Tag Archives: Books

Shoot the Moon

Billie Letts give us another novel full of small-town charm, a little mystery, and some romance in her novel Shoot the Moon. Dr. Mark Albright, a veterinarian to the stars of Hollywood, discovers that he was adopted shortly after the death of his father. He heads to DeClare, Oklahoma in hopes of discovering his birth parents, and quickly discovers that the story of his past is a bit of a mystery.

Gaylene Harjo, the woman Mark knows to be his mother, was murdered when Mark, or Nicky Jack Harjo, was a baby. Most people assumed Nicky Jack had been killed as well, but the body was never found. The wrong man was arrested for the murder, and took his own life while in prison. When Mark returns claiming to be the long lost baby, it causes quite a stir around town.

I don’t want to give too much away but the central characters also include Ivy and Teeve Harjo who take Mark under their wing, helping him in his investigation. Oliver Boyd  “O Boy” Daniels is the rather nasty local sheriff. His wife is Carrie and they have a son, Kippy, who is not much older than Mark. O Boy’s half-brother Arthur McFaddon is another not very nice character who runs the local radio with his stepson Kyle. I especially enjoyed the domino boys, a group of four geezers who play domino’s at Teeve’s pool hall. They add humor and character to the novel.

We learn about Gaylene’s life through snippets of her diary, which Letts has woven seamlessly into the fabric of her story. Her childhood friend was Rowena Whitekiller, she worked at Arthur’s radio station with Kyle and she played basketball well enough to get a scholarship for university.

While this novel is another great work of Letts’, I found it somewhat predictable, considering I had the mystery pretty much solved about halfway through the book. Even so, I still took pleasure in the journey and would definitely recommend this story to anyone who likes fast-moving, well-told novels crafted with wit.

(***Update 09/05/12: Although I loved my time at WordPress, I found it was my time to move on. I am now at Blogger; I believe it to be a better fit for me personally. If you subscribe, or want to subscribe, to this blog, please be sure to subscribe to the new one. Here’s the link.)

What is your opinion of Shoot the Moon?

Night

For the longest time I refused to read Night by Elie Wiesel. I kept telling myself that it was just another heart-breaking story of a young boy who lived through the Holocaust. I didn’t want to face the unsettling and depressing account that has haunted my bookshelf all these years. Eventually I realized that hiding from something doesn’t make it go away, in fact, it usually gets worse. If every person on this planet denies the stories of these people and avoids talking and thinking about that horrible time, what’s to stop it from happening again? So I read it.

The story follows Eliezer (a character invented to distance the author from the experience) through his experiences in Auschwitz, Buna, and Gleiwitz. His experiences jump out and possess the reader. We follow his complicated love-hate relationship with a God that has abandoned God’s most devoted followers. We wonder with him why the rest of the world remained silent in the face of such brutality. We see inhumanity toward other humans through the eyes of one who experienced it. We celebrate the beautiful father-son relationship while regretting that this relationship results in a sacrifice.

I don’t really know what else to say about this book except that it was exactly what I expected: gloomy, heartbreaking, horrifying, and shocking. It’s not a good book since the events that take place within these pages are certainly not good, but it is well written and worth reading. It is bleak and blunt; Elie Wiesel does not hold back in the recounting of his tale.

(***Update 09/05/12: Although I loved my time at WordPress, I found it was my time to move on. I am now at Blogger; I believe it to be a better fit for me personally. If you subscribe, or want to subscribe, to this blog, please be sure to subscribe to the new one. Here’s the link.)

How did you react to Night?

About a Boy

In honor of National Book Lovers Day yesterday it’s only fitting that this post be a book review. I believe About a Boy by Nick Hornby is just the ticket. The story is nothing more than a slice of life with real characters in real situations feeling real feelings and thinking real thoughts. I bought the book at a local bookstore because I had seen the movie and loved the story.

Really, there are two boys in this story: Marcus, a 12-year-old boy, and Will, a 36-year-old boy-at-heart. Will is a superficial bachelor who lives off the royalties he earns from his father’s one-hit-wonder Christmas tune, a song he despises. He treats life as an experiment, always trying new schemes to fill in the void, which he doesn’t understand. Marcus is an odd, blunt, and worldly young boy who both puzzles and startles his depressive mother, Fiona.

Through a random series of events these three characters come together. They each learn from the others some of life’s lessons they had been missing out on. Will learns what it means to be a grown-up and develops from an empty shell into someone with substance. Marcus opens up to some harsh truths of life and learns the importance of staying true to one’s self, no matter how peculiar. Fiona ascends from a very dark place and discovers a new reason to live. All this occurs through their ups and downs of life.

Briefly, I would like to compare the book with the movie, though it was not National Movie Lover’s Day yesterday (it doesn’t exist… I looked). I have to say that it was a true representation. There were some completely invented scenes present in the movie and many plot twists were abandoned (though plot twists were few and far between in the book). However, Will’s character practically screams, “Hugh Grant,” and the general idea was translated appropriately.

While the characters and the writing fall a bit flat, I appreciated the genuine humor Hornby presented and the realness of their struggles. This book is worth reading, especially as a quick summer book and if you enjoy British humor.

(***Update 09/05/12: Although I loved my time at WordPress, I found it was my time to move on. I am now at Blogger; I believe it to be a better fit for me personally. If you subscribe, or want to subscribe, to this blog, please be sure to subscribe to the new one. Here’s the link.)

How did you like About a Boy (the book or movie)?

The Hobbit

I think there is rather a lot of hobbit in each of us. I don’t mean in appearance as the race of hobbits are half as tall as men, are round and plump, and have fuzzy, leathery feet, which help them to disappear quietly and quickly when trouble comes along. I really mean the ordinariness of them. Bilbo Baggins, lives very comfortably in his quiet hobbit hole, burrowed into a hill: The Hill, Hobbiton, The Shire. He likes to take at least two breakfasts every day, an early and a late one, and smoke a pipe of tobacco sitting at ease on the doorstep by his own round, green, front door.

Actually, that is exactly what he is doing a the beginning of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. Bilbo is smoking his pipe when his ordinary day at his ordinary home is interrupted by the unexpected appearance of an old family friend: the wizard Gandalf the Grey. Bilbo is persuaded to accomplany 12 dwarves (Thorin Oakenshiled, Fili, Kili, Oin, Gloin, Dwalin, Balin, Dori, Nori, Ori, Bifur, Bofur and Bombur) on a quest to reclaim stolen treasure from Smaug, the marauding dragon. Bilbo’s role is to be as “burglar,” a role that neither dwarves nor Bilbo himself believe him capable of. Only Gandalf, and his claim that there is more to the little hobbit than meets the eye, reassures the party.

Bilbo, who has lived in happy ignorance of the happenings in the rest of the world, is about to discover the evils and marvels that occupy the Wild. He encounters trolls, obtains a magic blade, which he later calls Sting, rests with the high elves in Rivendell, escapes goblins in the Misty Mountains, outwits Gollum, a vile, hissing creature, and comes across a magic ring.

You see, this ring can make the wearer invisible and Bilbo uses it (not fully understanding the power) to escape Gollum, the goblins and the underground tunnels through the mountains. This is the first time Bilbo doesn’t rely on Gandalf for rescue; though he still views himself as ordinary, Bilbo the Ring Finder has a very special part to play yet in the great events which shape his world.

He rejoins Gandalf and the dwarves. Evil wolves called Wargs pursue them, but Bilbo and his comrades are helped to safety by a group of great eagles. They visit Beorn, a creature who can shift his shape from man to bear, at his home before beginning their journey through the dark forest of Mirkwood.

Gandalf leaves the party to see to some other business involving the Necromancer just before they enter Mirkwood. Bilbo rescues the dwarves from many dangers in the forest. The dwarves call it luck but I believe that as Bilbo’s adventures unfold he become a rather different kind of hobbit. He learns to rely on himself and stops hoping for outside help. Gandalf, always seeming to know more than he reveals, was right: Bilbo was the right hobbit for the job. As his self-confidence and keen judgement increase he plays an increasingly significant part in the great events, which unfold on the journey to the Lonely Mountain, to Smaug, and to his hoard.

This is a tale that seems to grow in the telling. The characters, while seemingly lifted from fairy tales, have real motives and emotions, which are entirely compelling. Bilbo began as a somewhat unlikeable homebody and grows into the most lovable, courageous, and decent character in the story. And while, Bilbo again and again daydreams of being home by his quiet fire, smoking his pipe on the front step, or preparing a grand meal, his return home turns out to be bittersweet.

(***Update 09/05/12: Although I loved my time at WordPress, I found it was my time to move on. I am now at Blogger; I believe it to be a better fit for me personally. If you subscribe, or want to subscribe, to this blog, please be sure to subscribe to the new one. Here’s the link.)

Who’s excited for the movie this December?

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith is a somewhat biographical coming-of-age story about living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in the early 1900s. Mary Frances Nolan – Francie – is the central character and I was addicted to her from the start. I was surprised at how quickly I became fascinated with Francie. As a young girl Francie is keenly observant, and sensitive to the beauty of her world. Maybe I see myself in her. All I know is this was a book that was hard to put down.

“There’s a tree that grows in Brooklyn. Some people call it the Tree of Heaven. No matter where its seed falls, it makes a tree which struggles to reach the sky. It grows in boarded-up lots and out of neglected rubbish heaps. It grows up out of cellar gratings. It is the only tree that grows out of cement. It grows lushly . . . survives without sun, water, and seemingly without earth. It would be considered beautiful except that there are too many of it.” – Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Storyline

At the opening Francie is 11 years old. She is the oldest child of Katie and Johnny Nolan. Her brother, Neeley (short for Cornelius) is 10. We are given a tour of their neighborhood as Francie runs errand for her mother, takes her daily trip to the library and watches her neighbors from the fire escape. We find out that Katie cleans houses in exchange for free rent of their apartment, and Johnny has unreliable income through waiting tables and singing.

The story then flashes back to the summer of 1900 when Katie and Johnny first meet. Katie decides she will go through any hardship just to be with Johnny when they first dance together. Within six months they are married and support themselves by working as janitors at a school. Stress begins to set in when Francie is born in December 1901 and Neeley just a year and a week later. As the stress of living in poverty and having children eats away at Johnny, he begins drinking.

Katie and Johnny are both second generation Americans. Katie’s family is a line of strong women from Austria. She has two older sisters, Sissy and Evy. Johnny, with Irish heritage, comes from a family of weak, yet talented men (he has three brothers).

Neeley and Francie start school the same year, though they are a year apart in age. Francie, a lover of learning, always looked forward to the day she could go to school but finds it to be cruel and harsh. She changes to a school where there is no discrimination against poor children, though she still makes no friends. The flashback then catches up with the beginning of the story.

The plot line continues with various events throughout Francie’s childhood. Francie’s first encounter with sex of any kind occurs around the age of 12. She comes face to face with the sex offender who has been terrorizing the neighborhood. Her mother saves her and Francie emerges relatively unscathed. Francie starts her period around this time and witnesses women of the neighborhood stoning a young girl because she became pregnant out of wedlock. This leads Francie to become more aware of the social taboos surrounding women and sexuality.

Francie gradually sees her father’s problem with alcohol, which worsens as she grows up. He is set over the edge when he is dismissed from the Union. When Johnny discovers Katie is pregnant again he weakens further and finally dies of pneumonia (and alcoholism) on Christmas Day, five months before Annie Laurie is born.

Johnny’s death changes Francie. She stops believing in God after a lifetime of Catholic faith. She stops writing the flowery compositions that had no relation to her life experiences but earned her high marks in English, replacing them with “sordid” compositions about her father, which concerned her teacher.

Francie’s sensitive and caring nature is lost as she becomes more and more like her mother. Katie was once romantic and flighty, but turns hard and determined as she takes on the burden of earning money and sacrifices “luxuries,” such as heat and meals, for her family.

After graduating from eighth grade, both Neeley and Francie must work because Katie cannot afford to keep them in school. Francie starts working at a factory then moves to a clippings bureau where she reads newspapers all day, learns about the world outside of Brooklyn, and desperately awaits the day she can return to high school.

Unfortunately Katie, who can only afford to send one child back to school, sends Neeley instead of Francie. Although Francie never returns to high school she does take summer college courses and with Francie’s job the Nolans are able to live more comfortably.

When the United States of America enters World War I, Francie first experiences romantic love. It comes in the form of Lee Rynor, whom she falls in love with within the first 48 hours after meeting. He leaves Francie heartbroken when he marries his fiancée before heading off to war. Then Francie discovers that she enjoys the company of Ben Blake, a boy she met in summer school.

Officer McShane, a kind older man who has admired Katie from afar (and she him), asks Katie to marry him. He says he will make it possible for Laurie to grow up without hardship in exchange for the chance to be her father. He also gives Francie and Neeley a chance to go to college. Francie gets ready to attend college at the University of Michigan with Ben and the Tree of Heaven continues to grow in her backyard.

Themes and Patterns

Poverty is major themes throughout this story. Nearly every anecdote and character deals with poverty in some way. Poverty applies not only to a lack of food and heat but also results in the growing worthlessness of Johnny and ultimately his death. Resources are limited, people are exploited, but poverty is presented as the evil, not people. Everyone is thinking of his or her own family first.

Class is another theme that Smith often shows through encounters between the lower class and people of privilege. Having money may lead to an easier life but the lovable characters are those who are or once were impoverished. The rich doctor who vaccinates Francie is presented as a villain and Francie’s English teacher, who claims to have grown up with hardship, misunderstands Francie’s compositions. Neeley and Francie pity Laurie for growing up with privilege because she will not have as much fun.

A prominent theme in this book is education. Johnny, Katie and Mary Rommely (Katie’s mother) have very different personalities, but they can all agree on one thing: education is the way out for the Nolan children. Through a combination of schooling and life lessons they lead the children out of poverty; each generation receives more education than the last.

Gender roles stands out to me as a further theme. Mary Rommely states upon the birth of Francie, “to be born a woman is to be born into a humble life of pain.” This comment can be applied to both life’s pains and the pain of childbirth. Women of all faiths and socioeconomic backgrounds experience the same pain in labor. However, all the women in this book are more than equipped to handle these pains and depicted as strong while men are generally shown as the weaker sex.

Katie and Johnny are presented with the same life choices and Katie is determined to give opportunities to her children in the face of hardship while Johnny slips into a drunken dreamworld. Francie is more eager to return to school but Katie send Neeley because both women understand that Neeley would not find a way to go back where Francie will do whatever it takes to learn more at school. Aunt Evy is independent and tough and Uncle Flittman is inadequate.

Since this is a coming-of-age tale it is only natural that a fall from innocence would be not only a theme but a motif. Francie learns more and more about the world, poverty, class, status, gender, and sex, which in turn causes her to become less and less innocent. Her appreciation of small material things as a young girl turns into her realization of their hardships. Often Francie presents her fall from innocence as feeling as if she is dreaming.

The “fall” refers to both things that brought Francie pain and things that brought her knowledge. The Tree of Heaven can be viewed as a Tree of Knowledge. The tree grows up and out of very difficult situations in the same way that Francie learns through reading and life events in order to get out of poverty.

Tree of Heaven

This symbol is most interesting to me, perhaps because I love trees so much or perhaps because the idea is appealing. The tree in the title grows only in tenement districts, because it “likes poor people.” It represents perseverance in times of hardship. When Francie is born, Katie likens her life to the tree’s: Francie will keep living no matter how sick she becomes. All over Brooklyn this tree grows where no other can and out-competes those that do. When the Nolans have a fir on their fire escape they care for it with water and manure but it dies. The Tree of Heaven that grows from the concrete in their yard was cut down and a new one grew out of it’s trunk.

The tree is abundant throughout Brooklyn and is familiar to Francie, who sees it every day. It isn’t stately like the sea or mountains majesty. It is humble, and this humility makes it all the more powerful.

When Francie leaves Brooklyn, Florrie Wendy symbolically takes her place. The tree grew for Francie, it will grow for Florrie, too, as it must have for Flossie Gaddis before Francie.

(***Update 09/05/12: Although I loved my time at WordPress, I found it was my time to move on. I am now at Blogger; I believe it to be a better fit for me personally. If you subscribe, or want to subscribe, to this blog, please be sure to subscribe to the new one. Here’s the link.)

Do you agree with my analysis? What themes do you find in this story?

Every Book In the Entire World

Many of you might know that my first project this summer was my patio garden and the hanging gutter garden. Now that my only responsibility in the garden is to water once or twice a day and harvest what comes up, I’ve been working on my next project: reading.

I was inspired to read ALL the books after reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (***UPDATE*** read the review here) to read because she has a goal to read all the book in her library starting with A and ending with Z. I’m taking the opportunity to start now.

Over the years (since high school or maybe earlier) I’ve kept lists of books I want to read. Some can be found on odd bits of paper, other on my Pinterest board and still more in notebooks. I finally compiled all of these lists into one massive list, and I mean MASSIVE. It’s an excel spread sheet with tabs for which list the books came from and is conditionally formatted so that once I’ve read the book the box will change color (I have a lot of time on my hands).

Some of the books are classics, some are modern, there are fiction and non-fiction, poetry and history and everything else you can think of and I will be reading, quite literally, until I die.

I don’t just want to read the books; I want to analyze them as well. The way I did in high school, which is why I am also planning to write reviews for each book as I finish it and post it here, on my blog. The first one was Life of Pi (read it here). I also wrote a bit about Harry Potter (read it here). So that’s the plan.

 If you’re interested in my books lists…

Books that were recommended to me by friends, family, professors and/or my own bookshelf:

Websites with other booklists:

(***Update 09/05/12: Although I loved my time at WordPress, I found it was my time to move on. I am now at Blogger; I believe it to be a better fit for me personally. If you subscribe, or want to subscribe, to this blog, please be sure to subscribe to the new one. Here’s the link.)

What’s on your book list? What is your favorite book?

Summer Lovin’

I was riding my bike over to CSU campus. My mission was to deliver my boyfriends Kindle Fire to him at work. It’s about a 15-minute bike ride from our house along a bike path. I was suddenly struck by inspiration on this ride, like lightening… it was electrifying. My discovery was that I love summer. I mean I already knew that I love summer but I never knew exactly what it was about summer that I love.

I love riding my bike. There is nothing as freeing as riding a bike. The wind in my hair, my own two legs propelling me forward, a quick smile or a wave to those I pass along the way. Summer is the best time for bike rides, no ice, no rain, no gloves, no coat; only warm temperatures and sun on skin.

I love riding my bike close to the edge of the grass, where the sprinklers miss their target and droplets land on the sidewalk. It’s a refreshing burst in the heat of the afternoon when those droplets hit bare legs and arms. There’s nothing quite like that feeling.

I love the smell of a black as night, freshly re-paved parking lot baking in the sun. To me it smells slightly minty; I can’t describe it in any other way. Not the mint you smell in chewing gum or tea leaves, but it’s own unique kind of minty. And it’s so black you can almost see your reflection shining in it. The heat waves rise up from the tar, making everything look hazy. Some might say it’s so hot you could cook an egg on it. The air temperature above the pavement is noticeably warmer than anywhere else around you, and you let it embrace you as you race across.

I love the greenness of the environment. Everything seems to be pulsing with life, growing and changing. I stretch out over grass in the shade of a big elm tree staring up through the leaves at the patches of a blue sky. Fluffy white clouds pass overhead creating shapes and telling stories.

I love having an open schedule with full days I can devote to reading a book. Not a book required for my college education but one I choose to read for a different kind of education.

Pinterest (original source lost)

I love the heat bouncing off the sidewalk, the sweat running down my back, the tank tops and shorts, the sandals, the nighttime bonfires, the chilly showers after lunch, the pool days, my garden, picnics in the mountains, the smell of sunscreen, the frappuccinos, the flowers, the swim suits, etc. etc. etc.

(***Update 09/05/12: Although I loved my time at WordPress, I found it was my time to move on. I am now at Blogger; I believe it to be a better fit for me personally. If you subscribe, or want to subscribe, to this blog, please be sure to subscribe to the new one. Here’s the link.)

Ah, the joys of summer. What’s your favorite season?