Maira's Books

In January of 2005 I started this blog as a record of books I’ve read as I was afraid I would forget what I have read. I have often referred back to my own blog to remember a book's contents or see what I have read by an author. I have enjoyed passing my books on to friends or recommending books to read. I know I have missed recording some, but in general I try to keep up with what I have read or listened to.

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Location: Kalamazoo, MI, United States

I am a librarian at Waldo Library at Western Michigan University.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick (1962)

This was just on my list of classic audio books to listen to and it turned out to be a strange alternate history. Unintentionally keeping to my WWII theme this year, Dick looked into the possibility that Japan and Germany had won the war and America was split between the two countries. It was interesting to see white Americans as lower class. The politics was to too confusing as though I know some of the Nazi officials, I don't remember their roles, so much of that conversation was lost on me, but Goebbles and Goring are powerful men in this version of history.

The other main strangeness, was that an author in this alternate timeline has written a book about the U.S. and Britain winning - and his book seems to be very popular. At the end of the book there seems to be a major understanding what the book within the book is saying, but I did not get it and did not like to book enough to reread/re-listen to figure it out.

We follow a few characters: 
Frank Frank, a secret Jew that is a skilled metal worker gets fired and starts a small business with a friend making unique jewelry. I thought this was going to play out more but was unsure what the jewelry of the time was. 
The antiques dealer discovers that many of his antiques are not originals, but great reproductions. He ends up taking the jewelry on consignment and is trying to provide unique gifts to a Japanese official who wants to impress a Swedish businessman.
Then there are the two I just mentioned with another Japanese general coming in from Japan - there were SD guys who wanted to kill them and they were planning some sort of revolution.
Then finally there is Frank's ex-wife who is in Colorado and who hooks up with this Italian guy. Again, not clear what she was all about.

Now that I've read this, I found out there are at least two seasons of this as a series by Amazon. I might look into it.

The Last Mile by David Baldacci (2016)

I like Amos Decker and like watching him return to the world slowly. There is an ex-football player theme here as well as a racial one, going back to the 1950's and 60's in the South when cruel racial crimes were perpetrated. We get to think again about capital punishment.

Melvin Mars is supposed to get executed for murdering his parents, but Amos gets interested in the case when he finds a lot of similarities to his own life - both with promising careers cut short by tragedy. In both cases someone came forward years later confessing to the murders. Why? 

As always, Baldacci provides a suspenseful read.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (2014)

This is the Common Read book for our university this year. We created a display around the themes in the book at the library, so I thought it would be a good thing to read this dystopian novel.

In the beginning, I wasn't that impressed, but towards the end the book grabbed me. Actor Author dies on stage while playing King Lear, a young paramedic jumps up on stage to try to save him, an 8-year-old girl Kirsten watches all this happen. We follow Jeevan the paramedic through the early stages of the epidemic - he gets a call from a doctor friend who works in a hospital who tells him to get out, this flu is unprecedently fast and lethal. Jeevan purchases numerous shopping carts of water, groceries, and supplies from a corner store and lugs them up to his wheelchair-bound brother, and the two of them hole up. Then the story wanders between the past, present and 15 and 20 years after the end of civilization. Jeevan ends up being a doctor in a small community and Kirsten travels with a troupe of entertainers. They encounter a town taken over by someone calling himself the Prophet and end up in the Museum of Civilization.

Barkskins by Annie Proulx (2016)

Whew! I don't know the last time I read one of these multigenerational novels spanning over 300 years. There was one like this about the French and Americans in Viet Nam that I read many years ago, and James Michener was known for these sagas, but I don't think I ever read one.

This was the saga of two families, but even more the saga of the deforestation of North America. I was driving through the beautiful tree covered hills of the southern tier of New York State while listening to the final part of this book. Those forests look healthy from my car, but I realize I have seen very few old growth trees - maybe the redwoods in Muir Woods National Monument north of San Francisco. And of course, we don't live in sync with the forest any longer as the Native Americans or First People's did.

The book starts with two French orphan boys who are indentured to work for a nasty guy in Nova Scotia cutting trees in 1695. The deforestation starts with Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, along the St. Lawrence, Maine. Other loggers are working their way through New York and Pennsylvania. This story takes us to the white pines of Michigan - that seem endless at the beginning - and then out to the NW U.S., and even the ancient kauri trees of New Zealand.

We get alternate stories of Rene Sel and Charles Duke (Duque).

I learned so many interesting historical facts about Boston, Detroit and Chicago, besides the lives of Native Americans and the tree story. This was such a huge tome, that I will just pull out a few things that stood out:

  • Travel by ship was done by many of the characters - I think only one character went down in a shipwreck - and that was on Lake Erie.
  • Fascinating was the trip to China in the 1700's - it took months and then they would have to wait months for the right winds to come around for their return trip. China would no let them wander freely, but they had to live in a special compound for foreigners. China had already destroyed their forests, but the rich had special gardens with trees.
  • Life in logging camps was hard and dangerous.
  • How Chicago became such an important center.
  • Native Americans living off the forest vs. whites feeling that the forest needs to be tamed, chopped down and land used for agriculture - they considered the Indians lazy for "just" hunting and gathering.
  • The Europeans kept destroying land by destroying forests and then trying to grow crops on insufficient land - all the way West. They even used the Bible as an excuse for this - something about man over nature.
  • I do not have a clear sense of how the Forest Service evolved, though they get mentioned and what they have done to stop deforestation, restore things to their natural ways and how far we have gotten.
I am sure I had more to say, but I left off here and it will have to be enough. Great book!