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, March 26, 2011

The Allure of the Continent

Currently Reading: The Paris Wife

Hemingway was an avid skier. Who knew that? Whenever I think of him, I imagine a crotchety old man in the tropics drinking and cursing. One of the things I like best about reading novels about famous artists, as opposed to biographies, is that you get a better picture of the emotions and the moods involved. And not just for the famous person, but for his or her associates as well. This book is from the viewpoint of Hemingway's wife and is a wonderful ride through the artistic community in Paris as well as other places. One of the things that sticks out at me, is that these types tend to stick together and form their own little cliques that us regular folks can only envy. He pals around with Gertrude Stein and Scott Fitzgerald. Not to mention Ezra Pound and Sterling Anderson. They are all expats who are drawn to the freedom of Europe. Now yes, America is the land of the free and all, but it is not free in all respects. Artists often feel stifled by the general mood of America and its lack of appreciation for art and those who create it. I guess they have a point. Most of our freedoms and the things we laud about ourselves deal with making your own way through financial means, rather than what makes you happy and feel sated. For us, money is the thing that is supposed to accomplish all this. I can kind of relate as there is a "starving artist" in my own family. I often find myself thinking that he is unsuccessful and needs to get a life because he is not making money and being the American definition of a success. But at the same time, I am envious of his freedom. He is doing what he does and doing it well. How wonderful to sketch all day and produce things that are pleasing. I can't say that all my students feel the same satisfaction when we factor a polynomial or graph a rational function. Who is right? Who is doing the best thing in life? I guess that it is impossible to say one or the other definitively. What is right for one is certainly not right for all. This is why artists go away. That attitude is so much more prevalent in Europe. Maybe one day it will rub off on us greedy Americans, but I don't foresee that happening anytime soon. We have spend our entire existence trying to shuck off out European roots. Why embrace them again now? Not to mention they don't like bombing people as much as us. Sigh....

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Precious Gifts

Currently Reading: Life as We Know It

I borrowed this book from an eighth grade boy. Wait! Don't stop reading now! It was amazing and a wonderful read. I am actually quite proud of him for having picked it out and enjoyed it himself. It is a future history story in which the moon is hit by an asteroid. It is not destroyed, but put off its orbit a bit and this shift quite literally changes "life as we know it". The story is told through the journal of a teenage girl. She lives with her mother and two brothers. It is amazing the impact that the moon has on the Earth. It guides our tides so at the onset, you think that it is only a few tsunamis that are the issue. (And as current events tell, these can be quite damaging.) But of course, this is not the only problem. The changes in tides causes the atmosphere to shift which leads to altered weather patterns. Not to mention the increased pull on lava or magma underground (I forget which is which) and so volcanic action and ash in the air changes things too. Almost all contact is lost with others and the family becomes an isolated unit in the desolate world. They manage by fasting and burning whatever wood they can find. Millions die and they are close to it as well. The most telling thing about this book is how much we take for granted. Simple things like water, electricity, phone service. And of course now common things such as the internet and satellite TV. It makes me think of the horrors that are occurring in Japan as we speak. All the modern conveniences become moot and we are left to rely simply on humans and their ingenuity. I hope that this is never an experience that I have to face myself, and yet feel it is something we all have to keep in the back of our minds. All of this is tentative and may be taken from us at a moments notice. We must not waste the gifts we have at hand and must cherish the things that will last through and through. Family, knowledge, imagination, and emotion. All things that will be around no matter what happens with the moon or anything else around us. Oh how lucky we are.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Finding Yourself

Currently Reading: The Other Family

I think I have blogged about something similar before, but I am ever taken by the ability of one person to so dominate his or her peers that they lose themselves and their own individuality. In this book, Richie is almost the main character even though he is dead before the book even starts. He is the father of four children. One boy by his first wife and three daughters by his second. Although it turns out that they never actually married and he stayed legally wed to the first for all the subsequent years. Richie's power personality has caused all those around him to meld their lives to suit his needs and virtually everyone is lost once he is gone. This story is about them finding themselves and Trollope does an excellent job of sharing each person's journey without bias or an underlying motive. In the end, after much discovery, they all end up OK. Not perfect, but in a contented state. Being able to think of their own needs, helps Richie's family find themselves which is cathartic for all.

I try to think about who or what is the domineering factor in my life, but find that I cannot think of any one thing except myself. Does this mean that I am more selfish or does this mean that I am surrounded by people who are themselves not selfish, pushing their own wants and needs onto my actions? It is something to think about. Wives who stay with abusive husbands or people who stay in other unsatisfying relationships not because they are happy, but because it would cause them to lose their anchor and purpose in the world. It is hard to reach a balance. Yes one should be mindful of those around them, but they need not be submissive and live only to serve others. You must take yourself in mind when making decisions. Not always first, but consider the effects you will experience. Perhaps at times the happiness of someone else is actually the best solution. Sometimes pleasing others is pleasing to yourself. Much to think about. I like it when a book does that. Satisfying and entertaining.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Morbid Thoughts

Currently Reading: The Good Thief

I know, I know. It has been far too long. I actually have four books to blog about and really, I am choosing to focus on their common theme, death. In the first, The Clothes on Their Back, death is viewed as an ending of a story. The main character longs to know more about her heritage, but finds that death keeps cutting the story far too short. The second book, Crazy in Alabama, takes a more humorous approach. Death is something that occurs each day and everyone deals with it and deals it out in their own way. The Dead Lie Down is the third and it looks as death as rebirth. The main characters find that death is a way to reinvent yourself and create a fiction to be displayed for others. Now I am currently in a book that sees death as a profession. The young boy who is the main character, finds himself amongst grave robbers and while he is initially upset by this career choice, he is alone and basically forced to participate if only to remain alive.

What I find interesting is that so many of the books, movies, and even songs we hear deal with two main themes, death and love. Why are these so prevalent in the arts of both today and those of yore? I think that it is because they are things that all humans experience at some point in their lives. Whether you are rich or poor, black or white, male or female, death will touch you at some point in your life (and well really in your afterlife as well). We can almost all relate to losing a loved one, missing out on the lives of those before us, and eventually succumbing to death ourselves. The fear of death is also something everyone feels at some point be they god-fearing or not. As I read these books, I think about the ways that death touches me. I admit it is not something I dwell upon on a regular basis, but I have lost people close to me and long to have met so many of the people who have since passed on. Another thing that makes death an interesting theme in literature is that it is inevitable. No matter what choices are made or actions are taken, death will get us all in the end.

Now I don't want to leave you all on such a morbid thought, so here's something more cheery. We all know it is coming so let's make the most of each day and take advantage of the fact that we have still eluded the grim reaper for now.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


Currently Reading: Life, After

This one was recommended to me by one of my students. It is about a girl in Argentina whose family is forced to move to America because of all the political unrest and financial difficulties. They just got there as I am reading and so I am looking forward to seeing what ensues. The scariest part of this book is that the Argentinian Jews were going through all these hardships earlier this decade and I had no idea! How can I be so out of the loop? It is embarrassing that the first I am learning about this is when I am reading a young adult book. My mom is so good (perhaps too good) about watching the news and keeping up with current events. I am so immersed in my own little world that I have no clue as to the horrors and even excitement that is occurring each day throughout the world. I am going to resolve to change this. It is important to be aware of not only local issues, but global ones as well. We are no longer isolated people living in small towns, but rather part of a world wide community of people. How can I be so self-centered in the face of all these crises? Of course, on the other hand, I find myself thinking about what I possible think I can do to make a difference. I guess that simply informing yourself about what is out there is the first step. So here's to making a big first step in becoming a productive member of not just my own personal community, but the larger one as well.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

If you really loved me...

Currently Reading: 10 Days in the Hills

Of course I actually just started this one and have two others to post about. First is Mercy by Jodi Picoult. This one is about mercy killing, which reminds me of my last post a bit. A relatively young man's wife's body is rife with cancer and she is in so much pain. The pair are so totally in love that he will do almost anything for her. She asks him to kill her, and he does. The trial and feelings that ensure are heart-wrenching in part, but overall, I just couldn't relate to the whole love stuff. There is another side story about another couple where one would do anything for the other, but he is not quite so in love as his wife. This stuff I just couldn't understand, but the whole mercy killing business is something I can think about. I would hope that I would be allowed to choose death before pain, but really, who are we to decide. I think that it is one thing to have a DNR, but another to actually have someone kill you. I can't really say one way or the other who is right. I hate seeing someone in pain and I understand the need to be in control. I guess in my mind, she needed to have done the deed herself rather than make him feel obligated to do it. Then your choice truly affects someone else in more ways than simply emotional ones. How would she have felt if he had to spend the rest of his life in jail? What if he was brutalized in prison? This would be her fault. How can she feel just in punishing him in this way as well? I don't know, maybe it is because I have no experience with this sort of love and devotion. Still, this book brought up a lot to talk and think about. This is something that needs to be addressed in our legal system as it is occurring all too often.

The second book is That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo. Yet again he manages to weave a complicated tale between the characters in his story. Russo is such an amazing character writer and I always love his books. One notable thing about his writing is that as he ages, his main characters age as well. I can help bu feel that their relationships are mirroring things in Russo's own life. He also does so well at depicting the academic. Even with all their short comings, they still make me want to teach at a college. How different it is from my public high school career. It is interesting how Russo tends towards academically inclined people. Perhaps this is what he knows and therefore who he can write best. Anyways, now you have two more goodies to consider perusing. Actually three, since this next one is pretty cool so far.