Thursday, November 8, 2012

Love Me Some Lincoln!

All this election year hoopla has inspired me to check out books on past presidents and their leading ladies. Here I visit one of my favorites, Abraham Lincoln, who, according to a few biographies I've read on the guy, hated being called Abe. Whatever name you want to give him now, this man undeniably had a way with talking simply but strikingly. Not saying the guy was perfect or that every decision he made was brilliant... how could you say that about anyone? But man, to read back on even basic letters he wrote to people, one can find some touching, inspiring words! Most recently, I've read Abraham Lincoln: Theologian Of American Anguish by Elton Trueblood. Gotta say, the title alone intrigued me. Considering the title, I actually didn't get into this book for any Christian reasoning. I looked at it as another sort of history book. And it did not disappoint!

I had the Carl Sandburg Lincoln books when I was a kid {sadly, they got ruined while in storage at my parents' place years ago :-( } but had never come across this title before. This copy I have now was actually in a box of books one of my friends had pulled from a house that he helped clear out. He nearly threw them in the dumpster but I got the box from him, realizing when I got home that I had an autographed copy! Always a bonus :-)

author Elton Trueblood - from
"David Elton Trueblood (1900–1994) was a noted 20th-century American Quaker author and theologian, former chaplain both to Harvard and Stanford universities."

At only 141 pages, this is a pretty easy, entertaining read -- easily done in an afternoon or evening lounging at home (if you're so lucky to have those :-D ). I didn't find the writing overly preachy but definitely informative, regardless of your faith. Some of the cool stuff Trueblood discusses:

  • Lincoln was the first President to establish an officially / federally recognized Thanksgiving Day. Lincoln originally encouraged 4 nationwide fasting and reflection days throughout the year but upon suggestion from a Quaker friend, decided one nationally recognized holiday for everyone was the way to go -- Lincoln wanted the day to be non-denominational, just a day where everyone could stop, collaborate and listen... jk.. couldn't resist... nah, he wanted people to stop, reflect, and be thankful and humble for their blessings, acknowledge their misguided actions but appreciate the lessons learned from them. 
  • Even though Lincoln was down for having a Thanksgiving Day, he actually pushed to keep legislation in session during Christmas. In fact, Lincoln had official work-related letters dated on Christmas Day! While he was a man of faith personally, he never outwardly subscribed to any one particular religion or followed any one church's religious holiday schedule. He found things he liked in several faiths. Even the night of his assassination, the night he was attending the theater with Mrs. Lincoln, was a Good Friday. 
  • Terms that are so commonly attached to American Government today, such as "Under God", recited by schoolchildren everywhere with the Pledge of Allegiance,  and "In God We Trust" lead back to Lincoln. Trueblood talks of how "Under God" does not appear in the first draft of The Gettysburg Address, leading one to believe it was something Lincoln ad-libbed in the moment and added in later when it was reprinted in the papers of the day. And it was Lincoln's administration who popularized the phrase "In God We Trust", a phrase we instantly associate with the National Treasury now. 
Abraham Lincoln
"Abraham Lincoln was not a religious leader in the conventional sense. Certainly he was not  professionally religious and he had no formal theological training. What he knew about prayer came not from books but from experience, much of  it agonizing. He was no flaming prophet like John the Baptist, nor was he an ecstatic arouser of men's emotions, like the Mahdi. He was, instead, as Horace Greeley said, 'a plain, true, earnest, patriotic man, gifted with common sense.'"

This book definitely had me thinking about our presidential election this year. Think about how many people on either side  of this election said that the opposing candidate winning would be the worst decision a voter could make. How many, on either side, said the opposing candidate would bring the country to ruination? Well, take a look at what was being said of Lincoln during one of his election years:

"Had we any respect for Mr. Lincoln, official or personal, as a man, or as President-Elect of the United States, his career and speeches on his way to the seat of government would have cruelly impaired it. We do not believe the Presidency can ever be more degraded by any of his successors, than it has been by him, even before his inauguration." ~ The Baltimore Sun

Or the 1864 New Year's edition of The Crisis:

The people of the North owe Mr. Lincoln nothing but eternal hatred and scorn. There are  500,000  new made graves; there are 500,000 orphans; there are 200,000 widows; there is a bottomless sea of blood, there is the Constitution broken; there are liberty and law -- liberty in chains and in a dungeon; thieves in the Treasury, provost marshals in the seats of justice, butchers in the pulpit -- and these are the things which we owe Mr. Lincoln.

WOW. Sound familiar? I'm recalling something about history and repetition... Imagine, Lincoln ever being considered the worst president in history! But in his time, there were people that honestly saw it that way. Just as now, there are people that things couldn't be worse. Trueblood makes a good point regarding the President and the press:

 During his first year as President, Lincoln was faced with public criticism of a bitterness which is hard to believe. All men in public life are forced to bear abuse, but few have faced it as much as Lincoln faced it day after day. The writers in the newspapers could sound smart because they did not have the responsibilities of decision, and they could sound bold by enunciating extreme positions which they were not required to implement. Lincoln, by contrast, in order to maintain integrity had to reject extremes because he was sworn to be faithful to the welfare of the entire nation. 

Reading about Lincoln, and how he solidified his stance on slavery (in part, finding support in the Bible verse Matthew 25:40 -- 'Inasmuch as ye have it done unto one of the least of my brethren, ye have done it unto me'), it makes me ponder how Lincoln would view our president now. What would he say about the hateful, racist things said about the guy? What would be his words of wisdom to bring people together and pull their heads out of their asses? Would they listen? Regardless of what you might think of our president as a person or a leader, the amount of blatantly racist, uneducated, uninformed comments I've seen thrown his way just off of his race... I've found it utterly ridiculous that with all the information in the world now, people can still choose to remain so f-n stupid when it comes to race and respect for fellow human beings in general. But I was warmed by one story in particular in this book, regarding Lincoln and Quaker Eliza Gurney.

widow of  English Quaker Joseph Gurney and friend of Abraham Lincoln

During the Civil War, Eliza Gurney became concerned for the mental health of Lincoln, what with the stress of brother versus brother out there killing each other and him being held largely responsible. Gurney rounded up three of her fellow Quakers (John M. Whithall, Hannah B. Mott and James Carey) and walked over to the White House to visit him -- back in the days when it was still cool to just walk up to the front door like you were taking over some mail that got mistakenly delivered to your house. Gurney explained that they were not there to request anything of the strained president, but instead offered their spiritual support and friendship. They came in, did a prayer circle with the president. They only intended to stay 15 minutes or so, but Lincoln found himself so lifted and refreshed by being given the opportunity to share the weight of his burdens with genuinely concerned friends that he asked them to stay longer, do some more praying, more talking. One of the Quakers later wrote that at one point, there was a moment of silent prayer where the tears were just rolling down Lincoln's face. Lincoln was so moved by the day and the generosity of these people that he asked Eliza to continue to write to him so that he may continue to talk out his fears and have a friend / Friend to pray over him (a sort of unofficial therapist, maybe?). You just don't hear these kinds of stories that often these days. But it was sweet to picture what a gift this must have been to Lincoln.

"Lincoln was grateful for the confidence of those who supported him so loyally in his difficult task, but he was deeply sobered by the fact that almost two million of his fellow countrymen had voted against him." ~~ Elton Trueblood

Another vintage Lincoln book I highly recommend if you can find a copy is Lincoln: His Words And His World, published by Country Beautiful in 1965. My copy pictured below:

This book explores the man behind the presidency through his letters and speeches. Heavily illustrated, it offers a wealth of info on him that's easy to read in sections. Might be a bit of a treasure hunt involved finding a copy though -- I was given this copy when I was a kid and it's the only one I've come across in person. I'm sure there's gotta be some out there on Amazon and Ebay though :-) But hey, that's half the fun of a collectible library right? The hunt!

And, seeing as how this is a book blog, I thought I'd share the list from Trueblood's book of
Lincoln's Top 5 Most Influential Reads:

  1. The Bible
  2. The plays of Shakespeare
  3. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
  4. The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
  5. Life of Washington by Mason Locke Weems 

No beach reads for that guy!  :-P  I take that back, Robinson Crusoe is kind of a beach read... of a different sort lol.... see ya next time!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

What Kind of Book Reader Are You? A Diagnostics Guide - Entertainment - The Atlantic Wire

Pretty entertaining article! I especially like the recommended reads sections like The Book Buster (someone who bends back spines or leaves them bent open everywhere) "Read whatever you want, but buy a Kindle" or The Cat "This one looks nice and flat"

Slowest Reader Ever

I'd say I'm a blend of "The Bookophile" and the "Delayed Onset Reader #1"
:-). What about you?

What Kind of Book Reader Are You? A Diagnostics Guide - Entertainment - The Atlantic Wire

Sir Edward John Poynter - An Evening at Home

Thursday, August 16, 2012

YAAY OLYMPICS.... and... now what?

A few days late posting this, been battling a cold this past week.... on the mend now, so we're back on!

Everyone come down from their Olympic high? Man, the U.S. had a pretty impressive run, huh! 104 precious metal necklaces -- Woot Woot! Though there are a number of sports there that still baffle me (the kind of sports that it seems like people strive to perfect but only perform at the Olympics), I still look forward to seeing what happens in Rio.

In the spirit of the Olympics, I finally read this book that's been untouched on my shelf for quite awhile now : My Sergei by Ekaterina Gordeeva (who went by the nickname Katia). I originally got the book because I remember my mom and I watching Ekaterina and her husband skate on television when I was a kid. My mom loves watching figure skating ( I think I watched mainly because in my mostly tomboyish heart, I secretly wanted to have similar pretty, flowy dresses). I remember hearing of the tragic death of Sergei and being shocked at his young age. I even have a memory of watching some skating program (now that I think of it, it may have even been an Olympic performance of some couple) where they panned to Ekaterina sitting in the audience with, what seemed to my young self at the time, quite a sad, wistful look on her face (I think this was only shortly after Sergei's death). I was always curious about the backstory but you know how things go. Some books get pushed back time and again for more modern "must reads". So, in the spirit of the Olympics (though admittedly this may have been more appropriate to read for the Winter Games), I dedicated a couple days to this short read.

For those of you unfamiliar with this couple, they were a pretty familiar couples figure skating team back in the 80s and 90s. Originally from Russia, they did a number of tv specials before and after becoming two time Olympic Gold Medalists. They toured the world with friends and fellow skaters such as Scott Hamilton and Kristi Yamuguchi. Then suddenly in 1995, Sergei dropped on the ice while rehearsing a new routine with Ekaterina. Doctors were unable to save him, determining that he died from a massive heart attack (stemming from undetected coronary heart disease). He was only 28! Gordeeva now does shows to raise awareness for heart disease and the importance of heart health and has since remarried -- to none other than fellow Russian ice skating champion, Ilia Kulik

This book details the whole span of their life together, from the very first time they skated, through development of the friendship and later the courtship, her struggle with widowhood,  as well as the backstory stuff within a sport you never really think about as a spectator (such as one story where she tells of Sergei having a muscle injury that affected his ability to lift things, so she basically goes on a starvation diet to get as small as possible to give him as little weight as possible to struggle with, even though she was already super tiny naturally!). It also gives one the sense of what life was like in USSR Russia vs the United States in the same time period --- made me realize that no matter how bad we think we have it, it's really not as bad as it could be!

I was also struck by how young these two really were... to go through all that they did, I mean. Makes the story all the more heartbreaking to think of it. Your mid to late 20s... your life has barely begun. So sad. And yet there was such a beautiful love there. Maybe because it seems so immortalized when it happens so early in life. Ekaterina's description of the last night of Sergei's life, her own terror, was incredibly hard to read, thinking how panicked I would be myself in such a situation but later the story of the memorial show done for Sergei was memorably powerful. Though part of me did picture the ending of Ghost for a moment. :-)

I think that Sergei's soul now lives somewhere. In our religion, we have two very important days after a death: the ninth day and the fortieth day. From the day of the death until the ninth day, the deceased is still with us, and people will dream about him very clearly. Then on the ninth day the deceased starts his journey to the gates that open to Paradise or to Hell. God will decide where He wants this person. On the fortieth day, he leaves us. He's free. He now has his own spiritual life.  ~~ Ekaterina Gordeeva

Though it's clear by her writing (and by the fact that she's Russian, of course) that English is not Gordeeva's first language, some of the writing being awkward and slightly jarring in some places, maybe more simplified than what you're used to --  there's a still a pretty resonating story to hear here. Go back in time a bit, relive the fun as well as the struggles of the 90s. I know I miss those years :-).

Katia skating at Sergei's Celebration Of Life 
Music is Mahler's Symphony #5 IV Adagietto.
She describes this performance in the final pages of her book:

 I had always liked this music, which is sensitive and tender and also a little bit sad. Marina {Sergei and Katia's choreographer} told me that Mahler wrote this music when he was proposing to his wife; that, in fact, the music served as his proposal; that he gave it to her, and she sat down at the music and played it, and the music did his speaking for him. His wife immediately understood....When we first listened to it on the ice, she said to me, "I don't know what to do." Then we listened more and the music told us what to do. Marina said to me, "Imagine that you are skating with Sergei for the last time," Then, "Now you've lost him, you're missing him, you're looking for him and can't find him. You get on your knees and ask God why it happened. Your legs feel broken, as if they have no strength. You cannot move. Everything inside you feels broken too. You must ask God for some help. You must tell God you understand that life goes on, and now you have to skate. You must thank him for giving you Sergei for half of your life, the most beautiful time in your life. This is about how all people can get up from their knees in the face of adversity, can go forward, can have the strength to persevere. You can find someone to life for. You can have a life of your own now." ... As the time neared for my solo number, I thought about the words Sergei used to say to me when we were getting ready to skate. We always kissed each other before we skated, we always hugged and touched each other. Now, in the tunnel waiting to go on the ice, I didn't have anyone to touch or kiss. It was a terrible feeling to be standing there by myself. Only Dave, the tunnel attendant for Stars On Ice, was there watching, and I could tell he was thinking the same thing: How sad to see her standing here without Sergei. But then I thought of what Marina had said: Just trust Sergei, and he will help you...But as soon as the Mahler music started to play, and I skated out into the darkened arena, the bad feelings went away...
There's more to this but I will let you read it on your own. Hard to discount the idea of an afterlife after reading how her husband helped her get through the routine and how she never wants to do this number again, to maintain the special, otherworldly feelings she experienced with Sergei in those moments.

This book will also serve as a reminder to thank your spouses for the love they give you each day, never knowing if it may be the last.

Love you, sweet Finbar.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Kenneth Grahame

The most priceless possession of the human race is the wonder of the world. Yet, latterly, the utmost endeavors of mankind have been directed toward the dissipation of that wonder... Science analyses everything to its component parts, and neglects to put them together again... Nobody, any longer, may hope to entertain an angel unawares, or to meet Sir Lancelot in shining armour on a moonlit  road. But what is the use of living in a world devoid of wonderment?  ~~ Kenneth Grahame

Given the Olympics Opening Ceremonies having just aired, it seems fitting to do a post on Kenneth Grahame. In between reading some of my more serious, academic books I decided to revisit a couple of old childhood classics of his -- his famous The Wind In The Willows and maybe lesser known The Reluctant Dragon, a story originally featured in his 1898 book, Dream Days.

Grahame was born in Scotland in 1859, but sadly orphaned at an early age. Still a young child, he was moved to England to live in the care of relatives. He grew up to have a mix of jobs aside from writing, including being a social worker at night and the Secretary of The Bank Of England by day. He was also part of the London-Scottish Regiment. The shy-natured Grahame married Elspeth Thomson in 1889 who later gave Grahame a son, Alastair (who went by the nickname "Mouse").

"I write not only for children,
 but for adults who remember what it is like to be children."

How cute was he!

Wind In The Willows

This classic came about when Grahame brought home a mole as a pet for his son and the housemaid accidentally killed it. The stories started as a way to comfort Alastair and let him know that the mole would live on in the stories. Alastair enjoyed the stories so much, he begged his father to continue them in letters even when the young boy was sent on trips with his mother to visit family. The stories continued to grow through these letters between father and son. Grahame's wife, Elspeth (who had always encouraged her husband's writing) found the stories so adorable, she recommended that Grahame have them published as a book. The end result was The Wind In The Willows, published after Grahame retired from the Bank of England. Sadly, Alastair, who was sickly and blind in one eye (perhaps the reason for the side profile in the pic above?) battled depression, committing suicide at the age of 19 (the link under Alastair's pic will take you to an article discussing the sad story).  The pain of his son's death stayed with Grahame until his death in 1932 at the age of 73.  I've read elsewhere that excitable Frog who was always curious about "the next big thing" was based on Alastair's energetic and inquiring nature. 

1966 illustration of Toad by beloved children's illustrator
Tasha Tudor (my favorite of all the illustrators I've seen
tackle TWITW)

Re-reading this book as an adult, I am struck by how relatable the characters are, even now. Everyone knows someone like all of these characters. Have a friend always into the latest gadgets, fashions, trends? That's Toad. Rat is the one you might call very "granola", he loves the outdoors and simple living. Mole loves experiencing new things and meeting new people even if he has some trepidation in being outside of his comfort zone. He's ever curious about what's going on just over the next hill. See what I mean? Even the landscape, especially The Wild Woods... at least the way Rat describes it... sounds like that sketchy part of town you know to avoid as much as possible.  Perhaps that's part of the eternal appeal of this book, it just never gets old. 

BTW... There's a 1996 Terry Jones live action screen adaptation that's a nice mix of eerie and sweet and there was a really cute BBC / PBS Masterpiece Theatre aired version made in 2006. You can watch the whole thing (but in sections of course) on YouTube.

1996 Terry Jones adaptation:

2006 adaptation with Bob Hoskins & Matt Lucas

I also heard that yet another version was set to be released this year with Ricky Gervais doing the voice of Mole... does anyone know, did that project get shelved or is it still in the works? Just curious. 

The Reluctant Dragon

Perhaps not quite as famous as The Wind In The Willows, I think I first read The Reluctant Dragon when I was about nine years old. I recently found my old copy in a box of books in my mom's storage. I remember really liking the book but not much else so I figured it was time for a refresher. I think it took me maybe 45 mins to read (and I'm a slower reader), it's that short but so adorable! The dialogue is very fun and witty, making the story move very quickly. And I loved that the dragon spoke like "a perfect English gent"! This is the story of a dragon who makes his home on a hill above a quiet English village but instead of wanting to attack the villagers, he wants to be friends with them, recite poetry, eat delicious foods, and just bask in good friendship. How do you convince a bunch of medieval villagers of that though? There's one little boy (just known as The Boy) who lives in town who climbs up the hill every day, not showing a moment of fear around this dragon but instead is the first of the humans to offer up his friendship while explaining that the rest of the town won't be won over so easily. 

The Reluctant Dragon illustration by Ernest H. Shepard
"Do for goodness' sake try and remember that your a pestilential scourge or
you'll find yourself in a most awful fix."
The Boy to The Reluctant Dragon

The dragon has a pretty funny hashing out with St. George, the knight you may have read about in legends who was reputed to be quite the dragon-slayer. They calmly and sensibly discuss the terms of a faux battle to appease the riled up locals --  where George is allowed to strike the dragon, how much noise will be made, etc... all as if it were some business deal between friends!

Written in 1898, I wondered if this book was maybe the idea behind Disney's Pete's Dragon but it turns out Disney did a 1941 cartoon adaptation of this book, sticking with the book's title for the cartoon. Though I thought I had seen just about every old Disney movie out there, I can't seem to remember this one. 

The dragon has the characteristic high, squeaky voice of so 
many characters in early Disney movies. Not quite how I pictured 
the dragon in the book but still a cute clip:

and this was a little before my time, but I found this ABC-TV clip of a show where Grahame's characters The Reluctant Dragon and Mr Toad were given a show together... anyone see this when it was on?

"Banquets are always pleasant things, consisting mostly, as they do, of eating and drinking, but the especially nice thing about a banquet is that it comes when something is over, and there's nothing more to worry about, and tomorrow seems a long way off."  ~~ Kenneth Grahame's The Reluctant Dragon

Grahame uses a unique humor to teach kids the importance of really getting to know people before you judge them. People (or dragons) may seem scary or anti-social on the outside but maybe they really long for people to take an honest, non-judgemental interest in them. :-)

Friday, July 27, 2012

Have You Read Anything By Charles Martin?

On one of my recent perusals of a local Goodwill Store book section, I found a couple of books by this guy Charles Martin. Had never heard of him before, but I was intrigued by the covers. Come to find out he's a Christian author with a number of books already under his belt! Christian fiction is not something I actively seek out but it's not something I necessarily steer clear of either. I enjoyed both of these books so much, I unashamedly googled Charles Martin and to tell you the truth, had I not read about his Christian roots, I would not have guessed anything about it from the writing. These books do not preach at you, they just have beautiful, simple but powerful stories about loving marriages. I saw my own marriage in these books, the lengths my husband and I would go to for each other (fingers crossed no such thing happens because Martin writes some pretty hardcore medical problems for his leading ladies, part of the pull of the story -- you get so pulled into the characters you want to know if they'll pull through).  One thing that really appeals to me about these books is they're not overly sappy. The men are like my husband, there's no doubt they love their wives but they don't have to spout sonnets 24/7 or burst into tears over how achingly beautiful life is all the time. Not saying they can't feel that way on the inside but I'm a bit of an old fashioned girl. I like men TO BE MEN, throw me a nice letter or a surprise gift, improptu trip or something from time to time but if you profess too much, the special moments stop being so special. I like that Martin lets his men be men and his ladies be sassy but loving. I would say if you like Nicholas Sparks, Martin is better! I like a few of Sparks' books but some of his recent stuff gives me cavities (figuratively, of course. I care for my books too much to gnaw on 'em.. :-P).

The Dead Don't Dance

Dylan Styles is orphaned at a young age and goes to live with his grandparents, Pappa & Nanny, in an old farmhouse in South Carolina. Dylan grows up, meets lovely, lively Maggie and gets married. Maggie and Dylan continue to live in the old farmhouse (which Dylan inherits after his grandparents pass away). Dylan has a "city job" as an English professor but feels his real interest lies in continuing his grandfather's farming work... problem is, the farming isn't really making any money. Maggie has complications with a pregnancy and winds up in a coma. Dylan, refusing to let his wife go, starts to look at where his priorities have been and where maybe they need to be now. There are some great side characters in this story, mainly in Dylan's English class, such as Marvin, the class clown, and Koy, the emo chick who becomes an important friend to Dylan. My favorite character was Dylan's ball-bustin' best friend Amos (who is also the town sheriff), who never lets anyone wallow in self-pity. I know with the coma and all that, it sounds like this would be a sap-fest, but seriously, the characters are compelling and the dialogue feels real. There is a sequel to this book called Maggie. Haven't had a chance to read it yet... but soon :-)

Me Phi Me, "Revival"
Reading The Dead Don't Dance
 had me remembering this song :-)
If you're trying to place where you might have heard 
this one before, it was on the Reality Bites soundtrack.
That's right... going a little old school for y'all! 

Trace Adkins, "Muddy Water" 
The ending had me thinking of this song... 

Where The River Ends

A similar story, concerning a South Carolina couple, Doss and Abbie Michaels, but with a "wrong side of the tracks" element thrown in. Doss is a struggling artist, Abbie is a socialite /model/ politician's daughter who throws her social status to the wind, deciding to marry Doss and promote his artwork.  With Abbie's encouragement, Doss develops a reputation for making beautiful paintings from visually unattractive subjects. 

Again, Martin writes in a sick wife, this time it seems terminal. Ironically, the woman that taught her husband to see the beauty in ugly struggles to find how her husband can still be attracted to her as she gets more and more sickly and more dangerously thin each day (combination of the illness and the treatments). Doss in a similar way struggles to show her he sees the beauty of her soul, which always makes her beautiful inside and out to him. But ladies, you know how resistant we can be to believe such things when we feel that low. My favorite scene in the whole book comes when Abbie is in the hospital for a treatment and her husband keeps hearing the nurses talk about her or mention her on the overcom, but they refer to her by her room number, "1054". He gets fed up and calls the whole floor staff to his wife's room:

I'd like to introduce you all to my wife. This is Abbie Michaels. You can just call her Abbie. She's a wife, a daughter, a friend, she has a tendency to talk with her hands, she likes Lucky Strike jeans and she sees beauty where others don't. She is not and has never been '1054' {to which a head nurse starts to say HIPPA laws mandate...}... I know you all work hard. A lot harder than most give you credit for. I am thankful for what you do and how you do it, but HIPPA's wife is not lying in that bed. I need to ask you to look at the woman in that bed and not think of her as a number. Not a statistic. Hope is what feeds us. And to be honest, it's running in short supply around here. 

BOOM! Gotta love that kinda fella, not afraid to demand respect for the woman he loves! Doss, working off of a sort of bucket list of 10 "normal life" things Abbie wants to do in her lifetime (things that have no connection to her fame or family money, just everyday living moments), decides to take her on a river trip from SC to Florida, rather than have her wither away in the hospital. This book ponders the question of whether, in one's final days, it's better to have quantity or quality of life. Do you fight just to have more days in general or do you make the most of the days you think you have? The one problem I had with Doss is he always seemed to get tangled up in confrontations with people but didn't have a bit of fighting ability, ever! He would talk brave but physically he was always getting whooped on! :-S Sometimes it's best to nod or shrug and move on lol. 

"All My Love" by Led Zepplin
Doss talks about how special this song is 
to him and Abbie

One of the elements of the story I really enjoyed was all the art history and amazing paintings that were special to Abbie & Doss woven throughout the story. I love art history so having a character tell these stories was like candy to me :-)

"Woman In A Grove" by Jacek Malczewski
"People are always telling me I'm beautiful. Okay, so what. I've spent most of my life in front of the cameras. People use my image to sell a product. That's all. At the end of the day, they've used me -- my face or figure, which by the way I had nothing to do with -- to tell everyone how they are not like me. Hence, you're not beautiful. Or, you're not pretty. Or, you don't measure up. If you want to make great art, something that can reach beyond time and space, find someone, find someone who isn't and show them that they are. Paint the broken, the unlovely... and make them believe." ~~ Abbie

Abbie and Doss visit numerous art galleries and museums in their time together -- some of their favorites mentioned:

"While her body is provocative, it is drawn in such a way that leads you time and time again to her face, the angle of her neck,the inviting drop of her shoulders, the playfulness in her eyes, the relaxed crossing of her legs. It's what a nude should be." ~ Doss

How dedicated are you to your art? When Bernini was in the process of sculpting this bust, titled "Damned Soul", he burned his forearm with a hot iron to get the face of agony just right!!

This book surprised me... how much it tugged at my heart. Similar books usually have me internally yelling "AHH C'MOON!" where the woe-is-me thrown into overdrive. But Martin's characters thankfully feel like real people. The ending in Where The River Ends has a bit of a what-you-might-expect-tearjerker wrap up but until then you really want to be on the boat ride with these two!

"River In Forrest" from
"The river can be a magical place. As much as I've been here, I still don't quite get her. No matter how you hurry or how hard and fast you pull on the paddle, the river controls the tempo. She stretches every minute and steals back every second. Rivers do this naturally. They don't give two cents about the destination. Name one straight river and I'll show you a man-made canal. People make a big deal about how their watch automatically sets itself to atomic time from a tower somewhere in Colorado, but if we were smart, we'd set our watches to river time. We'd wrinkle less and wouldn't grow old as quickly." ~~ Doss Michaels

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Odd Couples

Here's a couple books for you to check out that have unusual couples, unusual in that you might have an "ick" or "what tha..." moment here and there reading about them, but the writing is so good, I had to throw some props their way!

THE GIANT'S HOUSE by Elizabeth McCracken
(National Book Award Finalist .. figured it couldn't totally suck..)

This is the story of Peggy Cort, a 26 yr old "spinster" librarian living in the Cape Cod area in the 1950s where she meets 11 yr old James Carlson Sweatt, who suffers from gigantism. By the age of twelve, James is 6'5. James and Peggy develop a friendship at the library, Peggy giving him books that take his mind off of his disability and social awkwardness. Somewhere in the midst of their friendship, Peggy finds she's actually falling in love with James but realizes this is an inappropriate feeling to have towards someone still not legal. She can't seem to shake her deepening affection for him so she just keeps it to herself, struggling with seeing James grow up over the years, learning to flirt as a teenager, struggling with not knowing how to dance, etc. With everything that goes on, at the toughest moments James always comes back to Peggy, one night confessing his own feelings. You'd think this book would be really awkward to read but nothing inappropriate happens. James grows up, becomes a man and Peggy continues to help him as his condition worsens. It's actually really sweet (and bittersweet) the way this relationship develops between them. The one problem I did have with the story was the last few chapters, the way McCracken decided to wrap things up confused me, it felt a little disjointed and then like she quickly brought it back and tried to tie things up neatly.  But definitely give this one a try. It's a slow burn kind of read, doesn't really race through, but the development in itself is powerful.

There's some great quotes in this book. Check it out:

On history:

For some people, history is simply what your wife looks good in front of. It's what's cast in bronze, or framed in sepia tones, or acted out with wax dummies and period furniture. It takes place in glass bubbles filled with water and chunks of plastic snow; it's stamped on souvenir pencils and summarized in reprint newspapers. History nowadays is recorded in memorabilia. If you can't purchase a shopping bad that alludes to something, people won't believe it ever happened. 

On Love:

Despite popular theories, I believe people fall in love based not on good looks or fate but on knowledge. Either they are amazed by something a beloved knows that they themselves do not know; or they discover common rare knowledge; or they can supply knowledge to someone who's lacking. Hasn't everyone found a strange ignorance in someone beguiling?

I loved him because I wanted to save him, and because I could not. I loved him because I wanted to be enough for him and I was not.
Truthfully, this is the fabric of my all my fantasies: love shown not by a kiss or a wild look or a careful hand but by a willingness for research. I don't dream of someone who understands me immediately, who seems to have known me my whole life, who says 'I know, me too.' I want someone keen to learn my own strange organization, amazed at what's revealed; someone who asks, 'and then what, and then what?' But you can't spend your life hoping that people will ask you the right questions. You must learn to love and answer the questions they already ask. Otherwise you're dreaming of visiting Venice by driving to Boise, Idaho. 

THE MOST WANTED by Jacquelyn Mitchard

This is the story of Arlington "Arley" Mowbrey a 14 yr old girl who, partly from a dare, partly out of a sense of charity, decides to write to Dillon LeGrande, an inmate at a South Texas prison who just happens to be 25. It starts out innocent enough because Arley doesn't expect anything more than a simple pen-pal sort of communication. But Arley feels a freedom in telling all her inner feelings to someone she figures it won't matter to. She figures the guy will think she's crazy and not write back. To her surprise (but not to the reader's 'cause c'mon 400+ pages here.. of course he wrote back!) she gets a letter from Dillon with him saying how moved he was by her honesty... and so starts the blossoming of their relationship. Did I mention Arley lied about her age to impress this guy she thought wouldn't care about her? Ahh plot muck :-). Well Dillon's not a total perve.. I guess.. he does take a pause and consider "okay.. she's 14" but then that leads to "well she's a mature kind of 14". Okay... bit of an ick moment there but hear me out. No, I'm not a wackadoodle myself endorsing these kind of things, I was disturbed by a lot in this book but because it was so well written I kept reading. And it helped that the story is broken up and alternated between the POVs  of Arley and Annie, her lawyer, who acts as the voice of reason in the story... oh, and Annie has a sweet, legal love affair of her own ;-)

 I thought Arley was a well developed character in that in the beginning we see her acting as if she knows exactly what she's doing but later as things get twisted up (as any adult could see from a mile away that they would), she freaks out and wants to be free of everything, though Annie tries to tell her it's too late, the proverbial bed's been made. I like that the teenage character actually sounded her age without going to the cliche airhead tone, but instead you get to see the mix of almost-adult thinking with the "can I get my mom to write a note" stage of life still in there. This book gets pretty dark as the story moves along. I hoped for Dillon to be that one in a million case of rehabilitated former sick puppy... seems like there were shreds of good guy in there. I was curious to know more about the backstory of Dillon and his brother but there wasn't much given. Oh, and Arley's mom? OMG.. that lady was pretty much flat-lining on the mom-o-meter. I don't think I've read such an exaggerated case of a woman having kids for the welfare money!

She did not neglect her children; neglect might have required more concentration than Rita was able to muster up.. Arley's mother simply did not love her, and not only did she not love her but she regarded Arley's school successes, as well as her timid attempts to involve herself in extracurricular activities, as a source of irritation, an obstacle that got between her and her right to cheap labor. 

Is it any wonder Arley turned out such a confused girl? Still, here's another book that offers great writing if you can get passed the taboo subject matter. 

"You asked somebody, they'd always say kin is kin. But that doesn't mean the same thing to people everyplace. When you grow up with all kinds of love from your blood kin, maybe you don't have that desperate hope for someone out there waiting who can make up for all the things blood never brought you. Someone who can look deep inside you and see things no one ever bothered to tell you were there." * Arley

Oh and btw.. wondering about Arley's name? Yeah.. her mom's one of those women who named all her kids after the towns they were conceived in... Arley is for Arlington, Texas... awkward name to try to pull off as feminine... poor girl  :-(

Monday, June 11, 2012

When In Rome...

I'm not sure I'd want to "do as the Romans do", at least not by Ancient Roman standards! Love is a beautiful thing, but how promising is it, when one person is a gladiator, condemned to death but allowed to live as long as he gives a good show in the arena, and the other is a house servant, once an educated girl from a respected family, but now enslaved and forced to do the bidding of the most ungrateful, spoiled biddy in town? Such is the question in Kate Quinn's historical fiction novel, Mistress of Rome. And before ye judge, no, this is not the standard supermarket bodice-ripper you may be imagining. This is actually a pretty well-researched historical novel, giving the reader a full on view of what it might have been like to live in those times, for ALL classes. We just learn about the world from the perspectives of Thea, a Jewish slave owned by bratty heiress Lepida, and Arius, the gladiator.

author Kate Quinn
image courtesy of

As fictional romances typically go, of course Thea and Arius have an instant connection, though actually meeting up takes some work. Luckily, Thea's mistress, Lepida, develops an infatuation with Arius and constantly sends Thea to the gladiator quarters with secret messages.  Over time, Thea's return trips back home take longer and longer (*wink, wink). It takes awhile for Lepida to catch on to what's going on, why her messages are never being answered by Arius, but once she does figure it out, she goes full-blown evil and finds a nasty way to split Arius and Thea apart. To spare you the spoilers / complete details of Lepida's sinister scheming, I will just say they end up spending years apart before finding each other again. By that time, Thea has a different sort of job, living in a different town, while Lepida naturally goes on to marry for money (to senator / bookworm Marcus Norbanus) and have an "oops" child she doesn't want or like. As the reader, you'll probably want to throttle Lepida, as I did, when you see how poorly she treats good-hearted Marcus. Never ceases to amaze me how the good guys always seem to fall right into the snares of the cruelest women. As for Arius, he finds his Thea in an odd relationship with Emperor Domitian (one that proves beneficial, in sort of a business-like way, to both Thea and Domitian). There's one other big surprise for Arius when he reunites with Thea but you'll have to read to find out

I loved the complexity of all of these characters. The evil ones were over the top evil, the good were  noble in character but lived a flawed reality, which I found refreshing. I like that sort of realism, even in fiction. Arius has a streak of rage he constantly battles, but he centers it and does his best to avoid bringing unneccessary  harm to the innocent (doesn't always succeed, but he does try!). He spends much of the novel trying to win a rudius from the emperor (a wooden sword emperors gave out to certain prisoners who had won favor with them. Obtaining a rudius meant you were pardoned of your crimes, your freedom reinstated). Emperor Domitian, on the other hand, starts out as a respectable character but then his straight up whacked out crazy starts to come out more as the novel progresses. That guy is into some twisted, twisted stuff. The way Quinn wrote Domitian makes me think she was inspired by the real-life Roman Emperor, Caligula, who also started out as a respected ruler but became more well known for his depravity and drunken orgies (not saying there's anything wrong with one in it's own place and time --- Zoolander, anyone?  :-P --- just noticed the similarity). And wouldn't you know, here comes Lepida again with an interest in Domitian this time. Poor Thea can't shake that witch off!

She's beautiful. She's even sort of interesting, like the way poisonous snakes are interesting. But she's awful. ~~ Vibia Sabina, daughter of Lepida & Marcus, talking about her own mother!

Because no one ever notices me, you'd be surprised how much I hear. ~~Vibia Sabina

I was really impressed with all the strong female characters in this book. Often, with historical fiction anyway, you find maybe one strong woman in the book with everyone else telling her to pipe down. In this book, good or bad, all the women seemed to have strong voices and had the men actually listening to them, even Thea, being a slave girl, earned respect from many. I found the Empress really admirable. You don't hear much from her through most of the novel, other than the rumors going around about her, but by the end you find out she's actually a pretty ballzy, spirited woman who did what she had to do to survive a maniac for a husband. You also find out she has a sense of humor about the whole thing, even though she admits she feared for her life at times. Also, Calpurnia, the bethrothed of Marcus' son (from an earlier marriage) becomes a fun character once she learns to speak her mind without fear. I loved it whenever she put Lepida in her place!

I wouldn't say there are any HUGE surprises in the plot, but enough twists and turns to keep the historical fiction fan entertained. :-)  Looking forward to when I have a chance to read Kate Quinn's second novel, Daughters of Rome.

"ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED??" ~ Russell Crow in Gladiator

The midday executions dragged past, and then the gladiators marched through the Gate Of Life in their purple cloaks, pairing off for preliminary fights. My {Lepida's}daughter leaned forward, her eyes bending on the muscled armored figures. I looked at her irritably. "Since when is Little Lady Squeamish a gladiator fan?" "I'm not," she said, eyes still fixed on the arena. "I went for the first time at Matralia, and it was fairly awful. But it is interesting." I {Lepida} brushed a fly away from my wine cup. "You've got a crush on a trident fighter, I suppose."  "'s just that the gladiators are supposed to care about dying well, and all they care about is not dying at all." Her eyes traveled from the arena to the packed tiers of the Colosseum., the laughing, cheering crowds of plebs and patricians alike. "People don't seem to see that."