Thursday, June 29, 2017

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backham (2016)

Another heart-warming book by Backman. I no longer know the diagnoses of his characters, and I have to be patient in the beginning as his main characters' personalities and stories emerge. We see Britt-Marie in the unemployment office looking for a job, though she has not worked outside the home for decades. Rubbing the finger where a ring once sat explains why. Surprisingly she gets sent to Borg to take care of their rec center, which the town has forgotten to close. The town is dying with only a pizza joint/corner store/post office still operating. Britt-Marie's one skill and obsession is cleaning and organizing, so she sets off doing just that. In the process she encounters a band of kids who like to play football (soccer), a couple of older women who drink too much, the local policeman who has taken every crafts course available and more town folk. Of course she ends up helping out the kids, the town and finding herself - in the most unusual ways. Though this is set in Denmark, it could be any town that has run into hard times. There are so many wonderful details, like the unemployment worker, who at times is driven crazy by Britt-Marie's calls, but who also find hope in these encounters. I always feel so good about humanity after Backman's books.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

1984 by George Orwell (1949)

Seems like everyone is rereading this classic in this current baffling political climate. Fake news and alternative facts fit in perfectly into Orwell's world. Winston Smith works in the Ministry of Truth, altering facts in past publication when those in power declare white is black, or when someone is arrested and killed, every mention of them is erased.

I couldn't help but try to think this through logically - so if they had to rewrite an article in a newspaper and it gets reprinted in some central location, what happens to all the other copies that were distributed elsewhere throughout the land. The other thought I had was that Orwell couldn't even imagine how easy it would be to dumb down the general public. Back in 1984 we still had newspapers, but now they are dying out and how many people read them anyway. People get their information from media (like the telescreen in the book) selectively - what they want to hear and we see now how easy it is to plant fake news.

Big Brother is Watching You! This definitely reminds me of all the surveillance done by the Soviets. One whole floor of a multi-story hotel in Riga was devoted to it. I always wondered how much staffing was needed to watch/listen to guests in all the rooms. Or to open all the mail, especially that coming or going outside fo the USSR. So again, I am wondering how they wired the whole world with surveillance - even out in the woods, and who did all the watching. I still think there are remote parts of the world they could not watch. But then again, think of now, we are all being followed through our electronic devices and online presence and surveillance cams are all over. 

I liked the appendix exploring newsspeak, the minimized language. Another phenomenon we are seeing today. I hope cool heads and intellect and reason prevail, but we have seen the destruction of intellectuals in authoritarian regimes before, and it could happen again.

I dislike reading about torture. I was freaked out in childhood when I read how Soviets tortured school kids in Latvia. I know it really happened then and happens now, but I am deeply opposed to it and hate it in books and movies. In 1984 it was awful to see Winston broken. Just like I never saw the Soviet purpose of deporting people, especially the young and old, and not providing citizens - the working class - with the basic necessities. This is coming up in Follet's Edge of Eternity. I've just started it, but one character already said: "How can we solve the problems (under Communism) if we can't even discuss them."

(Since I was listening to audio and did not have a cover image, I had to choose from the many that have been created for this book. This one looked familiar. I think this is what the book looked like when I first read it in the 1970's.)

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Stars Above by Marissa Meyer (2016)

It seems that Marissa Meyer had left too many quetsions unanswered, so here we have six stories from the Lunar Chronicles about the origins of the main characters and the happily ever after ending. How did Scarlett come to live with her grandmother and how did grandma Michele get involved in taking care of Cinder while she grew up in a suspension module? We see Cinder's fate before she moved to New Beijing, how Iko came to be Cinder's good friend, the scene at the market where Prince Kai brings his android to be fixed by Lynn Cinder - but this time from his point of view. I don't know how much it would make sense for someone who hasn't read the other full novels. For instance, you know that Cinder is standing on one foot the whole time, as she is talking to the prince. He notices something, but doesn't realize what. Then there is the story of how Wolf was transformed into the part wolf being. And how Winter and Jason go back to early childhood, as their fathers were guards together, and Jason always protected Winter. What a rogue young Thorne was, and how Cress got commandeered to spy on Earth from space. Of course, the lovely ending with them all gathering for Scarlett and Wolf's wedding, but we get to hear how they have all fared in the couple of years since the end of the last book. Enjoyed it.

Monday, June 05, 2017

The Lover by Marguerite Duras (1984)

Translated from French by Barbara Bray (1985)
Read this as it was one of the books on a list recommended by Roxanne Gay - a keynote speaker at a library conference in Baltimore this spring.

It's been a long time since I've read something like this. I would call it stream of consciousness. Why do I have a need for chapters, places where I can draw my breath? This whole book consisted of  vignette's (not the right word), usually a paragraph, no more than a page and a half in length in a small format book. The girl is 15 and a half, lives in Saigon with her mother and brother in a boarding school, goes to a French high school, dreams of being a writer. On the ferry she meets a Chinese man in a big black limousine. They become lovers, but his family would not hear of him marrying her. She eventually moves to Paris and has a life. With plenty of jumps into the past and future. Turns out this is autobiographical.

I don't regret reading it, but can't say I got a lot out of it. Maybe I am just too used to the typical plot driven book, though this too had a story too, and beautiful writing.