2007

 
The Glass Castle

A Memoir

 

Jeanette Walls

3.6 (out of 4 rating)

A mesmerizing memoir of a woman's ability to succeed in life, despite a tragic upbringing. I am sure Ms. Walls wouldn't say it was tragic, but as you read, she, along with her siblings, fought for survival. Her father, a brilliant man who taught her about nature, geology, and life, also was an alcoholic. He stole her money for liquor and had her dance with men one summer when she was a teenager to make money in a bar. Her mother was intelligent and very creative. She read, wrote, and painted. She was an "excitement addict", which meant she was always looking for a new adventure. She was not a mother who cared for her children, but would rather have them go hungry and be dirty, so she could paint. I believe she was also manic-bipolar by the descriptions of her moods and actions. The parents were nomadic, as they "skeedaddled" across country. They finally went back to West Virginia to their father's home town, living in a leaky shack with no indoor plumbing or electricity. The children were left to fend for themselves and Jeanette became an avid reader and absorbed life and opportunities for herself and her siblings. She writes lovingly of her parents throughout the book, even when she realizes their neglect as she grows up. The entire family ends up in NYC, the children moving there first, one by one,with the parents following but deciding they want to live on the streets, homeless. From the first chapter, sentence, you will not want to put this book down. I give it a 4.

The Lobster Chronicles

 

Linda Greenlaw

1.85

Ms. Greenlaw spent 17 years at sea as a swordfish captain of her own boat. She played herself in the movie, "The Perfect Storm". After 17 years, she decides to return to her family's island, Isle Au Haut, off the coast of Maine, to become a lobsterman. She is looking to settle down, own a house, find a husband, and have children. The book is a chronicle of her season as a lobsterman. You will learn all there is to boating, baiting, trapping, and hopefully catching lobsters. There are also the politics of a tiny Island and the people who live there. We would have liked to have read more about some of the characters, but had to remind ourselves that this was a chronicle of a person's daily life, not a novel.

On Beauty

 

Zadie Smith

2.3

An interesting look into two families with different beliefs, politics, views, family lifestyle, but how similar they are. Howard Belsey, a white Englishman Professor goes to America to teach at a University in New England. He is married to an African American woman from the South. Monty Kipps, a black Englishman, is invited to bring his family to the same University to teach. Monty and Howard are enemies as they have opposite views on politics as well as Rembrandt Art, which is what Howard teaches at the University. Monty and Howard have both published on this subject and disagree. There are the differences in the family dynamics of each household with the children who are in their teens or in college. Through circumstances, some members of each family become involved with the other. There are many characters that interweave within each other. The end results with the fact that as different as Monty and Howard seem in the beginning, they are alike in some ways. The families can be compared at a parallel level. One criticism was that it seemed to be too long, yet the author thanks the editor, "without whom this book would be longer and worse." I actually struggled writing this review. I guess you'll just have to read it for yourself.

The Stone Diaries

 

Carol Shields

3.4

1995 Pulitzer Prize Winner Daisy Stone Goodwill was born in Manitoba, Canada in 1905 while her mother laid dying on the kitchen floor. Her mother Mercy, being a large woman, did not seem to know she was pregnant. Her loving and devoted husband Cuyler, allows the neighbor's wife, Clarentine, to take Daisy away and raise her as her own. In the meantime, Cuyler, a limestone cutter, builds a tower over his wife's grave to honor her, which becomes a must see sight of interest. Cuyler then accepts a job in Indiana, Clarentine dies, and Cuyler retrieves Daisy, at the age of 11, to raise her. His life and personality throughout the years has changed and grown. Daisy meets her 2 best friends and will remain friends until the end. Her first marriage ends before it even gets started, you'll laugh out loud when it does, and she returns to what is comfortable to her, Clarentine's youngest son Barker, who also helped raise Daisy, but is much older than her. They marry, have children, and life continues with its ups and downs, life and death. Although it is a story of just one woman with a rocky start in life, it is timeless to any woman. Who are we? Are we a wife, mother, friend, daughter etc.? The one time Daisy really feels like she is her own person, it is snatched away. The book reads in Daisy's voice and then changes to others, so you are not sure who is telling the story, but it is very well told.

The Painted Veil

 

W Somerset Maugham

2.9

You think you may know a person. But, someone else may know the same person in an entirely different way. This is the premise of "The Painted Veil". Kitty has turned down many suitors, but now her younger sister is engaged. In hopes to marry and be gone before the wedding, Kitty says yes when Walter Fane asks her to wed. Walter is a bacteriologist and works for the Government. Kitty does not know Walter well because he has always been very silent around her. He does not keep in conversation and appears very aloof and shy. But, he is very much in love with Kitty. Walter needs to leave England for Hong Kong. Kitty eagerly wants to leave, they marry and move. Once in Hong Kong, Kitty meets Assistant Colonial Secretary Charlie Townsend, falls madly in love with him, and the saga begins. Throughout the book, you will find that each person has more than one side to them. It is just a matter of who is allowed to see the side the person wants to reveal to the other person. This book was written based on people Maugham actually knew, changing their names. The location was Hong Kong, but the author was forced to change the location to Tching-Yen after the first printing. In later publications, he changed it back to Hong Kong. There is a sonnet by Shelley that starts out with, "Lift not the painted veil which those who live...... In the poem, "An Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog, the last line reads, "The dog it was that died." This will make sense when you read the book.

Cat's Cradle

 

Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

2.75

The narrator, John, starts out to write the book, "The Day the World Ended". He begins by interviewing people about what they remember the day the atom bomb was dropped. He contacts Newt Hoenikker, son of Felix, the physicist who helped create the atom bomb. He asks Newt what his father was doing the day the bomb was dropped. Newt remembers his father playing with a piece of string, then bending down to Newt to show him how to make a cat's cradle. This freaks Newt out because his father had never played with him before or paid any attention whatsoever to anyone in the family. John follows his quest into the life of Felix and his children. He discovers on Felix's dearth bed, each child is given a piece of ice-nine, which will turn any water into a solid form. John also discovers a new religion called Bokononism.The main point being that a group of people who may not know each other are connected by a karass, a group who unknowingly work together to do God's will. There are other terms in this religion to explain one anthers interactions and how they affect the world. The journey brings all three siblings together on an island called, San Lorenzo. There, Bokononism is forbidden yet practiced by all. The discovery of ice-nine and the results concludes here. There are more characters involved and the religion of Bokononism. This was a classic science fiction book by Vonnegut Jr. and required ready in many classes. Check out the author's biography before discussing this book.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

 

Lewis Carroll

Illustrated by Michael Foreman

3

Many of us read this book as a child and then to our own children. After I read it again for bookclub, I went and looked up study guides and found that there was so much more to the book then just reading it as a children's book. There are many themes in this book. Alice falls down the rabbit hole and her adventures begin. She not only grows in size- small, large, small again, normal, but she grows in wisdom and maturity. Her goal is to reach the garden she sees through the small door. In order to get through the door, she meets many characters who will teach and perplex her throughout her journey. Each character has a purpose or refers to an old truth we may not know. It is a learning experience. Teaching is brought up throughout the book in the form of story telling, playing games, comparing your own education with others, and then not being sure what you really know. During the jury scene, Alice is able to grow up on her own without the help of an outside source as she stands up to the King insisting on justice and true evidence. We see Alice grow from a child to becoming more adult. When she awakens, she tells her sister of her dream. Her sister then dreams or pictures what Alice heard and saw, and sees her sister as someday being a young woman who will have children to hear this story. Carroll was a mathematician. He loved games of all sorts, especially word games and logic puzzles. This is quite evident with his play on words of logic,and the relationship between sense and nonsense. The illustrations in this book by Mr. Foreman, are based on the actual pictures of Alice Liddell. Alice was a child of the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford. In researching the author, you will find some disturbing things, but do not let that take away from the story itself. 'Through the Looking Glass" continues Alice's adventures into Wonderland.

Water for Elephants

 

Sara Gruen

3.6

Jacob Jankowski is 90 or 93, he doesn't quite remember. He has carried a secret for 70 years and never told a soul. It wouldn't matter now, yet, he still keeps the secret. He now resides in a nursing home. The circus is coming to town this Sunday and as he sits at his table for dinner, a new man has been seated with them. They are talking about the circus and the man says, " I carried water for elephants". Jacob yells, "You did not!". Jacob is taken back to his room, away from the commotion he has started. He needs to be calmed down. His mind slips back into the days of his young 20's: the day he received the news that would change his life forever, the day he left Cornell's Veterinarian School without finishing, the day he jumped a train, only to realize later that it was the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, and the day he first laid eyes on Marlena. This book is wonderfully written with Jacob traveling back and forth from the present to the past. The accuracy of life in a nursing home and circus life in the years of the depression, tells us that the author certainly did her research. She writes of a compelling tale of love between people and love between people and animals. It is also very educational about circus life and the people involved. There were many interesting characters. This is a hard book to put down.

The River of Doubt

 

Candice Millard

3.5

After President Theodore Roosevelt lost his run for Presidency in 1912, he went to South America for speaking engagements and to travel. He selected the people who would travel with him, including his son, Kermit, along with a South American explorer, Colonel Rondon. Once there, he decides not to travel his original plans down another river, but to travel down the River of Doubt, which had never been done before. This would also be the first time the river would be mapped along with all of its tributaries. As you read this book, you are taking your own trip through the Amazon, learning of all the different species of insects, fish, fauna, the Native Tribes, and not only the beauty but the danger of the Amazon. You will also learn of Roosevelt as a man, husband, and father. The author did extensive research writing this book. It has actual pictures taken of the President and all those involved in the trip. It may seem repetitive at times, but that was the way the trip happened. It is a book you will definitely want to read.

1 Dead in Attic

AFTER KATRINA

 

Chris Rose

2.7

The author is a columnist for "The Times-Picayune" newspaper in New Orleans. He left town with his family as Katrina was heading for New Orleans with his family. His family remained with relatives, while Mr. Rose returned to New Orleans to examine post Katrina,and write for the newspaper of his observations. The paper wasn't actually up and printing or delivering at the time. People relied on the Internet to read his columns. This book is a compilation of his columns. You will really be able to visualize, sense, and even smell the city after "The Thing", which he refers to, hit the New Orleans area. The ordeal took its toll on the author and his family. He first published a small book with this title. He then wanted to publish another book called, "The Purple Upside-Down Car". Since his first book was now recognizable, the two books have been combined. At times you may seem confused as the dates of his columns are not in order, but they are as far as topic. If you really want to know what the effect of a hurricane can do to a large area and its people, this is a must read. Make sure you buy the correct book. Mr. Rose was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished Commentary and was awarded a share in the "Times Picayune" staff Pulitzer for Public Service.

The Double Bind*

 

Chris Bohjalian

3

Laurel Estabrook was in her first semester as a sophomore, when one day as she rode her bike through the back roads of Vermont, she was nearly raped. She returns to her home in West Egg, Long Island, to recuperate before returning to Vermont. She starts volunteering at a homeless shelter, then decides to work there full time. The only interest she has of her own is swimming and photography, since she no longer feels safe on her bicycle. It is at the shelter that she meets Bobbie Crocker, a homeless man that claims he was once a professional photographer who took pictures of famous people. After he dies, he leaves behind a box of pictures that Laurel is asked to look through. There she finds a picture of herself the day she was almost raped. She also recognizes pictures of East Egg, across the Sound from her home. She finds pictures of the former Gatsby Mansion. She is determined to find out who Bobbie Crocker really is. This begins her frantic journey into the past. This is a psychological thriller that will have you guessing all the way to the end. The pictures in the book were taken by a real man who at some time became homeless and died in a shelter. The book gives you a real perspective on the plight of the homeless.

*Do not read the ending, readers guide, or let anyone tell you the ending. It will ruin the book for you. Begin reading on page one.