Saturday, June 24, 2017

A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline

This is not a book I would have picked up on my own. I read reviews and summaries and passed it by. But then it fell into my lap and I thought "Why not? You just need to read 50 pages then stop if you don't like it".

I devoured it.

It's not what I expected, not written how I expected, not the story I expected. Isn't there a cliche about judging a book by it's cover??

The premise of this book is explaining the (somewhat fictional) history of the painting Christina's World by Andrew Wyeth. I've not seen the painting before I started this book but admit to thinking "I don't care what that back story is".

Photo courtesy of MoMA
Christina's World - Andrew Wyeth

Kline introduces us to Christina Olson, in 1939. We don't know much about her except that she lives in a very old farm house and her young neighbor Betsy is dropping by to introduce her new beau, Andy Wyeth. Wyeth is fascinated by the story the house and the farm are telling and wants to paint and draw around their property. Christina is older, crippled with something we don't know yet, and she's taken by this artist. So he comes nearly daily to paint. Christina and her brother, Al, never get much company at the farm so they are amused by Wyeth.

The book travels back to 1896, where Christina is deathly ill with a fever. Her family is certain she will not survive, but she does, albeit with crippled legs and horrendous pain. That is the start of Christina's life - pain, falling, misery, humiliation and spinsterhood. She became, quite literally, a cat lady. Never leaving the farm, taking care of her family and never marrying.

The devil, however, is in the details. Christina was a very bright student. Her teacher wanted her to continue on with her schooling so Christina could take the teacher's place. Her father was emphatic that a crippled child needed no more schooling and she was to stay on at the farm and help there. That struck a severe blow - I felt that while reading it. Christina had a beau for a bit, but her circumstances caused rife with his parents. She had so many opportunities that other people dashed, it made my heart hurt for her. She managed to dash the opportunities of other people as well, so don't get too weepy.

The book travels us back and forth between Christina's past and present. We learn about her family history, how she was forced to grow up and how the painting came to be.

This is really a well written, well told story of a painting that I never even knew existed. I'm glad I gave this a try!


Monday, June 19, 2017

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson

This was an interesting book in that it basically was like reading a Buddhist book, but with more profanity. I'm not sure I needed to read this since I do read Buddhist books, but it was still a good read and, hopefully, another shock to my system to wake me up.

Essentially, Manson believes we give too many fucks about too many things. Things that are not worth our time and consideration, we give fucks about. He references Charles Bukowski (a favorite of mine) and his struggle to become a writer. In the end, even Bukowski said "Don't try" but he did become pretty famous...mostly for being kind of a loser. But he excelled at being a loser! Don't try to be something you are not! Be you!

A loser!

Anyways, you do need to give a fuck, just give the right fucks. Choose your values wisely, be aware that you will ALWAYS have problems, and choose your problems wisely.

If you’re miserable in your current situation, chances are it’s because you feel like some part of it is outside your control—that there’s a problem you have no ability to solve, a problem that was somehow thrust upon you without your choosing. When we feel that we’re choosing our problems, we feel empowered. When we feel that our problems are being forced upon us against our will, we feel victimized and miserable.
He emphasizes that money is nice, but it's not going to make you happy. Once you have a value of "Make lots of money" and you make lots of money....then what? Doing what you love is more important and that actually is a Buddhist concept. In Buddhism, the thing you are grasping for will be the thing that makes you miserable. If you grasp for money, you will be unhappy. If you are not grasping but you are doing something you enjoy, you are happier.

I actually appreciated the section on  "....And then you die" more than I probably should have. Being sick my whole life, sometimes near death, I should realize how short life can be. And I used to. I really did. Then I grew up, became an adult, got a job and I trudge along in my daily duties. WTF? That's got to change, pronto.

I'm finally starting to get into the DO SOMETHING mode. Just start something. Anything. Manson tells us that motivation follows action, not the other way around, and I believe him. If you are waiting to be motivated before starting that new hobby, looking for a new job, etc. you will be sitting for a while. Do something to start that hobby or search for that job and motivation follows quickly afterwards.

All in all, a good book. Not a swift kick in the ass but a decent sized "Go get 'em" pat on the bum.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Ahead be spoilers.....




I've lost track of how many times I've read this but I felt like it has been a bit and I wanted to refresh myself before really diving into the Starz series. I didn't want to be surprised and question if what I was seeing was a deviation from the book or maybe I just didn't remember the book. It's a thing.... be happy that's not you.

Ian McShane and Cloris Leachman in the Starz series

I've seen enough of the series to be over the moon about it - the cast alone makes my heart pitter patter. But let's talk about the book. I listened to the 10th anniversary edition with a great cast of readers, plus an additional 12,000 words from Neil Gaiman. I loved that I remembered so much of it (I am 41, you know...getting older) but I loved even more when I was surprised by something and then remembered how it played out.

The basic plot is: Gods live in America, brought here by older generations in tales and folklore and sacrifices, but they fade as people forget about them. Newer Gods come in, ready to be worshiped by the next generation. The new Gods of Media, Internet, TV - all so easily worshiped by those of us who eagerly read and absorb the media. Gaiman references Norse mythology quite a bit in his novels, so it would help you to read up on it. Actually, read his book Norse Mythology. He makes it easy for you.

Shadow Moon is serving a sentence for robbery and is scheduled to get out soon. We know he's one of our main characters, but we really don't see why until much further into the book. Honestly, he's just the every day man who moves the Gods plot along and allows you to meet the necessary big players. He gets out of prison early because his wife, Laura, is killed in an car accident. While giving his best friend, who is driving, a blow job. The end must have been very very painful for Robbie.

Shadow's world starts spiraling downward.

On the way to Laura's funeral, he meets Wednesday, aka Odin (look him up), and through a very odd series of events, agrees to work for Wednesday as an errand boy. Shadow ends up on some odder errands that get him nearly killed by various people who apparently strongly dislike him. Wednesday hides him in a small community and hopes to keep Shadow safe until the war. But, not before Shadow loses a game of checkers to Chernabog, and promises to come back to get his head bashed in. Weird wager, y'all.

Did I not mention the war?

The old Gods vs the new Gods. Wednesday is rallying his troops to destroy the new Gods and the new Gods are doing the same. Things are gruesome as they start randomly killing each other (it was sad to see you go, Bilquis, you man-eater, you).

In the end, the war begins. Old Gods and new Gods begin killing each other. But....

I'm not giving anything else away at this point. There are more than enough twists and WTF moments to keep you going and you really need to go along for the ride. Then watch the show. Or watch the show, then read the book because, already there are differences which are significant.

Enjoy them both .....  and think about what you worship.



Sunday, June 4, 2017

Pay It Forward by Catherine Ryan Hyde

My book reading mojo went away for a bit. I've just been consuming newspapers and magazines but, honestly, with the world the way it is now, I started getting depressed. Pay It Foward ended up on my doorstep and was the perfect remedy for the hate and fear running around outside.

I think most, if not all, people know the concept of paying it forward. You help out someone who needs it and, instead of asking for anything in return, you ask the person to help out three people. Those three people help out three other people and so on. A movement of kindness sweeps across the world, wars are ended, enemies hug it out and everyone lives happily ever after. That's the gist, anyways.

I try to regularly do something for someone and then hope they pay the kindness forward. It's an honor system and we know how those work. But I still do it and still hope. This novel is about Trevor, a 12 year old, who gets an assignment from his teacher, Reuben St. Clair, to think about how one person can change the world and then to go out and do it. Trevor's idea was very simple. Help three people then ask them to help three more, etc. etc. Trevor does his bit but he's certain no one else has until a reporter shows up asking about the kid who got gangs to stop killing each other.

The senseless violence at the end wasn't necessary to make this an impactful book and I wish the ending had been different. The book made it's mark, without that ending. I understand there's a movie based on the book but I have not seen it, nor will I :)  Books are ALWAYS better than the movie.

Go pay it forward.



Sunday, May 7, 2017

Turbo Twenty-Three by Janet Evanovich

Twenty-third (duh) in the Stephanie Plum series opens with a dead man in an ice cream truck dipped in chocolate and nuts. What?

So the Bogart Ice Cream company is having some troubles, even if you don't count the dead ice cream covered guy. Ranger gets Stephanie to work undercover at the Bogart factory to see what she can find out but Stephanie sucks at undercover. Actually, I'm still amazed Stephanie has a job, but she manages to scrape through every chaotic (sometimes Lula-induced) situation that comes her way.

If you've read the previous book, we're in the same situation: Stephanie, Morelli (engaged to be engaged??) and Ranger. Lula and Connie add to the comic elements and there's plenty of chase scenes and action. For some reason, perhaps it's the ice cream element, I found #23 to be a particularly good book.


Sunday, April 30, 2017

Golden Prey by John Sandford

Twenty-seventh in the Prey series and I'm still loving Lucas Davenport! I can't say that about to many series. I tore through this one and, towards the end, was reading at break-neck speed and ignoring all adult responsibilities. Thank goodness I don't have children.

Davenport is now a US Marshal, thanks to his actions in the previous book. He saved the life of Presidential candidate, Michaela Bowden, and she re-paid him with a cush job and no one to answer to. Naturally, his fellow Marshals don't care for him much but, Davenport himself is starting to feel at loose ends. He's a small fish in a giant pond and he needs someone to chase.

Enter Garvin Poole. A redneck hick with a mean killer streak, he's on the most wanted list and, with the help of his friend Sturgill Darling, just knocked over a drug cartel's counting house. After killing everyone inside, including a 6 year old girl, Poole and Darling walked away with millions in cash. The Federal Government isn't happy and neither is the cartel. Davenport takes on the case of hunting down Poole but he's competing with cartel killers, Soto and Kort. Davenport picks up two US Marshals, Bob and Rae, to assist after a near deadly shootout with Soto and Kort. We're flying, literally, over the southern and southwestern US with Davenport and co. and it's truly at mind-boggling speed.

There are a few moments when Davenport has an "ah ha" moment that speeds us along and you have to question his ability to consistently come up with these things. But then again, you don't, because it's Davenport, dammit! And he's just that good.


Friday, April 14, 2017

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen

I had no particular reason for picking this up at the library except that it sounded good as I browsed the shelves. This is a book of short stories all focusing on immigrants.

The stories capture the people who fled to America and lost family along the way, who are now haunted by the ghosts of the dead. The ones who are sponsored and end up living in San Francisco with two gay men. The elderly professor who is battling, and losing, dementia and keeps calling his wife by the name of an old lover. And so on.

There are no heroic battles or anything spectacular with these stories, but they are solid and examine a snippet of the life of a refugee. Being forced to leave your country and land in another, very alien, country and try to survive takes courage.

All in all, a very good little book of short stories