Swabbing the decks…

Haven’t done a “swabbing-the-decks” post lately and thought that now would be a good time to fix that. I’ve been reading but for some reason, have lost some impetus to blog about them. It’s not that they have been bad reads but I think I’m at that point of the university semester when I’m plumb tuckered out with regard to words in general. (I teach a writing-intensive class which I love to do. But so. Many. Words.)

So what is it that I’ve been doing with myself? Well…

I’ve been reading and here are some brief reviews:

Sharks in the Time of Saviors – Kawai Strong Washburn (2020) F

Loved this very fast fictional narrative about a Hawaiian family and the saga of their lives in the mid 1990s, especially the life of young Nainoa Flores who falls over a cruise ship when he is just seven years old. A group of sharks approach him in the water. Everyone expects the worst but instead, the young boy is brought back to the boat in the mouth of one of the sharks all in one piece, and his family view this as a favor from the ancient Hawaiian gods. 

You’ll have to read on to find out how this impacts Nainoa’s childhood and the rest of the family but suffice to say, this was a super-great read and I’m only sorry that I didn’t do a proper blog post on this. (It was also one of former President Obama’s favorite reads for 2020, so if it’s good enough for him, it’s going to be great for me. (And it was.))

I’ve also been rather interested in learning more about birdwatching so I’ve been paying more attention to trees and sounds when I go outside now. To help increase my (rather paltry) bird knowledge, I pulled out the really lovely DK Eyewitness book on the topic and found it fascinating. So far, I’m still practicing seeing the birds – a lot have good camouflage or I have bad eyes! – but I can hear their songs so trying to use those as a clue to identification as well. 

There was an Agatha Christie in the list as well, this one Evil Under the Sun, which was just a fun and non-demanding read. I’m very glad that she was a prolific writer since she’s given me lots of titles to read. And have another title on the TBR pile from the library. <rubs hands with glee>

Another read (when I was yearning for a read from another culture/country) ended up being Suburban Sahibs: Three Immigrant Families and Their Passage from India to America by S. Mitra Kalita (2005). This is NF focused on three Indian families who all chose to live in Middlesex County in New Jersey, an area which has the largest Indian population in the world outside India (apparently). 

Author Kalita traces each of these long-term residents’ journeys as they land in America and start their lives in suburbia and it’s actually quite fascinating (especially for me, since I was an immigrant as well but with a different trajectory. [Am I still an immigrant even though I’ve been here decades now? When do you stop being an immigrant? Do you stop being an immigrant?)) 

So this was a fast and interesting read and I enjoyed it. Plus – another off the TBR. Go me. 😉 

Other stuff: I’ve just started a new jigsaw puzzle. (Fun.) We’ve been watching Netflix and I’ve even been exploring some new recipes. (Who is this person who is doing this? I’m not really a chef but I’ve suddenly become more interested in food and would like to find some different recipes to try…I think it’s linked with reruns of The Great British Baking Show that I’ve been forcing the Super Hero to watch in the evenings…)

So – nothing too exciting but it’s been nice. I hope that you can say the same. 

Library Loot: April 26 2021

Library Loot included:

  • Rules of Civility – Amor Towles (F/drama). Loved his latest, A Gentleman in Moscow, so picked up this earlier novel.
  • The Poisoner’s Handbook – Deborah Blum (NF/history). Victorian time and poisons? yes please.
  • Fast Girl: A Life Spent Running From Madness – Suzy Favor Hamilton (NF/sport/health). I’m a former serious runner so thought this looked interesting.
  • Mind of Winter – Laura Kasischke (F/drama). Supposed to be a good psychological thriller, I think.

I still have some other reads from my last Library Loot but couldn’t resist a quick trip to the library to look at other titles.

I promise that I’ll write more in the near future. The semester is starting to get busy since lots of things are due for grading, but as soon as I get some breathing space, I’ll be back. How is life in your worlds? I do hope it’s going smoothly for you all.

Library Loot: April 22 2021

Library Loot for April 22 2021:

  • South Sea Tales – Jack London (F/short stories). Just saw that this is short stories. Bleugh. I am not an aficionado of short stories. What was I thinking?
  • The Pale Horse – Agatha Christie (F/mystery). Can’t go wrong with a Christie.
  • The Secret River – Kate Grenville (F) Wanted to read some Aussie lit.
  • The Lion in the Living Room – Abigail Tucker (NF/bio). We have kitties in our life: what can I say?
  • A Gentleman in Moscow – Amor Towlers (F). (Just finished this. Post to come.)
  • Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly – Anthony Bourdain (NF/autobio). I’m into cooking right and although this is a reread, I remember it as pretty good.
  • Cooking Light: Dinner ASAP (NF/recipes) – I know: me with a cookbook but I’m searching for new recipes. 🙂

So – any ideas of what I’ve picked up? Any recommendations?

Library Loot: April 07 2021

Loot from my local library included the following:

  • Belfast Diary – John Conroy (NF about 1980s Northern Ireland during the Troubles).
  • Sharks in the Time of Saviors – Kawai Strong Washburn (F). One of former Pres. Obama’s favorite books of 2020, apparently. If it’s good enough for him… 😉
  • A Caribbean Mystery – Agatha Christie (F/murder mystery). Love me some Christie.
  • The Secret River – Kate Grenville (F/Australian). I’ve heard good things…
  • Dolores Claiborne – Stephen King (F). I would like to read more King so seeing if I can handle his less-scary titles first.
  • Emma – Jane Austen (F). In the mood for a good classic.
  • The Water Museum – Luis Alberta Urrea (F/short stories). I don’t always get on that well with short stories but I’ll give them a go with Urrea’s work since he’s really good.)

Review Roundup: London, Humans, Life After Life…

I’ve been reading quite a lot lately. It’s so interesting to see that I have a tendency to fluctuate in my reading levels. Looking back at trends over the past several years, I see that my reading levels falter in January and February and then pick up the pace once it gets into the Spring months. Is it to do with the amount of sun? Is it something to do with the moon? 😉 

I’m not sure but I’m glad I’m back into one of my most important hobbies. So – what have I actually been reading? Let me do a quick round-up for you.

Londoners – Craig Taylor (2011). A nonfiction collection of conversations, really, that Taylor has gathered from a wide range of people who live in, love, hate, or perhaps left London. This was one of those perfect reads at the perfect time for me and I loved it. It was fit in with my temporary Monkey Mind and I could really hear what his interviewees said. This was such a fascinating read and I highly recommend it if you’re searching for a good book to pick up and put down. Loved it.

The Importance of Being Earnest – Oscar Wilde (1895). The play itself. I have been wanting to go to a live play or other cultural event, but the pandemic has put the kibosh on that option right now so I picked up this Wilde read. I haven’t seen or read this one and it was full of Wilde’s sly witticisms and sense of humor. Good. 

Then, still with a bit of a Monkey Mind (and thus lower levels of concentration), I was at the library (shocker!) and saw the most recent edition of the photo collection by Brandon Stanton called Humans. (He did the photo books called “Humans of New York” and has a really good blog, which I reviewed here and this was just as stellar). Stanton takes extremely good photos and allows his interviewees to really talk. Just fascinating if you like that kind of thing. (This is one of the projects that I wish I had done.) 

Life After Life – Kate Atkinson (2014). Looking for a solid good read and wanting to pull a title from my homegrown TBR (as opposed to the library), this was quite a chunky read (and yet I wasn’t scared off by it) – 536 pages. (Normally, I would run screaming from such a high page count but it was ok.) This was such a good read but it definitely plays with time and structure so you need to concentrate. The protagonist, Ursula, reincarnates over and over throughout this story but what is truth? Anyway, a very clever novel and easy to read at the same time. I’m definitely going to pick up more Atkinson at some point. 

So that’s me all caught up re: recent reads. Tell me about yours. 

Oh, and I bought a new rug for my office at home. It makes me very happy! 🙂

Library Loot: March 31, 2021

The library books:

  • Evil Under the Sun – Agatha Christie (F/mystery)
  • The Great Gatsby: A Reader’s Companion to the Novel – Richard Lehan (NF/lit crit)
  • A Gentleman in Moscow – Amor Towles (F)
  • Seeking Pleasure in the Old West – David Dary (NF/history)
  • Before You Put That On – Lloyd Boston (NF/style)

The thrift books:

  • Possessing the Secret of Joy – Alice Walker (F)
  • Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card (F/sci fi)
  • Us Against You – Fredrik Backman (F)
  • Living History – Hilary Rodham Clinton (NF/auto)

So, lots from which to choose here. I’m a happy camper.

The Long March – Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick (1998)

Chahta hakia hoke: We are Choctaw.

With Cathy at 749Books focusing on All Things Irish this month, I’ve been pulling some Irish-related titles from the shelves and in doing so realized that I know shockingly little about Irish history. So – wanting a quick primer on the Emerald Isle, I read this title. (I also have another FANTASTIC novel that I’m finishing up but that’s a different post.)

This read was about the terrible potato famine that occurred in 1845-1847. The juvenile title covers how the Choctaw people in Oklahoma collected money from their tribespeople to send to the Irish during their time of need…

Despite having lived close to OK for many years, I was not familiar with this event of the Choctaws supporting the far-away Irish so my interest was piqued when I saw the title on my library website.

Even better – it was a kid read which meant two things: (one) it’s probably really well explained (assuming the author is good) and (two) it wouldn’t take long to read and learn. I was right on both counts.

The protagonist, Choona, a young Choctaw boy, is familiar with the terrible Great March (or the Trail of Tears) which his tribe had been forced to undertake when their lands were taken away from the tribe, and as the reader learns (along with Choona) of the overlaps between these two displaced peoples, s/he also learns the importance of being true to yourself and others.

(In fact, there is such a connection between the Choctaw tribe and Ireland that Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland, was inducted as an honorary tribal chieftain.)

So – what was good about this read? Well, it was really well researched by Fitzpatrick and she had worked closely with her Choctaw contacts, both the actual Chief of the Choctaw tribe and the Executive Director of a non-profit that works with the actual tribe. This automatically added authenticity and drive to the book for me, at least.

Additionally, the artwork was stupendous. Fitzpatrick, the author, is also a professional illustrator and it was obvious that she had taken great pains to reflect Choctaw life and people accurately and with care. I wonder how she had come across this story originally, as I haven’t heard of it before now. I’m really glad that I’ve learned about this as it’s a really interesting story.

Fascinating (to me) note: According to this title, the state name of Oklahoma (actually Okla Homa) is Choctaw for “Red People”.

The Invisible Man – H. G. Wells (1897)

Having a hankering for some more classics reading and wanting something that wasn’t a huge long commitment, I found “The Invisible Man” by H. G. Wells on the library shelves. I noticed that the edition was a special commemorative 100-year anniversary edition as well (with great production values) so it jumped into my hands. And goodness me – it was a good read.

I would imagine that there are many readers out there familiar with at least the general idea of this story: a man invents a way to control the field of optics (in physics) and then becomes invisible. Imagine the power and the glory for someone who can’t be seen by others…

This science fiction story was originally published as a serial in 1897, although Wells expanded it into a novel that was published later on that same year.

The protagonist, the invisible man in question, was a man called Griffin who was, incidentally, an “albino” medical student (along with the challenges inherent in having that condition) so when he started messing around with light refraction in the human body, he was very focused on making his own life easier (as well as changing the scientific world around him.) He has designs on power for when he had his invisibility and tries the initial experiment on a cat, who actually does become invisible (except for its spooky eyes). 

(And this is a real physics thing, apparently – not the making-yourself-invisible in real-life just yet but if everything else in the human body is invisible and can’t be seen, theorists think that the only thing that can’t be invisible would be the retinas of the eye. Fascinating if off-putting to think about.)

Wells did a really good job of explaining the physics behind this theory and after reading it carefully, I think I finally understand how it could work, so kudos to Wells for his step-by-step explanation of this. (If I can understand it, so can you.) 

So back to the novel: Griffin arrives as a visiting scientist to the small village of Iping in Sussex. He boards at a small rooming house with an inquisitive landlady and ends up setting up a lab in one of her rooms. (These experiments cause several accidents but Griffin is sanguine about these costs and just instructs the landlady to add it to his bill. Problems arise when she asks Griffin for the money – he doesn’t have it which leads to some of his behavioural choices later.)

What takes this plot up a notch is that Griffin quickly learns that life is lot more complicated when you are invisible. It’s starts off all fun and games (and power) but quickly becomes pockmarked with issues. 

If you are invisible and eat your lunch, your food is visible in your stomach until it is absorbed into your body. If you get cold, you will want to put clothes on (and who wants to be naked?) so once you are wearing these items, you’ll be visible again (through the outline of the clothing). What about sleeping? Where will you go? And can you manage your new life alone or will you need help?

And as life changes for Griffin in his new form, he gradually becomes more and more unstable and more and more violent. He has a quick temper anyway, but the frustrations of living as an invisible man are overwhelming and he starts to fight and physically hurt people.

Others in the village learn of his situation but start to view him as a scary bogeyman-type of person, more of an urban legend than a human… The chase is afoot. 🙂

He gets scared and hungry, and so he travels to a nearby town with a man called Marvel who Griffin enlists to help him. Griffin had burned down his original bed-and-breakfast home (to spite the landlady) but in doing so, he had burned down his laboratory. Only his three notebooks had survived so he asked Marvel, the assistant, to track down these books since they have the solution to how, Griffin believes, that he can get his life back and stop being invisible. 

However, others are also on the case (with evil designs on the info contained therein) and so there is an adventurous chase that occurs – all very Boys’ Annual type of story.

This was fun but I was taken aback by all the violence by the Invisible Man. I had no idea he had these tendencies but it was a hard life, if you’re honest. (He did do it to himself, that’s true, but still…) 

Does Griffin ever get his life back? Does he ever become visible again? Is there happiness for him?

I’m not going to say but rather encourage you to read this novella for yourself. Just steel yourself for the ongoing fights and arguments but they are part of the story and integral to the plot. 

I’m glad that I have read this and now I’m curious about Well’s other works, including “The Time Machine” (1895) (this one is actually on the physical TBR I saw this morning) and “The Island of Doctor Moreau” (1896). Have you read any of these? 

Warm books for a cold day…

I was just thinking about an earlier post I had written which listed some cooler book selections for readers who live in a hot climate and since today is a little cool for here, I thought I would flip that script and do warm books for those who live in a cooler climate and are looking to raise their body temps a little!:

What do you think? Do you have any ideas of any other book titles to add that can spirit readers to a warmer place?

India Calling: An Intimate Portrait of a Nation’s Remaking – Anand Giridharadas (2011)

What separated me from [India] was more than just the barriers of time. There was the further distance of my own false visions and the need for revisions. Fragments of memory floated in me. Some were once true but had, in the time of my parents’ absence from India, become false; some were true from the start and so remained; some were never true. To return to India in this way, as the son of those who had left, was to know dizzying change – and change as much in the seer as in the seen.

Strolling through another Dewey decimal number, I found myself in the world of travel and wanting something really different from Victorian books, I thought I would go to India and I pulled this one off the shelf. I entered the book thinking that it would be along the lines of a more traditional travelogue (albeit one from the POV of a returning resident) but it was a rather different read than that. It was good, for the most part, but it wasn’t quite what I had expected (although I accept that perhaps the subtitle should have clued me in a bit more).

Giridharadas is an American-born son of first-generation immigrant parents who emigrated to the US for new opportunities and a better life than they believed they could get if they stayed in India. Having only experienced Indian life through infrequent trips “home” to India throughout childhood, the author decides to upsticks and move back to India as an adult: to experience an “intimate portrait” of his new-to-him country and culture.

Having grown up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, Giriharadas only knows the India of these infrequent trips “back home” with his family, and as a fellow immigrant myself, I can relate to how these trips, fun as they can be, are sometimes hard work with pressure to do everything and see everyone within the short time limits of the vacation. It’s a lovely problem to have – so many friends and things to do! – but it’s also pretty tiring at times.

Giriharadas wants to experience “real” Indian life through his own lens, as opposed to that of his parents’ own memories. What was the “true” experience of life in India? Was it as his parents (and he) remembered? Or would it be new and updated now that technology was widespread and easily adopted for many people? And how had that impacted the culture and lifestyles of typical Indian citizens?

So, this book is like a memoir in some ways: his parents’ memories seen through the filter of his own American childhood (and the visits) but it was also an outsider’s perspective on how life had evolved in the modern world for the India of today.

Chapters are divided into large themes, such as “Anger”, “Pride”, “Freedom” – large categories that allow Giriharadas to group many disparate topics together and which works for the most part.

As a reader, the different pieces were fit together like a jigsaw puzzle but it did wear a little thin towards the last third of the book. (But how else to cover such a huge variety of subjects? I don’t know.)

The first two-thirds was the strongest piece, the final third (as mentioned) was a little drawn out and rather too navel-gazing for me, but then I had entered the book thinking it was a straightforward travelogue so it may have been some of my own fault really.

Despite this slightly tepid review, I did enjoy the majority of this read. Giriharadas is a solid writer with good descriptive skills and a journalist’s eye towards the internal and the external world. As an Indian, he was allowed access to “real life” India via his friends and family and it’s interesting to read how his perspective changes the longer that he lives there.

People change – and so do countries – and it was thought-provoking for me to think that something similar might occur to me should I ever upsticks back to England after more than 30 years away in the Colonies…