Lottery – Patricia Wood (2007)

This was a random FoL book sale pick and from just reading the back-cover blurb, it seemed like it had the potential to be a good read. So I chose it. Then it sat on the shelf for about two or three years until the other day, when I pulled it down and read it. I still had very little idea what to expect during the read itself, but you know what? I was surprised. It was a good one.

It’s a novel and a fast-reading one at that. It’s not fast-reading because it’s written in a simple manner – it’s simply fast-reading because I ended up really caring about the main characters and how their lives ended up, and when I turned that last page, it was a read where you emit a sigh of satisfaction as you close the cover.

So – what’s it about? It’s a novel that follows some of the life of Perry J. L. Randall (the “L” stands for “lucky”) who is a developmentally-challenged man who wins the Washington State Lottery when he is thirty. What happens to him after this life-changing event is the narrative arc of this story. However, kudos to Patricia Wood for not choosing the simple “Forest Gump” way out of the story though. It’s definitely a thoughtful read.

Perry is independent in his own way, as much as he can be. He was raised by his grandma and when she died, he was at a loss. A job at a marine supplies company saves the day for him and provides him not only with meaningful work but also a support team of friends and colleagues who will look out for him. Things really get interesting when Perry wins the lottery ($12M)…

It’s not a mind-shattering read, but if you’re looking for a fairly uncomplicated (without crossing over into “too simple”) read with believable characters about whom you’ll think when you’re not even reading the book, you’ll like this novel.

Wood is (was?) actually a Ph.D. student at the University of Hawaii who was studying disability rights, and so she is well-versed in how to include a developmentally-challenged protagonist in a respectful and inclusive way (even to the point of writing it from Perry’s own POV and in his own style). I enjoyed it and it was a good reminder that there are still good people out in the world.

For a random read off the shelf, this was a solid effort. I enjoyed it. Plus – another one off the TBR…

(Another random fact: Wood’s own father actually won his state’s lottery in real life.)

August 2019 Reading Review

Had a good month of reading in August, the last month of the summer (for some of us). It was a mix of leisurely enjoy-the-last-few-days of break combined with the getting-ready-for-student crush, but overall pretty fun.

Here’s what I read last month:

Plans for September? Get back into the swing of things for teaching this semester, continue to read from the TBR pile, prepare for the annual FoL Library Sale (woo hoo!), and just be.

Who loves their library? I do.

Happened to pay a visit to the local library the other day, although heaven knows why as I have loads of books at home. It’s that Hunting and Gathering instinct or something. 🙂

Picked up a mix of both NF and F, but mostly NF. From bottom to top, here is what I brought home with me:

  • DK EyeWitness Books: Buildings. (Just love these books.)
  • Does This Make Me Look Fat? The Definitive Rules for Dressing Thin for Every Height, Size and Shape – Leah Feldon (NF – fashion/style?)
  • The Jaguar’s Children – John Vaillant (F) I really enjoyed his book about an Amur Tiger (post to come) and then saw that Vaillant had also published a novel about life in the borderland… We’ll see if his NF talent translates to the F world.
  • Crossing to Safety – Wallace Stegner (F)
  • Africa in my Blood: An Autobiographic in Letters: The Early Years – Jane Goodall (NF) about her time in Africa studying the chimpanzees..
  • Sweetness and Light: The Mysterious History of the Honeybee – Hattie Ellis… about bees…
  • How to Get Dressed: A Costume Designer’s Secrets for Making your Clothes Look and Feel Amazing – Alison Freer (NF) – fashion/style.

Swabbing the Decks – End of Summer Edition

swab_decksWell, classes on campus start this week which means that summer is now dusted and over, at least in terms of (no) job responsibilities etc. The really hot temps are going to be around for at least another two months (if not more), and the weather forecasters warned this morning of temperatures around 106 and 109 this week. Crikey. That’s a bit too hot for me. (ETA (later the same day): It was up to 115 degrees in my car today. Wah.)

Still, I’m ready for school to start and to get back into that routine. I really enjoyed the summer though and wouldn’t turn down a few more days of doing-not-much if it was offered to me! We have a week or so of school, then it’s Labor Day and then we’re back into the academic calendar for realz.

Seeing as it’s going to be sooooo hot this week outside, I foresee quite a lot of staying inside the house in the AC, so perhaps a jigsaw puzzle may be in order over the next day or two. I have a couple in the cupboard that I could finish and I haven’t done a puzzle for quite some time.

This semester, I’m scheduled to teach the same class but this time only having the lecture class. (So me talking to about 60 students about the topic). In previous years, I’ve typically had a lab as well as the lecture, which means that I get 20 of those 60 students mentioned above, but in a smaller computer classroom with lots of one-on-one time and lots of grading. But – no lab for me means no grading which means more extra time which is a nice unforeseen bonus. What to do with the extra time…? 🙂

Reading-wise, I seem to be over the lassitude of late summer (and fatigue from summer school) and now I’m reading up a storm. (Reviews to come.) I’d like to start picking up some more POC reads. Since the demise of Toni Morrison, perhaps I should read one of her titles? Haven’t read her for quite some time. (In case you’re curious, here are my thoughts on Sula, Beloved, and Jazz…)

Movies? We saw the latest Tarantino one – “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood” which is a slow-burning movie but pretty good overall. Tomorrow, I think we’re off to see the British movie, “Blinded by the Light” which has 90 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Curiously, the movie is also set in 1980s Luton, a small town close to where I grew up in England and a town where nothing much ever seemed to happen. Despite that, this year I’ve read a fiction book set there (The Thrill of it All) and now this movie… Who knows what will happen to that metropolis in the future? The world is its oyster, right now.  🙂

Hit the back-to-school sales for some new back-to-work clothing, but it’s far too hot to wear anything that is remotely related to autumnal sartorial choices. Right now – we’re probably going to hit the outside pool this weekend. (Wear your sunscreen, folks. A free PSA for you.)

Hope your seasonal changes are going smoothly as well!

The Illustrated Man – Ray Bradbury (2012)

I am rather a FanGirl of Ray Bradbury’s work (see Fahrenheit 451, Dandelion Wine, Farewell Summer, The Martian Chronicles…) and knew that this would probably a really good solid read. It’s short stories, mostly speculative fiction (my favorite type of scifi) and all written to the close-to-perfect Bradbury standards.

Interestingly, unlike other collections of short stories that I’ve read, this one didn’t seem to have any particular weak stories in it. (Hard to believe, I know, but he’s such a great writer that perhaps it’s not that tough to swallow.) I did learn an important lesson about how to read such an anthology, and that is not to read the stories back-to-back for ages. If you do that (or least this happened to me), the stories lose their special a bit by blending together, so my suggestion (learned from experience) is to space these stories out over a few days, just reading a few here and there with something else in-between.

I faced just that problem in the middle bit, and so when I reread this collection (which I will at some point – too good not to!), I’ll know not to binge on them.

If you’re familiar with Bradbury’s work, you’ll know what to expect: expert writing craftsmanship with a sci-fi set up but with a domestic and unexpected twist. You know – they remind me of that old British TV series called “Tales of the Unexpected” (who featured short stories written by Roald Dahl). The story is moving along a fairly predictable narrative arc until right at the end, there’s a helluva twist to wake you up.

The stories featured in “The Illustrated Man” were published between 1948-1981, so a wide breadth of influences but all with a common theme of space: aliens visit earth, earth humans visit Mars and so on – but usually with an overlay of larger societal issues (such as racism and other characteristics of the human race). I just loved it. (The mention of the Illustrated Man (in the title) is a rather tenuous connection tool to link these disparate stories together. The collection doesn’t really need it or use it though.)

Favorite stories? Ohh. Hard to pick because, really, all 18 of the stories were thoroughly enjoyable reads. There were some scary (to me) stories in the middle, so had to stop reading that patch at night, but then, when I next picked it up, either I had got braver or the stories were less scary. But so good!!

Luckily, Bradbury was a prolific writer and has loads of other works out there for me to track down. I can safely say that I’m an even stronger FanGirl than I was. 😉

New summer arrivals at JOMP

A few new titles have slid in past the goalie in the past few weeks so thought I’d give you the deets on those:

Vacationland – John Hodgeman (NF). (From a good write-up over at What’s Nonfiction? Super-good NF blog.)

Birdie -Tracey Lindberg (F) – Bought in Vancouver and by an indigenous author.

Writing without Bullshit – Josh Bernoff (NF). Bernoff was a speaker at a work conference I attended earlier this summer. Made some excellent points about professional writing/editing and I was impressed enough by what he had to say to fork over some money for his book. (That rarely happens…)

From Holmes to Sherlock: The Story of the Men and Women who Created an Icon – Mattias Bostrom (trans. Michael Gallagher). Not quite sure where I found this title, but I’m a Sherlock fangirl so looking forward to this NF title.

China Court – Rumer Godden (1961)

Another title pulled from the old TBR shelves (go me), I had little idea of what this was going to be about, apart from the fact it concerned a family who went back a few generations in the same old house somewhere. I vaguely knew Godden had grown up spending some time in India during the time of Raj, so I had an idea that they weren’t of a poverty-level background, and since I was in the mood for some family-saga reading…

So – what about “China Court”?

This was a fairly ok read. Nothing too spectacular, but if I’m honest, I spent a good two-thirds of the book being completely lost as to who was who in the story. There’s a family tree at the start of the book (which would probably have been helpful if I’d noticed it sooner!), but since I didn’t know it was there – holy crud. I was lost. And then I just got lost-er. (New word for you.) 

I came this-close to giving it up as a DNF, but then, 75 percent of the way through it, it suddenly became really interesting (one of the characters had been secretly collecting books!) so I kept going until the end by which time I sort of knew who these family members were (and had them straight in which generation they were in). 

When I turned that last page, I finally was sorted out a bit more and actually, I went straight back to the beginning of the book and started to reread it (except this time knowing who each person was). This clarity meant it would have been a completely different read If I’d had the will to keep going through a second time, but it was not to be. 

So, a rather strange and never-ending read and although it may not have been the best read in the world this summer, I’m glad I read it. Actually, I’m even more glad that it’s off the TBR shelf as it opens up at least an inch of free space, width-wise.  🙂

So, you win some, you lose some. I’m quite content to cross Godden off the list now for future reads. One good thing: this rather dissatisfactory read did make the next book (title up in the next blog post) seem fantastic, so all was not lost. Sometimes you need to have a bad read to kickstart your appreciation of a good one. :-}

Catching up: Midsummer edition

Well, well, well. Summer school has started and is now halfway over, so that’s why there’s been a drop in posts the last fortnight or so. It’s very fun to teach but I must admit that it definitely eats into my day, what with grading, prepping PPTs, and general admin, so reading seems to have fallen off the last few days. It’ll pick up in two weeks (when summer school’s over). Phew. 

Thought that this would be a good time to catch up with some of the more notable summer reading titles that I haven’t yet blogged about, so here you go. These haven’t been the only books I’ve read, but they are the books that have left an impression on me over the last few weeks or so. 

I am becoming pretty interested in autobios and biographies, so as I was strolling through the library shelves, I was drawn to a short biography of children’s author, Richard Scarry. My twin was very interested in Scarry’s books when we were growing up and so I picked this version up. It wasn’t a heavy-duty serious solid biography, but more of a conversation or dialogue with some of the people who knew him so it ended up a pretty lightweight read which was fine, since I was a bit brain-dead at the end of the semester when I read it. 

Then, I wanted to read from my TBR pile, so pulled a fairly recent buy for me called The Thrill of It All by Joseph O’Connor, mainly because of two things: it was about a (fictional) music group from the eighties and the book was partly set in Luton, which is a fairly nondescript quite industrial town near to where I grew up. It’s not a town that leaps to mind for many authors and so when I saw that O’Connor had chosen it, it immediately went on to the list. 

It was a fun read that I gobbled down in just a few days and covers the life and evolution of a small group of friends who make up a band in their teenaged years and what happens to it (the band) and them as it evolves over time. Sad, funny – lots of great pop culture refs for those of us who came of age in that decade PLUS it kept mentioning landmarks that I had heard of. Well written story which kept me turning the pages. I’m on the lookout for more O’Connor (who’s actually a big Irish author so not sure why the attraction to Luton!) 

That was followed with a rather ponderous effort at reading Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers on my kindle. I’m about halfway through it right now, but it’s been put down for a week or two so I’m hoping that I haven’t lost the impetus to finish that title before I forget all the characters and what they’re doing!

Since it was summer and my brain was on holiday for a bit, I wanted a quick read that was also well written, so picked up Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley Underground which was an enjoyable romp and also gave me lots of examples of good grammar examples to show in class. (I know. Strange but true.) Features more of Tom Ripley’s adventures and was just a good read overall.

Then I soldiered through a nonfiction by Jonathon Raban called Hunting for Mister Heartbreak. I’d really appreciated one of Raban’s other reads (called Badlands [no blog post] about North Dakota, I think), so was rather hoping to replicate that level of read. I’d also enjoyed a book by Raban called Coasting (when he sails in a small boat around the coast of UK)…

Hunting for Mister Heartbreak was set to be a good read, going by the narrative arc: English man travels around America trying to find the essence of American-ness is various places, from the Florida Keys to the Deep South and in between. 

This book didn’t reach the same level of greatness that Badlands and Coasting did, though. I’m not sure why. Maybe this was an earlier volume and he hadn’t got his swing yet? There was quite a lot of him philosophizing about things in a rather superior way, and I think I just got tired of him judging the places and people who surrounded him. It just didn’t really come together and seemed more of a patchwork quilt just thrown together to create a bigger work. So-so, if you ask me, but another off the TBR pile, so that’s good. (I might be done with Raban now though.) 

Then summer school prep and the semester actually beginning which has meant more time prepping for class and grading work. I have a really good bunch of students this semester – summer school students seem to be a different breed than the long-semester ones and I’m enjoying the experience – but it’s definitely crazy-fast-paced for us to fit all the material in. Then, when summer school finishes in a couple of weeks, I get another couple of weeks off to recover and plan for the fall semester and then the school year begins again. I just adore teaching! (I hope the students enjoy it as well. :-}

Parable of the Sower – Octavia E. Butler (1993)

Image of book cover for Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower.

Following on with the POC reading theme and wanting some dystopian world to read about, I picked up Parable of the Sower (no “The”?) by Octavia E. Butler. Written as the first of a two-book series, this sci fi novel was published in 1993, and received a lot of critical acclaim including being selected as the 1994 NYT Notable Book of the Year (along with other lit awards). 

So – all signs pointed to a good read (as was an earlier of another Butler book) and I’m happy to report it was – enough so that now I’m searching for the second title (Parable of the Talents). (My library doesn’t seem to have that title but I’m probably going to have to take advantage of their great interlibrary loan program since I haven’t seen it on the shelves yet.)

(Random aside: In fact, there was also supposed to be a third title to make it in a trilogy, but it seems that Butler had serious writer’s block about this, and although she started this third novel a few times, it never materialized into a finished product. (However, I totally get and respect the writer’s block problem. No problem with that. 🙂 ))

The plot for this particular spec fic/sci fi read revolves around a young woman (variously called “girl” and “woman”) called Lauren Oya Olamina, who lives in the U.S. (or what used to be that nation) during the 2020s.

(This is not so far into the future as to be unbelievable and was one of the many points that really sold the novel to me. I love it when people invent worlds just a squidge off-center from real life as it is right now. Plus – I love that Butler is sensitive to the vocabulary she uses to describe her characters.)

Back to the book: Lauren has been living with her mum and dad and sibling in a small community, gated and walled to protect them from the marauding aggressive outsiders who surround them, trying to survive in the external extremely dog-eat-dog world caused by governmental collapse and all other economic and societal systems. 

As the troubles start to move closer to her small community, Lauren starts to seriously plan to move north to keep in front of these dangerous gangs. But how to do that?

Another new wrinkle has the introduction of new street drug called “pyro.” Pyro had the effect of making the act of setting a fire akin to the experience of really good s*x for its users, and so, of course, to “chase the dragon,” lots of these outside marauders end up being quickly addicted to it, making life difficult and challenging for everyone else. 

Along with this increasingly unpredictable situation is the fact that Lauren also possesses hyper-empathy, a human condition thought up by Butler which gives the individual the ability to feel the pain (and other sensations) from people she witnesses. Thus, if someone close to her vicinity gets hurt, both that person and Lauren experience the same amount of pain even if Lauren was only a spectator at the incident…

This can make it tricky for Lauren to be really effective when someone is very hurt as both she and the patient may be incapacitated at the same time – another complication to consider for both her and any future travelers in the group on her already-precarious northward journey.

Fully aware that the future task (and all its dangers) will be easier if she can get a small group together, she invites the brother of a neighbor along to add power in numbers. Planning continues apace, but when the pyro vandals burn down her own home (and others) which ends up killing most of her family (and that of her friend) one night, the goal to migrate north to safety gets moved up sooner than originally planned. It’s too dangerous to stay where she is right now…

Another great twist for this fast-moving plot is that there is also a vast shortage of water, so it’s an expensive but necessary product and has to be used carefully. This situation doesn’t help the pyro problem (not enough water to put out the frequent fires, people dealing with scarcity and all its related issues), and so the whole situation starts to get a little incendiary for all. (See what I did there? 🙂 )

With nothing for which to stay, the small group starts to journey north to reach Washington or Oregon where it rains more, pyro is not yet a “thing”, and life is (hopefully) not quite so difficult.

The plot then follows the ragged group as it gains members (and loses some) and treads along the miles of abandoned highways in their efforts to reach their own promised land up north. And how does it end…? You’ll need to read it to see! 🙂

(You know, this novel reminded me in some ways of the poor old Joads in Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” (1939) which describes a similar quest to reach the promised lands of California. I’ve read Grapes quite a few times, but it was mostly during grad school and that was a LONG time ago. Maybe I should refresh my memory to see if there are more overlapping homages to Grapes or other books in this Butler title…)

An excellent read, whether you dig sci fi or not… This might also be a really good book for someone not familiar with spec fiction in which to dip. There’s no robots, no Star Wars, no dragons. Just a good solid narrative arc that really made me care about the characters and pulled me in as a reader for a couple of days. Recommend this.

For another Octavia E. Butler read, try Kindred (review).

New (to me) books…

There happened to be a FoL library book sale at the start of last month, and who am I to turn down that deliciousness? So, of course, I went. “Just to see…” 🙂

So, here are the titles that I carried home with me (from top to bottom):

  • Germinal – Emile Zola
  • The House of the Four Winds – John Buchan
  • Shopping, Seduction and Mr. Selfridge – Lindy Woodhead
  • Fodor’s Vancouver and Victoria guide book
  • The Trumpet of the Swan – E.B. White
  • Stuart Little – E.B. White
  • The Great Typo Hunt – Jeff Deck and Benjamin Herson
  • Death in the Summer – William Trevor

Nearly all fiction titles (which is not my usual MO), but this was probably influenced by my glancing at my already-existing TBR NF shelves and realizing that I already have enough on those!

(Plus this pile did give me the impetus to go through my TBR and whittle down its numbers quite a bit. (Two large grocery bags of books to the FoL!)

Plus, I finally bit the bullet and gave away my large pile of dark-green Virago titles.

I know – sacrilege, but I realized that if I haven’t read these titles over the past 20 years, I probably don’t really want to read them at all. Now they are available to more appreciative readers!)

Now, I just have to read them! Hahahahahahaha.