Teaser Tuesday and Where Are You? 03-30-10: Housekeeping

Should Be Reading - Miz B - hosts this weekly event. We throw out a couple of sentences from our current read (without spoilers, of course) to entice you to read the book.

This week's teaser is from Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, page 29:

When, after almost five years, my grandmother one winter morning eschewed awakening, Lily and Nona were fetched from Spokane and took up housekeeping in Fingerbone, just as my grandmother had wished. Their alarm was evident from the first, in the nervous flutter with which they searched their bags and pockets for the little present they had brought (it was a large box of cough drops - a confection they considered both tasty and salubrious).

It's Tuesday, Where Are You? is hosted by an adventure in reading.

I'm in the fictional town of Fingerbone, Idaho, in the old family home. The challenge is to find someone to raise my sister and me. Read More!

The Lotus Eaters Book Tour and Review

When I discovered this book was about the Vietnam War I was hesitant to read it; it would obviously take me deep into the realities of the fighting and the atrocities through the perspective of a combat photographer. I’m not big on war stories. But The Lotus Eaters is such a well written novel, I was immediately drawn into the story of Helen Adams, an amateur photographer who goes to Vietnam on a lark in 1963 and becomes the first woman photographer to “embed” with troops as they go out on patrols. She eventually becomes a legend for her photographs and her ability to get into the thick of things for “the one shot.”

But what I want to explore a bit in this post is the exhilaration of war, the addictive qualities for some people of being in a situation that is so risky and chaotic and so outside the norm, that to return to a life of order and calm is nearly impossible.

Reading this novel, I was constantly reminded of a talk I heard in 2003 by Chris Hedges, author of War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. Hedges, who was a war correspondent for many years, argues that “war seduces entire societies, creating fictions that the public believes and relies on to continue to support conflicts.” "The Hurt Locker," a recent award winning film about Iraq, opens with a quote from Hedges’ book: "The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug.” It also reminded me a bit of "The Deer Hunter."

We are used to hearing and seeing stories of men becoming enamored of war, about the effects of them seeing so much violence, about PTSD and the difficulty in returning home. To have this book be about a woman experiencing these things was brilliant. We watch Helen go from being a naïve, compassionate young woman who wants to save injured chickens, to being hardened by her experiences to the point of being unable to return to her former life in Southern California:

At first the house and the small beach town that she had longed for while in Vietnam had seemed calcified, dead, as white and clean as bone. But slowly it came to life, or she came to life within it. But it wasn’t the life she wanted.

The sight of people going about their days, shopping in markets, eating in restaurants, playing with children in parks, laughing and drinking and talking, created a deep resentment inside her. Perfectly happy living their lives, Helen thought, which is all anyone should want, and yet how blind, how oblivious to the biggest story in the world. (page 276)
Helen also develops a deep love for Vietnam, the country.
“…Vietnamese legend told that every shade of green in the world originated in this mountain range. The emerald backbone of the dragon from which the people of Vietnam sprang. Until then she had been blind, but when she saw those mountains, she slipped beneath the surface of the war and found the country.” (17)
One of the many things I appreciated about The Lotus Eaters is Soli’s refusal to sugarcoat the events. No one comes off as the good guy here, which is true to the reality of the conflict. The portrait she paints of the war, of the country and the people, of the conflicted feelings of the Vietnamese people and of the Americans both at home and taking part in the war, felt so authentic it was hard for me to believe that she hadn’t lived this story. The scenes of violence were real, but I didn’t feel hit over the head with them. There were times of high tension when I think I held my breath for minutes! And the writing is exquisite in places.

I also learned a great deal about this time period. Even though I lived through it and was personally affected by some events of the Vietnam War, I’ve remained pretty ignorant about some pieces of history, particularly the French occupation of Vietnam, and the fall of Saigon. I spent quite a bit of time looking up bits of history and geography as I read.

So The Lotus Eaters accomplishes a great deal from my perspective – it is entertaining, well written, educational, emotionally involving and authentic. A stellar accomplishment for a debut novel. Highly recommended.

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The Sunday Salon: Required Reading

I think I need to stop saying yes to book blog tours and advanced reading copies that I’m obligated to review. Not that I haven’t received and read some wonderful books for these obligatory events – but I find myself scheduled to read several books for this or that event, for my face-to-face book group or a Library Thing group read, and before I know it I have no time to read books that I choose in my own time frame. And if I’m not liking a book I’ve signed up to “tour,” I don’t feel I can abandon it part way through if I’m not liking it. And then, I HAVE to write a review. I have two books this week to read and review, a book for my book group in two weeks that I’m not looking forward to, two books for blog tours in April … OK, this is feeling too much like school.

Now don't get me wrong, I think the tours and group reads are just wonderful events - I'm not knocking them at all. I'm just dissing my own inability to say NO and to achieve some balance in my reading enjoyment.

The reading challenges I signed onto this year are mostly made up of books on my shelves that I’ve been wanting to read anyway, and there’s no time requirements, other than by the end of 2010 (and, really, it’s not a requirement, just a goal). So I don't feel bogged down by those at all - in fact, I really want to get back to them!

Here's what I'm looking forward to reading in my leisure in the next few months:

  • Home by Marilynne Robinson
  • The Red Convertible by Louise Erdrich (short stories)
  • Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
  • Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth
  • Atonement by Ian McEwan
  • Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
  • The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (a re-read)
What about you? What's on your reading list for the spring (autumn to those of you down under)? Do you get bogged down with books you have to read?

Oh, and Happy Spring to those of you in the northern hemisphere! I hope you're enjoying some beautiful spring weather and flowers. The apple tree is beginning to blossom here.

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Classics Circuit: Georgette Heyer's Friday's Child

I’d been hearing much ado about Georgette Heyer’s books for the last year or so. She was on my list of authors to read when I found out about the Classics Circuit Tour and thought it the perfect time to find out more about this prolific author. I was planning to read one of her historical novels, but a month or so ago, a friend sent me Friday’s Child, one of Heyer’s regency romances, so I figured why argue with fate.

The novel begins with a marriage proposal, of sorts. Lord Sheringham (known as Sherry) is proposing to Isabella Milborne (known as The Incomparable, for her beauty and desirability). My fear was that the novel would revolve around Isabella, a haughty upper class bitch who toys with men’s emotions. Fortunately, she becomes a secondary character. Sherry, upset at her rejection, vows to marry the first woman he sees on a trip to London. When he happens upon Hero Wantage, a young woman who lives nearby with her cousin, she reminds him of his vow. She is mad about him; and to him, she is a bit of a lark. Hero is a kind soul, but very naïve. Making Sherry happy becomes her mission in life.

What ensues is a comedy of manners, a comedy of errors and much miscommunication. Sherry’s friends, Gil and George (who has threatened to shoot himself in the head if Ms. Milborne doesn’t marry him) and his cousin Ferdy act as a combination between a Greek chorus and the Three Stooges. There is much plotting and manipulation, an evil interloper – Sir Montagu – and the foil who recognizes Hero’s beauty and worthiness before Sherry does.

All’s well that ends well, though I thought the end would never come. In some ways this was a very fun read, but it did go on and on. Heyer managed to keep a tone of suspense through most of the novel, but it wasn’t hard to guess how things would turn out. If the book were half its 423 pages, I would have rated it much higher. As it was, the silliness and manipulations wore thin with this reader.

I was curious about the crude grammar used by some of the upper class people – mostly the men. Since I know little about the Regency era (I confess I’ve only read one Jane Austen novel so far!), I did a bit of research on the “tongue” of the day. I found this interesting essay, "On Vulgarity and Affectation" by William Hazlitt, written in the era:
Nothing real, nothing original, can be vulgar; but I should think an imitator of Cobbett a vulgar man. Emery's Yorkshireman is vulgar, because he is a Yorkshireman. It is the cant and gibberish, the cunning and low life of a particular district; it has 'a stamp exclusive and provincial.' He might 'gabble most brutishly' and yet not fall under the letter of the definition; but 'his speech bewrayeth [sic] him,' his dialect (like the jargon of a Bond Street lounger) is the damning circumstance. If he were a mere blockhead, it would not signify; but he thinks himself a knowing hand, according to the notions and practices of those with whom he was brought up, and which he thinks the go everywhere. In a word, this character is not the offspring of untutored nature but of bad habits; it is made up of ignorance and conceit. It has a mixture of slang in it. All slang phrases are for the same reason vulgar; but there is nothing vulgar in the common English idiom. Simplicity is not vulgarity; but the looking to affectation of any sort for distinction is. ….

The upper are not wiser than the lower orders because they resolve to differ from them. The fashionable have the advantage of the unfashionable in nothing but the fashion. The true vulgar are the servum pecus imitatorum -- the herd of pretenders to what they do not feel and to what is not natural to them, whether in high or low life. To belong to any class, to move in any rank or sphere of life, is not a very exclusive distinction or test of refinement. Refinement will in all classes be the exception, not the rule; and the exception may fall out in one class as well as another….
If you choose to read this book (and, I suspect, other Heyer books of the era) I suggest having at hand a reference guide to some of the terms used. For instance, do you know what an abigail is? What about “a bit of muslin?” Good ton/bad ton? There’s a handy lexicon guide online at this site.

I’m sure that Heyer was true to the culture, customs and language of the times. I’m not sure I would devote so much reading time to another of her romances. I would be interested to read her historical fiction, however.

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The End of Publishing

Don't give up half way through, watch the whole thing!

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The Sunday Salon- 03-14-10: DST and Blogiversary!

Hello Sunday readers! Did you in the US remember to set your clocks ahead? I have never understood what daylight savings time accomplishes. And that our Congress, in all their "wisdom" a few years ago, thought that extending DST was enough of an energy savings to call it enough for the energy bill. I always wondered how much that little scheme cost.

But the good news: since I never got around to changing my car clock last fall, at least it will be set to the right time now. Simple pleasures.

At some point this week I realized that I've been doing this bloggy thing for two years now! March 5, 2008 was my very first blog post. So, happy blogiversary, me! Today marks my 425th post on this blog (650 on my photo blog). I think I need to do something to celebrate, so check back next week when I'll announce a giveaway and belated party.

Contrary to what you've seen (or rather haven't seen) on my blog the last two weeks, I have been reading! I'm just a bit behind on my reviews and hope to remedy that this week. On Friday, March 19th, look for a Classics Circuit tour stop here with my review of Georgette Heyer's Friday's Child, which I'm reading now and enjoying. And look for my reviews of The Patience Stone, The Ghost Map and Cutting for Stone sometime in the next few days. Enjoy your week!

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Teaser Tuesday and Where Are You? 03-02-10: The Patience Stone

Should Be Reading - Miz B - hosts this weekly event. We throw out a couple of sentences from our current read (without spoilers, of course) to entice you to read the book.

This week's teaser is from The Patience Stone by Atiq Rahimi, page 46:
She takes a few fearful steps toward the man. Stops. Observes the movement of his chest. He is breathing. She walks closer, bends down so she can see his eyes more clearly. They are open, and covered in black dust. She wipes them with the end of her sleeve, takes out the bottle and administers drops to each eye. One, two. One, two.

It's Tuesday, Where Are You? is hosted by an adventure in reading.

According to the author, I am "somewhere in Afghanistan or elsewhere." Read More!