The Lizard Cage – Karen Connelly (2005)

book412.

It’s been a bit crazy at work this week, although, amazingly enough, we are almost halfway through the semester already. This new job keeps me busy, and busy equals happy for me. (Plus, I can’t quite believe that I actually hold this job sometimes as it’s that good!)

Apart from the being occupado at work, I’ve also been reading and writing in my spare time, and it’s finally reaching autumn temperatures around here more days than not, so what’s not to love?

There has been one tragic thing that occurred on campus last week, which was a troubled student shot and killed one of our campus police officers. Life on campus has been a little subdued for the last few days, unsurprisingly, and our thoughts are with the family of the fallen officer. It’s been a sad week.

Not to be insensitive or anything, life has been moving along despite this event, and I’ve finished up a great book called “The Lizard Cage” by Karen Connelly (2005), a novel that follows the life of a political prisoner who is being unjustly held in a horrible cell in Burma/Myanmar (depending on who you ask). It’s from the POV of the prisoner, and it details his day-by-day life in prison in solitary confinement (the cage of the title) and the people with whom he interacts.

It’s a great read, although the subject matter can be hard to take (prison rape, inhumane treatment, etc.). It’s actually written by an American woman who lived for two years on the border of Burma/Myanmar, and it’s quite amazing how she can lead the reader into the head of this political prisoner in a realistic manner. It’s clear that she has done her research with this.

Despite the harsh living conditions and inhumane treatment, the protagonist is a great example of human resilience, and there are some other patches of humanity that are allowed to shine through. Some of the other prisoners are not horrible people, there is a small boy orphan who lives at the prison as he has nowhere else to go, and there are a few others that come and go, but for the most part, it seemed to be a pretty dark place.

However, the prisoner in question (he who lives in the Lizard Cage) finds small things for which to be grateful – the lizards who climb down the walls from the outside skylight, the ant colony who travel through his space, and the one or two people who show him some small kindness in this unpleasant world.

However, Connelly has done a good job with making this a very readable book without glossing over the hardships of the characters. It’s a good balance and kudos should go to her.

I also read another book, but can’t remember what the title of that was to save my life. Unlike my typical slightly obsessive habit, I didn’t seem to write down the relevant details, but hey. Life goes on, my friends.

Then I started a NF read about Victorian times, but it was soooo badly written that I ended up not being to take it any more, so threw that one down. (It was a shame though, as the topic was perfect: the servants of Victoria? Yes please, but it was not to be.)

Now I’m enjoying a read of Kate Summerscale’s Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady. Victorian times? Check. Social history? Check. Uses some epistolary work? Check. Well written? Check, check, check. I’m enjoying it and am looking forward to reading some more of this over the weekend.

Hope life is good for you as well.

Advertisements

FOL Book Sale – Autumn 2017 Update: Nice Haul!

Pile of new titles from the library sale.It was the annual book sale at the local library over the weekend, and, in the spirit of giving and community support, I had to go. (Maybe it was the books… You know how it is… )

I found some good titles, and without much more ado, here are the books:

  • Some Nerve – Patty Chang Anker (NF)
  • The Kingdom by the Sea – Paul Theroux (travel UK)
  • I’m Down – Mishna Wolf (autobio) (NF)
  • The Best American Short Stories 1997 – Annie Proulx (ed.) (F)
  • The Best American Travel Writing 2001 – Paul Theroux (ed.) (NF)
  • Bad Dirt: Wyoming Stories – Annie Proulx (2004) (F)
  • The Party that Lasted 100 Days: The Late Victorian Season – Hilary Evans, Mary Evans (1976) (NF)

Sign of arrow pointing to the library sale.What to choose, what to choose….

I ended up having to sort out my book shelves to make space for the new additions, and, in the process, giving back two big bags of books to the FOL to share the love. (Pats myself on the back for such a noble achievement.)

I decided that if I haven’t read the book (or even pulled it off the shelf) in the last few years, obvs I’m not that interested in reading it, so back to the FOL it goes, which, for some of them, was where I picked them up last time. The endless cycle of life. 🙂

In the meantime, I’m reading The Lizard Cage (Karen Connelly), a really good novel about a political prisoner in confinement in Burma….

Lantana Lane – Eleanor Dark (1986)

book413

We have lived round the corner from the world, with not even a signpost to betray our whereabouts… and if the treasure we have accumulated makes no show upon our bank statements, neither is it subject to income tax…

Picked off my much-neglected Virago collection bookshelf, I had absolutely no expectations for this novel, except that I wanted to read something off my own TBR. So, I had a very clean slate for this, and it ended up being a really good read. (By now, I should know that to be true for the vast majority of Virago titles.)

Set in a non-specified quite modern year in the countryside of Australia, this novel tells the stories and tales of a small group of inhabitants (called Anachronisms by the author, a perfect phrase) who live on (or just off) a dusty road called Lantana Lane. (Thus the title.) Lantana, if you’re not familiar with it, is a plant that grows quickly and widely. I didn’t know this, but I think Australians view this plant as a veracious tropical weed. In the U.S., I know that I’ve bought some from a nursery to plant in the garden as it’s one of those hard-to-kill plants… And amazingly, I haven’t killed one yet so perhaps it really is immortal. (See pic below.)

Image result for lantana

Anyhow, as with my last few reads, I would describe this book as a tapestry book, in that you’re introduced to a community of individuals with one thing in common (in this case, location), and then as you learn about everyone, their stories get combined (similar to how threads get combined to create a tapestry). (I know – I thought of that metaphor all by myself. 😊)

Most of the characters are linked somehow with farming or the land, with the common crop being pineapples (or “pines” as they are called in the book). Though not well off with money, the tiny community mostly get on with each other, are cooperative and collaborative, and all pretty interesting characters. It’s a very rural set up, and although each of these characters commonly refers to the drudgery and poverty under which they suffer, there is a lot of good will and common sense at the same time.

Wow. That makes it sound like an Australian version of Lark Green, but these guys are a bit more meaty and edgy than those characters.

And so the book is structured around fairly short chapters, each covering a slice-of-life that happens to each of the characters (and thus to the community). It’s an earthy book, revolving around land and weather, and the neighbors are all very down-to-earth without crossing into cute. Dark is a strong writer, and despite not having a very clear image of what this folk actually look like, I ended up with pretty clear images of how I imagined each character to look, and I was pretty engaged with the narrative and what happened in their lives.

It’s also a surprisingly witty book, drily written and frequently made me smile with the writing which took me by surprise but which I loved. (The humor matches the climate: very dry.) It reminded me of Thomas Hardy in some ways, since both of these authors have used agricultural workers who are pretty isolated from other communities, but closely formed within their own. This is similar, also, in the ways that although these characters may not be very experienced in the ways of the world, they are wise about themselves and each other, so it’s not written as a mean poke at anyone or such.

This was a great read from an author with whom I was unfamiliar, and I highly recommend it. Good one. (A cursory search on-line for other reviews found it be a rather rare title to read. Is that true?)

Some Mini-Reviews for You…

WowStationElevenNorthAmericaHiRes. The last few weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind, but as I’m figuring out how the world turns in my new position at work, I think there will be a bit more breathing room for me to get back to blogging.

So – let’s jump to it. Some mini-reviews to catch up on some of the titles that I’ve finished recently:

Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel (2014)

Different from my usual fare and searching for a “hot knife through butter” reading experience, this met the match on so many levels. Set in a fairly near future in the U.S., this fast-moving novel revolves around an emerging flu pandemic which devastates the world and the people in it. Just a few communities populate the world now, and they have to learn how to survive without electricity, without running water or pipes, without regular food shopping, without government… Mandel does a superb job here of describing how unmoored regular twenty-first century people would be in such a situation. (If you think about it, most of us would be woefully unprepared without replenishing grocery stores, without public governance, without communication.)

As the plot progresses, things begin to get more dire as the usual order of things collapses left, right, and center…

The story revolves around a roaming group of musicians and actors who travel from community to community, trying to avoid being attacked and sharing their message of culture to those who may not remember or be exposed to Shakespeare and the like. (In fact, this whole story starts with the unexplained death of an actor playing one of the parts in King Lear.) Since this is a book that uses the different threads in a tapestry structure, you’re lost at first (or at least I was), but then the magic happens, and you get the whole picture through different POVs and characters.

This was a great read, and I have no idea why I’d put it off for so long. If you’re searching for a fast-paced novel that’s really well written with an involving story line, you can’t go wrong with trying this one.

thunder_rednissThunder and Lightning – Lauren Redniss (2016)

Described as an “uncategorizable fusion of storytelling and visual art”, Redniss here covers the huge topic of weather and atmospheric science in bits and pieces. It’s a little random, but it was an good read, and I’m developing a more detailed post about this. (See here for my review of Radioactive , Redniss’ 2010 creative exploration of the biography of Marie Curie, and a finalist for the National Book Award in 2011.)

Moving on, I had a quick read of Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko (1977) which I enjoyed, although it wasn’t a very happy novel detailing, as it does, the modern day challenges of a group of First Peoples in the US whLeslie_Marmon_Silko_-_Ceremonyo are in the midst of unemployment, modern day choices, and trying to retain their old tribal ways. (Sounds horrendous. It wasn’t an awfully depressing read, but it wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns.)

Then, a read-through of Our Longest Days: A People’s History of the Second World War (edited by Sandra Koa Wing, 2009), an edited collection of Mass Observation diary entries from WWII England. There’s something about reading diaries which is irresistible to me, and so I gobbled this one up. (Perfect for a Monkey Mind, but you do need to track who’s who where and when. Luckily, there’s an appendix which details this, so you just flip back and forth. Easy to do, and you can kinda figure out who’s saying what in the end as you get to know the characters…)

Then there was a lot of picking up and putting down of titles (talk about Monkey Mind), but then I finally landed on an old Virago read of an Aussie author. Completely unknown to me, but ending up to be a witty read in the end. (Just finished it, so post to come.)

So, these are the past titles from the last few weeks, and then a couple more posts to come about two titles that each deserve their own reviews.

Glad to be back. I’ve missed you.

So – here’s some news…

Great-News.jpg

So, there is some momentous news for me in my world: I have a new job. Yessiree. I’ve left my previous job for some different adventures but still at the same university. I have been invited to join the faculty in the department of Media and Communications at the university, and I am completely excited about this. I’m going to start in the fall (i.e. next month), and until then I’m on vacation which means … Guess what?

Loads and loads of free time to do stuff! This is such a great gift for me, as I usually tend to feel as though I don’t really have enough time to do All the Things, and now I have the next three weeks off. And how am I going to fill the time, you ask? Well….

I am reading the textbook(s) to become familiar with the material that class will be covering, and I’m researching some of the Best Practices for teaching in the classroom. I’ll be covering sophomore writing classes for media (along with a technical writing class for the English department), and I am so psyched to be back into the classroom after such a long time. I’m also going to be (posh title alert) Editor-in-Chief for the college’s publications, and I am very looking forward to this whole new adventure.

In the meantime, I have a few days in which to mess about doing non-work stuff such as working out, reading, writing, and doing general catching up on life. My reading mojo has returned as well, and so that’s been a lot of fun for me. I have missed the joy of reading over the past few months, and have a small pile of books that I’ve pulled from the TBR shelves from which to choose.

In the meantime, I’m enjoying Our Longest Days, a collection of WWII Mass Observation diaries edited by Sandra Koa Wing (2007), along with a fiction read of Ceremony by Leslie  Marmon Silko, a First Peoples author, and both are good so far.

I’m also preparing to travel to CA to see some family out there, and, as always, am enjoying the excitement of choosing which titles to take with me to read (on Kindle and otherwise). Book nerds unite!

So – life is good right now. I hope that you can say the same of your life. 🙂

(Life is good except for the orange clown and Charlottesville. That’s not good at all. What is wrong with some of these humans? I’m sending gentle thoughts to the many out there. Be kind. Be calm. Be courageous.)

 

 

Mini Reading Reviews

eyechart

I’ve been reading, as per usual, but not with the usual abandon, I’m afraid. My injured eye is *still* bothering me, and I’ve been ending the day resting it more than usual. It’s really been rather a bane to my existence, but in the big scheme of things, it’s manageable in the end. Plus – my doc and I are making progress, so I’m hopeful that this is temporary.

Anyway, so life has been moving a bit slowly, but the vision issue combined with the lassitude of late summer makes for not many blog entries about books read. For the two that I have recently finished up, they were good reads, but not astonishingly fascinating enough to write book reviews. To wit, here are two mini reading reviews. As always, these tiny review-lettes don’t necessarily mean that the titles were bad. Sometimes, you can have a good read and still end up with not much to say, so they fall into that category.

Mrs_ MiniverMrs. Miniver – Jan Struthers (1939)

This was a reread to get another title into the ongoing Century of Books and was quite fun. It’s a collection of newspaper columns written by Struthers and describing life for her and her family during the outbreak of World War II in England. Fairly lightweight covering topics such as buying a diary and going to dinner parties, this was more a palate cleanser than anything. If you have a Monkey Mind and need something to read that you can pick up and put down with ease, this would fit the bill. This was a good read, despite the gamble of rereading, and did remind me of how hard life would have been at that time and how easy life is nowadays. Plus – epistolary. Swoon.

Here’s a paragraph from Mrs. Miniver which mirrors my own attitude towards learning:

The structure of our life — based as it is on the ever-present contingency of war — is lamentably wrong: but its texture, oddly enough, is pleasant. There is a freshness about, a kind of rejuvenation: and this is largely because almost everybody you meet is busy learning something. Whereas in ordinary times the majority of grown-up people never try to acquire any new skill at all, either mental or physical: which is why they are apt to seem, and feel, so old.

Moving on…

still-life-with-breadcrumbs-tpStill Life with Bread Crumbs – Anna Quindlen

A domestic novel that’s fairly straightforward in its narrative arc, this was a fun non-challenging read. (Plus – off the TBR.) It’s about a female fine art photographer who leaves NYC to live in a rural village, rents a slightly tumble-down shack, meets village residents, and a bloke, and it all runs smoothly from there. Nothing too strenuous, but just a nice fairly easy (I might say even cosy in a way) read.

I’m also in the middle of some pretty funny essays collected together in a book called “I See You Made an Effort” by comedian Annabelle Gurwitch. Gathered around the theme of aging and reaching the milestone birthday of 50, it’s an entertaining E-Z read that has some sly wit in it every now and again.

Another reread gamble, but this one paid off, for the most part. Good if you like your humor sly and quick-witted, and you’ll be able to relate to her essays if you’re now a woman of a certain age. 🙂 (I do recommend that you read this in bits and pieces, as opposed to solid front-to-back. It can get a little same-y after a while if you do it solidly. Still fun, but just not as good a reading experience.)

So nothing too mind-blowing. More of just pottering around, really. Life is good… I hope yours is as well.

Monthly Reading Review: July 2017

july

So another month has passed, and let’s check in with how my reading is doing… (just out of interest).

The reads for July included:

So to the numbers:

Total number of books read in July: 5

Total number of pages read1,563 pages (av. 313).

Fiction/Non-Fiction4 fiction / 1 non-fiction.

Diversity2 POC. 4.5 books by women.

Library books vs. books I owned (and thus removed from the home abode): 3 library books, 2 owned book and 0 e-books (although one is in progress…).

Here are the top three most popular posts from the last month:

Plans for August: There are some big changes coming up for me, so we’ll have to see how that goes. (They are good changes.)

 

Minaret – Leila Aboulela (2005)

book410

When I was scanning a few book blogs the other day, I came across Minaret (Leila Aboulela) and picked it up from the library a few days later. I was intrigued by the topic, it was fairly short (matches my current summer levels of concentration), and it fit in well with my current focus on reading more POC authors. So, I picked it up last weekend, and then finished it on Sunday evening. (Quick read indeed.)

Aboulela is a Sudanese author, and this fictional narrative traces the spiritual (and literal) journey of Najwa, a Sudanese woman whose family is caught up in a big corruption government scandal, leading to them living in forced exile in London.

It’s an interesting story, but for some reason, I wasn’t too taken with it. Was it the writing? (It’s written in a very simplistic manner, but I’m not sure why that was the case. The protagonist was not a simple person, and her life was not straight-forward. Perhaps the simple style is used as a foil to reflect the complexity of her life? Not sure.)

Anyway, few contractions, few complex sentence structures, and pretty bare-bones descriptions… Not usually a big fan of that style, but I kept reading… (The reviews were so awesome, I thought that I was missing something, and perhaps this would all clear up by the end of the book…)

As the reader follows Najwa’s journey, both geographical and otherwise, we learn that she is a middle-aged woman whose rather coddled lifestyle is changed overnight when she is forced to move to England in exile, and live a life of servanthood for the other Sudanese ex-pats who are more wealthy.

This come-down is hard to take at first (naturally), but as the book progresses, Najwa learns how to live this new life. It’s helped by her attraction to the Islamic faith, although she was secular whilst she was in Sudan.

As the book progresses, readers follow her as she becomes a more religious and more devout Muslim woman. Interestingly, she ends up by the close of the story as being much more religiously conservative than she was at the start of the book. I think other reviewers have loved this title as it shows a woman becoming more focused on becoming a strict Muslim, and perhaps this is more typically depicted as a male journey? Not sure, but a lot of great reviews were blurbed on the cover. However, I was not quite as taken for a number of reasons, really.

First, there were some obvious proofreading errors which someone should have caught before it went to print (e.g. repeated or missing words etc.). With so much electronic editing help that is available now, there are few excuses to let this go to print without revisions. It became annoying after a while and was a distraction from the plot. (The author also goes on and on and on about how much the protagonist loves Boney M’s music. OK. We get it. Sigh.)

Second, the protagonist has some strange relationships with people. At first, I put this down to her forced relocation and the new culture and general life disruption, but then, as the story progresses, she ends up falling in love (sort of) with a nineteen year old son of her boss’ family, a young man who is decades younger than she is and who is a lot more radicalized than she is. Of course, problems arise…

I don’t know. It all got a bit confusing with regard to who is who and how they fit into the structure, so that, at times, I just gave an impatient sigh and then checked with a heavy heart how many more pages until the end…

Add to that the fact that the novel plays with time, and you’ve got one lost reader.

So – it wasn’t that great a read for me in the end (in case you haven’t picked that up yet!). I think that some of the reviewers were tripping over themselves to like this book for politically correct reasons, because I ended up with quite a different opinion at the end.

So, just an OK read for me in the end. Meh.

Alas, Babylon – Pat Frank (1959)

book409

I’m not sure where I found this title, but I was just tootling around thinking about how I’d like to some sci-fi, when I saw it on a shelf in a local thrift shop and picked it up. It’s more speculative fiction than hard sci-fi, I would say, but it’s certainly set in a world that is far different from our own. Written in the late 50’s, it’s an apocalyptic novel which is set in the small town of Fort Repose, in central Florida, and follows the town inhabitants as they try to survive after a nuclear war starts and their area is hit. How would people react in this new world? …

Since it was published in 1959, one needs to cast one’s mind back to those times in history, and remember that this was smack in the middle of the Atomic Age and nuclear devastation was a very real concern for the Americans, especially from the threat of Russia. (Those darned Russkies.) School children were being taught safety drills if a nuclear bomb did explode in their neighborhoods, and although there’s a lot of embrace for modern inventions of the time, it was tempered by fear of “what if…?”

The scene is set in a very traditional small-town values community, filled with “typical” Americans working and living side by side, as one does. A few of the townspeople are retired military and a couple have had some military training from the earlier WWII, but overall, the town is very run-of-the-mill in its demographics. Husbands work, wives stay at home, and kids are white and well-behaved. Residents (and the rest of America) are concerned about nuclear bombs, but it’s more of a concern for other cities and states who have more important resources to worry about. Fort Repose wouldn’t get it, would it?

As you can probably surmise, Fort Repose does get impacted by a nearby explosion and a lot of their community dies, either on that day (now called The Day) or from radiation sickness and other ailments linked to the fallout. Just a small handful of people are left alive, and after their initial shock about the bomb, they need to work on getting food, water, power, housing… And health. Who will die from the after-effects? There are so many unknowns for this community, and it’s pretty Lord of the Flies after a few days.

However, as is perfect of a 1950’s story, a manly man perks up to save the day and the womanly women stand around and do as they’re told and cater to the men. (It’s pretty interesting to read this through a feminist twenty-first century lens. Did people really feel this way? …)

This was a pretty interesting read, especially through a lit-crit lens, so I was glad I found it in the thrift shop the other day.

(The title, just so you know (and I didn’t as I’m a heathen…), is based on a saying from the biblical book of Revelations, which is (according to Wiki): “Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that might city! For in one hour is thy judgement to come” (or similar). The phrase “Alas, Babylon” is a code phrase between two now-adult brothers and only used in a big emergency. Obvs, such a day as a nuclear explosion counts…!)