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#108938 - 04/23/09 03:35 PM Re: my own book page [Re: humphreysmar]
Mellowicious Offline
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Registered: 05/03/06
Posts: 9573
Loc: The Great American Desert
In response to Mortensen/Taliban: The Taliban does not like the idea of educating girls. At all.

I didn't know whether to put this here or on the Pakistan thread. I'll put the link here, and if anyone wants to discuss it I would recommend moving it to another thread.

Taliban wages war against girls' education in Pakistan
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Julia

Curiosity killed the cat - Satisfaction brought it back

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#108987 - 04/24/09 01:42 AM Re: my own book page [Re: Mellowicious]
Mellowicious Offline
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Registered: 05/03/06
Posts: 9573
Loc: The Great American Desert
The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent is a first novel, and a very good one. This is a novel of the Salem witchhunts - I wonder how many descendants of those accused at Salem have written novels about it; I would guess that few are this good.

The narrator, Sarah, is a small child when the witchcraft rumors begin. The first half of the book is written in time, as it happens; the second half is a recollection.

The book manages an odd balance of modern English usage with a strong sense of the past. I have begun Martha's practice of earmarking (not literally; this was a library copy) but will include only two. No, three, sorry.

I should note that most of the book is fairly matter-of-fact but in some passages the author writes with an almost hypnotic otherworldliness.

At one point Kent describes a hanging. The description is delicate, detailed, detached, and horrible - all at the same time.

 Quote:
The splintering rope tied around her neck. The gentle push into the summer currents...No rain like the shedding of tears, nor wind to punish the watchers in a tightening crescent of fearful expectation around the tree. The worn and cracked shoes, creased from years of treading the earth, now kicked free from struggling feet. The neck stretching, breaking; the gate to life closing and then collapsing.


In a paragraph, a connection, previously lacking, is built between two characters:

 Quote:
The only secrets I had ever kepts were girlish confidences with Margaret. But here was a different thing. My mother was demanding of me to keep a secret about a large leather-bound book of which I knew nothing. Her face was backlit by the growing flames from the hearth, and though her eyes were in shadow, I could feel her questioning gaze. It was the first time she had asked me for anything beyond the labor of my two hands. I nodded and whispered, "I promise."

She raised a forefinger to her chest, tapped it several times, and then pointed to me, the movement of her fingers forming the illusion of a thread connecting us, breastbone to breastbone.


This last, rather long passage is a description of a dream.

 Quote:
I am dreaming and in this dream I am in Aunt's root cellar...There is life above me and light. But the cellar door is closed and I have in my hand but one end of a candle that has burned through most of its wick.
...
My ears remain sharp to the surrounding darkness, and a rustling, like voices sighing, comes from every part of the cellar. It is not the skeltered scribbling ofa mouse or rat. It is softer, more faint. Somehow, more patient. It is the crackling of a beetle's wing, or the throbbing carapace of a locust on a shaft of wheat. Or the dry, whispering sound of root ends piercing through the earthen walls into the cellar. Slender, attenuated roots, some as fine as spider's wehs, groping their way to the center of the cave where I sit...It is the dream that will come again and again for many days...and always when I wake I will be in a cell in Salem prison. And it will be raining.


(That would be far too dramatic as the last paragraph in the book. It's fine, where it's placed.)

I think it is, in part, the contrast between the fantastic and the mundane that makes the whole story seem so possible. The Salem story is known to all of us but somehow it never seems quite possible. Kent makes it very real.

There's also a very low-key subplot having to do with lives in England prior to emigration to the colonies. Just a very nicely done novel - especially for a first one.

Any awkwardness in the quotes is due to my trying not to give away any story lines.
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Julia

Curiosity killed the cat - Satisfaction brought it back

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#109275 - 04/26/09 06:11 PM Re: my own book page [Re: humphreysmar]
humphreysmar Offline
old hand

Registered: 08/11/04
Posts: 5723
Loc: alabama
A couple years ago I bought a copy of Selected Stories by O. Henry and designated it as "kitchen reading," a book in which I'd read a couple stories each morning. "Kitchen reading" got me through The Federalist Papers, but, sad to say, it didn't work here. A few months later the kitchen table was piled high with "kitchen reading," which now included a dozen or so books and even more copies of Newsweek. I gave up on the concept and moved all the "kitchen reading" into the bedroom. The books took their places on the shelf of unreads, and the Newsweeks formed two shelf-high stacks elsewhere on the bookcase. Now I'm happy to report the system is working. Last night I noticed I was reading a spring 2007 essay by George Will, and this morning I finished O. Henry's short stories.

Up until 50 pages ago, my review was going to be: With O. Henry there's "The Gift of the Magi," and then there's everything else he wrote. In addition I was going to offer two O. Henry guidelines: 1) short is better (A twist works better when it's not at the end of twenty-some tedious pages.), and 2) the New York stories are better than those set in the southwest. This morning, however, I read three stories that were longish, set in New York and really good. I guess guideline 1) didn't survive the test of time. I dog-eared some pages in the last stories.

"The Thing's the Play" is the story of a romantic triangle where two of the three involved meet again after many years. (The O. Henry twist is who the two turn out to be.) Midway through this story I realized I was actually smiling at the occasional phrase. Example: "And then with a woman's reasoning (oh, yes, they do, sometimes) she leaped over common syllogisms, and theory, and logic …" (page 367) OK. I was annoyed. Really annoyed. But, in spite of that, I still smiled. O. Henry gets points for that one.

"Proof of the Pudding" presents an argument between a short story writer and an editor regarding the language people/characters use when they are truly upset. The following sums up each man's view. Dawe, the writer dismisses the editor's view. "You've got that old sawmill drama kink in your brain yet. When the man with the black moustache kidnaps golden-haired Bessie you are bound to have the mother kneel and raise her hands in the spotlight and say, 'May high heaven witness that I will rest neither night nor day till that heartless villain that has stolen me child feels the weight of another's vengeance." (pages 386-387) The writer then presents his own "truth." "She'd say, 'What! Bessie led away by a strange man? Good Lord! It's one trouble after another! Get my hat, I must hurry around to the police-station. Why wasn't someone looking after her, I'd like to know? For God's sake, get out of my way or I'll never get ready. Not that hat—the brown one with the velvet bows. Bessie must have been crazy; she's usually shy of strangers. Is that too much powder? Lordy! How I'm upset!'" (page 387) Obviously B, but I have to admit the twist three pages later did surprise me.

"Confessions of a Humorist" is the story of a bookkeeper who winds up writing a weekly humor column after he gives a lighthearted speech on the occasion of a co-worker's retirement. He describes his life so far. "I had married early. We had a charming boy of three and a girl of five. Naturally, we lived in a vine-covered cottage, and were happy. My salary as a bookkeeper in the hardware concern kept at a distance those ills attendant upon superfluous wealth." (page 394) (Aren't we all happy not to have to deal with such "ills"?) Soon, though, the humorist runs dry and starts to stalk people in search of humor. His children do not escape notice. "I began to stalk them as an Indian stalks the antelope. … Once, when I was barren of ideas, and my copy must leave in the next mail, I covered myself in a pile of autumn leaves in the yard, where I knew they intended to come and play. I cannot bring myself to believe that Guy was aware of my hiding place, but even if he was, I'd be loathe to blame him for setting fire to the leaves, causing the destruction of my new suit of clothes, and nearly cremating a parent. (page 397) Funny. And nicely self-aware.

Bottom line? I heartily recommend the above three stories. And, of course, "The Gift of the Magi."
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Currently reading: Best American Mystery Stories edited by Lee Child and Otto Penzler. AARGH!

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#109276 - 04/26/09 06:19 PM Re: my own book page [Re: humphreysmar]
humphreysmar Offline
old hand

Registered: 08/11/04
Posts: 5723
Loc: alabama
Mellow,

The Salem Witch Trials have always fascinated me. Book's on the list. (When/if the economy improves my bedroom is going to be SO filled with books.)

Your dream quote reminded me of the Bleak House silences quote.


Edited by humphreysmar (04/26/09 06:20 PM)
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#109597 - 04/29/09 01:23 PM Re: my own book page [Re: humphreysmar]
Mellowicious Offline
veteran

Registered: 05/03/06
Posts: 9573
Loc: The Great American Desert
Finished another little -- well, I won't say "gem", but maybe an aquamarine, or an opal.

The House on the Edge of the Jungle is relatively short and has an interesting cover (yes, I judge library books that way, and it seldom fails me.) It's 206 pages.

This book is a study in foreboding. Foreshadowing. And yet it's not really dark at all. Several times on my way through it I found myself thinking "Did I read the cover blurb on this? Do I have any idea what is supposed to happen?"

The story is relatively simple (and believable, if you strain): two small children, born to English parents on Kuala Lumpur, are evacuated in great haste just before the Japanese invasion in World War II. Their parents disappear in the invasion. Now, as adults, the brother (who has closed himself off from interest in the past) is being sent to KL on a business trip, and invites his sister to go along.

The blurb calls it a dramatization of how the past has a hold on the present, but I think it's more than that - I think it shows how the missing past, or a part of the past we believe to be missing whether it is or not, can define not only who we are, but how we focus our lives. (This is getting a bit deep so I'll back out before anyone has to put on boots.)

It really isn't a major book, but it's interesting enough that, had I picked it up on a Saturday morning, I'd have finished it by Sunday night.
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Julia

Curiosity killed the cat - Satisfaction brought it back

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#109601 - 04/29/09 02:12 PM Re: my own book page [Re: Mellowicious]
EmmaG Offline
member

Registered: 09/16/07
Posts: 1841
Loc: Florida Piney Woods
Has anyone read the Alexandria Quartet? One of my professors quotes from it quite often. I read an interesting review of it on Amazon but I'm curious to know how people whom I "know" feel about it.

EmmaG
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#110367 - 05/06/09 04:57 PM Re: my own book page [Re: humphreysmar]
humphreysmar Offline
old hand

Registered: 08/11/04
Posts: 5723
Loc: alabama
James Lee Burke's Purple Cane Road was, like all the Dave Robicheaux novels, several pages too long—IMHO, of course—but I will admit that after Dickens' Bleak House, Purple Cane Road seemed to have an Indy 500 pace.

I did like the story in this one. Robicheaux investigates his mother's murder, which took place over thirty years earlier. Doing so, he runs into the usual crop of prostitutes, pimps, child molesters, and hit men, along with crooked cops and politicians. This time, though, they seemed to interact in more interesting ways. And I think they were more individualized; at least I never had that end-of-the-book-who-is-that-guy-anyway feeling.

As usual, specifics—either good or annoying—caught my attention.

1) Robicheaux is talking with Clete, an ex-cop, now PI, who often helps with cases. "He had unwrapped two fried-oyster po' boy sandwiches, and he set them on the table with two cardboard containers of dirty rice." (page 26) OK. So? I started wondering why two? The scene is not set up as a lunch encounter. There's never a mention of one sandwich being pushed towards Robicheaux. Robicheaux never takes a bite. Clete did, and finally "put down his sandwich and wiped his mouth, and his eyes went flat." (page 26) Burke is a detailed writer, for me frequently too detailed, so wondering whether they were both eating or Clete was especially hungry bothered me. Ok, so it was Miss Picky reading over my shoulder. But it sure did pull me out of the story.

2) Question for someone who knows New Orleans: Is there a street or area named Desire? We have Tennessee Williams' Streetcar Named Desire, the streetcar so named I guess because of its destination, and Robicheaux's job often involves people and events in the Desire Welfare Project—now there's an interesting name. Anyone ever been to such an area in New Orleans? Just curious.

3) "We talked to hookers, pimps, … all the population that clings to the underside of the city like nematodes eating their way through the subsoil of a manicured lawn." (page 97) Cool image.

4) Referring to a lesser (in all senses) character, "But even though he had been a parasite, an adverb and never a noun, …" (page 126) Cool. But what's this noun business? If human beings cam be classified as parts of speech, I wanna be a verb.

5) "… the innocence of a world in which inarticulate people could not tell one another of either their pain or the yearnings of their hearts." (page 322) I really liked those words, but the more I look at them, the more I question the use of the word "innocence." Difficulty? Yes. Innocence can mean not knowing. But the world Burke shows is harsh and cruel. "Innocence" continues to trouble me.

6) Micah has a badly disfigured face. "He used to be a carnival geek. He told me people paid to see the deformity on his face so they wouldn't have to look at the ugliness inside themselves." (page 338) Interesting. True, or a copout to avoid acknowledging the cruelty in people?

7) Towards the end Robicheaux is asked if anything that has happened makes sense. He answers, "Yeah, if you think of the planet as a big blue mental asylum." (page 369) Pretty good description, IMHO.

The other thing Purple Cane Road did was increase my vocabulary. At one point I noticed Burke was using words I'd never knowingly run into before, so I decided to keep track.

1) "..watching the ducks wimpling the water …" (page 76) Dang! I was right. It is clothing, but I never knew it could also be a verb.

2) "… a scrofulous presence …" (page 206) Dictionary: "Morally degenerate; corrupt." I'm right. I don't think I've run into that one before. And I'm not sure I'd use it—certainly not in dialogue. Unless …

3) "… an elephant in musth." (page 367) Heat? (Word didn’t like that one. There's red underlining it.) Yep. Heat. Dictionary: "An annual period of heightened aggressiveness and sexual activity in male elephants, during which violent frenzies occur." I guess my knowledge of elephants will be an ongoing thing.

So, four fish to go. But I really did like this one.
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Currently reading: Best American Mystery Stories edited by Lee Child and Otto Penzler. AARGH!

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#111685 - 05/16/09 06:26 PM Re: my own book page [Re: humphreysmar]
Mellowicious Offline
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Registered: 05/03/06
Posts: 9573
Loc: The Great American Desert
Woke up yesterday morning to a radio interview with Ira Rosofsky. His new book is Nasty, Brutish, and Long. Subtitle? "Adventures in Old Age and the World of Eldercare."

Now, clearly, I have a personal interest in this; Rosofsky sounded as though he had just had a long talk with my father.
However, the interview was intriguing enough that I first heard of the book at 7:30AM, reserved it at the bookstore at 9:30, picked it up at 6PM, and finished it at 2 this morning - not my typical reaction to books on eldercare.

The author is a psychologist who works with residents of nursing homes (mostly the elderly.) He writes with both empathy and frustration - with the homes, with the insurance, government, and pharmaceutical "players," and sometimes with the residents themselves. It makes it an easy read because he really understands the difficulties in care and communication.

Some simple facts of which I was not aware: "If you are 65, your lifetime chances of spending time in a nursing home are 43 percent." (If you manage to avoid this industry as a patient, you'll probably deal with it as the child of a patient.)

Further: "12% of people between 65 and 74 are in nursing homes compared to one-third of those between seventy-five and eighty-four. If you live to 85, your chances are better than one in two."

Much as we think we'll control this aspect of our lives, we probably won't. We will go into the hospital for a broken hip, or pneumonia, and just won't heal well enough to live at home. You don't go shopping for a nursing home; you take whatever bed is open in your town when you happen to need it.

I truly believe that what passes for a medical system in this country will be finally crushed under the burden of elderly baby boomers. (The largest medical cost for the average person is incurred in the last year of life.) But we don't even have the underpinnings of an eldercare system - and the stuff is about to hit the fan; the first baby boomers are over 70.

This book is very readable, highly educational, even sometimes funny. If your parents are aging, or (sorry to say this) you've planned for your old age but firmly closed your eyes to this, or if you're just interested in the medical non-system in this country, the book is probably worth picking up, or borrowing from the library.
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Julia

Curiosity killed the cat - Satisfaction brought it back

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#111794 - 05/17/09 10:09 PM Re: my own book page [Re: Mellowicious]
humphreysmar Offline
old hand

Registered: 08/11/04
Posts: 5723
Loc: alabama
Thanks, Mellow. It'll go on the unread shelf.
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Currently reading: Best American Mystery Stories edited by Lee Child and Otto Penzler. AARGH!

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#111795 - 05/17/09 10:24 PM Re: my own book page [Re: humphreysmar]
loganrbt Offline
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Registered: 02/20/08
Posts: 5850
Loc: Massaphuggintwoshirts
Reading Miles Davis' autobiography. Started it a few years back and was turned off by the steady dose of obscenity. I'm not a prude, but I found it distracting. Now that I have a few more years at RR under my belt, it seems oddly tame! Thanks, y'all! Early in the book, but it is a fascinating review of the personalities of the major figures in the jazz arena starting in the mid-40's. And a very interesting window on the culture of the country on "both sides of the tracks".
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"The white men were as thick and numerous and aimless as grasshoppers, moving always in a hurry but never seeming to get to whatever place it was they were going to." Dee Brown

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