Wednesday, June 15, 2011

What I’m Reading

Sister by Rosamund Lupton
Sister is a beautiful debut novel. The main character receives word that her younger sister is missing. She flies from her home in New York to London only to find that her sister's body is discovered in a desolate area. Although her death is ruled a suicide, her sister refuses to believe it, and thus begins a crime novel and a book about grief. I read it in two days. The writing is superb. Recommend.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
Loved it! My daughters used to play a computer game, Amazon Trail. This book was reminiscent of the birds and wildlife of that game, but on a deeper level, there are parallels to Joseph Conrad's classic, Heart of Darkness. The book is skillfully written, and the story is compelling. Basic premise: a research pharmacologist travels to the outer reaches of the Amazon river to follow up on her colleague who has died in the field, and to check on research for a new drug taking place among a tribe with a very unusual culture. Exciting things happen. Recommend.

Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks
Caleb's Crossing is a historical novel, based on the character, Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck, who was the first native American to graduate from Harvard University in 1665. The next member of his tribe, the
Wampanoag, graduated in May 2011. It is a story of the clash of cultures written when the native Americans were still "selling" land to the new immigrants. Well written, recommend.

March by Geraldine Brooks
Having read and enjoyed both Year of Wonder and Caleb's Crossing, I launched into reading March, another historal novel by Geraldine Brooks. It is a fictionalized account of the father of the March girls who left to join the Union army in his 40's. I found the characters too sentimental and almost put it down several times. Geraldine Brooks should leave the Civil War writings to her husband Tony Horowitz, whose non-fiction book Confederates in the Attic, about Civil War re-enactments was a treasure.

The Poacher's Son by Paul Doiron
A friend I reconnected with at my high school reunion sent me this book as the author is an aquaintance of hers. The central character is a wildlife officer in central Maine. It's at once a crime novel, but also very much a novel with a sense of place. It made me want to learn more about the area where the book is set. The author is the editor of Down East, the Magazine of Maine, and he has a new release, Tresspasser. It was a change of pace for me and I enjoyed it.

House of Prayer No. 2
Even though we have moved from Indiana to Florida, I continue to subscribe to an electronic newsletter from the Vanderburgh County Public Library. House of Prayer No. 2  was one of their non-fiction recommendations. My library in Port Orange had a copy and I started reading it without knowing much about it. I was initially put off by the second person narrative which began the story with short choppy sentences, but I became accustomed to it, and the sentences grew in length and depth as the character moved from childhood to maturity. It's a medical history, a writer's memoir, and a spiritual autobiography rolled into one. Recommend.

Best of the Bunch
State of Wonder
Caleb's Crossing
House of Prayer No. 2

If you are interested in subscribing to the newsletters available from the Evansville-Vanderburgh Public Library, here's the address. You do not need to be a cardholder or a resident to receive the email newsletters.

I subscribe to two newsletters
Fiction A-Z
History and Current Events

Monday, June 13, 2011

Blocked Creativity

Lately I've spent a lot more time reading than in my studio. The last sewing project I undertook was to recover the cushions on the porch furniture. My creative spirit seems to be in deep hiding, and my studio gathers dust.

Possible causes:
Disintegration of monthly art group
Rejection of creative project article by national magazine
Sale of personal items on EBay takes a lot of time

Find another quilt guild and make a commitment to attend
Move on after rejection, lots of people get rejected on their first try
Take some local classes at quilt shops
Keep selling the good stuff on EBay and donate the other stuff. Clutter removed allows space for creativity.
Attend CREATE, mixed media retreat in Chicago.

That said, I have read some great books of late.

By the Rivers of Babylon – Nelson DeMilleIn April we spent four days in the car traveling to and from Kentucky. We drove over 1600 miles, and this book on 14 cd’s consumed a lot of time. It is set sometime in the 1980’s and involves a peace delegation from Israel and a band of renegade Palestinians who have hijacked their plane. Nothing particularly memorable, but it was an engrossing travel book. Lots of Biblical references to Babylon.

In the Woods--Tana French
I previously read her third novel Faithful Place and this one had many of the same themes. It involves a team of detectives investigating a murder at an archaeological site. One of the detectives was a victim of a crime committed at the same site some twenty years earlier. As with Faithful Place, a dysfunctional Irish family is at the heart of the novel.

Russian Winter--Daphne Kalotry
This is a gem of a novel. It has so many overlapping themes and layers. I absolutely recommend it. It chronicles the life of a Russian ballet dancer during the Stalin era: her acceptance into the Bolshoi school, her rise through the ranks, her defection to the West, and her auction of her jewelry to benefit the Boston Ballet. It has romance, entanglements, family strife, political repression, search for birth parents, and auction house intrigue. Recommend.

So Much Pretty--Cara Hoffman
A novel about violence directed towards women, this time a young waitress who disappears in a rural town in New York. I read this one fairly quickly, but like much current fiction, it's told in fragments. This one uses different voices as well as varied materials as if the reader were a journalist researching a topic from original sources. Maybe I'm a lazy reader, but I find this style of writing annoying and difficult to read. That said, the story line was compelling. (History of Love uses several of the same constructs, but the author is more skillful than Cara Hoffman.)

Among the Truthers --Jonathan Kay
We are fascinated by conspiracy theories, some of us much more so than others.  In this non-fiction book, Canadian, Jonathan Kay explores the world of conspiracy theorists whose numbers have grown significantly with the rise of the Internet. True converts to a particular theory live almost exclusively in the cyber world with like minded people. He examines conspiracy theories of all stripes, medical, (Autism is caused by vaccines), literary (Shakespeare was a fraud), alien abductions, Obama was born in Kenya, messiah narratives, and the biggest of all, the conspiracies behind the 9/11 disaster. A look at current American culture through the eyes of an outsider.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks--Rebecca Skloot
Outstanding, a wonderful companion read to Autobiography of Cancer which I reviewed in the last post. This is a very readable non-fiction book which becomes increasingly difficult to put down. Cells taken from Henrietta Lacks continue to grow in labs today and have been very valuable in  research for cures for disease. This book looks at how those cells have helped advance research, but also how her family was ignored during the whole process. One of her relatives asks the question, "If her cells were so important, if so many companies have made money selling her cells to other research institutes, why can't we get health insurance"?

The Clothes on their Backs--Linda Grant
This book was short listed for the Man Booker Prize, Britain's top prize for fiction. OK, but not great. I heard about this author on a radio spot promoting her book about life in Great Britain in the post WWII years. I'm still looking for that book at my local library, We Had it so Good.

The History of Love --Nicole Krauss
Beautiful book, artfully constructed. It's difficult to describe without giving away too much. There are three generations of people who are connected only by the book, A History of Love. The book was written in 1938 by a 20 year old in Poland before he fled to the woods to escape the Holocaust. The story unfolds as we discover how the book survived, was published and how it affects the lives of the primary characters. As soon as I finished it, I picked it up to read again just to savor the words. Recommend.

The Man in the Rockefeller Suit --Mark Seal
The account of an impostor, who as a teenager emigrates to the US from Germany under the guise of a  foreign exchange student. He adopts an upwardly mobile set of  identities and eventually bluffs his way into exclusive clubs, adopts the persona, Clark Rockefeller, a fictional cousin of the cousins of the family of John D. Rockefeller. Interesting reading, it was recommended in Newsweek as one of the must reads of the summer.

Best of the bunch? History of Love, Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and Russian Winter

Books on my saved list at the library
The Postmistress
The Girl's Guide to Homelessness
The Alice behind Wonderland
Cleopatra, A Life
America Aflame: How the Civil War created a Nation
We had it so Good --Not yet available at my library
State of Wonder

Wonder if I will get through all of them?