Catching up with reviews…

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I’ve been reading quite a lot lately and so I thought I would do a quick catch-up post with my most recent titles. They have been a mixed bag of good and broccoli books (ones that may not have tasted that great when I was reading them but I’m glad to have them done), so let’s continue…

The biggest broccoli book would have to be “By the Sea” by Abdulrazak Gurnah. A fiction title that was released to acclaim back in 2002, I’m sure that I came across this read via one of the many blogs I travel to and I was expecting good things from it. However, the prose came across as turgid and deliberately obtuse and after struggling mightily with it for a good two-thirds, I finally accepted defeat, realized that I was doing procrastination-reading each time I meant to pick it up and closed its pages with relief. :-}

The Best American Science Writing 2006: Gawande, Atul: 9780060726447:  Amazon.com: Books

At the same time as Gurnah’s book, I was also reading (and sometimes skimming) a volume of The Best American Science Writing (edited by Atul Gwande) and published in 2006. I hadn’t thought that sci writing published 14 years would be that historical in terms of the topics it covered, but despite some of the articles being pretty interesting, there were some that were obviously (and not surprisingly) dated so that was a mixed bag as well. Notable articles included one about some researchers who study the giant redwood trees and a fascinating one about death (I know – right?). 

Both reads are off the TBR pile – go me – and now I’m reading the 1931 title of “The Country Child” by Alison Uttley. I’m not sure if it’s autobiographical (a la “Cider with Rosie” et al.) but I’ll find out before I do a review post. It’s charmingly pleasant and easy to read and might be a juvenile title. It’s just right after soldiering through the science writing and the sea books. 

After these reads, I’m not sure what the next title(s) will be but you know – half the fun is choosing them!

Books in a row. Isolated, blank labels, free copy space , #AFF, #Isolated,  #blank, #Books, #row, #copy #ad | Stock images, Books, Image

Kitty Tuesday…

I recently saw a story somewhere online about a farmer in Siberia who has a colony of cats on his property who have evolved to thrive in such cold weather as they have in that part of the world. (See above for a representative photo. Wouldn’t you think their little paws get a bit cold?)

I can’t seem to track down the original story right now, but trust me, these kitties are TOUGH.

My main question is whether perhaps (fat) Cowboy really has life goals of being a Siberian cat. The only downfall is that Cowboy has short fine fur, so perhaps she’s bulking herself up to make up for that loss. 🙂

Getting some culture: two plays…

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Since we’re lucky enough to live in a town with a big university presence, this means that we are also able to take advantage of some of the cultural offerings that come our way, and we recently went to two plays, both about some under-appreciated women which was a good touch as it’s Women’s History Month.

The first one was a one-woman play called “The Other Mozart” (written and performed by Sylvia Milo), and focused on the true story of Nannerl Mozart, Mozart’s older sister who was also a prodigy with music, but due to her gender and the times, didn’t receive all the attention that her younger brother did.

The solo actor was the sister in question, and so the play was presented through her eyes and thus the audience could track her musical life as she is recognized for her musical talents, but then slowly overtaken and eclipsed by the younger Mozart. I think this is probably a really good play, but the university sound system was very muffled and so it was pretty hard to keep up with what was going on.

That, and I had the ill-fortune to have a tall guy with a big bobble-head sit right in front, and it was uncanny how his head movements would match mine at almost every turn. So – good play. Bad venue. I’d still go and see this play, but only in a smaller theater with a good non-karaoke-based sound system.

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The other play was a completely different experience (thankfully). This was also a one-woman play, but in a much more intimate setting which made it easy to hear what the actor was saying and thus keep up with the action.

Called “If a door opens: a journey with Francis Perkins”, it was written and performed by a regional actor called Charlotte Keefe and focused on the life and times of said Francis Perkins, who was one of the earliest female Secretary of Labors in the twentieth century. She worked with presidents and others to help secure the 40-hour work week, social security benefits, and generally looked out for child and female workers at a time when they were over-used and under-paid.

Perkins also played a sentinel role in improving workplace safety standards as she was in NYC at the same time of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire and knew how to effectively work with politicians, unions, and others to pass new laws improving working conditions for everyone who was not a rich white man. 🙂

I was not familiar with Perkins (or the actress who played her), but by the time we came to the end of the play, I was astonished at just how much Perkins achieved at a time in the twentieth century when women were not encouraged or supported in their working lives if they upset the status quo.

I really enjoyed this experience, and recommend that if you see this play coming anywhere near you (whether with this actor or another), you take the hour or so to see it. Perkins was a firebrand whose mark still remains on the twenty-first century workforce.

And then later on this week, we’ve got tickets to listen to Ruth Reichl, former NYT food critic and best-selling author… Riches abound right now.

Obama: The Historic Journey – The New York Times (2009)

Obama_bookNeeding a happy read, I chose to wallow in nostalgia for happy times past with this large coffee table book, Obama: The Historic Journey (NYT). Packed full of great photographs from the time of President Obama, this book was put together using the journalistic resources of the illustrious New York Times and was a pleasure to read. The NYT seems to have the best journalists and photographers, and I really enjoyed this browse through years past, even though it’s not really that long ago. (I think it just seems like a long time ago since our Orange Goblin came in office. Sigh.)

This book not only had great production values with the award-winning photographs, but it also included some of the main speeches which Obama gave, including the nomination acceptance speech, and the Presidential acceptance speech. As a constitutional law professor, Obama was incredibly articulate at describing his vision for the country, and some of his speeches almost made me cry as they were so perfect (and, unfortunately, so very different from the 5th grade utterances of our current Prez).

The book covers Obama’s journey from childhood through to his junior Senator position in Illinois through to his election campaign, the nomination, and then when he is actually President, and if you loved and now miss Obama, you’ll be in the target market for this title.

Spectacular photographs (including some from official WH photographer Pete Souza) combined with solid journalism and spectacular speech-writing skills made this a really interesting and poignant read for me, and I highly recommend this book. You can probably read it in one afternoon on a weekend, and I just loved it. If you’re not an Obama fan, maybe not for you, but for those who are: this was a great read.

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At Her Majesty’s Request: An African Princess in Victorian England – Walter Dean Myers (1999)

Book413So, prowling my shelves and thinking of Black History Month as one does, my eye was caught by a thin title and pulled it off the shelf, curious to learn more. The book turned out to be about Queen Victoria (swoon) and how she semi-adopted a young African princess when the girl first arrived in London. It’s an interesting story, but I had not heard of it before, so I dug right in.

Based on a stash of original nineteenth century documents that the author unearthed in the National Archives one day, the book follows the life of young Sarah Forbes Bonetta when she is first “rescued” by a white military officer from an African nation full of warring tribal groups, and then introduced into royal circles in England. (It does have shades of the movie, Greystoke… Perhaps the author wasn’t the first person to find this info out.)

This was in the mid-nineteenth century and slavery was in full force in both England and the States, and, although there were people who were abolitionists, it hadn’t taken up full swing just yet. A Royal Navy officer happened to be at one of the ports where the slave ships would embark with kidnapped slaves-to-be, and after a skirmish of some kind, the girl’s parents were killed, and so she is alone. The military officer decides the best thing is to take the new orphan, and deliver her to England. (Cue: Greystoke here.)

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Upon arrival, the young African girl has no English language skills, and hardly any schooling. She was surrounded by people who looked nothing like her, and she was trapped in multiple layers of uncomfortable English clothes in a strange cold country. However, she made the news and that alerted the Queen of her presence.

Hearing talk of this arrival, Queen Victoria asked for a meeting, and that’s how the whole English part of the story began.

Queen Victoria enjoyed the young girl and gave her the best tutors and education that one can receive, and it all seemed to be working out well until the young girl started to get sick more and more often. The Victorians didn’t have a good grasp of medicine at this time, let alone tropical medicine, and after trying to treat her, the little girl ends up on a boat back to Africa where she attends missionary school, but unfortunately has a very hard time fitting in with her peers due to the recent English influence. This is overcome, and in the end, she grows up into adulthood, and no one seems to know of how her life went after this experience.

While I was reading this, I really enjoyed it, but as I started to think about it in a critical manner, it dawned on me that this was a tricky situation to look back on through twenty-first century eyes, especially with the knowledge of slavery for England and US. On the one hand, the little orphan was saved from a poverty-stricken life in an African country and given the royal treatment for a year. On the other hand, this is covered with the haze of white/ colonialism/power, so it’s not easy to parse.

Still, an interesting read. BTW, it’s classified as YA, so it’s a fast read, but it’s still informative.

Part of JOMP’s celebration of Black History Month.

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