the experiences of their enigmatic coach, a visionary boat builder, and a homeless teen rower.  This book tells the story of the University of Washington’s 1936 eight-oar crew and their epic quest for an Olympic gold medal, a team that transformed the sport and grabbed the attention of millions of Americans.  The sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the boys defeated elite rivals first from eastern and British universities and finally the German crew rowing for Adolf Hitler in the Olympic games in Berlin, 1936.  The emotional heart of the story lies with one rower, Joe Rantz, a teenager without family or prospects, who rows not for glory, but to regain his shattered self-regard and to find a place he can call home.  The crew is assembled by an enigmatic coach and mentored by a visionary, eccentric British boat builder, but it is their trust in each other that makes them a victorious team.  They remind the country of what can be done when everyone quite literally pulls together — a perfect melding of commitment, determination, and optimism.  Drawing on the boys’ own diaries and journals, their photos and memories of a once-in-a-lifetime shared dream, this is an irresistible story about beating the odds and finding hope in the most desperate of times — the improbable, intimate story of nine working-class boys from the American west who, in the depths of the Great Depression, showed the world what true grit really meant.
The Afterlife of Billy Fingers: How My Bad-Boy Brother Proved to Me There's Life After Death ~ by Annie Kagan, 2013
A few weeks after his death, William Cohen, aka Billy Fingers, woke his sister Annie at dawn.  "I'm drifting weightlessly through these glorious stars and galaxies and I feel a Divine Presence, a kind, loving, beneficent presence, twinkling all around me."  Billy's ongoing after-death communications take his sister on an unprecedented journey into the bliss and wonder of life beyond death.  Billy's profound, detailed description of the mystical realms he traverses, the Beings of Light that await him, and the wisdom he receives take the reader beyond the near-death experience.  Billy is, indeed, as Dr. Raymond Moody points out in his foreword, explaining the phenomenon we've known about since ancient times:  an afterworld walker.  To quote Billy:  "If I could give you a gift, it would be to find the glory inside yourself, beyond the roles and the drama, so you can dance of the game of life with a little more thythm, a little more abandon, a little more shaking-those-hips."
Turn of Mind ~ by Alice LaPlante, 2011, fiction
As the book opens, Dr. Jennifer White’s best friend, Amanda, who lived down the block, has been killed, and four fingers surgically removed from her hand.  Dr. White is the prime suspect and she herself doesn’t know whether she did it.  Told in White’s own voice, fractured and eloquent, a picture emerges of the surprisingly intimate, complex alliance between these life-long friends — two proud, forceful women who were at times each other’s most formidable adversaries.  As the investigation into the murder deepens and White’s relationships with her live-in caretaker and two grown children intensify, a chilling question lingers:  Is White’s shattered memory preventing her from revealing the truth or helping her to hide it?  A startling portrait of a disintegrating mind clinging to bits of reality through anger, frustration, shame, and unspeakable loss, this novel examines the deception and frailty of memory and how it defines our very existence.
Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire @ The Captive Reader and Linda @ Silly Little Mischief that encourages us to share the names of books we checked out of the library.  See what others got this week.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Readers' Workouts ~ on my own this week

Readers' Workouts is the weekly event where book lovers share workout stories, goals, successes, and challenges.

Since this is Thanksgiving week, we knew our Friday workout class would not meet.  Our leader had a death in her family and the funeral was on Monday, which meant we would miss both sessions.  So I did the exercises in my apartment, on my own.  Using a chair, as we elders do in our group, may not seem like much exercise to young folks, but it does help with our balance and steadiness.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Beginning ~ with a phone call

The Afterlife of Billy Fingers: How My Bad-Boy Brother Proved to Me There's Life After Death ~ by Annie Kagan, 2013
The Miami Dade Police left a message on my answering machine at nine in the morning.  "If you know William Cohen, please contact Sergeant Diaz at 305..."
Those opening words of the book make me want to keep reading to find out what happened.  Here's what the book is about:
Annie Kagan is not a medium or a psychic, and she did not die and come back to life.  In fact, when she was awakened by her deceased brother, she thought perhaps she had gone a little crazy.  Kagan shares the extraordinary story of her after death communications (ADC) with her brother Billy, who began speaking to her just weeks after his unexpected death.  One of the most detailed and profound ADC's ever recorded, Kagan's book takes the reader beyond the near-death experience.  Billy's vivid, real-time account of his on-going journey through the mysteries of death will change the way you think about life, death, and your place in the universe.

Gilion at Rose City Reader hosts Book Beginnings on Fridays.  Click here for today's Mister Linky.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Library Loot ~ November 19-25

Lila ~ by Marilynne Robinson, 2014, fiction (Iowa)
Lila, homeless and alone after years of roaming the countryside, steps inside a small-town Iowa church — the only available shelter from the rain — and ignites a romance and a debate that will reshape her life.  She becomes the wife of a minister, John Ames, and begins a new existence while trying to make sense of the life that preceded her newfound security.  Neglected as a toddler, Lila was rescued by Doll, a canny young drifter, and brought up by her in a hardscrabble childhood.  Together they crafted a life on the run, living hand to mouth with nothing but their sisterly bond and a ragged blade to protect them.  Despite bouts of petty violence and moments of desperation, their shared life was laced with moments of joy and love.  When Lila arrives in Gilead, she struggles to reconcile the life of her makeshift family and their days of hardship with the gentle Christian worldview of her husband which paradoxically judges those she loves.
Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire @ The Captive Reader and Linda @ Silly Little Mischief that encourages us to share the names of books we checked out of the library.  See what others got this week.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Beginning ~ with a "furlough"

Gray Mountain ~ by John Grisham, 2014, fiction (Virginia)
The horror was in the waiting — the unknown, the insomnia, the ulcers.  Co-workers ignored each other and hid behind locked doors.  Secretaries and paralegals passed along the rumors and refused eye contact.  Everyone was on edge, wondering, "Who might be next?"  The partners, the big boys, appeared shell-shocked and wanted no contact with their underlings.  They might soon be ordered to slaughter them.
Here's a summary of the story:
The year is 2008 and Samantha Kofer’s career at a huge Wall Street law firm is on the fast track — until the recession hits and she gets downsized, furloughed, escorted out of the building.  Samantha, one of the "lucky" associates, is offered an opportunity to work at a legal aid clinic for one year without pay, after which there would be a slim chance that she’d get her old job back.  In a matter of days Samantha moves from Manhattan to Brady, Virginia, population 2,200, in the heart of Appalachia, a part of the world she has only read about.  Mattie Wyatt, lifelong Brady resident and head of the town’s legal aid clinic, is there to teach her how to "help real people with real problems."  For the first time in her career, Samantha prepares a lawsuit, sees the inside of an actual courtroom, gets scolded by a judge, and receives threats from locals who aren’t so thrilled to have a big-city lawyer in town.  And she learns that Brady, like most small towns, harbors some big secrets.  Her new job takes Samantha into the murky and dangerous world of coal mining, where laws are often broken, rules are ignored, regulations are flouted, communities are divided, and the land itself is under attack from Big Coal.  Violence is always just around the corner, and within weeks Samantha finds herself engulfed in litigation that turns deadly.
There are currently "641 holds on first copy returned of 402 copies" in the St. Louis County Library system.  I, of course, am number 641.  Oops!  Someone has just become number 642.  How, you ask, did I manage to copy the opening lines of this novel, if I don't have the book in my hand?  Straight off the internet.  Why am I so anxious to read it, when I don't normally read thrillers?  Because Roy Exum wrote about the book in connection with a similar situation happening near Chattanooga, Tennessee, my hometown:  ‘Gray Mountain’ and Dayton Mountain.  Comparing Grisham's thriller with the real-life coal company that, last month, got approval for coal mining operations for Dayton Mountain in Rhea County, Exum wrote:
My big hope is that the Rhea County School Board will make John Grisham’s latest thriller required reading.  It tears the top off the Big Coal industry and, if you think it is unfair for me to draw a parallel between a fictitious book and a coal-mining operation that will scalp Dayton Mountain, allow me to point out, "Fair is a place you take your favorite pig in the summertime."

Gilion at Rose City Reader hosts Book Beginnings on Fridays.  Click here for today's Mister Linky.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Library Loot ~ November 12-18

The UK's cover is beautiful, isn't it?
Flight Behavior ~ by Barbara Kingsolver, 2012, fiction (Tennessee), 9/10
I reported getting this novel as library loot exactly two years ago this week.  This re-loot is not because I failed to read the book the first time I got it, but because I'm to lead the discussion in December in my new book club.  I originally read this book with my online Book Buddies, going through it piece by piece with our own monarch butterfly expert, Mary/Zorro.  In the story, Dellarobia Turnbow comes upon-millions of monarch butterflies glowing like a "lake of fire" in a sheep pasture owned by her in-laws.  The find is immediately branded a miracle and promises a lucrative tourist season for the financially beleaguered Turnbows.  Dellarobia, who gave up college when she became pregnant at 17, takes a big leap when she starts working with the research team.  I especially liked learning about the possible catastrophe in the collapse of the continental ecosystem of the monarch butterflies.
The Age of Miracles ~ by Karen Thompson Walker, 2012, fiction
Though I didn't get this re-loot read when I first reported it in 2013, the premise behind it still fascinates me.  The rotation of the earth has suddenly begun to slow, with the days and nights growing longer and longer, gravity being affected, and the environment thrown into disarray.  It was named one of the best books of the year by People, O: The Oprah Magazine, Financial Times, Kansas City Star, BookPage, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, and Booklist.

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Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire @ The Captive Reader and Linda @ Silly Little Mischief that encourages us to share the names of books we checked out of the library.  See what others got this week.