Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead (2010)

I try to make sure I have read the latest Caldecott Medal winners, so this is the latest one. My first reaction was that it had such an old fashion look and feel, like picture books from my childhood - the pencil drawings with minimal color, the old fashion wood stove in the kitchen. An elderly man getting dressed for work in the zoo. The first thing that caught my eye was his little blue house squeezed between large apartment buildings. And then it started getting whimsical, as Amos does unusual things with his animal friends at the zoo, like racing with the tortoise. But when Amos got sick, I just had to start smiling, until there was a broad grin on my face at the end of the book. Well deserved award.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell (2011)

This was a random book by local author picked up at the Michigan Library Association Conference - wonderful choice. It has been ages since I have sat down in the morning with a book, and actually finished it by the end of the day - doing other things in between. The luxury of a long weekend.

It was really fun to read about the local area and the Kalamazoo River. I even started driving out along the Kalamazoo River and was wondering where the tributary was, that was in the book, as there was a map at the front of the book. (I believe I have mentioned before how much I love maps in books, that help me place where things are happening.) But then I realized, that other than Kalamazoo and the Kalamazoo River, the rest of the places were fictional.

The story itself was engaging - about a modern day Annie Oakley - who had learned to live off the river and land from her grandfather, and was a crack shot. I once had fantasies about living off the land, but the concept of hunting has never appealed to me, and I have done very minimal fishing, and have never even gotten very far with growing my own vegetables, so obviously this was much more fantasy than reality. But it doesn't mean I can't appreciate and admire someone who can do these things, especially a young girl.

Margo Crane has a tough life, her father is the illegitimate son of Grandpa Murray of Murray Metal. Her mother deserted the family a year and a half before the story starts. She has a good relation with her aunt across the river from them and one of her cousins, but gets bullied by cousin Billy, and though her uncle Cal teaches her about shooting guns and hunting, that is not exactly a healthy relationship. Life gets complicated, and Billy ends up killing her father, when he thinks his father is in danger. Margo takes the boat her grandfather gave her and travels upriver and finds ways to survive.

Jaimy Gordon, a National Book Award winning author at Western, said it very well on the cover of the book: "A lot of us, not only women, were looking for a fictional heroine who would be deeply good, brave as a wolverine, never a crybaby, as able as Sacagawea, with a strong and unapologetic sexuality."

Aleph by Paulo Coelho (2011)

Looks like it was time to read something spiritual. This was just asking the right spiritual questions for me.  I liked that the author was Brazilian and that this had been translated from Portugese and that most of the book took place in Russia. I understand that the novel is autobiographical, that Coelho was suffering from a crisis of faith and took on a three month journey, with the last leg being a trans-Siberian train ride. His job as an author gave him the excuse and opportunity, as he traveled to talk to his readers and sign his books. He felt the need for self-rediscovery and had a wonderful wife who let him go to discover on his own, when she felt she was impeding this process, plus she had her own art to get back to. In Russia he meets a Turkish girl Hilal - a promising young violinist, who is determined to travel with him. They are deeply connected, which she knows from the beginning, but he takes a while to realize. They experience things together, which heal both of them.

Turns out they were connected in previous lives and had to resolve what had happened those many years ago. This was the hardest part to listen to, as those times were so incomprehensible, and my blood just starts to boil when I hear what is done in the name of God. I understand that people were doing what they thought was right, but with the incredible damage they did to their fellow humans, I keep wondering about their karma in my view of the world - or even in theirs. I would like to think they burned in hell for their pious deeds, or spent many life times resolving their crimes against humanity.

I feel I have neglected my spirituality for a while, but then remember everything we do, every choice we make has some spiritual consequences. I once spent more time thinking about spirituality, about whether I am being the best person I can be. Seems that life has become so busy, that I have forgotten to take time to focus on that. I love to travel myself, and feel truly alive when traveling - each trip gives me the opportunity to grow and connect. I have lived a free flow life in many ways, and have found it mostly fulfilling, and this book made a lot of sense to me. As was written in the Amazon review: "Some books are read. Aleph is lived."

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

That Used to be Us by Thomas L. Friedman & Michael Mandelbaum (2011)

Friedman is probably the only non-fiction author, whose latest books I try to make sure and read. He didn't disappoint. Maybe a bit wordy, otherwise I would really have my son read his books, but his analysis of the economic world we live in makes sense. He has co-authored this book with Mandelbaum, and they say they would start discussing the world and end up talking about what is not working in the U.S. So this is a continuation of The World is Flat and Hot, Flat and Crowded.

These two guys believe that the U.S. can be great once again, if it gets back to the ways that made it great - full of innovators, but those need a better education, a better infrastructure, more research, we need to get away from our dependence on oil from other countries (very strong focus on alternative energies and dealing with global warming), and straighten out politics (including revamping regulations - weeding old, impractical ones, strengthening others to control excesses), oh and immigration, since so much of what has been innovative in the U.S. has come from bright, hard working immigrants. I am not going back to the book or other reviews on purpose. I want to see what stuck in my mind.

A couple of surprising things - they explained that unions may shoot themselves in the foot and be the cause of jobs going overseas. They had a great example of a manufacturer in Buffalo, who is the oldest continual manufacturer in the city, and how the owners worked with the unions to make sure the jobs did stay local, but it was a lot of give and take from both sides. Having gone through our contract negotiations this summer ourselves, I am aware of some of the issues, and at times did not agree with the union's approach.

The other thing that Friedman and Mendelbaum explained were the problems with Republicans and Democrats, and that one cannot promise to continually cut taxes (these Mideast wars are the first the U.S. has fought without raising taxes and duh, we now have an incredible debt). I loved it that they called the W. Bush years the "Terrible Two's". But the democrats can't keep promising to never cut any programs or benefits. Looks like Social security and Medicare both need some trimming, so there would be enough when I get around to using them. But these are sacred cows and the AARP has a strong lobby. I don't think I will be spoiling the plot of the book if I say, that the final recommendation is to get a strong third party candidate to run for president in the next election and to tell it like it is. Not to win, that would be impossible, but to force the other two parties to work together and incorporate these centrist ideas that the people would support. He gave examples of Teddy Roosevelt (in 1912), George Wallace (1968) and Ross Perot (1992) influencing those who actually became presidents.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

A Picnic in October by Eve Bunting (1999)

Last one of my relaxing with a kid's book today. Just grabbed this from a pile, knew Eve Bunting was one of the good children's book authors. A grandmother wants to celebrate her late October birthday every year at the Statue of Liberty. Nice mild immigration story, with the grandson wondering why it is so important for grandma to celebrate there, but by helping another young immigrant family he understands. Nice views of the ferry and statue itself. Turns out Eve Bunting came into that same harbor, as did my parents.

What Can You Do with a Paleta? by Carmen Tafolla (2009)

Illustrated by Magaly Morales. Beautiful, colorful children's picture book about a neighborhood in Mexico, where a man with a cart brings around paletas or Mexican popsicle sticks. Full of Mexican cultural references.

Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh (2011)

This was a very intriguing book with a different kind of heroine. This girl wandered the foster home and orphanage circuit, but did learn the language of flowers from one of her foster mothers. This is a language I know nothing about - except something about yellow roses not being a good thing to give someone. I really enjoyed following this woman's way to finding a way to make a living doing something she loves and does well - working with flowers, but also finding the right flowers for people and their situations. She also learns to relate to people and even open up for love - though excruciatingly slowly at times.

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles (2011)

Suggested by the audio book store as something another patron liked, who was also from New Jersey, and who seems to like the same kind of books I do.

New York City in 1938. Interesting setting and times. Katey, Eve, and Tinker are three friends that enjoy jazz clubs and hanging out. Katey and Eve work in low paying jobs available to females of the times, but aspire to more. Tinker moves in higher society circles. Katey is a really interesting character with a lot of drive and intelligence, working her way up, with a little help from friends.

The title comes from a book by George Washington, where he lists 110 Rules of Civility, which Tinker seems to be following. At the end, the author lists all 110. Some were just etiquette and manners issues, but others seemed more like ways to ingratiate yourself with upper classes. I wasn't quite sure why this offended Katey so much. I also happened to watch a movie that had this same theme of where people weren't quite what they said they were while I was reading the book, so it seemed a bit too coincidental.

Skunkdog by Emily Jankins (2008)

I am tired, so I just grabbed a few kid's books to read. This one was very cute about a dog who did not have a sense of smell and who runs into a skunk. I totally remember the difficulty of getting skunk smell out of dog hair, and yes it took a lot of tomato juice.