Monday, May 30, 2016

Nine Stories by JD Salinger

This was an interesting little book of stories. I enjoyed them all and went out on the Interwebz to read a little more about them. Salinger, obviously, is a great writer and short stories are some of the hardest to tackle, I think, because you have to capture the audience quickly and leave them satisfied with the story in just a few pages.

A Perfect Day for Bananafish is the opening story and, at first, seems very frivolous and materialistic. Nearly all stories in this book touch on war and it's aftermath. We have a daughter and mother discussing fashion while the mother expresses worry about her son-in-law's "funny" behavior. The story ends in such violence that I needed to go back and re-read, sure I had missed something.

Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut and Just Before The War With The Eskimos feel connected in a way. Uncle Wiggily shows us a housewife who is realizing her own unhappiness in her life and marriage and is drowning it in alcohol. Just Before The War... show us children starting off making connections with others and realizing there could be happiness. Some of the internet notes say that the latter story is a symbolism of Christ. I didn't see that and don't know if that was the intention.

The Laughing Man and Down at the Dinghy were good stories: the former depicting the end of youth and told from the POV of a man looking at the past. The latter gave us a little boy who frequently runs away to avoid conflict and his mother, whom I was pretty impressed with, connecting back with him to get his confidence to come home.

For Esme - With Love and Squalor was a bit brutal with the wartime references. We start off with a young solider meeting Esme, a little girl, who wants to write to him. We abruptly move into a room with Sargent X, a war harden solider, who has suffered a nervous breakdown.  I really liked this story. I think, even now, we romanticize war much more than we should and "forget" the reality that the soldiers have to face.

Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes is a phone conversation with a, to me, ambiguous ending. Why did Arthur lie?

The last two, I liked very much: De Daumier-Smith's Blue Period and Teddy. John Smith, in the former story, is a narcissistic, arrogant young man who eventually has some revelations that lead him in a better direction. Religion is heavy in this one as Smith tries to communicate with a nun whose art he is tasked with evaluating.  The latter, Teddy, brings us to a close with a very ambiguous ending and quite a bit of Zen and reincarnation as presented by a child. Ten year old Teddy is a mystic prodigy and has several conversations aboard a luxury liner that show his depth of knowledge (he is not an "apple eater"). The ending, where we've been prompted to believe in Teddy's eventual death, may or may not be so.

Excellent little collection of stories to pass an afternoon. You'll need to go back and re-read several of the stories as you hit the end, but it's worth it.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Extreme Prey by John Sandford

Number 26 in the Lucas Davenport series. I adore Lucas. I want to live in his world - although I think I'd need a bulletproof body suit. The body count jacks up a bit high in this one.  I sent my friend a text telling him that Extreme Prey was very apt for our political landscape now. Which made it very believable.

Lucas is no longer a cop and is just hanging out at his cabin, "helping" to add on a new addition. He gets a call from the governor who needs to see him ASAP. Lucas goes, and ends up investigating (albeit unofficially) a possible threat to a presidential candidate, a woman who could become the first female President. *cough cough*

I don't want to give anything away, because it's a great ride to the end. It only took me the weekend to start and finish the book because I couldn't stop reading. Sorry, laundry and dishes and yardwork.

Lucas does his thing and we come across some crazies (or "radicals") who are willing to take direct action to get their candidate up in to the White House. *cough*

We get very much down to the wire, people are dropping like flies, Lucas finds bullets heading in his direction more than once and a lot of blood is shed.

EXCELLENT read. Love John Sandford and all of his characters. Kidd, Flowers, Elle, all make an appearance in this one.

The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

I've been listening to Amanda's music for a bit. Backed her infamous Kickstarter. Read all her husband's books (which is, actually, how I came to discover Amanda) and listened to her TED talk.

I finally got her audiobook and finally listened to it. If you read this book, I highly recommend the audio. Amanda reads it herself and there is a lot of music. I usually enjoy when authors read their own non-fiction work and Amanda is no exception. It's a conversation, full of inflection and emotion. Just like she's right there with you, telling you stories.

By deciding to move forward and basically set the bar in crowdfunding, Amanda created a stir when her Kickstarter raised over a million dollars. Folks, like myself, love her and her music and were willing to back her Theatre is Evil project. I used to think that since I was not an artist, I should at least support the artists I like.

Except, listening to the story from Amanda when she asked her mom about being a programmer, I realized, I am an artist. As Amanda's mom put it

"You know, Amanda, it always bothered me. You can’t see my art, but… I’m one of the best artists I know. It’s just… nobody could ever see the beautiful things I made. Because you couldn’t hang them in a gallery."  

She's right. I think where your passion lies is where you find art. And my code is pretty badass.

I digress.

Amanda talks about how she started asking when she became the 8ft Bride (a living statue). How she kept going from there. A lot of people see her as begging but honestly, she is very connected to her fans, she's built a base, a network, a family. Obviously, it takes something to ask for money or help. But, as her friend Anthony said,

"If you love people enough, they will give you everything."

And he is right. If you ask with an open heart and let the person know that they can say no without repercussions, people WILL help. People, I think, naturally want to help other people.

Whether you like Amanda's music or not, this book is well worth the read. Being open, trusting people, not turning bitter when things go badly, and asking for help and offering help. We have very little of this in the world now.

You don't have to go it alone.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

I didn't want to read this book because I was judging it based on the cover and the title. Ugh, no sappy books please.

There's a reason you are told not to judge covers and whatnot. Just read the damn book!

This was really a fantastic book and not at all what I expected. I expected a sappy bombardment of floral stuff but got a very realistic portrayal of the foster care system and what happens to kids who hit the magic age of 18. Here's a hint: it's not sunshine, roses and happy freedom.

Victoria is our main character who is emancipated from the foster care system on her 18th birthday. She's given a rent-free space for a limited time so she can find a job and start paying for rent and other necessities. No help besides the free room, no mentor, no nothing to get her heading in the right direction. So she heads in the wrong direction and chooses to plant flowers in her room instead of looking for a job. Eventually, she's kicked out and homeless with her flowers and the few possessions she has.

She does happen into an under-the-table assistant position in a flower shop and does well there. But Victoria is angry, mistrustful of everyone and can't stand to be touched. She's trying to survive but it's very difficult. She meets up with Grant, someone she knew when she was staying with Elizabeth, a foster mom. Elizabeth taught Victoria everything she knows about flowers and their meanings and Victoria uses that to communicate with Grant.

Sometimes I wanted to shake Victoria for her choices, but how can I do that when I grew up in a family and was loved? I couldn't possibly understand or empathize with her. Continue on the path with Victoria and it will break your heart but in the end, it will give you a little bit of hope that she will make it.

I read the author's interview at the end and found out about the LifeSet NetWork which was set up to help kids just getting out of the foster system find people to help. Not just financially, even though each each kid (I shouldn't call them kids but at my age people between 18-25 are kids) can set up a registry of things they need to get started which you can purchase for them. But it's a place for encouragement as well. Message boards allow you to chat with the kids and encourage them, cheer them on and give advice. I've already signed up and have been chatting away and helping where I can. I encourage you to do the same!