Welcome to my bookshelf


I am a voracious reader who is constantly found with her nose in a good (although sometimes not so good) book. I felt the need to share my experiences and suggestions, so here it is. Recommendations and comments are most definitely desired.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Ghosts and Spirits

Currently Reading: Hypothermia

Book five of the Icelandic murder mysteries. Again, another interesting topic lays the basis for this investigation. The afterlife. Do you believe in it? Why or why not? In this story, the woman who died is actually a central character as the book makes many forays into the past and we have a chance to learn her thoughts and feelings just prior to her death. She has recently lost her mother and her father died in suspicious circumstances when she was just a girl. Maria wants to believe in an afterlife so terribly that she even resorts to finding a way to die and then be revived by her doctor husband. Her experiment does not yield the intended results and yet she knows for sure now! (Morbid humor, I know.) She made a pack with her mother prior to her death where they planned a sign for Maria's mother to give to show she was still around and watching over her daughter. Maria then loses touch with the real world in her attempts to discover and appreciate any sign of her mother's continued existence. I wholeheartedly do not believe in life after death. I think that in order to believe in the after-world, one must first believe in a higher power, which I do not. I suppose that it is comforting to people to believe that life does not end with the passing of our body. It makes death easier to accept as well as helps one simply go through the motions of living each day. I think that it is almost more morbid and horrifying to be living for later rather than taking each day as it comes and appreciating what you have at the moment. Who has time to worry about things that will happen once you are dead? You will be gone and over with and someone new can now take your place and use the resources you were so selfishly hording. Now this does not mean that you should just take your life once you are no longer "useful", but still, I wonder why we spend so much energy and money to provide for the dead. Funerals and sacrifices to ancestors seem a little unnecessary to me. The person is dead and gone for god's sake! They can't do anything with that plush cedar casket. I am all for living when you can, dying when it is time, and leaving all your bits and pieces to someone who is still around to appreciate them. Sure we don't get to pick when we go, but I do think some people stick around for longer than necessary, taking up space and doctor attention that could be focused on someone who has more life left to live. Now I am getting into even more controversial topics and can hear some of you yelling yourselves hoarse at what I am typing. Still, my argument is really this. If there is an afterlife, give me some proof. Otherwise, I'm going to keep thinking death is the beginning of your usefulness to worms and maggots and nothing else. Maria couldn't find her proof and neither can anyone else I know.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Busy Little Bees

Currently Reading: The Year of the Flood

Margaret Atwood is such an interesting woman. I have no idea how she comes up with all her wild tales, be they about futuristic possibilities or lost middle aged women looking for meaning in her life. I would love to meet her. In this book, Atwood is back on religion. Organized religions are for the leaders and the creators. The masses are merely the tools of these charismatic men. When the world turn to chaos, the lost and ungrounded flock to these powerful and seductive groups who offer them some sort of meaning and a place in the world. They do what they are told even if deep inside, they disagree. Why can't you eat this or wear that? A bunch of silly rules put in place only so that they could be broken and their breakers be punished. The funniest part of these rules, is that they are only for the little folks. The leaders themselves do not need to follow them and in fact flaunt the fact that they break them all the time. This tale takes place in a possible future, but is all to reminiscent of the world today. I must say that I probable only grasped about half the meanings behind Atwood's words, but what I did really made me think. Definitely recommended if you want something meaty to chew on and willing to take in a different perspective on the ways we use the ignorant masses. There is an underlying theme of hive life. Some of the "gardeners" actually have to tend bees which brings the theme to the forefront even more. There are workers and there are leaders. Everyone has his or her own job to do to help the whole and if they don't do their part, they will be swept away and replaced with someone new. The happiness and survival of the tribe, not the individual, is what is important. This is too true in the typical, large scale cults such as many religions, political sects, and other communal living communities. How sad that the experiences of Atwood's characters are not all based in fiction. Again, I want to meet this woman and pick her brain. Where does she come up with this stuff and how is she able to put these thoughts into words in such a prolific manner?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Randomness

Currently Reading: Roommates Wanted

Pg 350: "There were no 'mistakes' in life-just a series of random decisions that led to a series of random outcomes, good and bad."

I think this is a nice outlook to have for life. You didn't mess things up, but rather set things on a different path than they would have been otherwise. I will try to embrace this thought like some of the characters in this book. It is about a bloke who finds himself alone in a large house and finds some flatmates to help fill the space. (The British talk is due to the location of the story.) Of course now, fourteen years later, he wants to get rid of them and is finding this a bit difficult to do. Toby is a poet and therefore a very thoughtful man who doesn't want to put anyone out just to satisfy his own needs. His tenants are all basically down on their luck folks with rather depressing lives. They are unique and yet similar in many ways. No one really wants to grow up, but many are actually "grown-ups" already. How do you know when it is time to move on? Is it your responsibility to pander to the needs of others even when they are not relatives or even really friends. Toby is faced with these questions and is finding himself being pulled back and forth in his decisions. Poor guy. I am looking forward to seeing what actually happens in the end. His father's upcoming visit will play a climactic role I'm sure, since it is really the father's house after all. We shall see. In the meantime, I hope to start thinking positively and try to begin taking life as it comes. Any thing that happens is merely the result of a random choice right? Good or bad.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Role Reversal

Currently Reading: Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

When you think of a typical small town thriller, you have the white sheriff who is a fixture in town and welcome for a cup of joe at any local diner. Then there is the "bad" guy, typically, if it is a Southern town, a black man who is an outcast and rarely seen around town. The opposite is the case here. The law enforcement is represented by Silas, a black man who is somewhat a fixture, but also a bit of an enigma. The "bad" guy is Larry, his secret childhood friend who happens to be white, with an unwarranted blight upon his name. Throughout the story, we are transported back into their memories between periodic present scenes. Every flashback reveals something new about the two men and the events that cemented their place in the town's history. Franklin, the author, does a wonderful job of keeping things secret, while letting little hints slip in here and there. I was intrigued and enthralled the entire time from page one until the end. And what an end. Some of the conclusion is as one might predict, but the real catharsis is one that no one would have predicted. This is one to read when you are feeling sleuth like as well as up for a riveting character driven plot. Franklin gives insight to both perspectives and gives everyone his fair chance for confession. I enjoyed getting to feel part of the community and was able to really glimpse the inner minds of people so different from myself. Choices were made by both main characters that led to their own downfalls of a sort and I found myself wondering what I would have done in their place. Was it courage or cowardliness? Really, it is left for us to decide.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Leap of Faith

Currently Reading: An Object of Beauty

As promised, here it is on Mao's Last Dancer. When I first decided to read this book, I actually didn't know that it was a memoir. And such a wonderful one at that. It reads so well in English that you cannot tell that the author is not a native speaker (at least I can't). One of the most intriguing things about this book is that it is really almost more of a political tale with social commentary rather than one about simply a dancer and his craft. We follow Li as he is born and grows in a poor rural community, then is send to Madame Mao's ballet academy in Beijing. There he has an opportunity to travel to the US and falls in love with it. He is astonished at every corner and experiencing America through Li's eyes is an amazing feeling. How different we are and how much we take for granted were two things that stuck out in my mind. Li ends up liking the US so much, that he want's to stay. Of course the government does not agree and his struggles to remain are so painful to read about. Li does end up in the US, but in doing so, he is a pariah in China and cannot return. He longs to see his family and it is not until years later than they are allowed to visit. Eventually he is allowed to return for a visit and the story ends full circle. Li is back in his tiny village and although some things have changed, much remains the same. It is a remarkable journey undertaken by someone so naive with the outside word. There are many stories and fables interspersed amongst the writing and one is about an insect who lives in a well and is totally unaware of what is outside his small environment. Li represents a creature who as escaped and been enlightened and yet still has fond memories of home.

I feel like through reading this book I have had the opportunity to learn more about communist China as well as everyday life in the rural villages. How stifled life was under the iron fist of the government and how sad that even something as basic as art is so greatly controlled by the few in power. I am glad that Li chose to share his story with the world. It has something for everyone from drama to romance, art and politics and is a worthwhile tale for all to read. He was and is a brave man who fought not only for his own happiness, but for chance to share his passion with the world.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Truth or Dare?

Currently Reading: Mao's Last Dancer

I will definitely comment on that one in a minute, but first I want to talk about my last book, The Truth Teller's Lie. How do we know when it is OK to lie or when it is a no no? Is it always a bad thing? Also, what constitutes a lie for the greater good or is it really a lie if you tell the truth in the guise of a lie? All these question popped up throughout the book. It is mainly from the perspective of a man's mistress. He goes missing and she tells a "lie" in order to encourage the police to look harder for him. The thing is that the lie she tells is actually the truth just missing a few pertinent details. This lie leads to investigations that turn from her lover's story, but actually end up back with his tale later on. This was an intriguing book with so many twists and turns that you never knew what was the actual truth and what was fiction. Another interesting thing about her story is that most chapters are written as her thoughts to her lover. She refers to the reader as "you" and it is awesome to get to feel like you are becoming a character in the book. Now this all leads back to the lies we tell in our own lives. I was talking about this with my mom today actually. Should you always be honest and frank with people even when it might hurt their feelings or cause them to become angry at you? Is it worth sparing their feelings so that you do not have to deal with the anger? It is an interesting question and one that I think everyone struggles with each day. I believe that it is important to be honest, but am willing to admit that I will sometimes stew or bite my tongue in order to avoid confrontation. Is this just fear on my part or am I really being nice and sparing my fellow human being? I am sad to say that for the most part, it comes down to my fear. From this book though, it is clear that if the real truth would have just come out sooner, all would have been better. Will I learn from this, probably not, but it is something to think about.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The World is a Terrible Place

Currently Reading: Snow

Pg 275: "Mankind's greatest error, the biggest deception of the past thousand years is this: to confuse poverty with stupidity."

Pg 350: "People who seek only happiness never find it."

This is a tragic tale taking place in Turkey where the country is rife with political and religious infighting. It follows a formerly exiled poet as he returns to his roots, finds love, and becomes immersed in the world he has so long forgotten. There is so much sadness and discomfort amongst the native people and everyone seems to think that his or her own ideas are the ones that all should follow. Power is in the hands of a few and those few are ones who ought not have the power to begin with. It is a sad state of affairs and is so evoking of things happening throughout the world as we speak. Why is it so wrong for each person to believe what he or she wants? Why must we conform to someone else's idea of happiness. Poor Ka finds what he thinks will make him happy, but is forced to make so many sacrifices in order to secure this happiness. He is scoffed by others (as evidenced in the above quote) and labeled an atheist who is not only against god, but against the state as well. It is no wonder that he wants to return to Germany, but still, his love remains in Turkey and he is "forced" to do undesirable things in order to bring her back with him. Love is a powerful motivator.

This book is told from the perspective of one of Ka's friends, we don't at this point know who he is, and is interesting because he makes allusions to what the future will hold for Ka, but never reveals the entire story. I know that Ka will die, but it is in the future and I am anxiously turning the pages towards the conclusion. Good thing I have all this extra time on my hands.

The other thing I have to note is, how appropriate that I am reading a book called Snow as the flakes continue to float down on Plano. Ka's poems at the moment all relate back to this theme and I think I am getting more of the meaning just by being able to see the snow outside my own window.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

My Way or the Highway

Currently Reading: Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It

This is a book of short stories that all model the title in that they show both sides of a story or address both viewpoints. It is very interesting and I am enjoying the various perspectives. Each of the stories stand alone, but the theme remains consistent. I think the title states a feeling that many of us have. We always want it all and don't like compromise. If you can have whatever you want, and also the other person in the conflict can have whatever they want, then everyone is happy. A very Utopian idea. It reminds me of what we are going through now. Crazy winter weather has caused school to be canceled for three days in a row. While I can't complain about sleeping in late and getting all this reading done, I want to be back at work and hate getting behind. If only I could teach my students psychically. Then there would be no problems. Alas, the extra winks are at the cost of the lesson planning. We will prevail, but not everything will be peachy. I guess we should just enjoy it while we can and deal with the consequences as they pop up.

Another note on my reading. I am now done with book two of the Wheel of Time series. Craziness upon craziness. I love how these authors can picture these massive universes in which to set such intricate and epic tales. I am looking forward to seeing what trials our young heroes face next. Of course, I do have all this extra time with which to read. See, look for the silver lining. Hope everyone is keeping toasty!!